Mairie / Town hall in La Motte, France (c) Kristin Espinasse
On Sunday the French voted in mairies/town halls across the Héxagone.

un isoloir (eezo-lwahr) noun, masculine
  curtained voting, polling booth

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

(April 24, 2007) I am in Sainte Cécile for the week visiting my husband who has been holding down the French fort—a fragmented one at that, what with with ceilings coming uncemented and doors dropping like dragonflies. By the time the kids and I move to the wine farm this summer most of the gros travaux will be done (we hope).

In the midst of renovation, surrounded by fallen walls and broken beams, I type this message on a computer covered with dust and debris.

Here, in a makeshift office, one as foreign to me as an AZERTY keyboard once was, I try to go with the flow, to catch a steady, if rushing, current that will allow me to move forward with my work.

Dust motes enter the room like unruly thoughts seeping into the brain. The poussière settles onto the piles, piles which cannot find order as there is no place to store or arrange anything in this hollowed out home. Je ne peux pas travailler comme ça!, I decide, pushing the keyboard away. My husband's stapler tumbles to the floor. Crash! The noise startles me in time to see the situation with fresh eyes.

The situation is that today (and everyday) I want to capture the streaming scene before me, to paint this picture in prose and not without passion. Up to now, I have set down one condition for my writing: silence. I might as well have shackled my fingers, arrested any creative "rumblings from within" right there on the ever-so-silent spot. It is time to cast away the "conditions" and to focus now on this idea: to be able to create during an upheaval, that is true freedom.

To be too finicky with the "where and when," the "how I will work" (in a quiet room, when the kids are asleep; in an airy studio, creativity uncorked with a glass of wine) is to take one's freedom and feed it to the fish. Write where you are, paint where you are planted and let mood, not merlot, alter the mind. Forget isolation; you are in the stream of things, riding that current. The fish may be hungry and chasing, but you are doing your work anyway. That is freedom.

Speaking of freedom, the French voted over the weekend. On Sunday morning we were standing inside the Town Hall, shaking hands with a senator who, along with our mayor, was greeting villagers as they waited to cast their vote. Jean-Marc seized the opportunity to explain the voting process to our children. I stood close by, hoping to learn a thing or two about les élections présidentielles.*

"Those are the candidates," Jean-Marc began, pointing to the twelve stacks of paper lining the center of a fold-out table.

"You take one printed slip of paper from each stack, then go and hide behind that curtain there," Jean-Marc explained, pointing to the voting booth.

"Once inside the isoloir,* you crumple up the slips with the names of candidates that you do not want to win. Then, you tuck the remaining billet* into the blue envelope, exit the isoloir and place it in that see-through urne* over there."

"But do you have to take all twelve slips of paper?" Max wants to know. "No," Jean-Marc answers, but it is the tradition. "In case voters do not take all twelve slips, there is someone in charge of leveling the stacks of paper so that voters aren't swayed by the most popular candidate." My son's question brings up the point of paper waste and I wonder if this is why electronic voting has recently been introduced in many towns across France.

I look past the curtained isoloirs to the patriots who form a line that extends out the door, down the stone steps and into the town square where a quartet of iron swans seem to cry out "Vive la France!"* --their tears filling the moss-covered fountain to the delight of the littlest Frenchmen whose hands draw circles across its surface. I watch as those circles fan out into so many question marks across the fountain's surface as if to echo a question which ripples across the country: Qui sera le futur président de la France?

un gros travaux (m) = major work; azerty = a type of keyboard used in certain Francophone countries, so named for the first six keys across the letter board; la poussière (f) = dust; je ne peux pas travailler comme ça! = I cannot work under these conditions!; les élections présidentielles (f) = presidential elections; un isoloir (m) = voting booth; un billet (m) = ticket; une urne (f) = ballot box: Vive la France! = Long live France!; Qui sera le futur président de la France? = Who will be the future president of France?

J'ai l'intention de vivre ma vie tel un homme obéissant, mais obéissant à Dieu, en accord avec la sagesse de mes ancêtres; mais jamais sous l'autorité de verités politiques toutes récemment découvertes dans l'isoloir.  I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. --William F. Buckley, Jr.

:: Audio file ::
Listen to Jean-Marc recite today's quote: Download isoloir-mp.mp3

J'ai l'intention de vivre ma vie tel un homme obéissant, mais obéissant à Dieu, en accord avec la sagesse de mes ancêtres; mais jamais sous l'autorité de verités politiques toutes récemment découvertes dans l'isoloir.

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Thoughts on writing, from today's story, were inspired by a book that I just devoured, Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer by Judith Ortiz Cofer. If you are a writer or artist, or want to be, then don't miss the chapter "The Woman Who Slept with One Eye Open". More on this book, here.

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