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Entries from January 2009


The "Gâteau Savane" from today's story. Those are the pine cones that Christiane helped me to collect. And that, there, is a very old roof tile. The cursive reads "fait" and "30 juin".

gâteau (gah-toh) noun, masculine

    : cake

Plus la part de gâteau est belle, plus elle a de chance de tomber de travers dans l'assiette au moment de la servir. The prettier the slice of cake, the greater are its chances of falling sideways onto the plate at the moment of serving. (Murphy's Law)

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "gâteau" and read today's example sentence: Download Gateau Download Gateau


(Of Cake... and Conflicting Feelings)

When Jean-Marc asked me to make a cake for the Loto des Commerçants,* I reminded myself, after the initial panic, not to complicate things: just make a simple gâteau au yaourt!*

Stirring together the familiar yogurt-flour-egg-baking powder-sugar ingredients,* I glanced down at the package of flour and noticed an astuce* marked "Gâteau Marbré": for amarbleized cake, simply add two teaspoons of cocoa powder to the mix....

Turns out marbleizing a cake is as easy as dividing the finished mix into two bowls, then stirring two teaspoons of cocoa powder into one of the bowls before pouring the mixes, by turn, into the cake pan.

What had been panic quickly turned to pride, as I watched the marbled cake rise, taking on a tortoise-colored appearance. The cake rivaled any store bought "savannah,"* I decided, on the surface at least. (Fingers crossed that the cake tasted as good.)

Watching Jean-Marc walk off with the "prize," its sweet aroma carrying me to the door in time to wave the cake goodbye (forever!), it occured to me to make another gâteau marbré at the next chance.

That occasion came only four days later. Out came the ingredients and, thankfully, there were just enough eggs left to make the cake. Before long, the scent of savannah sweetened the room. I looked at the clock and calculated that there would be just enough time to pick up the kids from school and make it back in time to collect the goûter,* hot from the oven.

In the school parking lot, my son approached the car. I noticed the tall blond by his side. She must be two grades older than Max, I figured, feeling an alert go off inside of me. Turns out the two were, giggle, giggle, the same age.

As the couple approached the car, I quickly ran my hands through my unkempt hair. He might've prepared me to meet his girlfriend! Given me some advanced notice! I thought.

"Can you take her home?" Max asked, in his "cool," almost 14-year-old voice. "She needs a ride."

The two got into the car. When the giggles continued, with me interrupting now and again for directions, I realized that we were getting farther and farther away from the village--and from the cake, which was still cooking!

"Is this where I turn?" I asked the girl, impatiently.
"Euh, je ne sais pas," she answered, and was that "husky" in her voice?
"You don't know?" I questioned.

"Is this your street?" I repeated, activating the turn signal.

"You know where you live, don't you?" I questioned, and was that "condescending" in my voice?

"We don't usually go this way," the girl admitted.
"Well, which way do you 'usually' go?" I snipped.

When the girl indicated that the way was several kilometers back, via another road leading from the village, I swung the car around with an audible, irritable sigh, but not before commenting "Why would you tell me to go this way, when it's the other way?!"
"She didn't tell you to go that way," Max pointed out, in gallant defense of the demoiselle.

That's when the car fell silent and I was jolted back some 25 years. I could now remember that awkward, confusing feeling: the way that an unfriendly adult could make you feel after some sort of vague accusation--this, followed by the feeling of inadequacy, or inability to defend oneself--due to lack of experience.

Through softened lenses, I now peered into the rearview mirror, to the young (if tall and blond) passenger in the backseat.

"What did I do wrong?" The girl was probably wondering. As for my unfriendliness, I guessed it had something to do with the soon-to-be overcooked cake and... perhaps... a lot to do with the not-so-little girl. Then and there, I noticed some sort of prejudice going on within me. Prejudice, I wondered, against what--puberty?

Immediately, I regretted my behavior. But the guilt would stay with me until I reached home.

Opening the front door, Fate greeted me, with fervor--and with her holy plan for redemption....

Max and I floated toward the kitchen, hooked by the sweet scent which carried us forth. "The cake!" I remembered. All that guilt had erased my memory of having ever made the cake! And now, I realized with relief, it was just what the doctor ordered: comfort food!

That's when Fate's plan went into action. Salivating now, I opened the oven door. On my mind was the perfect cup of tea to accommodate the cake. I'd have two slices, and set aside a few for Jean-Marc. The kids would eat theirs with me at the table.

That's when Max remembered something very important.

"Mom," he said, with his usual nonchalance.
"Just a minute," I replied, getting out some plates and some honey for my tea.
"Mom," Max insisted. "I volunteered to bring a cake to school tomorrow."
With that, shoulders slumped, I returned the plates to the cupboard and wrapped up the cake.

*     *     *
Third time around at making the cake (one I hope I'll finally have the chance to taste), I glance down at the package, to the instructions for marbling: simply add two teaspoons of cocoa powder to the mix.... If only the instructions for living--and for loving others--were as simple to comprehend.

Corrections, comments--and stories of your own!--are always welcome in the comments box.

100 more lessons in love, in the book "Words in a French Life"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le loto des commerçants = local merchants' lottery; le gâteau (m) au yaourt; recipe for yogurt cake =
this link; une astuce (f) (du métier) = a trick (of the trade); savannah = savane (type of marbled yogurt cake; le goûter (m) = snack (tea time)

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The following video, on how to make a French yogurt cake, was made 4 years after the story was written. Our dog Smokey wasn't even born yet... enjoy.

