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Entries from December 2011

baratin & baratiner

Prince 2 CV Citroen (c) Kristin EspinasseDoes one need to hit the road to sell books on French life? Not when your MOM is busy pounding the pavement! Read on... (photo taken in Briançon). Note: the next word goes out in the new year. Meilleurs Voeux! Bonne Année!

le baratin (bara-tehn)

    sweet talk, smooth talk

baratiner = to sweet-talk somebody, to chat someone up
baratineur, baratineuse = smooth talker 

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words (above and below): Download MP3 or Wav File

Pour vendre des livres il faut avoir l'art de baratiner!
To sell books, one must know the art of sweet talk!


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

The Pick-Up Artist

You know what they say about a good salesman: He or she could vendre de la glace aux esquimaux! This is especially true of my dear mom, Jules, who is busy selling my book on French life to lovers of Spanish! For the past ten days, Jules has made it her mission to convert the tourists who flock to her little neighborhood along the Bay of Banderos, in Mexico.

Dressed in her trademark linen poncho (her latest one, in white, was a Christmas gift from her husband John), a red turtleneck (to match her red Converse tennis shoes), white pants and her trusty fedora, Mom sets out to beat the previous day's sales record.  

Like any saleswoman worth her salt, Mom knows that one of the best ways to market a product is to get out there and pound the pavement! In Mom's charismatic presence, travelers are forgetting for a moment that they are in Puerto Vallarta... when they begin to perceive the hum of the accordion as Mom dances up and down the boardwalk at the marina, picking up yet another potential bookbuyer with her sweet baratin. "Bonjour, Monsieur!...."

Every salesman has a challenge to overcome. In this case, that would be the absence of a tangible product to peddle! This doesn't discourage Mom one bit and, minus an actual copy of Blossoming in Provence, Jules manages to sell the goods "sight unseen", via verbal promissory notes extracted from the innocent tourists. "You will buy my daughter's book when you get home, won't you?! Merci, Madame!..."

Having worn a trail along the docks, Mom heads to The Coffee Cup, where more unsuspecting travelers are having their first cuppa, unaware of the lively scene about to take place.

This is when Jules fires up the computer (The Coffee Cup has three or four of them, reserved for customers), and logs on to

"Oh, Kristi!" Mom slaps her hands to her heart. "You are at number 31 in Hot New Releases!"

A few of the customers look over, in curiosity. For the sake of drama, Mom grabs onto the sleeve of the customer beside her. "Look! That's my daughter," Mom exclaims, pointing to the screen. "This is the book she published in 21 days--and now it is topping the bestseller charts!" (Like any saleswoman worth her salt, a little bit of exaggeration--or what, in all due respect, we might call "artist's license"--is par for the course!) 

And so it is that my dear mom has spent the past ten days--betting that the Hispanophiles who visit Puerto Vallarta are really Francophiles in waiting. Win or lose, she is certainly selling books in the process!

Thanks, Mom!

Le Coin Commentaires
To respond to this post, please click here

See a photo of Mom, her husband John, and me in Puerto Vallarta. Click here and don't miss the story!

If you haven't yet... please click here to purchase your copy of Blossoming in Provence. Many thanks for your support--and for giving my dear mom a day off work today :-) 

 French Expression:

vendre de la glace aux esquimaux = to sell snow to Eskimos
le baratin = smooth talk
Bonjour, Monsieur! = Hello, sir!
Bonjour, Madame = Hello, Ma'am 


  word sculpture in Jonquieres France (c) Kristin Espinasse

An interesting sculpture in front of the town hall, in Jonquières (Vaucluse)

Dreaming of coming to France in 2012? Check out these posts for some fun ideas on what to do once you get here:

And check out Where to Rent a Car in France?

Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics bestseller on French pronunciation and how to pronouce French words correctly! (click here)



Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
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To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


Have you ever heard an old word... as if for the first time? Your eyes sting; suddenly, you are seized by meaning, when a humble old mot causes your body to form a lump in your throat. Read on, in today's story column.

mangeoire (mahn-zhwar) noun, feminine

  1.  trough, manger (animals) ; feeding dish (birds)
  2.  crèche (Christ child's crib)

Audio File Hear today's French word and proverb: Download mp3 or Wav

           Cheval affamé nettoie sa mangeoire.
            A starving horse cleans its trough.

In music: 21 Christmas Songs in French and English.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Reading to my Francophone children in their native tongue is a humbling, sometimes humiliating experience—not only for the "pronunciation pause" (kid-issued breaks in which I must stop reading in order to repeat a French word that I have tripped up on), but also for the words that I still do not know, both French and in English!

Thankfully, not all readings are cause for reprimand. De temps en temps, there are eye-opening moments when suddenly, more than a word making sense, the world seems to take on new meaning as well.

It was while reading a chapter called "The birth..." or "La naissance de Jésus" to my daughter that I suddenly felt a lump in my throat and a sting in my eyes. An English word with which I've had but a yearly encounter—usually during the holiday season—suddenly defined itself as its French counterpart moved up my vocal chords and exited in a French chorus of sound and meaning. The text preceding the word (indicated in bold, below) only served to set the dramatic stage:

Là, dans la saleté et entre les animaux, elle mit son bébé au monde. Puis elle l'enveloppa chaudement et, comme il n'y avait pas de berceau, elle le déposa dans une mangeoire pour qu'il puisse dormir...

"There, in the filth and between the animals, she brought her baby into the world. Then she wrapped him warmly and, as there was no cradle, she put him down in a feeding trough so that he could sleep."

Replacing the word "manger" with "feeding trough", its equivalent, gives the account an even more heartrending effect; "manger" is poetic, while "feeding trough" effectively evokes the brutal bed that was the only resting place for the delicate newborn.

                                        *     *     *

As for those instances of humiliation—whether in fumbling through French text before a ten-year-old (or in the stories that I have lived and that will never be told)—my mind now calls up a peaceful bergerie, wherein an unspoiled baby would come to suffer all humility; this, instead of me.


French Vocabulary

de temps en temps = from time to time
La Naissance de Jésus = The Birth of Jesus (from the book "Grande Bible Pour Les Enfants," Chantecler edition)
la bergerie (f) = shelter (sheepfold)
une étoile = star 

Plat du Jour (c) Kristin Espinasse

One of the black and white pictures that did not make it into my book. I still get a big smile each time I study the elements in this photo (taken during our wedding anniversary celebration, in Collioure's).

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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de guingois

The scene was so classic that I wondered, as I snuck up to snap the photo, if it wasn't staged! Notice the underwear: one per "hook". Photo taken in Nyons (next to a chichi restaurant. Well, that oughta show 'em!).

Capture plein écran 21122011 083440It is exciting to watch the numbers as this self-published book competes with the "big guys". At one point, Blossoming in Provence made it within the top 400 in book sales at Amazon.

Many of you might be curious as to how those numbers, or popularity rankings, translate into actual book sales. If an author ranks #383 (or the 383rd most popular book sold at Amazon) he or she must be selling thousands of books, right? I checked those sales details this morning and here are the facts:

In the first four days since publication, 602 copies of Blossoming in Provence have been sold (most people bought one copy--though a few readers bought four copies each!) This means that over 550 readers have purchased a copy of Blossoming.

...That leaves 28,000 email readers without a book!... 

The question now is... Have you bought your copy of "Blossoming in Provence"? Please know that your individual purchase makes a great difference to me. Perhaps you are waiting to buy the book at some point in the future, when you can get around to it. Why delay?  Thank you for clicking here to order a copy now.

And thank you all for staying with me during these crucial first weeks of book marketing. I appreciate your patience—and even your interest—in the publication process. Merci beaucoup! 
(A special thanks to those who have blogged, Facebooked, Tweeted, or simply told a friend about "the new book on France").
de guingois (deuh-gehn-gwah)
    : askew, lopsided

marcher de guingois = to walk lop-sidedly
tout va de guingois = everything's going haywire

Audio File & Example Sentence: listen to the French word "de guingois" and to this expression: "marcher de guingois":Download Wav or MP3 

"The Marais, says Jacob Berger, a film director who lives and works in the neighborhood, is de guingois--that is to say, slightly askew."

--from the National Geographic article:
"Bohemian rhapsody: on the right bank of Paris history and hip embrace..." 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

(Note: The following story was first published in 2008)

Another odd Christmas tree this year. I should have taken Mom's advice: get an artificial one! Apart from being good for the environment, those faux firs come in perfect shapes: full-bodied and symmetrical; especially, they're kilter—and not helter-skelter!

