From huppes to rapaces--birds in our French garden, les oiseaux dans le sud de la France

seagul gabian moette goeland
Un gabian strutting across the table on our front porch. Read to the end for all the useful French words and expressions.

Today's Word: s'envoler

   : to fly away, to take flight; to take off, to be blown away

Hear Jean-Marc read the following in French and in English.
Si tu te sers de la liberté en échange d'autre chose, comme l'oiseau, elle s'envolera. If you use freedom in exchange for something else, like the bird, it will fly away. --Gao Xingjian (émigré to Paris, Nobel Prize for literature)


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
"Freedom is for the birds." That's a funny title for today's musing, given "for the birds" means anything from "worthless" to "not important". No wonder birdwatching is less popular these days than surfing the net or social etiquette or wearing the right dress (stuff I think about. More about that later).

Mysteriously, the moment I chose "birds" as the subject of today's post...the most exotic oiseau in Provence paid a visit to our garden! I had just sat down for a solo lunch on our front porch, which overlooks the wild garden when I recognized those white and black zebra wings and that impressive crest sur la tête. I'll never forget the first time I saw une huppe after it landed on our pétanque court back in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. Quelle curiosité! I have only seen a few over the years and had I been eating lunch inside I never would have seen this animal diurne as it alighted on the diagonal trunk of our pepper tree (in the opening photo, you see the weeping branches of the faux-poivrier).

Hoopoe_with_insect
A hoopoe. Trapped in its "bec" a potato bug (good for hoopoes bad for chickens??). By Artemy Voikhansky

(And now, a brief interlude in time to list some birds in our neighborhood, and where we see them)

le martinet = swift (seen in the air this time of year)
le rouge-gorge = robin redbreast (seen in our Judas tree)
le corbeau = crow, raven (the gigantic parasol pines across the street)
la pie = magpie (struts around yard, often seen in the mulberry tree, eating!)
la mésange = chickadee (hedges)
la hirondelle = swallow (in the air)
le flamant rose = flamingo (rare in our area, spotted on the seashore)
le pouillot fitis = willow warbler (not sure, but I hear they exist here...)
le merlin noire = merlin (parasol pines? Am I confusing them with those crows?)

Tourterelle dove

As I sit typing this post, I hear the familiar screech of a green perruche and am transported back to a few summers ago... Mom shouting for us to hurry outside--a bunch of parrots were flying around our palm tree, attracted to the bright orange dates growing there. How did these exotic creatures end up in the Land of the Mistral? Were they escapees from a neighboring villa? Fugitives from the zoo in Toulon? In the days that followed, I quizzed everyone from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who regularly ring our doorbell to the municipal meter maids (trained to spot freeloaders!). Thanks to these accidental informants, I learned a lot about la perruche à collier (Psittacula krameri), including a few things we immigrants have common…(more here).

Just last night, Mom, Smokey, and I were sitting beside the cherry tree surrounded by doves (two or three in Jules's lap) when Mom noted that what is usual to us (all the soft gray tourterelles in our garden) is spectacular to others. As natives of Arizona, living in The Sonoran Desert, we enjoyed the roadrunners, quail, and hummingbirds (which do not exist in France), but seagulls were something never seen before! These days they are ubiquitous in our seaside town. (The locals here call them "les gabians.")

Cormorant
Les cormorans

Speaking of birds by the sea, the cormorant is another species in our voisinage. I see the same couple every day, in one of the coves along the boardwalk. Ils sont là, tes amis! There are your friends! Jean-Marc always says, when we walk by. There is a certain comfort in seeing the same birds in the same place at the same time, every day.  

Of everyday birds we can count on pigeons! They left the boardwalk and moved into our yard after the first lockdown. Three confinements later, gone are the restaurants (and all the savory scraps along le trottoir...). Now all our doves (and our chicken) must share seeds with these economic migrants. Speaking of hungry birds this brings us to a sad parenthesis: birds of prey (les rapaces in French). I am certain they are what snatched up two more of our chickens in the last months. After learning owls (les hiboux or les chouettes) can swoop in and carry off a hen, I began to suspect Le Petit-Duc, whose evening cry à la metronome is unmistakable. On second thought, and after talking to a venerable paysanne who lives nearby, it had to be une buse (a buzzard or a hawk). 

That leaves us with the biggest bird in our garden, our hen, Edie. We are doing our best to protect her. As for protecting all the other birds in our neighborhood, they say it is important not to use pesticides--and if you want to attract more birds into your yard, keep a shallow bowl of water, food, and put out a few more birdhouses. I'm going to purchase some wooden nichoirs at the next chance. Tell me, what are your secrets to enjoying the presence of birds? What benefits have you experienced? My smartphone informs me I've spent less time on the internet last week. Isn't that freeing? Now if I only I could quit ruminating about what to wear for a few upcoming social events. After three lockdowns I'm more comfortable watching birds than dressing up. I wish, like the hoopoe, I could just wear zebra wings every day (and for fancy occasions une crête sur la tête).


Kristi hens
Please consider following my Instagram account -- apart from the photos I post of our area in France, it is a good backup. Should this journal experience a glitch, you will always be informed of a new post via Instagram  

FRENCH VOCABULARY

s'envoler = to fly away
un oiseau = bird
sur la tête = on the head
une huppe = hoopoe bird
la pétanque = boules
quelle curiosité = what an oddity
diurne = diurnal, daytime
le bec = beak, bill
le faux-poivrier = "false pepper tree" (schinus molle)
la perruche = parrot
la tourterelle = turtledove
le voisinage = neighborhood
le trottoir = sidewalk, pavement
le rapace = bird of prey, raptor
un hibou = owl (can also mean "grouchy person"
la chouette = owl
le petit-duc scops = scops owl
le paysan, la paysanne = farmer, peasant
la buse = buzzard, hawk

pigeons in tree

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


Arsenic in my omelette? Animal instincts + French vocabulary you won't find in a textbook (like the slang word for concierge...)

Irish cob horse in provence
A scene from Cousine Sabine's, where we enjoyed Sunday's "cousinade" or family reunion. The horse is an Irish cob.

Today's Word: un abreuvoir

: watering hole, drinking bowl, trough, birdbath, fountain

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read in French and in English

Study the sentence below, then click on the following sound file to hear the French and English
On peut conduire un cheval à l'abreuvoir, mais non le forcer à boire. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
I was in our chicken pen, refilling the water bowl and collecting the "oeuf du jour" when I had an inspiration: Go over and flip the straw bale! that inner voice whispered.

"Come here, Edie," I said to my chicken and the two of us headed over to a knee-high botte de paille. Ready? Flip! And there, on the underside of the humid mass, the potato bugs were teeming! Dozens of them! What a feast my little hen would have!

"Go on Edie! Eat! Bon appétit!

Edie approached the writhing wall of insects and cocked her head, left, right, left...and her pupils dilated as she moved in for a closer look. If you know chickens, you can picture my hen's jerking motions, which I feared would scare off the bugs. "Go on, Edie! before it's too late!" (If you know potato bugs, you'll recall their protective mechanism: these “roly polies” instantly curl in on themselves, making a repulsive hard shell barrier).

"Edie! What's the matter with you? Look at that live feast! A veritable bug buffet. "Eat, Edie, eat while you can!" But my chicken just stood there, her neck seesawing, her head jerking as her giant side eye followed the critters up and down the slithering wall. I had the urge to take her by the beak and lead her to the high protein lunch but the use of force would have been unkind, not to mention futile.

On peut conduire un cheval à l'abreuvoir, mais non le forcer à boire

It reminds me of the saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. (You can present somebody with an opportunity but you can't make them take it!) Clearly, Edie wasn't seizing this chance to swap out those bland pellets for some crunchy isopods!

Frustrated and disappointed, I left my cocotte to her own devices and went to check in on Mom, whose studio is across the driveway from the poulailler. Mom and a newly-groomed Smokey were in bed watching cat videos on Youtube. 

Giving my best impersonation of a stubborn, wide-eyed, head-jerking chicken, I recounted the story of the Supreme Potato Bug Festin that Edie refused. Mom and Smokey were amused and when I was done flapping my wings and pecking at thin air it suddenly hit me, another kind of folly: we act the same before our own Beloved's gifts (whether that be God, a loving family member, or friend). We fail to recognize the goods being set down before us--whether food, advice, or care. We think we know better. We go and eat soggy, day-old pellets instead.  

"See you later," I said to Mom and Smokey, leaving my beloveds and heading around the corner into the house for an afternoon nap. Before I fell to sleep I surfed the net and there is where I saw a serendipitous post from a permaculture site I follow. Can you believe they were talking about potato bugs? Quelle coïncidence! It turns out potato bugs or "cloportes" are excellent workers in the garden as they eat up heavy metals in the soil, such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and plomb de la terre which are dangerous to humans. 

La Sagesse de La Nature/Nature's Wisdom

Aha! If my hen turned her beak at my generous offering it was because her instincts were telling her Don't do it! Don't eat that! 

Yikes! If she had eaten those metal-charged crustaceans, would I then have arsenic in my omelette? Lead in my Eggs Benedict? Francium in my frittata?  Adding to the confusion, the internet says potato bugs are okay for hens to eat. What then, is the answer? If not to let my chick decide for herself, and trust her own animal instincts!

It all makes me think about the current times we are living in. So many of us are trying to lead our stubborn loved ones to the water. But we can't make them drink it! It is frustrating, unnerving, disappointing! As for me, I am glad my chicken did not drink the "water" I offered her. After all, what do I know? I would do better to entertain friends with my Jerky Hen Impression than to tell anyone what to do.

Bonne chance et bon courage. I'll be back next week with more French words. If you enjoy this letter, please share it with a friend.

Amicalement,

Kristi
P.S. Some trivia: did you know "cloporte", or potato bug, the subject of today's story, is also French slang for "caretaker"? Cloporte means "concierge" in French! It is fun to think we have hundreds of concierges in our garden :-)

P.S.S. Please consider following my Instagram account -- apart from the photos I post of our area in France, it is a good backup. Should this newsletter experience a glitch, you will always be informed of a new post via Instagram 

FRENCH VOCABULARY
un abreuvoir = trough, watering hole
l'oeuf du jour = egg of the day
la botte = bundle (also "boot", see post)
la paille = straw (paille expressions, here)
boire = to drink
le poulailler = henhouse, chicken coop
le festin = feast, banquette (see post here)
la cocotte = chick, chook, in French child speak (see "baby talk" post)
le plomb = lead
la terre = earth, soil
bonne chance = good luck
bon courage = be brave
amicalement = kind wishes

Sainfoin fleur flowers
In front of Cousin Sabine's, a field of pink "sainfoin": a plant of the meadows which was formerly cultivated as fodder. Une plante des prairies qui était autrefois cultivée comme fourrage. Below, after one of Cousin Sabine's relatives hung it there decades ago, an old mailbox disappears into a venerable plane tree.

plane platane tree swallows mailbox

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


What does “Féerique” mean in French? + compare translations of our bilingual book synopsis

Kristi and Jean-Marc Espinasse
Photo of me and Jean-Marc in 1991. Today, enjoy an extended sound file in French as Jean-Marc summarizes our story. Now that our vineyard memoir is written, we have arrived at a critical step: finding an agent and then a publisher for the hardcopy edition. Your help is vital! Please study the following synopsis in English and in French, and help answer the questions that follow.

