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Entries from July 2007


How to spread out, or "étaler" a bulldozed building...with grace and artistry in today's story.

étaler (ay-tal-ay) verb
  to spread, to spread out, to display, to lay out
  to put on, smooth on
  to spread out (payments)
  to parade, to flaunt, to show off

Ne ronge pas ton frein, ce que tu as sur le coeur, dis-le. Tu verras qu'un secret étalé au soleil rétrécit à vue d'oeil. Don't chomp at the bit, whatever is on your heart, say it. You will see that a secret, once spread out under the sun, will shrink before the eye. --Yves Thériault

"I should get him something to drink," I say.
"No, leave him," Jean-Marc insists.
I drop my hand, an ever ready sun visor, and look at my watch: Nine thirty-five. The "thirsty man" has been working, non-stop, for three hours.

Across the jagged ground, I spot Monsieur Delhome who has left his vegetable patch to watch the noisy spectacle.* Monsieur has had an eyeful since we began the tearing down and building up of this farmhouse. There was the roofer, sacré* Michel, whose uniform was no more than an itsy bitsy Speedo. "Il a fait du bon travail!" He did a great job! Monsieur tells me. I suppose Michel was quick on his feet without all that cloth to get in the way. Surely he had safety in mind (and sun-kissed skin). With a two-in-one goal, and twinkle toes, Michel had a section of our roof tiled in under 10 days and for a third of the price quoted by the big guys.

As to those "big guys," Monsieur Delhome has his opinions about les entreprises de maçonnerie* or sociétés sans Speedos: "They'll rob you!" But the independent masons (like Michel and the "thirsty man" whom we are watching) are true craftsmen who won't empty your pocket.

Monsieur and I study the thirsty man, with Monsieur offering an ongoing commentaire* about the beauty of his work.
"Just watch him!" Monsieur says, in awe.
I watch as the pelleteuse* scoops up another load of broken concrete and, thanks to its operator, deftly spreads it out across the yard. For the big chunks of concrete, the shovel is turned on its belly to crush the béton* to smithereens.

"What grace!" Monsieur Delhome observes.
"Yes, but... he must be thirsty..."
"He won't stop now. He's on a roll. Just look at him!"
I do as my neighbor instructs me to, and appreciate the elegance in one man's efforts. But it is Monsieur Delhome who truly understands the talent behind the tapering out of concrete piles.
"C'est un artiste!" he declares.

The artist's paintbrush is a twenty-two ton pelleteuse. His canvas is the stretch of uneven earth to the side of our farmhouse. Where once piles of concrete were stored (after the demolition of part of the farmhouse) now a creek rolls gently by, no longer hidden by a wall of rubble.

With Monsieur Delhome's nine decades of experience, and in his sharing, I can now see the artist behind the engine. I pause to consider the art appreciator standing beside me who seems to share an artist's sensibility: both require vision and the ability to see beauty in what some consider banal.

References: le spectacle (m) = show; sacré = good ol' (that character); l'entreprise (f) de maçonnerie = building firm (business); le commentaire (m) = commentary; la pelleteuse (f) = mechanical shovel, digger (Caterpillar); le béton (m) = concrete

:: Audio File ::
Listen to French: Hear my son, Max, pronounce French (from today's quote):
"Etaler: Ne ronge pas ton frein, ce que tu as sur le coeur, dis-le. Tu verras qu'un secret étalé au soleil rétrécit à vue d'oeil."
MP3 file: Download etaler.mp3
Wave file: Download etaler.wav

Terms & Expressions:
étaler son jeu = to display one's hand (in cards)
s'étaler = to stretch, spread out
  s'étaler par terre = to fall flat on the ground

Shop--and help support this word journal!:

Etalable! (spreadable!) The French love crème de marrons, on toast or all alone. Chestnut spread from the Ardeche region.

In keeping with our Etalable!/French favorites theme: Mustella 2 in 1 Hair and Body Wash - Soap-free cleansing.

...and how about a bed "spread": Beautiful French all over quilted floral quilt with matching shams

More about handmade quilts, or "boutis", here: Quilts of Provence: The Art and Craft of French Quiltmaking by Kathryn Berenson

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If you are ever in Sainte Cécile, please drop by Feuilles des Vignes and pick up a book.

Rock on, en français, with Mademoiselle K. Her album, "Ça Me Vexe," is available here.

The next word will go out on Monday (due to the pouring of cement floors around here...).

allonger (alon-zhay) verb
  1. to lengthen, make longer; to extend
  2. to stretch (out)
  3. to thin down (sauce), to water down (a drink)

Abréger son souper, c'est allonger sa vie.
To shorten one's supper, is to lengthen one's life.

The original quote, "To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals," is from Benjamin Franklin's book "Poor Richard's Almanack"

Allonger, it is as good a verb as any to represent the ensemble of words in the coming paragraphs, whatever they may be, and to give this anecdotal billet* a needed theme, however glib and on a spree.

Enough dilly-dallying. Our warm-up paragraph has served its purpose. Time now to enter our story, which is already underway as you will soon see by turning your attention over there, to the Cécilien* curb on which tables of books, in French and English (mostly français*) and colorful racks of cartes postales* turn quickly or slowly according to a tourist's whim.

Beyond the books and postcards the scene opens up onto a stone shopfront (just beside the restaurant "Angelus" where we dined on pizza and banana "spleets" a few weeks back). Below a painted enseigne* which reads "Feuilles des Vignes,"* rests a small iron table the color of réglisse* as it melts on the tongue. There, beside the melt-in-your-mouth table, two iron chairs, sweet as their heart-shaped "dos,"* are occupied.

