Trompe-l'oeil (c) Kristin Espinasse
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... 

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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.


French Vocabulary

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.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
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