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Entries from January 2008


The picturesque The town of Mirabel-aux-Baronnies Villedieu (Drôme)

Sure, you know the French word "le vinaigre" (vin + aigre = wine + sour--or "sour wine"), an ingredient we usually include in salad dressing, but do you know this delightful expression: "faire vinaigre"?

I'm adding it now to my other favorites: "dar-dar!" (double-quick) "illico!" (right away) and "chop chop" (Get movin'!) ...Maybe the last one isn't French, but it seems culinary--like our vinegar idiom--and it means the same thing: to hurry up, get a move on!

Speaking of rushing, today's story does little to illustrate a tumultuous life. Instead, I invite you to look through the lens of childhood and into a 12-year-old French boy's "passe-temps." Some call this period "the wonder years". I find it wonderful as well--oh so wonderfully swell!

(Don't miss today's quote... a bit further down in today's letter!)

(A quick word before our story begins: Jean-Marc and I will be in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, LA  & Phoenix - Feb 12-16. More information here.)

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MaxandkarimeWhen my son, Max, told me not to worry, that the jam jar on loan to Karim would be returned tomorrow, I felt a little embarrassed. After all, what would Karim's mother think about my seemingly demanding the return of a jam jar! Besides, it wasn't even a pot de confiture,* but a meager moutardier!* It was the kind of jar one throws away, setting only a few aside for one's belle-mère* to refill with homemade tapenade.*

"Max, Karim could have kept the jar! Besides, why did you give him an empty pot?
"It wasn't empty."
"Ah, bon?"*
"There was vinaigrette in it."
"Salad dressing?"

Like that, dar-dar,* I remembered the boys' culinary aspirations. Max and his pal, Karim, dream of being chefs one day! And not in just any greasy spoon, gargote,* or "boui-boui,* they are quick to point out.

"You know, FINE cuisine!" Karim informs me.
"Ay-twal-ay"* Max seconds.

Étoilé?* As in 5 stars, I wonder. Looking at the boys, I decide that they already have two stars: one each, they with hopeful eyes that sparkle like the Milky Way. Who wouldn't give them 500 stars? Five thousand! Five billion light years' worth of stardust -- only the finest!

My mind projects into the future and I see two dashing young Frenchmen in New York City standing beneath a striped awning that reads Chez K & M (Karim's Kabyle* and Max's Mediterranean Specialties).

I see a line that runs down Madison Avenue upsetting traffic when even the crosswalks are clogged. Customers are gaga about the Algerian-French food four blocks up. The chefs are sensational (and sweet!) with their neatly parted hair and the polished brass buttons on their crisp white "chef coats".

Neat? Polished? Crisp? My eyes return to the messy countertop in my own kitchen, where the boys have been enjoying their edible experiments, the latest being vinaigrette.

Never mind the mess. It is what will one day be amiss that has me anchoring my attention to the present moment. I don't want to lose these little guys to the big city, be it New York, Paris, Milan -- or to star-spangled Mars, whatever they'll call its city one day. And so I'll savor one last image: that of a
starry-eyed boy cycling through the streets of Sainte Cécile, salad dressing in the sack on his back. For now, we have vinaigrette! As for the future, we are, thankfully, not there yet.

References: le pot (m) de confiture = jam jar; le moutardier (m) = mustard pot; la belle-mère (f) = mother-in-law; la tapenade (f) = pureed olive spread; Ah, bon? = Oh, really?; dar-dar = double-quick; la gargote (f) = cheap eatery; le boui-boui (m) = greasy spoon (unpretentious restaurant); ay-twal-ay = pronunciation for "étoilé" = starred restaurant; Kabyle = from/of Kabylie (Kabylia) - a cultural region in northern Algeria

     Mastering The Art of French Cooking : Fortieth - 40th - Anniversary Edition!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~AUDIO FILE~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Listen to Jean-Marc read a quirky, right-up-my-sleeves quote:
  Quand on naît salade, l'huile et le vinaigre vous tombent du ciel.
  When one is born a salad, oil and vinaigre fall on you from the sky.

                   --Elena Poniatowska (from Vie de Jésus / Life of Jesus)
Download vinaigre.mp3
Download vinaigre.wav

My mom, reading from Mexico, is mad about Julia's book, take a look.
Mom's other favorite: Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language ....
The organic French herbs kit contains a specialized mix of herbs, perfect for French cooking
French in Action : A Beginning Course in Language and Culture, the Capretz Method

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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Are you living in or near Seattle? Then I hope to see you at one of two places on Feb 12th!:

fuguer (feuh-gay) verb
  to run away, to run off

Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce and conjugate the French verb fuguer:
je fugue, tu fugues, il/elle fugue, nous fuguons, vous fuguez, ils/elles fuguent
Download fuguer.mp3
Download fuguer.wav
                             *     *     *
The French/English dictionary on my writing desk: Robert & Collins: I would recommend it!

When our kitten disappeared for the second time, I did not pound my fists or cry out. Chances are, he'll be back, I reasoned. He has probably discovered a McMice drive-thru at the other end of this old farmhouse and he is filming his own documentary--"Souris* Size Me"--in between chow downs.

But when I awoke the next day to a free and clear pathway to the coffee machine, no furry, zigzagging traffic to trip me up--and so redirect my path away from the coffee and towards the cat vittles--I realized our minou* was missing.

The hardest was watching my family fall apart. Max and Jackie went on a hunger strike. Jean-Marc, tears in his eyes, trawled the sea of grapevines in front of our house, shaking a half-empty bag of cat croquettes and calling out "Coco! Coco!"

Even our dog, Braise, looked depressed -- her eyes drooping lower than usual.
"Vas-y, Braise!" Go on Braise. Go find Coco! I commanded. Our golden retriever joined Jean-Marc--this time as copilot--as the two drove through the vineyard in a beat-up Citroën. Nearby, the neighboring farmhouses had more than bills in their mailboxes: there was Jean-Marc's hot-off-the-press flyer* announcing our "minou perdu".*

By noon, Jean-Marc and I sat slumped over the lunch table, mindlessly spooning leftovers into our silent mouths. We did not talk about the cold creek that Coco might have fallen into. We did not mention the hungry foxes or the disorienting fields or the birds of prey flying menacingly above.

At three o'clock, the heaviness inside me suddenly lifted when I heard a familiar sound: the cautious footsteps of "man holding child," only, it had been almost ten years since we carried our children that way....

Jean-Marc entered the room and, as I had imagined, his arms were cradled.
"Where did you find him?" I asked.
My husband smiled down into his arms and cooed: "I didn't. Braise did."

I looked lovingly at our kitten, who appeared "supersized" to me after spending the night in our mouse-ridden storeroom next door. And all the while we thought he was McMissing.

References: la souris (f) = mouse; le minou (m) = kitty; flyer (see the flyer that Jean-Marc made); le minou (m) perdu = lost kitten;

Read:  The Cat Who Walked Across France & The Cat Who Went to Paris
The following text is from the book: The Complete French for Cats

When I meow, it means . . .
Hello . I am hungry . I want food in my bowl . I want food in my bowl right now . I am not dying-do not put that goo on my food . Here comes a furball . I want to go out . I want to come in . I just put a mouse in the bureau drawer . I did not break that vase . Why did you get out the cat carrier? . I do not want to go to the vet . Please kill the dog next door. . . .

Bonjour . J'ai faim . Je veux qu'on remplisse mon bol . Je veux qu'on remplisse mon bol tout de suite . Je ne suis pas en train de mourir-ne mettez pas cette chose gluante sur ma nourriture . Voici une boule de poils . Je veux sortir . Je veux rentrer . Je viens de mettre une souris dans le tiroir de la commode . Je n'ai pas cassé ce vase . Pourquoi avez-vous sorti le porte-chat? . Je ne veux pas aller chez la vétérinaire . Je vous en prie, tuez le chien de la maison d'à côté. . . . Order "The Complete French for Cats".

More, in French language learning: Learn to speak French with Rosetta Stone French. Proven effective by NASAastronauts, Peace Corps volunteers and millions of students worldwide.

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 French verb cravacher (kra-vah-shay) means "to use the crop on". Spend time at "une écurie," or "horse stable," and you'll come across the term "cravache" ("whip"). From it, we get the verb/idiom "cravacher" which means: "to work like mad" (imagine a horse being "whipped into high speed"...). While the French word for "kick" (coup de pied) would have been more in theme with today's story, I hope you'll get a kick out of "cravacher" ("to whip") instead.

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Book notes: I love the following French memoir and hope you will, too!: The Horse of Pride: Life in a Breton Village: "A landmark in the art of storytelling. Read it aloud; some passages will bring a catch to your voice." --Gloria Levitas, The New York Times Book Review


La Ruade (The Kick)

I did not get the equestrian gene from my mother, whose horse "Navy Pistol" had wings. In horsespeak that's called jumping, and that is as much as I know about cheval* terminology. A horse once left me speechless after the two of us became one: one streak along the desert horizon. Back in Cave Creek, Arizona, I had unknowingly given a horse free rein when, new to riding, I held the leather "handles" as one would a dog leash. Gripping the ends of the reins I was, in turn, gripped by fear as the giant four-legged thunderbolt suddenly had a taste for branches, and for running its 14-year-old rider beneath them.

My ten-year-old daughter inherited the equestrian gene. I watch as she brushes Virgule,* one of the horses at the stable where she takes riding lessons. I admire her confidence in caring for a creature that both towers over her and more than triples her digits in kilos.

It was while helping my daughter suit up that my fear of horses became engrained. Handing Jackie the safety vest, she traded me the reins to her horse. My daughter stepped forward to change and I, taking the reins, felt her horse rear its head and, in so doing, upset the horse standing beside it--and

The moment that followed was like the scream heard round the stables: piercing in quickness and surreal in scope.

One minute I had been standing between two horses, up at the front, and the next I was spinning--or so my mind's eye would have me think. My own eyes, while in stress mode, had shut out the scene. That is when my mind's eye took over. What I "saw" were horses dancing on hind legs, their "arms" flailing. It was a slam dance of sorts and my instinct was to get off the dance floor as quickly as possible. I did this by a type of two-step "twirl-scream" and, next I knew, I had spun out of the mosh pit (this, it turns out, with the help of several swift kicks in the fesse* by the aggravated "dancer" to my left).

The mind's eye works like an old-fashioned camera: without sound. When the silent film finished playing and my own eyes opened up, volume returned. I came to my senses in time to catch the tail end of a scream: my own.

I put my hand to my head, which was surrounded by a halo of stars--three lanes thick and orbiting at several hundred kilometers per hour. I felt at once nauseous and weak. The French expression "falling into the apples"* took on new meaning as I searched for a place to sit down before my head, full of emotion, hit the ground.

"Are you okay, Mommy?" my daughter quizzed. I realized that I was just fine--considering that the question might have been the other way around.

I should add that, like motion pictures, my emotions made the previous "picture" Three-D dramatic... when the humble reality was that I had received no more than a kick in the rear!

References: le cheval (m) = horse; Virgule = Comma; la fesse (f) = the bottom, backside; falling into the apples (tomber dans les pommes) = the French idiom for "fainting"

"Horses of the Camargue" (book): Since prehistoric times, these rugged animals have run free in the vast swamps of the Rhone delta, where they have adapted to harsh conditions by banding together in small herds. See the book.

Provencal horse (c) Kristin Espinasse

This beautiful horse lives in a nearby village and works in the vineyard there, helping to plow the fields in organic farming. The hand-crafted "headgear" seems to be a kind of nifty fly repellent.

French Demystified : A self-teaching guide "simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student"
Pronounce It Perfectly in French: presents exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes


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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


Yves and the dashing hounds or "teckels"... more about this survivor in today story!

chute (shoot) noun, feminine
  : a fall ; drop (in tension)

       Trébucher peut prévenir une chute.
    A stumble may prevent a fall.
--Thomas Fuller

In books: "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

Yves the carpenter is back and so are the dachshunds. "How are you?" I ask Yves.
"Ça va toujours!"* he answers, and the little log-shaped dogs bark their accord. If his answer isn't convincing enough, his song is. He whistles as he works. From the dramatic '"J'ai Deux Amours"*... to the seasonal "Petit Papa Noël" -- and never mind the season.

Perhaps Yves does have two loves and perhaps he still believes in Santa. I don't know. I'm too shy to ask and, besides, it is none of my "onions" as the French would say. Best to tend to my own potager* -- that being the piles of paper on my desk, both virtual and hard copy.

When Yves is finished with work, he waits for Jean-Marc to return from an errand. I ask Yves whether he would like a cup of tea, and his bright eyes encourage me. I set a cup of jasmine tea on a large saucer and add a teaspoon of wild honey from our Mediterranean scrubland. Beside the tea, I set several butter cookies, a handful of dates, and one chocolate snail, still in its gold foil carapace.* I have second thoughts about the dates--don't they look like so many legless cafards?*--but reassure myself that not everyone sees things as I do. I put a few "cafards" on my own plate, willing them to look like dates.

Next, I set Yves's tea on the table, wish him bon appétit,* and take my own goûter* upstairs. A moment later my daughter, Jackie, walks into my den.

"Monsieur is all alone," she points out. "Why don't you go and talk to him--you know, keep him company? The French words that my daughter uses: "tenir compagnie,"* somehow have me sounding like a Gallic geisha. There goes my imagination again.

Shrugging off timidity, I take my tea, cafards, cookies, and chocolate snail back downstairs. "Would you like another cup of tea, Yves?  There's thyme, rosemary, queue de cerise*... or more jasmine if you like..."

"It doesn't matter which," he says, from his chair at the kitchen table. "I can't taste anything anyway." I look at Yves' plate and notice that the cookies, dried fruit, and chocolate are still there. Maybe that's an excuse, and others do see things as I do! He's just trying to get out of eating that dried fruit "cockroach".

"Ah bon?"* I say, inviting an explanation.
"I had an accident several years back," Yves begins. "I'll never forget the date--which corresponded with the World Cup final! The year was 1998..." Yves tells me the story of his near-fatal fall. While renovating a house in the medieval village of Beaucaire, he was repairing a second-story floor when the rotting planche* on which he stood snapped. The wooden planks were covered with with heavy squares of stone as was the custom of another architectural era....

The fall was nothing, he assured me. It was the shower of stone following him to the ground that almost took his life. The last stone landed on his face, crushing it.

Yves was hospitalized for six months in Montpellier. Doctors, uncertain their patient would survive, waited five weeks to begin reconstructive work. Yves's face was patched back together, "renovated" just like the façade behind which Yves had plunged. Though the doctors did an excellent job sewing him back together, they were unable to reconnect the miniscule, intricate olfactory vessels just above his nose, on the bridge between his eyes. For this reason, he cannot smell and, by consequence, taste.

Yves's teckel* hounds reach up to lick his face, sealing his account with canine kisses. When Yves begins to whistle again, I realize just who those "Deux Amours" are: the little log-shaped dogs, certainly, and Life.

References: ça va toujours! = fine, always!; j'ai deux amours = I've two loves; le potager (m) = vegetable garden; la carapace (f) = shell (of snail); le cafard (m) = cockroach; bon appétit = enjoy (your food); le goûter (m) = snack; tenir compagnie = to keep (someone) company; la queue (f) de cerise = cherry stalk (stem); ah bon? = oh, really?; la planche (f) = plank; le teckel (m) = dachshund

"Petit Papa Noël" by Tino Rossi & Josephine Baker's "J'ai Deux Amours"
101 French Idioms - "tchatch" like the French!
:: Audio File :: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "chute"
Trébucher peut prévenir une chute.
Download chute.mp3
Download chute.wav
Add a slice of French life--a photo, and some free content--to your blog, homepage, or website:
Terms and Expressions:
  faire une chute mortelle = to fall to one's death
  faire une chute de vélo = to fall off one's bike
  la loi de la chute des corps = the law of gravity
  la chute des cheveux = hair loss
  la chute des reins = the small of the back

Shopping: "Must-Know French" gives you instant access to the precise word you need when you need it.
French Country Diary 2008 (Calendar)
Learn to speak French with Rosetta Stone French. Proven effective by NASAastronauts, Peace Corps volunteers and millions of students worldwide
Provencale Garden Tea in ceramic pot

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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


Abbé Pierre's "holy anger" drove him to fight for the rights of those sans-toit, without a roof over their head. Take a moment to read about this great Frenchman, and thank you for sharing this post with a friend.

le (la) sans-abri (sahns-ahbree) noun, masculine & feminine
    : homeless person

"Sans-abri" means, literally, "without shelter"; les sans-abri = the homeless.
=> SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe) is also a term used for the homeless. Les SDF = The homeless


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Day before yesterday, I watched and listened as the French mourned the death of their favorite personnage: l'Abbé Pierre, voted third greatest Frenchman after Charles de Gaulle and Louis Pasteur.

"Abbot Peter" was the short priest with the long beard, the white-haired legend in the black beret, the former Resistance fighter in a dark cape who now clutched a bleached wood cane.

Like his appearance, Abbé Pierre, who once broke his vow of chastity, yielding to the force of desire, was a man of contrasts. Humble and soft-spoken, he was driven by a "holy anger" and known for his passionate outbursts when speaking for the homeless. He once told Jean-Marie Le Pen to "shut up!" (Ta gueule!) after the president of the National Front implied that all of France's ills stemmed from immigration.

His beliefs were sometimes unorthodox, as he felt that priests should be able to marry, that gays should be able to adopt, and that women should be able to be ordained. Above all, Abbé Pierre believed in the homeless and their unspeakable living conditions; caring for the sans-abri* would be his life's mission.

While [ex] President Chirac was said to be bouleversé* by Abbé Pierre's death, it was the thoughtful words of a homeless man that touched me the most as I listened to the midday news: "Sa mort, ça me fait plus mal que la morsure du froid," his death, it hurts me more than frostbite."

Frostbite and hunger were on Abbé Pierre's agenda, made famous in 1954 when he stole into a radio station and demanded the microphone. It was a murderous winter for the homeless in Paris and an old woman had just been found frozen to death on the Boulevard de Sebastopol, an eviction notice still in her hand. Reaction to Abbé Pierre's outcry was overwhelming and the French, both rich and poor, responded with blankets, coats, heaters and money as well as with rice, pasta, bread, chocolate and canned food. Charlie Chaplin (exiled in Paris at the time and made famous for his character the "Little Tramp") handed over many thousands of francs, with the explanation "the money belongs to the vagabond I portrayed".

It was in 1949 that Abbé Pierre founded the Emmaus Society with the idea to "travailler avec des pauvres pour des pauvres" to work with the poor for the poor. The poor that were to become his followers were also known as the "Ragpickers" by reason of the junk that they collected, organized and now sold in open-to-the-public warehouses throughout France. For this, Abbé Pierre was sometimes referred to as the "ragpickers' saint".

Activist for the poor for more than five decades, at 5:25 a.m. on January 22nd, at the age of 94, Abbe Pierre's light went out, when he died in Paris after being hospitalized for a lung infection. The feisty yet humble Frenchman had requested that the following words be written on his tomb:

                               "Il a essayé d'aimer." ("He Tried to Love.")

References: les sans-abri (mf) = the homeless; boulversé(e) = deeply upset

     In books: Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French

Listen to my daughter, Jackie, pronounce today's word and read the French headlines -- from the journal "l'Orient Le Jour": La mort de l'abbé Pierre, apôtre des sans-abri, bouleverse la France
The death of Abbot Pierre, apostle of the homeless, shatters France
Download wav or Download mp3

Fodor's Around Paris with Kids: 68 Great Things to Do Together !
In French Music (Jeanne Moreau!) -- I heard these songs over the weekend and loved them!
Wandering Paris: A Guide to Discovering Paris Your Way
The Ultimate French Review and Practice: Mastering French Grammar for Confident Communication

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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

à fond

When the last time you were "cat" off guard? What did you discover about yourself: pridefulness? greed? Read on in today's story....

à fond (ah fohn) prepositional phrase
    : deeply, thoroughly

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following quote: Download MP3 or Wav file

A mon avis, vous ne pouvez pas dire que vous avez vu quelque chose à fond si vous n'en avez pas pris une photographie. In my opinion, you cannot say you have thoroughly seen something if you haven't taken a photograph of it. —Emile Zola

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Booksales Report: only two days left to reach my goal of 1500 books sold in the first six weeks since publication! I have another 114 copies to go... Can you think of anyone who might enjoy a copy of Blossoming in Provence? Meantime, click here to check out the latest reader reviews!

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

On Consideration and Connecting (This story first appeared in January 2008)

Not far from some lazy lavender fields, gray now with the grogginess of winter, there lives a picture perfect town. There, above a valley of grapevines, geraniums grow in wintertime, tempting French cats to pose prettily beside them (they'll even say "cheese", or ouistiti, if you ask them to, unlike those hurry purry Parisians).

I reach up to snap a photo of some small flower pots that are crowded together, as if for warmth, along a window sill. Beyond the fenêtre, I can just see into a private residence, where a porcelain lamp glows above a well-polished table. My eyes zoom out and refocus on the painted volets. As the shutters come into focus, the private study receeds into a cozy blur. Très bien... I take up my camera again.

I am pointing my lens to the lively window, when my walking companion remarks, "The pictures frame themselves." 

Click... Snap! 

Her breezy comment ruffles me. Pretty pictures might frame themselves, but you must first search out the frame-worthy subject! Then, there are a number of considerations—including, for one, consideration! (I think about the window that I have just captured, careful to blur the private interior, choosing to bring the shutters into focus instead).

If I am a little froissée, or feather-ruffled, it is less about my friend's innocent comment than about my fussy reaction to it. 

Thinking about the fuss, I recognize a familiar old character. L'Ego! Yes, here we have the ego talking, blathering on with its absurd sense of pride! C'est PATHETIQUE! It isn't as though I have ever taken a photography class or know anything about the rules of photo composition. The fact is I am an untrained photographer who is learning by doing, having had some lucky shots along the way—and some generous feedback. Perhaps the feedback has gone to my head?

Turning to my walking companon, I offer an awkwardly delayed reaction to her observation (I nod forcefully). When my head begins to shake, I recognize, once again, the inner wrestlings of that stubborn ego, which is still not willing to cough up a humble response, such as "So true! It is easy as pie to take a stunning picture in France! Anyone can do it!" (I am satisfied with this imagined response, especially since pie, to me, is rocket-science!)

Turns out there is no need to respond to the comment, and my mini identity crisis goes unnoticed. My friend is a million miles away, lost in the beauty of a Provencal village. Our photo périple rambles on, punctuated by her innocent commentary:

"Villedieu," she coos. "The name of the town says it all!" I relax back into the environment, as we stroll though the "Town of God," photographing the already "framed" pictures. Like a blessed writer—through whom words flow as if channeled—we point our cameras, letting the village compose itself. 

My roving eyes catch on The Sweeping Woman. Every town has one. She is the picture of domestic sagesse: broom in hand... and yet wearing a dainty dress! 

That itchy inner-dialogue starts up again. Now that the ego has fallen to sleep, Ms. Ethics has returned with a discours on dignity:

Madame—or "The Sweeping Woman", as you call her—is not behind bars in a zoo. She is not swallowing a blazing torch in one of three circus rings. She is not lounging in a window display, swathed in a beaded gown and feather boa—bringing fashion barracudas to halt along 5th Avenue, at Bergdorf Goodman's. She is, simply, being she. So let her be!

I consider Ms Ethics thoughts about dignity and manners. But might one try a direct approach, something like: "Bonjour, Madame, may I take your picture?" 

I imagine Madame's response. "What is it about me that you find so amusing? It is my white hair? my worn robe? Or is it my Frenchness that is on show?"

In an ethical instant I decide not to snap a picture of Madame and her balai. And yet...

I want Madame's picture because she reminds me of warmth and not steel, being and not doing, prayer and not pricing. She is authentic, real—unswayed by commercial sex appeal. It is what is missing—hairs in place, make-up on her face, a knotted shoe lace—that makes her mystical to me.

No. Not all pictures frame themselves. Some must remain uncontained—free to travel beyond the camera lens, beyond even the mind's eye... to expand and to swell like a giant-hearted universe.

I slip the camera into my coat pocket and take one last admirative gaze at Madame. Her broom comes to a halt as she fastens her eyes on mine. The universe that is my own heart skips a beat. Madame smiles.

French Vocabulary

ouistiti! (exclamation) = cheese! 

la fenêtre
(f) = window

le volet = shutter

très bien = very good!

la sagesse (f) = wisdom

le balai (m) = broom

la robe (f) = dress


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 walls may need paint but the grapes are now pressed... and in bottles!

échantillon (ay-shahn-tee-yon) noun, masculine
  : sample, tester (product)

In French reference books: the French/French dictionary on my desk. I'm just itching for an updated version like this one.

On our kitchen table I see échantillons,* shiny and black! Row after row of unlabeled bottles behind which a very weary Frenchman stands--there, in the back...

Chestnut tresses, once close-cut and well-kempt, fall almost to his shoulders which slump in ressentiment:* to every hair however stray, those shoulders seem to say, "Halt! We can carry no more weight! Go away!"

The belt around his waist is loose, though fixed at its last notch; it is as if the lost pounds--all twenty--have poured forth from a heavy heart and into those bottles: blood, sweat, and tears preceded the wine inside, and behind every passion there is pain.

I study my winemaker husband, who seems oblivious to his success. "Aren't you proud of yourself?" I say. "Look at what you have accomplished!" Jean-Marc searches the kitchen for a permanent marker: he has 60 bottles to pack and ship--and under 48 hours in which to do it!

"Oui... oui chérie..."* he assures me, unconvincingly.

As I stand there, trying to understand my husband's behavior, my eyes lock on the rows and rows of bottles whereupon my vision blurs; when it returns I see not bottles... but books! The box beside the table now reads "Simon & Schuster". Fifty hot-off-the-press books stare back at me. My name--in all caps--is written across the cover of each and every bound biography. I touch the books and wait for that On Top of the World feeling to hit. I wait, and wait. I give up and go and do some laundry.

Two years later and here I stand. Arms around my husband, we look over a small sea of bottles: the Fruits of Labor. I think about how fruits are overrated. It is the labor that lends meaning.

There, in the silence, Jean-Marc and I share the unmystical moment: holy unto itself. You know the worn-out saying--"worn" being key: "It is the journey and not the destination." As well:

It is the work and not the final presentation
It is in the blood, sweat, and tears --
that one feels that deep-seated rumble of elation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

un échantillon (m) = sample; le ressentiment (m) = resentment; oui...oui chéri(e) = yes... yes dear

      Families of the Vine: Seasons Among the Winemakers of Southwest France

:: Audio File & Quote ::
Listen to my daughter pronounce today's French word:
Dieu ...est l'Universel, le Vrai même, et tout le reste en est un échantillon. God... is the universal, the true itself, of which all the rest is an example. --Friedrich Hegel
Download echantillon.mp3
Download echantillon.wav
FRENCH in 10 minutes a day is a fun, dynamic and engaging way to begin your love affair with French.
French Country Diary 2008 (Calendar)
French cosmetics: Caudalie: A true Vinotherapie® Spa experience
French film: La Vie en Rose
Wouldn't that make a great book title? For now, it is the headline of an invitation... to you! Jean-Marc & I will be touring the US west coast next month, presenting wines from Domaine Rouge-Bleu--we'll have books* with us, too. Click here for more information.

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    
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To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

US Tour: February 2008


Coming up: New York City in April 2008

If you happen to be in the Big Apple next month, then let's meet at Crawford Doyle Booksellers, a small store located around the corner from the Metropolitan Museum between 81st and 82nd Streets on Madison Ave. I'll be there, perusing the stacks, on April 15th, from 4:00 to 6:00. Please RSVP here.

(The following is a message from Jean-Marc)

Dear friends,

Kristin and I have the pleasure to announce to you that we will be visiting the following towns this February 2008 to present our Rouge-Bleu wines and meet with our dear readers in :
Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston.

JmkSeattle: February 12th - Meet with us either :

* From 2 to 4 PM at Abraxus Books book store located at :
5711 24th Avenue NW
Seattle, WA 98107
Phone (206) 297-6777

From 5:30 to 7:30 PM for a wine tasting-book signing organized by the French-American Chamber of Commerce of Pacific Northwest at :
Seattle Heights (Condominium Building)
2600 Second Avenue, 7th Floor Meeting Room
Seattle, WA 98121
Phone: (206) 443-4703
Online reservations will be posted soon at

Portland : February 13th - Meet us at Cork Wine Shop from 5 to 7 PM :
2901 NE Alberta Street
Portland, OR 97211
Phone: (503) 281-2675

San Francisco : February 14th - Meet us at Palio d'Asti restaurant from 2 to 4 PM :
640 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone: (415) 395-9800

Los Angeles : February 15th - Meet us at Wine House wine store from noon to 4 PM :
2311 Cotner Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone: (800) 626-9463

Phoenix : February 16th - Meet us at Vincent's Saturday Farmer's Market from 9 AM to 1 PM :
3930 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018

Houston : February 21th - Meet Jean-Marc at Brasserie Max & Julie for a wine dinner scheduled from 7 to 9 PM :
4315 Montrose Blvd
Houston, TX 77006
Phone: (713) 524-0070
Tickets are available through our wine importer French Country Wines. Please email Tim to secure your seats.

At last, Kristin and I will be in New York City next April (14th to 17th) and we will post more details for you soon about the events we shall organize.

We do hope to have a chance to meet with you then. In the meantime, make a note in your calendar and don't hesitate to tell your francophile friends about these events.

Apart from the events where tickets are requested, an email to let us know your visit in one of these meetings would be very much appreciated in order to manage as best as possible the logistics.

Cheers and Happy New Year,
Kristin and Jean-Marc

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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


The best anti-odor remedy yet! Read on, in today's story.

Well, here's one for you: "puer"! In English it means "the dung of dogs". Is it me, or is there a whisper of poetry in that last entry?

We can forget about the stinky English definition for the moment (aren't you glad this is a French word list?) and rejoice, instead, in knowing that the word "puer" suddenly makes sense:

puer (pooay) verb
  to stink, to reek, to have a very bad smell

                                    *     *     *
Now available for pre-order: First French Reader: A Beginner's Dual-Language Book. "...excellent anthology introduces newcomers to fifty great writers. Beginners can get their first taste of Voltaire, Rousseau, Balzac, Baudelaire, and Proust with passages from The Red and the Black and Les Misérables..."

"Mom, do you have a sac poubelle* and a pince?* my 12-year-old wants to know.

"What's that, honey?" I ask, setting down my hair brush and rummaging through my make-up trousse.* Jean-Marc and I have been invited over to Isabelle and David's, fellow wine makers, for dinner. I am looking for the red lipstick that my husband bought me for our last night out, one month ago. On second thought maybe this red is too bright?

"I need a sac poubelle and a pince!" my son repeats, from behind the bathroom door.
"A sac poubelle...." I mumble, reaching for the red lipstick.
"And a pince!" Max adds, impatiently.

I push the make-up trousse aside, put the tube of lipstick into my pocket, and join my son in the kitchen. Right, a sac poubelle....
"What do you need a sac poubelle for anyway?" I ask, rifling through the recycled bag bin. There is a variety of bag shapes and sizes, both in paper and in plastic; crumbs have been carefully shaken out (in the case of bread bags) and all sacks have been knotted or rolled or flattened for stacking.

"How about this one? Will this work?" I ask, unknotting a plastic bag. Max offers an approving nod before reminding me of the clothes-pin, too, that he will be needing.

"I really need a pince!" he insists.
"Max, what on earth do you need a clothes-pin for? Won't a twisty do the trick?" I reach for a plastic-coated aluminum tie.

"Non, maman!"*
"Well then, what do you need a pince for?"
"Mon nez!"
"Your nose?"
"Oui! Mon nez!"

I watch as my son reaches up and clamps a thumb and forefinger over the end of his nose. Next, his face contorts into a look of supreme offense.

"Oh, I get it now. Your dad asked you to empty the kitty litter box? C'est ça?"*
Max answers with an affirmative nod, fingers still clamped onto his nose.
"Trust me, you don't need a clothes-pin to plug your nose!"
"Mais, ça pue!" It stinks!

"Max, arrête de faire ton cinéma!"* I say, handing him a recycled bag that reads "Top Budget 10 Pains au Lait."* I pause to marvel at the English words that have crept into the French language. Then again--looking over at my son--nothing is so marvelous as a 12-year-old practicing theatrics....

I watch as Max takes the plastic bag, projects it away from his person, emphatically re-clips his fingers around his nose, and seals it shut.

"Careful not to break it!" I say, pinching my own nose for effect.
"Mom! It reeks!" Max argues, walking toward the litière* as if approaching the end of a wooden plank.

"The odor won't kill you!" I insist. "Wait!" I say, reaching into my pocket and handing him the tube of red lipstick. "On second thought, you need this more than I do. You'd make a great dramatic actor, you know! Just a little white powder and..."

Max responds by raising the left corner of his mouth, ha-ha.
"Off you go, Cosette.* Time to clean out that litter box!"

References: le sac (m) poubelle = garbage bag; la pince (f) (à linge) = clothes pin, peg; la trousse (f) = case, kit; non, maman = no, Mom; c'est ça = is that it?; arrête de faire ton cinéma = stop being so dramatic; le pain (m) au lait = type of (sweet) bun; la litière = kitty litter box; Cosette = mistreated child/orphan in the play Les Misérables, adapted from Victor Hugo's famous novel.

     Larousse Concise Dictionary: French-English/English-French

     French for Cats: All the French Your Cat Will Ever Need
Terms & Expressions:
  puer de la gueule = to have bad breath
  puer des pieds = to have stinky feet
  ça pue! = it stinks!

If a French native told you that the new movie is a "turnip" (un navet), should you go see it? Or if a passerby calls you a "sausage" (une andouille), should you respond by saying thank you? Find out more in Street French Slang Dictionary & Thesaurus

Learn in Your Car French Complete:

Bernard Michaud honey -- read the rave reviews!

French Verb conjugation: puer
je pue, tu pues, il/elle pue, nous puons, vous puez, ils puent => past participle: pué

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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


Photo Vernissage! If you happen to be in Jacksonville, FL between now and February 15th, please stop in to the JU CAMERA CLICK GALLERY (221 Phillips, Jacksonville University; open from 5-7pm) to see select "slices" of my French life -- framed and on display! Mille mercis to Ginger Sheridan for inviting me to participate (and to her photography students for last night's live internet chat). It was great "tchatching" with you!

As for the question: "What kind of camera do you use?" here is an answer. I love my camera for its pocket size. Another question the photography students posed was: What is the best tip that you can give? Answer: always have your camera with you (which brings us back to "pocket size"!). Another camera that I like love, and would buy in a heartbeat if, quelle horreur, I lost my current one, is this one!
                                        *     *      *
ourlet (oor-lay) noun, masculine

  : hem, border

Also: the adjective: "ourlé(e)" -- as in avoir les lèvres bien ourlées (to have well defined lips). More expressions at the end of this letter.

Ce soir-là, apaisée par la sécurité de cette chambre exiguë, elle avait compté l'argent cousu dans l'ourlet de sa jupe. That night, calmed by the security of this meager room, she had counted the money sewn into the hem of her skirt. --from the book "Les mains nues" by Marie Balka

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

Avignon looks good on a sunny day and even on a drizzly one. Though I have never been to Avignon when there is sun, I can tell you that, even in gray, Avignon will take your breath away.

"This is the perfect rain!" Jean-Marc says, thoughtful of his wintering grapevines. We are skipping over puddles and minding slippery curbs, in search of rue Trémoulet and our middle meal* of the day.

The moist air gives the city a surreal feel, and we might as well be walking through the lens of an antique camera and into a depression era drame. There is romance in the absence... of color, of light, and of appetite.

I watch the French weaving in and out of the shops, balancing their umbrellas against makeshift porte-parapluies, tapping dry their feet on the indoor paillassons as the bells on the shop's door chime right along.

The carillon sounds and I listen as the echo makes its way across the cobblestones... bringing me back a century... to when a woman's hemline hovered menacingly close to the wet ground. These days the menace is the other way around: for the hemlines, ever creeping up, are forever being tugged down.

References: meal = for a good meal in a funky Avignon wine bar go to "AOC" at 5 Rue Trémoulet; le drame (m) = drama; le porte-parapluies (m) = umbrella stand; le paillasson (m) = doormat
                 In books: Simple Sewing with a French Twist .
:: Audio File ::
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "ourlet" and read the day's quote:

Ce soir-là, apaisée par la sécurité de cette chambre exiguë, elle avait compté l'argent cousu dans l'ourlet de sa jupe.
Download ourlet.mp3
Download ourlet.wav

Instant Recall French Vocabulary : Learn and Remember French Faster than You Ever Imagined Possible!
Poemes, Pieces, Prose: Introduction a l'analyse de textes litteraires francais
Bonjour Les Amis!: French made easy for children:

Related Terms & Expressions:
   ourler (verb) = to hem
   ourlé(e) = hemmed
   un faux ourlet = a false hem
   défaire un ourlet = to let the hem down

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

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.