Se livrer: Jean-Marc and I are writing a book!

Jean-Marc and I are finally telling the story of why we packed up and left our beloved vineyard. Our co-authored memoir is titled The Lost Gardens and the first chapter is online now. This book-in-progress can be purchased via the link at the end of this post. Thank you and please wish us bonne chance.

Today's Word: se livrer

    : to surrender, to give oneself up to, be engaged

THE LOST GARDENS: a memoir by Jean-Marc and Kristi Espinasse

In August of 2017 my family and I said adieu to our heavenly domain by the sea. Here, beside the famous Bandol appellation, my husband, Jean-Marc, had planted his vineyard from scratch, and here is where I fell in love with a garden (and not just any garden...). In the midst of clearing, planting, and harvesting, we began to fix up the 19-century mas centered in the middle of it all.

But this is not a book about renovating a French farmhouse. And our story is nothing like the Hollywood hit: 'A Good Year.'

Indeed, it was one hell of a decade! Between hailstorms and compost heists, we survived the first vineyard (2007-2012) only to have our spirits pelted and our dreams stolen at the second domain (2012-2017). Jean-Marc and I have wanted to write about this experience for a long time. This, dear reader, is the story of Mas des Brun. 

If you would like to follow along as Jean-Marc and I write our vineyard memoir, chapter by chapter, you can purchase the online edition--the sections will be posted after they are written. Jean-Marc and I will take turns telling this story from our own perspectives, until the very last chapter.

Excerpt from The Lost Gardens:

A creak at the door woke me from my trance. There was my husband of 22 years. The Frenchman who, letter by steamy love letter, wooed me back to his country. The father of my children. The man whose every inspiration I had followed, no matter where it led us. (Except for the time he wanted to move to Healdsburg, California, in search of American grapes. No! I put my foot down then. France was my home now, even if we were about to uproot once again.)

Watching Jean-Marc approach, I set aside the towel I had been folding: the cloth was stiff and bristly from drying on the clothesline (our dryer broke down at our previous vineyard--at which point it seemed like a good time to practice the French art of hanging the laundry: oh, the romantic illusions we create in order to withstand unconventional living.)

My husband studied me for a few moments, his hazel eyes soft and tender before he said those unforgettable words:

"I will understand if you want to leave me."


Kristin and Jean-Marc Espinasse by Cynthia Gillespie-Smith
photo by Cynthia Gyllespie-Smith

Please Note:

=> The online edition is $29. You will receive two codes (a login and a password) to access the book site, where the story is already underway.

=> Your purchase of our book-in-progress, The Lost Gardens, is non-refundable, and does not include any future editions (paperback, hardbound, ebook...) in the purchase price.

=> As a partly interactive book (comments are welcome at the end of each chapter), your words, suggestions, emails on the topic are part of this book, could be used in future versions (or simply in marketing), and are hereafter copyright of the book's authors, Jean-Marc and Kristi Espinasse.

=> In a nutshell, you are purchasing/reading/participating in this book at your own risk and promise not to sue the authors.

Thank you for your understanding. Now, let's get on with this story! Chapter one is ready--click the link below to begin.

The Lost Gardens: A Memoir -- Buy it via the link below. 


Avec le plus grand soin: Meet Arnaud Chevalier

Rochefoucauld Charente

For those wishing to travel to France and to be guided by a most endearing host, I share with you first a message from my friend Tessa Baker, of Paint Provence with Tess:

With my May and June trips now full I thought I might remind you that I still have three places on my July 6th - 13th trip in the Charente. A perfect place to visit and paint in early July with chateaux, lakes, rolling hills, beautiful villages and one of the best markets in Angouleme with its huge river flowing through the centre of town. Click here for more info.

Today's Expression: grand soin

    : great care

Example Sentence: Click here to listen
Cette piece a été réalisée avec le plus grand soin. --Arnaud Chevalier
The piece was made with utmost care.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE, by Kristi Espinasse

A little while back, in the garden, Mom and I were sitting in mismatched chairs, wearing mismatched pajamas, and speaking (in mismatched languages) about a dear friend in Paris.

Andalé, Mom said, sending Smokey (our Velcro dog) off so that we could sip our tea in peace (or be drenched every time Smokey sidled up to us, ever ready to cuddle).

Allez, sort de là! I added, and when our dog finally settled for a nap under the fig tree, Mom and I resumed our English this time:

If there is one person we wanted to see in Paris it would be Arnaud Chevalier! I'm not sure who met Arnaud first, Mom or me...(OK! So it was Mom!) but over the years we have enjoyed following the jewelry designer on Facebook and then on Instagram, where he shares his view of Paris, his fascinating French heritage, his dear Cocker spaniel, Nemo, and his positive thoughts (Arnaud's...and  maybe Nemo's?). I think you will agree, Arnaud is a deeply endearing personnage. Here is a screenshot from one of his Instagram posts:


Arnaud is also a writer, a poet, a designer--a continuous creator who suffered a great loss of a great love. Continually pouring his soul into his work, his heart marches on and we, his friends, followers, and fans are moved by his message--whether in words or wrought bronze. And speaking of bronze...

Returning home from that outing in the little fishing boat, I was halted by a package in my mailbox. Carefully turning it over, I saw it was from Arnaud. I had been looking forward to this parcel, and now it had arrived! 

First, a little background...

I had been following Arnaud's creative path--working for high-end jewelry brands to, recently, setting out to create his own line. Previously, with the high-end brands, he used the precious metals and gems at his fingertips. In Arnaud's own words:

For years I've been working as a jewelry designer for various brands, but I've always desired to develop a collection of my own. I wanted a high quality one, but it was a far too big investment for me to create the high-end jewels I was used to work with. It is then that I've decided to take an interest in the methods used by our distant ancestors -the Middle Ages craftsmen- whose jewels are still to be seen intact in museums. By using the same material and by following their gestures, it is a whole heritage that comes back to life.

Back to that parcel in the mail... Have you ever received a package that you were too excited to open? Well, after a few hours, my Mom put a stop to this nonsense. 'Come over here and open Arnaud's package!'

I sat on Jules's bed, beside our dear Smokey, and opened the bubble envelope, which revealed an elegant black box in gold trim....


Do you see Smokey's eyes, dear reader? You should have seen the look on my face as I discovered Toby The White Elephant. Toby was inspired by Arnaud's love of animals and his involvement in animal welfare (he adopted an elephant).  There dangling on a bronze choker, was Toby, handmade in France--avec le plus grand soin--using the medieval techniques of lost-wax casting bronze and enamel 'grand feu'...

'The bronze may change color,' its creator informed me, 'only to take on a natural patina.'

Well, Arnaud, patina is one of my favorite things, donc pas de soucis!

I leave you, dear reader, with a picture of a weatherworn sailor (having just gotten off the little fishing boat, before a storm set it), wearing for the first time this beautiful piece by our friend Arnaud Chevalier. It is a gift I am honored to receive and a piece I will treasure forever. Mom suggests I go out and get a crisp white dress shirt to really show it off. What do you think? What would you wear with the magnifique Toby? 


Visit Arnaud's website here (he also makes jewelry for men, handmade with care in France).

Montemboeuf Charente

Now back to my dear friend Tessa, for one more word about her Artist escapes in France. Tessa writes:

I also have places left on my September Roussillon trips when of course as part of our trip we visit where we will see Van Gogh paintings projected onto the massive quarry walls along with fabulous music. The weather is still fabulous and the vines are turning gold. Please visit my site to see the dates and destinations for the Charente trip and the Roussillon trips in September.

Wedding photo
That's it, dear reader...except for one more thing. Stay tuned for some exciting news in the next post. After almost 25 years of partnering in marriage--Jean-Marc and I are committing to something equally as meaningful, exciting, soul-searching, scary, nerve-racking, uncertain, gripping, risky, exhausting and well it's not what you think it is (just what do you think it is?***).... Just please be here for the next post--and thanks as ever for reading!

***No, it's not the tours. We're putting them on hold... for this.

Glaner: In Memory of Agnes Varda (30 May 1928 – 29 March 2019)

Glass castle

by Kristi Espinasse

In the dramatic opening scene of her memoir The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls is riding in the back of a New York taxi, wondering whether she has overdressed for the party to which she is headed, when she sees something that knocks the wind right out of her Park Avenue sails.

Out there on the curbside, an older woman wearing rags is rooting through a dumpster. On closer look, the garbage picker is Jeannette's own mother! 

As I read the page-turner memoir, I could only imagine how a daughter's heart seized up on seeing her intelligent, artistic, and once athletic mother rooting through the trash. What had brought her to this? And, more curiously, why was the waste picker smiling?

