Autumn leaves (c) Kristin Espinasse / French Word-A-Day
Butterscotch leaves are collecting along the tree-lined lanes in our village. And in this photo, taken in Suze-la-Rousse a few years back, leaves are turning rouge.

la cheville (sheuh vee)

    : ankle

jusqu'à la cheville = ankle-deep
elle ne vous arrive pas à la cheville = she can't hold a candle to you
avoir les chevilles qui enflent
= to have a big head, to be full of oneself
être en cheville avec quelqu'un = to be in cahoots with someone

Audio File : listen to our daughter, Jackie, read the following French words:Download MP3 or Wave file

Ces sandals à talon mettent en valeur les chevilles.
These high heel sandals compliment one's ankles.


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

Allure after 80

I could barely see her lying there, curled up on her side, in bed. The nurse brushed past her and drew open the volets, before tucking the curtain cord back into its place, beside a dilapidated armoire

"Vous avez une camarade de chambre," the infirmière announced. 

"Bonjour," came the friendly reply, as the patient stirred.

"Bonjour, Madame", I smiled, setting my bag on the second bed, on which there was a neatly folded paper gown, sterile as the sheets below it.

"You can shower and change now... or plus tard," the nurse informed me. I then learned that my operation wouldn't be until 13:00. To pass the time and to take my mind off food and water (for the general anesthetic I'd fasted over 12 hours -- and would not be allowed so much as a sip of water until later in the day), I decided to wash and then get in bed and sleep off the remaining time.

"Would you like to use the bathroom before I go in?" I smiled to my roommate. 
"That would be a good idea," she agreed and slowly made her way across the room, to the tiny salle de bain, before closing the plastic accordion door, which remained open by an inch or so (it was broken, too). I heard the shower, which ran for 5 minutes, followed by the flush of the toilet, followed by the shower, which continued. She's just like me, I realized, creating a sound barrierin the absence of privacy

Meantime the nurse quizzed me: "You've washed with Betadine last night? Head to toe? Scrubbing your hair with it?"

"Oui. Oui. Oui.
"Bon. You need not wash your hair again, ce n'est pas la peine, but," she explained, handing me a small iodine-red vial, "you'll scrub your body once more." It was humbling, the realization that this sterilization process was more to protect the hospital and its patients from me, rather than the reverse.... And no matter how clean I try to be, in the end it seems I am just plain dirty.

The bathroom floor was wet from my roommate's douche and I soon discovered why: only a thin paper mat to absorb shower spray (and no shower curtain!). I worried that my roommate might glisse and fall, when next she returned to the bathroom and, looking around I found the only solution: industrial toilette paper! I tossed the useless mat into la poubelle and used toilet paper to sop up the flooded tiles. Doubtful that the floor was dry enough to prevent a dangerous slip, I reassured myself that we were, after all, in the hospital, just a few doors down from the bloc operatoire.. where a broken hip could be conveniently mended!

Dressed in the paper gown, crossing my arms over my backside, I returned to my bed and noticed my neighbor brushing her hair. After a moment of silence, in which I felt foreign eyes on me, I heard her speak softly.

"I looked very much like you, once upon a time..." 
I studied my roommate, who must be twice my age. "Same large front," she explained, riffling through her purse, from which she produced a photo. From its white framed edges, I guessed it to be from the 70's.

I studied the auburn beauty in the photo.

"I was 44-years-old, there..." she offered. (She must be in her 80s now...)
"I'm 81," my telepathic roommate smiled, and I noticed her hair was much the same color, only a lighter shade. 

"Do you see a resemblance?" she ventured.
Gosh, I didn't look anything like that. I drew the photo closer. How alluring she was, in a sky blue, cinch-waisted, plunging-necklined dress that flowed like an autumn breeze. Autumn! It was the color of that auburn hair... her long wavy tresses were richer than molten bronze. Bronze... the color of her sun-kissed skin.

