In the town of Violès (Vaucluse)  

rencontre (rahn kontr) noun, feminine

    : encounter, meeting (of persons); duel, skirmish
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

(Note: The following post was written in 2009)

Jules made it from Mexico to Marseilles yesterday! On the way out of the airport terminal, Mom and I stopped along the tree-lined sidewalk to gather handfuls of grapefruit-size cones that the parasol pines had dropped onto the parking lot. Like that, our treasure hunt has begun and I'm excited thinking about where the next eight weeks will take us, as Mom and I help each other to see France through one another's eyes.

Speaking about seeing France, here is a letter that Jules wrote just hours before she left Mexico. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have.

A note about grammar and syntax (whatever that last one means): Mom is pouting in the corner as I prepare to post her unedited letter (I threw my hands up in the air, in despair, after the third run-on sentence, at which point I quit fixing things). Mom's just nervous about grammar, and thinks she's going to sound really dumb compared to some of the blog commenters (she cites "Newforest" and "Intuit" among others). Because Mom was thrown out of school at 16, she has a huge inferiority complex over her composition skills (having daydreamed through every English class). That said, I did reserve the right to edit out just one word (I replaced "interrupter" with "interpreter". I still don't know whether that was a Freudian slip on the part of Mom, but I don't like being referred to as an interrupter! Read on, in Mom's letter.

My Dearest Marie-Francoise,
I have waited since last week for the translation of your beautiful story. What a delightful surprise for me this morning. How generous of you to let us into a moment of your life in your beautiful village.  I wonder if everyone knows how famous your village is, perhaps Kristi can post a link.  Your wine is world famous! Whenever someone asks me where I am going to be in France I always say "Have you ever heard of "Chateauneuf-de-Pape? I'll be almost next door in a little village about 15 minutes north." 

I'll never forget the first time I visited your lovely home and vineyard, and your amazing wine cellar located in another area of the village.  Wine barrels of old wood the size of little French Citroen.  A treasured memory forever.
IMG_1648 I actually had a beautiful rencontre with a little old woman as Kristi and I were climbing up the ancient pathway to your house two years ago.  The first thing I noticed as we came around the corner were her bright red geraniums, then, as my eyes settled on what clippings I could swipe, my eye was drawn to her black and white checked tile floor with the little curtain of beads blocking my way.

IMG_1645 A few "Coo-coo's, are you there Darling?" and I had my new friend pulled from her morning chores in the back of her house, out in the courtyard explaining to my interpreter (Kristi) what treasures her garden held.  Kristi, do you think you could find that photo of us when she gifted me with the antique pot and plant that now resides in your office. Didn't we name that darling little plant "Rachel"?
My goodness am I off-track on today's subject, sitting here typing when I should be packing.  My little helper "Adela" has been ironing all of my little Mexican poncho's and now she is threatening me with the vacuum noise to get off this computer. Back to today's topic, "Little old ladies in the morning - preparing their entrances for another day in Provence Paradise."
I can remember when I spent almost a month in Marseilles with my husband John and my Mom Audrey, preparing for Kristi and Jean-Marc's wedding.  Jean-Marc found us a little guest house close to Vieux Port.  Each morning I would step out of the bedroom through a french door onto a lovely patio even larger than our bedroom.  This patio hovered over the street on the side of Marseilles beautiful hills.  John had arranged all of my paints and easel, along with a comfortable chair.  As I sipped my early morning "Pastis" (those days are long gone), I became fascinated with the different styles each woman demonstrated as she prepared her front entrance for the day.  The lady I was most drawn to was always dressed to the nines (heels too!) but her demeanor shouted drill Sargent attacking, attacking, attacking the steps with her broom and then scrubbing like the plague had passed her door the night before.  I continued to sip my pastis and watch the village unfold.

A few mornings later I abandoned my work and joined the fray to become one of the people in my painting.  My Mother thought I was nuts talking to everyone, continually telling me to 'settle down". My John just smiled and winked.  Throughout this visit I managed to meet most of the people on MY STREET, and even drift down to the docks and meet all of the fishermen. The woman who has remained forever in my memories was a little old lady directly across from my "studio" who encouraged me to become her assistant as we went from station to station each morning feeding the wild cats of the hills above our street.  After our work we would return to her little ground floor studio apartment, me to lie on her bed in the kitchen while she prepared me one of her many little treats each day as my reward for packing the water and food up the hills.  After my rest I moved onto the next neighbor, securing her German Shepard, so I could pretend I was a French lady walking my dog around the secret side streets of this vivid and famous city.  I will never forget the surprise in my little lady's voice when I called her 6 months later from Arizona.  She recognized my voice and I chatted on in English, she in French, as our tears of joy in real friendship trailed down our cheeks. 
COMO TALLY CHATS??? One of my first French phrases....
I was invited into many of the homes of Marseilles over the next month, sampling in love and friendship, experiencing the true hospitality of the French. I will always treasure these memories, especially walking Kristi down the isle in my black tuxedo.
Of course my Darling Jean-Marc found out that his future mother-in-law wasn't ready for the rock'in chair as I entered his life full blast.  Poor Jean-Marc had no idea what a woman (who had been divorced for 25 years--independent to the hilt) from the wild, wild west was like. As I have mentioned before, Jean-Marc and I have crossed over many torrential rivers together, I'm sure I was not what he had in mind, but I now occupy a giant part of his heart - a woman he lovingly started calling MOM about 5 years ago.
Time to finish packing - I'll see you all soon in our beautiful FRANCE. 

*     *     *
If you enjoyed Mom's letter, you might leave her a note in the comments box. Mille mercis!


In the French town of Violès... photo © Kristin Espinasse

Audio File: Download Rencontre * Download Rencontre-mp 3 
Toute culture naît du mélange, de la rencontre, des chocs. A l'inverse, c'est de l'isolement que meurent les civilisations. All cultures are born out of mingling, meetings and clashes. Conversely, civilizations die from isolation. --Octavio Paz

Mille mercis to Divya, Jacqui, Ally, and Leslie (and anyone I might have missed) for translating Marie-Françoise's story. You'll find their versions (in American and English) in the "routine" and "anodin" comments boxes!

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