Mussels (c) Kristin Espinasse
Our son, Max, collecting mussels on the Island of Groix (Brittany).

"The Oysters of Locmariaquer," by Eleanor Clark, is a vivid account of the cultivation of Belon oysters and an excursion into the myths, legends, and rich, vibrant history of Brittany and its extraordinary people. Order it here.

la moule (mool) noun, feminine
  1. mussel  2. a lethargic, clumsy person; an imbecile

The masculine of "moule" has a different meaning.:
  1. mould  2. tin, pan (cake)
Tous nous sommes faits d'une même argile, mais ce n'est pas le même moule.
We are all made of the same clay, but not the same mould. --Mexican proverb

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

Every since I was a freckle-faced gosse* and my Dad broke the news that nothing in life is free, I've secretly relished each and every exception to the money rule. Now that I'm grown up, and as I go about managing my own porte-monnaie,* I realize such exceptions eventually come at a price. Still, the child within me can't help but éclater* with joy each time she encounters a freebie.

By day ten in Brittany, and after so much slopping through the mud, Jean-Marc's skin shined from his own "vaz* therapy" and I must say that the inner child in me beamed as well, imagining just how much something like this would have cost in some 5-star spa. But unblemished skin--or appearance--ranks low on a child's list of Cool Freebees; appetite is everything. Discovering that we could eat for free and to our heart's content on the French island of Groix was akin to watching a trio of sevens line up at the casino in Monte Carlo.

At the port of Locmaria, Jean-Marc, Max, and Jackie hopped from rock to rocher* on their way out to hunt for moules,* the petrol-blue shells of which clung to a bed of rocks at low tide. While I admired the hard-shelled bouquets that lay across the ocean floor, the child within me shouted victory at another free meal for the taking; add those mussels to a steaming bath of olive oil and wild rosemary (pushing up like thorny weeds across the island, free as a prick in the finger) and we'd soon dine like gluttonous rois.* I slung a red net sack over my shoulder and followed my hungry clan out to sea.

With a child's conviction and a woman's caution, I searched for the biggest mussels, twisting them free one by one from their mother rock, before adding them to the growing stash in the red sack.

Back at our rental we sat around the table, pinching the salmon-colored meat from the shell, the latter steamed over the burner or fired open on the barbeque. Jean-Marc showed us the pinching technique whereby a newly-emptied mussel becomes the pincer-utensil (in place of a fork). The child in me rejoiced--not only was the food free, but so was the tableware! (Dad, are you reading this?!)

After four or five meals (lunch/dinner/lunch/dinner--and again lunch!) with the mussels en vedette* I must admit to breaking down and begging the child within to let me spring for a pricey island pizza -- you know, one with the works! After all, everyone knows that nothing is gained without "works".

References: un/une gosse (mf) = kid; le porte-monnaie (m) = change purse; éclater = to burst; vaz (pronunciation for "la vase" = silt, mud, sludge); le rocher (m) = rock; la moule (f) = mussel; le roi (m) = king; en vedette = starring (the mussels)

French Pronunciation:
Hear my son Max's sentence: On a peché des moules sur l'ile de Groix. We hunted for mussels on the Island of Groix. Download moule.wav
Terms & Expressions:
la moule d'étang = swamp mussel
la moule de rivière (also known as "une mulette") = river mussel
le moule à gaufres = waffle iron
le moule à tarte = quiche/pie plate, flan dish
casser le moule = to break the mould

In books: bi- and multi-lingual VISUAL dictionaries!

French English Bilingual Visual Dictionary.

The Firefly Five Language Visual Dictionary: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety