Lanterns in St. Maurice (c) Kristin Espinasse
Not keen on reading another installment about skin cancer? Pfff! I don't blame you! Just skip the following story (I promise it's not gory! you'll even meet another great woman...) and click over here and read a story ("Ripping off the Winos") about shortchanging the locals (it's the last time the French ever asked an American to mind the cash register, and with good treason reason!).

un calmant (kal mahn)

    : a sedative, tranquillizer; painkiller

Calmant is also an adjective meaning tranquillizing, soothing, painkilling

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

L'infirmière m'a fait avaler un calmant.
The nurse had me swallow a sedative.


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

The Happy Pill & The Percussionist

Although she did not mean to, when high-heeled Simone checked out she took with her the very life of the room. C'était éteint, like a candle, and so I honored the mood and dozed off in the hospital bed.

When next I woke an infirmière breezed in. Ça va, Madame Espinasse? I turned to face a beautiful nurse, whose looks were tempered by a fuzzy fleece coat, wide-rimmed glasses, and a lazy chignon. She might have just woken up and stumbled into her own kitchen for a cup of coffee -- only this wasn't a kitchen, but a hospital room and, malheureusement, there was no fresh-brewed kawa!

The nurse smiled expectantly and I remembered her question.

"Oh, oui--ça va. Merci!" I studied her polyester coat, the synthetic material of which had bunched up, ici et par là, into little knots, the kind that beg to be picked at during periods of boredom or stress. And, not that I held it against her at all, but I respectfully questioned whether this jacket (a kind of dust-catcher, or "attrape-tout") corresponded to "hygienic". I couldn't help but recall how strict hospital authorities had been, in the packing instructions I received, about bringing into the hospital only such items as I had sanitized.

A vrai dire, I felt a little envious of the nurse's warm and homey coat, and I thought, after all, I might have brought my own polyester jacket with the little balled or snagged fibers--the favorite one I wear around the house when the weather chills (never mind the frisson it triggers in my husband).

"Il fait froid." I decided to sympathize with the nurse, only that is when I remembered former my hospital roommate's (Simone's) warning: "Brace yourself! The operating room is a walk-in freezer!" Had this bundled up nurse come from there?

"I'm always cold," the nurse explained and I relaxed (so she hadn't come from the walk-in meat locker...) as we got to chatting about art and music. Her son, a graffiti painter (graffitist is now a recognized vocation?), was working in San Francisco.

"Quelle chance d'être un artiste qui a du travail!" I applauded. The nurse nodded proudly. Next I learned that she herself was an artist: a musician! "It all happened by accident," came the humble explanation, "when I found myself caught in the cycle of chauffeur." While driving the kids back and forth to music practice at the conservatoire, she had an inspiration: why not sign up for a class?Then, when one of the band members became ill during recital, fate decided which instrument my nurse would play... as she took the place of the trianglist! And, just like that, she went from mom-chauffeur to concert musician--travelling around Europe with her band!

How inspiring, the idea that one day you're a kid-chauffeuring mama, passing your time at the gas pump (plucking knots off your polyester sweater-coat, as the tank fills) and the next, you are boarding a flight to Barcelona for your next international concert!

Former roommate, Simone, would surely be smiling now, to know that another spark had arrived in the somber room, to light up a patient's soul. After we had chatted a while longer the triangliste-infirmière reached into her poche and handed me a pill. I took it with the littlest sip of water, remembering the "no water no food" rule. It occurred to me to ask just what it was I had swallowed.

"Un calmant."

A sedative? But, I had not asked for one... This led me to suspect that I should be nervous about what was coming next and, before I could bat an eye, another nurse barreled in... preceded by a gurney. "Move over!" the second nurse ordered, pointing to the wheeled bed. I was a little startled by the bed-switching protocol, for the switchover wasn't like that in the movies....

"But I have just given her the calmant," my nurse-trianglist argued. I then came to the chilling conclusion that the calmant would not have time to take effect (!), so when the second nurse asked whether I needed to use the restroom, I quickly hatched a plan... Closing the broken accordion door, I stalled in the salle de bain!

I waited there, beseeching the sedative to please kick in and do your trick! And then... was that a tingling sensation in my throat? Was my Adam's apple going numb? Non! Manque de chance! It was the sedative that was stuck there after too little water was used to wash it down!

I thought to jump up and down while swallowing as much saliva as I could gargle together (not having drunk an ounce of water in 15 hours) but my efforts were in vain. I was soon struck to my senses when the second nurse called: On y va? Ready to go?


The pill might not have worked... but the percussions were... and my mind played the music: there was the melody of the steel triangle and the high note of high heels, as my two new friends joined me, in spirit, for the next chapter in this story of skin cancer.


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

Related stories:

1) My roommate: Audacious Octogenarian, Simone
2) Home from the clinic and that comme si comme ça feeling 


French Vocabulary

c'était éteint = it was snuffed out, turned off

infirmier, infirmière = nurse

le chignon = hair bun

le kawa = (slang) Arabic word for "coffee"

 malheureusement = unfortunately

ici et par là = here and there

un attrape-tout = catch-all (this term originated in politics, but can be used to describe a fabric that collects dust)

à vrai dire = to tell the truth, truthfully speaking

le frisson = shiver

il fait froid = it's cold

Quelle chance d'être un artiste qui a du travail! = What luck to be an artist who has work!

le conservatoire = school, or academy of music

la poche = pocket

le calmant = sedative

la salle de bain = bathroom

le manque de chance = no luck  

Exercises in French Phonics
Exercises in French Phonics is... 
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Night Harvest (c) Collin Wagner
Early morning harvest & clipping in the dark! "Watch your fingers!" we warned our crew, who added quickly to their battle wounds! Thanks, Collin @ Collin Cooks, for this picture! And check out Harvester Vince's blog.

  I Know How To Cook The bible of French home cooking, Je Sais Cuisiner, has sold over 6 million copies since it was first published in 1932. It is a household must-have, and a well-thumbed copy can be found in kitchens throughout France. Its author, Ginette Mathiot, published more than 30 recipe books in her lifetime, and this is her magnum opus. It's now available for the first time in English as I Know How to Cook. With more than 1,400 easy-to-follow recipes for every occasion, it is an authoritative compendium of every classic French dish, from croque monsieur to cassoulet. 


Maison Rose (c) Kristin  Espinasse

La Maison Rose. Read about the character who lives near here... I met her one year ago on a cold and hungry fall day...

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety