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Entries from September 2005


Noeud_1 A colorful slice of Sète, an historic port on the French Mediterranean

(sign says: "For sale--salted anchovies")

le noeud (neuh to pronounce noeud, say the word "nerd" leaving off the "rd") noun, masculine
  1. knot;  bow; node
le noeud papillon = bow tie
le noeud coulant = slipknot
une tête de noeud = an idiot
avoir un noeud dans la gorge = to have a lump in one's throat
un sac de noeuds (sack of knots) = something very difficult

Citation du Jour:
Le noeud est à la cravate ce que le cerveau est à l'homme.
The knot is to the tie what the brain is to man.
--La Rochefoucauld
Words_in_a_french_life Words in a French Life: "...a heart-winning collection from an American woman raising two very French children with her French husband in Provence, carrying on a lifelong love affair with the language."

References to the French word noeud in litterature:

The Book of Practical Fishing Knots
The Book of Practical Fishing Knots by Geoffrey Budworth

Le classique des noeuds
Le classique des noeuds by Franck Ripault

Ecrits: The First Complete Translation in English
Ecrits: The First Complete Translation in English by Jacques Lacan and Bruce Fink

The Lives of the Great Composers
The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg

Hugo's Les Miserables (Cliffs Notes)
Hugo's Les Miserables (Cliffs Notes) by Amy L. Marsland and George Klin

Piano Roles: A New History of the Piano
Piano Roles: A New History of the Piano by James Parakilas

André Breton: Surrealism and Painting
André Breton: Surrealism and Painting by Andre Breton, Mark Polizzotti, Simon Watson Taylor, and André Breton

From the Royal to the Republican Body: Incorporating the Political in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century France
From the Royal to the Republican Body: Incorporating the Political in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century France by Sara E. Melzer and Kathryn Norberg

Dictionary of Medicine: French-English with English-French Glossary
Dictionary of Medicine: French-English with English-French Glossary by Svetolik P. Djordjevic

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          A pigeon's life... tiring of tossed crumbs and considering take-out




tepid, lukewarm

For our eleventh wedding anniversary dinner, mon mari chose a restaurant facing the midnight-blue sea in the old Catalan village of Collioure.

I had carefully ironed a two-piece ensemble en lin and applied an extra dusting of bronzing powder sur les pommettes in preparation for our romantic celebration. On my way out of the hotel's narrow salle-de-bain, I noticed Jean-Marc seated on the edge of the bed, watching the Grand Prix de Brésil. He was ready to go, dressed in his favorite Châteauneuf-du-Pape T-shirt.

"Are you sure it's a good idea to wear that here in Banyuls wine country?" I asked. The etiquette question was only a pretext to get him to change out of that bright orange T-shirt! Did he have to wear it on our special night out?

My husband grinned. The wrinkly T-shirt favori would stay with him.

We walked from our hotel to the seaside restaurant, where the employees were slow to greet us. "It's the end of the season," Jean-Marc pointed out. "They're probably tired and fed up with serving the tourists."

With dragging feet, the waiter led us to a room that looked more like a hospital cafeteria than a Michelin non-starred restaurant. Plastic plants did little to warm up the sterile, gris-sur-blanc atmosphere. Only two other tables were taken; I heard French spoken at the one, English at the other. 

Jean-Marc studied the carte des vins while I went over the menu. When the sommelier appeared, my husband had a few questions about the wine; he was searching for a fruity red to go with his meal, one that would also complement his anchovy appetizer.

The wine steward said he did not have a young, local wine, so Jean-Marc set his sights on a rosé. Disappointed to learn they had no half-bottles of rosado, Jean-Marc settled for a demi-bouteille of Collioure red 2002—the vintage being a little older than Monsieur had wished for.

Jean-Marc lifted the glass of champagne he had ordered as an apéritif. Before it even reached his mouth, he was shaking his head. "C'est tiède."

Hoping to get him to quit fussing, I reached over and touched the glass to find out for myself. It felt fine to me.

"No, it's warm," Jean-Marc insisted. "Champagne should be chilled!"

Things heated up quickly when a bug was discovered just beneath the flute's rim.

"Un moustique!" Jean-Marc removed the insect from inside the glass, wiping it on the table. (I looked the other way, hoping to erase the squishy image from my mind.)

