a church in Trans-en-Provence. The circular parts of the design are an example of a rosace pattern (c) Kristin Espinasse



noun, feminine


After lunch I quickly clear off the table, making room for my daughter to do her math. Jackie sets down her paper, her pencil bag, and her new compass (the kind with two "legs" joined by a hinge—and not the kind that points to the North Pole).

I watch her work the compass until a series of swirls appear on the paper beneath it. I have never used one of these kom-pah (as Jackie pronounces it) and I am fascinated that a simple tool can produce such an intricate design.

My daughter is so deep in concentration that I am startled when she pauses to say:

"Merci d'avoir débarraser la table, maman."
"Oh, you're welcome!" I assure her. 

I watch the appreciative girl as she guides the compass's pencil in a repetitive to and fro motion, making a series of C's, or arcs, that begin to overlap one another as she moves the metal-nosed compass leg from one tip of the arc to another point along circle until a pattern begins to emerge.

"I am making it for my maître," Jackie explains. I recall the teacher, who she is fond of; he has a knack for choosing good books and he  recently told her that "Reading is power!" a thought that encourages Jackie, who enjoys words and writing, but who struggles with math.

My daughter begins another symmetrical design, placing one of the sharp metal legs of the compass into the center of the paper then easing the pencil leg down until its metal nose touches the paper. First she traces a complete circle. Next, she moves the compass, placing its metal nose at another point along the line of the circle. Light feathery swoops follow, the to's and fro's guided by my daughter's steady poignet.

I think about how long it will take her before all those swoops will add up to one of those elaborate designs, and I am impressed by the artist's patience.

"Do you know what this is called?" Jackie look up.

"No," I reply.

"It's called une rosace."

I have to look up the word in a French encyclopedia where I learn that the term is most often used in architecture and design: it is those round stained-glass "rose" windows in cathedrals; it is also the circular decorative molding on certain old French ceilings and an intricate rose-shaped motif in lacework.

Among all the French words my daughter has taught me, rosace may be the least useful in speech (not like the ever-groovy, ever-utterable chiche). That said, I am now seeing rosace patterns everywhere!  Thanks to my little language teacher, who believes that reading is power and that words are as strong as a rose's scent... I am seeing my surroundings with fresh-eyes, through rosey lenses.

French Vocabulary

le maître (la maîtresse) = teacher
le poignet = wrist
le motif = pattern
être chiche (de faire quelque chose) = to be keen on/game for doing something
la maman = mom

  Si votre coeur est une rose, votre bouche dira des mots parfumés. 
   If your heart is a rose, your mouth will say fragrant words.
Listen: hear Jean-Marc pronounce the word 'rosace': Download rosace2.wav

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