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 KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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


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Eleanor  C artwright

Loved this vignette!
Thanks again for the wine and company.

(back in Virginia and missing Faucon)


I loved the story of Simone, the ageless dancer. She reminds me so much of my dear Mother in Law who loved life well into her 80's and was always up for a new adventure. This makes me look again at the very practical shoes in my closet and think I need to expand my horizon and look for something daring this fall to put on my feet!!! Take care and mend in good health.

Pat, Roanoke, Va

Kristin, your brief encounter with Simone offers a compelling story for reminding me to live life fully. And, note to self, DON'T FORGET!!! -- wear les talons more often! A pretty "turn of the ankle" is not as frivolous as one might first think, so out come my red suede peep toe heels today (they are really great w/jeans). I will wobble forth in confidence, remembering La Simone.

Wishing you swift healing and thanks again for the continued inspiration of your words. xox.


I think I need to not only look into my closet, but into my attitude. Simone is a national treasure and a gift to those who meet her. High heels and a cat who can turn on the radio with her teeth...maybe Jones will make the news one day. Blessings. Mary

Tom from Detroit

Your pen painted an eye-popping portrait of quite a roommate. One observation and (perhaps) suggestion. The novice French speakers reading your column today might need a glossary entry for the word "front". That is one of those "faux frères" that could be misunderstood in the context of the story, especially when you are describing the allures of madame. I'm just saying....


....agewise smack in the middle between you and Simone, I swore off heels a long time ago - my feet deformed BY HEELS, too much, too many, in my young days. So it's been flats for a while now and I feel great in them.....BUT reading your wonderful account, I could feel my mind's eye zeroing in on my last purchase of peep-toed, leopardskin HIGH heels. AND I WILL find an opportunity to slip into them again!! My motto in my shop is: "let your diva out to play", so I'm going to practise what I preach and thank you, sweet Kristin!!!! PS hope the lower case h is taking over!!!

Karen Whitcome (Towson, MD. USA)

The song "Girl from Ipanima" came rushing into my head after reading your story.

I'm sure you could have talked to her for hours!

I am so surprized to see the word "cheville" used in so many ways! For in cahoots, big-headedness, ankle !!


I simply do not understand the European bathroom. They think enclosing a shower with a full curtain or door like is done in the US is unsanitary (or so I've been told while living in Paris), but how sanitary can it be for dirty shower water to flying all over the floors and walls? And the ones with no doors whatsoever are even more distressing. There's no place to put anything--towels, toiletries, toothbrush--where it won't take a direct hit!


You write these vignettes so well..transporting us completely to another place in our spirits. Merci.
Continue to heal beautifully.
All our best

Jeanne of Maumee, OH

Loved the high-heeled roommate and your description of her. Wish we could all meet more people like that!


I have know a few women who in their autumn years still wear heels. To them I think, it is a mark of a lady. Ah, that we could don a pair of high heels and be a lady.
I have not been in France but hope to go in the Spring of 2012. I will be looking for the open showers.
Love your writings, as usual. I look forward to your post in my email each day.


A beautiful portrait you painted today. It hangs in my mind. Thanks much. And, heal quickly, you.

Jane C

What a wonderful treat! Thanks for sharing Simone's story - a wonderful role model for me - I'm only going to be 83 next week! You are ravissante in your picture - you will heal well!
I love your site - am an ardent Franco-phile (?) - my first trip to Paris was as a student in 1948! more anon! A' votre sante'

Suzanne, Monroe Twp., NJ

A charming story, Kristin. You were lucky to have Simone as a roommate, even for a short while.

Bob Carlson

So glad to hear you are on the mend from your surgery, I am also recovering from cancer surgery (colon), very relieved it had not spread. But your story brings to mind a puzzling question about the European, and especially French, reticence about bathrooms. Are they ashamed of the whole idea of these undeniable biological needs? To think even a hospital doesn't regard a clean, safe bathroom as a necessity is beyond me. I remember visiting Les Halles in Paris, a huge mall, as you know, yet there wasn't a single restroom open! I had to resort, in desperation, to finding a reasonably private wall outside, as I had seen (in shock) as apparently a common practice by Parisian men. Something so wrong about it. Why are they so afraid of bathrooms, (and shower curtains)? Love to hear your slant on the whole thing.

Marianne Rankin

I'm in-between you and Simone in age, but feeling myself getting "older" with each passing day - birthday next week. It's a shock to find myself a generation or more older than even full-grown adults. Yet for the most part, I don't feel any older, and believe that to a considerable degree, age is a state of mind. (And I could still be recognized by my senior high-school picture.)

What struck me is that you took time, beyond discussing fashion, to give of yourself to a person whom so many might have ignored. There is a tendency to "write off" older people as over the hill, out of touch, and so on, even if they are lively and have great stories to tell.

Thanks for being a good, if temporary, friend to Simone.

Jules Greer

My Dearest Marianne,

I am so touched by your comment to Kristi - you
expressed my thoughts of Kristi's gift for recognizing and finding beauty in each moment. I am so happy that you are one of our friends.



Betty Bailey

What a marvelous story, Kristin. I look forward to your next book to find more jewels like this.

Marti Schmidt

I loved this story, thanks Kristin
all the best


Kristin, you have the beginning of a novel with your description of Simone. Can't you just imagine flashbacks of her life? She and your mom are "leading ladies," ready to be put down on paper for posterity.

I'm sure you will heal well, but your beauty couldn't be marred by a scar, anyway.



I started reading your columns to improve my French. Now I read them for the enjoyment of hearing about your life/view of life. Your columns are a bright spot in my days.

I hope you continue for many, many years.


Lorrie Kazan

Dear Kristin: May your healing be swift and easy. The photo was enchanting, as is the story. (is this surgery for your forehead? that's a lot of betadine and places they're asking you to cover.)

You certainly are a gift! Lorrie (Redondo Beach)


Bonjour Kristin: Ta plaie se cicatrise bien maintenant?
C'est incroyable que Simone, à son âge, peut encore porter des sandales à hauts talons. Apparemment, elle sait bien prendre soin d'elle-même. Est-ce qu'elle t'a dit pourquoi elle était là, à l'hôpital? Elle a trouvé en toi, une gentille personne avec qui elle pouvait parler de sa jeunesse. Tu lui as donné tant de plaisir d'en revivre, même pour un moment tout court. For you seem to be such a fantastic listener. And as usual, your story is so captivant, I just want more :-)

JM, c'est un ange pour essayer toujours de te calmer. J'espère que tu vas bientôt te remettre, chère Kristin.
Bonne journée!


Bonjour Kristin: Ta plaie se cicatrise bien maintenant?
C'est incroyable que Simone, à son âge, peut encore porter des sandales à hauts talons. Apparemment, elle sait bien prendre soin d'elle-même. Est-ce qu'elle t'a dit pourquoi elle était là, à l'hôpital? Elle a trouvé en toi, une gentille personne avec qui elle pouvait parler de sa jeunesse. Tu lui as donné tant de plaisir d'en revivre, même pour un moment tout court. For you seem to be such a fantastic listener. And as usual, your story is so captivant, I just want more :-)

JM, c'est un ange pour essayer toujours de te calmer. J'espère que tu vas bientôt te remettre, chère Kristin.
Bonne journée!

Fred Caswell

Your style of writing and your very personal topics are perfect for me, as they have been from our beginnings. Tu me plais beaucoup.

With or without a scar on your forehead you are beautiful, but unscarably so is your essence. (Did I invent a word? If so, so what!) Comme toujours, Fred


What a wonderful temporary roommate you had. She reminds me of my late friend, Princess Lucie Shirazi who at 94 went dancing at least 3 nights a week. Instead of a cat she had 2 pet pigeons who traveled everywhere with her.One time one of the pigeons escaped and flew thru the lobby of the George V.
That clinic sounds positively medevial and country primitive. I had some cancers removed in the doctors office and I was never asked to take a shower in disinfectant the night before. You should have gone to Paris or even the Univ. of Miami. After that ordeal-you need shopping and a day at the spa.

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

I am delighted and inspired by your story! Such a touching encounter…loved the high heels tucked into her overnight bag and her equally-spirited accomplice Beryl!

You, dear friend, attract beauty and charm wherever you go --- even in the hospital room!


Quelle belle photo et belle histoire avec! Brought to mind my maternity-ward roomie when I had my 1st. There's moi, uber-newbie, painfully bedridden w/ complications of long labor w/ a 10 pounder. In they wheel a 40-ish Boston Irish lady who breezily hops out of a wheel chair! [I'd had gurney & IV pole.] Her condition & age made me wonder if she was in the right ward. Once settled, her nurse gone, she effortlessly hoisted her suitcase up onto the bed, whipped out a nice flannel nightie & switched out of the miserable hospital gown. When I marveled at how unfazed she was by childbirth, she laughed--"Being's it my 8th, they get a lot easier!" "Heah, look at this! My husband always knows how to pack!" & showed me her contraband-- soda, snacks, candy, along w/ magazines & paperbacks! "Bein' away from the kids is like a vacation fah me!"
But the best was yet to come, when the nurse wheeled in my roomie's new baby next morning to put this veteran thru mandatory baby care! As nurse was attempting this, the poor baby wailed in loud indignation. Mom calmly, maternally even toward the nurse [young enough to be one of her own brood], says, "Heah, Deah," & steps in effortlessly. The cries soften. In seconds, mom, all the while looking like SHE's teaching the nurse, changed the diaper & gently raised baby to her shoulder, stroking his back & rocking-- "Theah, theah, hon'." Baby's immediately cooing contentedly! No better way for this nervous new mom to learn that it gets easier.
So will your wound & scar care. I join in sending you warm thoughts & healing beams. My 83 y.o. father [another blue-eyed blond who grew up in the desert] had several bcc's removed from his face decades ago & one would never know it. He also has early macular degeneration, so to your cautions about hats & sun screen, I would also add one to always wear UV rated sunglasses outdoors! Bon courage!

Mindy (Manhattan Beach, CA)

Simone sounds a lot like your mom! Full of life and fun and adventure!

Marianne Rankin

Jules, thank you for your kind words. You are a person in the same "mold" as Simone - lively and always ready for some fun. Best regards.

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