Undeterred, Jean-Marc took a sip of the bubbly, only to push the glass away. "Tiède!"

I was dumbstruck when he reached over, plucked up the mosquito carcass, and returned it to the inside wall of the glass. Next, he summoned the waiter.

"You didn't have to do that!" I whispered. "You could have just told the waiter the bug was there!" I have read about customers who do just this sort of thing—bug placement!—in order to change orders on a whim or to avoid paying for something. I did not want the waiter to confuse my husband with "one of them"—one of the buggers!

When the waiter returned, Jean-Marc complained about the mosquito and the fact that the champagne was tiède. The waiter's response was to return with another lukewarm glass of champagne.

Jean-Marc took matters into his own hands, this time asking for un seau of ice. Visibly ruffled, he explained, "A waiter should always pour the champagne in the client's presence. Did you notice that both times he brought the glass, already filled, from the kitchen? The same is true for wine ordered by the glass. They should pour it at the table so that you are sure of what you are getting."

No matter how uncomfortable I was about my husband's exigence, I was impressed by his knowledge of restaurant etiquette—not the kind we diners are supposed to have (elbows off table, chew with mouth shut) but the kind the wait staff are supposed to practice.

While the flute of champagne chilled in the bucket, Jean-Marc began to critique the red wine that had already been served. Apparently, it was tiède as well.

Enough was enough. "You are a wine snob!" I said, pushing my menu away with a sigh of impatience.

"Je ne suis pas wine snob!" he replied. "Wine snobs buy the most expensive wines without looking for a better price/quality ratio," Jean-Marc explained. "A wine snob will walk into a store and ask for the most expensive Côtes du Rhone. That is a wine snob!"

As I learned the difference between a wine snob and a wine buff, I watched my husband of eleven years from across the table. His serious face was in direct contrast to the crinkly orange Châteauneuf-du-Pape T-shirt that he would wear, like a uniform, throughout our romantic weekend. No, he was no snob, wine or otherwise.

Your Edits Here please. Does the story read smoothly? Thanks for pointing out any grammar errors or typos, here in the comments box. Did you notice any words missing from the vocabulary section? 

French Vocabulary

mon mari
my husband 

en lin
made of linen

sur les pommettes
on the cheekbones

la salle de bain(s)

le Grand Prix de Brésil
Formula One championship car race in Brazil

a kind of wine made in the Roussillon county of France

favori, favorite


la carte des vins
wine list

le sommelier
wine steward

le rosado
slang for rosé wine

la demi-bouteille
a half bottle or 37.5 cl 

monsieur (as in monsieur difficile)
mister, mister picky

un apéritif

c'est tiède
it's warm (not chilled)

le moustique

le seau

demanding nature 

Je ne suis pas wine snob (snob de vin)!
I am not a wine snob!

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Elle a huit ans! She's eight! Jackie, third from right. Thank you Papa Poule for today's photo.

huit (weet) adjective and noun, masculine
  1. eight

Hear my mother-in-law pronounce the word "huit":  Download huit2.wav

donner ses huit jours = to give someone a week's notice (to fire)
le rendez-vous de 5 à 7 = an illicit meeting

Citation du Jour:
Huit forces soutiennent la Création: le mouvement et l'immobilité, la solidification et la fluidité, l'extension et la contraction, l'unification et la division.

Eight forces sustain creation: movement and stillness, solidification and fluidity, extension and contraction, unification and division.
--Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

A Day in a French Life...

Jackie celebrated her huitième anniversaire* on Wednesday, three days after les faits.* This year, eight copines* showed up, cadeaux en main,* to shriek, swoop and slap their way through the afternoon fête. As for me, I shouted:

"Calmez-vous! Calm down!"
"Don't run with sucettes* in your mouth!"
"Don't slap each other!"

I stood in the front yard next to the waning lavender, hand on hip, free arm waving frantically as I shooed the girls out of the flower patch, "Sortez de là! Get out of there!"

"They are chipies,"* one of the moms said of the girls, pronouncing chipie, "sheepee." "But girls are easier," she added. I had been trying to decide if Max's birthday party (last May) was as rowdy, as decibel packed as today's. It didn't seem so.

Speaking of Max, the little "sheepees" had chased him into a corner, to where the two cypress hedges meet, and sealed off any exits with a sound wall of squeals. When the giglets tired of tormenting Max, they dashed off to play a game of Cache Cache.*

"Prêtes ou pas... j'arrive! Ready or not, here I come!" one of the eight-year-olds screamed. Waaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

Finally there came time to cut the cakes. My mother-in-law had baked two gateaux* for the party. She and I assumed we would have the chocolate cake to ourselves, so certain were we that the little girls would prefer the raspberry cake that Jackie had requested. All those bright red framboises* were tempting but when the call "Qui veut un morceau de gâteau? Who wants a piece of cake?" went out, one after the other, the little sheepees ran up and pointed to the chocolate cake.

At 5:29 p.m. I stood conspicuously in the driveway, beside the limp lavender, waiting for the parents to return. Meanwhile, inside, the sheepees sent hair-raising screams reverberating throughout the house. Eyeing the front gate, I concentrated on all the uneaten morsels of chocolate cake that I had carefully gathered from the abandoned paper plates. I thought about how it would soon be my turn to swoop up and slap down some of that moist buttery chocolate, and how I might even share my stash with la belle-mère*--if I could find her (she had run off earlier, hands-on-ears, fleeing the noise). Just the thought of the upcoming silence and the savory cake made me want to shriek.

*References: huitième anniversaire (m) = eighth birthday; les faits (mpl) = the event; la copine (le copain) = friend; (le) cadeaux en main = gifts in hand; la sucette (f) = lollipop; la chipie (f) = little devil; le Cache Cache = Hide-and-Seek; le gâteau = cake; la framboise (f) = raspberry; la belle-mère (f) = mother-in-law

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French window in Saignon, Provence (c) Kristin Espinasse

Photo taken in the village of Saignon.



noun, feminine



The flapping sound seemed to be coming from the other side of the bedroom window. I got out of bed and unlatched the wooden volets, which allow the midnight breeze to cool the room.

The fluttering continued as I searched along the windowsill, down to the patio just below. Pauvre bête, a winged insect must have fallen on its back. Its world was now turned upside down! I imagined its helpless, feet-to-the-sky predicament. It would starve or be eaten by another critter of the night!

Tap! Tap! Tap! A noise sprung up from behind me. Startled, I spun around. 

My ears tuned in to a shuffling sound over by the table de nuit. Was my hearing playing tricks on me? Had the creature been there all along? 
What had been compassion turned into a creepy feeling (the creepy-crawly had been so close—right beside the mattress!). Returning to the bed, I calmly switched on the lamp. With my cheek flush against the wall, I peered back behind the table.

There it was! The horrifying life form! 

Writhing in anger, its worm-like body twisted as it struggled. Was it a mille-pattes? The name was terrifying enough! Imagine une bestiole with one thousand feet!

In one effective jerk I was standing on the bed.
"Sois calme," I told myself. Tu peux gérer!

I slowly pulled the nightstand away from the wall to study my abominable suite-mate. Examining the insect's wormy body, four iridescent "double wings" came into view....

Une libellule! I recognized the creature from our tableware. I have a set of plates depicting the popular winged insect that is glorified on everything from Provençal tablecloths to glassware! I dropped to the floor for a closer look, unafraid now of what I could identify.

"Ouf, it is only you!" I studied the dragonfly. My chills subsided. "Time to get back on your feet!" 

With the help of an odd scrap of paper, I guided the wayward creature, coaxing it gently along the wall to the window. I watched as the libellule teetered at the edge of the scrap paper precipice, the dark night gently calling it forth.

We paused at the window, one of us peering down at the patio. It seemed an awfully long drop-off for a recovering dragonfly....

A wobbly step or two and off it went, advancing into the night in an uneven fashion. It looked like an old man on crutches, zigzagging forth on the breeze of eternity. 


Your Edits Here. Thank you for pointing out any grammar or punctuation problems  in the comments box. Many thanks! 