The woman with the black waist-length ponytail is filling out a form that reads dépôt-vente.* The writer seated beside her is wondering whether she will return to collect the money (should her book sell). She has "deposited" books in librairies* before (in Aix, in Lorgues...) only to be seized, she the writer, by
an unfounded phobia of returning to the shop to collect either books or earnings. "This time is different," she tells herself. "Those books were issued from Four Frogs Press.* This book is from a maison d'édition New Yorkaise.*" The writer is not convinced that this last detail has cured her cowardice.

A woman rides up on an old-fashioned bike, wicker panier* hooked to the handlebar. "I don't have any tomatoes for you today, ma belle,*" she apologizes, bending down to kiss the shop owner. "Je vous fais la bise aussi,"* says the woman on wheels, planting three kisses on my cheeks (left, right, left). I feel
like I did back in tenth grade when, new at Chaparral High School, one of the "freaks" (as opposed to "jocks"), who wore a hip-hugging belt with menacing spikes, welcomed me into her tribe (she liked the zigzags ironed into my straight hair. Years later, my muse with the spiked belt--which matched her
rock-n-roll locks--ended up dancing on tables for cash and I, writing on them).

I look over to the bookstore owner, who is coquette in a flowing knee-length skirt, one as whimsical as its motif: great black polka dots on white. "Don't worry about it," she is saying. As the lady-sans-légumes* pedals off, the shop owner informs me that she'll pick up a few tomatoes from her father's
potager,* near the Aigues river. I mention that, coincidentally, my home is near a such a potager. Before long it is understood that the shop owner lives in the house across the field from me.

More customers file past us. A man and his son inquire about "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" only to learn that the last three copies flew out of the store yesterday.

"I should go," I say, swirling the coffee (a café allongé,* I might finally add) in the plastic cup before me. I stand up to leave. Remembering my drop-n-run track record, I am not sure if I will ever see the bookstore owner again.

"Écoutez,"* she replies, solving an unspoken problem. "When these books have sold, I'll stop by your place on my way home and give you your cut."

That settles that. With one great stone kicked out of my path, I can go back to dreaming about books that fly (out of store windows), and to the writing of them. So far I haven't had to dance on tables and, in the meantime, I hope to keep this writing gig.

References: un billet (m) = column; Cécilien (Cécilienne) = of Sainte Cécile-Les-Vignes; le français (m) = French; la carte (f) postale = post card; une enseigne (f) = shop sign; Feuilles des Vignes = Vine Leaves (or Vine Paper -- feuille also means "paper"); la réglisse (f) = liquorice; le dos (m) = back; le dépôt-vente (m) = consignment; la librairie (f) = bookshop; Four Frogs Press = a.k.a. Kristin, Jean-Marc, Max, & Jackie Espinasse; la maison (f) d'édition New Yorkais = New York publisher; le panier (m) = basket; ma belle = my pretty one; Je vous fais la bise aussi = I'll kiss you too; sans légumes = without vegetables; le potager (m) = vegetable garden; un café (m) allongé = a "long" (watered down) coffee; écoutez (écouter) = listen

                                                  :: Audio File ::
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word & quote:
Abréger son souper, c'est allonger sa vie.
MP3 file: Download allonger_mp3.mp3
Wave file: Download allonger_wav.wav

Terms & Expressions:
  allonger le pas = to quicken one's pace
  allonger quelqu'un = to knock somebody flat

Cartes Postales: A Delightful Album for Postcards
La Perruche sugar cubes are made in France and have a rich and perfumed taste with hints of honey and vanilla.
2007 Debut Studio Release from a French Pop Star. Willem was a Finalist on the French Edition of TV Talent Search Show - Nouvelle Star.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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There are artistic oeuvres around every French corner at this former flower farm.

"Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living My Dream," by James Morgan. "A lovely memoir, travelogue and art history...Morgan's passion...might even inspire some readers to follow dreams of their own." --Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. More about the book, here.

oeuvre (uh-vruh) noun, feminine
  1. work
  2. task
  3. deed
  4. ("oeuvre" is also a masculine noun and refers to the complete "works" of an artist; "oeuvre," masculine, is also used in construction lingo such as "second oeuvre" (finishings)

        La vie d'un artiste, c'est son oeuvre.
      The life of an artist is his work.
--Jérôme Garcin

How to distill thirty-six hours with an artist into one tidy vignette? The task is daunting and I sit here staring at a blank screen as the artist herself must stare at her canvas.

For starters, I could do as the artist would by tossing out convention. Ouf.* Freedom! Next, I might sketch a few initial impressions...add a bold stroke of color, step back from my easel, and tilt my head. Hmmm. I return to my palette, swirl my paintbrush into a puddle of Prussian blue and, in the meantime, off we jump into this anti-essay via a series of scattered thoughts and impressions.

Seated in a wicker chair, a row of bee-spotted lavender beside me, I peer into Tessa Baker's atelier, past the painted green shutters, over the tomette* tiled floor, and spy the English artist who is singing "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen:

"...And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers..."

...on the easel, a rectangular canvas receives an inspired the air the smell of turpentine is thick enough to taste.

Here, on an ancient flower farm where chatty chickens ("Queenie" and "Firelighter") are home on the range, a charcoal cat named Cabas* (kah-ba) warms to me via a purr and a proie.* Oh, là là!

A gray-skied dawn filters into a guestroom window curtained by green vines that hold purple flowers. "Morning glory" indeed.

"Is it a "gift?" I ask my hostess, of the field mouse that Cabas the cat has dropped beside my bed. "Oh, dear. It is!" she apologizes.

In the kitchen I steal past the artist, a stiff souris* in my hand, on my way to its swift burial. "Rigor mortis," Tess shudders, before honoring the maman* in me. "Only a mother could do that," she says of such brazen mouse maneuvering. I puff up with pride as Cabas did when she presented her catch.

On the terrace, shaded by an honorable linden tree, I listen to the eclectic island beat of a bamboo chime. The breakfast table is set with pottery, linen, and pearl-handled spoons. "We'll have napkin rings!" the artist says. "What color would you like?"
"And I shall have pink!" the artist decides.
The napkin rings slide on, then off, as we settle in to a petit déjeuner* of farm fresh eggs "à la coque"* and buttery "toast fingers," breakfasting with the abandon of giglets at a tea party.

I ask if I might clean the henhouse so as to learn about coop logistics (and to leave my hostess a pocket of free time in which to paint or putter). I wheel the barrel to the poulailler,* hunch down into the hutch, gather the straw and droppings with a shovel. When the shovel becomes chiante,* I give up and use my hands... Pouah!* I soon learn that poules* leave presents, just as purry cats do, when Queenie struts up and lays the third egg of the day in thanks for her fresh "sheets".

This canvas is running out of room and we've yet to sketch the voiturette,* VaVa,* and the vêtements* aisle at Intermarché where the artist's words "It brings out the gypsy in you!" have me twirling round and round in a supermarket skirt. Catching the enthusiasm, the quiet French woman next to us selects a frilly jupe,* ignores the portable dressing room, and joins us twirlers who've given haute couture a haughty hee-haw!

As an artist leaves her canvas, so shall I leave this composition: abstract and incomplete, for the viewer to interpret as s/he pleases.


*     *     *
Meet Tess and join her for her fun-filled COOKERY COURSES IN PROVENCE. Visit:

.................................French Vocabulary..................................................
References: ouf! = phew!; la tomette (tommette) = type of terracotta tile, usually bright red with a hexagonal shape; le cabas (m) = wicker (or cloth) shopping-bag; la proie (f) = prey; la souris (f) = mouse; la maman (f) = mother; le petit déjeuner (m) = breakfast; (un oeuf) à la coque = soft-boiled egg; le poulailler (m) = henhouse; chiante (chiant) = a damn nuisance; puah! = yuck!; la poule (f) = hen; la voiturette (f) = little car; VaVa = GoGo; le vêtement (m) = article of clothing; la jupe (f) = skirt

     :: Audio Clip ::
Hear French pronunciation: Listen to Jean-Marc recite today's word and quote:
La vie d'un artiste, c'est son oeuvre.
MP3 file: Download oeuvre.mp3
Wave file: Download oeuvre.wav

Terms & Expressions:
  faire oeuvre utile = to do something worthwhile or useful
  mettre quelqu'un à l'oeuvre = to put someone to work
  se mettre à l'oeuvre = to get down to work
  faire de bonnes oeuvres = to do charitable, social, work

One of the most agreeable and Frenchest ways to end the day: with a cup of heaven-scented verbena tea.
Asli Arts Bamboo Chime
Le Creuset Round French Oven -- for one pot meals including cassoulet.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Random photo of my friend Tess's chickens. They love to sunbathe & shoot the feather-light breeze in French or English (they are bilingual, after all).

Many thanks to Anne Clausse, and to the editors at France Today, for this interview:

la gueule-de-loup (gul-duh-loo) noun, feminine
  1. wolf's mouth
  2. snapdragon

...les gueules-de-loup roses baîllaient dans les fentes des pierres...
...the rosy snapdragons gaped in the cracks between the stones...

                   --from "Les Misérables" by Victor Hugo
Read it in:
French or English

There isn't a lot of time for a story today but one can always make room for a word (or two, or three!) such as "gueule-de-loup."*

Gueule-de-loup, for the yellow-as-corn flowers, no bigger than petits pois,* that grow in crowded bunches along the river Aigues just across the field of vines beyond this French window.

Gueule-de-loup for the funny faced flora, "dragon's mouth" to some, so small they might have continued, incognito, to enjoy their midsummer day, buttery faces pointed toward the sun.

Gueule-de-loup for the chatting and memories that the tongue-poking plants incite...
"Do you know what we call them?" My aunt-in-law asks, plucking up a specimen from the rocky river bank.
"Mmm. I think we call them snapdragons back home."

While aunt Marie-Françoise demonstrates their bratty-when-bent behavior (for what living thing enjoys having its mouth pried open via an intrusive pinch at the "jaw"?) I watch as the flower's pointy "tongue" pops out. What memories the gesture brings...

The flower fades from my vision, replaced now by a flower-lined path where my mother's garden is bright with marigolds, pansies, petunias, and snapdragons. On my way to the desert wash to pick wildflowers I pause, sink to my scraped seven-year-old knees, and give the jealous "dragons" a reassuring pinch. "No hard feelings?" I inquire. The jealous flowers drop their petal-jaws to respond with a pointed tongue-lashing.

References: la gueule-de-loup (f) = snapdragon; les petits pois (m) = peas

                    :: Audio File ::
Listen to French pronunciation: hear my daughter pronounce today's word & quote: Gueule-de-loup: ...les gueules-de-loup roses baîllaient dans les fentes des pierres...
MP3 file: Download gueule-de-loup.mp3
Wave file: Download gueule-de-loup.wav

More vine therapy: Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum
Improve your French comprehension: listen to French music: Françoise Hardy
Herbes de Provence olive wood grinder

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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♥ Give the amount of your choice

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Funny faced faucets, or robinets, in Brignoles, France.

After 30 years in the computer software industry, Michelle and Paul Caffrey relinquished their careers determined to reinvent themselves. The fifty-something couple sacrificed everything they owned to buy a converted 1906 Dutch barge. Click here for more about their French adventure.

le robinet (ro-bee-nay) noun, masculine
  tap, faucet

La créativité, ça ne s'ouvre pas comme un robinet, il faut l'humeur adéquate. You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. --from Bill Watterson's comic book "Calvin and Hobbes"

The dialogue, from which this quote was taken, continues:
  Hobbes: "What kind of mood is that?"
  Calvin: "Last-minute panic."

Arriving in Avignon, I notice the colorful wooden péniches* lined up "à la queue leu leu"* along the Rhône river. Jean-Marc and I may be on the scenic route, but we are not in France's windy city to see the pont,* or even the Pope's Palace, we are in Avignon for plumbing purposes. And we are plumb lost.

At a stoplight my husband drives over a concrete lane divider and, presto, we join north-bound traffic. I try not to complain about the roller coaster ride when I can't be of much help with the directions. Before long we are in an industrial zone, pulling into the parking lot of a home improvement store. I reach up to the dashboard and take the contractor's estimate sheet where items are listed and priced--items the plumber will choose for us unless we intervene. Intervening we go...

The sales lady, Corinne, stands two heads above me in her spiked heels and tall hair the ends of which mingle with the plunging neckline of her frilly form-fitting frock. It will be Corinne's job to turn my request for "something simple" into something concrete. She wastes no time.

"Simple," she says, "ça ne veut rien dire."* I appreciate her hiding any impatience that she must feel in assisting clueless clients like me. Bon,* specificity is needed. Did I want modern? Classic?

I notice a "retro" theme in one of the displays. The water taps, with their four-prong handles and porcelain tops, read "chaud" and "froid" and are as charming as the delicate scalloped vasque* beneath them. On display alongside the sink is one of those old-fashioned French toilets where the water tank is
located high up above the bowl; to flush the toilet one pulls on a chain. (The French still use the expression " 'tirer' la chasse"* though most modern day toilets require a push and not a "pull".)

I study the retro toilet. What character! How fitting for a farmhouse. With Jean-Marc's approval I believe we are about to tick two items off our shopping list. Then we notice the tiny price sticker in the base of the vasque: "778 euros." I take out our estimate sheet to verify our budget for the powder room sink: "120 euros." Chérot.* It must be those scallops.

The toilet with "character" costs 2,200 euros. For amusement's sake, I compare the sticker price with our plumber's estimate: "219 euros, hors taxe."* We skip the retro throne.

When I mention that the retro line doesn't match our current budget, Corinne, with the clack-clack-clack of her high-heels, tactfully whisks us to the recesses of the store where she is no longer uttering a one-syllabled stylistic sales pitch ("chrome," "mode,"* "chic") but using phrases like "bon rapport qualité prix"* terms that suddenly sing to the word-lover (and wallet-watcher) in me.

References: la péniche (f) = barge (boat); à la queue leu leu = in single file; le pont (m) (d'Avignon) = famous bridge; ça ne veut rien dire = that doesn't mean a thing; bon = okay; la vasque (f) = basin, bowl; tirer la chasse = to flush the toilet; chérot = pricey; hors taxe = not including tax; la mode (f) = style, fashion; le bon rapport qualité prix = good price/quality ratio

                :: Audio File ::
Here French pronunciation: Robinet: La créativité, ça ne s'ouvre pas comme un robinet, il faut l'humeur adéquate.
MP3 file: Download robinet3.mp3
Wave file: Download robinet3.wav

In "vine therapy": Caudalie VineGo -- intoxicating indulgences to enjoy sans moderation.
Published by National Geographic and now available for pre-order: How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life.
Quench summer thirst with all natural grenadine (pomegranate) syrup
Antique bath faucet with handshower -- oh so French!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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♥ Give the amount of your choice

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The brook beside our "casbah" (our house, left, behind the rubble; to the right: our neighbor's house)

Read about Susan Travers, the only woman ever to serve officially in the French Foreign Legion.

déboucher (day-boo-shay) verb
  1. to unblock
  2. to uncork, to open
  3. to lead to

Le manque d'amour du prochain ne peut déboucher que sur une société d'égoïsme et de désespoir. The absence of love for one's neighbor can only lead to a society of egoism and despair. --Bernadette Chirac

"Bah! Machines! You've got to use your hands!" Those are the words of Old Man Delhome, who I mistakenly referred to as "Peep" at one point. Oh, Peep exists all right, as does the tobacco "pipe" from which he gets his name. Only Peep isn't Old Man Delhome, but his sometime helper or "bras droit"*; the two used to tend grapes together, beginning the sulfatage* as early as three in the morning. "After which we ate six eggs each. Eggs that would be better if there were a hunk of ham alongside them," Delhome admits. The farm fresh eggs washed down nicely with a glass or two of rosé, which Old Man Delhome drinks in place of water. "Water is too heavy," he complains. "I never drink the stuff."

I am standing by the side of a brook, in my robe, having left my cup of coffee back at the picnic table. Jean-Marc is talking to Old Man Delhome (the father of Monsieur Delhome or "Jean-Marie") who has left his garden and crossed over the brook to meet us at our property line just beneath the massive plane tree. I study Delhome's sunkissed 90-year-old face, wondering if rosé is the secret to his good health.

"Thanks for your help with the tuyau,"* I say, referring to the sewage pipe that burst when Jean-Marc backed over it with his tractor. Mr. Delhome enlightened us a little on the sewage system of our centuries old farmhouse after which Jean-Marc was able to unblock one of the pipes (which had been
invaded by gnarly roots). As Jean-Marc works the roots free (using a series of rusty iron bars which he has jabbed into the pipe), Old Man Delhome watches, an amused look on his bronzed face.

We leave the broken and blocked pipes and invite Delhome to see the transformations taking place inside the house. "Pierre de Serignan,"* he says, studying the stone wall in the stairwell. This part of the building is older. "We found terre cuite* tiles dated 1696," Jean-Marc adds. "Pas étonnant,"*
Delhome mutters. "They began building these types of buildings in the 17th century after those brigands* emptied the little cabanons* of tools, wine...even cochons!"*

Old Man Delhome, having referred to our home as a mas,* now calls it a "casbah" ever since one of the previous owners married a Moroccan woman who "wore the pantalons* around here!" I see her touch in the jewel green paint that colors a hollow in the wall where a stone sink once nestled.

We make our way through the casbah. "This is the kitchen," Delhome guesses. "How are you going to heat it?" Jean-Marc mentions floor heating, which sets Delhome's mouth into another one of those amused grins. "Just wait until the Mistral blows open that door. See how well floor heating works then!" Jean-Marc smiles politely to Delhome, who tells us he keeps his fireplace going nuit et jour.*

I point out the iron bar above our front door which the workers uncovered last week.  "An 'essieu* de charrette',"* Delhome confirms, identifying it as an axle from an old horse cart. "Ils ne cassaient pas la tête. They didn't rack their brains," he says of the builders of yesteryear who used whatever materials were on hand. "Like those rock walls..." Delhome continues, indicating the pebbles and stones taken from the river-bed and used to build the walls in the last half of the building.

The home tour ends in the cave* which Delhome recognizes as the former "on-gar"*. The dirt floor has been covered and great cement tanks from Italy now line the walls. Delhome wags his hand, impressed.

"Il y a du pognon ici!" A lot of dough here! "It's your American wife," Monsieur continues, assuming I am the "money bags" behind the vineyard project. I do not correct monsieur. Instead, I think about the journey from what some would call "trailer park trash" to "châtelaine"* or "mistress of the château" as my mother-in-law now teases me.

"There are investors," I say, with more self-assurance than I have ever known before. "And bank loans," Jean-Marc adds, his eyes meeting mine with a wink of approval.

References: le bras (m) droit = right-hand man; le sulfatage (m) = copper-sulphate spraying; le tuyau (m) = pipe; la pierre (f) de Serignan = stone from Serignan; la terre (f) cuite = baked clay (terracotta); pas étonnant = not surprising; le brigand (m) = bandit; le cabanon (m) = cottage; le cochon (m) = pig; le mas (m) = farmhouse in Provence; le pantalon (m) = trousers, pants; nuit et jour = night and day; un essieu (m) = axle; la charrette (f) = cart; la cave (f) = cellar; on-gar (pronunciation for "(le) hangar") = shed, barn; la châtelaine (f) = wife of the lord of a castle

:: Audio File ::
Hear my 12-year-old son pronounce today's word & quote:
Le manque d'amour du prochain ne peut déboucher que sur une société d'égoïsme et de désespoir.
MP3 file: Download deboucher.mp3
Wave file: Download deboucher.wav

Related Terms:
  le débouchoir = plunger, plumber's helper
  le déboucheur = caustic cleaner, Liquid Plumber (R)

In Film: The Girl From Paris
L'Occitane - Honey Harvest - Honey Face Cream
Improve your French comprehension: listen to French music. Francoiz Breut
LuLu Provencal Sampler includes Mustard with Herbes de Provence, Provencal Grilled Vegetable Sauce, Cherry Balsamic Vinegar, Preserved Meyer Lemon & Artichoke Vinaigrette, Basil Pistou, Garlic Aioli, Au Poivre Marinade, Fig & Cherry Balsamic Jam

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Carignan and grenache grapes...and a view that tickles the eyes.

Check out SmartFrench --"the smart way to learn French". More info here.

picoter (peeko-tay) verb
  to tingle, to tickle, to smart, sting

I'm plum out of "picoter" quotes today. Would you accept a "tickle" instead? Read on...

Il ne faut pas lâcher le poisson que l'on a dans la main pour capturer celui qui nous chatouille l'oeil. One mustn't let go of the fish in the hand in order to catch that which tickles the eye. --Massa Makan Diabaté


               :: Static Electricity and a Few "Chestnuts" ::

Set out to renovate a house with your nervy counterpart while living "on site" and sooner or later sparks will fly. Add outer tension to the internal kind and you've got yourself a mouthwatering recipe for one electrifying pie--so mouthwatering, so electric that you might just spit fire! But first you need a
preheated four* in which to bake that pie...

"Don't touch the stove!" Jean-Marc shrieks. Was it me or was he being a little touchy when he said that?

I set down the casserole of milk; forget café "au lait"* (and pie, for that matter. It was only a metaphorical pie anyway).

I reach for a vacuum-packed coffee capsule, which I've stored with the others in an old glass candy jar above a miniature armoire. While unscrewing the jar's bakelite lid, I receive another admonition.
"Don't touch the cafetière!"* Jean-Marc barks. "And stay away from the bread machine!" he snaps.
Touchy, touchy, touchy! We've both been a little on edge here at the chantier* but not to the point of putting claims on household items (as in "I'll take the cafetière. You can have the aspirateur"*).

When I hear what can only be described as a French yelp, I look over at Jean-Marc who is poking the bread machine with the tip of his index finger: poke, poke, poke. His forward-backward dancing, which accompanies his poking motion, reminds me of fencing only instead of declaring "Touché!" he yelps once again.

YEOWWW! J'ai reçu le jus!*

Well, he got zapped, something that befalls him often enough. Some are prone to mosquito bites, others are prone to electric shocks (my husband is prone to both).

I unwrap the coffee capsule.
"Don't touch the coffee machine!" Jean-Marc insists. Only now I realize he isn't being touchy, but FEELY. He's just been zapped again!

I touch the coffee machine anyway, braving one jolt for another. Coffee is needed in order to face our "courant"* problem. Lately, every time we touch an appliance we get zapped. The electric shocks range from little zzzt zzzt picotements* to high voltage volumnizers which leave our hair standing on end.

I sip bitter black coffee while Jean-Marc continues to check the appliances, taking note of which ones are emitting "jus" as he calls it. I myself have received a few zaps and a few volumnizers, but nothing like the châtaigne* that Jean-Marc just got from the bread machine.
"AIEEEE!" He shrieks, this time clapping his hand over his heart.

                              *     *     *

Big-hearted Patrick, our steel-haired electrician with the ponytail, has left his Sunday dinner to make an emergency call at our place. With a hand-held device he checks our appliances and visits the electrical outlets throughout our house.

"Effectivement..."* he says, mumbling something about the parafoudre,* something about "masse"* and something about "terre".* Apparently a surge protector had been "grilled"--overworked and now defective--after all of its sockets were taken up by high powered masonry machines (drills, electric saws...). This, combined with the recent weather--in particular the sky-whitening  foudre* we had recently--had made for one fantastic fuite de courant.* The excess, Patrick explained, was being sent back to the ground or "terre" where we were, horror of horrors, picking it back up as human circuit conductors. Patrick unplugged the faulty unit and the problem was solved.

Reading up on electricity, my face is as white as the electric sky was the other night. While the idea of renovating an historic farmhouse may be charming to some, the reality can be "positively" chilling.

References: le four (m) = stove, oven; le café (m) au lait = coffee with milk; la cafetière (f) = coffee-maker; le chantier (m) = building site; un aspirateur (m) = vacuum; J'ai reçu le jus! = I just got zapped!; le courant (m) = electrical current; le picotement (m) = tingling; la châtaigne (f) = electric
shock (châtaigne also means "chestnut" and to "flanquer une châtaigne" is to punch someone); effectivement = as a matter of fact; le parafoudre (m) = surge protector; la masse (f) = electrical (earth) ground; la terre (f) = earth, ground; la foudre (f) = lightning; une fuite (f) de courant = an electric "leak"

:: Audio File ::
French pronunciation of today's word & quote (compliments of my 12-year-old, Max): "PICOTER. Il ne faut pas lâcher le poisson que l'on a dans la main pour capturer celui qui nous chatouille l'oeil."
MP3 file: Download picoter.mp3
Wave file: Download picoter.wav

In Gifts:
Nespresso Automatic Espresso Machine
Art Poster:  "Electricine"
Renovating & Maintaining Your French Home: A Survival Handbook
In Biographies & Memoirs: Renoir, My Father

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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My aunt-in-law, Marie-Françoise, weaves a "lavender bottle" at the picnic table.

tresser (tres-ay) verb
  1. to plait, to braid; to twist
  2. to weave, wreathe (basket, garland)

synonyms: natter (to plait, braid), entrelacer (to interlace, intertwine)

Tressons, tressons ces fleurs, hâtons-nous, jeune amie, Les songes et les fleurs demain ne seront plus! Let us weave, let us weave these flowers, let us hurry, young friend, for the dreams and the flowers will be gone tomorrow. --from the book "Irlande: Poésies des Bardes" by D. O'Sullivan

"The time to pick the lavender is now, while it is fresh," Marie-Françoise is saying, as I follow her over to the scented allée* where purple flowers mingle with rosemary in one long row, like juilletistes* motoring toward the sea.

"We'll take a poignée* from the very bottom of the won't even know they're missing!" Following Marie-Françoise's example, I begin snapping up stems from the base of the lavender buissons* which line our driveway. Jean-Marc's aunt has a tour de main* for herb gathering and before long she has collected enough spiked flowers for my braiding lesson. I hand over the half-dozen stems that I've collected for a bouquet that is now 34 flowers strong. I feel my brows lift in confusion when Marie-Françoise tosses one purple beauty out. "Eh, oui!* We need an odd number," she says, apologetically.

We return to the picnic table where my belle-mère* is peeling aubergines.* "I don't have the patience for weaving," my mother-in-law sighs, adjusting the eye-opening Tahitian print pareo that covers her swimsuit. Ah, but she has the patience to peel all those vegetables which she will soon fry in an orderly
fashion: first the aubergines, then the zucchini, then the red and green peppers...she'll even separate the skins from the boiled tomatoes before adding them to the marmite.* I wonder why all the vegetables can't just be fried together? Therein must lie the secret behind the saveur.*

It will soon be no secret how the French tressent* lavender. First, we pluck off the excess foliage along the tiges.* Next, I watch and listen as Marie-Françoise ties a satin ribbon around the neck of the bouquet, just beneath the flower base. I put my finger on the taut satin, wondering how to help. Marie-Françoise knots the ribbon there, then turns the bouquet upside down.

I have only ever weaved beads through my hair, as a child in Arizona, in turquoise, coral, and silver--colors that inspired the native Indians. I liked the coral of Sedona, the blue of Navajo turquoise jewelry, and, of course, the silver in that lining along an eastern cloud that would lead me to France. I had
not yet considered lavender and the fields of Provence, didn't yet know that one flower's essence would match my very own. Meanwhile France was budding within me, there in a mobile home park along the edge of the Mojave desert.

Near the Drôme, far from the desert, Marie-Françoise tells me that what we have here is "lavandin," that lavender is rare. But lavandin smells just as good, so good that trapping its essence is our enterprise of the hour. Marie-Françoise explains that she is about to create "une bouteille de lavande"*--which, mind you, isn't a bouteille at all, but bottle shaped. "More like a jug or 'amphore',*" my aunt-in-law admits.

She will make the "bottle of lavender" by weaving satin ribbon through the bars of the "cage" that she has formed from the lavender stems (the stems having been bent, one by one, back over the bundle of flowers, interning the lavender like so many sweet-scented prisoners).

Fishing out the longest ribbon, pulling it to the top of the cage, Marie-Françoise begins to weave. As she passes the ribbon through the lavender bars or "spokes" she explains that hand-woven lavender bottles have been used from time immemorial to freshen drawers and armoires. Placing a bundle
of lavender in a tiroir* or closet will keep hungry moths and insects at bay. The making of these Provençal pest busters is a tradition chez les soeurs* Espinasse who get together and weave up a lavender storm each summer. "They make great gifts!" my aunt suggests, adding that the woven "bottles" were traditionally given during les fiançailles.*

BouteilledelavandeI notice the relaxed expression on my aunt's face as she weaves. The line of her mouth reflects her smiling eyes: soft, content, free--unlike those sweet-scented prisoners behind the lavender bars.

References: une allée (f) = driveway; le (la) juilletiste (mf) = one who takes a vacation in July; une poignée (f) = handful; le buisson (m) = bush; le tour (m) de main = the knack for something; eh, oui = that's right; la belle-mère (f) = mother-in-law; une aubergine (f) = eggplant; la marmite (f) = cooking pot; la saveur (f) = flavor; tressent (tresser) = to weave; la tige (f) = stem; la bouteille (f) de lavande = lavender bottle; une amphore (f) = ancient jar used to store oil or wine; le tiroir (m) = drawer; chez les soeurs (f) Espinasse = with the Espinasse sisters; les fiançailles (fpl) = engagement, betrothal


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:: Audio File ::
French pronunciation: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and quote:
Tressons, tressons ces fleurs, hâtons-nous, jeune amie, Les songes et les fleurs demain ne seront plus!MP3 file: Download Tresser.mp3
Wave file: Download Tresser.wav

Lavender_crafts Lavender: Practical Inspirations for Natural Gifts, Country Crafts and Decorative Displays. "Lavender bottles" are mentioned in the index of this book...

Terms & Expressions:
  tresser des couronnes à quelqu'un = to praise, flatter someone
  tresser un panier = to weave a basket
  tressé = having interlaced fibers

More, in shopping:
Hand sanitizer with Organic Lavender Essential Oil -- naturally cleansing and soothing
In music: Quel Enfer by Niagra
Surrounded by the scents of France: Provence French Linen Water- Fragrant Basil

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

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The Beverly Hillbillies meet the Hexagone... Photo taken in front of our "baraque": a bidet, a bécane, a lot of beton and, beyond, a breathtaking view.

Rosetta Stone French - the award-winning method used by NASA and the Peace Corps

bécane (bay-kan) noun, feminine
  bicycle, bike

"Bécane" is also slang for "motorcycle" and "machine". You can use the noun to designate a computer, a calculator or any machine upon which one works. Oh, the possibilities for employing today's word!

As for today's quote...just between you and moi, "bécane" quotes aren't exactly flooding the reference books that clutter this desk. So how about taking the dreamy quote, below, and exchanging one of its parts? The quote's meaning will stay the same--just replace "machine" with "bécane" for the same effect:

Le dictionnaire est une machine à rêver.
The dictionary is a dream machine.
--Roland Barthes

I was folding sun-dried linens at the picnic table when a man in a casquette* called out to me from the front gate. Next to the terra-cotta tiles, stacked in old wooden crates and waiting to be scraped and scrubbed, I recognized our immediate neighbor, Yann. And when I say "immediate" I mean that if I open one of our north facing windows and toss a stick of frozen butter over to the petite brunette (Yann's wife, Daniele) standing at the front door, she'll be able to catch it fastoche* and eventually make that Tarte Tatin for which she had had an inspiration.

"Bonjour, Yann," I said, dropping a lovelorn sock for which no well-meaning Cupid could find a suitable match. Leaving the laundry, I made my way down the crooked cinder block stairs, past a line of unhinged doors, and along a row of potted grappa tomatoes. Careful not to slip again, I stepped over an unwound hose and offered Yann my right hand only to take it back in time to receive three kisses, one per cheek then back again, which is the local custom (as opposed to two kisses or a handshake).

Next, I apologized for the tractor and farm equipment, including a charrue,* pulvérisateur,* and fouloir*--machines that are facing Yann's woven wire fence which separates our properties. While the equipment is parked on our property, just in front of our cellar, it must be a terrible eyesore for Yann and Daniele whose view from the kitchen window once included the lovely vine horizon beyond. I keep pestering Jean-Marc to move the machines, only he reminds me that our masons' bulldozer, flatbed truck, and tractopelle* are already double- and triple-parked at the other end of the yard. "It's nothing," Yann assured me as we returned to the picnic table where I continued my chore. "We are in this

What we are "in" together is this circus of living on a chantier.* But the three "rings" at Yann's house are slowly coming down and, looking at our neighbor's neat yard and clean facade with its newly painted shutters, it is hard to imagine any beastly chaos on the other side. I should mention that at one point Yann's house and our own were part of the same homestead. But in the past decade or two the property was divided, sold, then resold when the last two homeowners went either cinglé* (Yann's seller) or sour in marriage (our seller). I hope the work won't get to us like it did the former owners as I don't want to
go bananas or bust. Enough said, or my mom, who reads this journal and is keen on the council of Florence Scovel Shinn,* will remind me that my words are my wand! I should be careful about what I say and think lest it--poof!--spring to reality, like a prince-turned-frog, before my very eyes!

Back now to our story where we were talking about machines, one of which Yann casually referred to as "une bécane".*
"Bécane, you say? I thought a bécane was a bike."
"It is," Yann confirmed. "But you can call just about any man-operated machine a "bécane." For example, you can call a calculator or a computer a bécane."
"Really?" I chirped back, feeling the magic of words begin to stir within me.

And that word magic, like a fairy godmother's wand, transported me...until where once a woman stood folding sun-dried laundry...there was now but a puff of fairy dust. Just like that, in the blink of my neighbor's eye, I had run down those cinder block stairs and up several others--over to my own ever humming bécane in time to deliver to you today's word before it went bust from my memory bank, or slipped, as on a banana peel, to fall from my mind for good. But we won't talk about bananas. No, we won't go there.

References: la casquette (f) = baseball cap; fastoche = dead easy, a cinch; la charrue (f) = plow (plough); le pulvérisateur (m) = crop duster; le fouloir (m) = grape crusher; le tractopelle (m) = backhoe; le chantier (m) = building site (worth noting that chantier also means "shambles"!); cinglé(e) = screwy, cracked, nuts; Florence Scovel Shinn; une bécane (f) = machine

:: Audio File :: Listen to today's word and quote:
Bécane. Le dictionnaire est une bécane à rêver.
Download becane_mp3.mp3
Download becane_wave.wav

It may not be French and it isn't a motorcycle: it is a "motobecane"!
Savon et Cie Bubble Bath: Lavender
Laurel Zucker- Flute Music by French Composers
Bodum Chambord Coffee Press

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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The rubble rousers were at it again. Another photo of our home, under re-construction, and our dog, Braise (just back from a dip in the creek).

casser (kah-say) verb
  to break, crack, snap

Il faut casser le noyau pour avoir l'amande.
To have the kernel, you must crack the shell.


The theme of our first week, here at a chantier* that doubles as home, seems to be "casser". In French the verb "casser" means to crack or break. It also means to snap.

I have told you about the walls and windows which were broken, intentionally or not. Add to the dégât* those items that got broken in the move (just a few shelves, a glass or two, and the dial of the tumble-dryer, which isn't an immediate concern as we use the clothesline in summertime.).

Next, there is the breakage that happens while adapting to one's new two-story environment. While hanging out wet towels along a second floor balcony, I heard a crashing sound. Looking down, I saw that my foot had knocked over a small plastic telescope which had been placed just beyond the iron guard
rail. "It's nothing," Jean-Marc, the novice stargazer, spoke up from the patio below, making me wonder if the plastic lunette* was another one of those cadeaux gratuits* that he is sometimes offered from the online office supply store (like the baladeur mp3,* the pierrade,* or the barbe à papa machine*).

Too bad they don't offer tractor doors as a gift with purchase, for it was the portière* that broke next (torn clear off its hinges while Jean-Marc was treating his vines. (To verify that the baby plants were not being crushed he had left the tractor door ajar. The door caught on an iron piquet* before
shattering both the glass and the good intentions of the driver.)

Moving on now from broken things to broken people...if it looks as if Jean-Marc has cracked every bone in his lower body, that is because he is riddled with tendonitis. Last night I fished out his béquilles* which had been packed in a golf caddy during the move. And while there may be a golf course or two in the environs, my husband won't be playing anytime soon--not because of his injuries, but because farmers don't seem to get a day off.

As for me, perhaps all that silent screaming frustration which I am trying to keep intact and internal, finally manifested itself in the form of laryngitis. My voice broke on Friday. Better a voice, than a neck, I reason, thinking about all those plastic tubes each of us continues to trip over: tubes either set out
by the workers or tubes of our own that have not been properly stored.
"WHO keeps leaving the hose out?" I say, having tripped over it for the third time on my way from our bedroom to the kitchen (a voyage in itself, as I've mentioned, for we must leave the building and re-enter it from another location).
"Economise ta voix!"* my daughter replies, each time I attempt to say something and only a crackle comes out.

Meantime, Jean-Marc nearly broke a few vocal cords while sharing his own exasperation in one thundering sweep. His lungs had filled to bursting with the toxic gas of injustice--much like the sky above, which broke last night having had its fill of water.

"Not rain!" Jean-Marc pleads. "We need wind. WIND! The vines need a good Mistral to dry them! Give us rain in August," he shouts, as if he were able to change Mother Nature's somber mood. (Mother Nature, who called back her bees last month when they broke free from the hive Jean-Marc had built, and Mother Nature who was filing her nails when all those vine branches broke.)

Because the verb casser also means "to crack," this is a good place to mention the fissure along one of the 10,000 liter cement tanks in the wine cellar. While a crack won't break the tank, it will add to the pile of broken nerves, effectively putting an end to the faux calm that had held us together last week.

Depending on the angle from which I view this picture I can feel anywhere from desperate to hopeful. I will try to see this period as a "breaking in" point, hopefully not too long in duration, lest it leave a few broken spirits in its wake.

References: le chantier (m) = building site; le dégât (m) = damage; la lunette (f) = telescope; le cadeau (m) gratuit = gift with purchase; le baladeur mp3 = Walkman / personal stereo mp3; la pierrade (f) = a table-top machine which holds a flat stone on which to grill meat or vegetables; la barbe (f) à papa = cotton candy (literally "daddy's beard"); la portière (f) = door (of car, train...tractor), le piquet (m) = stake, picket; la béquille (f) = crutch; économise ta voix! = save your voice!

::Audio File::
French pronunciation: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the word casser & today's
quote: Noyau. Il faut casser le noyau pour avoir l'amande. Download casser.mp3


Morello Cherries in Liqueur and Kirsch -- Unique recipe -- Griottines from France
Improve your French comprehenstion -- listen to French music: Essentielles by Maxime Le Forestier
Grand Prix poster "French 1929 Grand Prix Roadster Race"
Test your French comprehension with a parallel text book: "Collected Maxims andOther Reflections" by Francois La Rochefoucauld

VERB conjugation: je casse, tu casses, il/elle casse, nous cassons, vous cassez, ils/elles cassent
=> past participle = cassé

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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