Voir: An assumption...followed by an unforgettable encounter

Patricia Sands book Drawing Lessons
A New Year's sale from Amazon! The spirit of van Gogh lives on the pages of this touching story set in Arles and the intriguing Camargue." Follow Patricia at www.patriciasandsauthor.com or on Instagram

Today's Word: voir

    : to see, watch, look at

voir la vie en rose = to look on the bright side

Audio: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following:
La marque constante de la sagesse est de voir le miraculeux dans le banal. The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE  by Kristi Espinasse

On another of those eye-opening walks (whether for the sunset or the beauty in an encounter) Mom and I were once again enchanted by strangers.

We were halfway along our favorite sentier, when two figures appeared on the horizon. As the couple came into focus, I saw her headscarf and glimpsed his long beard. Malgré moi, my mind interpreted the incoming data:

headscarf + long beard = formal religion observed

Acting out of what I believed was respect, I smiled at the woman but carefully avoided eye contact with the man. Don't ask how I came up with such a protocol, except it was loosely based on a conversation with a North African friend who wore the same modest headscarf: "Men and women," she explained, "unless married, are not to be alone in the same car."

Surely there were exceptions to la règle. I don't doubt she could drive with her father or her son or her nephew or cousin. There was so much to learn about my friend's culture and I enjoyed those days, sipping coffee with her in my kitchen, sharing our faiths.

Meantime, back to the future, Mom and I weren't in a car, but I didn't want to take any chances and end up crossing some sort of invisible boundary when the couple, now a few feet ahead of us, passed. As Mom was unusually quiet tonight, chances were low she would strike up a conversation with the les inconnus--even if it is her joy to do so. We were just about to pass the couple, honorably so, when the unexpected happened....

The man suddenly lunged at us! Flailing an invisible sword through the air, he shouted something unintelligible.

I think Mom caught on before I did, recognizing the man's mock sparring. Turns out he was only pointing out--in a most illustrative way--my own headdress: a wide-brimmed black felt hat.

Confused, I looked at my mom who smiled back playfully at the man with the beard. Mimicking his comic gesture: she swept her own invisible sword back and forth, fashioning a "Z" in the air.

"Zorro!" She said, repeating the man's unintelligible word (or one that hadn't made sense moments ago).

Reaching for my hat, I remembered what it looked like and sure enough--along with my black jeans and black coat, it all brought to mind that sword-swinging character.

"Oui, oui, Zorro!" I laughed, looking the bearded-man directly in the eyes, breaking whatever assumptions and oddly-concocted conclusions I had drawn, letting him know his humor was spot on. Touché!

*    *    *

I leave you with a picture of my funloving Mom as she is wearing a similar hat to the one I had on that day. Enjoy, and remember: ne jugez pas un livre par sa couverture or you might miss a wonderful story! 

Jules my mom in front of coiffeur in la ciotat france
My Mom, on one of our evening walks. I have a similar hat to Mom's, only the hatband is different...see mine below.
 
FRENCH VOCABULARY
le sentier = path
malgré moi (malgré soi) = involuntarily
la règle = rule
les inconnus = the strangers
touché! = you win!
ne jugez pas un livre par sa couverture = don't judge a book by its cover
qui sait = who knows

For more French phrases, try The Penguin French Phrase Book.

Kristi black felt hat backpack
Zorro? I wear wide-brimmed hats in the winter to help keep the bright sun off my face. Mom wears hers because it keeps her warm and she likes the style. Check out these felt hats and protect your skin, as I have to. And qui sait...wearing one might lead to a mind-opening encounter.

*    *    *

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
 
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An art escape in France + a little more vocabulary for you...

PPWT-2020

My dear friend Tessa is organizing more art escapades in France, discover the itinerary at Paint in Provence. Her colorful flyer, above, sets the tone for today's topic: art.

Today's Word: MERCURIEL

    : changing (mood), fluctuating, inconstant, variable...

Audio file here, Translation at the end of post.

Le monde est violent et mercuriel--il fera ce qu'il veut avec vous. Nous sommes seulement sauvés par l'amour--l'amour l'un pour l'autre et l'amour que nous mettons dans l'art que nous nous sentons forcés de partager: être un parent; être un écrivain; être un peintre; être un ami. Nous vivons perpétuellement dans un bâtiment en feu, et ce que nous devons en sauver, tout le temps, c'est l'amour. -Tennessee Williams

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Tess came to visit this weekend! She's my longtime painter friend from England, who calls tomatoes toh-mah-toes, says things like "mercurial" (to describe the sea), and calls me Darling  (as in Daar-ling, we must get together soon!).

We decided to have lunch in Bandol so that Jackie and Tess could see each other, too. Jackie is my 20-year-old daughter and she's studying art in Toulon, and waitressing on Sundays for some argent de poche....

Jackie waitressing at Le Jerome in Bandol France with abstract figurative artist Tess Baker
Note: today's story was written two years ago. Jackie now lives and works in Miami.

After lunch, Tess snuck around the corner, with Jackie, to stuff a big tip into the art student's pocket because in France all tips are collected by le patron, and little of it ends up in the pockets of workers. Jackie insists her boss is fair about this, but Tess wasn't taking any chances, having worked in French restaurants over the 4 decades she's lived here.

Abstract Figurative artist Tess Baker in La Ciotat France painting lessons Provence

After lunch in Bandol, and before our stroll beside the--mercurial--sea here in La Ciotat, Tess suggested we sit down and paint. Quelle idée!  

Sensing my fears, Tess had an idea. "We'll paint that lovely willow tree! Let's simply focus on a section of it. We'll paint those branches..." And the way she said it ("braahn-ches") kind of suckered me into this unexpected watercolor session.

My attention was scattered as I watched people walking by our house, sometimes slowing to view the artistic activity here in our garden. Not only was it nerve-racking to be painting beside an artist, but we now had a mobile audience. One of those passers-by was my 8-year-old golden retriever, who parked himself beside my chair. Smokey wanted to play artist, too! which reminded me: just play!

Smokey golden retriever red beret artist
Artist Smokey. photo by Agnès


"Notice the light hitting the side of the leaves, Tess was saying. "Now see the darkness on the other side. Let's start with the light...." Tess had already made several vertical brown strokes on her canvas. I hurried to pick up a paintbrush but it felt as awkward as chopsticks. And which one to use? Thank God there were only two. Mimicking Tess, I picked up the big one.

Tess was painting away with a shade of green...but where was this color green in the paintbox? A childhood rhyme came to mind, as I struggled to remember color mixing...yellow and blue make green... (or did yellow and red make green?) 

"Here, you can use the color I've already mixed," Tess offered. "Just start sploshing it on!"

I glanced over at Tess's own canvas, wondering what all those verticle brown lines were for?

"Those are the branches, darling," she explained, but all I could see (ahead of me) was the green of the leaves!

"Do you need to get your glah-ses?" Tess hinted.

Oh, yes! Mais bien sûr!

Still feeling ill-at-ease before the blank canvas, I bargained with my art teacher: "OK, I'll paint--but only if I can throw it away in the end!

Tess agreed and before long I was settled in. If those paintbrushes felt like chopsticks, the act of painting felt like picking up slippery noodles with these foreign utensils, or brushes. Why was this so difficult for me? I began to think about Tess's former students, and the wonderful works of art I'd seen with my own eyes. And here I could not even paint a leaf--not even an abstract leaf (as we'd agreed to do, to simplify).

"Just let go!" Tess said. I brushed aside all the torturous thoughts and got on with the moment. When else would a chance like this come around again? A little while later I was giddily painting right over my braahn-ches and trees....with a shower of crimson wings (red for determination? Wings for freedom?). Feeling more and more relaxed, I went to re-dip my brush into the glass of water. That's when I noticed how close the cups were...

Kristin Espinasse paintbrush watercolor abstract painting in La Ciotat France French shutters

"Tess, What are the chances I've dipped my brush into my teacup?" I wondered.

But my good friend brushed aside the worry, "Oh, I'm sure I've done it dozens of times myself. Carry on, darling!

And like that, we sipped our colorful tea, and painted gleefully. The tourists strode by and the pepper tree swayed gently, mimicking Smokey's golden tail as he snoozed on and off beneath the artists' table.

 *    *    *

Post note: Later, when I went to prepare dinner, I was surprised to find my little painting tucked into the window above my kitchen sink. Tess had set it there...in case I had a change of heart. I was glad it didn't end up in the poubelle. The little work of art was, after all, a sweet souvenir of our time together.

Pepper tree paints
Need a paintbrush or some watercolors? When you purchase your art supplies here, at Amazon, I will receive, at no extra cost to you, a small commission which helps me to keep up this website. Merci! 

FRENCH VOCABULARY
l'argent de poche = pocket money
le patron = the restaurant owner
quelle idée! = what an idea!
la poubelle = garbage

Drawing lessons

In Drawing Lessons (ebook is on sale!) The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself. Order here. Sale ends January 31st.