 French Vocabulary 

le volet = shutter
la pauvre bête
 = poor thing
une table (f) de nuit = a nightstand
le mille-pattes = centipede, millepede
une bestiole = creature
sois calme = stay calm
tu peux gérer! = you can handle this!
une libellule = dragonfly
ouf! = phew!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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LittlestvendengeurThe Littlest Vendangeuse* (photo, left). My eight-year-old, Jackie, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Find a link to more photos from this year's harvest at the end of this letter.

le seau (so) noun, masculine
  1. bucket, pail; bucketful, pailful

plural = seaux

Hear the word "seau" pronounced: Download seau.wav
pleuvoir à seaux renversés = to rain buckets

Citation du Jour:
Nous vivons au milieu d'une mer de pauvreté. Néanmoins on peut réduire cette mer. Notre travail n'est qu'une goutte dans un seau, mais cette goutte est

We live surrounded by a sea of poverty. Nevertheless, this sea can decrease in size. Our work is only a drop in a bucket, but this drop is necessary.
--Mother Teresa

A Day in a French Life...

On the eve of her eighth birthday, my daughter Jackie was crowned Reine des Vendanges, or Harvest Queen. Her small hands wrapped around pruning shears, she collected as many grapes as even the most seasoned vendangeur.*

We joined 20 grapepickers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape this past weekend, along with our friends Alicia and David, to help uncle Jean-Claude harvest four parcels of vines--including the famous treize cepages*--from which he produces 5-6 thousand bottles of his traditional Domaine du Banneret wine.

From the back of Jean-Claude's old blue fourgonnette* we gathered what supplies we would need to cut the sweet grapes. When the last sécateur* was snapped up by Jackie, I unhitched a seau* from the stack and followed her, empty bucket swinging alongside me.

When the Mistral picked up, we held fast to the feet of the vines. The chilly northwesterly vent* blew glasses and hats off the pickers and turned lightweight buckets on their sides, sending grapes flying.

Time and again, I looked up to find my daughter advancing quietly along the leafy rows, liberating grape from vine. Wild herbs, lettuce and asparagus pushed up in some areas and the scent of mint pervaded the air between certain rows of vines. My cousin Audrey and I stopped to pluck up and admire a bunch of spicy arugula or "roquette" as it is known here.

When grapes began to tumble from the buckets, the pickers yelled "SEAU!" to which another vendangeur would arrive to empty or replace the buckets.

A woman jogged by and a few of the men almost tripped over their collective seaux.
"She was blinded by the sun, otherwise she wouldn't have coucou'd* you!" one of the men explained to the other.

While Max kept busy picking grapes and emptying buckets, he also took refuge from time to time in our Citroën, parked alongside the vines. From the warmth and calm inside, he listened to the Skyrock radio station and snacked on chocolate bars.

I continued to follow in my daughter's tracks, awed by her stick-to-it-iveness. When someone found an extra pair of shears, I joined in, accomplishing most of the vendange seated on my heels, minding my back. Jackie advanced from one vine to the next, intermittently lugging her bucket and hunching over to free the grapes.

"Comment ça va? How's it going?" I asked the man working the row ahead of mine.
"Mal aux dos!" he replied. "But that's okay. Il faut poursuivre--we must carry on!" he added.

Perseverance... *That* is how the littlest picker became Harvest Queen on the eve of her huitième anniversaire* in the ancient papal town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

*References: le vendangeur (la vendangeuse) = grapepicker; les treize cépages = the thirteen vines; la fourgonnette (f) = small van; le sécateur (m) = pruning shears; un seau (m) = bucket; le vent (m) = wind; coucou! (excl.) = hi!; huitième anniversaire = eighth birthday

See photos from this year's vendange:
*Merci to Jean-Marc for the photo compilation!

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Becassine Bécassine stamp, from today's story.

le virement (veer-mahn) noun, masculine
  1. transfer (credit)

Hear Jean-Marc pronounce the word "virement": Download Virement.mp3

Sailing proverb from Brittany:
Quand les mouettes ont pied, il est temps de virer.
When the gulls touch down, it is time to veer around.

A Day in a French Life...

I set the packaged books down on the table-for-two, just opposite the wall of post office boxes. Next, I stood on my toes to peer into boîte numéro* 32. Unsure, I pushed the key into the keyhole.

There is no need to open one's box to check for courrier,* one can do that by looking through the grill, each box has one; I open mine anyway because you just never know...

"Maman! Tu vois bien qu'il n'y a rien dedans!"* Max says, when he is with me. But my son wasn't with me this time and so I closed the empty box and scooted back over to my place in line.

The client ahead of me was requesting a virement.* (In France, the post office doubles as a bank). I learned that Monsieur had 653 euros in his account, 300 of which he wanted to transfer ailleurs.* I looked down to the fat yellow "privacy" line at the tip of my toes--a meter or so behind the client. Some kind of privacy!

"Mince!* A new guy," I thought, looking ahead to the guichet,* to the postal clerk on the other side of the glass wall.

"Bonjour," I said, moving up to the window at my turn. "I'd like to buy some stamps, please."

The postal worker fixed his eyes on some far off object, beyond my right shoulder. "Il n'y a pas de timbres," he said, stone-faced.

"No stamps?" I mumbled. Only in France does a post office not have stamps! At least not today, it appeared.
"Are you sure?" I questioned.
"We don't have any more stamps. Il n'y a plus rien."*

I looked over to the table-for-two, to my stack of packages. I had promised those orders would leave today--with "cool French stamps..."

The clerk had said "plus rien"--didn't that mean ALMOST nothing? Was there, then, something...anything?

My nose now flattened against the protective glass, I studied the clerk's desktop. "What about that folder over there?" I know that folder well. It is similar to an accordion envelope, only the walls inside are unconnected dividers. That's where the various stamps are organized.

He opened the folder. After some hesitation he mentioned, "There are a few of these..."

"I'll take them, please," I said, recognizing part of the Jules Verne timbre* collection. I happened to need 80 stamps, and this was a good sign. He flipped back through the non-accordion pages. "I've got some of these," he said, holding up a red stamp depicting Bécassine, cake-in-hand.

"That will work, thank you. Anything else... anything at all?"

Miraculously, and with the help of another clerk, enough stamps were "found" to cover the cost of mailing my books. I paid for the timbres and went back to the table-for-two to decorate the packages.

When all of the boxes were timbrés* and my tongue felt like velcro, I placed the stack inside the glass-encased turnstile and spun them over to the clerk for postmarking.

On my way out of the post office, I sidetracked back over to box number 32 and peered in. Because, just like the "no stamps," you never know...

*References: la boîte numéro (f) = box number; le courrier (m) = mail, letters; Maman! Tu vois bien qu'il n'y a rien dedans! = Mom, you can clearly see that there is nothing in there!; le virement (m) = transfer; ailleurs = elsewhere; mince! (alors) = darn it; le guichet (m) = counter; Il n'y a plus rien. = There is almost nothing (left).; le timbre (m) = stamp; timbrer = to stamp

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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la punition

Cat conductor (c) Kristin Espinasse
A French catnap

Five weeks left to purchase Volumes I-III! After several reprints, I will not be sending Words in a French Life: Volumes I-III back to l'imprimerie.* Don't miss these stories, in their complete form--order a set of books if you can.

une punition (poo-nees-yohn -- silent "n") n.f.
  1. punishment

Listen: Hear my daughter Jackie pronounce "punition": Download punition.wav

avoir une punition = to be given a punishment
la punition corporelle = corporal punishment

Citation du Jour:
Si la guerre est une punition du ciel, que d'innocents doivent payer pour les coupables.

If war is punishment from heaven, how many innocents have to pay for the guilty.
--Pauline Viger-Bélanger

A Day in a French Life...

At 4:29 my car crept up the hill as I scoured the sidewalk for partners, partners in crime, that is. Before bottlenecking the road with the addition of one more illegally parked car, I calculated that the school bus had already passed (only smaller cars would be circulating at this point, I reasoned). Next, I rolled a front tire, then a back, onto the yellow marked curb outside the school, just behind the other law-breaking bagnols.* There is precious little parking in our village and parents must double as petty criminals each day à la sortie de l'école.*

On my way to the school gates I greeted another mom who had snatched a no-parking spot just in front of a garage, effectively blocking the exit while flattening a row of lauriers-roses.*

"Salut," she said. "Salut," I replied, in cahoots with the morally challenged maman.* Next, we strode up to the school gates following in the wake of the bell chime.

Max appeared from the crowd of French kids flanked by his favorite buddies and beaming, as usual.
"You didn't get another punition today, did you?" I said.
"Non, je me suis tenu à carreau aujourd'hui!* he assured.

Last night, as punishment for talking to the kid sitting beside him (Max insists he was just handing the kid an eraser), he was obliged to copy down all the "Règles de Vie" or "Life Rules" (recently handed out to students) including:

"Je ne crache pas."
(I don't spit) and,

"Je ne mâche pas de chewing-gum en classe."
(I don't chew gum in class.) and,

"Je ne m'amuse pas avec la nourriture."
(I don't play with food.)

We headed for the car, Jackie trailing behind us with her cartable*-on-wheels.
"Moi, j'ai eu une punition,"* she sighed. For that, we learned, she would be writing ten lines of "Quand la cloche sonne on se met en rang." ("When the bell rings we line up.")

Jackie went on to tell me about how it wasn't her fault, which reminded me of what my grandfather used to say: If you're around trouble, you're in it!

We made it to our car and, noticing the paper-free windshield, I heaved a sigh of relief. No parking amende.* I looked up the sidewalk to the line of cars parked in the same fashion; I was surely around trouble, just not yet in it.

On the drive home I tried to imagine my punition, and what sort of ten-liner I'd have to copy down, should I be caught. Perhaps something like...

"I promise to leave the zone jaune* alone" or,
"Stay afar from the yellow troh-twar*" or,
"Park on a lark, and get a big red mark!"

It's easy to copy down lines, especially if you like to write. The hard part is learning the lesson. When would I learn mine?

*References: l'imprimerie (f) = printer; la bagnole (f) = (slang) car; la sortie de l'école (f) = "school exit" (when school lets out); le laurier-rose (m) = oleander; la maman (f) = mom; "Non, je me suis tenu à carreau aujourd'hui!" = Non, I kept my nose clean (watched my step) today!; le cartable (m) = schoolbag; "Moi, j'ai eu une punition" = I received a punishment"; une amende (f) = a fine; le jaune (m) = yellow; troh-twar (pronunciation for (le) trottoir = sidewalk)

Dictionary of French Slang and Colloquial Expressions lists approximately 4,500 common slang words and colloquial expressions. Entries include grammatical information, the definition in English, a sentence or phrase to illustrate usage, and an English translation of the example and, where applicable, a corresponding English slang expression. Each entry also identifies the word or phrase by type: student or youth slang, political slang, literary slang, and criminal and drug-related slang.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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FestinBecause to children, life itself is a festin... My son, Max, jumping off the water tank near our home.

le festin (feh-stehn --silent "n") noun, masculine
1. feast, banquet

French synonyms for festin: agape, bombance, ripaille, beuverie, gueuleton

Hear the word festin pronounced: Download festin.wav

Citation du Jour:
Petite chère et grand accueil font joyeux festin.Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast. --William Shakespeare

A Day in a French Life...

At a Chinese restaurant in the southern French town of Draguignan Jean-Marc, Max, Jackie and I gladly swap dragonflies for dragons. (While our dishes at home have a meek libellule* motif, at the sweet and spicy Festin de Chine, or "China Banquet," the assiettes* have fire-breathing monsters!)

You might say this Chinese restaurant in the neighboring French town sports an Italian name--for part of its appellation (the Festin part) comes from the Italian word "festino." Inside the bilingual menu, no Italian words are found, but there are French words and a few misspelled English words.

We are feasting at le Festin on riz cantonnais,* crevettes* with ginger and canard fumé* but what we are really here for is the Vietnamese rolls. "Les nems" as they are called--those addictive, deep-fried rolls stuffed with rice, julienned vegetables and strips of pork or shrimp, are the size of fat cigars and are served with a basket of mint and lettuce leaves in which to wrap them. A dainty porcelain bowl of soy-based sauce (and more shredded carrot) is served alongside the rolls.

At the end of the repas,* our now bored and restless kids float like a couple of inebriated dragonflies over to the fish tank to watch the clown fish bump noses. When that gets old, the kid-diners leave the tank and begin to wrestle each other near the waiter's station.

"It's okay, they are not bothering anybody," Jean-Marc assures me. I look around... true, the restaurant was almost empty, and the kids weren't making more than a gurgling noise in keeping with their wrestling match woes. That's when I heard a bump. I looked up to find the tank intact, the kids now giggling.

"C'est rien,"* Jean-Marc assured. Despite my husband's encouragement--to relax and just let the kids be--my nerves began to fray and my sang* began to simmer. I looked down at my plate, past the julienned vegetables, to the agitated dragon and its fiery tongue; I could relate to its mood. I covered the monster with a soiled napkin and returned my gaze to the kids. A mother always has a choice: to spit fire or seize the festin that is Life. I left the table to gently wrestle my kids away from the waiter's station before the three of us returned to the tank to stand in awe before the nose-bumping clown fish.

*References: la libellule (f) = dragonfly; une assiette (f) = plate; le riz cantonnais (m) = fried rice; la crevette (f) = shrimp; le canard fumé (m) = smoked duck; le repas (m) = meal; c'est rien (ce n'est rien) = It's nothing; le sang (m) = blood

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              May he play more golf. Photo of Jean-Marc, épaules intact

une épaule (ay-pol) noun, feminine
  1. shoulder

Audio File

Hear today's word pronounced: Download epaule.wav

large d'épaules = broad shouldered
se luxer une épaule = to dislocate a shoulder
hausser les épaules = to shrug one's shoulders
lire par-dessus l'épaule de quelqu'un = to read over one's shoulders
rouler des épaules = to swagger

Un fardeau semble léger sur les épaules d'autrui.
A burden seems light on someone else's shoulders.

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

The last week of summer break my husband slipped and dislocated his épaule.* Would you believe a banana peel figured into the equation? Or--into the bag--as the accident happened while emptying the garbage. His arms full, a bag in chaque main,* Jean-Marc was not about to put one bag down in order to lift the lid of the gigantic trash can, so he lifted it bag-in-hand. That's when the earth pulled out from under his feet as the upward bound, weighted bag gave way to a backward flip. The garbage can being located on an incline, all the stars were now effectively aligned to send my Frenchman vaulting backwards over air to meet the cement pavement in one swift and unbuffered crash.

Comedians know the trick that puts audiences in stitches; circus clowns know it too. Bonk someone over the head, trip up the other guy and just listen to the spectators roar. Of course there was nothing funny about Jean-Marc's slip (except in retrospect) and I certainly wasn't amused, but mourning the loss of one half of this parental unit.

I began calculating Days To Recovery and grumbling about how I might as well tape an out-of-order sign across his Gallic chest (just above the arm now held in place via a velcroed sling). That school would start in one week, with its endless allers-retours* was only half of the worry. Minus the use of one arm, our Parked Driver wouldn't be able to so much as saw a green bean in half let alone chauffeur the kids back and forth. I could see it now, the coming days would find me buttering his baguettes, tying his shoe laces and driving him to his appointments--instead of meeting an increasingly stressful deadline for a project I am working on. Jean-Marc was supposed to be keeping our family and its schedule glued together; that was the deal. Instead, HE was falling apart.

ER or "Urgences" in the town of Draguignan was under construction and overcrowded. When our family arrived, a roomful of accidentés* looked up, as if to judge to what degree of misfortune the New Arrival had met with and how this might hinder their Next-In-Line status. While I was busy guessing a two to three hour wait, Jean-Marc was already being whisked away by an ER nurse (apparently a dislocated shoulder constitutes a true emergency, its being necessary to reset the shoulder aussitôt*). Try explaining that to a roomful of the injured (presently growing sharp teeth, and eyeing Max, Jackie and me as if we were three wiggling biftecks* descending from on high).

Once the unappreciative glances withdrew and all eyes returned to the respective wounds, I studied the unfortunates. The drunk man to my left, whose heel had a bloody gash, began to sweet-talk the hypoglycemic woman with the sprained ankle. A boy of Max's age sat, leg propped over his mother's lap. "He jumped off a two meter high wall," she explained, shaking her head at her son. In between distributing bread and candy to the patients (I'd stuffed a bag full of 'en-cas'* before heading to ER) I began to yearn for news of Jean-Marc. How was he faring, after all? What was taking so long? I'd already mentally reworked our schedule. It no longer mattered that I had "one more kid" to care for instead of the Other Half of our parental unit--as long as the Kid was O.K. Was he okay?

