Cabanon and Mont Ventoux (c) Kristin Espinasse
Fed up to your forehead with hospital stories? Je sympathise! Just skip, or saute, today's skin-cancer chronicle... and scroll guiltily or sneakily or self-consciously to the end of the page, to read, instead, about Chief Grape... on second thought, who wouldn't want to read about a hunky French winemaker? (But I do have faith in you and I trust , lecteur or lectrice fidèle, that you'll read on ... in time to meet today's non-hunky caractère extraordinaire: Madonna of the Gurney!) (Photo of cabanon and "Mount Windy" taken last week, near Suze-la-Rousse). 

un chariot-brancard (shar-ee-oh-brahn-khar)
: gurney, or metal stretcher with wheels

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A l'hôpital j'ai voyagé sur un chariot-brancard.
At the hospital, I traveled on a gurney.

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

Material Girl, The Garden Gnomes, and a few other colorful characters I encountered on my way to the operating room...
Do you remember Madonna in the 80's film Desperately Seeking Susan? ...Rebel Madonna with her hard-lined eyes and her black-roots-and-bottle-blond hair? Voilà! This would be the gurney nurse, Ms. Move Beds, Buster! (remember her from the previous story?)--she's the infirmière who transported me from my hospital room to the bloc opératoire.

"Quel âge me donnez-vous?" "What age do you guess me to be?" Madonna of the Gurney fished, as she guided my bed-on-wheels with the finesse of a bumper-boat pilot.

Quel âge? I was speechless... which might be explained by the happy pill that had just lodged itself in my throat.... impossible to displace it no matter how many jumping jacks, no matter how many dry gulps I'd gargled, back in the accordion-door bathroom.

Madonna of the Gurney was impatient for an answer and her agacement was hinted at in the way she slammed on her bumper-boat brakes. Suspended awkwardly like that in the sterile corridor, I eked out an answer: "Je ne suis vraiment pas douée pour ce genre de devinette!" "I'm really not good at this kind of guessing game," I apologized, playing it safe, after it dawned on me that the misguessing of her age--or eventual erring on the plus side--might backfire into my very near future.

Madonna of the Gurney parked me abruptly beside the surgical block. She snapped her gum once or twice, stalling should an age-defying numéro appear my mind. When it didn't, she sighed, reached deep into her nurse's poche and slapped a surgical cap, or bonnet, onto my head, pushing up my hair as an afterthought. Her brusque gestures had me divining at more than her age: I guessed her mood (la déception, or disappointment) and wondered whether it was payback time, as I had earlier imagined!
La vengeance never came and it all  goes to show just how little I know, least of all the mysterious depths of a stranger's heart. No sooner had she stomped off than Madonna of the Gurney reappeared, arms laden with warmth. And with a no-nonsense "if I'm going to be a Good Samaritan in this story at least don't make a big deal of it!" gesture, she threw a heavy wool blanket over me. Far from being written off as an enemy, it seems I'd somehow won her sympathy.
As you have already guessed by now, quick-witted and clever reader, that is how Madonna of the Gurney---or, simply, "Madonna"--earned her "Material Girl" moniker: it's all that warm wool, or material, she offers to grateful patients before they enter the ice block, or surgery room. But I'm jumping ahead of myself, for that, dear reader, is another story...

Post note: I just realized I left out the garden gnomes... the ones I mentioned in the subtitle to today's chapter. Will fill you in next time!
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

If you missed it, read the short letter ("comme si comme ça") I wrote on returning from the hospital.

Speaking of The Material Girl, I think I'll watch Desperately Seeking Susan - I wonder whether my teenage daughter will enjoy it as much as I once did. Click here to get yourself a copy. (I think Jean-Marc will enjoy the film, too--for the fact that Rosanna Arquette stars in it. He's been a fan of hers since she appeared in his favorite, The Grand Bleu.

French Vocabulary
voilà = there you have it
infirmière, infirmier = nurse
le bloc opératoire = surgery room
Quel âge me donnez-vous = what age do you guess me to be
l'agacement (m) = annoyance
la poche = pocket
le bonnet = cap
brusque = rough
la déception (! vocabulary note: false friend!) = disappointment
The year was 2008. This is Chief Grape, skin and bones after creating his first wine (indeed, he put himself into it!)... Find out why he isn't jumping for joie, in the story "Echantillon". Click here to read this selection from our archives.
All Star Smokey. I know: it's been a while since you've seen photos of Smokey R. Dokey....
Here he is playing basketball hamming it up with the harvesters. From Left to right: Vince, Robert (hidden), and Kevin.
Did you read about "Get To Know Each Other Night"? When harvest "uniforms" were handed out. Strangeley, no one snapped up the Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear. Read about what items they did snag, here, in the story "Glad Rags" or "Belles Fringes".

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.

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