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Entries from November 2008


In the town of Nyons: Persimmons aspiring to be potirons.

In children's books: Oxford First French Words

potiron (po-tee-rohn) noun, masculine

    : pumpkin

French definition* of "le potiron": "plante potagère voisine de la courge"
("vegetable plant, related to squash")

*From Le Petit Larousse

Do you know of any "potiron" terms or expressions... or would you like to help translate the quote (below)? Perhaps you have a pumpkin story to share? Anyone care to discuss the differences between a potiron and "une citrouille"? Feel free to voice your "potiron pensées" in the comments box, for all to see.

Je préférerais m'asseoir sur un potiron et le posséder bien à moi que d'être à plusieurs sur un coussin de velours.  --Henry David Thoreau, from "Walden"

Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "potiron" and read the quote: Download Potiron . Download Potiron

The last time Mr. Delhomme (senior) stopped by, he looked over to the picnic table... and sighed. "Well, what are you waiting for?"

I stared back at the giant pumpkin that he had given my mom weeks ago. (Or did she swipe it from Monsieur's potiron* patch, just below?) No, the citrouille* was too heavy, even for her, to swipe, or to lift, or to drag undeterred.

"Elle va le peindre,"* I announced. "Nature morte,"* I offered, explaining Mom's "still life" plans for one imposing potiron.
"Bah!" Monsieur's replied. His eyes scanned the countryside, where real country women once resided -- before the artists and writers decamped. In their funny minds, vegetables were no longer edibles -- vegetables were vedettes!*

As for Monsieur's question "What are you waiting for," I pondered that one for few weeks more. Meantime, the old pumpkin, cut from the earth's cord, remained on that table, but a somber gourd...

And then my Grandmother Audrey didn't answer her phone over at a Salt Lake City nursing home. Instead, another woman's voice declared:

"The number you have dialed has been disconnected".

*     *     *

A pumpkin in my throat, I dialed up my Uncle Rusty and soon, in the background, that familiar family atmosphere whistled and hummed. What are you all doing?

"Aunt Betty is making pies."
"Yep. Nine pies!"
"NINE PIES?" I pictured my aunt Betty at the kitchen stove. I remembered her long hair that, as a child, I loved to brush and those delicate lace-making fingers, from which she also produced handmade peluches.*

"What kind of pies?" I asked, easing into the atmosphere of yesteryear.
"Oh, pumpkin, banana, cherry..."
"So you are all getting together... with Grandma?..."
That's when the voice of reassurance sounded. "I think I'll swing by [the nursing home] and steal her for the day... if she'll quit fighting with Aunt Reta."

"Fighting? Fighting!" I giggled. "She's fighting!!!" I imagined our occasionally ornery Audrey, grand-mère extraordinaire. She may be fighting with Aunt Reta, but she is also taking her daughter's, advice: to squeak! "It is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease!" Grandma had shared Aunt Reta's tip during our last conversation. That explains the disconnected telephone. (All that squeaking got Grandma transferred to a more suitable room!)

And so, on a very light note, I hung up the phone... but not before Uncle Rusty offered to send instructions for pumpkin pie. He seemed to read my thoughts ("Who me, make pumpkin pie?) and his humble answer, 'We just follow the instructions on the can" was all the encouragement needed.

Soon things picked up round here. "Still life" started to spark and that old, cold pumpkin found its way into the warm hearth. Fueled by memories of family holidays with a feisty grand-mère,* and aunts and uncles who show they still care--I marched out to the picnic table, picked up that potiron and transformed the Gallic gourd into a piece of the precious past: spiced up and sweetened for the present moment, at last.

* * *
PS: In addition to soup and some pumpkin seed snacks, I made the pumpkin pie! Monsieur Delhomme's son is coming for dinner and I just can't wait for word to get back to old Delhomme that the "artful" pumpkin (after lending itself to a still life painting... then a story) went on to become a tart (as if artists and writers didn't have a country woman's smarts!).

*   *   *
I once wrote a story about a French turkey and shared a few of the ingredients in my mother-in-law's cognac riddled "farce" recipe (!). Thanks for checking out the chapter "Dinde" in my book (which doubles as a great stocking stuffer, hint hint).

Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome in the comments box.

le potiron (m) = pumpkin; la citrouille (f) = pumpkin; elle va le peindre = she's going to paint it; la nature (f) morte = still life (painting); une vedette (f) = movie star; une peluche (f) = plush toy, stuffed animal; la grand-mère (f) = grandmother

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Gifts & More~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Lego Make & Create Eiffel Tower 1:300

Map of Paris 12 File Folders with Vintage Designs

Magazine: Printed in French, Chatelaine features articles on practical home advice, health, beauty, family, and fashion issues, practical home advice, and a wide variety of recipes.

Free your inner Gallic cook! Larousse Gastronomique

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


The streets of London are as romantic as Paris and the sanglots of unrequited love sound across either sidewalk.


sanglot (sahn-glo) noun, masculine
    : sob

verb: sangloter (sahn-glo-tay)
    : to sob

Listen to my daughter read today's word and the following quote: Download Sanglot . Download Sanglot

"Dieu entend mieux un sanglot qu'un appel."
  --Saint Augustine

Do you know of any terms, expressions, or examples for today's word? Would you like to help translate the above quote? Thank you for sharing your "sanglot" savoir-faire, here, in the comments box.

Books!: "The Day We Danced in Underpants" illustrated by Catherine Stock. An invitation to picnic with the King of France sends a young boy, his papa, two big dogs, and three wild aunts dancing their way across the French countryside.

Buying a Piece of Paris: A Memoir by Ellie Nielsen

"Mama said there'd be days like this... "
(or Maman a dit qu'il y aurait des jours comme ça....)

Ever wake up "plein de bonnes intentions*?" Your heart is full and you might just save the world... with your patience, your lessons learned, and that little bit of resilience that you have painstakingly re-affirmed? ...only to crawl into bed, at the end of the day, depleted, defeated, nerve-endings astray?

Such was last night.

As for the bundle of sensitivity, located somewhere beneath stilled sanglots* and a rapid heartbeat... I do not know whether it was those capricious Christmas consumers at Carrefour,* who were ahead of the rush by three weeks or more, or whether it was the evening meal, when I looked across the table to my children...growing, growing, growing still!

These days I feel like Chicken Little, running hither and thither with my shopping cart, trying to catch the sentimental sky, before childhood or Christmas pass me by.

plein de bonnes intentions
= full of good intentions; sanglot (m) = sob; Carrefour = the name of a mega supermarket chain in France

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~In Gifts and More~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Michelin Guesthouses in France
The development of guesthouses in France has been an important upward trend in recent years, as tourists want a good alternative to hotels. Most are in quiet locations - manor houses, chateaux or chalets and offer 3-5 bedrooms. They offer personally chosen decor and a friendly atmosphere to make a customer feel at home. Michelin's brand new Guesthouses in France is the ultimate guide to the country's most beautiful guesthouses.

In Music: En la Fete de Noel / O Holy Night

Cavallini Carte Postale * Vintage Paris * set of 12 cards Keepsake tin:  Regular & Joyeux Noel

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


On Day One we peddled our wines (meeting with an importer) at the Piccadilly Market in London...

~~~~~~~~~~~~ Language Learning ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oxford Take Off In French: (CD-ROM): Follow an integrating course including activities and dialogues with native speakers so you can feel confident in day-to-day conversation.

foire (fwar) noun, feminine
    : fair
    : trade fair

[from the Latin "feriae" = holidays)

Note: this seems to be one case where a look-alike verb does *not* reflect the same meaning as the noun ("foirer" means "to have the runs"! Then again, some might argue that processed foire food is the missing link between the noun and the verb!)

Update!: turns out there *is* a second meaning to "foire":

A related Latin noun, "foria", means "diarrhea" and the word "foire", or "fair", eventually came to be used figuratively as a place where disorder and confusion reign. "Faire la foire" in contemporary French means to abandon oneself to a life of debauchery.

--from the book "Gender on the Market: Moroccan Women and the Revoicing of Tradition"

Don't miss the "Terms & Expressions" just after the shopping section below...

At the French Winegrowers' Fair in London, the participants were looking defeated. Fluorescent lighting added to the pasty pallor that we wore on our faces like death... that is: the death of wine sales!

Fair goers just weren't buying. (But, boy--oh boy!--were they ever "trying"! With clinking glasses and a "slur" in their step, the crowd proceeded to sample... and sip. "Thanks a lot," they said, the wine in their glasses now spent. "We'll just have a look around now... and get back to you in a moment."

At a stand in the next aisle, two sales women wore upside down smiles. I looked over to my "stand sisters" across the way and they puffed out their lips, commiserating "Ce n'est pas vrai!"*

By day two the French winegrowers had resorted to new sales-garnering tactics: one, in the form of a towering, blue-eyed brunette, and another, via some seductive pâté aux cèpes!*

I glanced over to our stand sisters across the aisle who, leary of all that, uncorked their bottles and (glug, glug, glug) mumbled "down with the hatch!"

*     *     *

Post note: Thankfully, for Jean-Marc and me, we were saved by a Francophile coterie.* Many thanks to those of you who responded to our invitations and, even more, showed up with friends! It was lovely to meet you all. And thank you for letting us snap your photo. I think we captured most of your smiling faces (except Misha's!... which reminds me: mille mercis to Alicia Weston and to Mikhail Kalinichev--our warm and doting hôtes*: I hope one day to find in me a host as graceful and gallant as these!

View London Photo Album (part one... more photos on the way...)

Comments, corrections, and suggestions welcome here.

ce n'est pas vrai
= this just can't be happening; le pâté (m) aux cèpes = porcini mushroom pâté; la coterie (f) = a circle of people with common interests; l'hôte (m) = host (l'hôtesse = hostess)

In Music: A French Christmas
Cèpes / Porcini Mushrooms
In film: Joyeux Noel

Childrens' book: "Three French Hens". The three French hens from the familiar Christmas song are sent by a Parisian lady to her boyfriend, Philippe Renard, in New York. Alas, the hens wind up in lost mail, and when they can't find Philippe in the phone book, they think perhaps they should translate his name: Phil Fox.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Hear French Words~~~~~~~~~~~~
Sound file: Listen to today's word, "foire" and this expression: "la foire aux vins" Download FoireDownload Foire

Terms & Expressions
la foire aux plaisirs = funfair
le champ de foire = fairground
la foire agricole = agricultural show
avoir la foire = to have the runs
faire la foire = to party hardy
la foire d'empoigne = free-for-all

Do you know of any related terms and expressions? Please share them, for all to see, in the comments box.

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Photo taken in Monforte d'Alba, Italy.

What is poetry? Why can't I always understand it and does it have to rhyme? The former, are questions that I used to ask myself, and the last ("latter"? Oh, fancy word!) is something that I am beginning to understand. One thing that I love about poésie* is that one can (it seems...) break all the rules of prose... in the name of emotion, or the evoking of it. (Now to figure out exactly what is "prose": is it always tied to "literary" or can it tie itself to an old battered fishing pole... and might the words, cast out, be just as meaningful?

Here is William Shakespeare's simple answer to today's question "Qu'est-ce que c'est la poésie?":

"La poésie est cette musique que tout homme porte en soi."
Poetry is that music that all men carry inside themselves.

~~~~~~~~~~~~Submit your poems & answers~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Following Shakespeare's example, above, would you please offer your own definition? That is: would you answer the question "What is poetry? Qu'est-ce que c'est la poésie?" Perhaps you would prefer to answer via a poem of your own? Thank you for sharing your thoughts and poésies in the comments box.

~~~~~~~~~~~~Today's Word~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
One reminder, before we get to our mot-du-jour... If you happen to be in or around London on the 21st, 22nd, or 23rd of this month, then please look for our Domaine Rouge-Bleu stand at the Barbican Centre (where the French Wine-Growers' Fair will soon be underway)!

*poésie (po-eh-zee) noun, feminine

    : poetry; poem, piece of poetry

[from the Greek "poiêsis]

Today's "poem", written and posted last year, is dedicated to my beautiful niece-by-marriage, Audrey. She is French and she is a student of linguistics in Verona, Italy. Though she has always been fond of language (especially Italian!), she is beginning to fall in love with writing (a gift, I believe, that she
inherited from her mother, Marie-Françoise*).

(photo: that's my daughter, Jackie, on the left, and Audrey on the right)


A word about the following "words": I scribbled down the first several stanzas as they echoed through my mind during the car ride home from the Italian "foot hills" or "pied mont." Not wanting to forget even one savory scene, the rest of the poem was conjured up as soon as we arrived home.


Write it down while it is fresh in your mind, fresh as the hand-grated parmesan that falls over scalding hot risotto.

Write it down while it is thick, thick as the brouillard* that covers a patchwork of grapevines on the rolling hills of northern Italy in December.

Write it down while it is still chattering, like the wrinkled signores' "Bene! bene!" in the town square at Monforte d'Alba.

Write it down while it is strong, strong as the ink-black espresso that fills half a demitasse* at Marco's place in Alba.

Write it down while it is pouring, like the olive oil my husband splashes onto his plate for bread-dipping while waiting for the antipasti.

Write it down while it flows, like red Dolcetto* from an uncorked bottle.

Write it down while it is dark, like the winter sky above the foothills in the Piedmont.

Write it down while it is hot, hot as the bagna cauda* that bathes the yellow roasted peppers and halved onions in Renza's kitchen.

Write it down while it is passionate, like the lovers' quarrel that silences an entire Italian cantina but for the flailing lips of one fiery Franco-American couple.

Write it down while it is fizzing like sparkling water, now swallowed (along with a bit of pride and an apology), at a pizza dive on the outskirts of Bra.

Write it down while it is funny, like the name of the Italian town above.

Write it down while it is sensual, like the lips of the kissing Italians. (Why do they call the twirling of tongues "French kissing"? You've not seen kissing until you've seen Italian kissing!)

Write it down while it is crisp, like the cotton sheets at Alberto's bed and breakfast in Castiglione Falletto.

Write it down before it is gone, never to return, like cappuccino foam at the bottom of a cup. Pop...pop...pop.... Poof!

                                          *     *     *
More stories... (and even a poem!) in my book, below. Thank you for picking up a copy at your local bookstore or online!

"Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language"

Marie-Françoise = Read a story written by my French aunt; le brouillard (m) = fog; demitasse (or demi-tasse, literally "half cup"); Dolcetto = a wine grape variety grown in northern Italy; bagna cauda (literally "hot bath") = a warm sauce (anchovies, olive oil, and garlic) for bread and boiled/roasted vegetables

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Quotes on Poetry~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Can you help translate these quotes on poetry? Thank you for sharing your English version here, in the comments box.

Listen to my daughter read aloud the first three quotes:  Download poesie.wav Download poesie.mp3

"La poésie immortalise tout ce qu'il y a de meilleur et de plus beau dans le monde." --Percy Bysshe Shelley

"Tout poème naît d'un germe, d'abord obscur, qu'il faut rendre lumineux pour qu'il produise des fruits de lumière." --René Daumal

"Qu'est-ce que la poésie? Une pensée dans une image."  --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Douce poésie ! Le plus beau des arts ! Toi qui, suscitant en nous le pouvoir créateur, nous met tout proches de la divinité." --Guillaume Apollinaire

"A mesure qu'avance la civilisation, la poésie, presque nécessairement, décline."  --Thomas Macaulay

"Un poète est un rossignol qui, assis dans l'obscurité, chante pour égayer de doux sons sa propre solitude."  --Percy Bysshe Shelley

"Contre les voluptés des plus heureux du monde Je n'échangerais pas les maux que j'ai soufferts : C'est le plus grand soupir qui fait le plus beau vers." --Sully Prudhomme

"On ne retient presque rien sans le secours des mots, et les mots ne suffisent presque jamais pour rendre précisément ce que l'on sent." --Denis Diderot

Quotes found at

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Books & More!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Penguin Book of French Poetry: 1820-1950; With Prose Translations

Joyeux Noel: Learning Songs and Traditions in French (K - Grade 4)

French in Action : A Beginning Course in Language and Culture

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.



Inspired by the scene above (photo taken in Villedieu), this edition is devoted entirely to green! Today we are focusing on recycling and we are sharing tips on how to be eco-friendly. Please don't hesitate to send in your ideas & eco experiences, via the comments box, for all to see (and use!). Also, don't forget to take today's "green poll", just below.

If you happen to be in or near London this Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, then Jean-Marc and I would really love to see you at the Barbican Centre--where we'll be participating in the French Winegrowers Fair. It is not too late to get free tickets to this event. Click this link for more information.

~~~~~~~~~Domaine Rouge-Bleu... in Portland!~~~~~~~~
"Un air de Provence" (Mistral) has arrived in Portland, OR! You will find our latest wine release at PastaWorks. Email Peter or call the stores to make sure they have some "Mistral" : Hawthorne: 503 232 1010 - City Market : 503 221 3002
Today's Word:
vert,e (ver, vert) adjective
    : green; unripe; vigorous; sharp; spicy (saucy)
vert (noun) = green
[from the Latin "viridis"]

Please take a minute to answer this "green" poll:


            "Recycling... or Le Traitement des Déchets"*

Up until last month, there was this nagging guilt that seized me each and every time I headed toward the trash can, plastic, glass, or carton in hand.

Ever see a film in slow motion? That's how the would-be recyclable trash fell: lentement.* Those cartons of milk, jam jars, tin cans of corn, and plastic shampoo bottles eventually tumbled to a halt at the top of the trash heap...and if I listened to their silent screams on the way down--instead of
covering my ears in denial--this is what the earth-clogging containers said: "Aïe!"*

That's right: "Ouch! You are hurting the Earth."

If our household underwent a lapse in recycling, this was partly due to logistics. We'd moved to a new French town, where the municipal recycling bins were...well, just where were they? Eventually, we learned the where, when, and how of the way things work around here... it was just a matter of re-organization... and the will to recycle.

Now that we're back on the recycling track, I find it helps keep motivation levels up when we maintain an open dialogue about déchets... This morning at the breakfast table, I asked my children for "green tips," or "les astuces écologiques". Here are the first things that came to their mind.

1. trier*
2. prendre une douche au lieu d'un bain*
3. aller en velo*

Can you help add to this list? Please share your "astuces", or ideas, on how to "go green!" Thank you for using the comments box so that we might all profiter.*

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le traitement (m) des déchets
= waste treatment; lentement = slowly; aïe! = ouch!; trier = to sort; prendre une douche au lieu d'un bain = to take a shower instead of a bath; aller en velo = to go by bike; profiter = (benefit) to take advantage of

Audio File:

  Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the word "vert" and read the following list: Download vert.wav .Download vert.mp3

French Terms & Expressions
  le feu vert = green light
  les légumes verts = green vegetables
  les plantes vertes = evergreens
  le chêne vert = holm oak
  en dire de vertes et des pas mûres = to tell spicy stories
  se mettre au vert = to go on a country retreat
  la langue verte = slang

Terms & Expressions (English to French):
  green power = la puissance (f) de l'argent
  green revolution = la révolution (f) verte
  green room = le foyer (m) des acteurs / artistes
  greengrocer = le (la) marchand(e) des fruits et légumes
  greenhorn = le blanc-bec (m)
  greenhouse = la serre
  the greenhouse effect = l'effet de serre
  green gas = le gaz contribuant à l'effet de serre
  greening = la sensibilisation (f) à l'environnement
  Greenland = Groenland

Know any other words & expressions with the word "vert" or "verte". Thanks for sharing them here.

A Rapper with a Recycling message, don't miss this video:

You don't have to like rap music to appreciate this eco reminder:

"Les grands discours c'est bien. (Eloquent speeches are good.)
Mais les petits gestes c'est mieux." (But little gestures are better.)

Read the rest of the lyrics, below. Video tip: if the sound is garbled or staticky adjust the volume!

PS: If anyone would like to volunteer to translate the lyrics... then thank you for sharing your English version via the comments box! Update: Thank you Leslie, for translating this song! If this link doesn't work, then scroll down through the comments for Leslie's English version.

"On n'a qu'une Terre" by Stress*

Quand il sera grand et me demandra
"Pourquoi y a plus de poissons dans la mer?"
Je vais dire quoi? Que je savais pas!
Ou que j'en avais rien à faire!

Et quand il me demandra
"Papa! Est-ce juste pour le bois
que vous avez rasé le poumon de la planète?
J'vais respirer avec quoi?"

J'aurais l'air d'un irresponsable, incapable.
D'un coupable au comportement inexcusable.
Une nature bousillée, un monde de CO2.
Est-ce vraiment le futur
que l'on voulait construire pour eux?
Ca commence par le respect et l'une des choses à faire,
c'est un commerce équitable pour eux, nous et notre terre.
Les grands discours c'est bien.
Mais les petits gestes c'est mieux.
La différence on doit la faire aujourd'hui,
car on le peut.

Vas-y consomme! Consomme. Consume, consume!
Tronçonne, tronçonne! Allume, allume!
Mais que fais-tu si notre futur
s'retrouve entre le marteau et l'enclume.
Si ça brûle et que ça s'consume.
Et qu'notre terre ressemble à la lune.
Que fais-tu si notre futur
s'retrouve entre le marteau et l'enclume.

Dites-moi pas que vous le voyez pas, qu'vous le sentez pas.
Ce changement. Ne me mentez pas.
Le climat part en vrille. Vous attendez quoi?
Combien de Katrinas nous faudra-t-il pour accepter ça?

Je veux pas marcher sur le sol d'une mer asséchée en me disant
"J'aurais peut-être dû trier mes déchets".
À mes yeux c'est une erreur, aux yeux de nos enfants un péché.
Tout le monde crie au drame mais personne n'a l'air pressé.

Je veux pas voir le jour où l'eau aura la valeur du pétrole.
Où le pétrole ne sera plus.
Mais on payera encore pour ces bémols.
Je ne suis pas devenu "Monsieur Écolo" c'est clair.
Mais avec ce que je sais aujourd'hui,
je peux faire mieux que hier.

*by the band "Stress"

Green Card (film)

Les Oeufs Verts au Jambon: The French Edition of Green Eggs and Ham

The Vert ( Green Tea ) by Roger & Gallet 6.6 oz Fragrant Water Spray

A L'Affiche: Best of Les Négresses Vertes

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Poilu... and prickly! in the desert hills of northern Tunisia.

A next-to-the-last call to UK readers: We will be at the Barbican Centre this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday--all day! If you're in the area... look us up! (And it's not too late to get a free ticket to this event).

*     *     *
Did you know that the French word for caterpillar ("la chenille") comes from the Latin word for "little dog"*? Talk about a colorful imagination! Makes you wonder whether those ancient wordsmiths weren't fond of absinthe*? For, just how many of us can see the resemblance between a leggy larva and man's best friend?

Let's have a look and judge (a bit more soberly than those Latin language lushes) for ourselves:
Leggy Larva... and Man's Best Friend

Leggy Chienne

One smacking similarity would be those accoutrements (here, "Dotty"* is sporting painted toenails and Braise (brez) wears her Halloween mask).

Another connection that we will make today, between a potential papillon* and a pretty pooch, is an inspirational one. Although dogs are often the "muse" for artists, a favorite subject to draw and to paint, here at French Word Central, we prefer your run-of-the-mill "underdog" as uber-muse: la chenille!
(More about this, in a minute... and no offense to Braise-The-Dog!).

And finally: fur! Note the "coat" on the subject in photo number two. Stay with me now... It would seem "hair" is the connection between a dog and a caterpillar. Ever seen a hairy caterpillar? Voilà, there you have it! That's all it took for those word winos of yesteryear, those "let's name a worm after a dog" intelligentsia, to connect the hairy dots. Whether or not they had "hair of the dog"* the next morning (after a wild night of wordsmithing) is anyone's guess.

Back to connecting the dots... and to our Dot (remember her?) in today's gallery. Mille mercis to the artists who submitted their renditions of our sweet (chauve*...) chenille. To see The Dot Vernissage, click here.

PS: I almost forgot to post today's word... and I swear the near-oubli* wasn't due to partying with the language lushes last night.

poilu(e) (pwa-loo) adjective

    : hairy

...and, in keeping with our WWI theme this week:

"un poilu": a soldier in the First World War (a.k.a. Tommy Atkins or Tommy). Read more about this term of endearment:

Do you know of any terms, expressions, or other meanings of today's word "poilu"? Thank you for sharing them with us in the comments box.

Audio File:
Listen to today's word and to this French expression:Download poilu.wav. Download poilu.mp3

"poilu comme un singe" = "hairy as a monkey"

Still with us? Why not read about Henry John "Harry" Patch : at 110-years-old he is "the last surviving British soldier to have fought in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War, and one of just two trench combatants still alive." Don't miss this profile and read his moving remark, made at Flanders war cemetery:

...and, whatever you do, watch this video, in which the soft-spoken supercentenarian shares his thoughts about war and his aversion to it:


"little (female) dog" = "petite chienne" from the Latin "canicula"; absinthe = a liquor flavored with anis and herbs, such as wormwood. Some claim it has an hallucinatory effect; Dotty = a French caterpillar from Châteauneuf-du-Pape; le papillon (m) = butterfly; hair of the dog = refers to an alcoholic drink that one consumes, the day after getting "cuite" (or plastered), in an attempt to
diminish the effects of a hangover (also known as a good excuse for another drink early in the day!); chauve = bald; un oubli (m) = oversight

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Gifts & more ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language
365 Days in France Calendar 2009 (Picture-A-Day Wall Calendars)
SmartFrench Audio CDs Intermediate/Advanced

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Cruisin' through the Tuscan Vauclusian countryside yesterday... My husband still gives me driving lessons (from the passenger seat). I tell him I've been behind the wheel for 23 years. Apparently, says he, it's time to learn to shift gears.




to drive


In the winter of 2001, I left work at the vineyard each night to drive myself to driving school, careful to take the back roads and to park several blocks from the Auto-École Rivière. Though I had driven for ten years in the States, and another six in France, I had failed to exchange my Arizona driver's license for a French one, having had two years to do so. Time and again, Jean-Marc assured me that I had the right to drive in France (convinced that my AAA International Driving Permit was enough, never mind the expiration date), until one day he realized that his wife was driving without insurance (!!!); that is, should she get into an accident, the insurance contract would be void ($$$) without her having a French permis de conduire.

Having spent weeknights at driving school, attending class with would-be motorists half my age, and having finally passed l'épreuve théorique, or written exam, in the town of Fréjus, I would soon be navigating the streets of Draguignan... with a stone-faced inspecteur seated beside me.

On exam day, I shared the test vehicle with a wide-eyed eighteen-year-old who had just been ordered to pull over and get out. "Out! You are a danger to yourself and to others!" the inspecteur shouted. Seated in the back of the car, waiting my turn, I tried to understand just what my unfortunate classmate had done wrong, but was jolted out of my pensées when the inspector resumed his tirade.

"FAILED!" the inspecteur barked. He shouted a few more insults before the French kid got into the back of the car, at which point I was ordered into the driver's seat: "A vous, madame!"

"Allez-y!" the inspecteur commanded, checking his watch. I said a prayer to Saint Christopher, patron saint of safe travel (not knowing who the saint was for driver's-exam scoring), put on the left-turn signal, and drove out of the quiet neighborhood into the chaotic streets of Draguignan at rush hour.

"You don't need to be so obvious!" the inspector snapped when I threw my chin left after turn-signaling. Moments ago I'd signaled a right turn and thrown my chin over my right shoulder for good measure. We had been warned in driving school to exaggerate our gestures during testing to show the inspecteur that we were aware of those dangerous "angles morts" or blind spots. "Et les vitesses!" the inspector grumbled after I'd ground the gears once again. "Oh, but aren't cars automatic in America?!" he snickered.

Though I had been stick-shifting for sixteen years, seated next to the inspecteur I felt like I was operating a vehicle for the first time. Having completed the twenty-minute parcours through the center of Draguignan, where the unpredictable French pedestrian is king and capable of jumping from sidewalk to street center in the blink of an eye, I followed the inspecteur's instructions, pulling up in front of the American cemetery, which seemed like a bad omen to me. The inspecteur sat silently, filling out paperwork, before announcing it was time to check my vision. He ordered me to read the sign across the street. Squinting my eyes, I began:

"World War II Rhone American Cemetery and Memor...".

Before I had even finished reading, the inspector scribbled something across the page, tore off the sheet, and mumbled "Félicitations."

Ornery as he was, I had the urge to throw my arms around the inspecteur and plant a kiss beside his angry brow; only, the commandant was no longer facing me, but looking out over the quiet green fields dotted white with courage, lost in another place and time.

*     *     *

Comments, corrections, and suggestions welcome here.

French Vocabulary

Auto-École Rivière = Riviera Driving School
le permis (m) de conduire = driver's license
l'inspecteur (l'inspectrice) = inspector
la pensée = thought
A vous, madame = Your turn, Madam
Et les vitesses! = And the gears!
le parcours = driving route
les félicitations (fpl) = congratulations
le commandant = captain

Un critique, c'est un homme qui connaît la route, mais qui ne sait pas conduire.
A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car.
 --Kenneth Tynan

:: Audio File ::
Listen to my daughter (9-years-old at the time of this recording) pronounce the French word for "to drive" in today's quote: Download conduire.wav

Un critique, c'est un homme qui connaît la route, mais qui ne sait pas conduire.

Terms & Expressions:
un permis de conduire (m) = driver's license
conduire un orchestre = to conduct an orchestra
conduire une affaire = to manage a business
se conduire = to behave
se conduire bien / mal = to behave well / badly
se conduire comme un âne = to make an ass of oneself


FYI: A remembrance poem was posted yesterday, "Poppy Day", don't miss it. Also: a reminder to UK readers: Jean-Marc and I will be at Barbican Centre in London, next week. We would love to meet you there. Click here for more information about this event.

New book:
I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language
French Demystified...simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student.
French Country Diary 2009
Voici is a French magazine of popular culture.

French Verb Conjugation: conduire
je conduis, tu conduis, il/elle conduit, nous conduisons, vous conduisez, ils/elles conduisent ; past participle: conduit

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
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Le jour du Souvenir

Poppy field

Field of poppies in the Vaucluse (photo taken last Spring).

Remerciements to "Intuit" who left a comment* yesterday that inspired the following post.

jour du Souvenir (joor-deuh-soov-neer) noun, masculine

  : Remembrance Day, November 11th, Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Poppy Day

The following is Jean Pariseau's translation of the famous war remembrance poem, In Flanders Fields, by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. McCraie, a field surgeon during the First World War, wrote the poem after seeing his friend killed during the Second Battle of Ypres.



Flanders fields

  Au champ d'honneur

Au champ d'honneur, les coquelicots
Sont parsemés de lot en lot
Auprès des croix; et dans l'espace
Les alouettes devenues lasses
Mêlent leurs chants au sifflement
Des obusiers.

Nous sommes morts,
Nous qui songions la veille encor'
À nos parents, à nos amis,
C'est nous qui reposons ici,
Au champ d'honneur.

À vous jeunes désabusés,
À vous de porter l'oriflamme
Et de garder au fond de l'âme
Le goût de vivre en liberté.
Acceptez le défi, sinon
Les coquelicots se faneront
Au champ d'honneur.

*Read the English version and learn more about this poem...
Comments, corrections, and suggestions welcome here.

Here is Intuit's comment, which led me to the poem:

"There's another flower of Autumn, the humble Flanders Poppy, special international symbol of remembrance of The Great War.

[On November 11th], France will celebrate Armistice Day, 90th year anniversary.

The poppy of wartime remembrance is the red corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas, a common weed of Europe. The red poppy was one of the few plants that grew on the Western Front; its seeds wait patiently for years, for disturbance and cool weather - conditions well met in the soil of intensively-shelled battlefields of France.


World War I catalyzed important technological innovations that changed forever the patterns of daily life and urban landscape - an era we call 'The Modern Age'.

The battlefields of France continue to disgorge an ungodly crop: soldierly remains, rusting guns, spent and still-dangerous live munitions, and personal effluvia of military life in the trenches.

It is good to think on the significance of the humble red poppy and all that it portends, when lives and lands are permanently altered through disturbance."

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


"89 and Drinks Only Wine". Monsieur Delhomme (senior).

                                   *     *     *
New, in books: "I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany" by Mark Greenside (Author)

souci (soo-see) noun, masculine
    : calendula flower (pot marigold)

[from the Latin solsequia, meaning tournesol (sunflower)]

souci (soo-see) noun, masculine
    : preoccupation; concern

[from se soucier, from the Latin sollicitare (to worry)]

See (and hear!) a list of terms and expressions, and add your own, at the end of this letter.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça?" What's that? Monsieur Delhomme (senior) says, chuckling in his characteristic way: his is a laughter "scented" softly with cynicism.

Monsieur is climbing up the restanque* that separates his potager* from the outskirts of our property. I hold out my hand to assist him but he waves it away impatiently.

"Bahhhh! I'm not dead yet."

Monsieur will turn 89 on November 14th. His white hair is neatly trimmed and he is wearing a black sweater with a geometric motif; the darkness highlights his handsome features and I want to tell him how good, indeed handsome, he looks but something tells me that wouldn't be appropriate.

Monsieur makes it up to the next level, where the lawn is green and dotted here and there with flowers.

"Des soucis?" says he, still chuckling, as if the marigold that he is pointing to is wearing a cream pie on its "face". Monsieur is not so much laughing at the flowers in our yard... as he is at the newbie countrywoman whose family sowed them.

I look across our lawn, to the yellow and gold flowers that have popped up in the last month. It is interesting how the colors of the flowers mimic the autumn tones in the field beyond. I notice how the purple and blue flowers of spring and summer have disappeared completely (apart from the violet-colored "cosmos"). I am amazed to have flowers at all, and my gardening good intentions are reignited, never mind Monsieur's doubts.

"Pas de soucis!"* I answer, offering up a play on words and a joke all rolled into one. Monsieur laughs... the way one might laugh at city slickers.

It has been one year and four months since my husband moved our family to this "petit trou perdu"* as friends are wont to call it. But, far from being discouraged, we fall in love with the countryside a little bit more each day... not that we know the secrets of gardening or of farming. But we are learning and our "findings" never cease to amaze us.

"Findings" such as those little, cranberry-sized "bulbs" (I think they are...) that I found this morning, cleaving to the mama plant like sucklings.

"What are you doing over there?" Monsieur asks, and I imagine he's expecting a good laugh.
"Planting muscari!"* I anwer with pride--and in stride, this time.
"Muscari?" he questions, and that cynical snickering of his returns.

He should talk. For a countryman he sure can't name flowers--and he's no Monsieur Farjon (my other venerable voisin,* a.k.a. "The Herbal Don Juan"). I show Mr. Delhomme the great clump of dirt that I have "fished" out of a big flower pot, having been amazed at all the "baby" bulbs that now surrounded it. I got the little bunch of grape-colored flowers at the outdoor market last year, excited to learn that it wasn't too late to plant bulbs (that is, if you bought the kind that come with flowers "attached".), and plant them I did: the "easy way" (by sticking them in the nearest, unencumbered pot). This time, I am doing things the right way: planting those secondary bulbs in good ground. Specifically, I am targeting those brown, empty patches along the lawn, hoping to see ink-blue flowery clusters in their place, come springtime.

Monsieur has a good laugh at all this "nonsense" going on, up in our yard before he offers some farmerly advice:

"Fraises!"* Plant a row here!, just one row--all along the edge. He tells me that one of the prior owners had planted strawberries and melons... before heading to Syria during the war.

It occurs to me that Monsieur has lived through a world war (nearly two, in fact...) and so it's no wonder that he laughs at flowers. What good are hyacinths where hungry exists? When the village shops were closing during WWII and food was scarce, Monsieur and his family had grain fields. The oven at Monsieur's home was fired up and feeding the family (and some of the town's unfortunates) fresh loaves of bread.

Delhomme-braise I toss my clump of baby bulbs aside, but only for the moment, and invite Monsieur to taste my husband's new rosé.* Wine, I guessed, was another thing a farmer with foresight might enjoy during the war. Whether or not, like flowers, it is an "essential" is, essentially, up to one's tastes.

*     *     *

une restanque (f) = a little "muret" or wall; le potager (m) = vegetable garden; pas de soucis = no worries (pas de soucis could also mean "no marigolds"); le petit trou (m) perdu = middle of nowhere; le muscari (m) = grape hyacinth; le voisin (m) la voisine (f) = neighbor; une fraise (f) = strawberry; husband's new rosé: (the secret's out: Jean-Marc has created his first rosé wine. Check back to this address to find out when it will be available!)


Race to the finish with this sleek new version of Mille Bornes, the classic auto race card game.
Fallot Dijon Herbed Mustards - Set of 4 French Mustards
Cote Sud magazine and "the art of living a sumptuous life in the South of France."

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

Soucis: terms and expressions:
  avoir le souci de plaire = to be anxious to please
  avoir souci de quelque chose = to worry about something
  avoir le souci de bien faire = to be concerned about doing something well
  avoir le souci de la vérité = to be meticulously truthful
  se faire du souci = to worry
  sans souci = carefree
  se soucier de son avenir = to worry about one's future

Do you have a term or expression to add? Thank you for sharing it here.
Listen to the French word "soucis" and to the above terms & expressions: Download souci.wav .Download souci.mp3

C'est le moindre (or) C'est le cadet de mes soucis
= it's the least of my worries

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

petite amie

A paramour and his puffy petite amie in the town of Grignan (where Madame de Sevigné, famous for the witty and entertaining letters that she wrote to her daughter, lived).

~~~~~~~~~~~~News & Next Meet-Up~~~~~~~~~~~

Cheers & Tchin-tchin!: Our Domaine Rouge-Bleu wines are now available in the San Francisco area at

...and a reminder to UK readers: if you can manage to trek on over to the Barbican Centre in London, then we would love to meet you! Click here for more information about this event.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~PETITE AMIE~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
la petite amie (lah peuh tee tah me) noun, feminine

    : girlfriend

Listen to today's word and hear it in context via four French headlines, at the end of this letter...


Get ready for your heart to leap out with affection for one feisty French femme in today's story, sent in by word-a-day reader James Wilson.*

James writes:

I know that you are busy right now with the enviable task of wine making... yum!... so there is certainly no need to respond to this, even when you start getting caught back up.

I just thought I would share a quick tale with you.  When I was studying for my Master's Degree in France, I interviewed a fair number of elder Normand women out at Courseulles-sur-Mer and Banville.  One of my "subjects" was a woman who was roughly 35 years old when D-Day happened in 1944.  Since I was there 50 years after the fact to talk with her, she was only about 64 years my senior! Marie, as she was called, took a great liking to me and invited me with regularity that year.  We got to be great chums, really, and she insisted that I use the "tu" form of the verb with her.  One day, her five daughters got caught up in the stories she had been telling me, and that I was judiciously leaking out to them--many she had never shared with any of them.  So they organized a big diner for the family and many of the town's people so that I could get Marie talking with everyone there.

Marie with friend Andree When I started talking with Marie in the "tu" form, one of her eldest daughters protested, rather publicly, hoping to embarrass me into conforming to the rules of talking with women in their 80s.  Marie, stood up and said, "Well, my American boyfriend and I can just continue to do these interviews in private if you like!  I told him to use the "tu" form with me because it makes me feel good--young again--and because he reminds me of all the young men that stayed at this farm as they passed through 50 years ago. If you weren't so rude, you'd be using the tu form with him also!"

The daughters shut up for sure with that.  We had a little more wine, calmed down and I went back to asking my questions.  4 of the daughters continued after that day to "tutoyie" me, where that fifth one who had put back in her place obstinately refused.

I love dealing with elderly people on a personal level.  Now that Marie is gone to her final resting place, I miss my "French girlfriend".


Read about James, Marie's soi-disant "American boyfriend" in the following bio,* and check out the wonderful caption that goes with the photo that he shares with us. And if you enjoyed his story, please be sure to respond to it via the comments box. If you prefer to contact James directly, here's his email address: jamesrwilson [AT]

*James Wilson, professor of French and Spanish, studied under the auspices of Middlebury College and the Language Schools.  When James isn't teaching, he enjoys gardening at his lakeside home, and his other current task, writing a history for his hometown in Maine.

[Photo caption]
Marie Chirot, my friend, is on the the left sporting her blue cardigan over a house dress, a cane and pantoufles.  My Courseullaise friend Andree Harivel and I had walked from Courseulles-sur-Mer along the beach to Gray-sur-Mer, where there is a lovely monument to the D-Day landings, and an old 'char' (WWII tank) named 'One Charlie', and then headed inland to Banville where Marie lived.  We caught up with Marie at her home on Rue du Molot and were quickly recruited to go and fetch some 'herbes' to feed her hungry 'lapins' who resided in a cage in the courtyard of her farm.  I loved helping her feed those rabbits because their cage was right in front of an area of the 'cour' where young soldiers had etched their dog tag id numbers on the wall, permanent reminders written in the 'vielles pierres' of friends and saviors who had once visited Marie's farm.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Extra Credit~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
=> Look for French words in the above column (beginning at the column title "Le Courrier / Letters") and post your translations in the comments box.

Larousse Gastronomique: first published in 1938, still first rate
Whole Black Winter Truffles -- imported from France
Ticket to Ride Europe -- Award winning train game
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Homework ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Petite Amie" in the French News: help translate these headlines. Post your answers in the comments box: You may also listen to the word of the day and all four headlines here: Download petite_amie.wav. Download petite_amie.mp3

"Lewis Hamilton félicité en images par sa petite amie", Belgium

"Paul McCartney emménage avec sa petite amie"
  --News de stars, France

"Simon Cowell s'est fait largué par sa petite-amie par téléphone !"
  --eparsa Magazine, France

...and another lovelorn lad "largué":

"Marilyn Manson se fait largué par sa petite-amie !"

  --eparsa Magazine, France

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.