la routine


Serre Chevalier 160-1
A roof over one's head in the town of Monêtier les Bains (French Alps). photo © Kristin Espinasse

Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living My Dream
I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany
Songs in French for Children
including Alouette, Sur le Pont d'Avignon, Claire Fontaine, Prom'non Nous dans les Bois...
In French music: Serge Lama

Today's French Word

anodin(e) (ano-dehn, ano-deen) adjective

    : harmless; innocuous; insignificant, trivial

Audio File: hear today's word and example sentence:
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Ces plantations modestes, le plus souvent des géraniums, sont l'occasion de conversations anodines entre voisins. These modest plantings, the most often, geraniums, are the occasion for easy conversation among neighbors.

Un petit mot from Kristin...
Today, in regards to this edition, we are going to delegate! You will choose the word and you get to translate Monday's French story (she says, putting up her feet and feeling the first tingling sensation of freedom--or just plain bossiness!).

The first person I am going to pick on is Jim who, unbeknownst to him, has already done his share of the work (and is now officially off the hook, but the rest of you are not, so stay with us)....

I read Jim's words last night, in the comments box, and his thoughts both inspired today's word... and got me thinking about the day's question. In regards to my aunt's most recent story (posted in French on Monday) Jim writes:

The word in Tante Marie-Françoise's piece that caught my eye was "anodin" ("conversations anodines"); a similar-looking word in English is "anodyne", which refers to pain-killers or analgesics. Is innocent, "safe" conversation a pain-killer?

Great question. Now tell us what you think, dear reader : does a little bit of conversation légère minimize our malaise? Or would you rather be all alone in your pain and suffering (opting to come out of the cave and talk at the "break of a new day")? Do you have any examples of how la conversation is good for le coeur? Or do you wish people would just shut up! (se taire!) when you are smarting with pain. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, here.

PS: If that question is just too deep, here's another: What was the topic of your latest conversation? (Mine: work... "Jean-Marc, would you please help me with the sound file?" Jean-Marc "Later. I'm waiting for the consulting enologist to arrive."). Leave your answer here.

Now, back to delegation... I am assigning the translation of Marie-Françoise's latest article to anyone who might enjoy translating it. Thank you for sharing your English rendition of "La Routine" in the comments box, for all to enjoy!

As for me, la délégatrice, I've got beds to make, a patio to sweep, flower pots to primp... and one larger-than-life Mom to greet at the Marseilles airport tomorrow. Hip, hip, hurray ...and "See you" on Friday!

*     *     *

I stole this photo from my Mom's blog. Here she is, having sweet-talked yet another complete stranger into giving her a ride to the playground. As many of you know, Mom dropped out of the rat race years ago. So far (never mind bankruptcy & a double mastectomy) she hasn't had to look back... as long as she keeps busy looking skyward.

Book recommendation: I don't usually understand sarcastic wit or cynicism, but Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell and The Butterfly really touched me. Read the book in one night, or take the time to appreciate Bauby's thoughtful prose, one or two mini-chapters a day. (I haven't yet seen the movie. Have you?)


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


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My last conversation was about the possible uses of maple syrup! :)

Debbie Chavers

Conversation, yes, sharing a time of listening can be balm to a world weary mind.

The picture of your mom reminds me of a beautiful opened to the sun,pink peony. What zest for life!


Dear Jules!
We are travelling this evening and will fly to Biarritz on Friday. Before I switch off my laptop, I'd like to wish you a very good journey and a wonderful time in La Provence with Kristin, Jean-Marc, Max, Jackie.... and neighbours!

Merci encore, Tante Marie-Françoise, for your very enjoyable "Lettres de ma terrasse".

Best wishes to you, Kristin! Thank you for all your efforts and creativity. "Bonne continuation" with your Weekly Photo Supplement!
... and of course, wishing Jean-Marc a successful Wine Tour!!!

No internet for a while... so I'll have quite a lot to catch up when I'm back!


I saw the movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, then read the book. Both were very moving and made me think about my view of life and how we view others. Definately worth reading.

Betty Bailey

My last conversation was with my daughter about our grandson Nicky and what fun he is, especially when he’s happily on spring break from school. Nicky has Trisomie 21 but gets along just fine. At lunch yesterday while he was high on his favorite food, pizza, the whole family had to play his “copycat” game of “doing what Nicky does” whether its rubbing the tummy with a verbal “yum-yum” or synchronizing our bite-taking. I added a picture to my Facebook page from our outing. And Jules! What a beautiful, spirited lady, and I’m so happy to have her as a friend on Facebook.


Newforest: I'm sure everyone joins me in wishing you bon voyage. We'll miss you while you're away! XOXO (as Jules would add).

Betty: please tell Nicky that pizza is a favorite of ours too. We'll have to try the rub-the-tummy-yum-yum copycat game. I trust pizza tastes even better when one puts one's all into it.


anodin, if it is anodyne, might translate as 'banal.'


My last conversation ( other than small talk) concerned volunteering to feed a group of poor children and their parents and spend an evening talking with them and holding a devotion. The jist of the conversation was that this is so important, so needed; but that, sadly, this service is only one miniscule drop in the bucket compared to the many in need. The part that brought tears to our eyes was how starved the children were for a hug and some praise and attention as well as for food.


My attempt at translation:

Letters From My Balcony


All the houses on the street in the neighborhood have the same architecture: stairs on the side consisting of four or five steps which lead to a small stoop before the front entrance. Thus, the houses are slightly elevated as the basement consists of ancient cellars which are often dug into the rock. In the past, it was here that one made wine, right under the dining room! Even now one can enter into this cubbyhole via a minuscule door at the bottom of the street. Gymnastics guaranteed!

On the stoops there is a protective screen and it is a tradition to decorate it with flowery plants. These modest plants, usually geraniums, provide an opportunity for casual conversation between neighbors . . . as we shall see!

It's summer and, as we know, older people get up early . . . and even more early when the weather is good and when the sun and the birds are also early risers.

My daughter Audrey, who is 10 at the time, is on vacation and has no reason to get up at the crack of dawn. One day, just as I had finished downing my coffee, I see her coming down from the bedroom floor, with a sullen face. I am intrigued and question her as to this early morning awakening. "But mom, didn't you hear the neighbors?"

"Yes, I know that they sweep the stairs every morning and then throw a pail of water on them." "But you see they repeat the same old story with their flowers." "Really, I hadn't noticed that."

We remain silent and, in fact, the two old, neighboring grannies are engaged in a conversation from one yard to the other.

"Say, Francoise, my flowers? . . . I watered them yesterday . . . it isn't worth it to water them today as well . . . because . . . well . . . if I had not watered them yesterday . . . I would water them today . . . but since I watered them yesterday . . . ."

"That's right, Lucienne, I did not water mine yesterday, that is why I am watering them today . . . but tomorrow . . . me . . . I will not water them."

"You heard that"! says Audrey in exasperation, "they ask themselves the same question every morning and I am sure that tomorrow it will be Francoise who will ask Lucienne if she needs to water her plants or not!"

In order to hide my mad laughter, I leave to warm up some milk; I bring some butter and some freshly toasted bread. I say:

"Say, Audrey, your toast, I buttered it yesterday . . . it isn't worth it to butter it today as well . . . because . . . well . . . "

A huge smile finally lights up the face of my sweetheart; she gives me kiss and sets herself down before the piping hot bowl.

"Sometimes routine serves us well, sweetheart!"


My last conversation was with a very dear friend of 20 years who is leaving Seattle. She is trying to get everything organized for a big move to Mesa, AZ in May. She will be retiring there and living with her sister. I hope she is as happy as Jules after all is settled.

Jacqui McCargar

Here goes....

All the houses in the street of the neighborhood have the same architecture: a side staircase of four or five steps that go to a small porch at the door. The houses are slightly elevated because in the basement there is an ancient cave often carved into the rock. Once this was where the wine was made under the dining room! You enter in this reduced even, tiny door flush with the street, gymnastics Guarantee!

On small porches there is a protective grid and it is traditionally garnished with a few flowering plants. These small plants, mostly geraniums, are occasions to innocuous conversations between neighbors ... as we will see!

It's summer, the elderly, you know, get up early ... and even earlier in summer when the sun and birds are also very morning friendly.

My daughter Audrey, then 10 years, is on vacation and has no reason to lift the aurora. One morning, my coffee just swallowed, I see off the floor of the my rooms renfrognée. It intrigues me and I asked about the reason for the morning alarm clock.

"But Mom, you do not hear the neighbors?"
"I know that every morning they sweep the stairs and then throw a bucket of water."
"But you'll see they are still telling the same old story for their flowers."
"Really, I did not notice ..."

We do listen in silence and, in fact, the two neighboring grannies engage in a conversation local talk of a sidewalk to another.

"Say, Francoise, my flowers ... I have watered yesterday ... it's not worth the waste of water that I still water today ... because ... well ... if I had not watered yesterday ... I'll water them today ... but as I watered yesterday ...."

"Yes, Lucienne, I've not watered yesterday, that's why I the water today ... but tomorrow ... me ... I am not watering.

Did you hear! Audrey irritated, they ask the same question every morning and I am sure that tomorrow Françoise Lucienne asks whether or not to water the flowers!

To hide my crazy-laugh, I go to heat the milk, I bring the butter and bread just toasted. I run:

"Say, Audrey, your toast, I buttered yesterday ... it's not worth the butter that I still today ... because ... well ...

A smile finally illuminates the face of my beloved; m'embrasse she then moved to the smoking bowl.

"Sometimes the routine is good my dear!"

Jacqui McCargar

Don't remember the topic...inconsequential I guess.. thanks for the town of memories are mostly of the Coliseum when I visited in 2004 on my first trip to France.


Mille mercis, Divya, and Jacqui, for offering the first two translations. What a pleasure to read our Aunt's story in English, too!

Keep those translations coming!

Charlie: thanks for the translation for today's word (I was going to say "banal" translation but that's not at all what I mean!).

Jenni Middleton

I have seen the movie version of "Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and do highly recommend it! The cinematography is fantastic...Do read the book FIRST...and try to get a french version or the subtitled enlish translation will drive you nuts as his vocal interpreters spell out each word...

Jeana Hurst

I saw the movie and really enjoyed it. I read later that there was some controversy in how the various family members and mistress were portrayed in the movie. For me the heroine was the therapist who spent so much time devoted to him. His determination and her commitment enabled him to communicate.

Johanna DeMay

Kristin, you have been holding out on us! Your mother has a blog?!?You've already built a big fan base for her, so why not give us the link, and share her with us more directly? I love your stories about her - we are the same generation, both artists, and we both have lovely, talented daughters - young moms raising two kids and living joyously. Your stories about the two of you sound awfully familiar - I can just see my own girl rolling her eyes at me!

So enjoy her visit, give Jules my greetings, and please post a link to her site!

Johanna DeMay (Albuquerque, NM)

Michael Armstrong

Kristin: these easy conversations between neighbors are certainly trivial but I doubt they are inconsequential, and rather than thinking of them as relieving pain solely(which they doubtlessly might
do), aren't they also part of the glue that keeps us together? Part of the experience of sharing the joy of la vie quotidienne? As such I suspect they are very consequential. Des conversations anodynes, oui, mais pourtant importante.


Merci Divya et Jacqui for the translations. As a retired teacher I was feeling guilty not helping with the translating. You took that away and I will now enjoy the rest of my day.

Devra Long

Just got home from a yoga workshop where the conversation was about living balanced lives and eating well.
Have a wonderful time with Jules (I send a big hug to her) and can't wait to hear about your adventures together! I join Johanna in asking for the link to Jules'blog!


Bonjour Kristin,
Finished reading your book, what a pleasure that was, another one coming up?
I wanted to share my thoughts about le coeur. I personally can't keep my pain inside, I just need to tell someone, I feel so much better when someone listened, heard me. I am fortunate to have my husband who is absolutely my best friend, and of course God. God always was there for me, heard my cry, He is a Living God. Anyone who has a heavy heart, Bring it to the Lord,!!!!!
I wish you Kristin to have a wonderful time with you MOM, she is an amazing woman.
Your family is in my prayers.

Edith Schmidt

The film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is very well done. It's filmed through the eyes of the patient. It is hard to watch at times, but certainly worth watching!
The French actor who plays the lead inhabits the part.



But of course, meeting and chatting with friends, coworkers, even strangers is of benefit to us. First, it forces our internal preoccupation with self to also accept the everyday perspective of others - their conversation leavens our perception of reality, so that we see the commonality in experience and reaction to things good and bad. There are also important neurochemical checks and balances between brain centers that are 'pinged' by interaction with others, such that we derive pleasure and good will from simple exchange of words. This conditions us towards altruism and away from immature self interest, and that has implication in our willingness to follow through in responsible and mature action within family and community struture.

We humans are a social animal; our time spent in company has its rewards, but they are sweetest where we share values and value the words of others.

Thus, even virtual communication can influence our hardwiring, reinforcing social empathy and positive neural feedback that keeps us connected to others.

And that is very good for body and soul.

Vivienne Mackie

Thanks for another thought-provoking post, and thanks to tante for her post yesterday---and for the translations.
Yes, I think that banal conversations can help relieve pain (physical or emotional)---mostly because they help you keep your mind off that pain; they divert your attention briefly, and help you focus on something other than yourself.
Happy reunion with your mom----she sounds like a real 'character". Go Jules!

Ron Adams

Hi Kristin!

Got you book today from Amazon and the intro is spot on! "Over-Air-conditioned Office"..

yup..the story there is that I had just returned from living in Germany for the last 5 years. Last thing I was used to was Arizona heat!

I understand your culture shock and my wife has gone through the same emotions when we return to Munich.

When's the next book??!!

Karen from Phoenix, AZ

Martina, I welcome your friend to our sunny state of Arizona. May will be hot but tell her it is a dry heat.

Kristin, I too wish you and Jules a whole of fun together.

All the best.

Sue O'Donnell

I miss your French life adventure vignettes. I thought your website was much better when it wasn't a blog-type thing with comments, etc. I miss your sensitive observations. Amitiés, Sue

Bruce T. Paddock

Bravo, Fred!

As a noun, the English "anodyne" means "something that relieves pain," as you said, and as an adjective it means "pain-relieving." But the adjective also means "relaxing" and "innocuous." The connections we're finding among the three meanings, in English and French, are marvelous.


I have seen the movie, I enjoyed it very much. It had more humor and beauty than one would expect, given the subject matter.

Jill Leach

I saw "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" a year ago and found it such a marvellous story of persistance in the face of adversity especially on the part of the beautiful young therapist.As a member of a French Club in Australia,I recommended it to others...the reaction was amazing!Not all could sit through the experience and questioned how I could.I disagreed vehemently with them.


Could another translation of "conversations anodines" entre voisins be "chit-chat" between neighbors?



Thanks to those who translated the story - and especially to your aunt for writing it! I love a "deep" look into an everyday conversation!

I read "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" a few months ago, and never had I savored each and every written word so much!

I can't wait to read the stories of your visit with Jules - hello to you! - and I'm looking forward to the wine tasting with Jean-Marc in NYC on Monday!


Roslyn Rawls

I've seen "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" but I have not yet read the book. The movie was very beautifully filmed.


The film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is touching. Truly wrenches the heart in some parts. Look forward to reading the book.

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