It wasn't until I saw the fascinating documentary, The Gleaners and I (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse), by French filmmaker Agnès Varda, that I began to see this touching scene quite differently, and even to recall a few gleaning episodes of my own. Before writing about those, I will share some of the eloquent descriptions I gathered from viewers' reactions to The Gleaners:

... a wonderful documentary that reminds us of how much we produce and waste in the world and how the disenfranchised (and artistic) make use of that waste to survive... The characters Varda encounters are equally compelling and interestingly are not portrayed as whiny or blameful of others for their situations: they simply state how they live and we are left impressed with their ingenuity. (anonymous)

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when we are introduced to a wizened Chinese man in Paris living at home among a heap of dumpster gleanings. He has taken in a boarder—a happy-go-lucky black man who hunts the day long for discarded food and items that he himself will repair and give away to those less fortunate than himself. "Somebody might need this," the ragpicker says. Evenings, the Chinese man will cook up the dumpster chicken in one of the ovens that his resourceful roommate has brought home. As the men prepare to dine together, seated on crooked chairs and ever amazed by their "fortune", I have to reach over and hit the pause button. Have you ever seen such sweet faces, such sparkling eyes, than on these two lovely men who care for one another and for others? 

In another scene, we observe a clean-cut wiry man stooping here and there as he scours the market stalls in Paris at the end of market day. Here and there he pops a broken piece of celery or apple or lettuce into his mouth... "Beta carotene! Vitamin K! I'm a biology major," he explains, adding that though he earns a salary, he still needs to eat and by the way, he's vegetarian! He admits that cheese is a little more difficult to find, but there's plenty of tossed out bread. We later learn that though he holds a scientific diploma, this biologist chooses to sell papers outside the train station. In a touching "who'd have thunk it?" scene, we see the same garbage picker volunteering his time, each evening, to teach refugees English. His carefully illustrated blackboards featuring, among other objects, a hand-drawn bike and its phonetic word equivalent, attest as much to his selfless and caring soul as to his professionalism and skill.    

There are several other heart-awakening moments in which Agnès Varda steadies her lens on the outcasts who in turn teach us more about the art of living than we will ever glean from the pages of any New York Times bestseller on the subject. The rag-wearing, sometimes toothless characters could write volumes on the subject. Meantime, they have more meaningful pursuits: getting by, while managing to smile at life. 

As for my own dumpster days as a child—I'd root unselfconsciously through the trash bin (one we shared with the neighbor in the trailer next door), ever amazed at the ongoing source of riches (in this case--cans of Hamm's beer which could be recycled for cash after stomping the cans flat!). Our neighbor, a single, middle-aged woman, regularly replenished the trash bin with this blatantly underestimated source of income! I began to feel sorry about her loss, which to me related to her pocket book and not her liver health (I had no idea that all those cans equalled addiction). 

I regret losing the desire to salvage things (publicly, at least), though the occasional foray through a stranger's trash still happens, but I am grateful to live here in France--where gleaning is alive and well and rooted deeply in the culture! How many times during family outings has an uncle or a cousin or a grandma stooped to pick up a tumbled down apricot or a chestnut, or paused to uproot a lonely asparagus or a bunch of herbs from the edge of a neighbor's yard. "Have you seen what they charge for this at the markets?" my in-laws shake their heads. Soon they'll make up a fresh batch of herbs de Provence--more fragrant and delicious than can be found on any supermarket aisle. 

When my husband returned from the States after his multi-city wine tour, he brought me an unexpected surprise: two charming rush-bottom chairs!

"I found them in the airport parking lot," Jean-Marc explained, "beside the dumpster." I admit, if he had brought those home 15 years ago--as a consolation gift for his two week absence, I might have been hugely disappointed! Nowadays, I don't want the ill-fitting T-shirt (quickly rung up at a pricy airport gift shop). I'd rather have a couple of bars of chocolate, or, in this case, some adorable chairs!) 

Each time I look at the chairs, I feel the same kind of affection one feels when looking at some of the characters in Agnès Varda's documentary. They are quirky. They are imperfect. They are charming. They are lovely. And, as one of the men in the film said, "they are needed."

Adieu, Agnès Varda. Thank you for the stories, for your precious gleanings on humanity. 

See it tonight. This film is available for rental, on Amazon, click here

Gleaners-and-i agnes varda