exquis (ex kee) adjective
synonyms: avenant (pleasant), doux (sweet), fin (delicate)
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A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
It must be getting close to lunchtime. My head is light and my fingers are numb from the cold. I have been taking photos for hours now, weaving in and out of the village of Valréas on market day.
The greasy aroma of rotisserie chicken is pulling me by the nose, back to the rond-point, where I have parked my car opposite the old imprimerie, which is now a fitness studio. Exercise is something I am getting so little of lately. I hope my two-hour leisure walk counts for something (20-minutes on the treadmill?).
Though tempted to see what's cooking at the farmer's market, I am held into place by an invisible tie, mesmerized by this pretty placette before me, where a tall treille of vines makes for a charming front-step awning, or marquise. I am studying the canopy of grapes when a white-haired woman stops beside me and follows my regard to the top of the leafy lattice. She nods her head, which is crowned by soft, shoulder-length curls.
"Il y a de belles photos à avoir par là," she hints, turning her gaze to the passage just below, à gauche.
"Ah bon?" I turn to greet my informant with a bonjour followed by a merci for stopping like that, just to help me, the stranger in jeans and a jean jacket, or modern-day camouflage.
"Attendez une minute," the woman suggests, walking a few more feet to the next doorsill, where she sets down her market panier which is brimming with chrisanthemums. I notice the large antique key that she uses to open the 18th century porte.
I am waiting beside a window with white hearts sprayed onto the glass and realize this must be her kitchen fenêtre.
"J'aime bien ces coeurs," I offer to the silence in between us.
The woman sets her panier on the other side of the door-well, shuts and locks the door before joining me beneath the treille with grapes that now dangle above our heads like fancy ornaments. She pulls her coat close and I notice the homemade scarf made of loose strings. I have one similar to it, somewhere... I wonder if hers was a gift, too?
The white-haired woman with the homemade scarf points to the end of the impasse on which she lives. Next, she looks down past her feet....
"Below these cobblestones... ça communique...." she confides. I understand that she is referring to an underground passageway. I remember all of the memorial signs I had stopped to read, about all the martyrs that were fusillé by firing squads during the second world war. I imagine a basement cellar inside her village home, with a one-time access to the network of underground alleyways. I wonder if Madame was here during the war?
Another woman, trailing a cart-on-wheels, walks slowly past the other end of the portico, beneath which we had passed minutes before. "Salut Marie-Jo!" Madame calls out.
"Now there's a relic!" Madame confides, loud enough for her friend to hear.
"What's that?" Mary-Jo replies.
Madame turns to me, answering her friend, indirectly. "This is a visitor who finds our village beautiful!"
Mary-Jo nods, looking a scad confused.
"A relic that one!" Madame giggles.
"Comment?" the relic wants to know.
"I said 'cover up', Mary Jo. It's cold out!" Having dismissed her friend, Madame returns her full attention to me. "Now, for some good photos, you just follow this path...." and with that Madame offers instructions on where to find a series of magnificient "fronts", or "faces" that were fashioned into a wall. "You must see them! Magnifique!"
But I am not sold on the idea, and feel reluctant to leave. I don't want pictures of the sculpted faces. I want her face!
"But can't I take your picture?" I ask.
Madame's hand flies up like a bird and lands in her white hair. "It's a nest! A veritable nest!" she declaires, adding, apologetically, that a photo will not be possible.
I do not know what to say next. After all, she is not the disheveled one that she makes herself out to be. No! She is endearing, exquise! Her hair, is winter white and bouclé, and her face is a tableau of soft impressions. I am certainly impressionnée.
Hesitant, I follow her instructions and walk on, regretfully. I could have argued with her. I might have pointed out that that is no bird's nest on her pretty head: the soft, pearly curls, they are her crowning glory.
le rond-point = roundabout
une imprimerie = printing shop
la placette = little (village) square, place
la treille = climbing vine, trellis
une marquise = canopy of shelter, awning
Il y a de belles photos à avoir par là = there are pretty photos to be had this way
à gauche = to the left
ah, bon? = oh, really?
bonjour = hello
merci = thank you
attendez une minute = wait a minute
le panier = basket used to carry "les denrées" (f) or foodstuffs
la porte = door
la fenêtre = window
J'aime bien ces coeurs = I like these hearts
ça communique = this communicates, or joins
fusillé = shot down by a firing squad
salut = hi
comment = what did you say?
magnifique = magnificent
exquise = exquisite
bouclé(e) = curly
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