Que Faire a Aix-en-Provence? / What to do in Aix-en-Provence?


Meet Madame Alberte. It's cold out, but inside Madame's nest there's enough warmth for new friends: feathered, furry, and foreign, like me. Come along and see...

mamie (mah-me) noun, feminine

    : granny

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

I was hoping she would talk to me. Chances were, she would, for as I advanced along one of the many ruelles that make up the village of Roquemaure... yes, as I drew closer, so did she.

From her little, lace-lined first-floor window, she caught my eye. The closer I came, the more she leaned out of her fenêtre... until we might have brushed shoulders with each other, as two pedestrians crossing on a cobbled street.

"Bonjour, Madame."
"Bonjour," said she. "What a beautiful day it is!" She declared, and I knew right then and there she was a Glass Half Full type. In fact, it was very cold outside, and my hands took turns warming themselves first in one coat pocket, then in the other. How else could I keep a hand free to photograph the village surrounding me?

I paused to take a picture of the window next to Madame's and watched, surreptitiously, as Mamie studied me.

 Rustic Window

"May I take your photo?" I asked, transferring my gaze from the somber shutters... to the window with the bright stickers and colorful mamie leaning out.

"Bien sûr! Mais..." (and here, Madame reacted as any modest mamie might) "je ne suis pas très présentable."
"You look lovely," I assured her, while admiring the auburn color of her hair and the little heart pendant hanging on a chain. Madame smiled softly, revealing a single "pearl" just beyond her lips... With only one left, it was indeed precious. Next, she closed her mouth for the photo.


When I showed her her portrait she agreed, "Ce n'est pas mal du tout!" said she, as in is that really me?
"May I post your photo? I have a blog..."
"Un grog? You would like a grog?"
"No. A blog... I have an on-line journal and would like to post your photo."
"Ah, bien sûr! Please mention my son, who has a vegetable stand just outside of town... le jardin "Île de Miémar" à Roquemaure!" She added, with a chuckle, "the publicité won't hurt him!"

With that she told me stories of her heroic and helpful son, as any mother might. As she spoke I stole glances inside of her home-sweet-home. There was a chatty parrot, "Paco," to her left  and a floppy-eared rabbit to her right. I longed to see what other furry and feathered friends she had tucked away inside.

Perhaps it wasn't too late to change my story... from a blog... back to "I'd like a grog!"? Mamie could have the warmed rum all for herself and I would sit beside the rabbit and listen, cozily, to Mamie's 73-year history.

Comments are appreciated. Thanks for responding to this story--or sharing it with a friend.

French Vocabulary & Audio File:
Listen to my daughter, Jackie, pronounce the following French words Download Wav or MP3

Ma grand-mère française préfère que je l'appelle "Granny" au lieu de "Mamie". Et ma grand-mère américaine préfère que je l'appelle "Grand-mère, au lieu de "Grandma." Elles sont compliquées, les "grandmothers," n'est-ce pas? My French grandmother prefers that I call her "Granny" instead of "Mamie".  And my American grandmother prefers that I call her "Grand-mère" instead of "Grandma". They are complicated, grandmothers, aren't they?

une ruelle (f) = alley(way), lane
la fenêtre (f) = window
la mamie (f) = granny
bien sûr, mais je ne suis pas très présentable = of course, but I am not very presentable
ce n'est pas mal du tout = it's not bad at all
la publicité (f) = advertising


Emile Henry 

A French standby. Strong, durable, all Emile Henry cookware can be taken directly from the freezer to the hot oven, can go under a broiler and in the microwave; freezer and dishwasher safe. The natural clay is unsurpassed for conducting and retaining heat.

Lavender sachetsFleurs de Lavande: A petite version of our fragrant Provencal sachets. Filled with tiny lavender flowers, these sachets add a lovely fragrance to any drawer.

Nutella Nutella® spread, in its earliest form, was created in the 1940s by Mr. Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero company. At the time, there was very little chocolate because cocoa was in short supply due to World War II rationing. So Mr. Ferrero used hazelnuts, which are plentiful in the Piedmont region of Italy... to extend the chocolate supply. Order. (from NutellaUSA.com)

Pronounce it Perfectly in French

Pronounce it Perfectly in French with Audio CD: this program emphasizes speaking, sound discrimination, and standard intonation patterns that are typical of native French speakers. Words and sounds are put into a variety of conversational contexts for students of French to practice and perfect.

A Day in a Dog's Life... by Smokey Dokey

Smokey says: Sometimes we get a bad picture. We mustn't get discouraged. Instead, remember: we all look better in person, especially when we smile!

By the way, these flowers are for you as a reminder: Never mind the bad "posies"—and don't forget to smell the rosies.


A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. 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


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Dear Kristin,

What a fabulous story. I too wish you had been offered a grog. I am now very curious about what was shielded behind the lace curtains. I love that she wanted you to publicize her son's vegetable stand.

In response to your story the other day about getting out, I really identified with that. Those are the trips that offer the best small, but terrific surprises. We need to do that more often. When I first moved to North Carolina from Southern California, I made a point of taking an adventure every weekend. I had just purchased a used, red Toyota with a sunroof. That was the perfect car for my adventures. I quickly adopted a pattern of turning down roads because of the interesting names -- what was down Weaver Dairy Road? Not long after I would leave the Durham cities limits, I would discover wonderful country roads dotted with long abandoned tobacco drying sheds, a well-tended vegetable garden, a group of startled deer grazing near the road...

I have upgraded to a Passat Wagon with a sunroof and a Garmin to guide me to new destinations. Maybe I need to turn that off, open up the sunroof, crank up the radio and turn down roads with interesting names again. It is so easy to forget that there are so many places (and grannies) yet to be discovered.

Margaret in Durham, NC where snow is in the forecast for Saturday!

Bill in St. Paul

I laughed out loud reading about Mamy! Great story! You see a lot of these elderly French women in all the towns and cities, and I've often wondered what their stories were. My best memory of one was when I was working in Paris for two weeks in 1980, we loaded up the computer with a bunch of jobs and took a break at local cafe. In walks this four foot tall, slim elderly French woman, says something to the barman, he gives her a tiny glass of what I thought was red wine, she downs it in one gulp, puts her 50 centimes on the counter and walks out. Now that I think about it, the liquid was red and only about 2 ounces - could it have been some secret tonic?

And then there's sweet Smokey-Dokey, it looks like he's saying "Mamy K, why do you call me that?"


Elle est très sympathique!


Dear Kristin,
Pardon my French, but shouldn't 'Mamy' be spelled 'Mamie'? :)

Jens in snowy Copenhagen.


Jens: Thanks (and, Yikes! I've just corrected my mistake...)

Bill: Hmmm. My guess is that she ordered "un porto".

Margaret: Good idea about turning down the streets with the unusual names. We'll all have to try that next (and share our stories, bien sûr!)


Mamy reminds me of a Madame I met in Pertuis...we parked in her driveway before the carnaval parade (me and a bunch of band members). She looked out her upstairs window and told us we couldn't park there and we asked if we played her a song, could we stay. She said yes and invited us in for a drink...we said yes :)

Debbie Ambrous

I understand these crazy grandmother names. When my children were near your age they were discussing what I would be called by my grandchildren when they were older. They teasingly said I would be "Mother Superior" since I was in their eyes a little tough on the rules. But, now my granddaughter calls me "Grand Deb". My sister-in-law has a funny name. She's "Ma Duh" which I believe is more or less baby talk for Mother. "Ma Duh" is extra bright, not "Duh" at all! Thanks for the French words and I hope you are enjoying your school days.

Debbie a/k/a Grand Deb

Suzanne, Monroe Township, NJ

Ah, la magnifique Madame Alberte! Thank you for bringing her to us, Kristin. She has an inviting smile and trusting presence that warmed my morning. I am sure that your chance stroll down "sa ruelle" gave her as much pleasure as your story as brought to all of us. Madame Alberte is a good reminder about how important it is to think of the glass half filled ... even if it is sans grog!


Quelle phrase as-tu choisi pour dire "You look lovely?"


Candy in SW KS

One of your most "charmante" stories ever! I have decided that when I become a grandmother (that seems very far in the future yet as my son is 27 and in no hurry to marry!) that I would like to be called by the Italian word "Nonna". I just love the way it sounds. I also have decided that I want to grow old in France, not America. I want to be one of those little old "madames" who ride their "velomoteur" to the "marche" with their "petit chien" in the "panier", who wear those lovely flowered "robes" with a lace "tablier", who look out their "fenetre" and have their photo taken. Merci for the photos of darling Smokey. His love of life is always evident and always makes us smile. The photo of Madame had that same effect on me. And whatever we call our grandmothers, I thank God for them!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
What a beautiful story. Thanks for a great start to my day!

Jules Greer

Candy Darling - I hope our little cabanos are just outside the village and near to each other so we can ride into the village together. Why doesn't someone start a GOLDEN GIRLS rooming house near Avignon (sp?) - only a half hour from Kristi's and they have the train station??? I would be one of the first to sign up.

Kristi - of course I loved this story, now don't forget to have Jean-Marc print it out in color - with all the comments attached. I am sure this can be automatically translated so Madame Alberte will enjoy your words.

Did you get her phone number and address, if not, be sure and get it this time when you visit. Take your video camera!!! I want to see the parrot.



Patricia Anzalone

Such a wonderful picture! I was interested in seeing her apron or housecoat. I have several just like it from Italy and wear them all the time in the house and garden!
I am "Nonna" or Grandma Nonna which, my very wise 8 year old granddaughter realized a year ago was actually saying Grandma Grandma! Her mother, though, recently wanted to know if I would like to be called "Grams"!!
When my husband calls me Nonna, I tell him I may be a nonna, but I am not HIS nonna!!
I continue to love and get misty seeing Smokey and also his loving relationship with Braise!
Patricia in sunny but cold northwestern Virginia.

Cheryl in STL

What a lovely start to an otherwise dreary day here in the Midwest! I'm sure you've made a new friend in Mme Alberte--especially now that you've publicized her son's stand. She reminds me of the mother of my dear friend, Jacques. I can just hear Madame saying "je ne suis pas très présentable"! Thank you so much for sharing her with all of us. And Jackie, thank you for sharing your grandmother names. I'm thinking that "mamie" would be a good choice for me when (and IF!) that time comes!

Jules and Candy--save a spot for me!!


Wonderful, Kristin! And just another example of why I LOVE the French! I have found most of them to be as warm, charming and friendly as Mme Alberte when I've visited France.

Kristine, dallas

Lovely, as usual! I soo want to pack up and move to France...as life in Dallas has become tres boring! But through this story I am reminded to see my boring life half full instead of half empty!

Merci from, expecting snow on Friday, Dallas!


What a lovely encounter. I knew as soon as I saw the oh-so-French curtains in the window and the flowerboxes in January it would be a good one. Mme Alberte seems like such an iconic French character, especially with her "je ne suis pas très présentable"! By all means, print this out, return to the village with your own bottle of grog, and show her the comments. Even if you don't translate it, she'd be tickled to know she reached so many people. And she could post it in her street-side window for all the neighbors to see.

Christine in Salt Lake City

What a wonderful story. I love Madame Alberte! So down to earth. Maybe you should interview her and post it here - I would love to hear her life story.

Kristin: I second Candy's request: How did you say "You look lovely."?

Jules, Candy and Cheryl: Sign me up!

Christine from sunny and cold Utah

Leslie in Massachusetts

Like Candy, I'd love to know the best way to say 'you look lovely' in French. I think lovely is a very useful English word for which there isn't a perfect French equivalent, because it means both belle and charmante. The nice thing about our lovely English word is that when you say it, you aren't specifying which way you mean it, but it is definitely a wonderful compliment either way. To tell an elderly lady she is lovely is quite plausible, but belle, or beautiful? I'm not sure she'd believe it was sincere. (Cold, but not bitterly, breezy and sunny in Massachusetts today.)


Kristin, you are the best storyteller. Thank you so much for this one.


Madame is very charming, I hope you get a chance to visit with her more often.
My Mom is called Gwandma or "that lady who always gives us treats and kisses and ear rubs" by her grand dogs. She doesn't mind not having human grandchildren.
Isn't "vous est tres jolie" the way to say you look lovely? Not sure if my high school French memories are correct.


What a lovely story.
And Smokers never takes a bad picture, right Smokey? Yeh. BTW, in our home, we avoid the word 'depressed' and opt instead for the more biblical 'discouraged,' which offers hope.
Back to your question of Monday ("What good are we as homebodies, self-conserving casanières?"), Shakespeare (in 'The Taming of the Shrew') wrote about: 'Such wind as scatters young men (people) through the world, To seek their fortunes farther than at home, Where small experience grows.' In the same play, he also gave us 'Kiss Me, Kate,' (long before Cole Porter), but we won't talk about that.


Merci Kristin, quelle belle histoire! Mothers and grandmothers never turn down an opportunity to support their children do they?
I remember when our grandaughter was about two and working at naming my husband and me, she settled on Humma and Baba!
Although it made us laugh she finally settled into a more recognizable pair of names (Grandma and Papa)
Your stories are always a highlight of my day. And yes indeed, the glass is half full, if not overflowing, if we have eyes to see it! That is our challenge.

Edmonton, Alberta -21 and sunny.

cynthia in the french alps

How lovely! That to me is what I think of when I think of a French village. What a sweet, friendly woman. Is this how most people are in Provence? If so, I think I need to move! Cynthia in the French Alps


Bonjour Kristin,

Mamie est vraiment charmante. Dit-elle s'il te plait la prochaine fois! And Smokey is not too bad himself. In fact he is extremely cute standing next to his pot of flowers. He is one handsome dog. Have a great day!


PS-feels like spring here in Pasadena, yesterday's rain felt like spring showers and one bud opened on our tulip tree


Candy et compagnie: I don't remember the exact words that I used, but they surely were not as eloquent as my children's. Max and Jackie tell me (and you) that "Madame, vous êtes très élégante" is the most "lovely" thing to say to a woman of a certain age.

Douglas: I like your more biblical "discouraged". I hope you don't mind my using it. It sounds so much better and I think Smokey would agree, wholeheartedly.

Leonie, "Humma and Baba"--I hope JM and I get such fun names (but not too soon...)


I enjoy all of your stories and I love to see the pictures you use-this one is great! Who could not love a visit with this apron clad Mamie?!
We have been visiting Betty in front of her fireplace.
Visits are wonderful times no matter where they happen!


Ahhh! Jacqui, my favorite reader!. I just love to hear her voice. My grandkids call me Grandmom Pat to differentiate me from all the others. When they come running to greet me with " Grand..... ma....." My world is complete and all is good!. As Mona in Pasedena says...winter in SoCal is amazing. The flowers just keep blooming but there are no wonderful doorways or windows to photograph!. Love your pictures and thanks!


Dear Missy,

Thanks for the virtual visit with you and Aunt Betty, in front of her fireplace. How I would love to join you, with a cup of hot cocoa (no, tea, must switch to tea!). Please give your sister a hug for me and one for Jules, too. I will call soon.



Love love love little Smokey.

Barbara Moco

I had a Great Mamie, a Mamie and my children called my Mom Mamie. It has been 9 glorious years since I have inherited the title. Of course the spelling has evolved into Meme but a Mamie I am and proud of it. It is a very cozy place to be. Of course, the spelling has evolved into Meme here in northern Ca.
Seeing Madame Alberte in the window on cinema verite set my heart aflutter. She looks so much like my Mamie, surely they must have been related, even the aprons are similar.
My husband, myself and our four legged mischief maker, Paddy, all enjoy reading about life in your vineyard with your family , Braise and Smokey. We don't have a vineyard, we just enjoy the ones surrounding us.
Keep on with your great writing and keep your glass half full. Bobbie in sunny Kelseyville, Ca.

Karen from Phoenix, AZ

I loved the picture of Madame and was feeling sentimental, my grandma lived with us when I was a kid. She only spoke Italian. She would watch the television with the sound off and talk to the television, I guess she was making her own story. Between her and my Mom making great Italian meals, I was one spoiled kid.

Loved the picture of Smokey, he is so precious.

Cool and rainy in what is supposed to be the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix)


Mamie looks soft and well loved. The flower pots perched on the wide stone sills are beautiful. Couple that with the lacey window dressing and big window say welcome...stop a minute...it's nice to be noticed.

Candy in SW KS

OK, Jules, Cheryl, Christine (and any other "golden" ladies - that can be in heart as well as in years!) I say let's plan on a "femmes dorees" (I hope that expression doesn't have any idiomatic meaning that I don't know!)retreat in 2011 - lovers of FWaD and all things French. Who's in?


Candy, if we got all of the "golden ladies" to join together, I think that it might be a sizable group - but what fun! We could rent a castle for everyone - LOL.

There is a certain "je ne sais quoi" about the older French and Italian and also Spanish ladies. They love their aprons and house dresses and they also seem to like to sit out in front of their village houses. They are so picturesque.

Smokey - what a handsome fella.

Kellie in Central FL

What a lovely story. I may never be able to visit France but your stories make me feel as if I were there. This one brings back memories of my "MiMi" and great- grandmere 'Mammy". My nieces and nephew have come up with "NiNi" for my mother. And her sisters have "MiMaw" and "NaNa" by theirs. It seems the world over everyone has some sort of tradition of naming their grandmere.

And that one word seems to encompass so much more than just the word "grandmother" alone, in any language. It is holds all the memories. The sleepovers with extra sweets, the stories she had to tell, the warmth of her hugs that made you feel safe. The timelessness. The word just brings a flood of memories, whether it is mamie, grammy, Nonna, grandmom or MiMi, we are just here LOVE.

Thank you so much Kristin and Madame Alberte for bringing this to us today.

Kellie. Florida is cold again. 40s in the morning 60s in the afternoon. maybe 70s by weekend. Who knows around here anymore?

Kellie in Central FL

I think agree Kristin we should get out more.

Today I took a moment, was outside stopped and looked around. I can see our visiting wildlife for the season making their temporary homes in the trees. Soon enough they will leave and return North. They seem so unaffected by us down below. Maybe I should get out, stop and look around more.

Maybe if I grabbed my camera and got in my car I could just go and see what I am missing. I have been out of work for 7 months now and could have seen so much more of life.

Magaret in NC...my mother drives like you did. What can be a 10 min drive taking me home one day from a cafe date together can turn into a 30 min drive. She just keeps turning down side streets. I have lived in this small town for 15 yrs and have never seen these roads. She has found amazing homes and beautiful little gardens. I bet most people don't even realize there is a HUGE Japanese style mansion and garden here.

There is alot of history in this town. And alot of interesting things to explore. You found Madame Alberte.


How can we get to the archives?

Marianne Rankin

When "naming" grandparents, one goal is to differentiate them. So my son's paternal grandfather was "Grandfather," and his maternal grandfather was "Grandpa." Grandpa's wife is "Grandma" (still steaming along at 97), and my late mother was "Nana." Before her, her mother was "Nana" to me. I likely will be "Nana" if I have grandchildren someday, unless the other grandmother yearns for the title.

Children often provide names for people. I'm told that when I was a toddler, I called my grandfather "Pa Da" until I could say "Grandpa." Sometimes they name siblings as well. My aunt Elizabeth wound up being "Wiff" all her life, since her toddler brother had called her "Wiffabeff."

My grandfather used to say, "I don't care what you call me, as long as you call me in time for dinner!"

In the chilly, somewhat windy 40's F. here in suburban Maryland, with rumors of snow ina couple of days.


This story about "mamey" was very moving to me. I know a few older women in France- with the headfull of red hair...She really wasn't very "presentable" in her house dress, but what moved me was her interest in life itself; literally using her window looking onto life in the street- she is ever interested in what passes her way- that spirit of hopefulness gives us all hope! Finding beauty in the details..


Mme Albert looks like she has one of those wonderful spirits that is always on the lookout for little moments in life when she can send out love and light to another. Thanks for introducing her to us! :-)

Meredith, I loved your story!

And Smokey always looks handsome!



Add me to those who love this story and the lovely soul who made your day. I have one question though. How cold is cold where you are?I noticed Cyclamen growing in the ladies window box, and these usually don't survive outside in cold weather.

Cheryl in STL

Candy et al,
I'm in on a "femmes d'orées" get together next year!! It would be lovely! Why not rent a castle?!


Lovely. A classic story and beautiful photograph. This is why I love your blog. Bravo, Kristin!

Teresa in NJ

My husband and I gave my parents their first grandchild shortly after their trip to France. We are all lovers of the French language, art ,ect. in my family, so it shouldn't have surprised me when my parents asked to be called Grandmere & Grandpere. Fifteen years and 7 grandchildren later, we all refer to them that way. People sometimes ask if we are French (no-Irish!), and then it seems odd, but we enjoy it anyhow, and wonder what the children will call us when they grow up and have children,

Ken Boyd

Hello Kristin
Just listened to your daughter on todays WAV .
Such a charming voice , lucky you and your husband .

Napa Valley


Oh Kristen, thank you so much for this explanation of "Mamy". I have been very confused about how my French son in law and his Mother refer to his grandmere as Mamy. I am always asking how is the grandmere? And then I get the conversation about Mamy. That sounds a lot like Meme to my untrained ears, so I am never sure about the information. His Mamy is a most charming lady in her 80's with great energy and health, and a sweet disposition...a perfect Mamy in every way. Now I will know the difference between Mamy and Meme. Thanks!

Jin Xiaobai

Kristin: "don't forget to smell the rosies" - from a botanist's view, the flowers being smelt are of a begonia. I like begonias and I grow some of them.

Jin Xiaobai from Beijing

Kristin Espinasse

Hello Jin,


Its wonderful to get a message from Beijing (my Dad, who is keeping track of where readers write in from, will be very impressed!). Thank you for begonia. I have been intrigued by these flowers (though I cant always identify them...) ever since reading Le Petit Nicolas on an exchange program in Lille, France.


Merci encore and keep in touch with us.


Hello Kristin,
Your blog is very good.I can learn French and English from it.Athough my French and English isn't good,I will try to understand your article to practice usage languages.
Ps. I'm a student from Thailand.
Thank you for a good blog.
Merci beaucoup.


what a great way to start my day Wonderful story and LOVE this lady , thanx Fay x

Tonya McNair

This is SUCH a lovely story. I was surprised when I found out I had gotten (sort of) old! We don't know that tht Granny still has thoughts just like the 35-yr. old she was. When the wrinkles come, it doesn't mean there's no adventure still inside. And the grog! I wish you had said "Yes!" to it..
Thank you!

Alberta Boileau

My choice for Madame Alberte would be: "Jolie.... Tu es tres jolie madame".......
(I do not yet have my accents on my "ordinateur" so the word tres does not have its "accent grave").

I am pleased to see the name Alberte in your comments. My family called me Alberta but some french-speaking acquaintances called me Alberte and I like the softer sound.

dorothy dufour

I have a question - how do you pronounce MAMIE??? When we lived
in Quebec, grandparents were Memere and Pepere, which I liked.
Now our nephew (who arrived in BC as a teen aged welder, and stayed
8 years) is a "Papie". To me, that has Ozarks connotations. I'm a grandmother too, and our family tradition is Nanny and Granddad.
My nice nieces call me GREAT Aunt Dorothy. Nice story about Mme. Alberte.

The long awaited spring is starting here, with many daffodils in bud.

Susan M Allen


Peut-etre vous pouvez poster ton journale dans les deux langues, l'anglaise et francaise. J'ai besoin de practiquer!

Susan in Houston

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