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My mom, Jules, in 2003 (one month after her first mastectomy). She found her bike at the French flea market for 15 euros.

vélo (vay-loh) noun, masculine
     1. bike, bicycle

[from vélocipède]

La vie, c'est comme un vélo, il faut avancer pour ne pas perdre l'équilibre.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
--Albert Einstein

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word vélo and read the French sentence, above. Download Velo Download Velo

(The following story was written in September 2007)

My mom and I are standing in the sports shop looking at a wall of locomotion.
"That's the one!" she says, pointing to the retro model with the wide seat.

I recognize the bright turquoise vélo* with the caramel leather seat and wide longhorn handle-bars. We'd seen the bike last week at the neighbor's, where it rested on its kick stand and all but swung its haunch in hipness.

"If you want, we can ride bikes together," my neighbor, Danielle, had said. My eyes left the bright blue bonbon on wheels.
"I don't have a bike," I had answered.
"Can she try it out?" my mom asked, and I could have dissolved into a puddle of grease right there on the garage floor!

                                    *     *     *
Back at the sports shop my mom is stoked.
"You're going to have endorphins soon!" she chirps. "It'll be good for you to ride again."

The last time I rode a bike of my own I was headed home from Mesa Community College, only it was an ambulance that finished the trip for me. My mom received the $500 ER bill, and I sold my bike soon after. That was twenty years ago.

"Beats grinding your teeth!" my mom continued, praising the virtues of velocity. I can feel my teeth set as I approach that bike. I can't get the same vélo as my neighbor! That would make me a copycat! Besides, how would she feel to no longer own the coolest bike on the farm? And what about that ride she proposed? How's that going to look--the two of us pedaling to town like twins on our retro turquoise two-wheelers? Dorky if you ask me!

My mom is beyond dork. There she is in a pea-green poncho and a Panama hat. She pats the wide seat, then rings the bike's bell. Ring, ring, ring...RRRRIIIIIIINNNNNG! All customers look over to the bike display.
"Mom!" I hiss.
"Look at this thing! It's a Jimmy Buffet California dreamin' beach bike!" she says, ignoring me. "Do you know that Jimmy Buffet song?"
"No, I don't know the song and I don't want a bike!" I snap back. "What I need is a bench!"

Not one hour earlier we had left a home-deco shop in the town of Orange, where I found a curved wooden banc,* perfect for our front porch. Meanwhile, at the other end of the boutique, my mom found a present for her husband. She was set on buying it until I refused. (She needed my credit card for the transaction.)

"Mom! You just finished telling me that you were fed up with his drinking. You can't go buying him a set of Tequila SHOT glasses from Bavaria!"
"But they're so pretty!" she protested. I watched as she sulked back to the glass armoire and returned the shot glasses to their shelf, taking one last admiring glance at the red baccarat crystal.
"Please gift wrap them," I finally said to the sales lady, relinquishing control over my mother.

Back at the bike shop I am once again trying to control my mom. Only this time she won't have it. To my "I don't want your present!" she responds firmly: "It is not for you to decide whether or not to receive a gift. You simply accept it with grace!"

Just then, I felt all of my rigid, controlling ways melt. I turned to the salesman and asked whether there was another color.

"We have a different model in silver..." he said.

                                           *    *     *
I am reeling down a quiet country road, leaving cares and copycats to the wind. If I let go of the pedals and stretch out my legs, I can almost touch the vine rows on either side of me. I stretch out my arms until the tips of my fingers grace the mountains to the east and the setting sun to the west. I feel the touch of eternity. It must be those endorphins Mom talked about.

Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box.


References: le vélo (m) = bike; le banc (m) = bench

     Read more stories about my mom here.
 A basket for your bike, and some accessories, here.

     Streetwise Paris: the best-selling map of PARIS


Terms & Expressions:
  vélo tout-terrain (VTT) = mountain bike
  vélodrome = cycle-racing track
  vélomoteur = moped
  faire du vélo = to cycle, to go bike riding

Aromatic lavender honey
Rosetta Stone French (CD-ROM) -- "an award-winning method used by NASA and the Peace Corps"
In music: Putumayo Presents: Paris


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I forgot to charge my camera's batteries, so Jean-Marc took this photo (and more, below) with his telephone. Can you make out which monkey is my daughter, which singe is my son, and which one is Braise-the-Dog? More about our walk up Sainte-Victoire in today's story column.

une grimpette

     : a steep little climb

C'est là que dans sa grimpette la rue du repos s'étire jusqu'au lavoir.
It is there, in this steep climb, that the retreat street stretches up to the washing place.

             --from "Brins de houx, bugade en chansons," Var Matin (newspaper)

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "grimpette" and the example sentence: Download Grimpette (mp3). Download Grimpette (wave file)

On Sunday, Jean-Marc, Max, Jackie, Braise-the-Dog, and I were treated to a picnic at Sainte-Victoire, both a mountain and a muse to more than one artist, including Cézanne, who there would paint his heart out time and again.

We had spent Saturday night with cousins Christiane & Charles, in Aix-en-Provence. The Gallic globetrotters once took their children on a 5-year voyage around the world, navigating from behind the helm of their own sailboat! And, just last November, together with their children--and grandchildren--they traversed the sands of southern Moroccan desert, sleeping in tents at night and getting by on one liter of water per day with which to "shower". The 20 kilometer daily walks strengthened family ties, not to mention hearts and thighs!

Given their athletic nature, I admit to not hesitating one instant when, at the base of the great Sainte-Victoire, cousin Christiane lugged the heavy picnic pack up and over her back.

"You sure you don't want me to carry it?" I offered, my eyes fixed on the French heavens where le Pic des Mouches* (the mountain's highest point) loomed. "It's not heavy," Christiane answered, fastening the straps.

Soon, the scent of pine and wild herbs surrounded us. I reached down to pick up a pomme de pin.* One of the things that I had noticed chez Christiane, was her knack for gathering natural objects (exotic seeds, husks, cones, branches...) and creating harmonious arrangements with them. Hungry for the same harmony here at home, I began to fill my pockets with the cones until Christiane offered the empty poche* of her backpack. "Tiens,* you can put them here, inside."

