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emporter

La Vannerie = Wickerwork (c) Kristin Espinasse
                    Les paniers for sale in Aix-en-Provence 

petit sac pour emporter les restes
noun, masculine
peuh-tee-sak-poor-ahm-por-tay-lay-rest
doggy bag

 


One of the first cultural differences I encountered after moving to the land of bistros was this: they don't do doggy bags in la France! 

In 1990, in Aix-en-Provence, a plate of egg rolls separated me from my future husband. Egg rolls in France are different from those in the States. In France, Asian restaurants serve the fried rouleaux with sprigs of mint and leaves of lettuce in which to roll them. Les Nems, as they are called, are Jean-Marc's and my favorite entrée, and we usually order so many that by the time the main course arrives we are too full to finish it.

At the end of that first shared meal in the restaurant chinois, we had our first leftovers. I explained to Jean-Marc that les restes in America go into doggy bags.  Jean-Marc was amused by the funny term and  his practical side was quickly won over by the concept. But when he tried out the idea on the waitress, asking her to wrap up the remaining food on our plates, she showed neither amusement nor practicality. In fact, she looked a bit put out by the request. 

After Jean-Marc persisted, the waitress returned with an empty plastic tub which, judging from the label, had formerly held pistachio ice cream. She pried open the container and slid the contents of both plates inside. I watched doubtfully as the sweet-and-sour shrimp was poured right over the canard laqué, and the riz cantonais was heaped directly on top. 

"Ça ira?" As the waitress scraped off the last grain of rice from the plates, her exaggerated gesture embarrassed me, cheapening an otherwise romantic evening. 

Walking down Aix's narrow and winding cobblestone streets after the meal, I suggested to Jean-Marc that maybe it was not a good idea, after all, to ask restaurants to wrap up food. It was too awkward for everyone involved when the servers had to go scavenging for odd containers in order to be accommodating.

Jean-Marc disagreed. It was a very good idea, he assured me—no more wasted food. The French would do well to adopt the practice of asking for a doggy bag!

"But they are not doggy-bag equipped here, so there's no use trying to save the food!" As I argued my point, I walked right into a street beggar. Suddenly, three sets of eyes bounced off each other.

"Bonsoir, monsieur," Jean-Marc spoke first. 

I watched my date, who smiled as he crouched to the ground, offering the homeless man the "useless" invention. Le doggy bag

The homeless man nodded his appreciation. A long pause ended, and Jean-Marc and I walked on. I pulled my boyfriend's arm close. This one was a keeper.

 

***

Your edits appreciated. Does the story read clearly? Should it be included in the book? See the comments box at the end of this edition to leave an edit or feedback.

French Vocabulary

le rouleau
roll

le nem
a kind of fried egg roll

une entrée
starter, hors d'oeuvre

le restaurant chinois
Chinese restaurant

les restes (mpl)
leftovers

le canard laqué
Peking Duck 

le riz cantonais
fried rice 

ça ira
will that do?

Bonsoir, monsieur
Good evening, sir

 

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un morceau

Portavalon_1
Wisteria tumbling over an old French door in a town called Avalon...

le morceau (mor-so) noun, masculine
  1. piece, bit

Expressions:
avaler le morceau = to swallow the bad news
couper, mettre, réduire en morceau = to break to pieces, to destroy
emporter le morceau = to succeed, to get one's own way
lâcher, cracher le morceau = to confess, to spill the beans
manger un morceau = to eat quickly; to have a snack
tomber en morceau = to fall to pieces
le morceau de vie = slice of life
mâcher les morceaux à quelqu'un = "to chew the pieces for someone" = to prepare the job/ way for someone

...........................
Citation du Jour:
Où que j'aille, je suis un morceau du paysage de mon pays.
Wherever I go, I am a piece of the landscape of my country.
--Fatos Arapi

..........................................
A Day in a French Life...

(The story that originally appeared here, with the French vocabulary (below) is now a part of this book -- Don't miss it!!!)

..................................................................................................................
*References: un village typique (m) = a characteristic village; une grand-mère (f) = grandmother; manger un morceau = to have a quick bite to eat; la poubelle (f) = garbage; l'étrangère (f) (l'étranger, m) = foreigner

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le tonnerre

Asterix
Read about this photo at Photo du Jour, below.

le tonnerre (tun-ehr) noun, masculine
  1. thunder; thunderbolt

Expressions:
du tonnerre (de Dieu) = terrific, tremendous, wonderful
un tonnerre d'applaudissements = thunderous applause
un coup de tonnerre = a clap, peal, of thunder; bombshell
une voix de tonnerre = a voice like thunder
Tonnerre de Brest (expletive) = Shiver my timbers! Heavens above!

...........................
Citation du Jour
Le tonnerre est impressionnant, mais c'est l'éclair qui est important.
Thunder is impressive, but it is lightning that does the work.
--Mark Twain

.........................................
A Day in a French Life...

An ancient stone's throw from Paris, at the Parc Astérix, I observe two types of French people: those who enjoy roller-coaster rides and those who do not. And I do mean enjoy, for there are French who will simply put up with Russian Mountains,* being brave and so forth, but they are not truly amused; I tell myself this as I sit on the curb of a flower-bed, flanked by the other half of the French, watching the thrill seekers exit a ride called "Tonnerre de Zeus" (Zeus's Thunder).

I study their faces. Do they look nauseous? Is there a lingering petrified gaze? Are they so shook up that their faces have not yet registered a verdict? I note their ages. Have I seen anyone over 40? over 50? over 60? over 70 on the ride? Isn't it true that they are all ados*?

At the other end of the amusement park I learn that my brain is loose. I don't know what is more alarming, the reeling metal box I find myself in or the realization that a cerveau* is like the yellow of an egg in a coquille d'oeuf.* It can't be healthful to scramble one's gray matter like that. I let go of the cart's fat metal protective bar and hold my head. I look over to 7-year-old Jackie who is all teeth, cheeks pushed back to her ears, eyes peeled, a flying carpet of golden hair gliding behind her.

Earlier, Jean-Marc, Max and Jackie had given the ride in question (I can't remember its name--probably "Shortcut To Hell," as it's half the size of Zeus's Thunder) an enthusiastic thumbs-up. "You'll like it, Maman.* I promise it won't scare you. T'inquiète pas!"* They showed me the cool picture-magnets they had just purchased at six euros a pop, snapped by the ride's automatic camera at the thrilling-most part of the adventure. I studied the ecstatic faces behind the plexiglass frame. I wanted a picture-magnet too. It was the temptation that led me to lower that fat bar behind the reeling, eye-peeling, head-scrambling cart, boarding the train for a Shortcut To Hell.

.................................................................................................................
*References: Russian Mountains = French name for roller-coaster (les montagnes russes, fpl); les ados (short for adolescents) mfpl = teenagers; le cerveau (m) = brain; une coquille d'oeuf (f) = eggshell; la maman (f) = mom; t'inquiète pas = don't worry

Photo du Jour
Today's photo--of a faux vintage poster board--was snapped while trying to keep up with my family at le Parc Astérix (north of Paris). We didn't get to see "le spectacle," so anxious were we to find the Shortcut to Hell.

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le trajet

Gladiator
For more about this image, see Photo du Jour below.

le trajet (trah-zhay) noun, masculine
1. distance; route; trip; journey
2. ride, drive, flight

Expressions:
choisir le trajet le plus long = to choose the longest way
refaire le trajet en sens inverse = to walk / drive back

Citation du Jour
Je ne me demande pas où mènent les routes; c'est pour le trajet que je pars.
I don't ask where the roads lead; it is for the journey that I leave.--
Anne Hébert

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
My husband saved up enough credit card points to treat us to a day at Parc Astérix. The only thing separating us from the roller coasters, flying swings and cotton candy was an eight hour trajet* from the south of France to the amusement park, located 30 kilometers north of Paris.

Jean-Marc set a wooden wine crate in the center of the backseat's floorboard then rigged his laptop computer to it. He cut off a few pieces of Velcro, stuck two pieces bristle-face-up atop the crate and two more beneath the ordinateur* before plugging a special adapter into the allume-cigare.* Max and Jackie sat on either side of the crate and, with small écouteurs* in their ears, watched Astérix & Obélix for part of the ride. When that film was over, they watched the French favorite, "Taxi," in which a pedal-pumping cab driver streaks across Marseilles leaving the villains in a puff of French exhaust.

Between films (or when the computer overheated) we took in views of the colorful countryside including fields of sunshine-yellow colza. Every once in a while we saw a panneau* pointing out a famous or historical landmark. To the sign "Basilique de St. Maximin"* Jean-Marc and I said, "Look Max and Jackie, that's where you were baptized!" When we cruised past the majestic Ste-Victoire mountain range, we argued over who the famous artist associated with Aix-en-Provence and the area was:

"It's Cézanne," I began, before second-guessing myself. "No, that's not it..."
"Matisse..." Jean-Marc offered.
"Definitely not."
"Van Gogh," he continued, pronouncing "Gogh" as "Gog," making me even more suspicious of his answers.
"No. No... maybe Paul. That's it--Paul Cézanne!"

Every kid enjoys seeing the sky-high éoliennes* with their serene, slow-twirling arms. When we passed a field of the tall energy-producing wind machines Jean-Marc asked a question. "Max, do you know how electricity is made?" It reminds me of the kids asking their father: Why is the sun hot? or What is air? or Where does God live?

By the time we got to Burgundy Jackie began to mistake one of those lattice-patterned electric towers for la Tour Eiffel.* While the structures are similar in shape, the electric tower is missing the point at the top (not to mention the stairs, souvenir shops and fancy restaurant).

Thirty minutes from the périphérique* in Paris, I began to blink my eyes to prepare them for the stinging effect I always feel when we approach the city. (Producing not tears of emotion, but tears from the city's pollution.) When the stinging didn't come I noticed that Paris seemed cleaner than usual. Jean-Marc explained that the speed limit around the périphérique had been reduced by 20 kilometers per hour and that this has not only saved lives, but it has made traffic more fluid and cut down on pollution. I can vouch for that, having seen it with my own cozy eyes.

Back tomorrow with more on Parc Astérix...

..............................................................................................................
*References: le trajet (m) = ride; un ordinateur (m) computer; un allume-cigare (m) = automobile cigar (cigarette) lighter; un écouteur (m) = earphone; le panneau (m) = sign; basilique de St. Maximin = St. Maximin's famous basilica/cathedral; une éolienne (f) = windmill, windpump; la tour Eiffel = Eiffel Tower; le périphérique (m) = beltway, outer road skirting the city


Photo du Jour
A picture taken at Parc Astérix... The wall painting is a replica of a famous French bicycle ad circa 1895 by the artist G. Massias. To the left, wisteria.
.
                                          Children's books -- French themed:
Camille and the Sunflowers Despite the derision of their neighbors, a young French boy and his family befriend the lonely painter who comes to their town and begin to admire his unusual paintings. View it here.
Asterix the Gaul : When Roman Centurion Crismus Bonus finds out about Getafix’s magic potion, he kidnaps the druid to force him to reveal the recipe. So Asterix joins his friend in captivity and together they two plan to whip up a surprise with truly hair-raising effects.
Also:

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une toile

Canvasing St. Tropez
                                                  The port in St. Tropez

                  The next word goes out on Tuesday--à bientôt.

la toile
(twal) noun, feminine
  1. cloth, canvas
  2. web
  3. 'les toiles' = sails (boat, windmill)

Also:
une toile d'araignée = a spider's web, cobweb
la Toile = the Web (internet)
la toile de lin/de coton = linen/cotton cloth
la toile de fond = backdrop, backcloth
derrière la toile = behind the curtain

...............................................
Expressions:
se faire une toile* = to go and see a film
se mettre dans les toiles* = to hit the hay (to go to bed)

*the first expression comes from the term 'une toile d'un écran' (screen); toile also means "piece of cloth" or--in the second expression--"sheet" ("to hit the sheets")

...................................
Citation du Jour
Le temps, c'est la toile dont je suis à la fois l'araignée et la mouche.
Time, it is the web in which I am at once the spider and the fly.
                       --Jacques Lesourne

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un mendiant

Vieux Lavoir

un mendiant, une mendiante (mon-dee-ahn, mon-dee-ahnt) noun
  1. a beggar
  2. mixed dried fruit (on a chocolate base)

.......................
Citation du Jour
Mendiants ou rois, tous acteurs de la même grande comédie.
Beggars or kings, we are all actors in the same 'grande comédie'.

                             --Annemarie Schwarzenbach

.................................................
A Day in a French Life...

(The story that originally appeared here, with the French vocabulary (below) is now a part of this book -- Don't miss it!)
......................
*References: Ricard = a brand of pastis (anise-flavored alcohol) from Marseilles

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une toquade

           Bonnet
                                     A French billboard...

une toquade (toh-kahd) noun, feminine
  1. crush, infatuation
  2. craze, fad

Expression
avoir une toquade pour quelqu'un = to have a crush on somebody

.............................
Citation du Jour
Les verres d'eau ont les mêmes passions que les océans.
Glasses of water have the same passions as oceans.
--Victor Hugo

........................................
A Day in a French Life...

(The story that originally appeared here, with the French vocabulary (below) is now a part of this book.)

......................
*References: Maman, arrête. Tu me décoiffes! = Mom, stop it. You're messing up my hair!; beau = handsome; une toquade (f) = crush; pour le moment = for the time being

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le plafond

Jackie
                                                  Jackie at her cousin's house
le plafond (plah-fohn) noun, masculine
  1. ceiling; roof (of car, cave)

Also:
plafonner (verb) = to reach a ceiling or maximum
le plafond de crédit = credit limit
le prix plafond = maximum price

Expressions:
être bas de plafond = to not have much "up top" (in the head)
crever le plafond = to go beyond one's limits
avoir une araignée au plafond = to have a screw loose, to be a little nutty

.................................
Citation du Jour
Si tu sens que tu plafonnes, perce un trou dans le plafond.
If you feel that you have reached a limit, drill a hole into the ceiling.             
--Gilles Goddard

............................................
A Day in a French Life...

"Maman."*
"Yes, Jackie."
"Comment les fourmis peuvent escalader le plafond?"
"What's that?" I say, putting down my book.
"How can ants crawl across the ceiling? Is it because they have sticky pattes*?"

We are reclined in bed, pillows propped behind our backs, reading. Jean-Marc and Max are watching le foot (soccer, that is) and we have a deal where Jackie can stay with me--if she is quiet and lets me read--until the game is over, at which point she will have to go to bed. My daughter has her own selection of classic stories on the table de nuit* including Le Petit Chaperon Rouge,* Blanche-Neige,* Le Petit Poucet* and La Belle au Bois Dormant.*

The cruel winter chill has finally left; in its place cool, floral scented, feels-like-peppermint-against-the-skin evening air.  We can now leave the window shutters open until past sundown and fill up on the delicious night breeze. The downside is that we have more critters inside the house: fourmis,* mouches,* moustiques,* and last year's visitor, old man libellule.*

I explain to Jackie that ants do indeed have special sticky feet so that they can crawl upside down, according to our perspective, bien sûr.* Then I ask her to please be quiet now so that I can read my book.

I have read three or four paragraphs when I realize that I am obsessing about insects. I have nothing against ants, or spiders or any bug for that matter--but my husband does. He'll use insect bombs, industrial sprays--whatever it takes to rid them from our house. I put the book down and watch the trail of fourmis scaling the wall.

For the moustiques, I've convinced Jean-Marc to let me squeeze a few drops of citronella oil onto the light bulbs but I haven't found a remedy for the ants, apart from not eating Madeleines and other cakes and cookies au lit.* That's just inviting trouble.

As I am not able to concentrate on my book, I decide to shoot the night breeze with my 7-year-old:
"Jackie," I begin.
"Maman--shhh! J'essaie de lire--I'm trying to read!"
"Oh. Sorry, sweetie."
"C'est rien."*

I stare up at le plafond,* wondering about the sticky-footed ants, and begin to hum. When I get bored with humming I add a few words: "The ants go marching deux par deux* hurrah! hurrah! The ants--"

"Maman--s'il te plaît!"*
"Oh, sorry. Vraiment."*

"...mmm mmm... mmm mmm... mmm mmm... mmm mmm hurrah! hurrah!"

"Maman!"

....................
References: maman (f) = mom; la patte (f) = foot; la table de nuit (f) = nightstand, bedside table; Le Petit Chaperon Rouge = Little Red Riding Hood; Blanche-Neige = Snow White; Le Petit Poucet = Tom Thumb; La Belle au Bois Dormant = Sleeping Beauty; la fourmi (f) = ant; la mouche (f) = fly; le moustique (m) = mosquito; la libellule (f) = dragonfly; bien sûr = of course; au lit = in bed; c'est rien = it's nothing (don't worry about it); le plafond (m) = ceiling; deux par deux = two by two; s'il te plaît = please; vraiment = really

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le pissenlit

Cimetiere

le pissenlit
(pee-sahn-lee)
noun, masculine
dandelion

Note: the first paragraph of this story was just re-worked! Thanks, red-penners, for the suggestions you sent in. To see what the opening looked like before the chances, see the comments box.


The Mistral wind is sweeping through the cimetière here in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. Strolling alone on an afternoon walk, I am amazed to see parts of the medieval burial site literally lift off! When you live in a 12th-century village, I guess you can expect a crumbling graveyard. What crumbles turns to dust. I wonder, eerily, whether it is this dust that is making me cough as I make my way through the maze of carved stone and iron.

I look around the medieval cemetery at the tombstones, the freestanding mausoleums, the barren plots topped with gravel—plots so old that the names have disappeared from the headstones, or the stones have disappeared altogether after cracking, crumbling and finally being carried off by the wind. On top of dozens of plots, only a lopsided iron cross remains. In one corner of the graveyard there is a pile of broken stone, bits and pieces of statues that have fallen from certain plots, crashed to the ground, only to be swept together in one big heap. I wonder what the groundskeeper is planning on doing with these "ornaments"? I think about how such relics are an antiquarian's gold mine (in fact, wouldn't that broken cherub's wing look great in my bedroom?). I kick myself for letting such an odd thought cross through my mind. I decide to think about language instead.

The French have a colorful expression for "dead and buried": manger les pissenlits par les racines ("to eat dandelions by the root"). Will I one day be buried here in this French necropolis? The question haunts me each time I set foot in a cimetière. Though France feels more like home than Phoenix, I couldn't be more misplaced than in this French graveyard!

It occurs to me that I'll truly be anchored to France the day I lie down pour de bon. Might as well get to know my future neighbors.... I look at the names on the tombstones: Famille Lorgues, Famille Blanc, Famille Bressin... I am an Ingham by birth—Famille Ingham. I think about the cemetery in Seattle where the Inghams are buried. Somehow it doesn't seem like a place to spend eternity on earth either.

Well, what about Phoenix? I try to remember whether I have ever seen a cemetery in The Valley of the Sun. Cemeteries in the desert are so... hidden, not like in France, where the subterranean dortoirs exist at the top of every picturesque village.

No, I don't want to be stuck out in the desert, with nothing but a scrawny desert rat scrambling by, or a few lazy tumbleweeds bumping into my headstone before tumbling on towards Tucson.

Maybe I'll be buried in Fuveau, near Aix-en-Provence? That is where the Espinasse family rests. I realize that I have never met any of the family buried there. No, this is no final home for the future moi either.

Perhaps it is the "forever" aspect that bothers me?  As it is, I can leave France whenever I choose to,  return to the desert whenever I wish. But once I hit subterranean France, my vagabond days will be over, kaput.

Standing there alone, I look around at the cramped grave site, and realize—not without soulagement—that there is no room within this walled community for me. And, just as it always is when I begin to fret about the outcome of things, Madame Here and Monsieur Now appear, in time to offer a needed reminder. I take the hint and reach down to pluck up a stray dandelion.

"Souffle!" they command. "Blow!" And so I do, before watching the seeds fly off—so many tiny encapsulated "what ifs" now scatter toward the sun and gently disappear.

 

French Vocabulary

un cimetière
cemetery

pour de bon
for good

le dortoir
dormitory

le soulagement
relief

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