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


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Bonjour, Jules - enfin! You have arrived in la belle France. I am thoroughly, completely, totally, and in all ways JEALOUS! We have followed your posts of eager anticipation to be w/your beloved family and are tres happy for you that you have arrived and can look forward to 8 weeks of discovering France in all its beauty. I spent a month in Aix last September and all I can think of to get back!

What is French about the town of Violes photo? First of course, le bicyclette! Interesting saddlebags across the rear wheel. Must find some for my bike. Then the embroidered lace curtains on the left window and dig those GORGEOUS aqua bleu shutters (ma couleur favorie). the red "boucherie" sign is fun--I imagine the angled "u" as a grande bouche opening up for the delights that can be found inside ...drools. Aussi, les fleurs de soleil (just looked it up: les tournesols) in the window. I am inspired by this photo to make a trip to our Roanoke City Market in the beautifully preserved downtown area and snap a few photos myself. Then a walk on a portion of the Appalachian Trail which winds its way nearby. It is a beautiful sunny day here, and le calendrier dites: "Le Premier jour de Printemps." La vie est bonne. Bonne journee a tout.

Jan Patterson

Bravo Jules! Loved your letter. It's heartfelt sentiments were just what I needed to start my day here in Wisconsin. Dreaming of France. Thank you!
Ps...never mind grammar.....unpruned thoughts are better said without the constraints of formality!


What a beautiful post, Jules -- a delightful read! Bonne adventure avec votre famille! XOXO, Diane.

Debbie Chavers

ENCORE! ENCORE! Clapping loudly, for more, more! I feel as though I have visited trailing along beside you.

Hoping for future installments of said adventures.


le calendrier dit...


You have a gift-- the ability to put experiences in to words to share with others. All great writers have editors-- they are the ones who fix the grammar. But most editors are not great writers. Remember if you can paint, you can write. Same thing, different medium.

Michael Armstrong

Jules, I greatly enjoyed your story and your description of your time in Marseille and friendships formed. But especially I enjoyed your description of the growth of your relationship with Jean-Marc as it reminded me of my relationship with my mother-in-law who died last year at 91 (you and I are the same age). You should not worry about your grammatical skills; I have graded many college compositions (usually in French) and yours is excellent. While of course it could be technically polished you manage to capture and convey a sense of time and place with your descriptive prose; writing is an art, after all, so write on. Bonne continuation!


Jules, I want to thank you for your beautiful letter, rich is so much imagery. You have truly painted a charming picture through your words and brought a smile to my face on this cold Friday morning in Toronto. Please continue to write. You truly have a knack for it. I look forward to reading more of your colourful, caleidoscopic prose.


loved your post....I have a french son-in-law too (as of 1 yr ago) and he is wonderful....i only hope he feels the same about me....i'm a lifelong francofile & feel like my dreams have come true.....enjoy your voyage...sante

Annette Heat

Bonjour Jules, Merci beaucoup pour votre lettre; c'est merveilleuse! May your visit to France include a little time to write to us encore.....sharing your wonderful talent of describing each and every thing you enjoy. It is a feast for the mind. We see it through your eyes. Merci Madam, Annette

Angela Sargent

What a lovely letter to paint a really vivid picture and it made me smile.
Have a lovely stay in France with your family.I look forward to reading more of your posts.I was in Normandy last weekend,will be back there at Easter and then off to Cognac in June - can't go often enough! A Bientot.


Great story, Jules! It's now obvious where your daughter gets her ability to spin a yarn. I'm sure you are all having the time of your lives. Amusez-vous bien!


Don't let Kristi pick on you about your grammar and run-on sentences. I'm guilty of the same English foibles. I loved your description of the people and places of France. It is easy to visualize you in your big straw hat and colorful ponchos, quickly making friends out of strangers. Keep on writing and sharing your vacation. Oh and PLEASE share some of your paintings.


Loved, loved, loved your letter! Keep them coming.


What a darling effervescent post! You truly capture your observations and memories and share them with us. Please do not be self-conscious about your writing. It would deprive us all of a delightful read.



You are such an interesting person and lead such an interesting life. I WANT TO BE YOU!

Kelly Bower

What a beautiful story!! I hope your next two months in France are on par with the excellence of this visit. (And Kristi, I think her style of writing befits the memoir perfectly. Are not our memories one big run-on sentence?) Merci beaucoup, Jules!!


You write as beautifully as your daughter! What I would give for a pen-pal (or email pal) like you!

Enjoy your time in France with Kristi, Jean-Marc and the kids!

SarahT in Paris

Diana Porter

You two are so wonderfully lucky to still have each other in your lives, that it brings tears to my eyes as I remember my own lovely, articulate and vibrant mother.


Dear Jules,
You must never feel inferior again about your writing style! Your ability to paint a beautiful picture with words is real, and your ability to embrace anyone you meet, be it online or in real life, is a true gift. (Now, how's THAT for a run-on sentence!?)

One day, we will be in Provence at the same time, and I will look frward to meeting you.

Barb in Nolensville, TN

Jules: To echo "Katie's" sentiments above, please never, ever feel inferior about your writing again! The room around me grew fragrant and warm as I read your letter. I WAS in France. Perhaps you'll be the next one to publish a book??? (Illustrated with your paintings?)


As always Jules--beautiful sentiments from a beautiful woman! Enjoy your time with Kristi!



So wonderful Jules!!! You exude charisma, in your art, words, style. The sparkle in your eyes that is evident, even in photographs. I imagine it is quite captivating in person. No wonder people are drawn to you, just like moths to a beautiful light. You are truly one of a kind!!! Big hugs... Your Facebook pal, Chrissi


I am jealous of your two months with your lovely daughter. My situation is the opposite, I am living in Paris for two years and my daughter, who just turned 40 and her 8 yr old son will arrive in two weeks but will stay sadly for only one! We will treasure every minute as you will your two months worth! Jeanne
I loved your story and Kristi's pictures of you!

Sharon Risser

Wow!You can write,Jules! I am joining in your fan-mail. Your old friend in Les Arcs, Sharon



Jo Ellen Brainin-Rodriguez

Dear Jules-So enjoyed your post! I can practically smell the ironing, hear the vaccum and see the sights of the walks you went on. Thanks so much for sharing!
Jo Ellen

Susan Strick

Jules, you are not only a terrific writer but a true inspiration. the joy of being wherever we are lies in being our truest selves while there. sight unseen i would choose you as a travelling companion to go with anywhere in the world!


Jules, you radiate love, joy, fun, and adventure in your writing. But what I want to know is this: do you need another daughter? If so, I am first in line.


Dear Jules,

Your letter brings back memories of the eight weeks I spent last summer in Marseille. I had only studied French a short time, so I went armed with ma diccionaire electronique!! Like you, I was a little concerned about my grammar, but I soon found the French to be very happy to help!!!

I stayed in the home of a friend who lives on the Corniche Kennedy with a view of La Chateau d'If. Three mornings a week I'd take the number 83 bus to the Vieux Port, where I'd then transfer to another bus that took me up the Vauban to the atelier of Tiennick Kerevel, where I had private lessons d'aquarelle. It was my first watercolor class, and I learned everything in French!!!.

I spent my days exploring the town so loved by Marcel Pagnol, and I spent many evenings exchanging language lessons with a local French teacher while we took long walks along the sea or through Parc Valmer.

Like you, I made many friends, both American and French. I email them all on a regular basis, and I feel as though Marseille has become a second home. I plan on returning soon, and a couple of my French friends have already visited me for a visit along the California coast.

Marseille is a magical place!!!!

Thanks for sharing your letter.


Lynette Simser


You are talented with words and with a paintbrush! Enjoy your visit and thank you for sharing your lovely letter.


wambui ng

Jules you're back!Always enjoy reading of your trip and all the fun you get into much to Kristi's 'chagrin'!:) It's good to hear you're still having fun and will spice up life chez Kristi and Jean-Marc. Green with envy, can only imagine what a blast it'll be. Enjoy your visit and look forward to reading all that you get into..bikes already?!! I remember the bicycle from last year I think. Cheers!!


Jules--there is NO need to worry about your composition skills; you tell a beautiful story and repaint memories in a warm, vivid way. Your own warmth shines through very attractively. Write often!!

Kerry Ann

Jules, Thank you for sharing the wonderful painting of Marseilles life with your lovely words. Glad to know you won over your French son-in-law, that is truly beautiful. Merci, Kerry Ann

Bre Charles

Very poetic... Something from the heart never needs structure, but freedom and grace and you my dear have that in spades.

gretel write from the heart and with your arms open wide to the world! It is a messy and imperfect wonderful world where speling (oops) and grammar mistakes are all part of moving through and experiencing as much as you possibly can...don't worry about "interrupting" daughters as they just add to the fun! Enjoy your holiday with your family!

Don't you just love the sound of beads enticingly covering a doorway "shushing" as you sashay entering into a new world where only that sound exists for a moment....

Fred Caswell

Dear "Jewels",

Approaching age 82 with a varied background of experiences (including 23 years as a public school educator and earning 2 post bachelor degrees) I can't count the number of times people with less than a formal education have wowed me with their achievements.

Your lifestyle and capacities astound me. It has been said that love is the opposite of fear. Your apparent fearlessness and unlimited love clearly prove the validity of that statement. You enrich the lives of those you rencontres.


PS Love the "Boo" Cherie!!!

Christine Dashper

Thank you Jules, for sharing that wonderful story. I was able to imagine it so clearly. As always you are inspirational.

I hope you and Kristin have the most fantastic time while you are visiting again, enjoy!

I am soon to be packing my bags to come to France myself, yipeee!!!

Everything in that photo is sooo French, I love it.

warmest wishes,

teresa stiffler

VIVA, Jules ! Teresa


Bravo, Jules! Your artistic talents extend beyond the canvas, rest assured! I so enjoyed your letter and the warmth and feeling it exuded with each passing word. When it comes to Kristin's gift for writing, it is so easy to see that the apple did not fall far at all from the tree! Many thanks to both of you for sharing your lives and hearts with those of us who live near and far. You all are such an inspiration to find the joys in our own daily lives. I hope that you have a wonderful sojourn in France. My best to all of you!

Sandy Maberly

Jules, you have the enviable gift of enjoying the minute details of a scene, making friends for the sheer joy of the experience and the ability to communicate using a language of the heart, in spite of the barrier of spoken words. It is wonderful for all of us to see life through your eyes. Audrey would be proud and Kristi, you are truly blessed to call this woman, "mom".


Aaaahhh!! A wonderful Saturday morning surprise for me! I had hoped to soon hear stories OF Jules, but to have a story FROM Jules - wonderful! I have never been to France, but reading and seeing it through Jules and Kristin's eyes makes me feel like I'm there. Ditto to Sandy's comments above!

Picturing Jules sweeping through the street, making friends with all around her, makes me want to head out to my New York City street on this crisp, sunny, blue-sky day and greet all the people I meet! Will the New Yorkers be as welcoming as the French?? I doubt it, but Jules's spirit makes me want to try!

Wishing you a smile-filled day!


Wonderful memories, Jules......go make more! Enjoy your family as they will surely enjoy you! Looking forward to seeing JMarc one week from today here in LA! xo


La Photo? Bien sur c'est la bicyclette! aussi les rideaux et l'arbre......(grand soupir, aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh)



Everyone is asleep here in Provence, the clock here on Kristi's computer reads 00:29.
Yes, I hqve broken into her co,puter, sorry,
Kristi's keyboard is French; that is my excuse todqy for all of the typo's. Jean-Marc is totally packed, all the loose ends of his tour tied (we hope). They are both sleeping like babies tonight with visions of
new horizons fliting through their heads. Kristi, the well trained wifey that she is, has washed and ironed 2 weeks of oonsommbles
for her FRENCHMAN. MAX arrived home this morning from basketball camp in Spain. When I opened my eyes this morning he was singing to me in French. I had taken over his room because even though Kristi upgraded my guestroom I still don't like - no view from bed. I have already figured out how to open a secret account on her typepad account for my "MIDNIGHT IN PROVENCE SERIES" he-he ....this will drive her nuts, no control... SWEET DREAMS REBECCA - AND THANKS FOR ALL OF THE KIND WORDS IN YOUR COMMENT. XOXO - JULES



Hi Patti,

Please keep an eye on JM in L.A. - of course this is something Kristi would never say - nothing like having the Mother-in-Law from ""#¤x?x!""... isn't it cute when you look at how Mother-in-Law really reads-!



Dear Jules, Nothing can beat your spirit and your zest for adventure and ability to be at home wherever you are. Keep writing and posting.

(A follower of your blog)


Ha!! Jules you are a cheeky HOOT!! You may need a new codename for your midnight prowling...."The Midnight Owl"?! Wise words from the wise one....


What a gorgeous letter. And what an incredible ability to connect with people whether or not you share a language. Thanks for sharing Jules.

Jane Powers

I have decided that you would be a fabulous friend. I love your sense of adventure! I read all of Kristin's postings and really enjoy her and her wonderful family. Have a wonderful time on your visit, I look forward to the next adventure.

Jan Leishman

Dear Jules,
Your beautiful daughter Kristin has made a pathway for so many of us all around the world to share your lives and in a small way be part of them. Here in Australia I do enjoy reading about her life and through her - yours as well. It is in no small way that these posts have brought me closer to France - a country I adore and will be returning to for Easter. My belle-mere is from Provence, though she moved to England many years ago and it was there that I met her son. I wish I'd been like Kristin and continued my French speaking - I have to learn it all again. I wish I was more like you - prepared to communicate no matter what. Keep it up and have a wonderful time in France.


What does it mean "to subscribe to RSS feed"? I click on it and see it but do not get how one subscribes?

Karen from Phoenix, AZ

Dear Jules,

Loved your story. All the descriptions made me feel I was right there. Maybe someday! I know you will have so much fun with Kristin and her family. Explore, Explore, Explore, and post so I can live vicariously through you. I would love to see some painting too!!
Have Fun!!!


Sorry to ask a boring grammar question but I'm wondering why mille mercis is not spelt milles mercis?

JacquelineBrisbane (Oz)

Jules, how amazing, marvelous that all these little black things on a white background can move us so. Merci to you and Kristin for affecting our lives; all over the world, with words that touch and inspire us in so many ways. I want to be like you when I grow "old"! You are the embodiment of Carpe Diem, to-be-sure!
Never mind the grammar, the sentences above illustrate my ignorance of la grammaire, mais l’orthographe… c’est ma marotte. So, for the typos: Dual should be Duel, Eclectic, only one C!

Cindy Gooch in Phoenix AZ USA

Jules - I am closer in age to you than I am to Kristin - Your wonderful breezy way is so far out of my realm of experience that I can only imagine what a day with you might be like. I wonder how a day like that would change me? I could use a good dollop of your "air" - that much I know.

Cynthia in France

Bonjour, I'm a 'neighbor' of yours, having landed a year ago in the French Alps to marry my fiance (the wedding is April!). Thanks for being an inspiration to me - I started a video blog of my French adventures after seeing your blog and buying your book about your life experiences living in France. The photo is French in many ways but the one that stands out are the lace curtains. I just redecorated our French house and am ashamed to say I replaced all our French lace curtains because they reminded me of my grandma's house! I need to adjust more to France's aesthetics, I guess. Cynthia


HI Jules loved your letter I spent time in the mountains of southern France and loved all of it I think you should ldo more of the letters it is charming and something many of us can identify with . You make the adventure come to life KEEP UP THE WRITING


I loved every word--and the pictures they painted in my mind. Can't wait to hear of your adventures over the next two months.


Une bien jolie rencontre au hazard du net avec votre blog, je le met dans mes favoris

Jules Greer





Mary Paulson

Jules, Jule. My heart sings when I read your post to Kristin or any of your post. I eargerly look for them. What a joy it must be for you to have this richness in your life!

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