Kristiandchristiane (more photos at the end of this post...)

We had been talking about friendship when Christiane spoke about the people in her life and, without her having to say it, I understood that the friends with whom she shares it have as much inner-harmony as those compositions in her home: like good art, good friends are pure at heart.

"You know," Christiane said, offering me an imperfect pine cone (one that I had overlooked), "I prefer these to diamonds." For an instant, I was lost in a daydream in which I stood at the entrance of my Secret "Sisters" Club. On entering, each and every "true blue" friend had to hand me one pine cone and repeat: I prefer this to diamonds.

An hour into our hike, we were knee-deep in an aromatic odyssey. Do you call this hors-piste*? I joked with my husband, as we searched for the foot path that we had wandered off of. I let my hands brush over the blooming rosemary and resisted the temptation to snap off several twigs of thyme (add the branches to a mug of piping hot water, for the most soothing wintertime tea!) after Christiane explained that certain herbs, in this area, were protected and should be left alone.

Christiane During the last, grueling grimpette,* Charles, Christiane's husband, kept our group light on our feet with his joyful whistling ballads and thoughtful blagues.* Max, Jackie, and Braise-The-Dog were stoic "sangliers"* according to Charles and, between darting up and down the hilly terrain, they answered to their calling with proud snorts (to which Charles snorted back, respectfully so).

Toward the end of our ascent, I noticed the saturated skyline and marveled at true "sky blue" set off by bright limestone white as we reached the top of the mountain ridge. This must be the color of blue immortalized in the famous Provençal textiles.

On the way down the path, I felt that brilliance--that balance--that only an afternoon basking in the herbal countryside can bring on. The trick will be in recreating it, whether with pine cones--or with pure hearts--in the home and beyond.

Corrections, comments, and stories of your own--always welcome here, in the comments box.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le Pic des Mouches = Peak of the Flies; une pomme (f) de pin = pine cone; la poche (f) = pocket; tiens (tenir) = here; le hors-piste (m) = off-piste, off-trail; la grimpette (f) = steep climb; la blague (f) = joke; le sanglier (m) = wild boar


French Wooden Alphabet Blocks

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Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love...


Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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Photo taken in Visan, land of a million cats! Whether slightly color-blind, like this black-and-white cat, or completely non-voyant, Louis Braille believed that the gift of literacy belonged to everyone. Read more about this remarkable Frenchman who, as a child, would change the world.

non-voyant (nohn-voy-ahn) noun, masculine*

    : visually handicapped person

* the feminine is "non-voyante" (nohn-voy-ahnt)

French definition:
  "une personne qui ne voit pas; aveugle"
  (a person who does not see; blind)

AUDIO FILE: My son, Max, offered this example sentence. Click on the link to hear it:
  Les non-voyants utilisent le braille pour lire.
  (The blind use Braille to read.) Download MP3 or Wav file

We were at the breakfast table when the usual "Ça—c'est ma place!" and "Quit hogging the jam!" conversation turned into a thoughtful hymn... on blindness.

"Did you know," I began, "that the person who invented Braille was not much older than you when he created the system that would allow the blind to read?" I said to my son, who balanced a near-empty jar of jam over a slice of brioche—this, while glaring at his soeur cadette.

"What is "braille?" Jackie wanted to know, repeating the word as she had heard her Anglophone mother pronounce it (BREL).

Jean-Marc, who had caught the tail end of the conversation, piped in.
"Brel est un chanteur."
"No! I'm not talking about Jacques Brel!" I felt my feathers ruffling, and only two minutes into an uncharacteristic history lesson.

"She means 'Braille'," Max explained, clearing up any confusion by offering the French pronunciation of "Braille" (which, to my surprise, was "BR-EYE"!). Next, my son popped up, and hurried over to the cupboard to fish out a box of sucre.

"NO MORE SUGAR!" I cried, "and will you please listen! I am trying to..."

Max quickly turned the box of sugar to its side, and pointed out the raised dots.

"I had never noticed that before!" I said, running my finger down the side of the box, over the "lettered" relief. Are you sure that is Braille—and not some kind of bar code?"

On second thought, why wouldn't it be Braille, and why, by the way, weren't the jam jar and the milk carton sporting raised dots, too? With that, I ran my finger across all of the packages along our table top. That is when I realized that the box of sugar was the only package that could be read or identified by a non-voyant!

A sense of shame washed over me as I experienced another taken-for-granted privilege: that of correctly identifying a pot de confiture or a carton de lait. My guilty conscience automatically reacted, with the clearing of the throat and a swift returning to the former subject.

"As I was saying... it was a child who created this extraordinary system...." I tried to think of what to say next, but my mind was vaguely troubled. Thankfully, my daughter spoke next.

"Sometimes adults create things too," Jackie pointed out.

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, feedback, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

If we were talking about blindness at the breakfast table this morning, it is thanks to Kathi Koegle, who had written me a few weeks ago, inquiring about "off-the-beaten-track villages" that one might visit in France. In the email exchange that ensued, I learned that Kathi, who works for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, had just been in charge of a bicentennial birthday party for Louis Braille.

It occurred to me that she might write an article for us all to enjoy and, when I asked, Kathi kindly obliged. Here, now, is her mini-biography on Louis Braille.

L o u i s  B r a i l l e
January 4, 1809 - January 6, 1852

This year marks the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the man who invented literacy for blind people.

Braille was born in Coupvray, a tiny village about 25 miles east of Paris. The youngest of four children, he lived with his parents in a modest stone cottage in the village.

