Marseilles (c) Kristin Espinasse
View from my mother-in-law's apartment, in Marseilles.



noun, feminine

olive paste


When my mother-in-law, Michèle-France, looks out the window of her two-room apartment, she can just about see the paquebots leaving Marseilles's Old Port, for Casablanca. That is when the memories of childhood in her beloved Maroc come flowing back.

One floor below, Janine is also staring out to sea from behind her tiny kitchen table, where she sits with her crippled little dog and waits for the telephone to ring.

At times like these, when nostalgia and solitude weigh on their hearts, Michèle-France's 4th floor apartment turns into a spicy olive-paste factory as my mother-in-law puts her petite voisine to work; her neighbor's job is to remove the noyaux from the olives.

Great bowls of hollow black fruit are soon delivered by 3rd Floor Janine up to 4th Floor Michèle-France, who mixes the olives with a couple of bay leaves, some anchovies, capers... and a few top-secret ingredients. The mixture is then marinated overnight. The next morning the mélange is poured into a food processor for grinding.

All that pitting and pulverizing plucks the loneliness right out of the women's souls, and the resulting pots de tapenade have the women on the train in no time, delivering the latest batch of bonheur to family and friends.

On Wednesday, Michèle-France brought over six mustard jars full of tapenade—three flavored with fresh basil leaf, three with red bell pepper—for Max's birthday celebration. As we sat at the table chatting, I spread spoonfuls of the dark olive paste over a sliced baguette before sinking my teeth in... Crunch!

"Janine doesn't always get the pits out of the olives," Michèle-France confided. "She can't see that well. I always know when she's left a noyau behind because my mixer goes CRACK CRACK!"

"Je vois..." I sympathized with my belle-mère as we held our sore jaws in our hands while our own teeth went crack-crack over yet another missed pit. But that didn't stop us from savoring the latest bocal de bonheur, and raising a toast to la petite voisine Janine.

French Vocabulary

le paquebot = liner, steamship
le Maroc = Morocco
la petite voisine, le petit voisin = term of endearment for "little neighbor"
le pot = jar
le mélange = mixture
la tapenade = olive paste made from crushed olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil
le bonheur = happiness
le noyau = pit
je vois = I see
la belle-mère = mother-in-law
le bocal de bonheur = jar of happiness


This story may need a name change ("noyau" or "pit" doesn't capture the theme, which is on helping another, or sharing. "Solidaire" might be good, but it's so similar to the English "solidarity". How about "Tapenade"? or would "Bonheur" be the most fitting, for happiness can be as simple as sharing a simple culinary chore). Any suggestions welcome. Thanks for pointing out any typos, in French or in English, and any other rough spots or inconsistencies! Click here to comment.


Listen: hear the word noyau pronounced: Download noyau2.wav

le noyau familial = the family unit
cracher un noyau = to spit out a pit.
des fruits à noyaux = stone-fruit
électrons autour du noyau = electrons around the nucleus

La vie est une cerise. La mort est un noyau. L'amour un cerisier.
Life is a cherry. Death is a pit. Love is a cherry tree.
 --Jacques Prévert

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Sounds fine to me. Sandra


"Tapenade de Bonheur" seems like an good title to me.

Sarah LaBelle

bon voisinage

is a very good title too


Marijcke Jongbloed

last sentence: does one 'toast to' or just 'toast'? (english is not my first language...)

Lynn at Southern Fried French

You've put 'pots of tapenade' in italics, but you've got "of" instead of "de". I'm thinking you meant to put it all in French?
LOVELY story.
Titles: A Batch of Bonheur maybe?

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks for your thoughts about the title. I am looking for a one-word title--in keeping (mostly) with the other chapter titles.

Lynn, thanks for the needed de--its solved two issues for me (I had been thinking of replacing pots with jars--it hadnt occurred to me to link the words together. 

Marijcke, Ill look into this. I need to reread that line...

Kristin Espinasse

Hmmm. toasting or toasting to? Can anyone confirm which one to use in the final paragraph? 

Maria B.

Regarding the title of this sweet story--

Are there any French expressions that include le noyau in reference to a kernal or group of friends, or perhaps using a play on words?
Le noyau affable...or Melange affable?
Maria B

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Since you're using "savoring" earlier in the sentence, I think "toasting" would sound better...IMHO

Rob Tonkinson,  Mahomet, IL

I found it a little difficult to follow. I suggest changing the first sentence "If my mother-in-law leans against the east wall of her fourth-floor apartment . . . " I would start the second paragraph "One floor below, Janine . . . "

I find the reference to Maroc tantalizing, but am then disappointed that nothing else in the story seems to relate.

Does pit have the same connotation in French as it does in English when it comes to life (pits relating to hardship in life). If so, maybe the title could play on turning pits to happiness (sort of like "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade"0

I really enjoy your work. My wife just bought me one of your books for my birthday.


Hi Kristin,

Re toasting / toasting to - I can't speak for US English, but in Britspeak we would either use "raising a toast to" or "toasting" but probably not "toasting to"

My other niggle is with the tapenade flavourings (excuse my reluctance to use US spelling for flavour - that's irrelevant!) - but "three flavored with fresh basil leaves, three with red bell pepper"
I should prefer basil leaf ... pepper; or basil leaves ... peppers so that both agree, but again its a fine point.


I like the idea of naming it "Tapenade de Bonheur." Combining your two words conveys both ideas.
I love your creativity, by the way. I'm a new reader of your blog, and I am just hooked.


Consistency: fourth floor apartment; Third Floor Janine; 4th Floor Michele-France.

"Toasting la petite voisine Janine" (no "to" is necessary)

Solitude: Is that what "weighs on their hearts"? Or is it something closer to "loneliness"?

Betty Gleason with blue pencil in hand

1st line - looks out of the window of two-room
1st "of" not necessary - flows better.

3rd paragraph, next to last line - petite voisine to work: her neighbor's job
The colon should be a semi-colon or period to begin a new sentence.

Tapenade is an interesting title.

Diane W. Young

Cet titre est long, mais
"La vie n'est pas des noyaux"!

Charles Orr in Flat Rock, NC

Still striving for optimal flow, I would drop the commas from the following phrases:

1. "...old port, for Casablanca."
2. "...staring out to sea, from behind..."
3. "...latest bocal de bonheur, and raising a toast..."

"Raising a toast" does sound better. Also, "tapenade" is a good title.

As to the book title, the ideas suggested above involving "windows on Provence", etc., sound promising, given the picture.


I love all 3 stories (even the sacked one). I think you are a very creative writer and a brave one, asking for all these comments!

I do think "raising a toast" sounds best.

The book front is lovely ----great ideas above -- but I truly love: Windows on Provence".

The book photo is tres bon!

Be well!


I know you'd like a single word title, but might I suggest

"Avoir du pot"

In addition to the obvious reference to the "pots de tapenade," isn't this an idiom meaning to be lucky or fortunate?

I think the creators, as well as the consumers, of the tapenade are all quite fortunate.

Cynthia Lewis

Just a thought: in the fourth paragraph could the "3rd Floor" and the "4th Floor" be omitted since we know that Michèle-France lives on the fourth floor and Janine lives one floor below her. It somehow sounds impersonal to me since I have already become interested in these two neighbors. I love the story.

jan greene

Well done! i like the theme of neighors working together. That seems more a theme than pits. Seems to create a community making such a feast together, imperfect with pits, but perfect in connection!

Kristin Espinasse

Rob, good point. Ive reworked the first paragraph and am glad you suggested it!

Ian, excellent - I ve taken your suggestions!

Janet, I thought about your question and have done a synonym search, to confirm that solitude is what I meant. Thanks.

Cynthia, I think 3rd Floor Janine and 4th Floor Michèle-France adds some quirkiness to the story. Thanks for bringing this up, as I realize not everyone will like it.

Charles, I do see your point, but I will leave those commas in--as they are in keeping with a certain vague comma rule that I keep to (though rules are made for breaking!) 

Thank you all for taking the time to comment on this story. Every one of your thoughts has helped and reassured me! 

Kristin Espinasse

Marian, thats just excellent. I love avoir du pot, or to be lucky (or fortunate). Does anyone else think the title should be changed from Tapenade to Avoir du Pot? 

Barbara Berndt

I like both but vote for "Avoir du pot."


Hi Kristin,
One of the special messages in this story is that creating a food item (whether you bake bread or make olive paste)is very rewarding and can give one a purpose (pitting as a purpose).
On the title, how about "It's the Pits" - sort of cheeky?
Keep it going, inspire me to write more and make my blog have more depth...

Charles Orr in Flat Rock, NC

I think that "avoir du pot" might be a more interesting title, provided that it is a valid expression (I'm not familiar with it), but I wonder how much you would have to change the story to introduce the idea of being lucky or fortunate versus just making "pots" of tapenade. Maybe that ties in well with having friends and/or relatives who make our lives better.

Kristin Espinasse

I love it too, Barbara, but Im afraid there is still a slight difference in meaning... to the overall story theme. 


Same comments about ellipses as in Epuiser.
I vote "Avoir du Pot" for a title, but I like Tapenade as well.

I might delete the last comma, after "bocal de bonheur."

I really like the tone of this story!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Carolyn. I decided to keep the last comma, as it adds the pause that I want.... before we focus entirely on--and honor--Janine at the end of the story.

Bruce T. Paddock

The accent grave is missing from your m-i-l’s name in the first line.

In the third paragraph, you refer to her “fourth-floor apartment,” with “fourth” spelled out. In the next paragraph, you refer to the woman as “3rd Floor Janine” and “4th Floor Michèle-France,” with “3rd” and “4th” not spelled out. That’s OK if you meant to do that; I’m just pointing out.

Does Michèle-France really use an electric mixer? When I make tapenade, I use a food processor, and before I had one of those, a blender. An electric mixer has one or two beaters on it, and is generally used for things like whipping cream, beating eggs, and combining cake mix ingredients. I wouldn’t think it would grind olives particularly well.

The third-to-last paragraph is in the past tense — “Michèle-France brought,” “As we sat.” The remaining two paragraphs are in the present tense — “Michèle-France confides,” “we hold.”

The ellipsis after “Je vois” makes me think you were going to say more and got interrupted or distracted. Were you? If not, “I see.” makes more sense than “I see….” (If you keep the ellipsis, you should probably add a period after it.)

Maybe it’s just my eyes, but the space after the first paragraph and the spaces before and after the fourth paragraph all seem to be a tad larger than the other spaces between graphs.

I love how this story, short as it is, moves from sadness, or at least wistfulness, to love and joy and then to understanding and forgiveness.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Bruce! I think I got these edits in--always a little nerve-racking to fix present/past tense problems. I hope these three last paragraphs are consistent, now:

On Wednesday, Michèle-France brought over six mustard jars full of tapenade—three flavored with fresh basil leaf, three with red bell pepper—for Maxs birthday celebration. As we sat at the table chatting, I spread spoonfuls of the dark olive paste over a sliced baguette before sinking my teeth in... Crunch!

Janine doesnt always get the pits out of the olives, Michèle-France confided. She cant see that well. I always know when shes left a noyau behind because my mixer goes CRACK CRACK!

Je vois... I sympathized with my belle-mère as we held our sore jaws in our hands while our own teeth went crack-crack over yet another missed pit. But that didnt stop us from savoring the latest bocal de bonheur, and raising a toast to la petite voisine Janine.

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