La Robe de Mariée: My Wedding Dress Conundrum

Thirty years ago today, this snapshot from our mariage civil at La Bagatelle Town Hall in Marseille.


: wedding dress

"I chose my wife as she chose her wedding dress; not for its shiny and delicate appearance but because it would withstand the test of time."

J'ai choisi ma femme comme elle a choisi sa robe de mariée ; pas pour son apparence brillante et délicate mais parce qu'elle résisterait au temps. --Michel Polnareff

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Today is our 30th wedding anniversary! To celebrate this meaningful occasion, Jean-Marc has reserved a table in Marseille, at the beautiful Calanque de Sormiou. It's the very place we dined three decades ago, following our civil ceremony. It will be a casual soirée, just us and our kidults, but when I found out about our plans I knew should wear something soigné.

Several days ago it occurred to me. What about my wedding dress? Did I still have it and would it fit?

Upstairs in the second chambre, I carefully climbed onto a chair and found the wedding dress above our dusty armoire in a vintage suitcase. Quelle chance! It was wrapped lightly in plastic from the dry cleaners. The cleaning tag was still stapled to the dress’s label. Nostalgic, I searched for the cleaning receipt but didn’t find it. Google estimates it would have cost 825 French francs (150 dollars back in the day!). I know I would not have paid that much to clean a dress, wedding, or otherwise. After all, it wasn’t an intricate garment, but a simple flowy-to-the-knees affair. My other, floor-length dress, was reserved for the church ceremony two months later. I see it didn’t do as well in storage, considering the large yellow stain on the front. Quel dommage!

I carefully slipped the little dress out of its bag, to find it was in good condition, if slightly off-white—but then maybe this was its original color? “Pearly”—fit for a 30th or “pearl anniversary". To think this delicate garment survived eight déménagements, amid the heat, the cold, the smoke, the inundations, the mold, and any little critters that might have altered its state.

Standing in awe examining my wedding dress of days gone by, I decided to try it on right there and then. To my surprise, it fit (it had the advantage of being an A-line dress, much more forgiving than my church dress, which would no longer button up the back…).

As for this little wedding dress, I now knew I could wear it! I thought to rush down and show my husband, but why not surprise him on our special day? Even if he planned on us arriving a few hours early, to swim in the calanque, I could always sit on a rock in the shade and try to stay put together for our nice dinner. Or maybe after all these years I might finally let go, enjoy a swim and then slip into the pretty dress, salty skin and all. No, I don’t think I’ve evolved enough to be this carefree.

Back to the dress…It was full of plis from being in the old suitcase. I wondered if I might simply steam out the wrinkles? But what if the heat damages it? You know what they say, "never iron or steam clothing that is soiled." Even if it wasn't dirty, could it be "marked" from time? Did I want to steam in those imagined marks? Why not do as the venerable fashion designer Vivian Westwood, and never clean your couture!

Just leave the dress as is, I decided, no marks, only a few wrinkles. You could treat it as a messy beach cover up! Then you could go swimming with your hubby. And hold your head high when you arrive for dinner. There, problem solved.

Except that the idea of wearing the dress as it was thirty years ago—new, pristine, and so pretty—would feel amazing on this special day!

Back to square one (or three…Where were we?) It didn't seem right to steam a dress that's been in storage so long. Alright, I  would take it to the dry cleaners. Even if it didn’t have “Le parfum du Temps” a cleaning would ensure it had a fresh scent.

Le Nettoyage à sec, however, presented further complications. Would it be ready in 4 days? After all, this is slow France! Voyons voir... Let’s see… On closer look, the tag inside said the dress was made of polyester. Not exactly a noble fabric, but un tissue that can be hand washed as far as I know. Hadn’t I handwashed polyester dozens of times? Then again, the tag inside read “dry clean only”… The gentle cycle in my machine à laver might be worth the risk, considering I would only be wearing it this one time (I can’t see myself unearthing it again for our 60th... then again, why not?). Still, it would be a shame to damage the dress.