Braille's father was the local harness-maker. One day when he was three years old, Louis was at play in his father's workshop. A fateful accident and subsequent infection rendered him totally aveugle.

At the age of 10, Braille earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. It was the world's first school for blind children. Louis was an outstanding élève, and he excelled in every subject. He also became a fine pianist and an accomplished organist.

photo from Wikipedia

While attending the Institution and yearning for more books to lire, Braille experimented with ways to create an alphabet that would be facile to read with one's fingertips. The system of raised dots that he devised--at age 15--evolved from the tactile "Ecriture Nocturne" code (invented by Charles Barbier, an artillery captain in the army of Louis XVIII) for sending military messages that could be read on the battle field at night sans light. Two years later, Braille adapted his method to musical notation.

Braille accepted a full-time teaching position at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth when he was 19. He taught grammar, geography, arithmetic, and music.

Sighted teachers and officials were slow to accept Braille's new method. It wasn't until 1844, eight years before he died, that the value of the Braille alphabet was officially recognized. Then, one after another, countries around the monde recognized the benefits of braille. Braille has now been adapted to more than 200 languages and dialects around the world.

Louis Braille died of Tuberculosis two days after his 43rd birthday. In 1952, his body was moved from a cemetery in Coupvray to the Pantheon in Paris to lie with other great women and men of France.

The stone house where Braille grew up is now a museum, and the street on which it stands is named Rue Louis Braille.

On the mur of the maison is a plaque that reads:

Dans cette maison est né le 4 janvier 1809 Louis Braille inventeur de l'écriture en points saillants pour les aveugles. Il a ouvert a tous ceux qui ne voient pas les portes du savoir.

In this house on January 4, 1809 was born Louis Braille, the inventor of the system of writing in raised dots for use by the blind. He opened the doors of knowledge to all those who cannot see.

Author bio: Kathi Koegle is Outreach & Development Manager for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired. A former French teacher, Kathi and her husband are making plans for their third trip to Provence.

If you enjoyed Kathi's story, please join me in thanking her by letting her know in the comments box.

You may also leave her a personal message, here: kathi [AT] wcblind [DOT] org

Kathi adds: "Enjoy a few pix from the Council's recent Braille Bicentennial Birthday Party. Guests enjoyed baguettes and six different kinds of French cheeses." (View pictures at the end of this post.)

In children's books: "Louis Braille, The Boy Who Invented Books For The Blind" & Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius

French Vocabulary

ça—c'est ma place! = that is my seat!
la soeur (f) cadette = little sister
Brel est un chanteur = Brel is a singer
le sucre = sugar
le pot de confiture = jar of jam
le carton de lait = carton of milk
non-voyant,e (m/f) = blind
aveugle = blind
l'élève (m/f) = student
lire = to read
facile = easy
Ecriture Nocturne = night writing
sans = without
le monde = world
le mur = wall
la maison = house

Read about Therese-Adele Husson:  a young blind woman and writer from provincial France 

Capture plein écran 17012012 103208

 Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France

In the 1820s, several years before Braille was invented, Therese-Adele Husson, a young blind woman from provincial France, wrote an audacious manifesto about her life, French society, and her hopes for the future. Through extensive research and scholarly detective work, authors Catherine Kudlick and Zina Weygand have rescued this intriguing woman and the remarkable story of her life and tragic death from obscurity, giving readers a rare look into a world recorded by an unlikely historical figure.

Reflections is one of the earliest recorded manifestations of group solidarity among people with the same disability, advocating self-sufficiency and independence on the part of blind people, encouraging education for all blind children, and exploring gender roles for both men and women. Resolutely defying the sense of "otherness" which pervades discourse about the disabled, Husson instead convinces us that that blindness offers a fresh and important perspective on both history and ourselves. Click here to read more about this book.

SmartFrench : learn French from real French people!

In French film: The Double Life of Veronique

French music: Jacques Brel

Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves

Kathi's photos taken at the celebration: Braille birthday party photos 005
A cheese close-up!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Red, White, and Blue! (And, regarding the sign over the door... we trust this ship is now on course.) Today we are talking about where we were when we witnessed the historic inauguration (see today's story column). Please join in, in the comments box!

le serment (sair-mahn) noun, masculine
    1. oath
    2. pledge

la prestation de serment = taking the oath, the inauguration
prêter serment = to take an oath; to be sworn in
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "serment" and read the examples: Download Serment Download Serment


"La Prestation de Serment"

Here in France our family listened, by car radio, to the inauguration of America's 44th president. We were en route to an R&B concert (Chris Brown) in Marseilles, when we heard Senator Barack Obama prêter serment.*

Listening to the oath was a challenge from the start, as every time Obama said a word, the voice of French translation arose... and garbled it! This posed a dilemma: whether to concentrate on the version originale*... or the French echo that quickly obliterated it. Just when I resolved to listen to the version française,* in piped the President again, overriding the French!

Adding to the confusion were the pint-size political commentators in the back seat. (Particularly amusing to our kids, were the seconds in between the Presidential changeover. When the clock struck 6 p.m. here in France (12:00 in Washington, DC), Max announced that the United States was now sans président. "Attention aux coups!" he warned.

"Shhh! Listen, they're about to swear in the vice president, I replied.
"Qu'est-ce que c'est un "vice president" Max wanted to know.
"Un vice president..." Jean-Marc began, thoughtfully....
"Shhh! Let's listen!" I said.

We had reached the outskirts of Avignon when Obama began his pledge:
"Je jure solennellement..."*

...only, the kids queries continued!

"Est-ce que Obama aime la France?" Jackie wanted to know.
"Oui, Obama aime la France," Jean-Marc assured her.
With that, I issued a reminder: "Please! I would like to hear the oath!"

I had just missed the English, but caught the tail end of the French translation, where Obama promised to do "tout ce qui est en mon pouvoir pour préserver, protéger et défendre la Constitution des Etats-Unis".*

With that, cheering could be heard from across the Atlantic, thanks to modern technology (our trusty radio).

"Maman, you now have two presidents!" Max pointed out, referring to (and including) our French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"Yes, that's right... now please, let's listen!"

Obama's speech had already begun, but I would hear only fragments of it--no thanks to the political babbling, which continued from the backseat.

"Papa, est-ce que t'as jamais voté pour quelqu'un qui n'a pas gagné?"*
Jean-Marc cited the 1988 French presidential election in which Jacques Chirac lost.

"Please! I am trying to understand what the President is saying!" I persisted.

As Jean-Marc, Max, and Jackie, along with Barack--and that motor-mouth French interpreter--competed for attention, I felt myself begin to snap and it only took one more question (this, from my daughter) for my hands to fly up into the air and my mouth to fly open along with them.  "GAAAAHD!" I thundered.

Silence fell over the car, but for the screaming shame emanating from the passenger's seat.

With my family shocked silent, President Obama's words could now, effectively, be heard. Only now, he seemed to talk directly to my family, reminding us of values such as "...the force of our example..." and "the tempering qualities of HUMILITY and RESTRAINT."

The president's words washed over me, turning me around in an abrupt "about face" with my daughter. Now reaching to the backseat of the car, I was about to witness how a child's example of forgiveness would bring to life our President's words about truth and character:

"I am sorry, Jackie," I apologized. To my outreached hand, my daughter offered her own, unreservedly. Her next gesture took me by surprise. She lifted my hand, high up, and kissed it!

Like that, in her generous way, my daughter had offered more than forgiveness: she showed unwavering faith and respect. Even more, her actions underlined an underlying theme in Obama's speech: humility.

Mr. President, I missed parts of your message. But I heard it when you said that, by our actions the world will know us, not by our words. So I am no longer worried about the words that I have missed, for I have seen the spirit of your message written across my own humbled hand, delivered there by the sweet lips of a child.

P.S.: Mr. President, Jackie would like you to know that France likes you too!

Where were you when you heard Barack Obama take oath? What parts of his speech spoke to you the most? Share your thoughts in the comments box.
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box. Merci!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
prêté serment = took oath; la version (f) originale = original language or version; la version (f) française = French language version; Attention aux coups! = watch out for (any) attacks!; Je jure solennellement... = I solemnly swear"; ...tout ce qui est en mon pouvoir pour préserver, protéger et défendre la Constitution des Etats-Unis = the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States; Papa, est-ce que t'as jamais voté pour quelqu'un qui n'a pas gagné? = Dad, have you ever voted for someone who (eventually) did not win?
My daughter has been teaching me from the day she arrived--at the maternity ward in Aix-en-Provence... Read about that, and learn some of those lessons, here in this book:

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love...

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


photos © Kristin Espinasse. Outside the tasting room at Domaine du Mas de Martin. Looks like someone sampled a few too many... More winos at the end of today's story. Talk about today's photo in the comments section. What do you see? What is missing (what would you like to add)? What kind of chien do we have here?

un tuyau (twee-yoh) noun, masculine
    1. pipeline
    2. tip (insider information)

  un tuyau crevé = a bad tip
  avoir des tuyaux = to be in the know
  c'est un tuyau increvable = straight from the horse's mouth

Audio File: Uncle Jean-Claude was here today for some wine business and I managed to steal him for a few minutes--in time to get this recording! Listen to the French word "tuyau" and to the expressions, above. Download Tuyau . Download Tuyau

Last week, one of my favorite characters returned to help us with our 4th mise en bouteilles* here at Domaine Rouge Bleu. By the end of the day--and 9000 units later--I had learned even more about our unbeatable bottler, Babé (baah-bay).

When the sun came up over Mont Ventoux, pouring light across the field of vines and over a row of rosemary (and one of oliviers*) that flank our driveway, I saw her. She might have been a hunter walking up the dirt path, wearing the colors of combat: the green of the garrigue* and the black of the French forest at night. Hélas,* our heroine wouldn't harm so much as a miserable mouche,* but scold a slacker she would!

DSC_0244 Babé, a retired school teacher, spent many years channeling adolescent energy into creative output. In the process of handling so much hyperactivity, energy welled up within her, inevitably. To this day, Babe can't sit still!

And lucky for us--for when the time comes to churn out 9000 bottles along a powerful production line... il faut avoir du peps!*

We've already talked about Babé's "peps" in a previous post*. For today, we'll learn some tips or "tuyaux" that Babé shared, in between bossing the bottlers around ("Allez, plus vite!* What are you waiting for? Organize yourselves!). Coincidentally, "tuyau" also means "pipe" (perhaps the medium through which Babé "channeled" all that energy?). Here now, are those tips:

5 Tips learned from Babé while bottling our wine

DSC_0248 1. Use a serrated knife--and not a toothless one--to cut tomatoes! (A toothless knife slips! I learned this lesson the hard way, while making lunch for the bottlers)

2. Less is more: start with one sandwich per worker. You can always make more if needed (learned while Babé took over the sandwich-making when I ran off in search of a pansement* for my thumb).

3. For a comfortable pair of pants, look no further than the fishing tackle department at your local sporting goods store (Babé's cost only 10 euros at Décathalon). Check them out in the photo.

4. "T'as raison Gaston"* : just a fun phrase that I heard Babé say. It also shows that, even though she may be bossy, she doesn't pretend to know it all.

5. For happy household plants, bring on the wine! (Add one glass per jug of water).

Read more about Babé, via the link below, and be sure to say hello to her, by leaving your message in the comments box.

And as for that furry feignant, or slacker, in today's photo, I know what Babé would say "Hup two!" or "En avant!"

More Babé stories, here & more photos at the end of this post:

And for those of you who might be interested in purchasing the wine that we have just bottled (!), thanks for check out "Where to Find our Wines" (including our Domaine Rouge-Blue Rose 2008 and 2007 Reds!)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
la mise en bouteilles (f) = bottling; un olivier (m) = olive tree; la garrigue (f) = wild Mediterranean scrubland; hélas = alas; une mouche (f) = fly; avoir du peps = to be energetic; post = (see "More Babé stories", above); allez plus vite! = faster!; le pansement (m) = bandage; Tu as raison, Gaston = Darn right, Mike! (maybe you have better translation to add to the comments box? Update: "That's the fact, Jack!")

Cartes Postales: A Delightful Album for Postcards

In French Music: Putumayo Presents: Paris

La Perruche sugar cubes are made in France and have a rich and perfumed taste with hints of honey and vanilla.

With Uncle Jean-Claude:

The bottling machine on wheels!
Babé, not happy when she has to wait for those slow bottles to arrive! Allez, en avant!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

autrement dit

Photo taken this morning... in the town of Visan. What strikes you about the image? Help us to see it, in detail, through your eyes, in the comments box. Many thanks!

autrement dit (oh-truh-mahn-dee)

    : in other words


Autrement Dit / In Other Words
(...or how not to get too personal when "the sweet life" turns to salt)

I was all set to write a story about our boozing bougainvillea (that's right...) when life, no matter how French, got in the way; autrement dit: I was fixin' to face the work day, full speed ahead--comme d'hab*--when someone threw a sabot* into the smooth machine that is our calm and collected family. (Truth-be-told: chickens will have teeth* the day our family is calm and collected.)

*     *     *
In the throes of our turbulent teens, Mom took to driving to clear her mind. As her daughter, I try to take her example; one day, I trust, my son will take mine....

I am driving, a bit slower than Mom would, alone on a country road, watching the barren vines that flank my path fly by. I am thinking about freedom, a song that is ever on my teenager's tongue, and I am thinking about passion: how plate-shattering passion alone can feed the hungry adrenaline that we sometimes need in order to feel alive and kicking.

We kick a door, run away (to the end of the block), into the cold, dark night. We hope that someone feels our injustice, feels it like the salty tears in our throat. We will stand outside forever!--in the freezing cold, under a blanket of stars...but will return just as soon as you beg us to "Please get inside this house right now! You are going to catch a cold!"

You will hurry up and beg, won't you? OK, then, forget begging. Order me in--and fast!--it's cold out here!

*     *     *
Mom also said these two things, and not necessarily in the same breath: "BRACE YOURSELF for your children's adolescence!" and "When you drive, take a new road each time."

And so, instead of heading to work, I headed out the door this morning (speeding past those vines) to look at other people's airing laundry.* By the time I returned home, I was ready to bring in my own--and to pick up where I had left off: facing a blank page.

(I'll hope to write about that boozing bougainvillea next week.)

More stories about my mom, in this book:
"Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love..."

~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
comme d'hab(itude) = as usual; le sabot (m) = clog (note: the word "sabotage" [to sabotage one's plans] comes from the word sabot. See comment, just below, for more...); when chickens have teeth (French expression: Quand les poules auront des dents) = never; airing laundry = the subject of today's photo

*SABOTOGE*: I received the following comment from reader Mair Buddug:

I heard that sabot is a wooden shoe, which the Flemish people wore up until the early 20th century.  In the early days of the industrial revolution, the weavers were resentful that the industrialists were trying to replace them with machines.  One of the strategies they used to foil that plan was to toss their sabots into the machine; hence, sabotage--throwing a monkey wrench into the plans.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Ste Cecile Chateauneuf March 2007013
A cozy town somewhere in Provence... Talk about today's photo in the comments box. What do you see? What do you like? What is oh-so-French about this scene? Can you tell me a story, no matter how imaginary, about the homeowners? Look closely and unwrap the various "morsels". Close-ups are found at the end of this post.

Today's French word:

bicoque (bee-kohk) noun, feminine

    : little house, shack

[from the Italian bicocca "little fort"]

Example (sound file follows, below):
Vue de la rue, la bicoque du disciple passionné et performant de l'abbé Pierre semble plantée de guingois au milieu d'un terrain vague..

Seen from the street, the little shack belonging to the passionate and hard-working disciple of *Abbot Pierre*, seemed planted *askew* in the middle of a waste ground.

*From the French Word-A-Day archives:
1. Read about (and remember) the beloved l'abbé Pierre.
2. Review the delightful French word for "askew".

Audio File: Quelle chance! Today we have Uncle Jean-Claude (who is here, helping with the wine bottling (see today's story...) reading the example sentence. Enjoy! PS: He would like to point out that the word I've chosen (bicoque) is used only in French slang!: Download Bicoque   Download Bicoque

Not a lot of time to write about Vauclusian life at the moment. By the time you get today's letter, we will have bottled 9000 units of Domaine Rouge-Bleu here at our little wine farm in the blustery valley of the Rhone!

Like that, today's missive will be fast and fun... and what could be more amusing than the French "bicoque"? More amusing than a *word* might be a photo related to the word-in-question!

Please join us in another round of "Three Things" or "Trois Choses". Study today's busy photo, then list three things that you see (or simply make up a story about the inhabitants of this quirky casa). Some close-ups of the image follow.

Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary

My French Coach / Nintendo

Whole Black Winter Truffles

In Music: pre-order Carla Bruni's "Comme Si de Rien N'Etait"

All photos taken with this camera, click here to view it.
Ste Cecile Chateauneuf March 2007013
Many more details are found in the original photo at the top of this post!
Ste Cecile Chateauneuf March 2007013
Don't forget to leave your impressions here.
Ste Cecile Chateauneuf March 2007013

All photos taken with this camera, click here to view it.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


I snapped this photo in Rochegude, while running early to a luncheon.* Those sunny shutters remind me of our hostesse's character. More about le repas in today's story column.

*(By the way, while it is most-often French words that bestill a Francophile's heart, have you ever let yourself linger over the word
"luncheon"? It is quite delightful in its own right, n'est pas?)

*     *     *

I never had an imaginary friend as a child, though I have always had imaginary words. Please allow me to introduce you to the latest... (For those of you who do not want to play along, who would rather take from these posts "useful words only!," then you'll find plenty in the "Vocabulary" section below. Now, back to make-believing and to today's missive...)

déjouper (day-zhoo-pay) noun, masculine

    : a typical French meal that begins, roughly, around Sunday lunchtime (1:30 p.m.) and ends, roughly, around American dinnertime (5:30 pm)

[from "déjeuner" (lunch) and "souper" (dinner)]

Note: for those smartypants types, who're sure to write in: No, "déjouper" does not mean, even in imagined vocabulary, "to take off one's skirt"!

I learned several new words yesterday, at Aurore and Alain's, where we had Sunday "lunch" (or--sort of like the English "brunch"--might "déjouper" be a more descriptive word? After all, the meal began at lunchtime [déjeuner] and ended at the dinner hour [souper!]).

Wearing a chef's tablier,* Alain greeted us at the porte-fenêtre,* which leads to the kitchen, where his velouté de champignons* reeled us in by our cold noses. Beyond the soup, a massive marmite* took up the remaining three burners, allowing a chasseur's* civet* to simmer.

Jean-Marc and I arrived embarrassingly early, so when Aurore appeared from the salle de bains* I threw out a pair of helping hands and asked for directions.
"Go and get the goo-zhers and we'll reheat them," she offered. I wasn't sure what goo-zhers were, but followed her pointed finger which led me to a charming checkered cloth above a table laden with colorful apéritifs. By deduction (it couldn't be the radishes or the Kiri*-stuffed celery... ), I discovered the puff pastries ("gougères"*).

"Je les ai ratées!"* Aurore despaired. Soon the guests arrived, putting an end to any self-doubting. "The gougères look fine," neighbor Laetitia assured her and, there and then, I decided that gougères weren't some exotic apéro, but familiar fare for the French.

More invités* arrived, some carrying cooking contraptions, including a Cocotte Minute* and a couple of vegetable mills. Inside the trusty minute cooker, 30 potatoes awaited mashing à la Française (enter a mashed potato's best friend: la moulinette!* Note: You have not tasted fluffy mashed potatoes until you have tasted them from the other end of a vegetable mill!).

DSC_0247 Aurore studied the plan de table* and, before long, all twelve of us were seated, rust-colored tulips tempering the stark white tablecloth and the embroidered napkins behind which we settled. After the amuse-bouche* (Alain's mushroom soup), followed by a marinated salad trio (carottes râpées,* choux rouge râpé,* and chickpeas...), two of the guests jumped up and disappeared into the cuisine* followed by our hosts, one of whom signaled for me to follow suit....

Photo: Aurore (second to left), before she traded places with Christine (second to right). Click on photos to enlarge images.

DSC_0251 That is when I learned that it takes four Frenchmen to make mashed potatoes! I watched as Christine and Gilles, local doctors, churned their moulinettes. Aurore systematically fed the steamed potatoes into the contraptions (two mills were needed). Alain's presence was accounted for under "moral support".

The potatoes, now mashed (and still hot!), were gently turned in on themselves after a truffled butter* was added to them. Within minutes, we were back at the table eating the still-piping hot purée de pommes de terre* alongside the chasseur's civet. The chasseur in question, David, sat to my right, looking pleased with chef Alain's flair... for cooking the former's hare.

DSC_0252 After the fourth course (a platter of cheese), out came those French floating islands or "îles flottantes"--this in a meringue-capped sea of crème anglaise!* I wish I could report that we eventually floated home, weightless as those whipped egg whites. Instead, we left, heavy as the potatoes... before they met their fate at the médecins'* mill.


Comments, corrections, or stories of your own--are always welcome in the comments box. Thanks!

La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange: The Original Companion for French Home Cooking

Get yourself a moulinette and discover mashed potatoes, as if for the first time!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le tablier
(m) = apron; la porte-fenêtre (f) ("door-window) = French window; le champignon (m) = mushroom; la marmite (f) = pot; le chasseur (m) = hunter; le civet (m) = stew; la salle de bain(s) = bathroom; Kiri = brand of creamy cheese; je les ai ratées! = I made a mess of them!; la gougère** (f) (recipe follows) = gruyère-based puff pastry; un invité (une invitée) = guest; la Cocotte Minute (R) = pressure cooker; la moulinette (f) = vegetable mill; le plan (m) de table = table map (placements); l'amuse-bouche (m) (also "amuse-gueule") = appetizer, snack; la carotte (f) râpée = grated carrot; le chou rouge (m) râpé = shredded red cabbage; la cuisine (f) = kitchen; truffled butter** (recipe follows); la purée (f) de pommes de terre = mashed potatoes; crème anglaise ("English cream") = "a custard sauce flavored with vanilla or sometimes with rum, orange liqueur, kirsch, etc.";  le médecin (m) = doctor, physician

**Christine's Truffled Butter (easy!): put one truffle--alongside one or two sticks of butter--into a plastic container. Let the truffle infuse the butter overnight. Cut the truffle in half. Use one half, chopped, for the potato purée mixture, add the other half to the boiling water (when first cooking the
potatoes.... Do not discard this half, but add it to the purée, along with the other, and the truffled butter).

Here is a recipe for gougères in the New York Times:
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (about 7 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 cup freshly grated Emmenthal, Gruyère, Cantal or Cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheese.

For instructions, click here:

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Flowers and a bicycle help rendre hommage to Polly Platt--who loved to ride. Your help is needed in paying tribute this beloved author and speaker. Share your stories about Polly: your favorite anecdotes from her helpful books, a favorite tip that you learned from one of her articles, or a chance encounter that you shared with one of our favorite Francophiles.

hommage (oh-mazh) noun, masculine

    : tribute

Terms & Expressions:
  les hommages = respects
  rendre hommage à quelqu'un = to pay tribute to someone
  faire hommage d'un livre =
   1) to give a complimentary copy of a book to someone whom we respect
   2) to dedicate a book to someone

Audio File: listen to the French word "hommage" and to the expressions: Download Hommage . Download Hommage

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~<  Hommage à Polly Platt  >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today, we are remembering Polly Platt, who passed away over the holidays. Many of you knew her from her bestselling books, in which she helped us to understand a culture on which we have a flagrant crush. Some of you have had the chance to participate in Polly's French cultural conferences, where her verve and vision captured audiences. Others would have liked to have simply said "Bonjour!" to her, via email, but lacked the courage to contact the cultural diva....

(...and, here, not two weeks after my finger hovered over a computer mouse which, in turn, hovered over Polly's email address, I am kicking myself for not sending that letter. Polly, you would have surely encouraged me to aim higher than this keyboard--behind which I hide--in time to connect: because connections, you taught, whether with a culture--or within a corporation--are what make the world go round. While I had hoped you might be a mentor for me, I trust that you are here, putting a certain "esprit de vie" into this tribute: to a woman who I, who so many, never chanced to meet.)

                                          *     *     *

Thousands have already read the following hommage* which appeared in the Parler Paris Newsletter Thank you, Adrian Leeds, for allowing me to reprint your touching tribute, and thanks to Dianna and to Marian for forwarding it to me:

Excusez-Moi de Vous Déranger, Mais...
  by Adrian Leeds

Any American who has ever attempted to live in France has been helped over the cultural crossings by her profound insight into the French psyche and amused by her sharp wit. Her name is Polly Platt.

I have written of her often. She told her humorous stories at numerous conferences and events we have sponsored. She was a colleague, a friend and a guiding light. On December 26th, Polly left the world "after a bad pneumonia in Vienna surrounded by her family," as her daughter, Sacha, informed me just a few days ago.

Polly Platt was one of the rare Americans on the Paris scene, having lived here more than 40 years, who will stand out as having made serious impact on the American community living here. She taught us how to understand the French, maneuver just about any situation and most importantly, how to enjoy the French and their very unique culture. If it weren't for Polly, I would never have learned how to say, "Excusez-moi de vous déranger, mais..." and get whatever I wanted or needed.

I first met her at a book reading in the late '90s. She had only written one book then -- "French or Foe" -- and it had been self-published, but quickly flying off the bookstore bookshelves. It was read it cover to cover, taking it on the bus or Métro and carrying it everywhere like a bible. One instance, a
young boy saw me reading it and got very enthused to tell me that Polly was a friend of his mother's -- he felt so special to boast of it! Then, a friend from New York laid claim to having 'house-sat' her apartment one summer only to uncover a diamond she has lost from her ring, to which Polly was forever grateful. It was 'two degrees of separation' and the connection glued me to her just a bit stronger.

Polly was warm and friendly, completely curious, a bit 'ditzy' and marvelously funny. We became fast friends and even though she was a master story-teller and I just a budding writer, she never stopped encouraging me and 'propping' up my writer's ego. We would meet for lunch at a little bistrot I'd recommend (as the 'official' restaurant critic and guide writer between the two of us), arriving on her bike in even the most inclement weather, and then beg to hear some of my experiences as a newcomer to France.

One such story ended up being told in her second book, "Savoir-Flair! 211 Tips for Enjoying France and the French." On page 115, Chapter 9 titled, "Enjoying French Customer Service," Polly relates an experience I had attempting to buy bras with my daughter in the H&M on rue de Rivoli. She said it exemplified everything we (Americans) do 'wrong' when expecting the same customer service in France we expect Stateside...not to mention hilariously funny...especially when the bras went flying like torpedoes aimed at the sales clerks!

Once again Polly hit the nails on their proverbial heads with her second book. It wasn't a surprise -- we ate up every word.

Then we didn't hear from Polly for a while. She stayed more reclusive in her Dordogne home and gave up her Paris apartment on rue de Bellechase. Then she resurfaced with a new book, just launched this past autumn titled "Love à la française -- What happens when Hervé meets Sally?"

It's Polly's finest work. For every woman who has ever dreamed of finding love in France with a Frenchman, it IS the bible. Don't even attempt to "rendez-vous" with a Frenchman until you have read it!

One Parler Paris reader wrote, "If it weren't for her books, Pierre and I would not still be writing and talking to each other today (can you believe it?)... I would have given up on trying to understand him if I didn't have Polly Platt's books. I never met her, but she is a part of my life because she helped me make room in my heart for...'mon ami très cher Pierre'...her wisdom will live on." Florence

Losing Polly Platt is every American in Paris' loss. You can't see the tears rolling down my cheeks, but they're there, tasting salty as they hit my lips, from which I utter:

"Polly, excusez-moi de vous déranger, mais...que ton âme repose en paix."

A la prochaine...

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris


Polly Platt's books:
French or Foe?: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France
Savoir Flair: 211 Tips for Enjoying France and the French
Love a la francaise: What Happens when Hervé meets Sally

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.