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Entries from August 2009

la recolte

Rock on -- la récolte commence! That's my belle-soeur, Cécile , who is back--along with her friends, to help us with this third harvest.


la récolte (lah ray kolt) noun, feminine

    : harvesting; collecting; gathering
    : harvest, crop

Audio File & Example Sentence: (check back for the sound file...)

Cette année la récolte des raisins s'annonce bien!
This year's harvest is looking good!


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

And weeere off! The wine harvest began on Saturday.... and continues today! To the clanking of metal, the hum of the tractor -- and the bark of the mother-dog - I type this early morning dispatch.

We jump-started this, our 2009 récolte,* in a field of grenache where the wind swept swiftly over the low-lying "gobelet"* vines. Arriving with our children, I found the rest of the équipe* had advanced halfway up the vine rows. Max, Jackie and I quickly grabbed buckets and sécateurs* and headed out to the unpicked rangées.*

Right off, I discovered that my cutting shears were dull and tried to trade them off with the grape chef.  Only, Jean-Marc held his own, suggesting I pick a better pair next time...

Tant pis.*  I'd figure out how to trade with him later, meantime I needed to catch up with the others by filling my bucket. To do so meant bending over at the hip to reach the near ground-level grapes. I remembered an astuce* from years of picking: back straight, bend at the knee! And, like that, I fell gently to my genoux* in order to save my back.

An hour or so into the harvest, my knees began to crack and, in order to save them, it was necessary to switch strategies: straighten the legs and bend the back.... either way crack, crack, crack!

I observed the other harvesters, who practiced one or the other back- or knee-saving solutions: my sister-in-law was here helping out, along with three of her girlfriends -- and the four of them came up with yet another idea to stop the pain: le mini-break. I watched as the women set down their buckets and pulled out their tobacco. Next, their backs to the wind, they shook out the dried leaves over thin paper squares for rolling. After a few puffs, they resumed harvesting, the thin, uneven cigarettes dangling from the edges of their mouths as they laughed and chatted, sharing everything from recipes to crude jokes. Hidden behind my row of grapevines, I laughed at their jokes... and longed for their freedom -- or natural expression -- the kind that comes when we are outward focused and not gazing inward, ever questioning. Perhaps the trick is to stop doubting... and just do.

And so I focus outward, on the twisted, dry, decades-old vine before me. The venerable plant is on its last (and only...) leg, like the others in this row, and therefore giving out little bunches of grapes or grappions. * I listen to my brother-in-law curse the grappions, and all this back-breaking bending and knee-splitting squatting for only a few tiny bunches of fruit each time! (He'll have to wait until a day later, when we get to the high (wire-trained) cinsault, to declare such grapes a pleasure to harvest.)

Meantime, others of us try to focus on the short vines and the small pleasures they bring: there are wild fuchsia-colored sweat peas that dot the field, and the sweet scent of fall on the horizon! Other trouvailles* await us as well: it is the old hand-rake that Max finds beneath a tangle of vines ("we'll keep it," his father says, "put it in the tractor!"), and there's the onion sauvage* that Jackie II uncovers. "I'll have it for lunch!" she announces, tucking it in her pocket, resuming her picking.

I listen to Jackie II (a friend of my sister-in-law, who is helping us for the third time) practice her Spanish with an Italian picker/friend, who has learned the language before she did. In focusing on the language, Jackie tells me, she keeps her mind from turning round and round, something (I might add) that tends to happen when practicing the monotonous chore of grape-picking. I take heart to know that even these rock-n-roll women have the same restless mind that I do. Some call it monkey mind, others le diable,* either way a reeling, ego-focused mind is hell on earth. 

Voilà, in a nutshell, the harvest: it is discovery, camaraderie, and -- inescapably -- aching backs and cracked knees. I am learning that it helps to look up, from time to time, beyond the grape rows and the work (and ever-working mind) to the sky or the horizon beyond. It is that outward focus, whether on language or the lointain* -- that keeps us going strong, humming somewhat steadily along.    

~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
la récolte =
the harvest; gobelet ("en gobelet") = untrained vines (not held/propped up by a wire); une équipe = team; le sécateur (m) = pruning shears; une rangée (f) = row (trees, vines); tant pis = oh, well; une astuce (f) = clever idea (way to do something); le genou (m) = knee; le grappion (m) = little grape cluster; une trouvaille (f) = a find; sauvage = wild; le diable (m) = devil; lointain = faraway, distant (horizon)



Les Oeufs Verts au Jambon: The French Edition of Green Eggs and Ham

SmartFrench Audio CDs Intermediate/Advanced

French Demystified...simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student.

A L'Affiche: Best of Les Négresses Vertes

Puppy Update!

See a picture of the dad, here, and read about the lune de miel that he offered our Braise...

Only one silly boy and five girls... silly we had it all wrong at five boys, one girl...

The puppies are walking! Look at this little guy strut his stuff! They are also playing and continue to make their unusual noises (it often sounds as though we had parrots--or tropical birds--in the next room...)
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A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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

gracieux (grass-yeuh) adjective

    : gracious, welcoming 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.


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.


"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.

Also, if you haven't yet... please pick up a copy of "Words in a French Life" for yourself... or for a friend. Merci d'avance!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~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



...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.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

le mot juste

Door beads--and a would-be butterfly--were just part of the charm awaiting us at our vacation rental in Croatia. See another photo, below.


le mot juste (leuh moh zhoost) noun, masculine

    : the exact word or expression

Audio File & Example Sentence: Listen to my son, Max, pronounce the following French words: Download Le mot juste

...on va de nouveau éplucher nos mœurs et nos habitudes pour tenter de trouver le mot juste et surtout le bon sens." --Vive la rentrée, FranceSoir

Help translate today's quote... or add to the "mot juste" definition, in the comments box. Merci d'avance!


