Chairs (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo taken at the restaurant "La Grotte" at the end of Marseilles, in Callelongue...



noun, masculine


In a menswear boutique in Draguignan, I stand at the comptoir, hesitating between the powder-blue chemise and the olive-green one. As I hem and haw, Jackie taps her foot, says either shirt will look good on Papa, and sighs for the nième time. I remind her that if she is patient, I will buy her the mood ring she has been asking for—the one all her friends are sporting at school.

Next, the little bells hanging from the shop's entrance begin to jingle as the door opens and a small woman is swept in with the wind.

"Bonjour, Messieurs Dames!" she says, shivering from the cold mistral. The little woman has a purse hanging from the fold of her left arm and she is holding a small boîte in her right hand. Her white hair falls just below her shoulders and is held back with an intricate tortoiseshell comb. She is wearing a dress, nylons, and little heels, which is more effort than a lot of women living this far north of the Côte d'Azur put into suiting up in wintertime.

"Tell Hervé it is from Madame Kakapigeon!" the woman with the box and the heels says.

I look down to the blur of blue and green shirts and mutter the name I have just overheard, not sure I have heard correctly. "Kakapigeon"? Its sound causes me to blush. Poor thing, to have to go through life with such a name!

"Tenez." Madame holds out the box, offering it to the saleswoman. "I'm off to the bank now! Je n'ai plus un radis!"

Our heads bob back and forth as my daughter and I witness the quirky exchange between the lively, gift-toting grandma and the store clerk. My eyes return to the vendeuse, who has taken the box of chocolates with its pretty cloth ribbon.

"Au revoir, mes chéries," says the woman without a radish and, with that, the door swings shut making the jingle bells do their thing.

"What did she say her name was?" I ask, indiscreetly.

The saleslady smiles. "She calls herself 'Madame Caca Pigeon' because she is always feeding the pigeons from her balcony, just above our magasin. The well-fed birds are always 'messing' out in front of the boutique. Madame is sorry for the salissure, but it doesn't stop her from feeding her feathered friends. So every year, about this time, she comes in with her box of chocolates... compliments of 'Madame Caca Pigeon'."


French Vocabulary

le comptoir = counter
la chemise = shirt
nième or énième = nth, umpteenth (time)
la vendeuse = saleslady
bonjour, Messieurs Dames = hello, everyone
une boîte = box
la Côte d'Azur = "The Blue Coast", The French Riviera
tenez (the verb is "tenir") = here, take it
au revoir, mes chéries = goodbye, my dears
le magasin = shop
la salissure = filth

===Text beyond this line will not appear in the printed book===

Le Coin Commentaires & Your Editorial Notes
Please list any errors in the English or French text, here, in the comments box.

Note: A final paragraph was removed from this story. I hope that the vignette will stand on its own without the "overworked" ending that has been deleted. If you feel this story needs a punch line, let me know in the comments box!

I may need to add my daughter's age (she was nine at the time) to this, or to another story in the opening of the book. Any other ideas? Click here to comment


French Expression:
ne pas/ne plus avoir un radis = to not/no longer have a cent (or a penny) to one's name


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Tortoiseshell is one word not two.



I always enjoy your 'missives', Kristin, as well as the lovely photos which always accompany them. Just one small editing comment: I would put a comma after 'little heels' in the third paragraph.


As always it is an interesting and a joy to read story and stands very well as it is. As always brought a smile to my face -thanks! I think the reader can guess what age your daughter would have been -your writing always paints the picture without having to spell it all out.


I love all your articles, but I like them even better when you don't have the English translation of French terms in the body of the article, but at the end instead. Better practice for the reader.
Wishing you great success! All your articles make readers wish they knew you. You have great charm.

Amie James

The ending actually did feel a bit abrupt.
I wanted to know more: what color was Madame's dress, did the sweaters feel soft or hard or good?
Tapping her foot? That doesn't sound like a nine year old, sounds like an adult. Couldn't she flap her arms or squirm in a more child-like way?

Kristin Espinasse

Sandra, thanks for the one-worded tortoiseshell! Also, if anyone knows the French word for hair comb (I dont think it is peigne, in this sense, that would be a good addition to the vocabulary list!)

Linda, Thank you for your little heels comma :-)

Wanderlust, great to have your feedback!

Irene, Ive taken your suggestion, here, and removed the translation that followed je nai plus un radis. Much better this way (and the expression is now found in the following vocab section. P.S. Wish I knew you too!

Amie, Good points. I would have to use an artists license to go ahead and guess the color of Madames dress... its been so long that I have forgotten... Also, I have reworked the last sentence, so that it is less abrupt: by removing the three dots at the end of the story... and placing them midsentence, the ending almost has a punch line. (P.S. Ill think about replacing tapping)

Jean Lillibridge

Je n'ai plus un radis! Does it mean "I'm flat broke", or "I don't have a cent to my name"?

I'm not familiar with the expression but that 's what I guess it means!


"Au revoir, mes chéries," goodbye, my dears

For consistency, since you used it previously, put quotes around "goodbye, my dears".

Sharon Marchisello

Please list any erros in the English or French text
(spelling: errors)

Linda R.

Now what was I doing on January 16, 2006 that I didn't see this missive? Delightful! It brings a smile to my day.

Kristin Espinasse

Jean, merci! Ive reworked the definition: 
ne pas/ne plus avoir un radis = to not/no longer have a cent (or a penny) to ones name

Marcia, thanks! Ive taken Irenes suggestion and removed the definition from the story... adding it to the vocab list (this solves the problem and adds to the vocab!)

Sharon, thanks for errors (only I could make a mistake in my mistake sentence!)

Linda R, your comment reassures me that I have picked the right story for this compilation. Merci!

Diane W. Young

I would add Jackie's age as that was the first thing I wondered when reading. This is a charming vignette. Your stories featuring elderly men and women are always so interesting. Maybe those of us in the troisieme age appreciate your wonderful outlook on us.

Dawn Bouchard

"Je n'ai plus un radis!" is not on your 'vocabulary list' at the bottom :)

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Dawn. I have included it in an Expression section -- oh, my... at least I think I have. Time for a break and a stretch... and a wondering: have I bitten off more than I can mâcher?...


Dear Kristin,

I am a new reader of yours, who grew up in Phoenix, and now lives in Paris. My husband and I just put up a link to your blog on our online journal, parisplay.squarespace.com.

Your stories are wonderful, and this 21 day project is fantastic. I'll be rooting for you.

I'd make only two changes:

1) In paragraph 4, I'd make a new paragraph when you shift from the woman to yourself at "I look down."

2) Same thing in paragraph 6; I'd make a new paragraph when it shifts from your perspective to hers, at "Au revoir, mes cheries."

I don't need to know how old your daughter is. And another paragraph at the end is not needed. You're a compelling writer.

Thank you,

Kaaren Kitchell

Elayne  Molbreak

Delightful really and I don't think you need to embellish the ending anymore.
Thanks for this opportunity
Elayne Molbreak

Kristin Espinasse

Kaaren, the new paragraphs you proposed make all the difference. Ive even updated the dedommagement story, with a new paragraph... following your example!

Elayne, thanks for your thoughts about the ending! Ill leave it be, then.


Nice story as always Kristin. I would just say "Au revoir mes cheries." no comma and period or exclamation mark as you did with your other quotes.

You might also consider adding (énième) after nieme in your vocabulary list. I think we use it also (maybe interchangeably but it seems more familiar to me) to indicate exasperation caused by multiple repetitions.

21 days!!! you are so full of energy :-)

Kristin Espinasse

Merci beaucoup, Callyann. Great to know the énième word, too! Ive added it to the vocab list as an alternative spelling. Ive also removed the comma (after Au revoir (,) mes cheries... though Im wondering if I might need to add it back to both bits of dialogue. I think it is a matter of preference? Just as when we open a letter: either Bonjour, Callyann (or Bonjour Callyann). 


Another delightful story. I don't feel knowing your daughter's age really adds anything to the story. I,too, love having the definitions at the end of the story. It's fun for me to check if I interpreted the correct meaning of the word or phrase.

debby howell

Are you kidding? It is woderful, as always. (and I am a stickler for grammar, style, spelling, etc)
Debby Howell


Wonderful story :-) Don't know though if you need to set the scene locating the saleswoman before Madame enters the store as I thought at first she was giving the box to you and Jackie!


It's charming. simply charming. This sort of writing is not my thing, I've never been good at it (IMHO), and seeing how careful editing enhances your already splendid start is a rare treat.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks for the confirmations, Madeleine, re my daughters age and the definitions. So helpful!

Merci, Debby!!

Gretel, Glad you mentioned that. Ive made the paragraph, in which Madame gives the box to the saleslady, a little more clear.

Rick, that is my hope: that the process of editing and publishing a story might be interesting and helpful to readers and to writers.

Audrey Wilson

Delightful story. I especially like your description of the small woman's entrance . So visual!(I'm there !!)
Just a few suggestions which might help;
"---hesitating between the powder blue and olive green one."
"Jackie, sighing for the nième time, taps her foot,and says either shirt etc, etc "
"---door shuts with the musical jingle of the bells"
I think the ending is just right .


A wonderful slice of life, as always. I find myself wanting to know more about the emotions in this scene. Why is Jackie impatient? What were you feeling when you saw the old woman? What was the expression of the old woman when she presented the gift? What did the saleswoman look like? How did she act when she was helping you? Did her expression change when she saw the old woman come in?


John Senetto


Another excellent piece of french humanity that you deliver so well.


Lee Isbell

This is a comment I tried to post at "Espoir" but I was rejected. Trying again here before I read this story:

Late to the party here, Kristin, having been away myself for a few days. Grammar is well and good, but in an intimate story like a vignette, there are times when style trumps grammar. Turning short, punchy non-sentences (i.e., periods used) into long, comma-laden proper sentences takes some of the heart out. If it sounds like an essay for an English class, I'm likely to doze off.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Lee. Im so glad you tried again -- its frustrating when to not be able to post ones comment and I appreciate your effort to try another route :-)

Bruce T. Paddock

Good morning, Kristin –

So far, I’m loving your choices for vignettes to reprint. Mrs. Pigeon Poop! How do you manage to meet such amazing people?

And for what it’s worth, I agree with Lee Isbell — style trumps grammar every time, and you should never hesitate to break the rules in order to achieve the effect you want.

That said…

A comma is needed after the introductory clause “In a menswear boutique in Draguignan.”

This is probably a style thing, but you don’t need “begin to;” “…bells hanging from the shop's entrance jingle as the…” is just fine. (I find I add unnecessary “begin to”s and “starts to”s all the time.)

I don’t think that in this context, “Messieurs” and “Dames” need to be initial capped, but you should probably ask someone French.

Comma needed after “…the fold in her left arm,” because what follows “and” is a complete sentence.

In the paragraph that begins, “I look down,” the quotes around “Kakapigeon” should be double quotes, not singles.

In the next paragraph, it looks as though there’s a line break between “saleswoman” and “I’m.” It’s not the double-return of a new paragraph, so I’m assuming it’s an error.

Comma needed after “Au revoir” because “mes chéries“ is a direct address.

To me, “the door shuts as the jingle bells do their thing” makes it sound as if the bells’ ringing causes the door to shut. You might want to consider “the jingle bells do their thing as the door shuts,” or “the door swings shut, making the jingle bells do their thing.” Or something like that. Or just ignore this note.

I’m not sure, but I think the space between “herself” and “Madame” in “She calls herself 'Madame Caca Pigeon'…” is missing.

You don’t need the comma between “…every year” and “about this time….” But if it’s in there to convey the rhythm of the saleswoman’s speech, that’s fine; it’s not incorrect.

Period needs to be inside quotes: “…compliments of 'Madame Caca Pigeon.'"

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Bruce! I left some of the begin tos and nexts, more to document where I was in the writing process, then. But I will certainly remember your tip for future stories, which will hopefully be more polished this way. I, too, wonder about the Messieurs-Dames, the capitalizing of M and D--if any Francophones are reading this comment--please help!!

I left one of your suggested commas out - to keep the flow of the sentence (cant remember which one now...).

Also, a note about quotes within quotes: I have the habit of using double quotes for dialogue. When there is a term or reference within those quotes (such as She calls herself Madame Caca Pigeon.), then I use single quotes. Im not sure about the rule... but it doesnt seem natural to use double quotes within double quotes.

I am learning so much from everyones feedback. Thank you all so much!


Bruce T. Paddock

No, you're absolutely right. Single quotes within double quotes, double within that, and so on, alternating ad infinitum.

The woman said, "When my son told me, 'My teacher said, "Get out of my classroom!" so I left,' I gave up hope."

Obviously, that's a terrible sentence, but it makes the point.

Kristin Espinasse

Bruce, Phew! (glad for the confirmation) and thats a helpful sentence. Id never thought about going beyond the single quotes within double quotes. Hmmm... may have to attempt that sometime!


I reckon she meant she had no cash left, hence her visit to the bank to draw some money out. But it does usually mean one has no dough as translated.

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