Abstract and Figurative artist Tess Baker paint in provence France La Ciotat pepper tree
my friend Tess Baker. Visit her at Paint in Provence.

Translation of today's French quote: The world is violent and mercurial--it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love--love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love. Tennessee Williams 

Horse rider mediterranean sea
Our mercurial sea in La Ciotat and a chance sighting I will never forget, photos here.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
 
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Les étrennes: This French custom will have you digging into your pockets.

IMG_6674

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TODAY'S WORD: LES ETRENNES

    : New Year's gift, tip, bonus

étrenner = to wear or use for the first time; to be first in the line of fire

Listen to Jean-Marc read from FranceTVInfo.fr:
Avec les vœux du Nouvel An arrive le moment des étrennes. Vous ne savez pas à qui donner ni quel montant consacrer à cette tradition ? Ce don d'argent n'est pas obligatoire, mais c'est un signe de gratitude qui permet d'entretenir les liens avec des personnes qui vous facilitent la vie. With New Year's wishes comes the moment of New Year's gifts. Unsure of who to give to or how much to devote to this tradition? This donation of money is not compulsory, but it is a sign of gratitude that allows you to maintain ties with people who make your life easier.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

On Saturday Mom and I were crammed between the two folding doors of the telephone booth (now a tiny, free library brimming with books). We were checking the latest titles, including Shogun, which Mom could not read because it was in French. Helping return the book, I looked out through the window of the cabine téléphonique and spotted Postwoman Marie....

"Mom! There's Marie! Should we give her her gifts now?"

Mom suddenly confessed she had eaten Marie's present. The giant champagne bottle filled with miniature candy bars had been too much of a temptation, stored as it was for the past three weeks on Jules's kitchen comptoir....

We began searching through our coat pockets for some cash, for this was the opportunity we had been looking for... Tis the season of les étrennes! Time to tip those people in our lives who make our days easier or brighter. (And I certainly appreciate it when Postwoman Marie opens our gate and drops a package--rather than putting a yellow ABSENTE slip in our mailbox for pickup at the post office!)
 
"Hurry, she's getting back on her motorcycle!" Jules and I sped toward Marie, singing Maria Maria! 
Having caught up with la factrice, we showered Marie with kisses in thanks for her warmth and realness.

 Marie pulled off her heavy casque de moto, revealing bright blue cropped hair.

"Oh, I love the blue!" Mom said, "even more than last week's green!"

"Merci beaucoup," Marie smiled. "Attendez!" She said. Having accepted our gifts, Marie pulled out a stack of calendars from one of the satchels on her yellow motorcycle. "Il faut choisir...."

Mom was thrilled by the unexpected gift, and she thoughtfully examined the selection of themed calendriers....

Il y avait des chevaux, des champs de fleurs....la mer....

Not wanting to keep our postwoman waiting, I nudged Mom to hurry up and select a calendar.

"Oh, I'd better take the kitties," Jules decided, and Marie nodded, from one animal lover to another.
Our factrice put her helmet back on, only for Mom to shower her with more kisses. And when our blue-haired postwoman drove away there were bright pink kiss prints, les bisous, all over her helmet, and hopefully all over her heart.


FRENCH VOCABULARY
les étrennes = New year's gift, tip
la cabine téléphonique = telephone booth
le comptoir = counter
la factrice, le facteur = postwoman, postman
la casque de moto = motorcycle helmet
attendez = wait
Il faut choisir = you need to choose
il y avait =  there were
les chevaux = horses
un champ de fleurs = fields of flowers
la mer = the sea
le bisou = kiss

Jean-Marc bottling his Rouge-Bleu vineyard wine
BOOK UPDATE: Jean-Marc and I began our vineyard memoir last April and completed 10 chapters online. This Friday, I will post chapter 11, about the day Jean-Marc informed me he was ready to move on....

Our story, The Lost Gardens, is for anyone who has ever chased after a dream, no matter the cost (to relationships, to one's health, to one's peace of mind).  Click here to purchase and begin reading right away.

Kristi in telephone booth and smokey
picture of the telephone booth-turned-library from today's story



When you shop at Amazon via the following links, a small percentage goes to support this French word journal. Merci beaucoup!

French Country Diary 2020 Engagement Calendar
Embryolisse - a popular French face cream for men and women
Bonne Maman variety pack - a favorite jam/confiture
All European Travel Plug Adapter Kit

Jules my mom in front of coiffeur in la ciotat france
A favorite picture of my Mom, taken yesterday. More picture on Instagram, if you'd like to follow me there.



Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
 
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♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice