Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Casanière, or a "homebody"... like me? How do you feel when you finally venture out? Read on, in today's missive. As for today's word, look carefully: it's not a mouchoir, or a handkerchief! Not even a Kleenex, sniff! (Photo taken in Saint-Roman-de-Malegarde, a village or two away from where today's story takes place.)
mouchard (moo shar) noun, masculine
: informer, police spy; sneak, stool pigeon
Synonym: un espion (une espionne) = a spy
le mouchardage = spying, informing, sneaking
moucharder = to sneak on, to inform on
une moucharde = female spy, sneak, informer
Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read this sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file
Dans tous les cafés à Paris, pendant la guerre, il y avait des mouchards qui écoutaient...
In all the cafés in Paris, during the war, there were spies who listened...
Exercises in French Phonics is...
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A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Spying on La Maraîchère
Not too far from our vineyard, just past a blue-gray oliveraie and a modest truffle orchard, beyond which a lovelorn donkey brays through the night, its woeful calls answered by the cranky aboiements of the neighbor dogs (who'd like to get some sleep, thank you very much!) there stands a fruits-and-vegetables shack.
It would be tempting to call the small structure une paillote--but paillotes are normally found near la plage, and are little freestanding structures with roofs en paille, or straw; not this hutch, c'est tout en bois, or all in wood, from its head to its "toes", which might, for the sake of art, be represented as so many stubby wooden crates that litter the edge of the little maraîchère hut.
Each time I go to the produce stand, which is found on private property, opposite the owner's mas, just up the road from le poulailler, I mumble to myself (and sometimes aloud, within ear reach of the proprietress), je dois venir ici plus souvent. Instead, I have the shameful habitude of buying our produce at the supermarket drive-through (and in all my pre-moving-to-France-dreams, I would never have imagined shopping in France's fast lane! Hélas...)
Because la vendange is just around the corner (phase one, or the picking of red grapes for our rosé wines, begins Saturday!), I'm making an effort with my shopping list, where farm-fresh vegetables are on the menu. Part of that effort involves getting out and rubbing elbows, or coudes, with the locals--always a challenge for a homebody, or casanière, who feels more comfortable among books and slobbering dogs--but who secretly thrives on society, where real characters are to be found (no offense, Braise and Smokey, and no offence Oliver Twist).
Pulling up to the paillote (we'll go ahead and call the stand by the more charming term, again, for art's sake!), I felt those familiar inner tormentors urging me to "rentre!", or "turn back!". "It's been so long since your last visit to the stand," the inner voices menaced. "You're not welcome here among the clients fidels.
With a little effort, I managed to brush off the mind's ramblings in time to hear the greeting coming from behind the wooden comptoir.
"Bonjour, Madame!" Looking up, I noticed two women. The one, middle-aged, looked a little familiar, the other, twice the age of the first, I had never seen before.
I eagerly returned the warm greeting, then, deciding it best not to linger, looked casually around the stand, my mind more on the women than on the crates of vegetables. Being the only client, I felt even more conspicuous than I was acting, loitering like that among the wooden crates, sending surreptitious glances, now and again, to the women behind the fig-flanked register (I selected a few pieces of fruit, there, and threw in a pot of basilic, so as to look busy).
But who can concentrate on homegrown vegetables when real French characters are in the environs? I wanted to meet these personnages, to know what they had for breakfast... and what were their dreams for tomorrow?
But how to break the ice, or briser la glace? And then it hit me: with a word that looks a lot like "love", or "amour"... and that would be "humour": aMOUR / huMOUR!
And so I gave it my best shot, this stepping-out-of-one's-cozy-shell, using humour as the ice-breaker:
"I haven't seen you here before..." I ventured. With that, one of the women shook her head.
"I am the mother of the proprietor," the one answered.
"And I am the sister," the other offered.
"We are taking care of the stand while my daughter is away on vacation," the mother explained. She studied me through her bifocals, concluding her examination with an inviting sourire.
I felt those familiar butterflies inside, but pushed past any apprehension.
"Aha... yes... just as I suspected!" I said, remembering my amour/humour antidote to timidity. "Vous voyez... on m'a envoyé ici pour vous moucharder! I am a spy, you see... sent here by the vacationing proprietaire!" I informed the ladies. "I'm here to make sure that you are indeed doing your work... and I see that you are! I shall now know what to report back to the proprietor!"
Following my mock confession, the women smiled at each other, and at me, while making an animated effort to straighten up, and put on their best impression of Industrious Workers.
"Voilà," I winked. C'est bien comme ça! Continuez! Continuez!"
With that, I collected the brown paper sacks in which the women had placed the figs and the basilique, and I was off, following quickly in the wake of my nerves, which were already back at the car, ready to go home after this latest venturing out. It seems that no matter how many times I get out, I must still encounter that stifling feeling of awkwardness, before even encountering the locals.
Reaching for the car door, I looked down and noticed a large stone. It was shaped like a great imperfect heart and, although it had no words etched onto its surface, it murmured a clear message -- the echo of which I could hear, even as I stood there: Venture out! Venture out! It whispered. Never fear! Just a bunch of us heavy hearts lying around out here, waiting to be lifted up.....
I looked back at the "hearts" over at the stand, and the women who owned them smiled back at me. Whether their spirits needed a lift, I can't be sure. Meantime, my own soul felt lighter, confirming the maxim that quand on donne on reçoit, when you give you receive.
la maraîchère (le maraîcher) = market gardener, one who sells produce
une oliveraie = olive grove
un aboiement = bark (dog)
une paillote = straw
la paille = straw
c'est tout en bois = it's entirely in wood
le mas = a type of house in Provence
le poulailler = henhouse
une habitude = habit
je dois venir ici plus souvent = I should come here more often
le personnage = character
briser la glace = to break the ice
la vendange = wine harvest, or grape picking
le coude = elbow
rentre! = return!
les clients fidels = faithful clients
le sourire = smile
Voilà = there you are!
C'est bien comme ça = very good like that
continuez! = continue on!
I didn't get a picture of the vegetable stand (in today's story), but here is a photo of a homemade-jams-and-eggs stand, to tide you over! The picture was taken a few years ago, in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. And here is a story that takes place there! I hope you have a minute to read about my stroll there with my belle-tante. You'll see a saintly detail of our house... and read about my sharing an English expression ("He's in the dog house!") with my French aunt-in-law. Click here to read the "Niche" post, written before we moved to this vineyard.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety
Yes, us introverts often need to push ourselves just a little bit to get outside of our comfort zone. (That's one reason I married an extrovert.) I'm always amazed when I go to the supermarket with my wife how she knows each of the cashiers and can ask meaningful questions about their families or their lives. I tend to go through checkout lines with a minimum of conversation.
Posted by: Bill in St. Paul | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 12:30 PM
Loved today's story and the reminder about humour breaking the ice and lifting the spirit. Just a note to say that the word "paillotte" can be spelled one of 2 ways--paillotte or paillote--but will always have 2 l's--(about half way thru one is missing. I am afraid I too mean to get to the farm stand more than I do, but wind up picking up produce in the supermarché.
Posted by: Robyn France | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 01:51 PM
I sure wish I could write as wonderfully as you, Kristin. You write such a great story that I wonder if you can also TELL a great story with ease (and without a computer to edit yourself).
My problem: Most of the time when I open my mouth, at some point silliness comes rolling out and I end up searching for the nearest hole in which to crawl and berate myself. So, while I love to talk to people and find out all about them, I tend to keep it short and sweet.
When I'm out with my best girlfriend, she talks so much to people that I think to myself that they couldn't possibly be interested in what she's saying. BUT they love her, engage with her, and always remember HER (but not the silent, smiling, and awkward shadow that stands by her side). It's a gift that I just don't have but still wish for.
Posted by: Karen Whitcome | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 01:58 PM
Supermarket drive-throughts in France! I am surprised, but it does sound convenient!
Noting once again the photo of pretty shuttered window, I just read a bit about the history of shutters in France and how often they are seen. Apparently this dates from the time when the tax collectors would look through windows and take note of one's furnishings and then calculate your taxes based upon your treasures. The shutters were meant to keep the tax-collectors guessing!
I wonder if this is true. They are charming in any case.
Posted by: Betty Bailey | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Betty, I just watched a movie that implied that this can still occur - not "looking through windows" but if they come into your home and see valuables then they can recalculate and increase your taxes. Is this true??
Posted by: Karen Whitcome | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 03:18 PM
....believe me, Kristin, we'll ALWAYS be exotiques here in France/Germany. After 40 years here and speaking the language fluently sans accent, they still pick up on the differences. And let you know it...... Not meaning to single you out, no, but they do it quand même! We just have to live with it - that we're expats and will always be...
Posted by: Maureen | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Beautiful post, Kristin. How I can relate to your story! As a lifelong introvert, who would rather be "talked" to by a book than talk to a flesh and blood face, I have never been disappointed by following Jesus' appeal to his disciples, "freely you received; freely give."
Posted by: Tom from Detroit | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 04:07 PM
Moi aussi, les amis introvertis comme Kristin! Always a comfort to hear of others in the minority of humanity who struggle to express our warm hearts socially among strangers ... and to be reminded how satisfying the rewards of this effort usually are. Kristin, I am going to rely actively on conjuring amour/humour to propel me forward like you!
Same as Karen, I have a best friend of 52 years who is overwhelmingly at ease with others, sharing her life story at the drop of a hat and endearing herself to all and sundry as a sunny character; we do make a good balance.
"Venture forth" indeed -- that is my main challenge too day by day. Thanks for expressing it so authentically, Kristin, And for reminding me that it's mostly a matter of risking that step to cross the threshold of my reserve, like stepping through a beaded curtain -- you are the BEST PR person for the introverts of the world!!
Posted by: Kit Wilson | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 04:39 PM
I really enjoyed this story. I like learning how others "break the ice" with strangers. It is amazing what an easy habit trying to connect to others can become and we make it seems so difficult. We never know what we can learn from just one meeting with a stranger.
Posted by: Cathy | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 05:26 PM
Another lovely story Kristin, merci beaucoup.
I wish we were joining you and your family for the vendage coming up! Love to assist sometime, truly.
After decades of visiting France I often feel the same initial apprehension with new encounters. Like you, I find forging ahead with a warm smile and genuine heart is a universal way of breaking through barriers.
We are so ready to be back in la belle France!
Before long I hope if my tour to S. France has enough fun women join in time!
Thank you for lifting our spirits through your words and sentiments.
Posted by: Sandra Vann | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 05:43 PM
I'm an introvert. I have to push myself to get out and mingle. It's so nice and safe behind my computer...But I do love people and their stories...it's an ongoing battle.
Posted by: meredith | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Karen, I would love to know the name of the movie! I especially enjoy films by or about the French and France.
Posted by: Betty Bailey | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Oui, you're just a typical casanière with +40,000 subscribers around the world! I love the way you express yourself as well as your sense of humor! I also enjoy the trompe l'oeil of the woman peeking out of the window from behind the lace curtains. It reminds me of the intro to the old Miss Marple series in which Joan Hixson portrayed Agatha Christie's white-haired sleuth.
Posted by: mhwebb | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 06:24 PM
Thanks for "venturing out" with your wonderful, beautifully written, and visually beautiful blog! You have truly given of yourself with it, and abundance will surely come to you as a result.
Posted by: Tereasa | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Great humor; I often resort to that as well, but usually make a total fool of myself in the process, and fret about it for days! Lovely story, and i hope you found some yummy food there!
Posted by: Jennifer in OR | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 08:36 PM
I believe that film was called "The Dinner Game" (Le Dîner de cons). If I find out otherwise, I will let you know.
Posted by: Karen Whitcome | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 09:50 PM
I like your play on aMOUR-huMOUR, but then I found myself thinking "humour" looked different. I've been spelling it "humeur." Well, I checked in the dictionary, and it has both versions: humour (masc) and humeur (fem).
Are there some differences between the two that I should be aware of?
Posted by: Christine | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 10:00 PM
You are so funny.Sometimes it sounds like you are a willing prisoner of the winery and only escape to go to a drive thru supermarket (like Burger King) to buy veggies rather than inter -act with the local vendors.I know Orange is rural (but they do have outdoor opera and concerts in summer in the amphitheatre)Your writings make us think you live a primitive lifestyle with no washer-dryer or tv. And Smokey and Braise can come visit anytime And more news of Jules.
Posted by: Hampton | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 10:51 PM
Hahaha I love your story, Kristin. You described it so well. Je suis aussi casanière, un peu introvertie, pas assez aventurière comme, par exemple Jules, ta belle maman :D
Je serais si nerveuse si j'étais la seule cliente devant ces maraîchères qui surveillent tous mes mouvements. C'est pour ça que je n'aime pas entrer dans une boutique ou un petit magasin...vide.
Je suis convaincue que nous tous, nous sommes nés avec nos caractères à nous. Ma jeune soeur est plus extrovertie et bourrée d'humour. Comment ça se fait? Seul Dieu le sait! It is good I can appreciate people's jokes and humour.
Posted by: Millie | Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 02:58 AM
John just brought an IPod home from Stan so I can start communicating again....I love your story today...I miss you.
Posted by: Jules greer | Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 03:31 AM
I love these letters, and I download and print every lovely one. But this one had no pictures of Smokey and Briese. I know you can't really put in pictures of the children, but I miss dear chiens. Love you...don't change a thing, except for more photos. xo Sara
Posted by: Sara Larsen | Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 05:15 AM
Loved the story. But, you do get out and try to become one of the "locals". The photos and stories of the gentleman farmer on the tractor, the lady in the village where you bought the yarn, the man who said he was the last (peasante?). I was indeed a bit of an introvert until my first visit to Europe many years ago. We traveled all over for 6 months and that turned me around. To survive over there in the early 70's visiting so many countries one had to be able to at least try to communicate with the locals....because as far as I am concerned there is no other way to see and get to know any country.
Keep going out and getting more stories like that. Stay outside that "box" for awhile.
Posted by: joie/carmel,ca | Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 07:34 AM
Thank you Kristin. My husband and I have a small holiday place in Aigues Mortes where I find the best way to make local friends is to invite them to share an apero with us. The best of both worlds safe in my box but able to share experiences in our best broken french with some scottish thrown in. (Scary nonetheless). I don't know why I am constantly surprised by the generosity of heart by my French neighbours. It always comes through. I think I have a misguided feeling that they (the french) are so much more chic,knowledgeable and French. I love it here and someday we hope to retire here perhaps then I will make it to Orange country to buy some of your fabulous wine. Thanks again for your generosity of spirit. Bisous
Posted by: Julie from Edinburgh | Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 10:16 AM
This is so beautiful, Kristin! And you know, I feel much the same way - I'm a homebody who much prefers to not have to be social very often, and would rather stick close to home with my writing, my harps and my cats.
BUT - I play the harp and am out in public with it several times a month. It does provide a kind of barrier between me and the people at the event, though. I'm there, I'm in public, at social events, but I'm behind a 6-foot-tall instrument, playing. And observing characters, of course. You woulnd't believe what I've seen and heard while playing...such human drama!
Posted by: Amy Kortuem | Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 07:27 PM
I thought becoming a flight attendant would "cure" my introverted personality, but it's still there after 25 years. Some things we just learn to live with!
Posted by: Terry Miller | Friday, August 26, 2011 at 04:06 PM
I'm right there with you! I collect heart shaped rocks and smile to think I hadn't considered this may be their message, "Just a bunch of us heavy hearts lying around out here, waiting to be lifted up....." You are so wise Kristi!
Posted by: Stacy, Applegate, Oregon | Monday, August 29, 2011 at 11:22 PM
You should write basilic instead of basilique (which is a big church). French is often too complicated.
PS: your blog helps me to improve my english
Posted by: Bad, Lyon, France | Thursday, September 01, 2011 at 11:44 AM