le mot juste
la recolte

gracieux

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Jean-Marc and the Croatian fishermen. Read on, in today's story column... 

gracieux (grass-yeuh) adjective

    : gracious, welcoming

...do you know of any terms or expressions that fit with today's word? Thanks for sharing them in the comments box -- for all to enjoy!

Audio File: Listen to my son Max pronounce these French words: Download Gracieux

Les Croates qui nous ont invités à boire le café sont accueillants et gracieux. The Croatians who invited us for coffee are hospitable and gracious.


A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

Nearing the end of our Croatian vacation, we still hadn't realized a pre-set goal: to buy fish from the natives -- and not in the frozen-foods section of the discount supermarket! Our remote village was far from a fish market... but that didn't mean we were far from the local fishermen!

Jean-Marc and I left the kids in bed to faire la grasse matinée* and, following in the echo of the rooster's crow, we drove to the nearest port. If the little fishing village in question were sans tourists, it was thanks to the cement factory on the pier, which, to some, might be one giant eyesore. To others, the great usine* on the water's edge made an interesting contrast to the serene scene down below, where a Franco-American couple ventured over the rocky coastline, out to the water, to wait patiently for the bateau pointu* in the distance...

As the tiny boat approached, Jean-Marc and I could just barely make out a man and a woman. The man was seated, busy working with the fish net, and the woman, in a bright red pair of overalls, assisted. Soon, the boat reached the humble dock and Fisherman and Fisherwoman unloaded their catch, which they began to carry across the rocks. Jean-Marc offered to help, but the woman shook her head, offering a smile of thanks anyway. I noticed the woman looked a slightly older than the man... and I wondered about their relationship: mother and son... or cougar* and younger amour.

We followed les pêcheurs*up the lane, until we reached an apartment complex beside which a one-level garage doubled as fish market. The man opened the garage door and began cleaning and storing their equipment. The fish were laid out on the floor, their eyes clear as the water from which they were hunted.

"Can we buy some fish?" Jean-Marc inquired.
"Yes, of course," the young man replied in English.

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My husband chose three of the dorade* look-alikes, before realizing he'd left his wallet back at the rental home. "I need to go and get some cash," he informed the fisherman, taking the sack of poissons.* My wife will stay with you until I return."

I stood next to the remaining fish, feeling as out of water as the shiny-eyed victims lying on the ground beside me, and I silently cursed my husband for volunteering me as collateral for only 5 euros worth of fish

Soon, an old woman arrived and snatched up the remaining catch. "She uses the littlest ones for fish soup," the woman explained, as the neighbor walked away.

When the woman had finished her work she stood beside me as we waited for Jean-Marc to return. In the self-conscious silence, I thought to switch on my camera and show her the pictures I had taken from the dock.

When she saw her photo, she laughed, pointing to the large red overalls. Though we did not speak the same language, a woman's pride is universal. Only this woman, it seemed, had a sense of humor to match. I watched as she shook her head and laughed.

Next, she pointed to the man in the photo. "My son," she explained, unwittingly satifying my curiosity. So this was a family affair.

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"Come inside?" she said, pointing to a second-story window, where a cat rested beneath a weeping willow.  I felt embarrassed, wondering whether the woman felt obliged to entertain me during this wait (what was taking Jean-Marc so long?).

"Yes, yes, come inside," she repeated, sensing my hesitation.

I followed the fisherwoman upstairs, her son having disappeared into the recesses of the garage, and soon found myself at the polished dining room table of a home not much bigger than the "fish market" below. But oh, how it shined! There was a place for everything and everything had its place. I imagined the same was true on a houseboat: nothing in excess, only gleaming wood and a shipshape, orderly atmosphere. What knickknacks there were, were in harmony with the natural, the nautical.  And there was that touch of humor that I had perceived earlier. (I stared at the no-nonsense, unframed computer print-out tacked to the dining-room wall. On closer look, I saw an older man showing off a great catch. Beside the photo, someone had drawn a cartoon-like cat. The animal was depicted licking its lips, eyeballs shooting out, in the direction of the fish.)

"My husband," the woman explained, pointing to the picture.  With that, her son returned from the garage, Jean-Marc in tow.

The young man pulled the print-out off the wall and handed it to me for a closer look. "That's my father and his prize catch! He had to quit fishing when we could no longer make a living from it. He now works in Italy. My mother and I continue to fish, and sell what we can to the locals."

On this sad note, the woman disappeared into the kitchen. Looking around, from the shiny windows to the glimmering floor, I wondered if hard work helped soften the circumstances.

The woman was back, with a bright tray of cookies and coffee. Her son opened the glass armoir and pulled out a bottle of grappa. "No thank you," I said, noticing the hour: 7:30 a.m. "... but my husband would love some!" I said, getting him back after putting me up, earlier, for "collateral". Jean-Marc swallowed hard and politely accepted. Neither the woman nor the man joined him, but drank their strong coffee instead, leaving us the Italian wafer cookies to sweeten things.

Perhaps it was her lovely name, "Adriana," but the woman might have been a Sophia Loren look-alike -- only without the make-up and the decades that separated the two. I watched the relaxed way in which she sat back, took out a pack of tobacco, and offered us a smoke. As she took a long drag on her cigarette, I imagined it to be her one and only vice -- and how relaxing it must feel to her! I imagined, too, what it would be like to return from the tiring sea... only to entertain the curious tourists and their fish fancies.

And, I admit, I had to try hard to imagine having the same generosity and natural grace of these two fishermen, who had stopped in the course of their work-day to share themselves; theirs is a treasure greater than diamonds or gold... what's more, it is something they possess, deep inside, by the boat-load.


***
Post note: while paying the young lawyer and his accountant girlfriend for our rental home, I shared with them one of our favorite memories: meeting Adriana and son. "Oh, we know about your visit," the accountant pointed out. Though the young couple live in the city, almost a two-hour drive from the fishing village, word about the Franco-American tourists had reached them. I guess the messenger was the lawyer's grandmother, whose job it was to water our rental's garden each day. She must know the locals just as she knows her prized geraniums.


Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--are appreciated and enjoyed. Thanks for using the comments box to communicate. (I'm a little behind on email at the moment, but if you have written me an email that requires a response... I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks for your understanding.

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
la grasse matinée
= "the fat morning" (the sleep-in); une usine (f) = factory; le bateau (m) pointu = classic, small wooden Mediterranean fishing boat; cougar = an older woman who "hunts" younger men; les pêcheurs (m) = fishermen; le dorade = see this glossary; le poisson (m) = fish

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Puppy Pictures & Updates

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...sort of an out-dated picture. By now the puppies are twice as old and twice as big! I have not done a good job of recording this on "film", for the little pups are too delicate to disturb. Their eyes are beginning to open, temporarily ice blue behind furry lids. They make the funniest noises and look so comical as they roll over onto their backs, big bellies pulling them down for a full roll-around. From the front, they look like little lambs, from the side, little piglets. They will be two-weeks old on Sunday. We think there are 5 males and 1 female. A voir.... (Remains to be seen...) So far they are nestled together, with mama, under the stairwell. We'll need to expand their "stomping grounds" before long (the puppies don't walk yet... for now, they "swim" across the blanket, paddling their little arms and pushing their little hind legs toward the milk source.
 

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