Les phares / lighthouses at the Island of Groix (Brittany).
le phare (far) noun, masculine
1. lighthouse 2. headlight 3. beacon
"Unlike many other countries, France has resisted the trend toward total automation, and in many small ports and seaside towns, the lighthouse keeper is still a well-known and respected figure."
--from Lighthouses of France: The Monuments and their Keepers
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
I was on my way to Draguignan, en voiture, when I saw a wicker chair lying on its side in the opposite lane. It must have just fallen out of the back of that flatbed camion, I thought, at which point my fingers pulled repeatedly at the headlight lever as I gave what the French call an "appel de phare" or warning signal.
As the oncoming car drew close, I could just make out the expression of comprehension on the driver's face. Though he could not yet see the obstacle, he was now prepared to see (and react) to something. Assured, I let the worry go, and for the next two or three kilometers, found myself back, some fifteen years in time, in the Lubéron, on a winding country road leading to the villages of Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Cadenet and Pertuis.....
To my left and in the driver's seat, sat a young Frenchman with a bandana tied around his neck and a thick lock of chestnut-colored hair falling over his left eye. The glow on my face was hidden beneath a powdery mask, one fashioned by the Gaul whom I had just met. (In vain I had protested the orange, yellow and red dirt being pressed against my face. "It is a tradition," he had said, brushing with his hand another generous layer of the ochre and red earth across my cheek.)
It was when we had climbed out of the ochre canyon at Roussillon and were on our way back to Aix-en-Provence that I learned for the first time what was a headlight signal.
"It is called an 'appel de phare'," Jean-Marc had explained, signaling to the oncoming car via a series of bright flashes. We do this to warn other drivers that there is a flic nearby.
"But there are no cops around," I pointed out.
"No," Jean-Marc chuckled, "il n'y a pas." Nevertheless he gave a few more appels de phare, amused at foiling his countrymen (even going as far as to be disappointed when the motorists didn't have the courtesy to thank him for the warning via a wave of the hand!).
While Jean-Marc found the flash-n-foil funny, I didn't see the humor in it and was slightly déçue by his adolescent behavior. The headlight incident would be the first fault of character that I would mentally register (in what would become a lengthy "Gripes Log" of a new bride -- a record that would bind me with every loop of a neatly penned "l", and tie me with the crossing of a "t", for such is the recording of our miseries: we enprison ourselves, subconsciously!).
And like the appel de phare, it was a warning of more personality clashes to come. But, like the fallen wicker chair, it was just another something to be gotten around on the road to mutual acceptance.
I suspect that when I finally get them to add up -- all the ingredients for a happy life -- it will be that beam of light, flashed not upon the other but on my own faults, that will have led to enlightenment. It will be the realization that the obstacle to bonheur is, after all, not the other, but moi-même.
en voiture = by car; le camion (m) = truck; le flic (m) (informal) = cop; déçu = disappointed; le bonheur (m) = happiness; moi-même = myself
* * *
Read all about my first meeting with Jean-Marc, and the ups and downs of our intercultural courtship, in my book "Words in a French Life : Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France. Order a copy here.
Listen to Jean-Marc say these French words:
Il a lancé un appel de phare. He sent a warning signal. Download phare.wav
Terms & Expressions:
le projet phare = the main/major project
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety