July2005 094
Today's story continues from Châteauneuf-du-Pape ("New Castle of the Pope"), the ruins are pictured here.

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en-tête (on-tet) noun, masculine
    1. heading
    2. headline

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Cet en-tête évoque à coup sûr pour les connaisseurs les fameuses "Lettres de Mon Moulin" d'Alphonse DAUDET. (see the translation in paragraph 1, line 2, below).

Letters from my Terrace
by Marie-Françoise Vidal

"Setting the Stage"

Isn't it a bit presumptuous to choose this title for the little series of articles that I promised myself to write from my Provençal village? This column title definitely calls to mind, for those connoisseurs, the famous "Lettres de mon moulin" by Alphonse Daudet. He wrote the charming pages for his Parisian friends, after making himself at home in an authentic Provençal mill near Les Baux-de-Provence.

More modestly, of course, I would like to share what I observe from my little terrace. It is a balcony from a village home that is nothing like a classic terrace overlooking a garden. No! It's just a little observation post, nested in between houses terraced beneath the ruins of our (village's) medieval château. I go and sit there during the good season, from April to September and provided that the tempestuous Mistral isn't blowing.

My terrace is, at most, 10 square meters and opens onto a landscape that enchants me. In the foreground, the old, irregular rooftops of houses that we overlook, pile up one over the other. Then, the view overflows... rising up to the hills that are covered with vines. Finally, in the background, a long musical line designs itself, making up the asymmetric curbs of Mont Ventoux. These three visual strips each have their own graphism and color. That (strip) which designs the rooftops is like a rug of uneven clay tiles, clear, and accentuated by a few chimneys. That which designs the vines offers geometric lines of parallel vineyard rows, which follow the curves of the field. It is a faux checkerboard effect, now austere and scrubbed in winter, green in summer, then blazing red in autumn. The last relief strip, far away, always colors itself with a note of blue or mauve. The mineral scales, of the Dentelles de Montmirail, and the ever white summit of our "Giant of Provence" add light to the ensemble.

View the original French text for this story, here

Facing this landscape, I am facing east; therefore, it is the occasion to take part in the sunrise and also the full moon. The show moves from left to right then in the other direction at every solstice, permitting me to witness the ballet of the seasons.

From my terrace, therefore, I hang over my neighborhood. It is an old (in our home a beam is engraved "1311") and modest quarter in our village. The residents are, for the most part, descended from old families owning small amounts of land, the newcomers are agricultural workers and, recently, young couples have moved in, fleeing the city.

The population of this neighborhood changes inexorably, therefore, with the departure of the "ancients". I hardly ever hear the patois that is the Provençale language, tinged with local character.

Village life follows the general evolution of the customs and habits of life: each his work, his hours, his car, his sports, his leisure... which changes the social interaction, leaving, of course, the good times of village community but nothing that can equal what I knew when I came to move here, as a young married woman, in 1968.

From my perch the stones talk to me, for they keep the memories. Thinking about my village, I see it again as it was with its slowness, its security; there's that feeling of oneness that I have with it, that feeling of being in a big family.

So there you are, the stage has now been set. I'll meet you here again, and we'll share these memories, little anecdotes or other little modern-day narratives.

*     *     *

DSC_0043 Tante Marie-Françoise works  as a speech therapist (orthophoniste) and enjoys helping children who have special needs.

Note: The original French version of this story is posted here. Enjoy it! Meantime, thanks for saying "bonjour" to Marie-Françoise in the comments box. I know she will enjoy "meeting" you! She'll be back in a week or so with a very funny story called ("La Routine").

PS: Re today's translation (by me...): beg to differ? Honey, you don't even have to beg (I believe you!). Just add your own translation to one or more of the beautifully poetic lines written by my French aunt. Thanks for using the comments box, so that all might enjoy the update. (...and thanks for your help!)

French Word-A-Day archives:

Care to read some more stories? Here's a bilingual column from my son, written 5 years ago...

End photo: "Birds of a French Feather". Read the message, below.

Would you like Jules to paint this one? Let her know, in the comments box. P.S.: she'll be here soon. Please wish her bon voyage!

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Debbie Chavers

Bon Voyage! Happy Flying or Happy Sailing!
Yes, paint! Oh! the colors that you will have the privilage to translate via your paintings. Yes, fill your canvas's with the colors of Spring.
Debbie Chavers

Debbie Chavers

Delightful, I just read your introduction with my morning coffee at 6:30 Tennessee time. The description of your porch and view. Big sigh! I am looking forward to your continued story.

Debbie Chavers


A mother and daughter reunion is the best.
My own daughter will be in Paris in April!! I love that song too.
Enjoy your time together.

Jean Marc

Bon voyage, Jules. I hope you are feeling better each day. I would love to see your painting of the birds. And possibly a view (or several) from Marie Francoise's terrace. Or some photos from the terrace (hint, hint, Kristen).

Jean Marc (l'autre)




Beautifully written and translated! I was especially delighted by the line, "From my perch the stones talk to me, for they keep the memories." How true! And such memories!! I so look forward to the next terrace letter. And Marie-Francoise, you are quite lovely, possessing such a radiant smile! Thank you for opening your heart and home to us. -- Diane in Tallahassee, Florida

Nancy L.

The light, the pigeons, the geometry of the bordered window...this would make a beautiful painting!

Nancy L.

Tante Marie Francoise description is so evocative of a southern village! We have a beautiful photo, taken by my youngest daughter, of the rooftops looking down from Castlenaud in the Dordogne. It is an amazing collection of rooftops and ruelles and it is the first time I realized that my youngest had an "eye" for photography (all of her photos from that trip were extraordinary....could it be her talent or the locale?)

Renee Convers

Hello One and All,
Thank you for inviting us to share a moment on your terrace. What a sound and inspirational spot. Your terrace houses both you and your memories as a tree does a young nest. What is one to do? I can only envy your view and express my gratitude for the gift. Thanks very much for the visit…..
Renee Convers


Are you kidding??? Pigeons??? The flying rats of France??? I guess I might be just a tiny bit prejudiced against these birds...they're a TOTAL pest in our Impasse - yuck - pigeon poop - and they dig huge holes in our old facade. Find a nice little "rouge-gorge" instead!!!

bill en Libye

Chere Jules,
I hope you have a safe and comfortable trip.
Transatlantic flights are not a lot of fun, but I know you will be joyful with anticipation of the destination. And if you are enchantee by les pigeons, comme moi, do paint them. Aahh, Provence en printemps!
I am consumed with envy. Do enjoy!


Milles mercis encore Tante Marie-Francoise et Kristin pour le translation. A lovely introduction (your writing is lyrical, evocative...) to l'histoire to unfold. I look forward to hearing le prochain chapitre. Kristin, this is such a great idea. Le site FWaD continues to evolve-meilleur et meilleur. It is all about creativity, that divine spark which is within ALL of us, The Arts being a wide, encompassing path of expression. Kristin, your art (parmi beaucoup d'autres choses)provides a meeting place, gathering from afar, brimming with fun, fact and generosity. It is the generosity of spirit, so needed in our world, that speaks the loudest here. I enjoy reading the blogs, thoughts from people I will never meet, but feel I know from our speaking here.

Kristen, Tante Marie-Francoise, Jean-Marc--la famille entiere Espinasse--mercis. Maintenant, une plus de fois, je lis Julia Cameron's classic, The Artist's Way, helpful to those who are stuck and unable to flow forth with that creative spirit in whatever art form they choose. Visiting here inspires me to dig deeper w/this endeavor and believe that the richness within will be, voila!, unleashed.

(Loud GROAN, in advance.) will I ever hear the rapper's tune, "Who?!" "Who?!" "Who let the dogs out?!" sorry mes amis, couldn't help it. It was that "unleashed" mot that did it.) Viva l'esprit createur!


Jules, have a great trip and paint, paint, paint whatever you take a fancy to. Aunt Marie-Francoise' description of her town and vista was terrific.

Fred Caswell

Chere "Jewels",

Bon voyage, allez et retour!

Frankly, I so wish to meet you, in person, especially when you are visiting Kristi and her fascinating family.

I have been blessed with a wife who is a jewel like you and to have had the honor and pleasure of meeting Jean-Marc and his family.

From what I've read via Kristi's French Word-A-Day, "Jewels" seems to be an appropriate misspelling of your name and reflects what I imagine you to be -- a diamond in the rough.

The intention is to offer a compliment and it is hoped that you accept it as such.


Tante Marie-Francoise,
I love how your writing invites the reader to enjoy the sensory experience of being right there with you on your terrace. I can't wait for the next installment.
I have a grammar question about the following quotation: "N'est-ce pas bien présomptueux de choisir ce titre pour la petite série de chroniques que je me suis promis d'écrire de mon village provençal?" Should there be an "e" on "promis"? Why or why not? Merci.


Bonjour tout le monde,
I second Jean-Marc's comment. Would love to see photos from Marie-Francoise's terrace. Jules I hope you have a good trip over the pond. To be with your daughter and grandchildren in beautiful Provence this time of year...I hope you enjoy le printemps de Provence and I hope you paint. Love and creativity, the best medicine. Fais attention à toi, chérie.

poppy fields

Bonjour Marie-Francoise,
I love your description of your home, which must be just north of me :)
And bon voyage à Jules...peut-être nos chemins se croisera sur un marché en Provence.


Hello Kristin,

Mille mercis for translating Marie-Francoise's first letter.
You are prompting us to add our own translation to one or more of the beautifully poetic lines written by Tante Marie-Francoise. Here are a few remarks or suggestions.

---> “niché”
'nested' in between houses -> in this context, what about 'nestled' ?

---> “château”
In the context of the middle Ages, I would choose the English word 'castle' (medieval castle)

---> “se dessiner”.
When describing shapes, outlines.... se dessiner means “apparaître”
Ex → ... “se dessine à l'horizon” = ... appears on the horizon.
... “se dessinait dans la lumière” = ...was outlined in the light.
Here, “the long musical line” = the outline of Mont Ventoux, seen from a long distance, so, “se dessiner” has the meaning I just described. What about the following suggestion:
'Finally, the assymetric curbs of Mont Ventoux appear as a long musical line in the background'. /
'Finally, in the background, the assymetric ... musical line'.

---> “chacune” (Ces 3 bandes visuelles ont “chacune” leur propre …... )
The word 'each' could go at the beginning of the sentence (emphasis)
'Each' of these visual strips has its own graphism and color'.

---> “inégal” .
Marie-Francoise used “inégal” ( = uneven) to describe the rug (an uneven rug), but I suppose its uneven shape comes from the uneven old clay tiles, as Kristin described them. All comes to the same. Fine!

---> "claire". (un tapis inégal de vieilles tuiles d'argile “claire” ).
The adjectif “claire” applies definitely to the type of clay.
de l'argile “claire” = 'light coloured clay', as opposed to reddish clay, or darker colour clay). So, we have (an uneven rug of) old tiles made from light coloured clay'...
Not sure whether the light coloured clay is the 'off-white' type ( ? ) or...? but no doubt Marie-Françoise knows the answer, specially if the clay is from the region!

---> La dernière bande … “se colore” toujours d'une note bleue ou mauve.
The verb “se colorer” is a reflexive verb.
A reflexive verb in French can often have a similar meaning to a passive in English. Here, I think we've got a good case for a passive (to be + past participle of the verb) → 'is' always 'coloured'... so:
The last relief strip 'is' always 'colored' with notes of blue and mauve.

---> “chacun" son travail, ses... sa... son...”
"chacun" = 'each one' / each person, meaning 'everybody'.
everybody's got their..., their..., their...


Beautifully described setting. Particularly loved the "ballet of the seasons". Looking forward to more.

Jules Greer



Susan B.

I would LOVE to have that painted. The colors, shadows and littled birds would make a very nice picture. Just the shadowing of the buildfing would be perfect.

Edith Schmidt

Looks like that would be fun to paint in a nice earthy palette!
I also love the stories of Daudet
as well as those 2 French films: "My Mother's Castle and "My Father's Glory."
Edie Schmidt, Savannah, Georgia


Hi Fred,
I do agree with the 'jewel' appellation (not just for the sound point of view!)

Dear Jules,
You'll be arriving in France nearly at the same time as the beginning of Spring! Wonderful timing!
Have a great time! If you feel like painting -no doubt you will, the pigeons of the photo might inspire you. Ideally speaking, you might prefer painting 3 white 'doves'... ??? just wondering...
Now, I did read what Gwen said about pigeons and her strong feeling against their destructive activities! She would rather see you painting a gentle robin. Robins are so cute when hopping around the patch you've just been digging, checking the soil (their territory), pecking and pulling worms, enjoying a few seeds and insects... and perching on the top of your spade, on the edge of a large pot or the handle of a watering can.... or hiding under shrubs... Anyhow, pigeons or other birds, or colourful stalls on a local market... or details from the countryside, I'm sure you'll get the right inspiration with whatever you love and suits your mood…
first of all,
I wish you a safe and easy journey!

Hello Cheryl,
about “promis” (se promettre”)
have you been juggling and struggling with the agreement of past participles of French reflexive verbs... c.o.d and indirect object?


Dear Jules,
It is odd that I don't really know you or Kristin, but this process has created such intimacy. Isn't it interesting? So know you are loved and cheered on and celebrated, as a mother, a daughter, a woman, an artist, a loving , generous, courageous woman. And, how these same words apply to your daughter!
Paint awy, dance, sing, laugh and cry, follow your heart and your path. It is magnificent!
Many blessings,


Bonjour from the Alps, where we are on break for a week.

Just before heading out (yesterday), I had my "en-tete" post all lined up and ready to publish... I just wanted to add one more photo (of Tante Marie-Françoise's handwritten text)... and that's it when I realized that I had overlooked (and not translated) one entire page of text! Panick struck, it occured to me to ask readers to translate the page... "surely Newforest will come to the rescue" I thought. "Heck, why not just email her and ask her to do it."...

Well, in panick mode, I did as I usually do: freeze up and not delegate to anyone! (Dumb, dumb, dumb...) And so it's no surprise that all the errors occured on that page (not that they wouldn't have happened had I *days* to translate!

Mille mercis, Newforest, for stepping up to the plate :-)

I hope you enjoyed this "behind the (chaotic) scenes" note -- it's been a good excuse to sneek in to this comments box to say "bonjour" to anyone reading! Thank you for your suggestions, your edits, your community. I hope we will continue to get to know each other, better and better, in the coming years.

I've got three stories from the French Word-A-Day archives lined up for the coming week. Wishing you "bonne lecture" and thanks, as always, for your feedback and for your own stories in response to mine :-)

P.S.: Hi Mom, if you are reading: as you can see -- we made it here safely!

Jules Greer

Hi Honey, I didn't know you were taking the kids to the Alps, did you bring the dog?
Thank God for FRENCH-WORD-A-DAY - or I would never know what is going on in your life. Get out and play, don't sit snuggled in a blanket and write - experience all of the fresh air and beauty...take lots of photo's. Are the kids skiing? I know I have told you before - get up on the mountain with them. I taught you to ski when we lived in Aspen and you were about 9 years old. You can do this. Please continue to communicate with me here in comments if you are not posting 'real-time' on Monday. I can't go an entire week on re-runs...



Cheryl M

How I love reading Marie-Francoise's lettre! Kristin, thank you for sharing your family with all of us. And Jules, bon voyage et bon sejour! I'm looking forward to seeing what you'll paint this time.

Cheryl--the se in se promettre is an indirect object so there is no agreement. You make a promise TO someone.


K, merveilleux--des vacances dans l'Alpes. Le plus important, faites simplement cela qui vous rend heureux, savor les moments entourés votre cher famille. Demain, ici en Virginie, peut-être, une promenade en nos petites mais antiques montagnes, via The Trail Appalachian qui traverse notre ville, mon mari et moi et Maxie le Chien. La vie est bonne ! Merci encore de tous vous faites pour nous, amoureux de la belle France.


A matter of geometry:
"La symétrie" = 'symmetry'

The word in question:
"asymétrique" = 'asymmetric' (NOT assymetric)

Dear Kristin,

I just read your post and realised that once the panick was over and the newsletter completed, the next move was your journey to the Alps, without any delay! The children must have been impatient to leave! No time for you to check and recheck the translation. You had all the good excuses in the world to overlook the 'asymmetric' curbs of Mont Ventoux. Anyway, at that moment, your eyes wouldn't have detected the redundant "s" and the missing "m". When the French "symétrie" and the English 'symmetry' fill your eyes at the same time, I can easily imagine the visual trick... I copied and pasted the word in my post and have no excuse for omitting the correction at the time!

Never mind, you presented Marie-Françoise's enchanting landscape with its beautiful shape, colours, and music to enjoy - the delightful notes in blue and mauve, the long musical line, the ballet of the seasons, the light... Your translation mirrored Aunt Marie-Françoise's poetic vision and that's the essential. So, not to worry. You can sort out the geometry of the word in question & adjust the consonants whenever you like. There is no hurry. You are on holiday!

Bonnes vacances de mi-trimestre - avec beaucoup de neige pour émerveiller et amuser petits & grands!
Profite au maximum de ce séjour en famille dans les Alpes...
Repose-toi bien!

Merci pour tout!

Jules Greer


Nancy Cripe

I just took a lovely break from work (in keeping with the French spirit of remembering to live, not just work) to translate your aunt's text in its entirety in my own fashion. Here's my version. Hope it is useful.

Letters from my Terrace
"Setting the Stage"
"A bit presumptuous, isn’t it, the title I’ve chosen for this series of brief articles from my Provençal village that I promised myself to write? For those in the know, this title evokes Alphonse Daudet’s famous "Letters From My Mill," those charming pages written to his Parisian friends following his move to an authentic Provençal mill near Les Baux-de-Provence.

Without pretending to be a modern Daudet, however, I simply wish to share what I observe from my little “terrasse,” the modest balcony of my village home. It holds little in common with the classic garden terrace. Indeed, it is a simple observation post, nestled among houses stacked in uneven rows beneath the ruins of the village’s medieval castle. On this balcony, I sit throughout the “good season,” from April to September, whenever the tempestuous Mistral isn't blowing.

My little “terrasse,” hardly 10 meters square, opens onto a landscape I find enchanting. In the foreground, piling one upon the other, are the irregular rooftops of the old homes that our house overlooks. From there, the view spills out in a climbing movement over hills sectioned by vineyards. Beyond, far in the background, is etched the long musical line of the asymmetric curves of Mont Ventoux.

Each of the three visual fields has its own graphism and color. That of the rooftop is like an uneven rug of clear, clay roof tiles, highlighted by chimneys. That of the vineyards displays geometric, parallel lines of vine rows, following the curves of the land, in a faux checkerboard effect--austere and scrubbed in winter, green in summer, blazing red in autumn. Far off in the distance, the last field lies cloaked always in notes of blue or mauve. The rocky scales of the Dentelles de Montmirail, followed by the ever-white summit of our "Giant of Provence" add light to the whole scene.

Surveying this landscape from my balcony, I face east, so I bear easy witness to the risings of sun and full moon. The show progresses from left to right, reversing direction at every solstice and making me a spectator to this ballet of the seasons.

From my terrace, I hang over my modest, ancient neighborhood, (a beam in our home is engraved with the date "1311"). The residents of my quarter are primarily descended from old families of modest landholders. Its newer inhabitants are agricultural workers or, most recently, young couples fleeing the city.

The character of the people of this neighborhood is undergoing inexorable change with the gradual departure of the old-timers. Rarely now do I hear the local patois, the Provençale language, spoken, with its tints of local particularities.

Village life follows the general evolution of social custom and habit--each individual now with his or her own work, schedule, car, sport, leisure. With such change comes loss of some of the conviviality of village life. While there remain some good moments of village communality to be sure, there is nothing to rival what I experienced in 1968.

From my perch, the stones talk to me, for they are the keepers of memory. Contemplating my village, I see it again as it once was, with its languor, its security, the feeling of being of one body with it, of being part of one big family.

So there you are, the stage has been set. I invite you to join me again soon for more sharing of these memories, anecdotes, and little narratives of village life today."

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