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Entries from March 2009

la confiture

If this Bollenoise* façade was jam-colored, what flavor would that be? What is your favorite jam or spread (Nutella, chestnut purée... or just plain ol' beurre?) for your morning toast? Leave your answers in the comments box. *from the southern French town of Bollène.

la confiture
(kohn-fee-tyur) noun, feminine
  1. jam

Audio File: Hear the French word confiture in the following example sentence:
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La culture, c'est comme la confiture, moins on en a, plus on l'étale
Culture is like jam, the less you have, the more you spread it.

More on French pronunciation, here.

(Note: This story was written and posted in the summer of 2005)

I walk into the kitchen to find my husband kissing a bottle of vanilla extract. He'd been searching for this key ingredient and, in finding "her" (French vanilla is undeniably feminine), was overcome with emotion.

The cupboards are wide-open, baring their spiced, sugared and cereal-boxed souls. The sink is full and the countertops have disappeared under a bumpy rug of lemons, figs, odd jars and cooking utensils. A toy helicopter, some binoculars and a map of the French Alps figure into this chaotic scene, inviting the question, "What's wrong with this picture?" On the stove top four casseroles quiver and spit.

Confiture If real French men make confiture* they don't seem to wear aprons. Mine's got on a bright orange T-shirt which reads "Châteauneuf-du-Pape" and which does not coordinate with his two-tone swim trunks in teal and gris.*

My eyes dart back to the storm of ingredients and imposters scattered across the counter. "Do you know what you are doing?" I say, concerned.
"Non," Jean-Marc answers, casually, and with a smile. With that, he picks up a carton of sugar and swirls the downpour over the bubbling, frothing fruit.

If I were the one making jam, I'd have scoured the sink, cleared and disinfected the countertops, scrubbed the figs. I'd have worn a shower cap, a stopwatch and a furrowed brow. I'd have taken the phone off the hook and lined up all the needed utensils by order of appearance before hyperventilating over a well lit, perfectly propped open cookbook. But then, I would never get around to putting together such a perfect environment in which to make perfect jam. That's why Jean-Marc is le confiturier* around here: he gets things done.

I look around our imperfect kitchen, to the messy counter, where my eyes focus on the cookbook which has been tossed aside, landing face down. Jean-Marc is not even consulting the recipe. There is not a scale, a measuring cup or spoon in sight. He is cooking au pif* again, guessing his way through the jam-making process. But will the result be any good? It will if last year's batch is any indication and besides--quelle* question! I have lived the answer... crowding the cupboards in anticipation--collecting odd jars and their matching lids (after speed-eating through the contents). In addition, I have crawled out from beneath our fig tree, my legs en compote*, my hair a nest of fig droppings (the tree's branches having teased it to heights and gnarls no fine-tooth comb could achieve), my knees scratched, my skin aflame (itching would follow), to arrange the harvest in a two-tiered basket at the feet of our Maître* Confiturier.  Ah, the things a sous-chef does for lovely confiture!

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--always appreciated. Share them in the comments box, for all of us to enjoy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~Enrich your French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~

la confiture (f) = jam; gris = grey; le confiturier (la confiturière) = jam maker; au pif = by guesswork; quelle = what a; en compote = tired (legs); le maître (la maîtresse) = master

Expressions: faire des confitures = to make jam
donner de la confiture aux cochons = to throw pearls before swine

La vérité n'est pas faite pour consoler comme une tartine de confitures qu'on donne aux enfants qui pleurent. Il faut la rechercher, voilà tout, et écarter de soi ce qui n'est pas elle. Truth is not made to console like the buttered bread with jam that we give to children who cry. You have to look for it, that's all, and distance from yourself all that is not (truth). --Gustave Flaubert

"Porte Costerouze" (photo taken in February 2009, in Tulette).

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Door curtains add to the charm of Provence (here, in Mirabel aux Baronnies)... more about doors in today's story column. All photos & text © Kristin Espinasse

Next Meet-up! If you are near Houston on 03/25 and 03/26, you are very welcome to join Jean-Marc for one of his wine tastings 

frapper (frah-pay) verb
  1. to knock, to slap, to hit, strike; to make an impression on, to affect, to move (emotionally)

(Note: The following story was written in 2005)

My son and my daughter have taped the following message to their bedroom doors:
(Knock before entering!)

This request for privacy came as a surprise. I would have expected the panneau* at 14 or 16 -- but at 7 and 9 years old?

I didn't care about privacy when I was their age. I shared a room and a bed with my soeur aînée.* My sister didn't seem concerned about privacy either -- only propreté.*

"Did you take a bath today?" was her main concern each night before I climbed into my side of the bed. "Did you use soap?"

My need for privacy came much later; somewhere between bidding adieu* to the States and shacking up with a Frenchman. It would take a while to realize that I needed a place to go, une arrière boutique* as Montaigne says, to replenish my spirit. So much friction with another people -- constantly absorbing "their way" while slowly stamping out one's own habits wears away at a part of the soul.

I could have used a "Frappez avant d'Entrer" sign on my door when I moved to France: more time and privacy as I sorted through the novel ways of this new people, the French, adopting those moeurs* that suited me, while honoring, polishing the habits that had worked well up till now. The "Frapper" sign would have come in handy. The problem was that I shared that door with un Français.* A very social and outgoing one at that.

His friends and family frapped* at an alarming rate. When they weren't stopping by, they were making plans to: "Oui! Passe au début de l'après-midi. On est là!" my fiancé would say.

I would think to myself: "Who was THAT on the phone? Did he DATE her? Just exactly what time IS 'the beginning of the afternoon?' anyway?"

The phone would ring and I would overhear, "Oui, ce soir -- ça marche. Allez, à tout à l'heure!"

"Why did you say 'à tout à l'heure' when you just told them tonight? Isn't tonight several hours away and not 'at the top of the hour'?"

But to this day, the visits that frap* me the most, are the "stop bys" or "Les imprévus".* You know, the TOC TOC TOC's* that have you running for the broom, shoving désordre* into the hall closet. Not that the dust and the clutter matter that much.

At that moment, paused before the peephole of the porte d'entrée,* trying to catch your breath, the pertinent question that we all ask ourselves, finally, is a universal one:

"Did you take a bath today?"

Comments, corrections, or stories of your own--always welcome and appreciated. Please use the comments box.

.......................Enrich your French Vocabulary.............................
un panneau (m) = a sign; la soeur aînée (f) = older sister; la propreté (f) = cleanliness; adieu = goodbye! farewell!; une arrière boutique (f) = a back room; les moeurs (fpl) = customs, lifestyle; un Français = a Frenchman; frapped = (Franglais) knocked; frap = (Franglais ) hit; imprévu = unexpected; toc toc toc = knock knock knock; le désordre (m) = mess; la porte d'entrée (f) = front door
Audio File Listen to my son, Max, read the following expressions in French: 
Download Frapper (Wav)
Download Frapper (MP3)

être frappé = to be crazy
frapper d'un droit (d'une amende) = to levy a tax (a fine) on
frapper l'imagination = to fire the imagination
frapper à la bonne porte = to knock on the right door
frapper les yeux = to attract attention
frapper du pied = to stamp one's feet, to get angry
une faute de frappe = a typo (a typing error)

Your turn to add a caption to the photo! How would you name this one? (Taken in the town of Villedieu). Write your caption in the comments box. Merci beaucoup.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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