Today’s Word: féerique

-magical, stellar, enchanting, fairy tale

The Lost Gardens is the story of a man who pursues his dream of making the ultimate Bandol wine. After experiencing the harvest at his uncle’s vineyard in the world-renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Jean-Marc Espinasse makes a life-changing decision. He quits his job as an accountant in the cosmopolitan city of Marseille, and moves his young family, including his American wife, to an isolated domaine in the windy, inhospitable Rhone Valley. There begins an unbridled pursuit of his wine fantasy, which takes him on a whirlwind of bipolar ups and downs.

In a take-turns husband/wife narrative, Jean-Marc chronicles his battle with a longtime mood disorder, aggravated by a mysterious family tragedy, and his painful struggle as he comes up against a never-ending string of obstacles at the vineyard--from a near-death accident in his wine cellar, and again on his tractor, to the ultimate threat of a lawsuit which leads to his final breakdown and loss of the winery. In her chapters, Kristi shares her determination to stay sober on two consecutive vineyards, her own struggles with anxiety, and her escape into blogging and gardening. Throughout the story, she considers the mystery of love as she analyses her difficult relationship with her soulmate, from its fairytale beginning in the South of France to a total breakdown of the heart when the love is lost, somewhere among the wine and the vines.

With the vineyard and gardens slipping away, the couple has nowhere to turn but to each other. Through the storm there emerges a story of faith, hope, and love, and what it means to stay committed in the darkest moments.

Audio recording: Click here to listen to the book synopsis in French

The Lost Gardens est l'histoire d'un homme qui poursuit son rêve d'élaborer le nec plus ultra des vins de Bandol. Après une vendange chez son oncle, dans le célèbre vignoble de Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Jean-Marc Espinasse a une révélation. Il quitte son emploi de comptable dans la ville cosmopolite de Marseille et installe sa jeune famille, y compris sa femme américaine, dans un domaine isolé de la Vallée du Rhône, venteuse et inhospitalière. C'est là que commence la poursuite effrénée de son rêve de vigneron, qui l'entraîne dans un tourbillon de hauts et de bas bipolaires.

Dans un récit à tour de rôle, Jean-Marc raconte son combat contre ses troubles de l'humeur de longue date, aggravés par une mystérieuse tragédie familiale, et sa lutte douloureuse contre une série interminable d'obstacles au vignoble - d'un accident qui frôle la mort dans son chai, et un autre sur son tracteur ou la menace ultime d'un procès qui le mène à sa dépression finale et à la perte du vignoble. Dans ses chapitres, Kristi parle de sa détermination à rester sobre dans deux vignobles consécutifs, de ses propres luttes contre l'anxiété et de son mode d'évasion dans le blogging et le jardinage. Tout au long de l'histoire, elle se penche sur le mystère de l'amour en analysant la relation difficile qu'elle entretient avec son âme sœur, depuis son arrivée féerique dans le sud de la France jusqu'à son désespoir lorsque l'amour se perd, quelque part parmi le vin et les vignes.

Avec ces jardins qui leur échappent, le couple n'a plus qu'à se tourner l'un vers l'autre. À travers la tempête émerge une histoire de foi, d'espoir et d'amour et de ce que rester engagé signifie dans les moments les plus sombres.

QUESTIONS

1. An important question that publishers will want to know is this: What other books out there on the market resemble our story? In reading the synopsis above, does our account bring to mind anything else you have ever read with a similar theme? Please name those books in the comments section.

2. Does the English-to-French translation reflect the subtleties within the text? Do you have any suggestions or corrections?

3. What new words did you learn today via our text? We hope this bilingual edition has been as helpful to you as it has been to us. Thank you very much for your help with our book!

For more about our story and/or to purchase the current online edition, click here.

Our farmhouse as Mas des Brun

Jean-Marc and Kristi Espinasse
Photo of Jean-Marc and me by Suzanne Delperdang Willis Land. The "Real Men Drive Tractors" was a gift from our friends Chris and George. Thank you for sharing this post with anyone who may be interested in our story. 

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!