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Entries from November 2010


In the lava land of Lanzarote, the Canary Islands, Spain... where we relaxed after the latest grape harvest.. 

creux (creuse) [kreuh, kreuz] adjective

    : hollow, deep, empty

le creux (inv) = a hollow, a dip, a slack period
La Creuse = name of a French river and of a Department in central France 

French Idioms & Expressions

avoir un petit creux = a little hollow in one's stomach (an empty stomach), to feel peckish
les heures creuses = off-peak hours
avoir le nez creux = to be shrewd

There are many more interesting "creux" and "creuse" expressions. Would you like to help out by posting one here, in the comments box?

Sound File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following words:
note: the sound is problematic... working on this... Download MP3 or Wav

En cas de petit creux, j'ai prévu des petits sandwiches à grignoter....
In the event of a little hunger, I've planned for a few sandwiches to munch on....


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

"The Sandwich Maker in Spain"

Every morning we would line up at the resort's breakfast buffet, Jean-Marc, with his shirt à l'envers, Max and Jackie, with sleepy eyes, and I with an eye on the three stomachs ahead of me.

"Jackie, did you notice the green melon?" I'd suggest, when she reached for the milk and the cereal. We could always have cereal back home, but honeydew melon!
"And did you see the bacon?" We never had bacon for breakfast and this was the chance to sample things we wouldn't normally eat this time of day, back home in France.

"Max, did you leave some for the others?" I'd remind our 15-year-old, who piled his plate with sugary viennoiseries

And Jean-Marc... "JEAN-MARC!!!!"  I'd screech. Presently my husband was making sandwiches! And I knew just what sort of trick he had up his sneaky sleeve... only any self-respecting trickster would cache the object of his trickery. Not this one! Jean-Marc was making a picnic lunch via this breakfast buffet -- comme si de rien n'était! As if everything were A-OK!

Oh no you don't! Don't you start that up here! You did that back in Madrid, for the 15 euro buffet, and, OK, it was quite expensive and you did get your money's worth... but you're not going to start pocketing your picnic here! My mind was arguing up a storm. I could just imagine what would happen to our restful vacation if my husband began to take from the daily breakfast buffet.  Peace would go out the door... along with quite a few of those pancakes, to be sure!

Meantime, Jean-Marc, calm as the cucumbers that were not present (after all, this was a breakfast buffet and not a 24-hour diner!) just kept on building his sandwiches: A little bit of sliced bread... and why not a sesame roll? Inside went the scrambled eggs, some breakfast sausages, oh, and did he fancy a tomato? They had those, too! Other sandwiches were more creative: some hash browns, ketchup, and sliced cheese on wheat (hash browns on wheat??? fried potatoes on toast. Well, whoever...!).  

I was horrified when the fellow vacationers strolled by, sure they had one eye on our sandwich-making monopoly and the other on the manageress, who had checked us in earlier, at the front counter. Would she be sending us a check once she caught sight of our "extra bite"?

"Well, what are they going to do?" Jean-Marc questioned, amused. "Throw us in prison?" With that he would look at me with soft eyes:
"Would you like me to make you one, Chérie?"

"No. No! No! No! I do not want one of your sandwiches."

I thought about my strong reaction, wondering whether my good citizenship was only a cover... for questionable qualities of my own. Finally, I decided that it wasn't pride. No! It was principles!

"Well, you'll wish you'd said Yes," was all the sandwich-maker would say. "Tu vas le regretter...."

And of course he was right. Later on at the beach, around 10 a.m., I would look enviously at the sandwich man. There he sat, beneath the "borrowed" shade (can you believe he even swiped the hotel parasol? "but I did it for you, cherie..."), staring out at the Atlantic sea, the crested waves slapping foam against the sandy beach with its black-ashed sable from volcanic eruptions of long ago. He ate with glee and reverie, those sumptuous sandwiches that now had even me dreaming.

"Would you like a bite, Chérie?"

"No, I would not like a bite!"

And with that I would roll over and pout into my book about a French woman, Gervaise, who was going to pot after "sweeting" to the slow, slovenly, saturated life. My stomach would grumble and I'd turn the page... only to read about yet another smorgasbord. 

The next morning at the breakfast table (and the mornings thereafter) it was the same industrious sandwich-making enterprise.
"Jean-Marc!!!" I began, as usual. "Tu exagères!"
"Peut-être je vais les vendre sur la plage! I might sell them on the beach!" he teased. "It might pay for our vacation!" he went on, taunt after taunt. And like that, I'd steam, right there in my seat.

             The Sandwich-maker in Spain, aka "Chef Grape on Harvest Holiday"

But those sandwiches were looking good. And, true, if you reasoned a certain way, then, really, what was the difference? What with eaters like me -- who took only a piece of toast, an egg, a piece of bacon, and a slice of melon.... one of each, as opposed to the two or three of each as did the man at the next table. Why... one could rationalize! Yes, one could reason, therefore, that a little extra sandwich made from the buffet leftovers (for it helped to call them that) would do no harm....

By day three I began to make suggestions to our sandwich maker.
"I might like some fried egg and some bacon... if that one were mine..." Jean-Marc took the hint and made me up a mid-morning snack. Meantime, Max made himself a mini casse-croute (a modest ham and cheese sandwich on white... and an apple for dessert). Jackie steered clear of this shady sandwichery... preferring to wait for 2 p.m., when respectable Spaniards ate -- and paid -- for their midday meal.

By the end of our vacation my rigid rules were loosening... along with my belt... as I began putting in orders to the sandwich man, instructing Jean-Marc to go light on the sausage... or to avoid the cheese altogether. But I still could not get up the gumption to make my own sandwich. I guess this time you'd have to call it pride.  As for those "principles" I mentioned, I'd lost them somewhere between the clipped ketchup and the heisted hash brown potatoes.


Two Strongly Recommended Books!

While I remained glued to Emile Zola's L'Assommoir, the story about the downward spiral of the working class in 19th Century Paris (owing to alcohol, gluttony, and a fancy for free time...) Jean-Marc was in rapture with the latest book by Robert Camuto, Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey. I thought I might shove two of those sandwiches in my ears if Jean-Marc kept going on and on and on about his love for this book! But then, when my own book ran out of pages, and I'd finished L'Assommoir, I couldn't help but see what all the fuss was about... and steal glances at Jean-Marc's copy of Robert Camuto's latest. Wine and Italy lovers,  don't miss it! 

French Vocabulary

à l'envers = inside out

viennoiseries = pastries

cache (cacher) = to hide

comme si de rien n'était!  = as if nothing were amiss!

Chéri(e) = Darling

Tu vas le regretter! = You'll regret it!

le sable = sand

Tu exagères = you're overdoing it!

le casse-croûte = snack


Family on vacation: Jean-Marc, Jackie, and Kristin

                                                                                                                    15-year-old Max

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jeu de mots

I told you we vacationed on the "Planet of the Apes"... but you didn't seem to believe me.

jeu (m) de mots (zheuh deuh moh) locution

    : a play on words, a pun

Do you have a favorite French "jeu de mots"? Example: ever said goodbye to somebody like this: "A demain!" ("See you tomorrow!") only to be perplexed by their "à deux pieds!" ("to two feet!") response? Share with us, here in the comments box, any examples that you know, concerning les jeux de mots.

Explanation: "à demain" sounds like "à deux mains" ("to two hands")... an irresistible opportunity for fun-loving francophone to wish you "a deux pieds!".

Sound File: Download MP3

"Exemple d'un jeu de mots: Tu as raisin, Banane!"
"An example of a play on words is: You have "raisin", Banana!"


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

"One French Expression, Seamlessly Illustrated"

On the last day of harvest holiday Chef Grape is so relaxed that the very seams of his chemise are showing. Such a detail might go on, casually unnoticed, but for the presence of our 13-year-old fille, "The Fashion Police". Jackie, who, like every French girl, can manage to twist her hair into seemingly unstudied elegance (the truth is, she and her French friends spend saisons learning such "haphazard" hairstyles to go along with their well-thought-out wardrobes) is quick to notice her father's fashion faux pas:

"Papa, retourne ton tee-shirt!" cautions our daughter. Her eyes dart around the pool area, over which we are crossing on our way to the breakfast buffet. Heureusement, no one is here to witness her father's own "unstudied" elegance.

In that delayed response mode which is characteristic of a man en vacances, Jean-Marc, slow as lava,* looks down at his shirt. Things must look just fine to him, for he's not budgin'.

"Papa!" Jackie repeats, "Regarde! Ton T-shirt est à l'envers!"

A revelation is had. Jean-Marc, this time without missing a beat, acknowledges the little fashionista's forthrightness... but not without a lighthearted language jest:

"T'as 'raisin', Banane!" With that, he flips over his T-shirt and we can now see the letters "ESPAGNE!", written vertically down the front.

Meantime, two paces behind the father-daughter duo (otherwise known, for the sake of this story, as "Chef Grape" and "Banana") I am mental-noting the latest jeu de mots, but also concerned... wondering whether raisins  or grapes will ever leave the vacationing farmer's mind, even on Harvest Holiday.

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.
Merci d'avance!

Reminder: if you happen to be in Paris on Monday... come to Shakespeare & Co bookshop and listen with me to author Ann Mah. Jean Marc will be serving up some of our Domaine Rouge-Bleu wine after the book reading! 7 pm, Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 - hope to see you!


French Vocabulary

la chemise = shirt

la fille = daughter

la saison = season

le faux pas = the error

Papa, retourne ton tee-shirt = Dad! Turn over your T-shirt!

heureusement = fortunately

en vacances = on vacation

lava = (one more hint, after "Planete of the Apes", as to where we spent our vacation)

Papa! Regarde! Ton T-shirt est à l'envers! = Dad! Look! Your T-shirt is on inside out!

Tu as 'raisin', Banane! = You're right, Banana!

Espagne = Spain

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Smokey gained so much weight while we were away on vacation that you'd hardly recognize him... but for that tongue! Update, last month his face finally and completely healed! The open sore closed completely. (Perhaps this is why he is now so "meatly"?)



Only a little dent, there to the right, hints at the horrible misadventure he had one year ago... Read the story here, if you missed it.


Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French

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Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


(The "thrice weekly" photo and regular edition will be back illico presto! Thank you for your understanding!)

le singe (sahnzh) noun, masculine

    : monkey

faire le singe = to make funny faces

Do you know of any other "singe" expressions or idioms to add to this very modest list? Can anyone explain the expression "payer en monnaie de singe"? Click here to comment and thanks in advance!

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

I feel as guilty sneaking in to work as some feel sneaking out of it. Truth is we are away on "Harvest Break" and I promised to be here, in DoNothingLand and not there, in FrenchWordLand, so as to fully profiter from break and rejuvenate.

"Here" would be The Planet of the Apes (no kidding -- seriously, je ne blague pas!). But more about that when Chef Grape, the kids, and I return to earth (façon de parler! ) on Wednesday.

Meantime, live from La Planète des Singes, I have two very important things to tell you:

1. Merci beaucoup! for taking the time to answer my plea for your profiles! It is a pure pleasure to read your bios and to visit your blogs and your sites. It is inspiring to read your words and fun to meet each and every one of you who take the time to read this word journal.

2. Secondly, I wanted to tell you about a book reading and wine tasting! Ann Mah, author of Kitchen Chinese: A Novel about Food, Family, and Finding Yourself, will be reading from her latest novel...  about a female sommelier! and Jean-Marc will be serving his Rouge-Bleu wine after this event!

Here are the particulars and I hope to see some of you there...:

Monday, November 8, 2010, 7pm
Shakespeare & Co.
37 rue de la Bûcherie
75005 Paris
tel: 01 43 25 40 93

Le Coin Commentaires

For those who receive this journal via email, you may access the comments box here

French Vocabulary

illico presto = right away

profiter = to take full advantage of

je ne blague pas! = I'm not kidding!

façon de parler = manner of speaking


Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.