If I weren't such a procrastinator, I would have gotten the tree I wanted: Super Sapin! (Not a bird, not a plane.... ) Though our tree may not fly or save lives (it certainly won't save the earth), it does look as if it were set for take off, what with its long and HORIZONTAL arc... like a Boeing 747.

"It's lopsided!" I point out to Jean-Marc, after he has placed the tree. "Wait a minute..." I remark, suspiciously. "Didn't it come with a stand?"

"No. It didn't."

"You mean the nursery didn't have stands for sale?"

"They did, but the stands weren't any good."

They never are! He was just trying to get out of buying a stand! Next, I discover his solution: our umbrella stand. He's swiped our umbrella stand to use for a tree brace. Pas vrai!

If it weren't so amusing—to see that tree stuffed, de guingois, into the umbrella stand like a wet parapluie—I'd scream! But I am learning to laugh at these peculiarities. Take, for example, our bathroom light fixture, the one just above the mirror. When the screw fell out, we might have replaced it. Instead, a box of aspirin was set between the light and the mirror (now, when the box of aspirin pops out, all we have to do is pick it up off the floor (easier to see than a small screw) and stick it back in its place). Ta-da!

Chez nous, it is always a balancing act... a regular circus we are! From time to time, I find myself lamenting, "Why... why can't we just be normal?" Why do I have to lean to the side in order to see our Christmas tree as it should be? Why can't our tree stand be normal looking, like the tree stands of other French families? Why do we have to treat our pine as a parasol? Still grumbling about my husband's eccentricities, I gather the fresh laundry which I have strewn around the house on every free hook or chair back or table (any freestanding structure will do). Other housewives may have hung out their clothes on the line to dry today, but I don't trust the northern wind: sacré Mistral!

Collecting some dry underwear from the fire-stoker rack beside the cheminée, and reaching for some chaussettes sèches (slung over the candelabra), I notice the look on my husband's face... but I am quick to put him back in his place; after all, it is HE who is the oddball!

However different, there we stand, united in silence, our heads leaning to the same side as we study our Christmas tree.

"It's lopsided, you know."

"Yes, Dear," my husband looks over at me. Our eyes return to the lopsided tree as we stare silently.

"Il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral!" Jean-Marc offers, and our silence dissolves into laughter.

French Vocabulary
le sapin = fir (tree)
pas vrai = it can't be true!
de guingois = lopsided
le parapluie (m) = umbrella
sacré Mistral = blasted Mistral (wind)
la cheminée = fireplace
chaussettes (f) sèches = dry socks
il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral = it was hit by a mighty gust of wind


Braise (left) and Smokey (right) wish everyone a lovely celebration!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


Life's merry-go-round. Read on, in today's letter. (Photo of le manège taken in Marseilles)

aigre-doux (ehgrh-doo)

    : bittersweet


Bonjour les amis,

I wanted to update you on the good news. Blossoming in Provence made it to #31 in the hot new releases at! 

I returned home from Marseilles, yesterday, to a flurry of excitement in the comments box (please check it out here). Mom was busy stirring up sales and announcing Blossoming's latest ranking at Amazon. Thanks, Mom! Your enthusiasm is contagious. 

These exciting bonnes nouvelles are tempered by some not-so-good news: at my doctor's appointment in Marseilles, it was confirmed that I will have to have another surgery, this time for a "spot" on my nose. I am upset, to say the least. (No need to write in or to email about this, I feel your support and I thank you for your prayers.)

Parfois on gagne, parfois on perd
Win some, lose some... I will be working on my attitude, my perspective, and my faith--trying to keep any anxieties at bay by focusing on the positive.

Blossoming in ProvenceSpeaking of the positive, for those of you who would like to offer a copy of Blossoming in Provence to someone for Christmas, it is not too late....

Here is a fun way to do so: click here and look for the "eGift this item" near the end of the page, (you will see the buble icon, as pictured here, to the left. The recipient of your gift will see a picture of the Blossoming book cover and will be prompted to select this item as their gift.

Thank you very much for your help in getting the word out about my latest book. I am grateful for and very touched by your Facebook announcements, your tweets, and your all-around enthusiasm and encouragements.

"See you" tomorrow, for a Christmas story...



Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

un grand service = a big favor

Book Cover (c) Tamara Dever, TLC Graphics
The book that took 21 44 days to create, publish and put on-line for sale... thanks for your help (and special thanks to Tamara and Erin at TLC Graphics for this book's cover and beautiful interior).


I am on my way to Marseilles this morning. French Word-A-Day will return on Wednesday.

Before I leave, I wanted to ask you a big favor, or un grand service...

Would you please order a copy of my book Blossoming in Provence? At $14 it makes an economical and educational gift for yourself or for another! 

Packed with vocabulary and insights on French life, this "memoirette" is now available at Please click here to order a copy or two! (Check out Amazon's free shipping offer, when you order two copies.)

Mille mercis for all of your support and encouragement and for your help in getting the word out about this "little book that could". It may not yet have made it to the top of the hill, but the climb, in itself, is exhilarating.



P.S.: My book is illustrated with over 30 black-and-white photos, including the one below. For those who asked for color (it would have driven up your purchase cost to more than twice the price), I hope you will agree that images chosen for this book were made for black-n-white!



"This is at once a Francophile's indulgence, a travelogue, a photo-journal, an occasional diary and a learn-French blog. It is also the 'happily ever after' of a love story and who can resist that?" —Sushil Dawka

Thank you for ordering a copy of Blossoming in Provence here--and for helping spread the word about it by forwarding this email (or post) via Facebook or Twitter. I am very grateful your help!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

Get your copy of Blossoming in Provence!

Capture plein écran 16122011 162653Please excuse this extra email in your inbox today... but I could not wait to tell you that Blossoming in Provence is now available for purchase.

To order a copy please click here!

Update: the book is now available at, via this link. Also, please support your local bookseller by ordering Blossoming in Provence at the nearest bookstore. 

Thank you all for your help in seeing this book come to life! 




Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


George Whitman's famous bookshop, on the Left Bank. Today, we remember this incorrigable angel. Read on, and prepare to share your own tributes and stories. 

ange (ahnzh)
    : angel

Some expressions: 
mon ange = darling 
beau/belle comme un(e) ange = beautiful as an angel
être aux anges = to be in seventh heaven
un ange passe = an angel is passing
être le bon ange (or ange guardien) de quelqu'un = to be someone's guardian angel

Reverse Dictionary
angel cake = le gâteau de Savoie
to go where angels fear to tread = s'aventurer en terrain dangereux

Audio File: Listen to the following scripture (and to all of the expressions listed above) by clicking here: Download MP3 or Wave File
N'oubliez pas l'hospitalité; car, en l'exerçant, quelques-uns ont logé des anges, sans le savoir. 
Be not inhospitable to strangers, for, in practicing it, some have entertained angels in disguise.
                                                                    —Hebrews 13:2

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

Adieu, George

As many of you know by now, George Whitman passed away on Wednesday, at the age of 98. For those who didn't know him, or who are not familiar with this literary legend, I will try my best to introduce you to him. Perhaps I could begin by telling you how it was I came to meet him?
Sometime in the early 1990s, I had wandered into George's famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. I must have just finished touring Notre Dame cathedral, then happened across the Seine to the lighted bookshop, a beacon to writers, poets, drifters and, oh yes, to customers looking for a good book.
Walking into Shakespeare and Company is like walking into a book: the scene is as dramatic as the characters that live there... I immediately noticed George! How could you miss him? He sat behind a messy desk, looking as worn as his cherished editions. His clothes were tattered too; a psychedelic ensemble of layers covered him from head to toe: a colorful shirt clashed with a colorful vest which clashed with a colorful coat and so on...

His hair fought for distinction above the rest: unruly white locks, seared at the ends (did you ever see the video of George "cutting" his own hair: no scissors necessary; a pocket lighter sufficed!).

Seeing George was sensory and emotional overload for this aspiring writer: for here was the greatest character of all! Only, instead of pulling out my notebook and sketching George, via words—it was all I could do to hurry past him, and hide among stacks. There, I could better process what I had just seen: evidence of the ultimate hero.
Hidden there, in the cooking section I heard his voice.
"What have you found?" George inquired. A little startled, my eyes shot down to the books in my hands. I was struck by the irony of the subject matter: there was a book on home cooking... and another on women's lib (it was, I believe, a book on women writers who had emblazoned a path to publication—in a time when only men were allowed to publish).
"Bah!" George grunted, "get rid of that one," he said, of the women's lib book. "Follow me...." Chance was mine, when next I was treated to a tour of the bookshop.... 

On the way upstairs George literally bumped into one of his "tumbleweeds" (one of the 40,000 lost souls/writers he would host in his shop) and screamed, "What are you doing here? There's work to be done!" I witnessed, for the first time, the bookseller's duo personality: part angel par "incorrigible" (he certainly had a temper, perhaps to temper his overgenerosity?).
"Good for nothing bums!" he grumbled as we made our way up the stairs (I would later learn that George referred to himself as nothing but a bum). In one of the many rooms, there were people my age, early 20s, sitting around a table with a typewriter on it. "How are you getting along?" George asked the group of bed heads (these particular bums had messy hair to rival—or honor—their host's.).

"They're writing their memoirs," George explained. I watched, in awe, wishing for anything to trade places with one of the young, down-and-out writers who got to live in this house of books and dine with its cranky host.

A sign above the door read: 
Be Not Inhospitable To Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise
Our tour continued and it was du pareil au même, or more of the same: all of the rooms were packed floor to ceiling with books. There were beds pushed up against the teetering bookshelves (this, it appeared, was where the bum-writers slept). In a little closet I thought I spied a toilet, or was that the edge of a stove? The furniture was as eclectic as the books on the shelves (and beneath and around them).

A door off one of the rooms led to a stairwell, where an old spiral staircase joined the various levels of the bookshop. George pointed up to the third floor, it seemed he lived up there....

I was grateful for the generous tour, an impromptu look-see that many before me (and many after...) had enjoyed as well. It all depended on George's mood, if he felt like it, he might show you around and even invite you to stay. 

"You'll have to come back for soup sometime," he offered, telling me about the irish stew he is known to make. I couldn't believe he was offering this to me, as he had to the writers in the upstairs study.
I did return to his shop, years later. I regret that I was too nervous to reintroduce myself. I figured he would have forgotten me, after so many comings-and-goings.

And then, a dream came true and I had the honor of speaking at the bookstore... I asked his daughter, Sylvia, if by chance George would be around for the talk. "He's upstairs resting," she said, "but he will hear you," she assured me...
Saying a nervous "bonjour" to the audience... wondering if George might, by chance, be listening from his room just above...
George's daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman

Back at home while processing the photos from my talk, I saw this beautiful image, of Sylvia, listening in on the talk. That is when I remembered her assuring words, "He will hear you..."
I like to think that Sylvia was the conduit to that end, that by her ears her bed-ridden father did hear so many of the goings-on downstairs—and that, by her sweet spirit, his own now lives on.

                                    *    *    *

Post note: I am so glad I took George's advice and, instead of reading about women writers (in the women's libbish book, I opted for the cook book... went home, had babies, took care of my husband... and wrote about it all in one of those autobiographies that he encouraged his "drifters" to undertake! George, you are the man! Thank you for creating this eclectic, warm, bookstore that continues to create and welcome writers and readers. We love you dearly.)

I wrote about my talk at Shakespeare and Co. (and overcoming public speaking jitters) here. Don't miss it.
Respond to this story, here in the comments box. Have you ever heard about Shakespeare and Company bookshop? Ever been there? Did you meet George? Please share your memories and thoughts here.

You must watch Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man. Savor the documentary this weekend, or when you have the chance. It is a touching video and will tell you most everything you need to know about Shakespeare and Company and the incorrigable angel behind it. RIP, dear George!

Some news articles:

Across the street from Shakespeare and Company: Notre Dame Cathedral

For the upcoming Holidays, our organic, award-winning Rouge-Bleu wines will regale your palates.Click here for store locations (or email Chief grape if you can't locate them).
And, for our Australian readers, we have a few cases of Rouge-Bleu wines arriving soon. Click here for the pre-order form


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


Cabanon (c) Kristin Espinasse
The little cabanon, the one that makes a cameo in today's story...

habitude (ah-bee-tood) noun, feminine

    : habit


Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these words: Download MP3 or Wave file

prendre de mauvaises habitudes = to pick up bad habits
j'ai l'habitude = I'm used to it
d'habitude = as a rule
comme d'habitude = as usual

French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.  

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

An Evening Routine

At around 5:23 each evening, I rush down stairs to the kitchen, to make my son a triple-decker PB&J.  Tearing off a sheet of papier alu, I wrap the sandwich and set it into a brown paper sack, from the stack I am collecting from the fruit-and-vegetable stand. Small as the paper sacks are, I can even place a bottle of water inside, careful not to écraser the PB&J.

Smokey and Braise watch as I grab my keys, lunettes, purse, and run back to the kitchen for the snack I have forgotten.

"No, it's not for you!" I repeat to the dogs.  Arrêtez! Vous allez manger tout à l'heure—et vous le savez très bien! Alors, arrêtez de me faire culpabiliser!

I lock the front door and head out to the driveway. When I put the key into the car's ignition, the radio blares and I jump—seized with a fight-or-flight response! My hand slaps my heart to calm it.  "J'en ai eu assez! This time I am really going to have a word with him!", I say of my husband, who has once again left the volume full blast. 

Never mind, time to get a move on! The clock reads 5:31 and my mind's eye shows my son standing at the bus stop waiting too long in the cold.

The road to the village is flanked with leaf-bare vines in wintertime. As I drive, I look out to admire a favorite stone cabanon, its roof fallen long ago. As always, my mind's eye sees newly painted shutters, in blue or green (I can't yet decide which). Inside the abandoned one-room abode, there is now a roaring fire in the hearth... red checkered cups and saucers dry on a quaint rack beside the sink. The floors are no longer dirt, they are covered with little earth-red tomette tiles. There is a cozy sofa facing the cheminée, blankets draped across the arms. A basket of yarn rests on the floor, knitting needles tucked into the wool. The simple, unhurried life.... 

My daydream ends as I coast into town, taking the busy boulevard to the centre ville. I see my son standing on the curbside, laughing with his friend, Antoine, with whom he will share his triple-decker PB&J

Pulling into the bus zone for an illegal 30-second drop-off, I lower the car window and prepare to do the nightly exchange in which Max hands me his backpack and I hand over the snack. 

"T'as de l'argent?" Max winks.

"You are persistent!" I answer with a smile, handing him his sandwich and his drink instead of the money.

Oh well, he isn't so disappointed, and by the gentle way he says merci beaucoup, Maman, he seems sincerely grateful.

I watch as the young man with the sandwich crosses the street, heading towards the auto-école for his night class. One day he will drive away and this evening routine will be no more. 

I will miss making the triple-decker sandwiches. I will miss my son's breezy attempts to pry money out of me. I will miss watching Mr. Merci Beaucoup walk off... looking like a dashing stranger.  And so I linger in my car another moment or two, letting the images transfer themselves into my mind's eye, to mingle with the painted shutters, the cozy fire, the basket of knitting and the checkered teacups... and even the forgetful husband and the dogs....

Oh, the dogs! Time to get home and feed them their dinner!

French Vocabulary

PB&J = peanut butter and jelly sandwich
le papier d'alu (d'aluminium) = aluminum foil
écraser = to squash
lunettes (fpl) = eyeglasses
Arrêtez! = stop
vous allez manger tout à l'heure = you're going to eat a little later
et vous le savez très bien! = and you know that!
alors, arrêtez de me faire culpabiliser! = so stop making me feel so guilty!
j'en ai eu assez = I've had enough!
le cabanon = one-room abode where farmers would rest and/or store their tools
tomette = a traditional floor tile found in Provence
la cheminée = fireplace
le centre ville = town center
t'as de l'argent = got any money?
l'auto-école (f) = driving school


Tis the season! Are you feeling a bit bah-humbuggy by now? Or is it just me?

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Wine bar in Isle sur la Sorgue (c) Kritsin Espinasse

I used to dream of having a writer's room in Paris. Lately, I would rather live life (the stuff of books) rather than dream of writing about it. Writing isn't, after all, a romantic life. Life is a romantic life!

Book update: If all goes well, I will upload my book to tonight! Tamara and Erin, at TLC Graphics, are putting on the finish touches now. Fingers crossed that Blossoming in Provence will be ready to order very soon! 

patate (pah-tat) noun, feminine

    1.  sweet potato
    2. imbecile

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read these French Expressions: Download MP3 or Wav file

une patate douce = sweet potato, yam
un sac à patates = a dress (or something) without a shape
avoir la patate = to feel great, full of energy
en avoir gros sur la patate (from "en avoir gros sur le coeur") = to be very sad
rouler en chasse-patates = (cycling term) to be between two groups of cyclists, unable to pass the first group, while not being surpassed by the second 

Note: patate is also a synonym for pomme de terre, or potato

                                                            *    *    * 

Today, Smokey receives a letter from a long-time fan...
(note: click here for the English translation to this letter)

Cher Smokey,

Un revenant!  Dis-donc ça faisait un bail qu'on ne te voyait plus.
On commençait à se demander si Kristin t'avait mis en gage chez son éditeur.
Mais heureusement tu es bien là, pareil à toi-même: ravissant, la truffe au vent, l'oeil aux aguets, l'appétit en éveil... et tu penses: 

"Les patates douces, quel délice!...



Goûtons voir ça... un coup de langue, avant le coup de dents, ensuite... le coup de grâce! Hmm, pas mal!... Nom d'un chien, zut, foutu!... On m'avait à l'oeil!  C'est pas un cadeau une vie de chien,  j'vous jure! "
Bisous de Carol
from Carol Donnay, in Belgium (don't miss her blog!)
Note: I will put the English translation to Carol's story here, in the comments box. Please feel free to help correct my English text!
Le Coin Commentaires

Help me to thank Carol for her histoire a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e! I love Carol's letters to Smokey. You can read another one, here and here. Meantime, click here to leave a message in the comments box. 

  DSC03650   DSC03656   DSC03661 
Ca fait un bail = ça fait longtemps =  it's been a while
Mettre en gage = déposer comme garantie = to leave as a guarantee
Le coup de grâce = évènement qui achève de perdre quelqu'un déjà en difficulté = something that takes place that saves someone in difficulty (thanks to Jeff Cwiok for this definition:
'Le coup de grâce'... is 'something that takes place that "finishes off" someone (or something) in difficulty. The phrase originated in Medieval times when, after mortally wounding an adversary, it was considered an act of mercy (grâce) to end his suffering with a final blow (le coup).
Foutu = busted
Avoir à l'oeil = surveiller de près = to watch closely
A l'oeil = gratuitement = free 
C'est pas un cadeau = quelque chose ou quelqu'un de déplaisant = something or someone unpleasant


Tomatoes--two summers ago. Last summer there were little tomatoes popping up in the most unlikely places (in the middle of a flower patch, and even behind the house!). I guess the wind had spread the dried tomato's seeds... in time to give us a future bounty!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
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Reader Gary McClelland shares another speedy French adventure with you today... read on and discover something fun to do in Provence (or maybe chez vous?) Also, an extra sound file for you today: Jean-Marc has recorded the vocab section following Gary's story. Don't miss it!

Occasionally I receive an e-mail asking me to tell the story of meeting my French husband, Jean-Marc (affectionately known as "Chief Grape"). For anyone interested, please know you can read the whole story in the introductory chapter to Words in a French Life ... (at under $15, this book makes an excellent gift for a Francophile!) Here is an excerpt:
  Capture plein écran 28022011 085453Back in Aix, I was dancing the night away wholly devoted to study when I met my future (French) husband. He barely spoke to me the night we met, but his first words to me -- before even "Bonsoir" -- were "Il faut qu'on se revoie," we must see each other again. His dramatic greeting stopped time. When he handed me his card, I thought I had stepped into the pages of a fairy tale. Beneath his name, "Jean-Marc Espinasse," were the words "Roy d'Espagne"....

Thanks for ordering a copy of Words in a French Life, here. Meantime, we're working on making the next book, "Blossoming in Provence", available very soon!

la sortie (sor-tee)
1.  exit
2. outing or excursion
3. availability of forthcoming novel, movie, etc.

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file
Pour prendre une sortie dans la campagne, il faut prendre la sortie de l'autoroute.
To take an outing in the countryside, one must take the exit from the highway.