Purée! I am beginning to develop decision fatigue. Enough! I'm taking it to the dry cleaners!

Feeling my energy return and, armed with a plan, I left one hour early to tackle what seemed an impossible mission here in France: to get anything done easily, logically, and on time. I am reminded of the time my brother-in-law, Doug, brought 7 shirts to the dry cleaners when we lived in St. Maximin and the owner immediately handed back 4. It is still a mystery why she refused the rest. "Everything is complicated in France," I explained to my brother-in-law, and from that point on I rarely visited le pressing (except to clean our down comforters which don't fit into our tiny washing machine).

Back to my plan of action: with Operation Wedding Dress underway, I would put all chance on my side by getting to the cleaners early. If the first establishment couldn't clean my dress, I had a second place in mind. But I did wonder, even if I found un pressing willing and able to clean my dress in 3 days, what would it cost? Looking at my dress, it didn't appear to be a wedding dress. The a-frame slip dress could be worn on other occasions, like the popular Soirée Blanche the French are so fond of during summertime, where all the guests wear white.

Finally, my guess was 30 euros for the dry cleaning.  Just don’t tell them it’s a wedding dress! Or the cost will double. Allons-y!

I collected my keys, ID, a few forms of payment, and the dress, and snuck past my husband. "I'll be back in an hour," I waved. On my way to the car, I said a little prayer. Remember, the Lord is your helper in big things and small. Speaking of small, what if the cleaners shrunk my dress?

Putting on my seatbelt, I shook off my doubts and hit the road... and before I knew it, I'd found a parking spot at the busy Carrefour Centre Commercial. I saw the sign for le pressing right away. So far so good.

The thin woman at the dry cleaners wore all black and a frown. “Bonjour,” I said.

(No reply.)

“Bonjour, Madame,” I repeated, remembering protocol. "Just a little question to begin with," I said, sweetly. “Are you able to clean a dress by Thursday?”

Montrez-la-moi,” came the curt response.

Taking the wedding dress out of my fourre-tout, I began to describe the situation. When I paused, before continuing on, the woman interrupted:

“That'll be 15 euros.”

“You mean it will be ready by Thursday?”

The woman nodded. "Would you like une carte de fidélité or is this an exceptional visit?”

“Oh, it’s exceptional!” I said, delighted at how simple this complicated process was after all.

I paid the 15 euros, thanked the dry cleaner, and headed to my car feeling as light and carefree as a fluttering wedding veil. Au fait, maybe I could have dry cleaned my veil too. Oh! I could think of a lot of outfits I could finally take to le pressing! On second thought, I should have gotten the loyalty card!

This little adventure just goes to show that maybe France isn't so slow or difficult after all. Perhaps it was my own mindset that needed a little pressing. With my dress now taken care of and our celebration on the horizon, I am eager to begin the second half of this French life--loyalty card in hand. Joyeux anniversaire, Mon Chéri!


Kristi Sormiou July wedding 1994 Marseille
Arriving with friends at la Calanque de Sormiou, July 4th, 1994. Now, just where did I store that hat? I think it got lost in the shuffle of so many moves.

The happy day. At La Marie de Bagatelle in Marseille’s 8th arrondissement. 

Sincere thanks to the following readers who recently sent in a blog donation. This truly is a reader-supported journal and I appreciate your help in publishing it week after week. Merci beaucoup! --Kristi

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God Bless You! --Owen E.
Dear Kristi, Look forward to your posts! Best regards to you and your family! Ginger B.


Click here to listen to the French words

un mariage = wedding 

un anniversaire = anniversary
une Calanque = rocky inlet (specific to the Mediterranean coast)
une soirée = evening event
soigné = elegant, well-groomed
une chambre = bedroom
une armoire = wardrobe
quelle chance = what luck
quel dommage = what a pity
un déménagement = move (relocation)
une inondation = flood
un pli = wrinkle
un nettoyage à sec = dry cleaning
le parfum du temps = the scent of time
un tissu = fabric
une machine à laver = washing machine
purée = darn (mild exclamation)
le pressing = dry cleaner’s
allons-y = let’s go
bonjour = hello
bonjour, Madame = hello, ma’am
montrez-la-moi = show it to me
une carte de fidélité = loyalty card
un fourre-tout = tote bag
au fait = by the way
joyeux anniversaire = happy anniversary
mon chéri = my dear

This past week, in another beautiful calanque, we had the chance to meet up with longtime readers Lou and Gary  (Boulder, Colorado) on Gary's 77th birthday. We also met Barbara and Paul and enjoyed lunch at our favorite Restaurant du Mugel.

And last Sunday… Jean-Marc holding his bike after arriving at the top of Mont Ventoux. He is preparing for "L'Etape du Tour".
Thank you for reading today's edition through to the end. I'll be back in two weeks with more stories and photos. Happy summertime!

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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"Mauviette": Getting Old is Not for Sissies

Une abeille, un papillon, et une cigale. A bee, a butterfly, and a cicada. Street decorations above La Rue des Poilus in La Ciotat

Summer Reading: You might enjoy the book First French Essais, a collection of earlier episodes from this blog. The "essais" part is a play on words, which is explained in the chapter "Valorisant" about how I came to write this blog. Click here to read more.


    : sissy

Vieillir, c'est pas pour les mauviettes.
Aging is not for sissies. —Betty Davis

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Summer. La saison estivale has begun and I am up at the crack of dawn, partly because my dog wakes me early, and partly because my body is aching. Oh que j'ai mal! 

To soar like a butterfly, to have knees like the bees, or simply not to be sore upon waking… If only arthritis could be poetic. But it isn't, it's pathetic! These are my thoughts as I begin today's edition, attempting to match la photo du jour to the theme of our story about aches and pains.

Barely out of bed and already feeling pressed, I considered opting out of this morning's walk with Jean-Marc. Amidst thoughts of laundry, paperwork, meal planning, and a weekly blog deadline, I realized exercise is as much a priority as working. A stroll through my neighborhood will be the key to getting this creaky engine rolling. De plus, it will strengthen my bones, calm my mind, and exercise my social skills (I'll take brief interactions while out walking over a cocktail party any day!).

Closing our front door, I stretch my sore legs and notice the stiffness in my lower back. Hopefully, these douleurs articulaires will ease with a little warm-up. As I step outside the front gate, the blooming laurier rose and vibrant blue plumbago lift my spirits if not my posture (that will take some mindfulness). Orange trumpet vines, roses, and purple bougainvillea brighten our neighborhood, as seagulls glide by effortlessly. If exercise fails to set me straight, nature will, coloring my thoughts in vivid hues to lighten the mood.

Halfway into our balade matinale, I turn to my husband. "I'm going to pick up Mom’s meds. I'll catch up to you after." With that, I cross the road while Jean-Marc heads down to les roches plates to swim with les chiens (we're dog sitting today). Ricci won't like the water, but she is a willing nageuse, if only to quickly return to shore once Jean-Marc gently lowers her into the water. Izzy, Ana’s beagle, will opt out in favor of playing lifeguard from her perch on one of the rocks above the sea coast.

At the pharmacy, after filling Mom’s prescriptions, I hesitate before leaving. “Could you help me with something else?” I ask la pharmacienne. “When I wake up in bed, I'm sore from my hip to my knee. The pain radiates from inside my bones so strongly that I have to get up and walk around for the aching to stop. No more sleeping in. C’est fini la grasse matinée!

The pharmacist smiled knowingly. "C'est l'âge. What you are experiencing is a mixture of inflammation, hormones, and menopause. Suivez-moi." The woman in the lab coat led me past knee wraps, canes, and Ensure to a shelf of herbal supplements. I keep thinking that surely, by looking at me, she will realize this is not my category. Only, when I study her face it looks very much like mine. She's not yet 60 and yet...

"I had the same aches and pains," she confides.

"Had? Do you mean they will go away on their own?"

"Pas vraiment. They'll just change places." She points to her elbow, shoulder, and neck. "Eh, oui," she sighs. I'm reminded of the daily phone conversations with my older sister, Heidi, who suffered from pain in her arm all last year. “It's just tendonitis,” I assured her. (To think it was probably arthritis all along. La pauvre!)

My confidant hands me a box labeled “Flex Max Articulations” (for flexibilité, mobilité, comfort articulaire). This magic potion has curcuma, glucosamine sulfate, chondroitine sulfate, collagen, and vitamins C, D, manganese and costs 24€99.

“Take two a day.”

Putting the herbal supplement in my basket, I’m feeling a mixture of hope and regret (if only my sister had these pills!).  As for the aches and pains, “C’est juste l’effet de grandir,” I tell the pharmacist and so convince myself I am only growing up!

C’est ça.” The pharmacist smiles. I take a moment to appreciate her openness and the fact that we are relating to each other beside the stacks of diapers that may very well be a part of our futures. If it ever gets to that point, I’ll know who to go to for help: this friendly woman, the same vintage as me, who is going through similar little miseries.

As for ces petites misères, I think of those a decade or two, or three, or four older than me. How is everyone out there feeling?
Aging is not for sissies! I'm reminded, only I don’t know how to share this with the pharmacist, in French. Besides, at only 56, I can’t be sure I’m no longer a sissy. In such redoubtable circumstances, it helps to focus on community: aging is the opportunity to move beyond brief social encounters to nourish new friendships. As the pharmacist handed me the supplements, I realized growing older isn’t just about aches. It’s about forming new connections.  Indeed, aging is not for sissies—it’s for sisters.

From my photo archives: a pharmacy in Paris

Your comments are enjoyed and your corrections are appreciated.
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My son Max and I were at a baptism this past weekend, along with all the family.

Sincere thanks to the following readers who recently sent in a blog donation. This truly is a reader-supported journal and I appreciate your help in publishing it week after week. Merci beaucoup! --Kristi

Anne W.
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J’adore French-Word-A-Day! —Diane H.

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--John and Jana M.

I always enjoy your lovely e-letters Kristi (whenever I find the time to read them!). They highlight the commonality of our human experiences, beautifully expressed. . . . and I am right at home, being Franco-American! Take good care, --Cecilia

In the neighborhood near the flat rocks, les roches plates.


Click here to listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French terms

la mauviette
= sissy
la saison estivale = summer season
la photo du jour = photo of the day
de plus = moreover
les douleurs articulaires = joint pains
le laurier rose = oleander
la balade matinale = morning walk
les roches plates = flat rocks
les chiens = dogs
la pharmacienne = pharmacist
c’est fini la grasse matinée = no more sleeping in
c’est l'âge = it's age
suivez-moi = follow me
le confort articulaire = joint comfort
la flexibilité = flexibility
la mobilité = mobility
c’est juste l’effet de grandir = it’s just a fact of growing up
c’est ça = that's right

Izzy and JM mehari car
On the way to the beach. Photo of Jean-Marc and Izzy (Ana's dog) from last summer. Cultural note: here is another popular car in our beach town: the Méhari by Citroën. There is a Méhari club in nearby Cassis. I love to see them and wouldn't mind driving one just inside the limits of La Ciotat. Forget navigating on the freeway in one of these!

La bignone or trumpet vine along the narrow passage above the flat rocks beach. And that’s Ricci, bounding forth, her happiest ever in the ninth month since we adopted her at the age of three-and-a-half.

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

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)! 


 : 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).

Your comments are enjoyed and your corrections are appreciated. Click here to leave a message. Merci


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Merci pour vos articles interessants! --Julie G.

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.


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.

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