Mr. Espinasse, king of the vines in his grenache-tinted "robe".

There's a flurry, flurry, flurry of activity here at the moment with soon-to-be hungry harvesters who've just been handed the reins (make that "vines"). I'll let the pickers steer those grapes into the buckets today while I catch up on our column below...before popping into the kitchen to scream "What on earth am I going to feed everyone!" This is one time when I'd rather be picking grapes!

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In books: "Words in a French Life": an "innovative and entertaining way of teaching the finer points of French" (--Publishers Weekly)

la vendange (von-donzh) noun, feminine
  1. grape/wine harvest or vintage; grapes (harvested); grape crop

vendanger (von-don-zhay) verb
  1. to pick or to harvest grapes

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Comme les vendanges, les amours tardives* sont les plus délicieuses. / Like the grape harvest, love gathered late is the most delicious. --Jean Amadou

Grab a bucket and follow me out to the vines today. Got a windbreaker? Casquette*? Sunglasses? Courage? Good, you'll need them!

Now reach into the flat-bed camion* and get yourself a pair of sécateurs* and some gloves. Pull them on. Tac!*

Go ahead...choose a vine row. There are many! Trip over a stone or two as you make your way over to the grapes. Set down your bucket next to a gorgeous pied de vigne*--its leaves already burnt orange and crumbling from the ten day old Mistral. Let the wind whip your hat off and cry as you watch it billow over a field branches. One less comfort... Get used to it!

Reach down, down, down, and gather a bunch of grapes. Take precautions. (Distinguish your fleshy fingers from the blue fruit.) Now position your shears. Clip! Relieve the branch of its heavy fruit. Aahhhh.... Watch the vines spring back, feeling lighter on their feet. As for you, you'll carry that weight, bucket by bucket till the sun goes down. Hup, two, three, four! Hup, two, three four...

By the eighth or ninth vine put your hand on your back and let out a nervous chuckle, mumbling something about how you ought to take up yoga. Now look up, amazed, and see an interminable field of vines. Mon Dieu,* whatever gave you the idea that harvesting French grapes was something like romantic?

...continue to bend, stoop, and sometimes sit...the 40-year-old vines "en goblet"* hide their grapes well under a parasol* of leaves (you'll need to crawl under the slumping vine in order to reach the fruit). The wind gives you a little kick and, fast as that, you're kissing the trunk where all the little balls of fruit are clustered. Chuck those grapes in the bucket, push yourself back up off the ground...and get a move on! This isn't a vacation, c'est la vendange!*

Crash! You've stumbled again. Time to take your pick of juicy French expletives (you've learned plenty from the pickers) and curse those *@#!! weeds that have just tripped you up again. Curse organic farmers and their fields of mauvaises herbes!* On second thought, hats off to organic farmers (like my husband, Mr. Espinasse) and their fields of meter tall *@#!! weeds (while a harvester's Hell on earth, the grapevines here have been spared of pesticides).

What's that? You say you need to use the powder room? Well, Laaa DEEE daaaah! The "powder room" is right here! Just drop your drawers. Huh? Worried someone might see you? Well, then, there's a cypress tree at the end of this field. But hurry up, we need you back here illico presto*...

Off you trot while your fellow harvesters giggle and snort:
"Cypress. Cypress. (Si loin...mais 'si près'!)
("Cypress tree, Cypress tree.  So far, but 'so close'!").
Oh, the tree's not so close. Go on, no one's watching.

Back to work now and shhht! Don't talk so much. See that big guy over there with the queue de cheval?* That's my brother-in-law (the self-elected supervisor). He checks buckets by the minute. Make sure yours is full and don't blame it on the dull shears (as I did, last time he checked) or he'll teach you an old French farming dicton:

"Il n'y a pas de mauvais outils, il n'y a que de mauvais ouvriers!"
(There are no bad tools, only bad toilers!)

What's that? You say you're thirsty? Didn't you bring a water bottle? Never mind. Have a slug of this. No, it isn't milk. There's water (albeit murky) inside. It was the only container Mr. Espinasse could find. Lord knows he isn't finicky about gourdes,* only grapes. Grapes! Grapes! Bring in the grapes!

"Ten more buckets and you can stop!" Mr. Espinasse shouts. No, he's not talking to you, Grapehead! (Nor, to me!) He's talking to our twelve-year-old son, his and mine, telling him that the boy's shift is almost over.

Ha! As for you--we have YOU for the day. Now get on with it! No talking! ALLEZ!* Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two three four....

References: (No time for a reference section today. I'm rushing to the airport in Marseilles to pick up our newest harvester: my mom! I leave you now with some homework: open up that dusty dictionary and look up the words in today's story. Bye for now!)

     Larousse Pocket Dictionary: French-English/English-French

:: Audio File ::
Listen to my daughter pronounce today's word & quote:
Comme les vendanges, les amours tardives* sont les plus délicieuses.
Download vendange.mp3
Download vendange.wav
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Terms & Expressions:
  une vendangeuse, un vendangeur = a grape picker
  une bonne vendange = a good vintage
  les vendanges = grape harvesting time
  un vendangeoir = a grape-picker's basket
  la vendange en vert = a green harvest (crop/cluster thinning)
  vendanger une vigne = to harvest a vine
  pendant les vendanges = during the grape harvest
  faire les vendanges = to harvest or pick the grapes
  vendanger de bonne heure = to get an early start on the harvesting

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