Reader Gary McClelland is back today with another outdoors French adventure. Thanks, Gary, for putting together this entire edition, including the word of the day, the example sentence, the vocab section and, along with ami Chris Saricks, all of the photos!
Biking the Rails in Provence
By Gary McClelland
Photos by Chris Saricks and Gary McClelland

After finding a place to park in the village of Pourcieux, Chris and I dashed toward the station fearing we were too late for the 10:00 departure of our train. We thought we had allowed ample time but had failed to note this map warning on the website about the sortie from the autoroute closest to Pourcieux: Attention, cette sortie n'existe que dans le sens Nice-Aix. Alas, we were coming from the opposite direction. So we flew by our intended exit and had to double-back through town traffic and then on the N7, a mythical road that has a similar status of the classic Route 66 in the U.S. As we approached the affable station master awaiting us in
his converted blue and white trailer, the church bells chimed 10. I panted, “Bonjour Monsieur, je suis désolé.” He looked surprised and asked, pourquoi? The website clearly recommended we arrive 30 minutes before our departure, not 30 seconds, so I said, “Parce que nous sommes en retard.” “Mais non,” he smiled, “le train reste ici.

After a little paperwork and instruction, Chris, my train buff friend from college days, and I were adjusting the height of the bicycle seats on our vélo-rail car. We were going to pedal our little train car the seven km from Pourcieux to St Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume and then return. Throughout France, many sections of abandoned
railroad tracks have been converted for use by touristic pedal cars carrying from two to five people. As both avid cyclists and train buffs, Chris and I had to experience vélo-rail. Even though each group would be pedaling their own car, there was a strict departure time for the train because passing, either coming or
going, was not possible. The website warned that in St Maximin we would need to help turn our heavy cars around afin de soulager les vertèbres of the train personnel.

We had chosen to bypass the vélo-rail in Plan d’Orgon, closer to where we were staying in Bedoin, because the Chemin de Fer de la Sainte Baume leaving from Pourcieux promised tunnels, viaducs, et ponts with views in many directions. As we pedaled up the easy but noticeable 1.5% grade to the tunnel, Chris explained that tunnels were usually at the top where the surveyors could no longer find easy grades. We could barely see la lumière à la sortie of the 180 meter Tunnel du St Pilon. We thrilled at the rush of the wind in our hair from our increasingly speedy descent until we began worrying about climbing this same section of track on our return. The promised views did not disappoint and we stopped on a viaduc for photos (being the last car in this morning’s train, we had no fear of blocking anyone).
Too soon we were at the end of the line in St Maximin. Pirouetting the car using the metal plate between the tracks disturbed the vertèbres of neither me nor the train man. Now as the lead car, Chris and I could not dally, but neither did we need to rush because the car behind us had three passengers and we had none. We pedaled hard on the climb so again we had time to stop for photos. Soon we were through the cool tunnel and racing for the station in Pourcieux. As we rounded a bend, a beautiful view of Cezanne’s Montagne Sainte-Victoire appeared. After another pirouette of our vélo-rail car to be ready for those voyagers departing on the noon train, we began our drive home, eschewing the autoroute for the nostalgic N7 and discussing our morning’s sortie très agréable on the rails of Provence.
Information about Le Velorail de la Sainte Baume, as well as links to numerous other velorails throughout France, is available at
Gary McClelland is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Colorado. He became a Francophile while spending a summer as a student in Paris in 1967.
Le Coin Commentaires
To comment on Gary's article, or to share one of your own favorite things to do in France, click here.

Don't miss Gary's other stories: "Pétanque" and "Péloton"

French Vocabulary
listen to these words

Download MP3 file 

l’autoroute (f)
– highway, especially a toll road
le sens = direction
Attention, cette sortie n'existe que dans le sens Nice-AixWarning, this exit exists only in the Nice-Aix direction
Bonjour Monsieur, je suis désolé = Hello Sir, I am sorry
être en retard = to be late
Parce que nous sommes en retard = Because we are late  
Mais non. Le train reste ici = No worries. The train stays here. 
afin de soulager = to relieve
la vertèbre = vertebra 
le chemin de fer = railroad, literally the iron road
le viaduc = railroad trestle
le pont = bridge
la lumière = light
Our amiable station master in Pourcieux
Lead car
The lead car in our train

 Approaching tunnel
Approaching the Tunnel of St Pilon with la lumière à la sortie
La sortie
La sortie
Chris enjoying rush out of tunnel

Chris enjoying the speed rush exiting the tunnel
Un viaduc
Un viaduc
Gary stoking the rail
Gary stoking the rail car
Chris and Gary on saddles

Chris and Gary on their saddles in St Maximin
Le pirouette
Preparing to pirouette the car on the metal plate
Les coquelicots along the tracks
Cezannes Montagne Sainte-Victoire
Cezanne’s Montange Sainte-Victoire

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.