LE BONHEUR: Mom Shares The Meaning of Happiness

Beach in La Ciotat
We've had unusual weather, lately, and local businesses have suffered from the lack of customers. But today is a perfect day to head outside. Update: At the time of this posting, it is pouring cats and dogs (il pleut des cordes)! 

TODAY'S WORD: Le BONHEUR

 : happiness

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Mom and I are lounging in the garden. It’s late afternoon, or la fin de l'apres-midi according to the language of Molière. All around us the birds, the trees, and the sweet-scented breeze offer their own poetic expression in a tongue understood by all. It is nature's intoxicating melody, and we are floating in it now.

“Where is everybody?” Mom wonders, surfacing from the bucolic trance.  

I take a deep breath. Mom's frequent questions—'What time is it?' 'What day is it?' and 'Where is everyone?'—keep me busy. Perhaps she’s exercising my reporting skills? In reality, she’s experiencing short-term memory loss, something we're both familiar with. "Let's see...Jean-Marc is in Marseilles, giving a wine tasting. Jackie is in Cassis, working, and Max…Max reminded me just this morning, via text, he is in Croatia." 

"Croatia? With Ana?" Mom wonders.

"No, with his friends."

Mom sighs peacefully, leading me to understand a restful vacation can be found right here in our front yard. Jules reclines on a chaise longue beside the snapdragons and flowering onions, while I sit nearby on a wooden chair next to the fountain. In the water, the first white nénuphars are budding and dragonflies hover here and there.

Ricci is doing figure-eights around us, delighted her mother-daughter meute has moved outside. From here our little shepherd can wander over to the hedge where she loves to slip under the flimsy fence and visit the neighbors, just like Smokey did. Only, unlike our dearly departed golden retriever, she barks at les voisins

"Ricci! Reviens!" With that we go over the drill: "Ça c'est chez nous et là c'est chez les voisins." I can almost hear my dog's thoughts: Yes, but the cats are over there. Little does Ricci know her forays next door are only adding insult to injury: for the day we brought Ricci home, 18-year old Lili The Cat moved back to the neighbor’s (where she decamped when the previous owner of our house (who also owned Lili) left, only to return when Smokey passed away two years ago). When we got Ricci last fall, it was déjà vu: there was no way Lili was sharing this yard with un toutou! 

Back here in the garden, beside the fountain, Mom reaches down to pet our proud protector who is leaning against the side of the lawn chair. "She is so soft," Mom coos. "How can a dog be this soft?" 

"I don't know," I admit. It boggles the mind. Then again, just about anything boggles the mind when you are seeped this deep in peace. I wonder how I could ever be so worked up, as I was a few times earlier today, over everything and nothing. What does any of it matter in the grand scheme of things, beyond this garden wall? Sinking back into my chair I relax, inhaling jasmine floating over from the flowering vine beside the bougainvillea. We need to sit out here more often, I think, turning to gaze at Mom.

Though it is the second week of June, Jules is wearing a light parka and a woolen cap. I'm beginning to understand why she is cold all of the time and it’s not because she lived in Mexico all those years. We’ll have more information on Tuesday, when we return to see the internist in Marseille for The Final Report. I’ve driven back and forth to the city so often, Jean-Marc says I could do it les yeux fermés. I feel proud about my new road skills even if it scared me driving home in a storm the day I took Mom back to the hospital. 

“The weather has been strange,” Mom remarks.

“It sure has,” I agree.

“Look at that blue sky now!”

Above the pepper tree, I see the doves flying in. Zut! I'm all out of bird food. I go and get some bread, breaking off pieces and dropping them beside the geraniums unaware Mom is studying me from her chair.

As I scatter bread for the birds, Mom watches me closely.“You are like a little Julie,” she remarks, her eyes twinkling with a mix of nostalgia and pride.

"I'm trying to be," I smile. Mom is and will always be my model, no matter how many things we don't agree on, including who should be president or how often to feed the birds (whenever they're around, Mom would argue). More and more I am coming around to Mom's ways. 

When I’m done feeding the birds I go over to investigate a curious shape in the pond. With any luck, it’s our resident frog! Kneeling down to stir the water, I see it is only a leaf.

"You have not changed," Mom smiles, sharing a razor-sharp memory from my childhood when I would go exploring in the wash (the empty river bed) behind our trailer. I loved returning after the rain, to sit along the bank and search for tadpoles. 

Fifty years later we are worlds away from the trailer park, here in the South of France. Whoever would have guessed such a future? I settle back into the chair beside Mom and we sneak glances at each other. These are like little pinches to the arms reminding us how lucky we are to be here, together. A moment of quiet pervades our union in the garden, as the fountain gushes, the perfume of jasmine wafts past, and the soft fur of Ricci, resting between our chairs, caresses our skin. The concerns of the day have disappeared into this peaceful moment. A few more moments float by with only the sounds of nature when Mom’s voice gently punctuates the silence.

“Kristi, this is what it’s all about.”

I savor Mom's profound declaration, internalizing exactly what it means. It is a soulful revelation that, should we think too much about it it might smother us in meaning. Maybe that’s why God invented comic relief…

Running my fingers through my hair, my thoughts return to the present. "I can't figure out what's happened to my hair," I say to Mom. "It so stiff and dull! I think I forgot to rinse out the conditioner!" I finally admit.

“Welcome to the club!” Mom laughs, acknowledging our shared absentmindedness. And we sink back into our chairs, lighthearted, as the birds, the dragonflies, the dog, the frog, the flowers, and all of the trees carry on effortlessly, oblivious to the time or the date. If only we could live on forever this way, in this carefree garden, free from worries and the march of time.

 

IMG_6952 Copy
Jules and the tourterelles. These doves, who Jules calls "Mama" and "Papa", befriended Mom back in 2018 when she moved in with us. While workers renovated the garage (Mom's future studio), Jules escaped the pounding and hammering by finding a quiet spot in a corner of the garden. A feathered friendship was born! We are amazed at how tame these doves are, and how much company they give Mom (and all of us).

COMMENTS
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Merci pour vos articles interessants! --Julie G.

Fountain
Is it a fountain or is it a pond? I often hesitate when referring, in my stories, to this "water feature". Seven years ago, thanks to an initiative begun by Jeanne in the UK, this broken "bassin" was restored as a housewarming gift from my readers. A haven for fish, birds, dragonflies, and frogs, we enjoy it so much, even if we still haven't figured out how to control the green mossy water. Should it be crystal clear? Or is this what a fountain-pond looks like? Either way, it is a joy to listen to the falling water and to see the activity inside the little green pool.

FRENCH VOCABULARY

Listen to the French and the English terms via this sound file


le bonheur
= happiness
la fin de l'apres-midi
= late afternoon
la langue de Molière = the language of Molière
la meute = pack
les voisins = the neighbors
reviens = come back
ça c'est chez nous et là c'est chez les voisins = this is our place and that is the neighbors' place
un toutou = a dog
les yeux fermés = with eyes closed
zut = darn
les nénuphars = water lilies

Moke car
Local culture: You'll see these Moke cars here and there, in La Ciotat, Cassis, and other beach towns. They are part of the culture and it is always a pleasure to see them go by.

Peluches teddy bears in the front seat
More local charm outside this friterie, or French fry stand, currently closed for vacation.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


LA PIQURE: A Mystery That is Really Bugging Me

Shutters bougainvillea jasmine
C'est bientôt l'été. It's almost summertime! To stay cool we'll keep these volets closed and the ceiling fans spinning. Now to find a solution for summer pests, following a recent slew of piqûres... Read on, in today's word fest.

STRESS-FREE TAX FILING for Expats!
If I can do my expat taxes anyone can! I recently completed and filed my US Tax Return & FBAR electronically using simple, step-by-step software. Give it a try and be done with your 2023 tax return.  Click here to begin. 

TODAY'S WORD: LA PIQÛRE

    : sting, bite

EPHEMERA WINE TASTING in Marseilles 
Jean-Marc will be pouring his 2023 Ephèmera wine at Le Vin Sobre Mazargues at 5 pm.
Adresse: 2 Av. du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, 13009 Marseille
If you are in the area, don't miss this chance to taste his wine! 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

"Ça gratte!" It itches! I say to Jean-Marc, waking up with fresh bites on my arm. I can't believe it! They've struck again! But just who are they is the question. What, exactly, is biting me every night? My skin is swollen and I see red bumps, ici et par là, across my arms, stomach, and legs. It's an exercise in willpower not to scratch them, so I claw at the skin on either side and wake up my husband. La misère aime la compagnie!

"Are you sure you haven't been bitten?" I look over at Jean-Marc, who is groggy from sleep.
"Je n'ai pas de piqûres," he mumbles. Well, it can't be bed bugs then, can it? Besides, I would have noticed the intruders, having studied the situation since the famous breakout in Paris last year. Les punaises are visible.

Perplexed, I go down the culprit list, once again...

Could it be un moustique qui me pique? Mosquito season began a few weeks ago but it is unlikely a winged want-not has crawled beneath my covers to bite me on the bottom!

What about les puces? Could fleas be eating me? I look around my bed, scrutinizing the sheets, but les puces are nowhere to be seen. I'd recognize them having dealt with the little critters when we brought our dog home from the farm eight months ago. Our adoptee, Ricci, was covered in the bloodsucking parasites. During the 5-hour ride home from Aveyron I squashed as many as I could--proof that fleas are big enough to see. 

Et si c'était les araignées? Spiders are common around here, given we don't spray pesticides. Could these be spider bites I'm getting each night?

How about les mites? Mites don't bite Jean-Marc informs me. Maybe dust mites don't bite but other kinds of mites might! Bird mites? Could it be our family of tourterelles is sharing more than their good company?

IMG_5514_Original

What if it's un mechant taon? I saw one flying around my bed just this morning! Could a horrible horsefly be behind these itchy lumps and bumps?

Jean-Marc suggested it might be hives, which have, coincidentally, come up since my mom went into the hospital. According to Google, "Stress hives can resemble insect bites..." Is it all the nerve-racking driving to Marseille and beyond that’s gotten under my skin? Or the agonizing wait for Mom’s health insurance to kick in?

Until I know just what's biting me, physically or emotionally, I've sprinkled baking soda across my mattress (Mom says it will dry the suckers out!), changed my sheets, my pajamas, and sprayed lavender mist all over the bedroom after Jean-Marc vacuumed. This relieved things for a few days, but the itchy boutons returned!

As I sit here scratching beneath my chin (the most recent morsure), I think about another possibility: no-see-ums. The funny term refers to tiny winged creatures that bite. These gnats are called moucherons in French. But Jean-Marc says it can't be them because they can't fly under the covers. 

Could it be that all these bites, then, are happening during the day? Are "no-see-ums", finally, to blame? Even if this mystery is close to being solved, the solution to no-see-ums is nowhere in sight. And, frankly, apart from lavender and baking soda, I'm not going to put too much more energy into cette situation gênante. No, you won't see me running around swatting at some invisible enemy. Honestly, I've got other cats to whip at the moment. (Leave it to the French to save the day with an amusing idiom: avoir d'autres chats à fouetter) In the meantime I have a fine phrasal verb for the pests: BUG OFF! Va t’en!

 

Ricci in the leaves
Ricci, in her favorite hangout beneath the hedges.

COMMENTS
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Thank you for your wonderful wide-ranging stories. -Karen H.

Bob Mariebeth and Nixie
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FRENCH VOCABULARY

Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French words below. Click here

la piqûre
= bite, sting
ça gratte
= it itches
ici et par là = here and there
la misère aime la compagnie = misery loves company
je n'ai pas de piqûres = I don't have any bites
la punaise de lit = bed bug
un moustique qui me pique = a mosquito biting me
les puces = fleas
Et si c'était les araignées? = And what if it's spiders?
les mites
= mites
la tourterelle = collared dove
un méchant taon = a mean horsefly
le bouton = bite
une morsure = a bite
les moucherons = no-see-ums (biting midges)
une situation gênante = annoying situation
avoir d'autres chats à fouetter
= to have bigger fish to fry
va t'en!
= bug off!

For more useful vocabulary and stories from France, check out Blossoming in Provence.

Mom at the lavoir 2007
An update on Mom: Jules is enjoying being home. She will see her internist on Tuesday for un compte-rendu or report of all the tests she took, and hopefully a specific treatment. (In this photo, from 2007, Mom stopped by the local lavoir in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes to cheer the women taking care of their family's laundry. Read the story "piquer" from the archives.

Dad in France
Last but not least, Happy Father's Day to all who celebrate. Bonne Fête, Papa! To my loving dad whose kindness, wisdom, and care touch my heart time and again! I especially love Dad's childlike delight in the simplest things. Here he is, below, in La Ciotat, having tossed his favorite borrowed beach towel over the table. "I reserved it for us," he smiled. I love this memory.. Thank you, Dad, for being a terrific father.

Dad in La Ciotat

Dad in his favorite calanque
Above: Dad in his favorite cove near Mugel beach.

Kristi with Dad
I leave you with a favorite story about my Dad called "Joie de Vivre". Click here.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


La Belle Dormant: Jules Returns Home & A Reason to Be Proud of France!

Mom and Sofiane Ambulance driver
Mom had a few rides in the ambulance these past few weeks. She loved every one of the drivers! Here she is with Sofiane, who stopped for a magnificent view of the Mediterranean. Merci!

EASY EXPAT TAX FILING
Here in France, I just completed and filed my US Tax Return electronically. I highly recommend Expatfile. Give it a try and be done, finally, with your 2023 tax return.  Click here for more info. 

TODAY'S WORD: LA BELLE AU BOIS DORMANT

    : Sleeping Beauty

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

I had a dream last night that Mom was driving us in our jeep. We were going up a dirt road, and when we reached le sommet and came over the other side, the path dropped unexpectedly into a swamp, along with our bagnole!

I remembered, with relief, that our vehicle had 4-wheel drive, that is, until our tires lost contact with the ground and we began to sink.

Just when all hope seemed lost, Mom looked over at me with confidence, revved the engine, and the Jeep swam forward enough for the wheels to catch on the rocks below. Alléluia! We climbed right out of the mire! On the other side of the water, there was a farm, and the couple living there had a family of hedgehogs. They kindly gifted us the baby hérisson. Not only had we survived, but we surfaced from the mire with a gift--a newborn!

If dreams were premonitions, what a hopeful sign this would be! As it is, we are still bogged down in this mire of medical testing and administrative imbroglio. Meanwhile, we had a momentary reprieve from the situation when, on Thursday, Mom’s internist released her from the hospital for the weekend.

During her three days at home in her cozy studio, Jules read each and every comment readers have left on my blog following her hospitalization. Mom was filled with energy from your thoughts and prayers and amazed by my extended family of readers, whose affection and care were palpable. I assured Mom I appreciate all of you so much and hope you feel this gratitude in these weekly updates.

Tucked into her own bed, Ricci cuddled beside her, Mom told me all about the care and attention she’s receiving at the hospital. Les infirmières have even given Mom un nom d’affection: Jules is called “Sleeping Beauty” or “La Belle Dormante” for the way she sleeps around the clock. This is one reason she went into the hospital—to find out why she is so tired.

For her first PET scan, La Belle Dormante was transported via stretcher to a tiny room, where she received a catheter in her arm. To take her mind off the needle, I promised Mom that when this was all over, we’d go off on an adventure somewhere.

“Oh, Kristi,” Mom began.

I turned to focus on what she was saying, quieting the chatter in my mind that droned on: I need to pick up Mom’s medication…It’s close to 2pm! I’ve got to get the car back to Jackie who’ll need it for work!

“Kristi, this is an adventure!” Mom smiled. “Aren’t you proud of France?!”

Me? Proud of France? But I’m not even French. Can you be proud of something that is not your own? Mom’s expectant look had me reflecting. Just what did she mean?

“I cannot believe how dedicated and professional everyone working here is. They all know they have an important job. They are saving lives!

I took my mom’s precious hand into my own. “To this adventure,” I said, kissing Mom before they wheeled her into the next room. When the door shut behind her, I saw the number 7. Mais bien sûr, of course she would have room number 7. It’s her favorite number—le numéro sacré. Not only is Mom lucky, but she is truly blessed!

Just before Mom disappeared into the PET scan, she tried to calm my doubts and fears. “How else would we witness God’s miracles if it wasn’t for these uncertainties?”

For her daughters and those who know her, Jules is proof that faith, like our trusty Jeep, can move us out of the deepest mire. And in this medical care adventure, the gift we surface with is the unwavering love and support from those around us, a reminder that even in challenging times, we are never alone. Not even as a stranger in a foreign land. Oui, Maman! Je suis fière de la France!

 

IMG_2890_Original
With Mom and Ricci in Mom’s studio

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Jean-Marc Ricci triathalon
Congratulations to Jean-Marc for completing the "Triathlon des Lumières" here in La Ciotat last weekend!


REMERCIEMENTS

A big thank you to our readers for their donations. Your support helps so much in the creation of this French journal and keeps me going. I am sincerely grateful!

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Elizabeth J.

FRENCH VOCABULARY

Click here to listen to the French read aloud by Jean-Marc


le sommet = the summit
la bagnole = car 

Alléluia! = Hallelujah!
le hérisson = hedgehog
l’imbroglio = mess
au fait = by the way
les infirmières = the nurses
le nom d’affection = a term of endearment
La Belle au Bois Dormante = Sleeping Beauty
le numéro sacré = the holy number
jamais tout seul = (we are) never alone
Oui, Maman = Yes, Mom
Je suis fière de la France! = I am proud of France
Jean-Marc Jules hospital
June 5th. Last day for Jules in the hospital. We picked up Mom and brought her home last night, to her delight! The next few visits to Hôpital Europeen will be day visits only. In a few weeks, we'll meet with Mom's internist for a summary of all the exams--and hopefully a course of treatment for what the doctors think is sarcoidose (sarcoidosis)

Mom has been a trooper throughout this experience, including two weeks in the hospital and over 11 tests! Tuesday she went  under anesthesia for a lung biopsy. She also had a lip biopsy which left a mark below her lip. She also came home with a black eye! I'm wondering if it is from the breathing mask she wore during the intervention?

Jules collage

I did not get a picture of the other ambulance drivers, who Mom adored. When her shoe fell off on the way into the hospital, they called her "Cendrillon" (Cinderella). What with two storybook names given to her by the medical team, you might say Mom's life in France is a fairytale. I think La Belle Dormante would agree!

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety