peur bleue

epingle a cheveux

Ionian Sea (c) Kristin Espinasse 
Jean-Marc and the Ionian sea in Sicily... where the saline breeze draws you to the salty waters, pleadingly. 

épingle à cheveux (ay pehngl ah sheuh veuh) n.f.

    hairpin bend (road, path); switchback

Audio: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: Download MP3 file

Le chemin de terre qui mène vers la mer descend en épingle à cheveux.
The dirt path that leads to the sea descends (in a series of) hairpin turns. 

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

 (Continued from part one: "Peur Bleue: A Morbid Fear".)

The miles-long footpath on which Jean-Marc and I were treading, from a Sicilian city down to the shores of its sea, changed from urban, to industrial, to earthy. I was anxious about crossing through the dark, graffitifed tunnel, when a sudden spell of terror, born of an overactive imagination coupled with every macabre news headline that I had ever read, had me freezing in my foot-tracks!

The idea of turning back was quickly factored out: just look at Jean-Marc, l'homme de la nature! He was so completely in his element, taken up with the salty breeze—pulled forth by the foamy claws of the sea! (I just knew he was looking forward to swimming in the winter waters below. A New Year's Day "bath" is a tradition for a true Marseillais.) 

But just when I let my spirit lift, we came out of the tunnel and face to face with a group of idle youths.... (Idle Youths = Tourist Abuse! in my news-headline-hazy head.) 

I watched my husband, who nodded an international greeting to the group, but my own neck was so stiff with suspicion that it couldn't manage the same salutation.

The group was seated on a rock wall, the other side of which plunged to the shoreline below. As we drew near I listened to their voices, which were foreign to me: not Italian, not French, not Spanish were they speaking. The headlines roared once again in my mind as we approached the strangers, who jostled one another, smiling and having a good time.

Tout va bien, I thought, reassuringly, there are women in the group, and they are all just having fun and acting carefree. But then so were Charles Manson and his "family"...! 

The grassy path we were now sharing was a switchback, hairpin turns from here to the sea. I studied the modern-day hippies. The only way to access the sea was via the switchback where the group sat, threateningly, according to my mind's graphic cinema, which reeled, helter skelter, with headline horror stories.   

 (Read the next and final installment here...)

Le Coin Commentaires / Comments Corner
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome. Click here to post a comment to the blog. 

French Vocabulary
l'homme de la nature = refers to an out-doorsy, Mister Nature type
tout va bien = everything's all right

Trivia: Today's word "épingle" appeared briefly, in only one of the 1100 French Word-A-Day word editions. Discover it here.

We'll soon meet a character from this Sicilian city... so don't go anywhere and do check back on Friday. .

  Kristin & Smokey

Meantime... "The Continuing Education of Smokey-Doodle" (pictured here at 8 months):

Today's lesson: French Fashion!

No, Smokey dear, these are not to be worn in your mouth. These boots, that have trod upon thousands of Gallic grapes (I can understand your attraction to their sweetness...), yes, these cleat-covered caoutchoucs are to be worn as head ornaments. Voilà, Smokey-Doll. Now, your turn.... hold your head up high and don't let those fashion victims in the capitol intimidate you! It's all about creativity! And the best-dressed dog wins le prix!

Feel like learning a few more words... or seeing a few more pictures of France? Check out the French Word Archives, here!

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Mike Hardcastle

Oh Kristen,

You must get rid of this notion that every teenager is a thug. You were once a teenager (not so very long ago) and you have teenage children. 99.9999999999% are just kids fooling around, and we shouldn't fret about the rest. Be sensible but not paranoid.

My (English) son was in Chicago a couple of years ago going to a rock concert in full 'Goth" gear when he approached a group of black teenagers with trepidation. As he drew level one of them called out to him, 'Great boots man". So much worry for nothing.

Another lovely little installment,


angela billows

I was recently in a car with a friend who warned me of 'un virage de con' I laughed and laughed, I love these expressions but I suppose the English hairpin bend means the same as épingle à cheveux but it somehow sounds more evocative in French.

Bill in St. Paul

I agree with Mike, be sensible but not paranoid. In similar situations, my wife would smile and say hello to the group and keep on walking. Usually the group is so taken aback by somebody acknowledging and greeting them that they can only manage to sputter out a "hi" or two.

Marianne Rankin

The sound feature, since it was changed, doesn't work well, or sometimes, at all.

I used to know a young woman who looked like a gang member, with studs on her jacket, etc. She told me she dressed like that to keep the "weirdos" away. To others, she might have looked threatening, but she wasn't.

I try hard to trust people until they show they can't be trusted.

Traci Nelson

Love the suspense! Of course I am jealous reading about the sea when it is degrees F and we have about 20 inches of snow on the ground! Bonne Annee from your Minnesota friends!


I took a photograph through that same beautiful wrought iron fanlight! It's fun to read about your visits to places I so recently visited myself.

Like Marianne, I've found that the sound clips no longer work reliably. Today's doesn't work at all for me.


Kristin, what was the weather like when you were there? And was it early January? Great picture of Jean Marc on the path.

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin,

What a pleasing sea photo! Add the smell of a sea breeze and I can see why Jean-Marc is out-pacing you. In early Arizona, the Navajo man always walked ahead of his squaw because of rattle snakes! Your situation is better.

The switch-back is the best way to traverse a steep slope. In Arizona’s Grand Canyon, many of the trails follow ancient Native American paths which had switch-backs. On the Bright Angel trail there’s a series of switch-backs called the “Devils Corkscrew” which is quite a challenging climb. Guess what? No guard walls!

I’m anxious to see how your story turns out. Hope you catch up to your sea-bound man.

À bientôt

mary paulson

Kristin, Kristin! Oh how our wild minds run alike. This is why many times I bust out in laughter at 5 in the morning.Looks like 2011 is going to be a continuation of mornings in
2010.You are wonderful at exposing your inner self, which lives secretly in some of us. Hence the laughter when exposed! love your

Kristin Espinasse

Mike, Bill, Marianne, and all who practice this kind of sensibility: well done and well said! I'm listening!

Angela, I hear the French tack on "de con" to a number of terms and expressions ("un frigo de con" when the fridge isn't working... "un télécommande de con when the remote control malfunctions... un régime de con... when a diet isn't working :-)

Passante and Marianne, thanks for the feedback re the sound file... will check it out. And, Passante, what a coincidence that you were in Acireale! Also, thanks for the word "fanlight", it will come in handy when labeling these photos for future French word editions.

Cyndy: the weather was unusually cold, or so the locals assured us!

Herm, thanks, as always, for a little AZ history and for the info on switch-backs (love the very visual term "Devil's Corkscrew"!)

Mary, so glad this story made you laugh. As Jules would say, "laughter releases those endorphins!" and it's much better than fretting (which must release only sweat and none of those happy hormones !)

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
Can't wait to find out what happens on Friday! Did you jump into the winter sea?
I love the photo of Jean-Marc walking down the path and the beautiful photo through the doorway!


Kristi you have me spell bound with your photo's trip to the sea!
How I love to 'travel' along with you :)

Marcia J. Yanshak

Vive le retour des phrases prononcées à haute voix! Ça nous aide énormément. Merci!


I used to live full time on an 'up-market' housing estate beside a golf course (in Wicklow, Ireland). I was part of the 25% who lived there year round. Then there were the 70% who came for a month or two in the summer (5% just owned a house for prestige and only came for the odd visit). When the 'summer' people arrived so did their kids. Unlike French families where there is respect for elders these 'kids' would hang out in bunches and intimidate people like me, who were full time residents, when we were out walking. After all unlike them 'we' only owned 'one' house so 'we' were definitely inferior (from converstaitions overheard). I used to force myself, with steady breathing, to walk past them and sometimes to stop and talk to them. This took them aback but there was quite obvious underlying disdain in their eyes. So it is not always the 'Goth' like figures that give us the heebeejeebees! You can imagine the sigh of relief 'we' sighed when 'they' all went back to their 'big' houses in Dublin! I am so glad I live in France!! It is a bit like Ireland used to be 40 years ago - before the 'greed' set in.

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

I agree. You can't always tell a "thug" by appearance. Unfortunately, where I live the younger generation is living a well-off life they didn't have to work for, so many have a sense of entitlement and lack of respect for other people and their possessions.

I'm loving the installments. I'll be back on Friday. So good to read about a sunny dip in the ocean on the coldest day of the year in my town.


Just keep writing about all that you do write about, including worries and concerns. I smiled all the way through. You write about such a variety of topics, and while we might not always be able to discern a person's true character by their appearance, still, we do take notice.

Jules Greer

I love Kim's comment - just keep writing Kristi...I will follow you wherever you go!



gail bingenheimer

I live in Chicago. There's alot of great things going on but then again tragedy strikes everyday. Car jackings happen all the time. I was amazed when I went to live in South Korea last year that they never have car jackings. I guess Chicagoans like to drive.

Cynthia Lewis

I look forward to your interesting writings each week ( like waiting for "The Saturday Evening Post" to arrive in the mail when I was a kid),but your photos I enjoy the most. The one today of your" l'homme de la nature" with the Ionian Sea in the background prompted this comment. Many,many thanks for sharing, Cynthia

The Underground Grammarian

In regard to your boots, you mean 'trod' (past tense and past participle), not 'tread' (present tense).


ahhhhh...the scary teens lurking in dark tunnels....yes I think they are SCARY as well...look forward to the next NAIL-BITING a good scary Stephen King book!!! :-)( what's a good "on the edge of your seat" book from a french author?)

PS Mike...loved the story about your son!


Kristin, I was about to write back that while I have been in Aci Reale (and Aci Trezza and the gorgeous Aci Castello), that fanlight is in Catania. Then I looked back at my own photographs to check and my Catania fanlight, through which you can also see a church steeple/bell tower, is slightly different. The difference is subtle enough that you have to see them side by side. I wonder if these fanlights are a characteristic Sicilian architectural detail and that one could find them in many places. I'll e-mail you my photo so you can see the similarity.


Haha ....just noticed an advert for "General Pants" and 'had to do a double take! In France? My son's favourite shop! :-)

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