When The Kid appeared, three hours later, the children ran up to him.
"That must hurt," Jackie sympathized, pointing to her father's slinged arm.
"Let me help," Max offered, gathering the paperwork from Jean-Marc's free hand.

Taking a clue from our right-minded children, I offered my husband a sincere, if veiled, mea culpa:

"Blasted oversized wastebaskets--look what they've done to you this time! Anyway, take it easy for a while, will you?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
une épaule (f) = shoulder; chaque main (f) = each hand; allers-retours = round trips; accidentés = injured (persons); aussitôt = immediately; un bifteck (m) = (beef) steak; un en-cas = an "in case" (snack)

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French terrace patio (c) Kristin Espinasse patio-terrace in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

pétillant,e (pay-tee-yahn) adjective
  1. crackling, sparkling, bubbly, fizzy
  2. sprightly (wit)

...and the verb, pétiller: to crackle; sparkle, fizz, bubble
Hear Jean-Marc pronounce the word pétillant: Download petillant.wav

pétiller d'esprit = to sparkle with wit

Citation du Jour:
Quel vin est aussi pétillant, savoureux, enivrant, que l'infini des possibles!
What wine is so sparkling, so fragrant, so intoxicating, as possibility!

--Sören Kierkegaard

A Day in a French Life...

I finished washing the floor then tossed the dirty rags in a pile next to the machine à laver.* Next mission: to prevent les petits pieds* from pottering across the now sparkling carrelage.* The four o'clock hour, a.k.a. l'heure du goûter or "snack time" in France, would take place outside today.

I gathered Max, his two neighborhood friends and Jackie into a football huddle out on the patio.
"Listen closely. No one in the house. D'accord?* I've just cleaned the floor and I have GUESTS coming tomorrow."

The little Frenchmen turned to Max and Jackie for a translation:

"Elle ne veut pas qu'on aille dans la maison car elle a nettoyé par terre et elle a des INVITÉS demain," Max said.

The kids gave a serious nod of comprehension.
"Understand?" I said.
"Oui," they confirmed.

Next I brought out individually wrapped chocolate sponge cakes, fruit and water and placed a stack of gobelets* next to the snacks.
"Do you need anything else?" I inquired.
"C'est bon, merci."*
"Okay, now remember, don't go in the house. Keep it clean for my guests!"

I left the kids and the cakes and went inside to tidy up another room. Ten minutes later I noticed the calm... Running for the kitchen I stumbled onto the trail of sucre.* I followed the crunchy path to its source at which point my eyes shot out of my head in a surreal cartoon-like atmosphere.

"What ARE you doing?" I said.

Jackie held a plastic cup which runneth over with just-picked mint leaves. Max stood beside her, pouring sugar from box to cup; some of the sweet crystals landed inside, the rest hit the rim of the cup and shot out across the floor.

"L'eau à la menthe,"* Max explained, concentrating on his aim.

Gobsmacked, I followed my son and daughter outside where the neighbor boys stood waiting, bottles of sparkling water in hand, ready to pour the eau pétillante* into the cups of sugar and mint. Another trail, this time of mint, began at the flower bed and ended beneath the boys' feet.

I studied the kids with their virgin mint juleps in hand. What I failed to realize earlier, was that my guests had already arrived. My all important invités* had been there all along, there in that football huddle and here now as effervescent as eight- and ten-year-olds can be.

Remembering that it's never too late to be a caring maîtresse de maison* (or maman*), I made my way into the house and across the sticky floor, to the freezer, to get my guests some ice for their fancy drinks.

*References: la machine à laver (f) = washing machine; les petits pieds (m) = little feet; le carrelage (m) = tiled floor; d'accord = O.K.; le gobelet (m) = cup; c'est bon, merci = it's good, thanks; le sucre (m) = sugar; l'eau à la menthe (f) = water with mint;  l'eau pétillante (f) = sparkling water; l'invité(e) (m,f) = guest; la maîtresse de maison = the "mistress of the house"
(hostess); la maman (f) = mom
If you enjoyed today's story, you might enjoy this book by the same author

Continue reading "pétillant" »

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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