"Lexique" + a botanical glossary of plants in Provence
Flench Glossary of Baby Talk: toutou, doudou, bidou, bobo...


Broom or
The ancient walls of Gigondas (Vaucluse) where genêt gilds the countryside.

faner (fa-nay) verb
    : to wither

La gloire soudaine se fane très vite.
Sudden glory quickly withers.

Hear the French word "faner" and today's quote, read by my son, Max: Download faner.mp3 .Download faner.wav

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Is it too late to talk about sweet-scented French broom? "Le genêt," as it is called in France, is now withering across the French countryside, but nostalgia for the shrub never fades.

Also: "une fane" is a dead leaf... and... the verb "faner" finds itself before "fanfare" in the dictionary (while one conjugates to "withered," the other boasts a "showy outward appearance").

With French maracas playing in the background (those cicadas do give off such a rhumba-shaking sound), I sit at my desk beside an open window and study "The Perfume of Broom". It is a tender short story written by my francophone aunt. The sweet-scented scenes sweep me back to Marseilles... to the chalky heights that tower over a deep blue sea; in between the two, a delicate yellow flower softens more that the rugged landscape...

"The Perfume of Broom" by Marie-Françoise Vidal
(read this story in French... click here)

Among all of the goodies that nature offers us in spring, a certain magical blooming has a particular importance to me, and each May brings me back to my adolescence...

Back then I was a student in Marseilles. I studied in an exceptional school, exceptional as much for the education as for the magnificent environment. The buildings spread out over the hills which scaled the limestone high massif that dominates the city.

At that time the Bac* took place over a two year period, sanctioned by two successive exams in the month of June. As soon as May approached, the vegetation surrounding our classes woke up, and the sea, close by, attracted the less studious. But the most conscientious among us knew that the dates for the dreaded exams approached... and so we threw ourselves into the non-stop revisions, even during recreation and in between classes.

In little groups, we looked for the pénombre* to continue working.... Seated at the foot of the towering broom that had just covered itself with golden flowers, we formed little industrious conclaves.

Perched over our books and our cahiers,* we were intoxicated by the honey-like perfume that the flowers emitted; it made us forget the stress and transformed us into little worker bees.

I received my Bac, and my life unfolded... but each year I am rejuvenated by the arrival of these flowers. I love the genêt* that, here, splashes the thickets, gushing up between somber berries and forming great joyous families along the chemins* that surround the vineyard parcels. I gather great brassées* which I bring back to the house in order to enjoy their sunny "fireworks" and especially for the perfume of my youth. And I wish "bonne chance"* to the young people who, in turn, prepare their own exams.

*     *     *

If you enjoyed Marie-Françoise's story, why not let her know? Thanks for leaving her a message in the comments box at the very end of this post. You might tell Marie-Françoise a bit about yourself as well :-) P.S.: If any of the messages look odd, that may be due to website spam, which I'll clear out of the box as soon as I discover it...

le bac
(baccalauréat) (m) = a French diploma http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baccalaureat ; la pénombre (f) = half-light, dusk; le cahier (m) = notebook; le genêt (m) = broom; le chemin (m) = (country) road; une brassée (f) = armful; la bonne chance (f) = good luck

Excellent French/English dictionary
Provence French Linen Water - in Summer Jasmine
Summer Black French Truffles
In French hair care: Rene Furterer Complexe 5
In Music: pre-order Carla Bruni's "Comme Si de Rien N'était"

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


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Thank you Kristin and merci Marie-Françoise d'avoir partagé ce bout de souvenir. J'adore aussi les genêts et leurs belle couleur lumineuse. Eux aussi me ramène à ma jeunesse en Auvergne. Amitiés de Seattle. Frenchtornado


Bon jour, Marie-Françoise. Thank you for another enjoyable story. I would also like to thank you, belatedly, for your wonderful memorial to Jaby (My Life As A Dog). I had written to Kristin after reading it as one of our dogs, Maggie, had just been given a terminal diagnosis. Maggie left us soon after, but your writing helped ease our loss. Thank you for your inspiring stories. More please!

Barb Mayo
Nolensville, TN


Merci beaucoup, Marie-Françoise et Kristin. Je commence mon matin en France bien que je travaille à Chicago.


Liked the story of the genet from Aunt Marie-Francoise. I had the same "problem" in the United States when studying for exams at the end of the school year, when the lilacs were sending their heavely scent in the window to distract the studious!! Jeanne


Merci d'avoir partagé cette petite histoire de votre jeunesse. Les images étaient tellement vibrantes. J'espère un jour de voyager en France dans l'été... Amicalement de Toronto.


Thank you for the story, Marie Francoise. Here in Seattle we have the same plant growing wild. My family always called it Scotch broom.


I am 28 years old and live in Lake Stevens, Washington US (about one hour north of Seattle). My husband and I live with our 1.5-year-old yellow lab named Sam. We have had the good fortune to visit France twice.

I thought this was a sweet story. I am constantly reminded of places/times in my life in this same manner; especially by those spring and summer perfumes. Thanks for sharing!!


Merci Marie-Françoise! Quel joli récit; vos descriptions du parfum de genêt me rapportaient des souvenirs de ma visite à la région Méditerranée il y a plusiers années. Là, moi aussi, j'ai ramassé des brassées de genêt pour décorer ma petite chambre d'hote, et la sieste dans la chaleur de l'après-midi qui a suivi était adoucie par son parfum. De beaux souvenirs... Karen de Massachusetts

Judy Harris

La nostalgie! So often memories are triggered by fragrances. Mine associated with springtime study are of the cherry blossoms on the trees that lined the main street of the university campus where I, too, found shady places to study.
I can not tell from the photo if genet is
the same plant as Scotch Broom that we see occasionally in North Carolina, but profuse amounts of it would be spectacular. Merci beaucoup.

Marie-Paule Hayward

Merci Marie-Françoise pour la très belle évocation de ce point de votre adolescence.
Merveilleux d'associer ce dur moment des révisions pour examens, avec le jaune éclaboussant des genêts et leur parfum doux comme le miel! Vous avez la chance inouie de pouvoir encore cueillir de telles brassées de fleurs, et de revivre chaque année quelques souvenirs de jeunesse, associés avec leur exubérante beauté et leur délicieux parfum. Ces fleurs que vous adorez perpétuent votre jeunesse!
Mille mercis pour votre texte.

Jules Greer

My Beautiful Marie-Francoise, I loved your
story about my favorite city Marseilles, how
lucky you were to study in that magnificant
city. I am so happy that Kristi is sharing you with us in this unique way, no one knows
better than I what a special role you play in Kristi's life. Shame on me for not speaking French so I can hear all of you stories when I see you each summer. You stories are very important to me, please keep them coming. Love - XOXO - JULES

Linda Simpson

What a delightful story....I can almost smell that "honey" perfume! If I visit in May, I will surely be looking for these beauties! My daughter, son-in-law, and FIVE small grandchildren are currently living near Grenoble for a few years. Meanwhile, back in the states, I read everything "French" and prepare for my third trip to France. The trip=grueling
Being with my grandkids=priceless!


Chere Marie-Francoise, merci beaucoup for this very sweet, lovely story, evocative of nature's beauty and time's passing. It felt lovingly written; thank you! Gayle

Bob Haine

On vient de rentrer d'un petit voyage en France et en Espagne avec mes eleves. Nous avons vu les genets en route de Toulouse a Barcelone. Ma femme les a remarques comme "Scotch bloom/broom" auxquels elle etait allergique.
Ici en Californie, ce sont les arbres jacaranda en fleur en mai et en juin qui annoncent que l'annee scolaire est presque terminee et que les grandes vacances arriveront bientot! Pour les profs comme pour les etudiants, c'est un temps bien occupe mais joyeux!

Augusta Elmwood

Merci mille fois, Marie Françoise. Tes mots evoquent pour moi, des souvenirs du chemin de Chinon à Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois en mai. BEAUCOUP des gênets! If I remember correctly, this is the same plant that gave an English royal family its name -- PLANTAGENET (ou Plantagenesta)-- n'est-ce pas?
Nous attendons avec impatience de te lire encore.
(Pardon mon mauvais Français, je suis autodidactée.)

Augusta Elmwood
à la Nouvelle Orléans,
(fille de France - la ville, pas moi !)

Connie Venskus

Dear Marie-Francoise,
I loved reading your story today as it was two years ago that my two sisters and I spent a couple weeks in the Vaucluse region and I remember seeing these beautiful flowers as we hiked in the hills. In fact, I took a picture of them and it is now the first thing I see on my desktop as I "wake up" my computer. Thank you for your story!


Thank you for sharing your story. Now that I am 40, it has been many years since I tried to finish my studies, and I wish for the little groups of people who share my interests, enriching our knowledge with that bright eagerness, that devouring of information to transform our perceptions. Thank you for the reminder of what it can be. :)

R. Roll

Thank you for this lovely story. It reminds me of those times when we were torn between studying for exams and having fun. I hope to read more of your stories.

Christine Dashper

Dear Marie-Francoise,
That was such a lovely story, merci beaucoup. Even though I have not been Marseilles (yet), but have been to Provence, it created a beautiful mental picture for me; and as an Aromatherapist, I am well aware of the power of scent to transport us to another time/place. Merci also Kristin for your continuing gentle reports on a French life. We are currently staying up late each night to watch Le Tour. Not for the lycra but beautiful French countryside. Although the lycra's not bad either...

Chris Card Fuller

Merci Marie- Francoise for this exquisite memory of the scent of spring broom. Our friends' grandaughter just received her positive results from the 'Bac' - and even when the weather is rainy, a good result on the 'Bac' makes the world look so rosy. You've brought some of those happy memories to life for us.

Pat Meisol

Merci, Marie-Francoise. Je suis retouree de Sancerre et apres, Toulouse et Carcassonne. En Sancerre, J'ai vu le "broom" pour le premiere temps, Je l'ai admire. Mes photos sont plein de "broom." Maintenant, vous l' avez donne un nom!

Jan Leishman

Quelle belle histoire, Marie-Francoise! Je me rapelle le parfum. Il est l'hiver en Australie et nous avons les fleurs jaunes des acacias (ici ils sont 'wattle').

Katie A.

I loved the story! Merci Marie-Francoise. Kristin-I really enjoyed the comment about the great sound cicadas make. We had seventeen year cicadas where I live this year and everybody complained about them. I just told everyone it was like being in the South of France. I discovered your book this year and really enjoyed it for its sweetness and whimsy. I will definitely be using your blog in my future French classroom.

Dawn Bouchard

Thanks, Kristin & Aunt Marie, for another wonderful story - I look forward to them each week:) In Ohio it is the scent of the honeysuckle in late May that helps me celebrate the end of a school year and the anticipation of summer. As a teacher I'm ready to be done grading those final exams, but as I've come to know personally more and more French families & young people over the past 5 years, I have a new appreciation for the diligence and anxiety of french students en 'terminal'! Isn't God good to give us His own encouragement to stop, be still and be reminded of His presence in the most hectic times of life through nature!


In Maryland, along a route that is named "General's Highway" for General Rochambeau when he moved his troops along it during the Revolution to join General Washington, these bushes flourished in my childhood. The road (hardly a highway) was wild and lovely, and the story I was told is that the bushes grew from seeds in the feed that was brought for the French army's horses. I don't know if this is true, but it is a charming story and entirely possible.
Unfortunately, the bushes are gone now, victims of the widening of the little road to a 4 lane highway.


Tout comme Kristin, vous écrivez très bien, Marie-Françoise. J'ai adoré votre essai au sujet du tablier. Bonne continuation à vous deux. Mary (Minneapolis)

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