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Entries from September 2009


Bagatelle (c) Kristin Espinasse
(Note: photo taken last month, at our local fleuriste "Jardin et Bagatelles".)

Reminder:  If you happen to be in Paris on October 7th then we would love to meet you at the American Library!

bagatelle (bag-a-tel) noun, feminine

    : petite chose (small thing), bauble, trinket; knickknack

Example Sentence and Audio File: Download Wav or Download MP3

Sa passion pour la culture est évidente: sa maison est remplie des bagatelles et de souvenirs de voyage. Her passion for culture is obvious: her house is full of knickknacks and travel souvenirs.

A Day in a French Life...

by Kristin Espinasse

It is a little early to write about the harvest (phase two, that is) and a little late to talk about our trip to Austria (we drove there from Croatia...)... although I do have several anecdotes to share. Ce sera pour une autre fois*....

I'd like to stick to the moment. It is 7:53 a.m. and if all goes well, I will post this missive by eleven, in time to finish "finding my words," at which point I can match them to the "word of the day," which, si tout se passe bien,* will reflect the theme of this essay. (I have a hunch, at this point, that the word will be "pile". Though I am not quite certain of "pile's" exact meaning, I am hoping it means "exact" as in "exact moment" -- for this is what I wish to write about: the here and now).

Behind me is a made-up bed, covered lightly according to the season (with my grandmother Audrey's green crocheted afghan, which matches nothing in the room except this bucolic heart). Missing is a bed post and a box spring skirt (so that, depending on your vantage point, you might see so many plastic storage boxes beneath, full of sheets, pillowcases or recycled paper and ribbon. The bed doubles as a gift-wrap department -- but don't let the word "department" throw you off; organization stops there (I never get the gifts out on time).

Beside me, the length of a queen -size bed away, the porte-fenêtres* are grandes ouvertes* and a cool breeze wakes the room from its slumber. Outside, I hear the drone of a tractor (not our own). The sun is shining on the vine rows beyond, causing their heads to turn granny-apple green.

Jean-Marc is shaving in the next room. He must have an appointment. I hear the water running and the swishing and the scraping of Hurry (could he be brushing his teeth while shaving? He must be in a hurry).

Silence now fills the room and I realize that my husband has shut the porte-fenêtre before disappearing downstairs. I panic, realizing that I forgot to ask him to record the French sound file (and verify my slapped-together example sentence...) for this edition. Too late now, he and the other native French speakers in this household are on their way out the door...

Now, at huit heures vingt* (for I have been lost in thought the last few moments, trying to identify the pounding sound coming from a neighboring farm, un bruit* that was born several days ago and I still haven't figured out its connection to wine-making... unless les voisins* are making wine the old-fashioned feet flattening the fruit way.)

As I said, now, at huit heures vingt (make that 8:22, for it took two minutes to write that last sentence) it is time to search my computer for a photo to illustrate this edition....

Bagatelle (c) Kristin Espinasse

Bon. Tant pis. Ça ne fait rien:* I guess we're going to have to make this photo fit this edition. Firstly, we'll pretend that is I, the editor, and that that is my office (the bed's covers have changed...) How to you like the old-fashioned fan (in place of that "cool breeze entering through the porte-fenêtre"?).

As you can see, I am gazing, with my bloodshot eyes, in the direction of the bathroom, wondering where all that pounding noise is coming from (I know my husband is multi-tasking, what with the tooth-brushing and the shaving... but I didn't know his feet could reach out the window... to the grapes in the cellar below -- in time to press them the old-fashioned way).

Well presse-moi if I'm not impressed!


Post note: looks as though the French word "pile" didn't make the cut. Not that "bagatelle" illustrates today's rambling any better... unless one thinks of so many bagatelles / knickknacks as souvenirs, each representing a moment in time. I hope you have enjoyed this moment in time, or behind-the-scenes look at the making of this newsletter. In the time that it has taken to write it, I have had the luxury of emptying and refilling the dishwasher, filling the clothes-washing machine, clearing off the breakfast table, feeding "Maman" (aka Braise-The-Dog)... this, in my best attempt to copy my talented multi-tasking husband.

In the time that remains, I will put together the vocab section, place the sponsors (thank you, thank you sponsors!), come up with an example sentence, decide whether or not to take the risk of recording the sound file and, eventually, try to woo you with a few items in the shopping section at the end of this letter... before picking up the kids from their half-day at school. Bon, time to get a move on! Wishing you all a merry, multi-tasking moment as well!

Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are always appreciated and enjoyed. Merci beaucoup!

Optional discussion: Is today's word "bagatelle" a new favorite? Otherwise, share your favorite French word!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~
si tout se passe bien
= if all goes well; la porte-fenêtre (f) = window door (French door); grand(e) ouvert(e) = wide open; huit heures vingt = eight twenty; un bruit (m) = a sound, noise; les voisins = neighbors; Bon. Tant pis. Ça ne fait rien = well, never mind, it doesn't matter

En route to Vaison la Romaine (c) Kristin Espinasse


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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Croatian Laundry (c) Kristin Espinasse
Once a year, I do admit, that I wonder whether the simple life... is a life without books (there, I said it! read on, in today's story column...). Photo taken in the Croatian town of Rovinj.

recouvrir (reuh-koo-vreer) verb

    : to cover (a book)

There are many more senses to today's verb. We'll focus on only one for today, in keeping in theme with today's story. However, please feel free to add more meanings to "recouvrir" -- by adding additional definitions and examples in the comments box. Merci d'avance!

Audio File & Example Sentence: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following words: Download Wav file or Download MP3

Protégez vos livres scolaires: recouvrez-les!
Protect your school books: cover them!

Verb conjugation: je recouvre, tu recouvres, il recouvre, nous recouvrons, vous recouvrez, ils recouvrent => pp = recouvert

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

Comment recouvrir un livre scolaire?

Normally this time of year I am recovering from recovering: recovering school books, that is, with a roll of slippery plastic protective wrap. Instead of going into a boring technical explanation on How to Cover a Book -- and how unnerving it can be when using plastic -- I would like to challenge you to cover a book today. If you do not have the special plastic book wrap, pas de souci,* you can recycle a plastic shopping bag.

One of the first things you'll notice, having set your book down, over the plastic cut-out, is how everything starts to shift and slip, and how your au pif* calculations are, somehow, amiss (this, you'll discover later, on trying, in vain, to close the book and, conversely, to open it). Why is it that the book remains obstinately ajar?And, on closing the book -- after you have recalculated and re-taped -- why is it that the book won't open? Instead, all of the pages are locked-in -- or bound at the top and bottom -- just like the book's spine! I give up: ask an origami expert or a mathematician. 

Back, now,  to that slippery, impossible-to-fold the plastic: having been, plus ou moins,* wrapped around the book, it must now be fastened, only (here's the glitch) not to the book -- or risk une amende!*  For this, you'll need an acrobatic arm in time to hold down those stubborn folds and wrestle with the tape dispenser, which gives out the @#itty self-sticking tape, the tape that's now got the fingers of your formerly free hand stuck together.

To give you an idea of the anophelosis* inherent in covering a book -- a tradition in France that was invented to flummox and frustrate even the most composed and elegant of Frenchwomen, see this French commercial. (If you are reading from the newsletter, please click over to the blog. Note: the first five seconds are most relevant -- the rest is an advertisement for a book-covering machine; indeed, who wouldn't buy a pricey contraption in order to avoid this madness?)


Note: I used the exact same plastic wrap that the lady used in scene one... only I can throw it farther than she can.

Postnote: As I said "normally this time of year I would be recovering from recovering". Only, this year, as you know, I am on a not-so-rigid self-improvement regime which includes the goal of learning how to delegate (and so I relinquished control and perfection and let the kids cover their books this year!). Amazingly the books turned out just fine, if a bit bumpy inside the covers....

Secondly, the kids informed me that we ended up paying the ten euro amend anyway (after I covered their books last year....)

Finally: did you know they sell pre-made book covers? I found this out much later, after we ran out of plastic wrap; that's when Max informed me that he had a leftover cover from last year (I don't even remember buying it! Perhaps the teacher took pity on him for the chaotic covering on his books and gave him the protective slip-jacket?).

Oh, the trouble we put ourselves through... in the end, it is we who are all wrapped up in the sticky tape! Just we, and our straight-jacketed stubbornness -- for isn't it craziness to always want to do it rigidly right, and only by ourselves? Aren't we sometimes better off with just a little bit of help?

Your turn. Tell us about your book-covering (or similar) capers. Are you the type to pull out the tape and scissors and cover a book yourself... or would you buy a pre-made book cover, if one existed?  Thank you for using the comments box to respond to these posts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~
pas de souci
= no worries; au pif = "by the nose" (by guesswork); plus ou moins = more or less; une amende (f) = fine; anophelosis (an English word... I had to look it up -- for what other word could describe this particular "morbid state brought about by extreme frustration"?



First day outside for the puppies.... taken 5 days ago.


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Second day out for the pups, who turned three weeks old, Saturday night. That's my brother-in-law "Uncle Jacques" a.k.a. The Puppy Whisperer. Jacques has a seventh sense when it comes to animals. I'm so thankful he's here to help us (he even came over in the middle of the night to assist our nurse (his brother, or "Chef Grape"), deliver the pups. The kids and I were too freaked out to be of any assistance.

This next photo is blurry, but too sweet to leave out:

Man's Best Friends

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Philippe Larroude
"lendemain de barbecue" (c) Philippe Larroudé-Tasei

I learned today's word from my friend Philippe, who is also the parrain (godfather) of my daughter. He sent us an email, exclaiming how "trognon" our six puppies are. Philippe, a doctor of geophysics in Grenoble,  is also a photographer working on his first book. He takes a lot of pictures of the ground... and his photos encourage us  to notice the art beneath our feet. If you enjoyed his photo "le lendemain de barbecue," which illustrates the end of summertime, please let him know in the comments box! (For those of you expecting a "trognon" photo, how was that for a surprise, les fourmis/ants? Good to shake things up once in a while, non?)

trognon (troh-nyon) adjective

    : cute, lovely

(feminine: trognonne)

noun: core

Audio File and Example sentence:
Listen to my son pronounce these French words:
Download Wav or Download MP3

Les chiots de votre chien sont trognons!
Your dogs puppies are so cute!

A Day in a French Life...
Kristin Espinasse

Language Sins

I am learning a few new vocabulary words, thanks to the puppy admirers ("Oh, qu'ils sont trognons! Bravo, Braise, tes bébés sont balèze!"*). Still, as far as language acquisition goes, it is one step forward, two steps back for this longtime learner.

I notice how the puppies seem to learn to walk in the same en-avant-en-arrière* fashion: stepping ahead... only to fall backward, on their hind legs. I fall back on my "hind," too -- what with "le" and "la" and French pronunciation... to name only a few.

Things begin to look dim, for a language learner like myself, when you stop to calculate the "one step forward two back" formula for advancement: which would mean that in the two decades that I've studied French, I've taken twenty steps (years) forward... and forty steps back, which, come to think of it, that would explain things: like the fact that I currently find myself at minus twenty (20 - 40 = -20), or left of zero (in the pronunciation department, especially. Pretty humbling that is, to a French major married to a Francophone -- with two pint-size Francophones of her own...)

(Note to beginning learners of French, no matter your age: take heart, some of us are more talented than others at language learning... and some of us can wiggle our ears, too.)


I had a French therapist once who suggested that I do it on purpose, talk this way, that is (with a strong American accent). I remember being offended (Comme si!*). The indignation didn't last long, instead self-doubt set in (did she have a point? Was I really doing it on purpose... to be cute? or to attract attention to myself? What was my problem? And was it a sin?!)

C'était décidé:* I would no longer be caught speaking French with a Barbie Doll drawl!

My conversations with the French became hyper self-aware and, with that, up popped the language snares! It seemed that the harder I tried... the more I would slip-slide.

When in the presence of French speaking expats, things get worse. You should see the pressurized look on my face when I find myself in a room with fellow Anglophones all of whom speak French flawlessly. If my face turns red and my eyes look as if they would pop, it is because I am pushing my lips so tightly together, damned if I'll allow a flawed vowel to slip out. 

But pride goes before the fall, which explains how some of us end up at "subzero" or twenty digits left of "0": we do not advance because we do not take the chance! For others of us, it's laziness, and I think this best explains my heavy accent, this and lack of talent: for I've never had an ear for music, which those who speak French sans accent anglais ou américain ou...* seem to have.

But back to cute: it is a good thing that the French find the Anglophone accent charmant; for if you worry about your accent, the French will be the first to tell you to gardez-le -- ne le perdez pas!* It is the same thing any self-respecting Francophile would say to the French, in reverse circumstances.

So vive l'accent! Vive l'individualité!* How bland the world would be if all spoke French flawlessly. Meantime, we can continue to color-up our world with vocabulary -- learning a word a day (or three a week :-) The language will grow, even if your accent, like mine, is "slow" to unfold.


Comments welcome: What about you? Are you a lazy-learner or do you have a naturally-tuned ear and find it easy repeat French words on hearing them? Do you sometimes feel that you have regressed: was your accent and your grammar better before?

Reminder: 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~~~~~~~~~~~
Oh, qu'ils sont trognons! Bravo, Braise, tes bébés sont balèze!
= Oh, how cute they are. Braise, your babies are strapping!; en-arrière-en-avant = backwards-forwards; comme si! = as if!; c'était décidé = (and so) it was decided; sans accent anglais ou americain ou... = without an American or English or ... accent; gardez-le -- ne le perdez pas! = keep it -- don't (try) to lose it!; vive l'accent = long live the accent; vive l'individualité = long live individuality


Books on/about France:
 1. The Ultimate French Verb Review and Practice
 2. Buying a Piece of Paris: A Memoir
 3. Exercises in French Phonics

French Girl Knits: Innovative Techniques, Romantic Details, and Feminine Designs by Kristeen Griffin-Grimes

June 2009 034
Thank you, Jacqui McCargar for this trognon photo! Jacqui's dog goes by the name of "Je T'aime". He is a two-year-old Pomeranian. Wish Jacqui bon courage.... (she will arrive next week to help us with the harvest!)

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Max-biento14 156
How could you not sympathize with this fellow?

compatir (kom-pah-teer) verb

    : to sympathize


Audio File and Example Sentence:listen to my daughter pronounce these French words: Download Compatir

Nous compatissons pour les épreuves qu'ils endurent.
We sympathize with the trials that they endure.


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

I am stuck in the kitchen, peeling pepper skins like a prisoner, while the man of the house is outside enjoying cocktail hour. My eyes dart over to the kitchen window, to observe the MEN and their leisure. Que la vie est belle pour certains!*

Well, would you take a look at that! I mutter, studying the picnic table and the merry men seated round it. They are using coffee cups for their pastis!* I guess my husband was in too big a hurry to catch up with Leisure... to bother to search for a proper recipient for his Ricard!*

Coffee cups!
It's barbaric! MEN! Couldn't my husband have chosen tumblers or other such glasses? After all, I HAVE JUST EMPTIED THE DISHWASHER -- AGAIN! Besides, what must "Merrymaker B" (our unexpected guest) be thinking... about our coffee cup / cocktail glasses? On second thought, he isn't thinking, he's having a good time!


They are all having a good time! But this informal, last-minute apéro* was not on my agenda; as far as I knew, lunch for our family of four was. And chop, chop, chop! if we weren't on a tight ... however self-imposed... schedule. En avant! *

The juice from the red pepper that I am peeling runs down, past my self-righteous wrists, to my irritated elbows; in the background, the men's laughing bellows...

Harrumph! I stare at the "leisure club," who are happily sipping their drinks, stopping only to pop an olive verte* into their mouths--oblivious of their crime, mindless of the time. Time which is ever on my mind. Time to finish peeling these peppers!

"C'est une vie de chien!"* I declare, to my one-woman audience (Braise The Dog, who can sympathize -- for the father of her six children is back at his bachelor pad in Marseilles. He's probably sipping pastis in a coffee cup, too -- sans souci* for his slaving spouse. Surely she works harder than he does).

"Isn't that right, Braise!" I say, grabbing another red pepper to pulverize.

In the background the puppies pipe in. "So it's time to feed those suckers, too?" I say, sympathizing with my dog, while throwing a glaring eye out the window, to the anis*-suckers seated outside. I notice the men's relaxed faces, such a contrast to my own, which is tense-at-the-temples.

Content.  That's what those men are: content. And why shouldn't they be -- someone else is doing all the work!

(Just then, my husband wanders into the war zone... looking for something to eat... a very bad move on his part!)

Noticing my eye-balls which are now shaped like a rocket and pushing out of their sockets, he says:

"Darling, il faut que tu manges quelque chose,"* as if lunch is something that -- POOF -- appears on the table at the first sign of hunger.

To his credit... he's already had a run-in with my sacre bleu* sugar blues: the hypoglycemia which is causing this current bout of hyper-crankiness.

"Hungry?" I inquire. Let me make YOU a sandwich. With that, I take the plastic bottle of mayonnaise, turn it over and pound it on the table.

"I hate these plastic bottles! Such a waste, all that mayonnaise that sticks to the bottom!" I explain, pounding out more of my frustrations.

My husband grabs a couple sandwiches and quickly slips outside to the peaceful picnic table with the jovial gentlemen.

* * *

It's just my stomach talking, and not the reality of things. Reality would look and feel much different if I had un ventre plein,* or mi-plein*... or even un petit peu plein.* I wouldn't feel so on edge... wouldn't be so busy working myself into The Nagging Housewife.

I wait until my husband is out of sight... to gobble up my grilled pepper sandwich. Soon, my nerves relax and, when next I look out the window, things appear quite different....

Instead of The Leisure Club, I see three men resting after a hard morning's work. Those poor guys haven't stopped since seven a.m., I now realize. Jean-Marc must have been too tired to root through the kitchen cabinet for a tumbler -- so he grabbed those coffee cups. How funny: three men drinking pastis out of coffee cups! I notice how along with the restored blood-sugar, sympathy--and a sense of humor--return.

As for Who Works The Hardest Around Here!, a popular debate in our family (whenever fatigue and hunger rear their ugly têtes*...) I realize now that even if I peeled peppers until the French cows came home, it still wouldn't equal my husband's output at this harvest time of year... or perhaps all throughout the year: for missing from our calculations, when caught up in a Who Works Harder Than Who debate, is all the work that takes place behind the scenes: it is the work that we don't see that has us assuming that our spouse (or sister or brother or roommate or co-worker or neighbor...) is enjoying the easy life, "la belle vie," at our own expense.

I plan on sharing this lesson with my kids, the next time they quarrel about chores and who does more: until God gives you bionic eyes, never assume that others are idle and that you have ended up with the raw end of the deal! Remember the work going on behind the scenes, and the diligent, often discreet, worker inside every one of us.

(And, whatever you do, don't skip meals :-)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(Note: I am in a rush today, on this la rentrée*! I need your help with this vocabulary section. Would you please define the French words, below, and share your answers in the comments box? Mille mercis d'avance!

Que la vie est belle pour certains!
en avant
olive verte
C'est une vie de chien!

sans souci

il faut que tu manges quelque chose
sacre bleu!
un ventre plein
un peu plein

la rentrée

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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.