siege auto


Leaf Bare (c) Kristin Espinasse
Southwest of winter: bare trees & golden vine leaves. 

matelas (mat lah) noun, masculine

    : mattress

 related: sommier (box spring), surmatelas (pillow top), matelassé,e (quilted, padded)

cacher son argent/ses économies sous un matelas =
  to hide money/savings beneath the mattress
retourner son matelas (côte hiver, côte été) =
  to turn over one's mattress (winter side, summer side)
protéger le matelas avec une alèse =
  to protect a mattress with a mattress cover

You may listen to the above idioms here. Feel free to add more terms & expressions in the comments box.

Book Recommendation:
I am currently reading and being riveted by Victor Hugo's Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné (The Last Day of a Condemned Man) Read it in French or in English.

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

For several months now, I've had the sneaking suspicion that our mattress is on its last leggy box spring. Unlike other worn-out items, which give a clear sign when they need replacing (the coffee machine malfunctions, the computer crashes...)—unlike these obvious indices—a mattress doesn't break. It will live on for as long as the user will tolerate the torture of coil springs and nightly flings.

Flings! I'm talking about "the trampoline effect" or what happens when you've a threateningly threadbare matelas and your husband decides to turn over—as he will nine times each night. 

To a mattress martyr such as yourself, the turning over of a spouse or a partner on a paltrily padded mattress sets into motion a series... of sauts (think of so many mattress springs from which you are separated but by a few strings!). One minute you are dreaming of flying and the next—tu voles, véritablement!

Just like moods, an old mattress has its ups and downs, literally des hauts et des bas. We've just read about the ups (triggered by a turning or shifting spouse); as for the "downs", they occur midpoint between his (or her) side of the bed and your side, wherein runs a valley deep as the Rhone.  You are fine as long as you cling to the hillside that is your own upper half of the mattress. But should you nod off at night... you might roll right down to the middle of the mattress, nose-to-nose with your miserable mattress mate.

The upside of an old mattress is being able to count—with the backs of your thighs—all the coins hidden just beneath. And if the mattress is really old and thin, you can even read your diary (should it be deeply penned). 

So, remember, the next time you recline... and can feel a dime... that's a sure sign of mattress decline!


:: Le Coin Commentaires ::
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome in the comments box

French Vocabulary

un indice = sign, indication

le matelas = mattress

le saut = jump, leap

tu voles, véritablement! = you fly, truly!

des hauts et des bas = highs and lows


LE JEUX DE CARTES.  15-year-old Max (above, right) and friend, Edouard.

And that's Max (in the T shirt with bunched up sleeves). Edouard is on the right.

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gail bingenheimer

Même les choses les plus simples sont difficiles pour ceux qui ne savent pas lire.
Even the simplest things are difficult for those who do not know how to read.
La vendeuse dit:-Je regrette, il ne me reste plus aucun matelas.
The saleswoman said: "I'm sorry, I haven't a simgle mattress left."


This post reminds me of the time my husband I stayed in an old hotel somewhere around Gemenos and when I layed down on the bed I rolled right to the middle. The mattress was shot, you sunk to the middle as soon as you layed down. The only way we could sleep that night was back to back, smashed together in the sunken old mattress.

Bill in St. Paul

I think that those of us of a certain age have been through many a mattress with the problems you described. However, I must digress to tell of our wonderful discovery: Saturday night my wife and I went to our favorite restaurant Cafe 128. As I was looking down the wine list I noticed a wine called Mistral and I thought that somebody was copying the name of Jean-Marc's wine, but on further reading it said Dom. Rouge-Bleu - it was in fact J-M's wine, being served in our favorite restaurant! If J-M visits St. Paul (or Minneapolis) this year I'll get Jill, the owner, to meet Jean-Marc.


Hi Kristin, I don't usually comment, but I just wanted to say that I enjoyed learning some more advanced derivatives of 'matelas' and also your funny story about yours. Dors bien !


Is it my imagination or were there places in France that offered: Refection de matelas - mattress repairs. Haven't seen that inyears, and I have no idea what repairs were offered.

Sophie Day

I also am reading an exciting book right now. It is Stacy Schiff's Saint-Exupéry and it is getting me ready for a trip to Morocco in March. There is a quote about books that I particularly like. "He claimed not to be able to sleep at night without a pile (of books) by his bedside...'He did not actually read them, but the thoughts which kept him company were there, locked in the books like precious medicines in their phials...they were in arm's reach, should the need for them arise.'" What a kindred spirit!


Be ware of new mattresses in the USA. Made me laugh when I read you are ready to replace your mattress. We 'thought'our old mattress was ready to be replaced.

Thinking mattress replacement was like it used to be when we bought the ol' sagger 20 years ago. Nope, mattresses are no longer built for comfort. They're too thick 15 -17 inches and sheets don't fit, mattress pads don't work and when you try to sleep on the new mattress it slowly surrounds you threatening to choke off your air. The selection of mattresses is insurmountable!
We finally settled on one only to find that in one week it sagged with deep depressions where we slept, we couldn't turn over and nightmares of being caught up in the darn thing became a regular habit. After trying to get used to it we finally returned it only to get another monster that is equally as uncomfortable. Now we have to try to get a third one...
We wish we'd kept our old one, at least we knew the monster and loved it.

Amy Kortuem

Your life will change when you get a new mattress. I thought it was all the harp hauling I did that was killing my back - but when I got a new, fluffy, pillow-top mattress, all my aches and pains went away!

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin,

I enjoyed your story today. I like the “embedded” humor and the rhyme you slipped in at the end.

Before you buy a new mattress, make sure you have a pre-planned exit strategy for your old one. You probably don’t want to give it to any of your friends or neighbors and in some areas it’s illegal to sell them. They are good though for a guest room. . . .keeps the visitor stays short! The best bet is to have the company that sold you the new one, agree to take the old one.

P.S. I think you can buy them on a “lay-away” plan.

À bientôt

Heather Donaldson

Hi Kristen,
I saw your post and had to respond. I'm here in France just beginning my year to learn French. Today we had our first session at Institut de Francais in Villefranche Sur Mer - an absolutely perfect place to learn French.
Anyway, I'm a B&B owner with lots of experience buying Mattresses.
My guests always comment how comfortable my beds are. I use pocket coil mattresses, with wooden slats - the way Europeans have done for ages. It took me a while to believe you could actually do without a box spring - but hundreds of guests concur. The secret though is to purchase the top of the line pocket coil mattress. I swear your husband could perform calisthenics and you wouldn't wake up - unless you wanted to...

Heather Donaldson

whoops - forgot to say I use Ikea - they're way less expensive - but they must be pocket coil.

Joan Linneman

Herm: I love your puns: "lay-away plan" and "embedded humor" hit me just right on a rainy day near Chicago.
Joan L.


Chere Kristin,THANK YOU for another wonderful post dealing with a subject we all can relate to! Though our bones are definitely older than yours (!)we were having really annoying back pain,and,for some reason,never connected to the possibility that it might be mattress related.When we once 'saw the light'(!) and purchased a new set,WOW! Viola! Every morning is a good one! Bon journee!


While we were in France this last time, we stayed in a B & B and the suite was just lovely but the mattress sunk so much in the middle, that we took the quilts from the extra day bed and put them in the sagging parts of the mattress and were able to get a good nights sleep.
My mother is on her 2nd new mattress and she says that it is alive and pushes her feet out of the bed and that there is a wall in the middle of the mattress.
I love our mattress - not too hard and not too soft - just right.


slowly catching up - still a few past newsletters to read ... but will stop here first for a few comments

Kristin, I enjoyed the words and humour, but I don't envy your "sommier" and "matelas"... I am rather intrigued by "le surmatelas" translated by 'pillow' top (???) Isn't it supposed to be a soft and comfortable layer of material, a couple of cms thick, quilted,(unless it's sheepskin) and placed between the MATTRESS and the bottom sheet, covering the top of the "matelas" (so why 'pillow' top?)
I would think if you had one of those French "surmatelas", you wouldn't feel so badly the 'coins' / 'buttons' of your mattress!... but it wouldn't really solve the problems of your sagging mattress and 'flings'...

Why is it common practise with babies and young children to cover their mattress with "une alaise" / also spelt "alèse"? simply because it is "imperméable' (= WATERPROOF). Here in England, "une alaise" is called a 'waterproof mattress protector' or a 'waterproof undersheet' - in hospital, there is always one of those 'vinyl sheets' to cover all their mattresses)

At home, we cover our mattress with a quilted 'mattress cover' (thinner than a French "surmatelas"). It is easy to wash. Ours is elasticated all around, like a fitted sheet, but you can get one that covers the whole mattress - zipped all around 3 sides of it.

Then comes "le drap de dessous" (= the 'bottom sheet'). If elasticated all around, it is "un drap housse" (= 'a fitted sheet'). Do you have "un drap du dessus" (a top sheet) plus blankets? or just "une couette"?
We have a light, warm and fluffy 'quilt', commonly called a 'duvet' (NOT the same as what the French call "un duvet" which is a 'sleeping bag' for camping!). Its cover ("la housse") replaces a top sheet. In winter, we velcro a warmer quilt to the summer one, in order to get a total warmth of 15 togs.
As I seem to be making the bed, I'll carry on and add "un couvre-lit / dessus de lit" (= 'bedcover / bedspread') which goes over the quilt and falls down nicely all around the sides of the bed. We keep it partly folded when we're in bed. Nicely arranged over the bed in daytime, it adds neatness and homely charm to the 'bed scene'.

Kristin, it's time to say goodbye to a mattress when your back is already aching first thing in the morning and your nights are becoming uncomfortable with the inevitable ups and downs you so well described.


Bill, thanks for the exciting news!

Sab, thanks for your positive words and Gail, for the examples.

Newforest, missed you last week and was beginning to be concerned.... and now things are light and springy, now that you are back--and with so many interesting terms. Thank you! I can no longer complain about my mattress after reading Kathleen's account of stuffing her B&B matelas with the extra cover! And I am a little leery of buying a new mattress after reading Sheila's note. Maybe I'd better look into a mattress cover, instead! Then again, Heather's note helps weigh in on the "time to buy" side :-) (and it helps that a new IKEA just appeared not far from us....)

Joan, I too enjoyed Herm's clever puns.

Natalia, happy for your positive experience and wishing you many bonne nuits!

Amy, careful with your back. Not sure how heavy a harp is... and good to know you are getting a good night sleep too.

Meredith, what a picture you paint. Thanks! Also, I find the back-to-back to be a good solution to the gaping "divide". Merci encore.

Punch, interesting question. Yes, I have heard of mattress repair, in old times. Didn't they use that thick striped material, some sort of "toile". Wasn't it common to reappolster (sp?) a mattress -- to prolong its life? Also, remember the thistle plant ... wild teasel?... it too was used, if I remember correctly to "carder" (French word for teasel is "cardère") or comb the mattress.


PS... Hi again!
In my previous post, I missed the pillows and pillow cases ("les oreillers" & "es taies d'oreiller")...I believe most of the French pillows are square, aren't they? never understood why. Kristin, are your neck and shoulders sensitive to the shape of your pillow? Mine are (but I am older than you!). Nothing better for me than a rectangular pillow.
As for the sausage-shaped "traversin" (= bolster), we happily do without one.
BTW, we don't have a "sommier" but a wooden structure with slats.

Our very deep and very heavy pocket coil mattress was getting old and sagging. It was most happily replaced not long ago by a much thinner and lighter - but firmer - (medium) 'pressure relief' mattress. Splendid result. What a difference! I'm also very pleased to add I can now turn our mattress over all by myself, without the slightest effort. I can "retourner le matelas" not twice a year but as often as I like, so our new mattress will never have "un côté hiver" & "un côté été"!


a temporary solution for you, Kristin:
Thinking about the hard time your mattress is giving you and while waiting for the problem to be fixed, I suppose you could try to put "un édredon" or thick quilted bedspread, or even a luxurious French SURMATELAS between your poor old mattress and your (hopefully 'fitted') bottom sheet. The elasticated edges of your fitted bottom sheet will keep the 'softie sandwich' into place. Your back might feel happier and your nights a bit more comfortable.
Réfection de matelas:
I think there used to be 2 jobs involved
1) to change "la toile du matelas" (canvas) and do a re-upholstering job
2) remove the kapok and all fibre inside, or wool / wool mixture, to be 'beaten up', re-carded and fluffed up.
The professional "matelassier" will then put the whole stuffing back into its new 'case', made of strong "coutil" (= heavy 'ticking fabric').
Part of the re-upholstery job will include sewing by hand some "bourrelets" along the sides and, sewing with long needles, through the mattress, some button-shaped "bouffettes" (= 'tufts')

Result: a new lease of life to your dear mattress - but will probably cost a bomb (?)... but what about your "sommier"?

Lisa@ Tarte du Jour

Kristen -
I thought you'd want to know....my dear mother, a long time reader of your blog, past away last month after a three year battle with cancer. A couple of times you a so nicely sent her words of encouragement and prayers. She truly adored reading your blog because she so loved Provence. It was a wonderful way for her to read about the daily life in Provence when she could no longer travel there. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your lovely blog that lifted her spirits so many days. I now often picture her walking through the lavender fields in heaven.


Dear Lisa, sending heartfelt condolences to you for your beautiful Mom.* Thank you for sharing her with us. May you continue to take comfort in the inspiration that you receive from the lavender fields above. With love, Kristin

* http://www.tartedujour.com/journal/2010/10/17/there-is-a-new-angel-in-heaven-this-week.html


Mattress' can get lumpy, and be bumpy, but if you want a 'real adventure' try to slip unnoticed into a water bed lol!!!
One good turn on one of them and the bed is all yours =)


Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Missy

My wife and I tried a water bed once. We changed back to a regular bed because we got the feeling we were drifting apart!

À bientôt


Oh Herm, your rather evocative "drifting apart"... made me smile!

You will be pleased to hear I have, at last, understood the meaning of your "pillow top". The reason I was confused was that I couldn't see why and how "un surmatelas" (that can be added on the surface of a mattress) had anything to do with a 'pillow'. Ahaaaaah!

I have now fully realised what 'A PILLOW TOP MATTRESS' is:
# a mattress featuring a surface finishing treatment where a separate encasement of soft material is attached to the entire surface on top of the existing cover and upholstery.

# a mattress with extra foam and padding on top of the mattress.

# a mattress with thick quilted layer of plush materials sewn over the mattress surface.

Ok, it's like having a thin and soft 'pillow' all over the top of your mattress! The "surmatelas" is only that piece of 'pillow top', sold separately, and placed on the top of your own mattress, under the bottom sheet.

Question time:
- Buying a 'pillow top mattress' where that extra soft top is already included? (and getting rid of the dear old mattress)
- Buying a good "surmatelas" and squeeze it between the old mattress and the bottom sheet?
- sorting out "le sommier" as well?

As you're waiting for 'the' solution, your sleep might sometimes get lighter and shorter but I wish you lovely dreams.
"Dors sur tes deux oreilles"! (= Sleep tight and leave the worries behind)

"dormir sur ses deux oreilles"
= to sleep soundly / to sleep like a baby / to sleep like a dormouse .........


I don't know if you go back & read old commentaries: but I have to say that I have been using for over 50 years (wait, not the same mattress) pure rubber Latex foam mattresses. My Mother taught me. She said they were the best and she was right (at least about this). I have never bought a box spring in all these years but first put 2 X 4s on the bed frame then lay a piece (or two) of 3/4 inch plywood Or if sleeping with a heavy guy maybe 1 inch. Make very sure it is finished on BOTH sides as you don't want splinters when you make up the bed. Then lay the Latex mattress on top--perfection. I just bought a new one from City Mattress called Prana & it's the medium weight, so you have choices: soft, medium, hard. Unfortunately the prices have soared, $2,000 (just for the mattress--but believe me it's the best investment.) But here's what I was allowed to do, take 12 months to pay without interest. And in the US if you get a signed scrip from a medical doctor saying you need a firm mattress you don't have to pay the sales tax. So I saved a little over $100.

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Harriet, yes I do read comments, no matter how old the post is. Glad to see yours, and what great tips! Who knew that a docs prescription could = a coupon, too :-)

Aurélie Beaumont

Merci pour l'article. Je cherche un bon matelas à Montréal. J'ai dû laisser le mien en France, quand j'ai déménagé. Avez-vous des recommendations?

Suzanne Dunaway

Have I already told you about going to the beach with no French years ago and asking for quattre mattelos? Toute pour vous, madame, the beach guy asked. Oui, I said, peut-etre cinq svp. I think you want mattresses, madame, not sailors, he chuckled....
There you have my mattress experience.
Take your enterovioform to Mexico, or at least those little pills you take NOT to get Montezuma's revenge. They are standard fare now and have no side effects. Wash the veggies with a drop of Chlorox in the water.
Maybe I'm out of date but that's what my mother in law did when she lived in Manzanillo.

Love, Suz

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