"Where was the photo taken?" I wondered.
"In Saint Tropez," with this, I glimpsed a mischievous look. Indeed, she was what my mom would call "a pistol" or "a cougar" (indeed, at the time the photo was taken she had just left her husband and was following her heart to Spain!), what with that infectious smile and that playful demeanor that was beginning to reveal itself.

Studying the photo, I could just imagine the alluring subject walking away from the iron railing... and onto the Tropezian dance floor! My eyes fell on the thick belt that complimented her tiny waist... 44 years old at the time, she was one year older than I! 

"I... I've got to get a dress like that!" and, finally, I admitted what I was really thinking: Vous êtes ravissante! (I didn't dare mention she was sexy!)

"People don't dress up anymore," my roommate sighed. Next, her face lit up as she reached for her overnight bag. "Look at these!" said she, pulling out a pair of high-heels.

Les talons?! I myself had brought a pair of sterile slippers to the hospital... but this woman of a certain age was more forward-thinking in a possibilities-are-endless way! 

She giggled in delight as she swung her legs over the edge of the bed and slipped her crooked, arthritic feet into the high-heeled sandals, lacing the racy snakeskin straps around her ankles: "These, she explained, put one's ankles in the limelight!" I watched as her fragile feet were transformed... And I could see her now, dancing in that very same lumière.

"It is important to pay a little more for shoes," she explained. These cost a lot--I bought them in Marbella!--but I've had them for 10 years!" I noticed the timelessness of the high-heeled sandals--higher than any heels in my closet!

No matter that 40 years separated us, I was yearning, as young roommates do, to borrow those shoes! How attractive they were! My roommate admired them anew: 

"I'll buy a pair of sheer hose... that way I can wear them for several more weeks--even after the weather cools!" (forward-thinking indeed!). That is when I noticed her tan legs, enhanced by her above-the-knee skirt. 

When we were finished talking fashion, my roommate told me about her cat, Beryl (named after a gem stone). "Beryl can turn on the radio with his teeth! He does so every morning so that I can enjoy my programs." It was the truth and I had only to dig up the the local newspaper, in which Mr Beryl and his radio-alluming trick were featured, to verify it. The article also mentioned Beryl's penchant for art, and the favorite painting (one by his mistress-artist, my roommate, who affirmed: "He spends five minutes each day, gazing at that pastoral scene"). 

There was so much more that I wanted to know about my lovely ginger-haired roommate with the high heels, but she was whisked away all too soon, by an equally strong and colorful friend who'd come to take her home, to Carpentras.

That left me to consider the image of Beryl the cat and his sensational radio stunt. And though I regretted the lovely woman's absence, and not having learned more about her, I realized that you can know so much about a person, can't you, by the way their animals behave? And though I couldn't imagine Madame with her teeth sunk into a radio knob, I could easily picture her breaking all "assumed limits", in time to show some of us that all things are possible to she who has grit and good teeth!


 Le Coin Commentaires
Did you enjoy meeting "Simone"? I need to go back into my story and replace all the "she"'s with the name of this lovely lady. But I've quickly painted her portrait, in time to share it with you before it fades. Then again, could such a character ever fade? Thank you for sharing your response to the story, here in the comments box.

The nurses here in town continue to change the bandage on my forehead. I have no idea what the mark looks like and will think about that later! If you missed the post-op picture, be warned--you can see it here. Meantime don't forget to wear sunscreen - even this fall and winter!)

 Selected French Vocabulary

le volet = window shutter

vous avez une camarade de chambre = you have a roommate

infirmier, infirmière = nurse

la douche = shower

glisse (glisser) = to slip

la poubelle = garbage, or trash can, or bin

le bloc opératoire = operating room

le front = forehead, brow

la lumière = light

plus tard = later

la salle de bain = bathroom 

ce n'est pas la peine = it's not necessary

vous êtes ravissante = you are ravishingly beautiful

les talons (m) = heels

Have a minute to read about another French character? Click here to meet Camille, who lives at the end of Marseilles... where the sea sparkles as do the souls that live near it.

What are you currently reading? Here's a book I've yet to dig into

The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris

The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work. Order The Greater Journey here.

French shopping bag I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.

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