Terroir, French for "somewhereness" & that magnetic pull we feel towards France

Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes wildflowers
Those wildflower seeds loved the terroir in Sainte Cécile, where we lived for a time

TODAY'S WORD: "terroir"

  : soil, region; "somewhereness"

FRENCH SOUND FILE:
 Click the link to hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in today's post. Then scroll down to the vocabulary section to check your French comprehension.

Listen closely to the vocabulary list


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

You have probably stumbled across the word terroir (especially if you are a wine lover) and have a notion as to what it means. But, lately, this earthy term is taking on even more significance, helping to clarify just what it is I love about France. And it’s more than the food, more than the architecture, more than French dirt!

A synonym for terroir is "somewhereness". J'aime ça. My husband, a former vigneron, says a complete definition of terroir (beyond the region in which the grapes are grown and the soil) would include the history of a place and even the winemaker. Mais bien sûr!

It is also le facteur humain that describes our strong attraction to France. I love the way French women of all ages stroll arm-in-arm, or "bras dessus bras dessous". At a time when adolescents are awkward about everything, you’ll still see girls walking, les bras entrelacés. Throwing their heads back, laughing and chatting, it’s the most natural thing in the world. I’ve been honoured by such arm-hugging tenderness which, culturally, is a little less natural to me. Slightly embarrassed, I will gradually – so as not to make things even more awkward – let my arm slip away until, ahhh, I’m more in my comfort zone. But I will always appreciate the endearing moment a friend reaches for my arm while out on a stroll.

Speaking of endearing: I love the affectionate way the French acknowledge a kindness. “Vous êtes adorable!” they’ll gush. Where else on the planet will a perfect stranger say, in so many words, you are worthy of love and adoration? You will hear this phrase while serving an impromptu coffee (our plumber said it to me the other day, as I added a lump of sugar to his espresso). The compliment can be used anywhere, anytime. “Vous êtes adorable!” I thanked the cashier who left his register to help me carry a heavy cagette of patates and melons to my car.

One may have sinned a thousand times but, for a moment in time, in a stranger’s eyes, we are worthy of veneration. There is something else I enjoy here in France, though not every foreigner will agree: it’s the way a clerk will honour your place.

C’est-à-dire, when it is finally your turn at the counter you will be given the time you need and then some. Never mind the long queue behind you. When it is your moment to do business at the post office or the pharmacy or at the art supply store, you can linger with your needs, your unending questions, and your doubts. I am still not comfortable doing this – no matter how many times the postal worker says “Ils peuvent attendre”. There is time. Perhaps le temps is yet another element here?

Terroir... It could unlock the mystery of why so many of us feel an attraction magnétique towards France. It’s visceral, it’s minéral, it’s surréaliste. We feel we have, at some other point in time, been a part of this somewhereness. We walked along the salty shores or inhaled the mineral scent of the earth as we strolled arm-in-arm in the countryside with a soulmate… our endearing âme sœur, La France.

*    *    *

vineyard
Jean-Marc, harvesting at Mas des Brun in 2016. See une coquille, or “a little mistake”, anywhere in today’s post? Thank you for letting me know and I will fix it illico!

FRENCH VOCABULARY

le terroir = soil, region
j'aime ça = I love that
un vigneron = winemaker
un bras = arm
bras dessus bras dessous = arm-in-arm
entrelacer = intertwine
une cagette = crate
une patate = potato, spud
une queue = line, queue
c'est-à-dire = that is to say
ils peuvent attendre = they can wait
âme soeur = soulmate

IMG_20150504_140109

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Dépanner & How a safety pin can outwit pickpockets

lily of the valley muguet roses flower stand pizzeria la ciotat
Pictured: a muguet stand here in La Ciotat. I hope you all had a relaxing premier mai, or Labor Day, and that the month is going well. On May 12th, at 6 p.m., Jean-Marc and our son Max are having a special wine-tasting for organic and natural wines. If you are in the area of La Ciotat they would love to see you. Click here for more info about this free winetasting event

TODAY'S FRENCH WORD: “dépanner”


    : to help out, to lend someone money, to help someone out of a jam, to come to the rescue

(Here we are focusing on one sense of the multi-meaningful  verb “dépanner” as it relates to today’s story)

FRENCH SOUND FILE: Click the link to hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in today's post. Then scroll down to the vocabulary section to check your French comprehension.

Click here to access the MP3 audio file

 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Driving up to a local ATM for some flouze, I saw the familiar figure loitering around the strip mall. I hesitated over whether to drive off or face the situation.

As soon as I got out of my car, the woman beelined it towards me. 
“Vous avez un euro cinquante à me dépanner?”

Could I spot her a dollar fifty? Such a specific sum. Was she a regular shopper who was short a few coins for a pack of cigarettes or a baguette? It is the impression she gave the first time she stopped me, in a nearby parking lot.

"Non. Non, non!" I replied (those last two noes surprised even me as I nervously turned to the distributeur. I tried to hide the numbers I was punching into the clavier--all the while keeping an eye on the woman who was slinking away.

Having run into her several times, I knew her story didn't add up. Unlike the panhandler outside our post office or the mendiant beside le tabac or the ivrogne seated in front of the superette (whom Mom regularly supplies with ice cream) who are clear in their motives and whose stories (true or not...) we blindly support, this woman made me uneasy. Certain beggars  make me uneasy but that is no reason to look away. It is better to err on the side of giving than to make the mistake of leaving someone in need. I suppose that rule should apply to her as well?

Her. We will call her "Passe Inaperçu," because she blends into the scenery: bare skinned (no makeup), hair tied back, neutral pants and top... you might not recognize her a second time. But a third, fourth, fifth... I see her when I go to the grocery store or to the animalerie, she's soliciting other shoppers in the parking lot, walking right up to them as they head to their cars: "Vous avez un euro à me dépanner?"

Maybe it was a question of the language? Jean-Marc's guess, when I relate the story to him, is the woman is too ashamed to beg, so she asks for money another way. If that is true then I am the one ashamed for jumping to conclusions. Yet...there is something dishonest about her, something in her manner that is synonymous with con or scammer. My intuition is so specific it adds “organized ring” to the hunch. Is it any coincidence, then, what happened next....

While driving to that same centre commercial, I noticed a van pull off to the side of the road, the side door rolled opened and a handful of people got out—including
her. I knew where she was headed, but who were the others and where were they off to? 

There are all sorts of scams and scammers in France and various ways to deal with them. Our friend Charles, in Florida, has a homemade "antivol" contraption anyone can make. To outwit a Parisian pickpocket all you need is une épingle à nourrice. Charles fastens the safety pin to the bottom of his front pant pocket, and ties a string to his wallet, attaching the two. C'est malin. A clever way to keep your wallet safe.

You've got to be malin with these thieves. And malin enough to know who's who: are you dealing with a con artist or someone in need? When is one the other? Tell me, Dear Reader, how would you handle my “parking lot” situation and have you ever been duped? I would love to know your thoughts and hear your stories in the comments section below.

***

See une coquille, or “a little mistake”, anywhere in today’s post? Thank you for letting me know and I will fix it illico!

F08218B8-5909-415E-8F04-652E83EC875A

Photo of the shopping center mentioned in today’s story. Look at the dog on the back of the motorcycle.

FRENCH VOCABULARY
le flouze = cash
le centre commercial = shopping center, strip mall (when it’s outdoors)
Vous avez un euro cinquante à me dépanner? = would you spot me a dollar fifty?
le distributeur = ATM, cashpoint
le clavier
= touchpad
le tabac =tobacconist, tobacconist's (shop selling cigarettes and other items (cards, magazines...)
un ivrogne, une ivrogne = alcoholic, a drunkard (man), a drunkard (woman)
la supérette = mini market, grocer
le mendiant, la mendiante = beggar
passe inaperçu = goes unnoticed 
l’animalerie = pet shop, pet supply store
un antivol = antitheft device
une épingle à nourrice
= safety pin
malin = clever
illico = right away (see the post for more)

1490E128-69B3-4E67-A710-C1EA12946DC8
Rusty and Betty, the baby tourterelles, are doing great. We are thrilled they have remained in our yard, and often fly down to peck for seeds in the garden.

Serenity prayer priere de la serenity sicily italy
Do you know The Serenity Prayer in French? Learn the words and enjoy the calm and peace this poem brings. Bon week-end. Enjoy.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


A Happy Ending + "To Fly Away" in French

5BD256C7-70DB-49EE-B555-A3F7DD72EDF8
One dove, Betty (pictured beside Mama), remained in our care until Sunday...when she successfully took flight. Read on for an update on her brother, Rusty, and his trick on local tourists :-) Your edits to this post are helpful, appreciated, and incorporated as soon as possible. Merci.

TODAY'S FRENCH WORD: "s'envoler"

    : to take flight, to fly away, to fly off

SOUND FILE: Click the link to hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in today's post. Then scroll down to the vocabulary section to check your French comprehension.

Click  here for the soundfile


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

The baby birds have successfully flown our makeshift coop. Quel soulagement! But eight days into the doves' rescue we were holding our breath after one of the oisillons took off in an erratic flight, landing above the busy street corner at the edge of our lot. 

As trucks shrieked by and hungry seagulls flew overhead our eyes were trained on the teetering tourterelle, Rusty. How he surprised us when he suddenly took flight after his last feeding in the garden (when I filmed this video). And there we thought his sister, Betty, would be first to fly the nest--Betty with the deep cat stratch along her side and giant gash in her back. "Betty is like those who've had a near-death experience," Mom remarked. "She is determined to live life to its fullest!" Betty was the first to jump up onto the box-nest's edge, first to venture out around the garden, her body scabbed, her wing missing too many feathers to fly straight. How she'd survived that bloody attack still amazes us (she went on to fall into the low-lying fountain, where Jackie scooped her right out. Shivering and wet, our little feathered fighter soldiered on). 

Each day we watched the baby doves grow stronger, thanks to regular feedings by Mama and Papa Dove, and my own Mom's loving care. When sibling, Rusty, took off last week, ending up in the flowering Arbre de Judée (a bad omen?), he remained there past sundown, his head tucked into his fluffy chest. That next morning I feared finding him lying stiff in the garden after a cold, rainy night, but there he was on that flimsy perchoir, same pitiful position. I hoped he'd caught a few of those raindrops in his tiny bec (Mother Nature was kind in sending a misty shower and not the pelting rains we've had in the past). 

That afternoon Rusty changed positions on that branch, assuring us all he was not in some kind of coma. And now, by facing our garden vs. facing the busy street, he seemed better off: he would recognize his nursery, below (the grassy area where he and his sister were placed each day of their weeklong rehabilitation). He could also see and recognize his caregivers as we regularly waved our arms and called to him, "Rusty, Rusty, Rusty!" By day three we were dumbstruck over how the tiny creature could survive without food or water (there were no signs of the parents feeding him). Meantime Mama and Papa Dove continued feeding Betty thanks to all the dog croquettes Jules fed them.

But finally, we were elated to discover Mama and Papa feeding Rusty. No wonder he survived the past 3 days. He was being nurtured all along. We even saw him fly from his branch to the telephone pole higher up, beside the tree, where one of his parents would join him for regular feedings.

By Saturday night, Betty was raring to go. Only her flight pattern (on her brief take-offs a meter above ground) was irregular. It was that maimed wing keeping her grounded. Yet she was determined and all but broke out of my hands when I brought her back inside the last two nights. It was sad to have to leave our little wild bird alone for the night, sans frère, in Mom's  bathroom, not a leaf in sight, but when I discovered the toilet seat open I flipped. Betty was set to be released in the morning, but what if she had a freak accident the night before!

"Mom! You must remember to put the lid down!"  Poor Jules was exhausted after 10 sleepless nights, caring for her fiesty new roommate. Leaving Mom's studio that night, I feared a second twist-of-fate. What if the lid was left up accidentally and Betty flew into the toilet bowl?.... But to remind Mom once more to be cautious would be hurtful. Il fallait lacher prise. It was time to let go and have faith. 

The next morning I hurried to Mom's studio, around the side of our house. Jules was getting ready to feed Betty (oh, thank God!) but Mama Dove was waiting in the garden to feed her, too. "Let's go!" I said. "Are you ready?"
"We are ready," Mom replied, answering for herself and Betty.

Out in the garden Mama and Papa were now feeding both siblings, Rusty (who'd returned to his flimsy branch, just the right size for his little feet?) and Betty there on the grass. After mama bird flew off suggestively, Betty surprised us by flying up to the hammock! Only, when she began eyeing the east end of the yard, beyond which 4 neighbor cats live.... Mom asked me to stand guard. "Mom!" I said, "we can't manipulate the situation. We've got to...."

And just as I stood arguing, Betty flew off the hammock and landed on my head!

How good her little scratchy purple feet felt in my scalp! Mom and I exchanged looks of delight along with smiles as big as the flying leap Betty just took.

I slowly walked my passenger to the nearest perch (our tall table, facing the front of the house). Betty hopped off of my head and onto the table where she carefully thought over her next move. Suddenly, she flew up to the rooftop beside our porch, then up again to the highest toit. A perfect choice! From there she could hop onto the gigantic cedar tree with its endless branches.

Mom and I were clapping and whistling in celebration when next Betty disappeared into the dark green network of branches: How would we find her again and if we did, how would be know which bird she was?

Turns out there are several ways to identify a baby collared dove: 1) they haven't yet developed the black with white trim "half collar" around their necks 2) their feathers are dark but will become a light gray after their first molt 3) their distinct gazouillis or baby chirps set them apart from adults.

It's two weeks now since we found those fledglings in the yard. And just yesterday Betty flew back to our garden to peck the ground alongside her ravenous parents. We guessed she’d be in Paris or Miami by now, such is her adventurous character! Rusty is still up in his same tree, amusing us with his antics, such as his finicky eating...

As Mother and son perch high up on the telephone pole (where Russ sometimes ventures), one feeding the other, a shower of large crumbs rains down on the sidewalk below. 

"Mom," I say, elbowing Jules. "You've got to crush those kibbles before feeding them to Mama! Rusty won't accept them that way."
"Honey, I'm doing the best I can," Jules says, rolling her eyes.
"That's true. And those baby birds would never have made it without you."

Mom is visibly touched by the recognition. And with that, we sit back and enjoy the moment. The sun is beginning to set, Betty’s finding her way around the gigantic Cedar tree, and Rusty is spitting out more of his dinner, showering unsuspecting tourists who are returning to their cars after a day at the beach. This is just the happy ending I was hoping for, and more :-)

***

8012E631-27E8-488A-9AA0-5AFB54531C0A
8012E631-27E8-488A-9AA0-5AFB54531C0A
Top photo: Betty, not yet ready to fly, only wishing to. Above: Perched on her box beside the artichokes, waiting for a parent to fly down and feed her again. Smokey is lounging over there on the right.

FRENCH VOCABULARY 

s'envoler = to take flight
le soulagement
= relief
un oisillon = baby bird, nestling, fledgling
la tourterelle = collared dove
L'Arbre de Judée = Judas tree
le perchoir
=roost
le bec = beak
sans frère = without brother
lâcher prise = to let go
le toit = rooftop
le gazouillis = chirps

Dove  golden retriever  garden
Mama and Papa, whom Jules has fed for 3 years. And that is the high table (a former, ailing Palm Tree) from where Betty flew. She landed on the roof, left.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens