un agrume
le plafond

le pissenlit


le pissenlit
noun, masculine

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

pour de bon
for good

le dortoir

le soulagement

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Like it but think the first paragraph is needing work. Doesn't hook me immediately and reel me in, like your best stories. I tried re-reading that first paragraph, it with the last sentence first, then the second last...etc and back to front it seemed to be better....hope that helps.

Personally, I find the topic one that is particularly interesting to an 'etranger'. I've wondered myself, while walking through our Languedoc village graveyard. Especially as we are moving here full-time in August. Think I'd rather rest in the garrigue!

Jill Sands

6/26/12 - In today's Word I saw the link for "edits."

Your entry was, as usual, wonderfully written, but I can't control my eyes with typo's. Alright should be "all right."

We look forward to visiting in September. David and I have rented an apt. in Avignon for 5 weeks. Our transportation plans are biking, bus, and train. When we get closer to the time I'd like to ask for public transportation directions to you.

Jill Sands ([email protected])

Rebecca T. in Baltimore

I really like this story. One typo:

"That is where the Espinasse family rest."

"Family" is a singular subject, even though its referent is plural, so it should be "rests" and not "rest." Other than that, this is a great story. Are M/Mme Here and Now your two lovely children? In that case, should it be Mademoiselle Now? Were your children handing you dandelions in the graveyard to bring you out of your melancholy, or was that just a poetic device? Either way, I thought this was a great, contemplative story on a different note than the others. Well done.

One more question--when I first read "pissenlit" I thought the story would be chronicling a bed wetter. Is that where the word comes from? How strange!


handfull should be handful
lovely post!

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

That is an interesting comment by Jill, to start with the last sentence of the first paragraph. Being in "the mazed of carved stone and molded iron" gets me quickly where you are. (stone is carved, not molded, except in our very modern era)

The actual first sentence was confusing in that the word in italics is an English word, not a French one. Plus it was a new word to me in English. It is defined in the sentence, but I was hunting in a dictionary away from the story to be sure of the language.

Another starting point idea: drop out the portion with the unusual English word, and start with "The Mistral wind..."

For a small grammatical point, Madame Here and Now is singular so needs singular verbs -- steps in, and hands me a freshly plucked dandelion.

If that is your daughter, to me it would be charming to indicate that somehow. Nothing like a child to bring the mind back to the here and now.

I like the story, the topic. It is very interesting to hear of a cemetery in a 12th century village, to realize that is how old your village of that time of your life was, and that there is a pattern in the villages around you as to where the cemetery is located. Perhaps the Mistral removes the traces, but I wondered how long a grave marker lasted, what was the oldest one you saw, not eroded by that fierce wind.

For me, cemeteries are amazing records of the people who came before me, and how they loved each other. Finding a cluster of graves of a branch of my immigrant ancestors is soothing to me, as my imagination thinks of how they lived their lives, how brave they were to come here on a sailing ship when the trip took months at sea, and then weeks on land to reach the Midwest.

Oddly I do not think of my own place of rest as you did. Time to be making that responsible decision.

And a very interesting link to realize that in today's new story, your husband had filled out his card in 2004, while you were pondering similar decisions in 2005.

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

maze not mazed, sorry.

Nikki Tureen

Revisions often lead to surprises...one change at the beginning & you may end up writing something different from what you intended. At least, that's what I find with my poetry.

Both Sarah & Jill had good ideas about new beginnings. Here's another...start with paragraph #3: "The French have an expression for "dead & buried".

Once again, you're exploring the territory of private thoughts & sharing it with us. Whatever you do with this, thanks for bringing it out into the light.

Linda Cane

It's a lovely story, and after incorporating a few typo corrections, please leave it in. I love French cemeteries...so many lives and so much history.

A few years ago we put a very dear aunt's ashes into the Gulf of Mexico, along with pretty pink roses. Little fish came up to investigate. It was one of the most peaceful "burials" I have experienced, and am considering something like that for myself. I know it is something that should be discussed with my adult children first however, as we do have a large family plot with a lot of empty real estate next to my parents, grandparents, aunts and cousin. Who ever said it was easy?

Kristin Espinasse

Im finding these suggestions very helpful. I am reminded of my tendency to tell a story somewhat backwards.

Thanks, Lorraine, for helping reorder the piece, and to Sarah and Nikki for your follow up thoughts and suggestions about reordering it. 

Jill, thanks for the correction -- I keep making the same mistake there! P.S. do email us when you are in the area. But unfortunately our place is not accessible via public transport. (Update--I just realized the mistake you corrected is for today's post "fouiller" (where I wrote "alright"... off to fix that one.)

Rebecca, thank you for the grammar help. Re Mr and Mrs Here and Now -- no, they do not refer to my kids (though that would be a nice idea). Yes, pissenlit does refer to a bed wetter and the term does seem to come from pissenlit. 

Wendy, thanks for the edit!

Thanks, Linda, for your thoughts about the story -- all so helpful! 

I will see about re-working this first paragraph which, for the record, currently reads like this:

I do not suffer from placophobia, that is, the fear of tombstones. I reassure myself of this, repeating the phrase a few more times as the Mistral wind sweeps through the cimetière and parts of the medieval burial site literally lift off. When you live in a 12th century village, you can expect a crumbling graveyard. What crumbles turns to dust. I wonder, eerily, if it is such dustthat is making me cough as I make my way through a maze of molded stone and iron.

edith schmidt


Your description of the old graveyard is evocative. I had a couple of comments: "if it is such dust?" would "this" be a better word? Also "Presently, I can leave France.."
How about omitting "presently" or perhaps something on the order of: "If I wish". Also "Well, what about Phoenix?" seems like it needs some work as a sentence.

Edie from Savannah

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Edie. Just saw your note and wonderful suggestions! I will be working on incorporating them along with the others.


Hi dear Kristin,
This story just walked away with my heart.
The topic is one which we all think about
yet would prefer to postpone addressing.
Your beautiful descriptions took me along with you,particularly "Souffle!" as the seeds scattered to the wind.
ALL your stories are wonderful, but this one is really well done and the ending is truly one of your best.
Love, Natalia xo

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

I came back to see what you decided to do with this charming story. You improved it.

You must have deleted the reference to Var Matin before you posted it for "red pencils". Perhaps it is not needed in the vocabulary list.

Still curious on who presented you the dandelion gone to seed, but every story leaves a few mysteries, je crois.

Karima Amos

Kristin and friends, just an FYI to further explain the term "pissenlit." (I didn't see more than the literal translation.) Dandelion is so called due to its diuretic qualities. It has been used medicinally for that purpose.
Thank you so much for French Word-A-Day. I really enjoy receiving it.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Sarah. I need to delete Var Matin. As for who handed me the dandelions -- nobody did. Madame Here and Monsieur Now are the invisible reminders to live in the present moment. I can see how this idea may be too vague and not clear enough. Hmmm... I think I will leave as is for the time being.

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Sarah, I am back again. I decided to rewrite those few lines. I hope this makes it clearer:

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. 


A lovely essay, and beautifully written. Just a few extremely minor suggestions; I would change:

1) "12th Century" to "12th-century"
2) '"ornaments"?" to '"ornaments?"
3) font in "pour de bon" to all italics ("pour" was not in italics, though it's part of the French phrase)

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Peggy! Re the putting the question mark inside the quote, I have kept it as is (see sentence below). (It did not seem logical, in the case, to put it there. I may be wrong. I looked at Rule 2 on this page (not sure if this is an American grammar site...:


Here is that sentence, for those interested: 
I wonder what the groundskeeper is planning on doing with these ornaments?  

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