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

We arrived in Croatia at 10:30 at night after a 14-hour drive from Ovada. This late in the evening, I could not yet make out the charming maisonnette* that was to be our rental for the next seven days.

The location* was part of a farmhouse, long since divided up like a Kit Kat wafer. If you stood facing the long building, you could easily pick out our unit, with its cheery lavender-colored façade, its little iron fence, geraniums tumbling down the sides. Above the patio a sprawling grapevine provided shade and a visual feast: clusters of sweet fruit. The bright little abode was bookended by the continuations of a grayish building in need of repair.

I looked up at the grapes each night as I sat reading in a cozy, cushioned chair.  Though I had brought a stack of books (ranging from "The Life of a Simple Man" to "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress"), in the evening I took advantage of the serene setting for some scriptural study.

Around the second or the third night,  my feet propped up on a chair, I settled into my cozy routine. That's when I heard the crunching of gravel. My ears tuned in to the driveway, just outside our enclosed patio, as I listened to the sound of Croatian steps approaching.

I soon sensed the presence of a stranger on the other side of the fence, just inches from where I sat. 
"Hello," I said.
"What are you reading?" the stranger nodded his reply.

Caught off guard, I thought about the object of my study, and how prayer isn't something you shout from the rooftops; just like tithing -- where your left hand shouldn't know what your right hand is doing -- worship should be done in private. No need to blab about holy matters, or how much they matter to you -- when actions speak louder than words.

But with the stranger's eyes now gazing intensely right through the bars of the front fence, I had no other option but to reveal my spiritual zeal.

"I... am reading the Bible," I replied.
"Yes, but which book?"

For a moment, I was confused, for I had already told the stranger what book I was reading: the Holy Bible.

I looked up at the man, who waited for my answer. He was tall and thin, with shoulder-length locks. He looked to be about my age, forty-something.

Book... In fact, the stranger had already identified the livre* that I was reading (the gilded pages were a giveaway) and wanted to know which chapter I was reading -- only, he had correctly called the sections "books".

Distracted, I had to look down to the delicate pages to answer his question.
"Romans," I informed him.

The man nodded and there followed a moment of silence, one I was anxious to fill. Only, what to say?

"Do you read the Bible?" I inquired, feeling like a Sunday School teacher's pet. I hoped I didn't sound that way -- but I could think of nothing else to say.

"Sometimes. When I am not working," replied the stranger.

I remembered the other Croatians that I had recently met, all of whom were so busy working to make ends meet that vacation--even homebound R&R and meditation--was an unaffordable luxury.

"Do you live around here?" I asked.
"No, I live in the city."

I thought about all the HLM's* we had passed by, dingy gray façades that were peeling like sunburned giants. The dilapidated units were piled one over the other, sky-high. There were hundreds of humble abodes within one dismal block of concrete. The blocks crowded the graffitified commercial centers, where we went to buy our bread and butter. What a contrast these "homes" were to the charming vacation rentals on the coast....

"My grandmother lived there," the stranger continued, pointing to a house up the dirt lane. "She passed away three years ago. She was ninety-one."

Listening to the grown man talk about his grandmother, I was at a loss for words, but managed a all-purpose reply:
"She had a nice life," I offered, once again petting another's pride.

"Not a nice life," the man corrected, "a long life".

Having said a simple goodbye, the mysterious man walked on, leaving me with the power of words--exact words, not fluffed up, flattering ones. I made a commitment, then and there, to make an effort to practice precise speech, to slow down in time to search for les mots justes,* for exact words--and to have the confidence to deliver them. Even the overworked stranger had made the time, and had had the self-respect, to do as much.

I closed my "books," as the stranger had correctly called them, and relished the unexpected lesson (on truth) that I had learned from the other side of the fence. 

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are always welcome and enjoyed. Please use the comments box to respond to this story.


Note: I will be joining two authors at the American Library in Paris, to talk about "fish-out-of-water experiences" living in la belle France. If, by chance, you are in Paris on Oct. 7th, we would love to see you at this meet-up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
la maisonnette
 = small house; la location = rental; le livre = book; HLM = (habitation à loyer modéré) = rent-controlled housing subsidized by the government; le mot juste = the precise, exact word

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Max-biento14 080
A Croatian hummingbird Hummingbird Hawk-Moth for Newforest, who shares and teaches us so much about French language and culture, via the comments box. Newforest will be back with us in October. Bon courage and hugs. Our thoughts are with you.

Just like Newforest's comments, hummingbirds are one thing I miss already. I have yet to see a hummingbird in France, but stared at them endlessly as they drank from our bottlebrush tree back in Arizona.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

sauve qui peut

Charming Couple (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Giggly & Pensive" in the town of Ovada, Italy. After a "game" of charades, this couple understood my request and graciously offered to pose for this photo. Don't miss another dozen photos of Italy, coming up in a future edition of my photo blog, "Cinéma Vérité.

sauve qui peut (sohv kee peuh) expression

    :  a general panic; stampede; chaotic disorder
    : "Every man for himself" : to bail out of a place or run for one's life

Audio File & Example sentence:

Listen to my eleven-year-old (who struggled with the long and complicated excerpt) pronounce these French words: Download MP3 file

Le sauve-qui-peut des investisseurs mettait fin à une longue période de hausse des cours boursiers qui avait notamment porté le Cac40 de 2.500 à 6.000... -Boursorama.

Help translate the above quote... or share any additional notes for today's expression "sauve qui peut" (literally "save who can"). Click here to access the comments box.


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

On our way to Croatia, we stopped in the town of Ovada, Italy, to rest for the night.  The kids were exhausted from our latest amusing halt (the water park near Antibes), and opted to stay in and watch T.V. while Jean-Marc and I had a quick tour of the city at night.

On our way out of the hotel, the young man behind the desk tried to alert us to some sort of event going on in town... but Jean-Marc and I could not understand what he was saying. So we shrugged our shoulders, smiled politely, and headed towards the centre ville.*

The town of Ovada was a lucky choice. Though we had randomly chosen the site (for its convenience along our route to Croatia), Ovada clearly was a tourist destination. The ancient cobbled streets were packed, as were the bars. Jean-Marc found a seat at a terrace café and ordered a glass of the local wine. Quant à moi*... I didn't want to miss any photo opportunities... so I left my husband at the watering hole and set out to discover the stamp-size inner city.

I soon began to notice all the barricades, beginning at the café and strategically set up at the various wide-open places*. Though most of the people stood behind the protective barriers, I noticed the barricades didn't stop others from continuing on their way. And so I followed suit, so as to continue on my photo journey.

Peek-a-boo (c) Kristin Espinasse

Busy snapping shots of the ancient façades, occasionally I would see the locals peering out from behind shuttered windows. Having secured their permission (via a begging--if not charming--smile... and a jiggling of my camera), the locals or "Ovadesi" were gracious, letting me snap a few close-ups). I couldn't believe my luck.

As I made my way down an increasingly dark and desolate street, paved by cobblestones and flanked by tall private dwellings, I heard the sound of a motor approaching along this pedestrian path... Turning, I saw the first vehicle. A Vespa! Unfortunately, it passed by too quickly for me to snap a photo -- though I did have time to notice the rider, who seemed to be waving his arm....

Soon enough, another Vespa passed and I realized it was the police who were speeding by. This policeman was also waving, just like the first one.... only, on closer look I realized it wasn't a friendly wave of the hand... It seemed more of a cautionary wave of the arm.

Back Away!? Was that what the policeman was trying to say? When a third policeman whizzed past, his face stone serious, there was no mistaking the warning signals. His waving arm seemed to shout and the message was universal: MOVE IT!

But where to move it? The road before me was long and its sides (centuries-old walls behind which residents were safely tucked in for the night) rose up to the sky....

Suddenly I remembered all those barriers that I had ventured past... and the increasingly empty streets... and the people watching from the.... safety... of their second-story windows.

OhMonDieuOhMonDieuOhMonDieu!!!*..... In a split second I guessed that this was the "special event" that the hotel clerk had been trying to tell us about: The running of the bulls!

WHaaaaah SAUVE QUI PEUT! In a panic, I realized there was no place to go. Looking up to the windows high above, not one Italian offered to throw me a rope--not even a knotted sheet--and so I had no other option but to fling myself into the closest recess -- a shallow door-well.  Next, I watched, heart beating like a hummingbird's, as a giant golden beast barreled towards me.

Without my glasses on, I could just make out the crowd that was running alongside the golden giant. Incredibly, the non-sauveteurs* in the windows above were cheering as the beast approached.

Though the scene was blurry, IMPENDING DOOM was clear to see. I raised my camera for the last time, and snapped a photo. In doing so, I was able to use the camera's lens for a closer look--after  my own eyes had failed me. This is when I heard the laughter of the approaching stampede and, seeing the "bull" up close, my own laughter soon mixed with that of the Italians. Turns out the golden beast was no other than a giant, rounded, botte de foin.*


Post note: back at the café Jean-Marc reported that he'd just witnessed an exciting local tradition: something about transporting the hay bales through town, as locals did in ancient times.

"Oh, the hay run? Yeah, I saw it too..." I remarked, still shivering from the false alarm, and all those imaginary golden bulls.

Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--are always welcome and enjoyed in the comments box. Thank you for your responses to these words and stories.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le centre ville (m) =
town center; quant à moi = as for me; la place (f) = (esplanade) square; OhMonDieuOhMonDieuOhMonDieu = OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod; le sauveteur (m) = savior, rescuer; la botte (f) de foin = bale of hay


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The hay run in Ovada, Italy:

Max-biento14 054

 Sorry about the blurry photo, but I was a little shakey behind the lens...

Max-biento14 055

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Croatian Door (c) Kristin Espinasse
No canard photos on file for you today. (I locked myself out of my "photos on file"... when my computer crashed last March.) I hope this "Croatian Door" will satisfy your appetite for a slice of Mediterranean life. Don't miss a dozen more slices in this Saturday's Cinema Verite photo gallery!

canard (kah-narh) noun, masculine

    : duck

faire un canard = to hit a false note
faire le canard = to keep quiet
mon petit canard = (term of endearment) my pet
le canard laqué = Peking duck
le canard boiteux = lame duck
le canard froid/vilain = (pejorative for) newspaper

Le Canard enchaîné (French: The Chained Duck or The Chained Paper) is a satirical newspaper published weekly in France. Founded in 1915, it features investigative journalism and leaks from sources inside the French government, the French political world and the French business world, as well as a large number of jokes and humorous cartoons. It is one of the most respected and oldest French newspapers, despite its often humoristic tone. You can subscribe to this journal. --Wikipedia

...know of any other "canard" terms or expressions? Please share them with us in the comments section.

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: Download PM3 file
Au lieu de discuter, l'employée du restaurant aurait du faire le canard!

The Ultimate French Verb Review and Practice : Master the essential building blocks of French-language fluency

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

On our way to Croatia we took the exit near Antibes, so that our kids might have a break from the long car ride, in time to cool down at a popular water park. As we approached the ticket line, we were met by an unusual scalper: a woman, in a bikini, carrying a toddler on her hip. A few more children were in tow of the bikinied scalper, who explained that her friend hadn't shown up and now she was stuck with an extra ticket. We could have her ticket, she explained, for a sizable discount.

Even though we were dealing with a mom -- I was still suspicious. Turns out the ticket was legitimate and, on seeing the price menu to get into the water park, I realized the favor she had done us and immediately felt ashamed for having jumped to conclusions, yet again.

Bon,* we were supposed to be in vacation mode--and not guilt mode--and so I eventually turned my attention to Max and Jackie, who, soon enough, were barreling down the slippery water-park slides, building up an appetite.

At noon, Jean-Marc and I left our chaises-longues* and headed for the snack bar to get some sandwiches. Once again I was surprised to see the price menu. I'm afraid I must be like those people who are still stuck in the last century, still expecting a Coke to cost under a Euro and a sandwich, under 5. En tout cas,* it is interesting how the water-amusement park prices are similar to airport prices: once they trap you "inside" the park, where you are stuck with your stomach, you have no other option but to pay the price!

While I kept my complaints to myself, the man in line next to me was becoming increasingly vocal about his récriminations*; although price wasn't the issue for him: time was.

"Ça fait une demi-heure depuis que j'ai commandé des frîtes!* What's so difficult about making fries?" he wanted to know. "You dump some frozen potatoes into hot oil. How hard is that?"

Unlike the employees back home, in the States, the woman behind the counter argued back. By now, my husband was commiserating with the disgruntled, hungry man. On hearing the employee respond defensively, Jean-Marc, feeling the customer was in the right, remarked "the least she could do is 'faire le canard'."

"Oui," the disgruntled man agreed, "Elle pouvait faire le canard!"*

Meantime, my mind began drawing up colorful images of what it might mean to faire le canard or "do the duck". I pictured so many quacking canards, in chorus, but this didn't seem to be the right translation, for why would Jean-Marc suggest that the manager do something she was already doing (quacking)?

Jean-Marc explained that "faire le canard" meant the opposite: it means to "se taire". The woman, instead of arguing back, ought to have "shut her beak".

It was clear the manager was no duck. With two commiserating Frenchmen on either side of me and one self-righteous employee (who had just stomped off to see about those fries), the atmosphere was tense. I turned to "Monsieur Frîte":

"Maybe the employees are being trained?" I said, offering an explanation for the 30-minute wait.

"Trained in America!" he remarked, sourly.

Did I hear him correctly? Wasn't that an insult? I thought about getting my own feathers ruffled. It seemed odd that Mr Fry would say that to me, l'américaine (surely he had heard my strong accent?), especially after my husband had stood up for him

Besides, he was wrong about American culinary training: if those short-order cooks had been prepped in America, wouldn't Mr. Fussy Fry be seated, eating his frîtes by now?! I also had a mind to share with him a famous American service adage: The customer is always right. All the more evidence that the équipe* was not trained in America!

In the end, I decided not to get ruffled feathers--for, in the years that I have lived in France, I have never (or rarely) been intentionally dissed by a Frenchman. I told myself that his comment was not to be taken personally, that Mr French Fry was peeved, not prejudiced. In any case, I didn't want to jump to any more conclusions. Therefore, instead of trying to reason any further, with French Fry, I opted to take my husband's advice and "faire le canard." (Something I might have done, too, back at the ticket line, when the mama-scalper had offered us the discounted ticket.) When in doubt, do the duck!

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--always enjoyed and appreciate. Thanks for responding in the comments box.

~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~
bon =
right (conviction)
la chaise-longue =
deck chair
en tout cas =
in any case
la récrimination =
gripe, grumbling
Ça fait une demi-heure depuis que j'ai commandé des frîtes!
It's been a half-hour since I ordered fries!
elle pouvait faire le canard = she might shut her beak!
l'équipe (f) =
(lunch) crew

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In music: French Kiss: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

A special summer treat for the skin, from France: Caudalie Beauty Elixir : refreshing moisture mist

Film: The Chorus
When he takes a job teaching music at a school for troubled boys, Clément Mathieu is unprepared for its harsh discipline and depressing atmosphere. But with passion and unconventional teaching methods, he's able to spark his students' interest in music and bring them a newfound joy! It also puts him at odds with the school's overbearing headmaster, however, locking Mathieu in a battle between politics and the determination to change his pupils' lives!

Geraniums (c) Kristin Espinasse
Sign up to Cinéma Verite -- and I'll send you the link to my personal photo site right away :-)  You'll see over a dozen past issues, including hundreds of photos taken in the neighboring villages -- as well as photos taken from neighboring countries (this weekend we'll see photos from the Mediterranean Island of Cres, where the above photo was taken). Sign up, here.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Croatian Clothesline (c) Kristin Espinasse
A vegetarian-friendly photo taken on the island of Cres in Croatia. (Herbivores may stop reading at this point... and check back to the next edition).


News: I will be joining two authors at the American Library in Paris, to talk about "fish-out-of-water experiences" living in la belle France. If, by chance, you are in Paris on Oct. 7th, we would love to see you at this meet-up.

viande (vee-ahnd) noun, feminine

    : meat

la viande hachée = ground meat
la viande séchée = dried meat
la viande fumée = smoked meat you know of any more viande terms or expressions? Thank you for sharing them with us in the comments box.

France and Monaco Rentals.
Exclusive Vacation Rental Properties throughout France.


Audio File: Listen to my daughter pronounce these French words: Download Viande

Homme seul est viande aux loups. Man alone is meat to the wolves. (or: The solitary man is wolves' meat). Medieval French proverb

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

You may have noticed that I never write about meat. No, I am not a vegetarian: I am a people pleaser.  Having noticed that some of the readers of this word journal are herbivores, I have tried to be sparing with certain "food for thought" (careful to leave out family recipes for foie gras... or Provençal daube). But, in theme with the latest post, I will press on, or persevere, as my Grandma Audrey used to say, and try to diminish--if I can never quite obliterate--some of the more glaring personality "pépins"* that continue to torment me in my 41st year, namely, wanting to be all things to all people--whether that be a born again vegan or an extrovert.

At the butcher's yesterday I asked about steak marinade. Just as expected, the boucher was baffled. En haussant ses épaules,* he listened to me repeat my request (this time taking care with my accent) : mah ree naahd poor stek?

"De la marinade pour steak?" he questioned, in a charming Provençal accent. "Non, il n'y a pas". Next, he added, "il n'y a pas besoin!"*

I sensed the butcher's pride but couldn't help feeling it was misplaced. After all, the best steaks come from Texas! And even Texans use marinade (all this is supposition on my part. I have never been to Texas, but it seems to me that the steaks of my Arizona childhood were from there... then again, maybe the cows were from Flagstaff?).

I did not share my next thought with the butcher: French steaks need marinade! A vrai dire,* I have never had a melt-in-your-mouth filet in the time that I've been in France. Not even boeuf Charolais*--purported to be one of the best, could rival the buttery filets at Ruth's Chris steakhouse back in Phoenix.

"In sixteen years I have not had a marinated steak," I informed the butcher, adding "not since moving to France. So I thought I'd finally ask -- as it has been so long."  The butcher looked at me while my daughter, hidden now--three store aisles  away--tried to get my attention : "Maman. MA-man. We need to get some cereal...."

When pressed, the butcher offered this recette*: "alors, un filet d'huile d'olive et des herbes de Provence."*  I knew he'd say that, that's so typically southern French.

"MAMAN, il faut qu'on y aille!"* My daughter seemed embarrassed, so I cut short my nostalgie* and my questioning... with an offer: "If I ever come across a bottle of good marinade, I'll bring you one!"

"Merci beaucoup," replied the butcher, to which I answered "de rien," only, when I looked up, I realized he wasn't addressing me--but thanking a colleague who had just delivered a new roll of wax paper. And just like that, caught up in our own dreams, we wake to find the world--even la France--continuing on with its own, fast-paced functioning.

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are welcome and appreciated in the comments box.

~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~
le pépin (m) = snag, hitch; en haussant ses épaules = in raising his shoulders; il n'y a pas besoin = there's no need; à vrai dire = truth be told; le boeuf (m) charolais = beef from the Charolais (AOC) appellation; la recette (f) = recipe; alors, un filet d'huile d'olive et des herbes de Provence = well, then, a dribble of olive oil and some herbs of Provence; maman, il faut qu'on y aille! = mom, we need to get going!


The Life of a Simple Man - I reread and reloved this book over summer vacation. You might read it in English or read it in French.

Paris door mat: makes an original gift for a francophile.

Olive Oil Infused With Herbs de Provence (thyme, rosemary, basil and tarragon): a favorite!

In film: "In Babette's Feast, a woman flees the French civil war and lands in a small seacoast village in Denmark, where she comes to work for two spinsters, devout daughters of a puritan minister. After many years, Babette unexpectedly wins a lottery, and decides to create a real French dinner--which leads the sisters to fear for their souls." --Amazon

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Update: the puppies, born on Sunday, are doing well! Braise is a real maman poule and is looking after her lait-swigging litter round the clock. More later... for now, enjoy the pictures.

... and look at this little "lamb". (PS: in case you were wondering, all babies were issued from Sam).


A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Mediterranean Fishing Boat (c) Kristin Espinasse
We might have avoided the 14-hour chassé-croisé and its memorable bumper-to-bumper bouchon* at the Croatian border had we taken this cheery "pointu"* in place of our Citroën... (photo taken last week, on the Istrian island of Cres).

chassé-croisé (shah-say-krwah-zay) noun, masculine

    1. comings and goings
    2. a period of heavy, two-way traffic
    3. cross-translation
    4. (there seems to be a fourth usage of chassé-croisé in ballet... would anyone like to add their two-centimes' worth in the comments box? Thanks in advance!)

Audio File & Example sentence: Hear my daughter pronounce these French words:
Download Chasse-croise

LE GRAND CHASSE-CROISE. C’est reparti. Après la vague des juilletistes, les aoûtiens ont pris le relais. The great crossing. Here we go again. After the wave of July vacationers, August vacationers have taken over.
--L'Humanité .

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

Our dog and our grapevines are about to burst: deliverance is in the air, if not in the soul... My worrisome mind darts back and forth, from our big-bellied Braise... to the dust... to the scorched pelouse*... to email and a full in-box.

Having just returned from a two-week roadtrip, I see our home is cloaked in a fine sheet of poussière* so that the interior now reflects the exterior in color and scope: ghost-town taupe. (How's that for a new entry on the color wheel? It is good to be creative at times like this, even if that means naming a new nuance.) Whereas one year ago our garden was teeming with colorful wildflowers, now, only clumps of parched grass cover the ever assoiffé* earth below.

Speaking of at times, it is always time to look on the bright side: the grapevines, despite la petite canicule,* are thriving, and so is our golden retriever, Braise -- many thanks to Uncle Jacques, who looked over her as a mother would her own child (my brother-in-law did not feel good about leaving Braise cooped up and alone all day... so he took her to work, in Avignon, at le chantier.* Man and delighted dog began their workday at the café, ending it at the brasserie for a beer. Jacques tells me Braise met many admirers and that our phone number was given out to several interested parties who learned that puppies were on the way.

Now that we've looked at the bright side, and have remembered to be reconnaissants,* it is time to be creative about evacuating nervous energy. Vacation should have taken care of restless nerves, but nothing can quite still September....

September represents, among so many other things, the formidable rentrée -- the busy, back-to-school rush to get the kids settled in school--and stocked up with an absurd amount of "equipment" (I still don't understand three-quarters of the vocabulary on the school supplies list that the teacher hands out each fall).

September also happens to be the month that all of my friends, family, and acquaintances were born or married (the reader will please excuse the exaggeration--exaggeration being just another symptom of the malaise that is the theme of this letter). There is the need to acknowledge, via cadeau* or card, these special dates... or at least not forget them!

And September is the month when new readers sign up to this French word server, and the pressure is on to compose. Though writing for longtime readers feels like sitting around the fireside chatting in our pajamas -- the thought of a new reader has me rushing to my closet, rooting around for my wedding dress and tiara. Will the dress still fit? Is it too formal for the occasion? Can't we pitch protocol all just hang out in our pantoufles* and be ourselves?

All this makes me anxious, sends me swiftly into three-ring circus mode in which I feel both the funambule* and the freak: the CONTROL freak walking on the tight rope otherwise known as "The Balanced Life". Step one millimeter to the left ...or a catastrophic centimeter to the right... and the world--along with its freaked out funambulist--will flip! This is the bungled belief system that I can't help but get tangled up in this time of year -- the belief that I must control all of the variables -- or be eaten alive. Meantime, it is, in reality, not the variables -- but the nerves themselves -- that are eating me alive whilst "the variables"--that happy-go-lucky go-with-the-flow group of elements, incarnate, are sitting over there in a cafe corner, shaking their heads, slurping their beers, sideline philosophers who have figured out, some time ago, that sitting still and taking time to smell the beer vapors can be good

Nothing doing! There's no use in trying to mimic those vacuous variables, busy upending their beer cans, butts bound to the bistro chair -- for this time of year, aka "September" (have you noticed, dear reader, that I am no longer abiding in August... but already exist in shell-shocked September -- yet another symptom of this malady which is the theme of today's letter), for September is also the harvest month! There are the harvesters, who will soon arrive: friends and family interested in the evolution of our grapes and in offering a helping hand. Now to learn to delegate, to let go of these reins which I tend to wrap tight around our home and our family. If vacation taught me one thing, it is that the world continued to spin without my slapping it into motion with a whip.

In spite of the still spinning sphere, nommé Earth, dust managed to land while we were away on vacation, but what, dear reader, is dust? Who cares about dust? What's the big deal about poussière?!!! Will you still like me if you come over to my house and see piles of it (can dust be piled? OK, how about piles of clothes, then?)

After all, this is where my mistake lies: in still caring so much about what others think... that I'll let go of my own rules...
instead of standing strong beneath them...


*   *   *

Post note: Now if I can only get past the poop (Ha! Try to control IT) -- but that'll be in October, by my calculations (at which point the puppies will need to be potty trained)? For now, I'll try to keep it in the day... Chaque jour suffit sa peine.* I'll start by delegating to the dog. We'll go from there... Wish us luck.

And a big "PS" here: today I will also need to delegate to you. Please add the missing definitions to the following vocabulary words in the comments box, and, while you're there, be sure to share your response to today's story or to tell us a story of your own. Mille mercis d'avance!

French Vocabulary:
le bouchon (speaking of "bumper to bumper")
le pointu
la pelouse
la poussière
la petite canicule
le chantier
le cadeau
la pantoufle
la haleine
chaque jour suffit sa peine


Macrame & Madras (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Macramé and Madras" on the Croatian island of Cres. There are so many photos to show you from our Mediterranian escape. See them soon at Cinéma Vérité!


Mastering The Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child

Paris, Je T'Aime: Stories of Love from the City of Love (see film clips here)

French soap: The practical and very neat Provendi revolving soap fixtures have adorned public school washrooms throughout France for years

Music: C'est L'amour: Romantic French Classics

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


The market in Les Arcs-sur-Argens.

une oeillade (euh-yahd) noun, feminine
  a furtive glance, an ogle; a wink, look-over, peep; a sheep's eye

...puis une oeillade au blond, une oeillade au brun, lancée en contrebande...
...then a wink to the blond, a furtive glance at the brunette, delivered like smuggled goods...

                --from "Beautés de la poësie anglaise" by le chevalier de Chatelain

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

(Note: the following story was written in June 2006, before our family moved to the Vaucluse.)

It is a safe practice, unlike looking at the sun. By fixing my gaze on this village and its people I intend to burn their outlines into my memory. Nine years in this town and I haven't looked closely enough. I am sorry to have stolen only furtive glances at the Arcois* and I regret to have not pierced their sometimes solemn shells.

Having once spied these personnages,* I am now staring at them, unabashed, wide-eyed, and with that cloak of the untouchable worn only by a vagabond in a stop-n-go town.

But before I go, my hungry eyes will feast on the French. Like a gourmet who coaxes flavor out of a stick of celery (with a pinch of salt, a squeeze of citron*), I sprinkle recollections over the villagers until their very essence comes forth, to color in the outlines held by my once burning gaze.

I recall a market stand behind which that man (over there in the spandex shorts--do you see him?) once stood. Yes, he was the man at the farmer's market who once wore a halo of garlic over his head. Shoppers, like me, flocked to the stall, charmed by the man in the garlic gloriole, whose sunny disposition seemed fueled by the alliaceous aura above. With a tilt of that ail,* he acknowledged passers-by who stopped in their tracks, turned and ordered his olives fresh from the five-gallon buckets.

Then one day the man at the market reached toward his weary temples, took off his garlic and put on a baseball cap. Next, he donned a pair of sneakers and spandex shorts and took off...walking. He walked out of Les Arcs, through Trans-en-Provence, and, last I saw, he was headed to Draguignan and the hills beyond, where the scented fields of Grasse, like the aroma of hot cherry pie, may have lured him forward until the oranges up the coast, in Menton, motivated him to move on (and on, and on).

Why he hocked his halo, I'll never know. For now, he is the French Forrest Gump and to see him is to feel that itch in your sole, calling you outward and onward.

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To leave a comment (if you are reading via email), please visit the blog and look for the comments link at the end of this post. Mille mercis!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~
References: un arcois (une arcoise) = one who is from the town of Les Arcs-sur-Argens; un personnage (m) = character; le citron (m) = lemon; l'ail (m) = garlic

:: Audio File ::
Listen to Jean-Marc recite today's word and quote: Download oeillade.wav
...puis une oeillade au blond, une oeillade au brun, lancée en contrebande...

Terms & Expressions:
  jeter une oeillade = to throw a glance
  une oeillade discrète = a discreet glance
  faire signe d'une oeillade = to make eye contact with someone

Books and More:

The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy, follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. The Dud Avocado gained instant cult status when it was first published and it remains a timeless portrait of a woman hell-bent on living. Read more about it here.

Le Roi Soleil: The Original French Cast Recording of Very Successful Musical Comedy Le Roi Soleil.
Mustela Sun Cream For kids
Dress up your quiche with an Emile Henry Provencal Pie Dish

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

bon à rien

The stairs and all those tubes I told you about, when we moved to the farm and began home improvements.

bon à rien (bohn-ah-ree-ehn) noun, masculine, and phrase

   : good for nothing

Pour agir, il faut une forte dose de défauts. Un homme sans défauts n'est bon à rien. In order to act, we need a good dose of faults. A man without defects is good for nothing. --Jacques Chardonne


by Kristin Espinasse

While packing up the house last month, I came across a travel journal from 1989. Inside the spiral notebook with the oh-so-French quadrillé* pages, I had collected impressions from a two-week voyage through Spain and Portugal.

Betsy was my unlikely travel companion. The only thing we had in common was the study-abroad program we'd just completed in Lille, France; that, and the fact that we were both staying on in the Hexagone while the other students in our group returned to Tempe, Arizona.

There was a three or four weeks' break before school would resume in Aix-en-Provence, the southern French town where we had both registered for classes. Betsy had thoughtfully filled in the gap between semesters: she would tour Europe via an economy rail pass. I could join her, she mentioned, if I had nothing better to do. Less adventurous, I hadn't planned beyond getting myself from Lille to Aix. The idea of being with someone else during the three-week interval came as a great relief.

Our luggage said all you needed to know about our differences. Betsy wore one of those heavy travel packs on her back, the kind with buckles and straps and outer mesh pockets which could hold anything from a water bottle to one of those roll-up mats for sleeping "in a pinch".

As for me, I had an extra large suitcase, which held the little black dress that I might wear in another kind of "pinch" (of the wardrobe kind). In addition, the suitcase contained all the "musts" (make-up, hairdryer, heels...) that rendered the bag heavier than a sack of eight-balls. The suitcase was trimmed in royal blue and had a faux leather insignia that read "Ricardo of Beverly Hills". I had gotten it on sale at Dillard's department store, where I worked as a lingerie clerk.

Betsy and I took the train to Vienna. Then we took the train to Spain. She whistled all the way. I worried.

There is a passage in the diary where I am struggling with my overpacked suitcase in Barcelona. It's getting late, we need to find a youth hostel, and we are rushing to catch the metro--only I am stalled at the top of the escaliers,* fretting about how to get down the stairs with my heavy bag. Betsy is urging me on from the last step below. Finally, she heads up the stairs--two at a time--backpack on her back, collects my suitcase and whisks it to the lower level.

                                   *   *   *
At this point in my nostalgic pause I pitch the old journal into a packing box. Quelle gringalette!* How could Betsy have put up with me? Thank God I've changed! ...Or have I?

It is tempting to say that Jean-Marc picked up my bag where Betsy had gently set it back down. For I would meet him soon after, just as I was set to return to the States. Later in the journal, I write about the need to leave France, three months earlier than planned, owing to a troubling event. On one of the last pages in the diary, there is a revealing letter which I had transcribed. The note, written by Jean-Marc and dated 26 Février 1990, reads:

Avant de nous quitter, il faut que tu saches que la Provence et moi, nous voulons t'aider. Si tu as besoin de nous, nous serons toujours là pour t'entourer de tout notre amour. (Before leaving us, you must know that Provence and I, we want to help you. If you need us, we will always be there to surround you with all of our love.)

Flash forward now to July 4th (the day we were married, 13 years ago, at the "Bagatelle" town hall in Marseilles). Looking out the second-floor window, I see a field of vines. In the forefront of this image, there is Jean-Marc, who is negotiating with the plumber, the electrician, the woodworker. On his back he wears the weight of so many pressing decisions that need to be made as "we" undertake to rebuild the wings of this 400-year-old farmhouse. I need to be participating in the decision making, instructing the plumber on where to place the "standard-priced toilet". Instead, I wonder why the toilet is standard, as are all of the items on the devis.* The bathroom sink is so standard that it includes only a cold-water knob. "Can't we have something a little "warmer"?" I ask.
"Perhaps!" Jean-Marc reminds me, "If YOU'LL go out and find and price the items!" Fair enough.

"And the iron handrail along the stairs--why is there only one?" I want to know, having arrived on the scene several months after the work began, back in March. Jean-Marc, who has been overseeing the renovation, replies, "Because there will be a wall on the opposite side."
"But will the wall...(here, I pause to think about the plasterboard wall, wishing it were really stone)...will it run the entire length of the stairs?"
"No," Jean-Marc answers. "Listen," he says, exasperated, "if you want another rail then you'll have to talk to the ironworker and order one. I personally don't think we need one." Just as we don't need hot water in the W-C!,* I think, keeping my thoughts to myself.

The electrician wants to know how many electric sockets we want in the kitchen, living room and hall. I don't know...and what does "va-et-vient"* mean anyway?


I know I shouldn't keep calling on him. That "suitcase" of mine that he offered to carry is getting heavy. I notice he isn't whistling anymore.

To comment on this post, click here.

~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~
= squared, grid-lined; l'escalier (m) = stairs; gringalette (gringalet) = a namby-pamby, weakling; le devis (m) = estimate; le W-C (pronounced "doo blah vay say) = water-closet; le va-et-vient (m) = two-way (light) switch (two-way wiring)

:: Audio File ::
French pronunciation: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and quote:
Pour agir, il faut une forte dose de défauts. Un homme sans défauts n'est bon à rien.
MP3 file: Download bon_a_rien_mp3.mp3
Wave file: Download bon_a_rien_waw.wav

Rick Steves Convertible Carry-On: Easily converts from a smart-looking suitcaseto a handy backpack:
Listen to French... (In music) Tour de Charme by Patricia Kaas
Durance olive oil hand cream

Our kitchen (view from the opposite side), after renovation.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

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


Bignonia (c) Kristin Espinasse
Bignonias always remind me of our home in Les Arcs, where the flowers clambored up and over the metal pergola beside our driveway, throwing shade onto the boules (or "pétanque" or "bocce ball") court just beyond. Our house in Les Arcs-sur-Argens was a 30-minute drive from Bagnols-en-Forêt, where my English friend, Michèle, had a "pied-à-terre", or second home....





At Michèle's home in Bagnols, I am waiting patiently to meet an Englishwoman who has lived through two world wars. It is easy to pass the time, seated here on a lovely terrace beneath the blossoming cherry tree. The picnic table is gradually filling up as Michèle's golden-haired daughters, Violet and Natalie, bring out roasted chicken, a lovely green-bean salad, and baguettes fresh from the local bakery. 

As the girls disappear into the kitchen in search of les couverts, the guest of honor arrives.

"I'm so sorry for the delay," she apologizes. "The workmen are busy cleaning my terrace. The tiles are covered with mold! I told the men to scrub it down with vinegar. Vinegar works best!"

"Hello Bobby!" Michèle welcomes her neighbor, l'invitée d'honneur.  Bobby pauses to admire the cherry tree, which towers above her like a giant floral umbrella. I try to picture this delicate woman giving orders to a couple of burly ouvriers. In my mind's eye, I see the workmen reluctantly setting aside their industrial cleaners for the simple home remedy: le vinaigre—good ol' sour wine! 

As Bobby settles into her chair, Michèle and her belle-mère, Shirley, shake their heads in appreciation of their friend's latest adventure. 

"Oh, they must love you, Bobby!"

Bobby says that's possible, perhaps because of the beer she gives the men at the end of the workday!

The ladies at the table laugh as Bobby explains what happens when she runs out of Kronenbourg.

"I knock on the neighbor's door." We then learn about Bobby's 72-year-old friend. At 18 years her junior, le voisin wears a black toupee and a handlebar mustache, and provides back-up beer for the sour-scented workmen.

Listening to her colorful story, I notice Bobby's charm and how the flowering cerisier frames her beautifully. Its full, white blossoms muffle the rumbling of a thousand nectar-hungry bees. The buzzing causes us to look up through the trees, to the clear blue sky above. 

"When the Mistral wind blows through, it chases away the clouds," Bobby notes. We search the ciel bleu. Not a cloud in sight.

The sky invites our wondering eyes and questioning hearts. I pull my chair closer to Bobby's.

"What brought you to France?" I ask.

Bobby tells me that when her husband died 12 years ago, she decided to come to the South of France and build a summer nest. She was 78 at the time.

As she shares her story, I can't help but admire her. Her eyes are that pretty shade between "steel" and "powder" that some call robin's-egg blue. Her short hair has that quality of white that tips the edges of the blue sea. I notice how it falls back off her face in endless waves.

Bobby is now talking about her 35-year-old granddaughter, an art teacher in Texas. As she speaks, I try to pinpoint her British accent. Just what part of Angleterre has rubbed off on her voice?

I notice her earrings: large pearl-colored disks. I make a note to wear such earrings in 53 years' time, as if boucles d'oreille would render me as beautiful as she.

Bobby tells me that her 63-year-old daughter has a butterfly tattoo on her hand.

"She got it thirty years ago."

"Were you upset?"

"No. But I told her the butterfly might look different when her skin begins to wrinkle!" 

"Does it?" I am curious.

"It's looking fine," Bobby smiles. Her blue eyes deepen as she turns her attention to the saturated sky.

I look down at my hands as I search for words. I want to tell Bobby that she is like that butterfly.


Your edits here. Thanks for checking grammar and punctuation. Is the story clear enough? Good to go? Share your thoughts, here in the comments box . P.S. Thanks for checking the vocab section, too!

Did you enjoy this story? Check out Kristi's books, including Blossoming in Provence. They are a wonderful way to increase your French vocabulary and to support this blog. Merci beaucoup!

French Vocabulary

Bagnols (Bagnols-en-Forêt)
a town in the Var, not far from the sea 

le couvert
place setting (fork, knive, spoon) 

l'invitée d'honneur
guest of honor

l'ouvrier (m)

le vinaigre

la belle-mère

le voisin

le cerisier
cherry tree 

le ciel bleu
blue sky 

 l'Angleterre (f)

une boucle d'oreille


A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety