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Entries from January 2012

a fond

When the last time you were "cat" off guard? What did you discover about yourself: pridefulness? greed? Read on in today's story....

à fond (ah fohn) prepositional phrase
    : deeply, thoroughly

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following quote: Download MP3 or Wav file

A mon avis, vous ne pouvez pas dire que vous avez vu quelque chose à fond si vous n'en avez pas pris une photographie. In my opinion, you cannot say you have thoroughly seen something if you haven't taken a photograph of it. —Emile Zola

                                       *     *     *
Booksales Report: only two days left to reach my goal of 1500 books sold in the first six weeks since publicationI have another 114 copies to go... Can you think of anyone who might enjoy a copy of Blossoming in Provence? Meantime, click here to check out the latest reader reviews!

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

On Consideration and Connecting (This story first appeared in January 2008)

Not far from some lazy lavender fields, gray now with the grogginess of winter, lives a picture perfect town. There, above a valley of grapevines, geraniums grow in wintertime, tempting French cats to pose prettily beside them (they'll even say "cheese", or ouistiti, if you ask them to, unlike those hurry purry Parisians).

I reach up to snap a photo of some small flower pots that are crowded together, as if for warmth, along a window sill. Beyond the fenêtre, I can just see into a private residence, where a porcelain lamp glows above a well-polished table. My eyes zoom out and refocus on the painted volets. As the shutters come into focus, the private study receeds into a cozy blur. Très bien... I take up my camera again.

I am pointing my lens to the lively window, when my walking companion remarks, "The pictures frame themselves." 

Click... Snap! 

Her breezy comment ruffles me. Pretty pictures might frame themselves, but you must first search out the frame-worthy subject! Then, there are a number of considerations—including, for one, consideration! (I think about the window that I have just captured, careful to blur the private interior, choosing to bring the shutters into focus instead).

If I am a little froissée, or feather-ruffled, it is less about my friend's innocent comment than about my fussy reaction to it. 

Thinking about the fuss, I recognize a familiar old character. L'Ego! Yes, here we have the ego talking, blathering on with its absurd sense of pride! C'est PATHETIQUE! It isn't as though I have ever taken a photography class or know anything about the rules of photo composition. The fact is I am an untrained photographer who is learning by doing, having had some lucky shots along the way—and some generous feedback. Perhaps the feedback has gone to my head?

Turning to my walking companon, I offer an awkwardly delayed reaction to her observation (I nod forcefully). When my head begins to shake, I recognize, once again, the inner wrestlings of that stubborn ego, which is still not willing to cough up a humble response, such as "So true! It is easy as pie to take a stunning picture in France! Anyone can do it!" (I am satisfied with this imagined response, especially since pie, to me, is rocket-science!)

Turns out there is no need to respond to the comment, and my mini identity crisis goes unnoticed. My friend is a million miles away, lost in the beauty of a Provencal village. Our photo périple rambles on, punctuated by her innocent commentary:

"Villedieu," she coos. "The name of the town says it all!" I relax back into the environment, as we stroll though the "Town of God," photographing the already "framed" pictures. Like a blessed writer—through whom words flow as if channeled—we point our cameras, letting the village compose itself. 

My roving eyes catch on The Sweeping Woman. Every town has one. She is the picture of domestic sagesse: broom in hand... and yet wearing a dainty dress! 

As I take up my camera, that itchy inner-dialogue starts up again. Now that the ego has fallen to sleep, Ms. Ethics has returned with a discours on dignity:

Madame—or "The Sweeping Woman", as you call her—is not behind bars in a zoo. She is not swallowing a blazing torch in one of three circus rings. She is not lounging in a window display, swathed in a beaded gown and feather boa—bringing fashion barracudas to halt along 5th Avenue, at Bergdorf Goodman's. She is, simply, being she. So let her be!

I consider Ms Ethics thoughts about dignity and manners. But might one try a direct approach, something like: "Bonjour, Madame, may I take your picture?" 

I imagine Madame's response. "What is it about me that you find so amusing? It is my white hair? My worn robe? Or is it my Frenchness that is on show?"

In an ethical instant I decide not to snap a picture of Madame and her balai. And yet...

I want Madame's picture because she reminds me of warmth and not steel, being and not doing, prayer and not pricing. She is authentic, real—unswayed by commercial sex appeal. It is what is missing—hairs in place, make-up on her face, a knotted shoe lace—that makes her mystical to me.

No. Not all pictures frame themselves. Some must remain uncontained—free to travel beyond the camera lens, beyond even the mind's eye... to expand and to swell like a giant-hearted universe.

I slip the camera into my coat pocket and take one last admirative gaze at Madame. Her broom comes to a halt as she fastens her eyes on mine. The universe that is my own heart skips a beat. Madame smiles.

 Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box

French Vocabulary

ouistiti! (exclamation) = cheese! 

la fenêtre
 (f) = window

le volet = shutter

très bien = very good!

froissé(e) = offended

l'ego (m) = ego

c'est pathéthique = it's pathetic 

le périple = tour, journey

la sagesse (f) = wisdom

le balai (m) = broom

la robe (f) = dress

Cat on a leash (c) Kristin Espinasse

This man gave me permission to take his photo, but that didn't keep Ms. Ethics from mumbling "and did you ask the cats for their permission? To name this photo or to add a caption, click here.

Book Giveaway!
Enjoy Lynn's latest post over at Southern Fried French... and enter to win a copy of Blossoming in Provence. Check out the details here

And thank you, Vera Marie, for the "Blossoming" write up you did at Traveler's Library. Mom was so excited, too,  to see your review

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.

etre dans la lune

Across from Domaine Banneret in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (c) Kristin EspinasseOn being on the moon in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Today's subject is absentmindedness....

être dans la lune

    : to be lost in one's thoughts, to be absent-minded ("to be on the moon")

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file

De temps en temps elle ne porte pas trop d'attention. Elle est sur la lune.
At times, she doesn't pay attention. She is on the moon. 

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

The Absentminded Confessor

We took the day off, yesterday, to join friends in the wine-making town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Chief Grape had called ahead to reserve several vineyard visits, which would be especially interesting for our friends, each of whom is involved, in one way or another, dans le mêtier du vin.

Wine is not my passion, but that did not keep me from tagging along with the grape enthusiasts. Sure, all that vine talk might get boring, but I could always enjoy the company of friends—and then there would be that delicious midday pause (lunch at La Mère Germaine!). There would also be plenty to see—eclectic village windows, sleepy stone façades, and other such camera candy. So what if that meant suffering so many oenopoetic arguments on appellation and vin nature

...At least I think those topics were brought up, then again, how can I be sure? For I did as I always do during a swarm of French conversation: I escaped into the recesses of my mind, letting the foreign chatter dissolve into an agreeable murmur.

The French have an expression for this kind of "absentmindedness" (I prefer a more dignifying  term—such as "mind travel"... or even "thought voyaging", for the hint at adventure... ). For we who lapse into a cognitive retreat, the French say: elle est dans la lune!

Et c'est vrai. There, in the apex of my mind... on that luminous half-moon, my two legs dangling over the golden edge, I can best view and appreciate my surroundings. Removed from the chaos of chatter, the world around me softens up... into a romantic still life. Though I no longer hear, I see: there are French lips flapping—but no voices, arms-flailing—but no words to ride them. When I dip back into conversation, or "come in for a brief landing", I find the opposite to be true: I hear voices... but no longer see those fabulous flapping lips, I understand words... but no longer notice the flailing arms. Perhaps some senses shut down with the opening of others? In that case, one has to choose: between seeing and hearing. Which do you choose?

I used to feel self-conscious about this tendency to float away from conversation, in favor of returning to my lunar perch, where I could swing my legs over the slivered moon's edge and watch the animated scene before me.

I began to have a sneaking suspicion that my inability to pay attention to a conversation might be evidence of a low intelligence quotient. I wondered, was I dumb?

And then I heard about a character called "The Absent-Minded Professor"! I began to feel hopeful: if an academic could be nearly perpetually absent-minded, then maybe I wasn't slow after all? And maybe I didn't have to try so hard to conceal my own attention lapses? If worse came to worse and I was caught, I no longer had to feel like a space cadet; I could brush off the incident as "an academic interlude"... and happily return to outer space pour être sur ma lune, as the French say.

That is not to say that embarrassing situations don't crop up. It is a risk an absent-minded one just has to take. Yesterday in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, for example, at the tail-end of our first vineyard visit, I decided to "land" in the current conversation. It looked as though the tasting was wrapping up, so I asked what I thought to be a "safe" question:

"Quelles sont vos horaires d'ouverture?" My intention was to share the vineyard's location and opening hours with others. 

My husband snickered. Confused, I searched the faces in our group for any clues of dissent.

"Why is that a stupid question?" I asked.

Thankfully the women in the group—friends Gilda and Caroline—stood up for me: "It is not a stupid question! In America," Gilda explained, "there are no stupid questions." 

"But in France," Caroline offered, sympathetically, "every question is a potentially stupid one!"

How true! I thought about cultural differences and, once again, I was off... to ponder that thought.


Post note: For many of us, listening is a core value. I do agree! But I find that it becomes difficult to listen, for long stretches, to French conversation. At the end of a dinner party (in French), many French language learners feel like their heads are about to explode. Is it any wonder that some of us float off... to decompress sur la lune

 P.S. And one more embarrassing incident (and an apology to Caroline, from Perth): Earlier that morning, as I wished my friend "Happy Australia Day!" Caroline admitted to having celebrated by enjoying Vegemite on her buttery croissant. I had thought that was so funny... Vegemite on a croissant! Only, hours later, it didn't stop me from asking Caroline, "What did you have for breakfast?" to figure out how much of this is absentmindedness—and how much is forgetfulness?

(The above confession was also an excuse to wish our Australian readers a belated Happy Australia Day! Do you like the idea of Vegemite on a buttery croissant?)


Le Coin Commentaires
The best part about writing these stories is reading your messages. Whether you share a story of your own, or whether you just want to say "bonjour", know that your messages are enjoyed. Please don't forget to write your city next to your name :-) Click here to leave a comment. 


dans le mêtier du vin = in the wine business

une appellation or vin d'appellation
= a wine carrying a guarantee of origin 

vin nature = natural wine

il ou elle est dans la lune = he or she is on the moon

et c'est vrai = and it's true

Quelles sont vos horaires d'ouverture? = what are your opening hours?



Our visit began here, at Domaine Bois de Boursan. That's owner Jean-Paul Versino up on the ladder. 


Jean-Marc Espinasse, Chateauneuf du Pape (c) Kristin Espinasse

We visited Uncle Jean-Claude's cellar in Chateauneuf-du-Pape....



Only a grape enthusiast could appreciate this. To the rest of us... it just looks like spit! 


And here is Kiwi The Dog, my cousin Audrey's charming chien. (Hi Audrey xoxo). Kiwi is admiring Gilda's wonderful coat--by the way Gilda and Robert Camuto joined us for the day. Read about another tasting we did here (wine lovers will not want to miss this story!)

Jean-Marc Espinasse (c) Kristin Espinasse

Chief Grape, a.k.a. Jean-Marc. I wrote, in the beginning of the story, that we took the day off... but do wine makers ever take the day off?



We also visited Laurent Charvin at his Domaine Charvin. This interesting arbre (which resembles a gigantic grape vine) is really a mulberry tree. Be sure to call ahead to visit any of the vineyards mentioned in today's post!


Blossoming in Provence

 S'il vous plaît...

S.V.P.!: I need your help in getting out the word of my latest book! 

Thank you very much if you have already purchased a copy of Blossoming in Provence. Your purchase is one of the best ways to help me to continue publishing these educational "stories in a French life". 

If you enjoy this free newsletter, please consider supporting it by buying a copy of my book.

You might consider buying a copy for a friend of family member. Would someone at your office or at your school enjoy these short stories? Blossoming in Provence is a book for all ages. Both men and women enjoy the book, making it a perfect gift for a birthday or even for Valentine's Day.

Thank you very much for your support and for helping me to get the word out about Blossoming in Provence. When you click over to the page at Amazon, you will also notice the possibility to share the page via Twitter and Facebook and email (let your mouse hover over the "like" button, just beneath the books title.

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.

l'ici et maintenant

Window in Serignan, Vaucluse (c) Kristin Espinasse

Share today's "photo du coeur" with a friend...

l'ici et maintenant

    : the here and now, or le moment or l'instant présent

Audio File: (I'm afraid our super French word pronouncer (Chief Grape) is away... that means you're stuck with me and my recording. Listen at your own péril...): Download MP3 or Wav file

L'ici et maintenant. Dans l'ici-maintenant je ressents de la paix.
In the here and now I feel at peace.

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

My husband is running a bath, this after two days without water. Our plumber was able to temporarily fix our reservoir, meaning that tonight our beloved Chief Grape will escape the dreaded bird bath—and youpi! for that, for it is no fun standing in a vintner's bucket, pouring cups of cold water over a tired body.

I am in the next room, folding clothes (in order to free-up the bed, so that we can eventually get some rest). As I fold, I listen to glorious sound of rushing water, along with the occasional squeaky shift of a man settling into his bath. 

Max strides into the bedroom and plops down onto the bed. "I'm going to rest here a bit," he says. 

I turn towards our son, amazed at his decision to spend time with his old lady. My étonnement increases, when our 16-year-old offers an apparent compliment: 

"You smell like pamplemousse," he remarks. 

I touch my cheek, remembering the moisturizer that I have just put on. It has a citrus scent? I hadn't noticed... in fact, I hardly remember putting on the lait hydratant

Inhaling another whiff of grapefruit, I am transported to the present moment, having stepped off the ruthless timeline of the past (in which I am regretful of those things I've left undone—anything from unanswered emails to the sinkful of dishes) and the future (in which I worry about our water problem and my upcoming surgery). But here, in the pamplemousse present, I awake to life around me, including the unchacteristic attention of our teenager.

"Tiens," Max says, handing me one of his earphones, which I stick into my oreille, following Max's example. I push the clothes out of the way and lie back on the pillow.

"Can you tell me what she is saying?" Max wants to know. It isn't the first time I've been asked to identify English lyrics, only, the music is usually not to my liking (i.e. it is rap, instead of rhapsody).

I recognise the song by Dido. Quelle coincidence! It was once a favorite of mine... I listen in, intent on clarifying the words for Max:

My tea's gone cold, I'm wonderin' why
I got out of bed alone
The morning rain clouds up my window
and I can't see at all...

As I communicate the lyrics to Max, he begins to sing along with me... 

and even if I could it'd all be grey
but your picture on my wall, it reminds me
that it's not so bad, it's not so bad...

As Max and I sing, I hear splashing now and again, as Jean-Marc relaxes into his bath. To him the noise coming from the bedroom must surely be an amusement, what with Max and me belting it out like a couple of tone-deaf dogs...

And I want to thank you for giving me
the best day of my life...
Oh, just to be with you,
is having the best day of my life.

I muse at how perfectly the lyrics fit this treasured moment of togetherness. Though I can't be sure that this is the best day of my life... I am quite certain, here in l'instant présent, that this is the best minute of my life.

As for the other worries and regrets, they just don't exist in the peaceful here and now, where a mother-and-son duo howl like a couple of hound dogs:

 And I want to thank you for giving me
the best day of my life...
Oh, just to be with you,
is having the best day of my life....

Le Coin Commentaires
I love to read your comments--and so does my mom! So please don't hesitate to leave a message. If you don't know what to say (personally, I get very nervous and tongue-tied when it comes to leaving comments on blogs!), simply say "bonjour" and be sure to let us know which town your are writing in from (this is my dad's favorite part). Click here to leave a comment.

Psst... Mom and Dad, if you are reading, check out the recent article in ASU News: Expat alum offers Francophiles a word a day! Mom, Dad, I know how worried you were when I came in close to last in my class--almost failing high school. But I've been working hard, ever since, to make up for that! Click here to find out how.

French Vocabulary

youpi! = yahoo!

un étonnement = surprise

le pamplemousse = grapefruit 

le lait hydratant = moisturizer

tiens! = here!

une oreille = ear

quelle coincidence! = what a coincidence!

l'instant présent = the present moment, the here and now


The vinter's buckets that I mentioned in today's story. Just imagine Chief Grape's bird bath dilemma!


Blossoming in Provence

 S'il vous plaît...

S.V.P.!: I need your help in getting out the word of my latest book! 

Thank you very much if you have already purchased a copy of Blossoming in Provence. Your purchase is one of the best ways to help me to continue publishing these educational "stories in a French life". 

If you enjoy this free newsletter, please consider supporting it by buying a copy of my book.

You might consider buying a copy for a friend of family member. Would someone at your office or at your school enjoy these short stories? Blossoming in Provence is a book for all ages. Both men and women enjoy the book, making it a perfect gift for a birthday or even for Valentine's Day.

Thank you very much for your support and for helping me to get the word out about Blossoming in Provence. When you click over to the page at Amazon, you will also notice the possibility to share the page via Twitter and Facebook and email (let your mouse hover over the "like" button, just beneath the books title.

Voilà. I've peddled my book for the month! I appreciate your patience and will now take off my sales hat and put back on my chef's toque (it is time to send out this post and to hurry and prepare lunch for the kids).


While editing my photo archives I discovered this picture, taken a few years after I wrote the story, above. Serendipitous, considering the pamplemousse scent that Max describes.

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.

How to say "fixer-upper" in French?

Tulette: A fortified village (c) Kristin Espinasse

Are you looking for a little nest of your own in the South of France? Imagine this being the wall of your village! Read about a unique little fixer-upper located in the village next-door to ours, here in the Vaucluse! And, if you know of anyone who dreams of relocating to a charming village in France... be sure to forward this post!


For today's word, we are using a reverse-dictionary English to French approach as there is no direct (read: neat and simple) French word equivalent.


    : une maison à retaper, à renover ou à refaire
    : un bien immobilier qui nécessite des travaux ou une rénovation 

 Audio file:

    => Listen to Jean-Marc read the definition for "fixer-upper":
            Download MP3 or Wav file 

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

So often it is the French who have come up with a charming word or phrase (think amuse-bouche, or mouth teaser", and again grasse matinée, or "a sleep in"....  

But what about our English terms? Take, par exemple, today's word:"fixer-upper". Isn't it fun to say? Fixer-upper, fixer-upper, fixer-upper!

If I were French, I just know "fixer-upper" would be a favorite English word—this, along with "elbow grease" (come to think of it, the two go well together! Only difference is: there is no direct translation for the first... whereas the second has an easy equivalent: elbow grease = l'huile de coude).

Though the French have plenty of charming terms related to real estate (pied-à-terre and the beloved "bercail" come to mind), they do not seem to be able to give a word-for-word translation for "fixer-upper", though you'll find a definition: fixer-upper = une maison à renover).

The fact remains, there are plenty of fixer-uppers on the French market to keep us house-lovers or nesters or casaniers dreaming! Have a look at this historical abode, in our neighboring town of Tulette.... 

Ancient four

I've driven past this home (middle unit, comprising two doors on the ground level and three windows above) weekly, on my way back from the horse stables where our daughter rides. The road in front will take you to Nyons, and to the scenic villages of Villedieu, Mirabel-aux-Baronnies, and Vaison-la-Romaine, to name a few.

Question: how would you gussy up the façade, or front, of this house? With flower pots? A little chair next to the door? Maybe a grape-vine trellis? Share an idea here, in the comments box.

Ancient four2

 This bien, or property, is historic for its antique communal four, or oven. Once upon a time, villagers came here to bake their own loaves of bread! 

Question: how would you renovate and decorate this room if you were to buy this fixer-upper? How would you "mettre en valeur" or bring out the goodness of this gorgeous ancient oven? Would it serve as a backdrop to a dramatic living room or kitchen? Or would you make this room your fiery bedroom? And what about those poutres, or beams, along the ceiling? Do you think they need painting? Or do you love them tel quel, or as is? Share your tips here, in the comments box.


 Here is the stairway inside... and the patina of a past life. How would you cover the floors (in terre cuite or en bois?) and what would you do with these walls and doors? Do you like the iron railing? Would you paint it? And, ah, I see this particular poutre has been painted white. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome here, in the comments box.



A melody of rooftops and the église from this view... on the opposite side of the village home, where more doors and windows give onto the village's interior. I've strolled past this coin many times, taking photos of the municipal pétanque court just up the way...

Advantages of living in this village home include:

  1. Proximity to the weekly farmers' market: walk out your door... and into rows and rows of flowers and vegetables!
  2. Smack in the middle of wine country with fresh air à gogo!
  3. Wonderful neighbors (click here to meet one of them).
  4. Steps away from the fleuriste, the post office, le coiffeur, the café where my Mom chatted up the locals while I hid behind my book, the mini-market, the pharmacist, the librairie... 

For those who are interested in this property,  I will forward your request to my friend Patrick, the realtor. I leave you with the ad for this maison à vendre:

Ancienne Boulangerie de village à rénover, authentique four de boulanger et terrasse avec vue sur l'église, surface exploitable 200 m² travaux à prévoir. prix 89000 euros.

Former village bakery to renovate, authentic baker's oven and balcony with view of the church. Total size of 200 m², work needed. price 89000 euros ($115,000)

...Now, how to say "finder's fee" in French?... :-)


Le Coin Commentaires

Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

Selected French Vocabulary (fill in the missing definitions, in the comments box)

un amuse-bouche = 

la grasse matinée = a sleep in
    faire la grasse matinée = to sleep in 

par exemple = for example

l'huile de coude = 

le pied-à-terre = second home

le casanier, la casanière = homebody

le bercail = 

    rentrer au bercail = to return to the fold

le bien

le four = oven

mettre en valeur =

la poutre = beam (ceiling)

tel quel = 

la terre cuite =

en bois = 




Our home was a fixer-upper too. There were no stairs there.. and no wall (or sleeping dogs) for that matter! We broke through the mur to connect the two rooms. Don't miss the before picture (or midway picture!)... 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    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

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



A cat and a potter in Visan (c) Kristin EspinassePhoto taken in Visan, land of a million cats! Whether slightly color-blind, like this black-and-white cat, or completely non-voyant, Louis Braille believed that the gift of literacy belonged to everyone. Read more about this remarkable Frenchman who, as a child, would change the world.

non-voyant (nohn-voy-ahn) noun, masculine*

    :  a blind or visually impaired person

* the feminine is "non-voyante" (nohn-voy-ahnt)

French definition:
  "une personne qui ne voit pas; aveugle"
  (a person who does not see; blind)

AUDIO FILE: My son, Max, offered this example sentence. Click on the link to hear it:
  Les non-voyants utilisent le braille pour lire.
  (The blind use Braille to read.) Download MP3 or Wav file 

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

We were at the breakfast table when the usual "Ça—c'est ma place!" and "Quit hogging the jam!" conversation turned into a thoughtful hymn... on blindness.

"Did you know," I began, "that the person who invented Braille was not much older than you when he created the system that would allow the blind to read?" I said to my son, who balanced a near-empty jar of jam over a slice of brioche—this, while glaring at his soeur cadette.

"What is "braille?" Jackie wanted to know, repeating the word as she had heard her Anglophone mother pronounce it (BREL).

Jean-Marc, who had caught the tail end of the conversation, piped in.
"Brel est un chanteur."
"No! I'm not talking about Jacques Brel!" I felt my feathers ruffling, and only two minutes into an uncharacteristic history lesson.

"She means 'Braille'," Max explained, clearing up any confusion by offering the French pronunciation of "Braille" (which, to my surprise, was "BR-EYE"!). Next, my son popped up, and hurried over to the cupboard to fish out a box of sucre.

"NO MORE SUGAR!" I cried, "and will you please listen! I am trying to..."

Max quickly turned the box of sugar to its side, and pointed out the raised dots. 

"I had never noticed that before!" I said, running my finger down the side of the box, over the "lettered" relief. Are you sure that is Braille—and not some kind of bar code?"

On second thought, why wouldn't it be Braille, and why, by the way, weren't the jam jar and the milk carton sporting raised dots, too? With that, I ran my finger across all of the packages along our table top. That is when I realized that the box of sugar was the only package that could be read or identified by a non-voyant!

A sense of shame washed over me as I experienced another taken-for-granted privilege: that of correctly identifying a pot de confiture or a carton de lait. My guilty conscience automatically reacted, with the clearing of the throat and a swift returning to the former subject.

"As I was saying... it was a child who created this extraordinary system...." I tried to think of what to say next, but my mind was vaguely troubled. Thankfully, my daughter spoke next.

"Sometimes adults create things too," Jackie pointed out.

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, feedback, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

If we were talking about blindness at the breakfast table this morning, it is thanks to Kathi Koegle, who had written me a few weeks ago, inquiring about "off-the-beaten-track villages" that one might visit in France. In the email exchange that ensued, I learned that Kathi, who works for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, had just been in charge of a bicentennial birthday party for Louis Braille.

It occurred to me that she might write an article for us all to enjoy and, when I asked, Kathi kindly obliged. Here, now, is her mini-biography on Louis Braille.

L o u i s  B r a i l l e
January 4, 1809 - January 6, 1852

This year marks the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the man who invented literacy for blind people.

Braille was born in Coupvray, a tiny village about 25 miles east of Paris. The youngest of four children, he lived with his parents in a modest stone cottage in the village.

Braille's father was the local harness-maker. One day when he was three years old, Louis was at play in his father's workshop. A fateful accident and subsequent infection rendered him totally aveugle.

At the age of 10, Braille earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. It was the world's first school for blind children. Louis was an outstanding élève, and he excelled in every subject. He also became a fine pianist and an accomplished organist.

photo from Wikipedia

While attending the Institution and yearning for more books to lire, Braille experimented with ways to create an alphabet that would be facile to read with one's fingertips. The system of raised dots that he devised--at age 15--evolved from the tactile "Ecriture Nocturne" code (invented by Charles Barbier, an artillery captain in the army of Louis XVIII) for sending military messages that could be read on the battle field at night sans light. Two years later, Braille adapted his method to musical notation.

Braille accepted a full-time teaching position at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth when he was 19. He taught grammar, geography, arithmetic, and music.

Sighted teachers and officials were slow to accept Braille's new method. It wasn't until 1844, eight years before he died, that the value of the Braille alphabet was officially recognized. Then, one after another, countries around the monde recognized the benefits of braille. Braille has now been adapted to more than 200 languages and dialects around the world.

Louis Braille died of Tuberculosis two days after his 43rd birthday. In 1952, his body was moved from a cemetery in Coupvray to the Pantheon in Paris to lie with other great women and men of France.

The stone house where Braille grew up is now a museum, and the street on which it stands is named Rue Louis Braille.

On the mur of the maison is a plaque that reads:

Dans cette maison est né le 4 janvier 1809 Louis Braille inventeur de l'écriture en points saillants pour les aveugles. Il a ouvert a tous ceux qui ne voient pas les portes du savoir.

In this house on January 4, 1809 was born Louis Braille, the inventor of the system of writing in raised dots for use by the blind. He opened the doors of knowledge to all those who cannot see.

Author bioKathi Koegle is Outreach & Development Manager for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired. A former French teacher, Kathi and her husband are making plans for their third trip to Provence.

If you enjoyed Kathi's story, please join me in thanking her by letting her know in the comments box.

You may also leave her a personal message, here: kathi [AT] wcblind [DOT] org

Kathi adds: "Enjoy a few pix from the Council's recent Braille Bicentennial Birthday Party. Guests enjoyed baguettes and six different kinds of French cheeses." (View pictures at the end of this post.)

In children's books: "Louis Braille, The Boy Who Invented Books For The Blind" & Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius 


French Vocabulary

ça—c'est ma place! = that is my seat!
la soeur (f) cadette = little sister
Brel est un chanteur = Brel is a singer
le sucre = sugar
le pot de confiture = jar of jam
le carton de lait = carton of milk
non-voyant,e (m/f) = blind
aveugle = blind
l'élève (m/f) = student
lire = to read
facile = easy
Ecriture Nocturne = night writing
sans = without
le monde = world
le mur = wall
la maison = house

Read about Therese-Adele Husson:  a young blind woman and writer from provincial France 

Capture plein écran 17012012 103208

 Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France

In the 1820s, several years before Braille was invented, Therese-Adele Husson, a young blind woman from provincial France, wrote an audacious manifesto about her life, French society, and her hopes for the future. Through extensive research and scholarly detective work, authors Catherine Kudlick and Zina Weygand have rescued this intriguing woman and the remarkable story of her life and tragic death from obscurity, giving readers a rare look into a world recorded by an unlikely historical figure.

Reflections is one of the earliest recorded manifestations of group solidarity among people with the same disability, advocating self-sufficiency and independence on the part of blind people, encouraging education for all blind children, and exploring gender roles for both men and women. Resolutely defying the sense of "otherness" which pervades discourse about the disabled, Husson instead convinces us that that blindness offers a fresh and important perspective on both history and ourselves. Click here to read more about this book.

SmartFrench : learn French from real French people!

In French film: The Double Life of Veronique

French music: Jacques Brel

Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves

Kathi's photos taken at the celebration: Braille birthday party photos 005 
A cheese close-up!


Thanks, Herm, for suggesting this video:

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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chalkboard (c) Kristin Espinasse

foutu(e) (foo-tew) adjective

    1.  damned, ruined, done for

    2. kaput, worn out, shot (exhausted)

    3. capable (elle est foutue de le faire = she's very capable of doing it)

Warning! today's word is slang and not appropriate for all social situations (!!!)


être mal foutu(e) = to be unattractive
être bien foutu(e) = to have a good body

Have another foutu(e) expression or definition or example? There are many (some unpublishable, here...) Please share it with us here, in the comments box!

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file

Notre réservoir d'eau est foutu! Our water reservoir is shot!


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

My 16-year-old is acting odd again. The other night he appeared in the kitchen... avec un bouquet de fleurs sauvage!

Max's floral apparition stopped me in my scattered tracks. I stared at the bunch of wildflowers—make that "the bunch with THE wildflower". Turns out Max had uprooted a large green bush which sported a single orange souci. I recognised the bush, which grows—or grew—beside the kids' trampoline. (I quite liked it there, the flower bush; it had served as a modest camouflage to the unsightly jumping apparatus!) 

As clumps of earth fell to the kitchen floor, bursting on contact, I tried to maintain a look of enthusiasm. "Oh... wow... Thank you, Max..." I couldn't help but wonder, to what did I owe this honor? Why, all of a sudden, was my teenager rewarding me? Could he sense the pressure his parents have been under?...

(By the way last time he offered me flowers, he was a toothless 8-year-old, as seen here:)


Salt Lake 2002 Winter Games Olympics (c) Kristin Espinasse

I forced myself to focus on the crumbling cadeau, though I was distracted with concern. It wasn't the uprooting of the buisson camoufleur that upset me. No, my inner turmoil was the result of a recent household calamity: our water tank had just burst, leaving us sans eau. Max's offering came at a comically inconvenient time! Accepting my son's gift meant I would have to give up some of the precious water we had collected, in buckets and containers strewn about our house. I looked over to the comptoir, where 5 bottles of water (a lifesaver from Dirt Diva Malou) came into view. How much would it take to nourish this little fleur and its family of feuilles affamées? And what about our thirsty family? 

In the end I did what any mother would do, and shot from the heart: I shot right over to the dwindling water supply and began to pour out enough eau précieuse to sustain that flower bush. Well, that was my noble plan, anyway. The survivalist in me had other ideas, and I watched, avec tristesse, as she snapped off a portion of the flower bush and tucked it into a small vase—a shot glass, actually—with just enough water to hydrate the little souci flower. Voilà, one less souci...

Max did not appear vexé. I watched as he trotted off, taking the stairs two by two. Before he disappeared into the cage d'escalier, I caught a glimpse of the ear-to-ear smile. He looked satisfied, downright high on that feeling that comes from spontaneous giving.  

My eyes returned to the countertop, over which a sinkful of dishes had stretched.... I looked over to the empty and dry casserole, on the stovetop. Nearby, a box of pasta rested unopened. Now if only our water tank would be as giving as our generous teenager.

Le Coin Commentaires
Did you enjoy today's story? Corrections are always welcome. Do you want to share a household calamity that you survived? Click here to leave a comment.

Word Study: one of the words in today's story has two meanings, both of which were exercised in the essay. This word was also featured in two different posts:

le souci = worry (read the worry story here)

le souci = flower (read the flower story here)

French Vocabulary

le souci = marigold flower

la cage d'escalier = stairwell

... Help! I didn't have time to finish the vocab section, as I had to hurry off to pick-up the kids from school. Would some of you like to find and define the French vocabulary in this story? Please share the words and definitions in the comments box only (no need to send them to me, better to post them for all to see!). Click here to add a word and definition to the comments box.


Jm k

 Time Machine. Chief Grape and I, a handful of years ago (Paris, 2005... at Willy's Wine Bar).

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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brosse à dents

A view in Villedieu (c) Kristin Espinasse

Brise-bise is not the word of the day... but it is the name for these kinds of "half curtains", the ones you see every so often while strolling through a village in France.

brosse à dents (bros a don) noun, feminine

    : toothbrush

brosse à dents jetables = disposable toothbrush
brosse à dents électrique = electric toothbrush

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Tu as à ta disposition des brosses à dents jetables, ainsi que du dentifrice, pour te laver les dents. You have disposable toothbrushes at your disposition, as well as toothpaste, to brush your teeth.

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Bumming toothbrushes at the orthodontist's

As always, there is a long line at the orthodontist's. I take my place at the end of the queue and prepare to wait a while. Max and Jackie stand beside me, their mouths glimmering metallic.

"Ça fait plus que deux ans!" Jackie begins.
"I thought we'd get them off today!" Max seconds.

I begin to feel a little annoyed that the kids are complaining about their braces, given how much les bagues have cost their parents! I have an urge to point this out; instead I hold my tongue. If I remember correctly, my own mom never complained or pointed out to me just how much my dental work cost her; instead, she made the necessary sacrifices, including juggling her work schedule in order to get me to my monthly appointments on time. If it weren't for her care and diligence, I'd be walking around today with a mouthful of teeth that only a woolly mammoth—and not a dashing Frenchman—could appreciate (thanks, Mom, for the braces—and for helping me to attract a husband!).

With renewed humility, my annoyance disappears. I turn my attention over to the goings-on around me, watching anxious parents scribble out checks while their teenagers look off in boredom.

On the comptoir, beside the secretary, I notice a jar full of toothbrushes. Every so often, I see the secretary hand one of the brosse à dents to a patient. I wonder, why haven't my kids ever brought home a free toothbrush?

My humility is short-lived and, once again, I am back to calculating and sweating about the cost of putting two kids, simultaneously, through orthodontics!  I study the other teenagers and parents in line, and I wonder how anyone can afford braces these days? How can anyone balance a budget when braces factor into the monthly debit? I am immediately filled with appreciation for my husband, who manages our compte bancaire. The least I can do, on my part, is to try to save when and where I can.

Suddenly I remember the jar full of toothbrushes! Last I checked, a good toothbrush cost almost 3 euros... It occurs to me that a couple of those brosse à dents could slightly offset the coût faramineux of this current visit...  At 6 euros (one 3 euro toothbrush per kid) we might begin, ever so slightly, to diminish our liste de dépenses.

I study the secretary, who is overworked and distracted. This might be the perfect time to request our toothbrushes, the ones she has once again forgotten to offer us! Surely it was an oversight on her part and I shouldn't be embarrassed to ask for what is rightly mine.

When my turn comes to pay I hand over my carte de crédit and casually mention the free toothbrushes.

The secretary looks confused. 

If the parents waiting behind me are staring now, and I suspect they are, it is only because they have never thought, as I have, for the first time, to outwit the pricey French dental system by asking for the freebies! Perhaps these parents will take my example and we can all begin to reclaim what is rightly our own, namely, complimentary toothbrushes! As grandiloquent as my thoughts are, in reality I am shaking in my boots after having asked for the paradental perks. 

Noticing the lingering look of confusion on the secretary's face, it occurs to me that I may have made some sort of mistake. But it's too late to back down now. I point out the jar with the brosses à dents gratuites

"Oh, those," she says. "Well, if you like..."

"Go ahead!" I say. "Pick out your toothbrushes!" Only, when I turn to look for the kids, they have disappeared. This time I am the one wearing the look of confusion.

The secretary hands me the jar to pick out the toothbrushes.
"They are only good for one use," she explains. "Normally we give them to kids who have not had the chance to brush their teeth before an appointment. Ce sont les brosses à dents jetables...."

As the saying goes "pride goeth..." or rather "La fierté précède la chute" and with that, I select two colorful brosses à dents before my confidence quickly falls to the wayside—along with all of those flimsy, disposable toothbrushes!

French Vocabulary

la queue = line

ça fait plus que deux ans! = it's been over two years!

les bagues (f) = braces

le comptoir = counter

le compte bancaire = bank account 

la brosse à dents = toothbruth

le coût faramineux = astronomical price

la liste de dépenses = expenditures list

la carte de crédit = credit card

gratuit = free

Ce sont les brosses à dents jetables = they are disposable toothbrushes


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Midnight in Paris: buy it or rent it here.

In music: C'est L'Amour: Romantic French Classics 

Cookbook: The bible of French home cooking, Je Sais Cuisiner, has sold over 6 million copies since it was first published in 1932. Click here to read the reviews.


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Fleur de lis newsboy cap. Click here to order.


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.


cat in camaret (c) Kristin Espinasse
"A Cat in Camaret". I searched my photo archives for a picture of a veste, gave up and settled on this one instead. Note: The next word goes out on Monday. Bonne fin de semaine!

veste (vest) feminine

    : jacket, blazer

French Expression:
retourner sa veste = to change sides (in a debate, for example)
tomber la veste = to take off one's jacket
se prendre une veste = to get turned down (by a guy or a girl) 

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 file or Wav file

Sa veste est tellement grande qu'il nage dedans.
His jacket is so big that he is swimming in it.

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

I hear a soft knock at the door of my home office. The clock on the computer reads 7:10 a.m., which means the kids are about to head out to school.

"Entrez," I say, prepared to receive a goodbye kiss from either my son or my daughter, before their father takes one of them to the bus stop and the other to a ride-share.

Max struts in, dressed in his father's best suit—or one-half of it, for he is wearing only the jacket. (Instead of slacks, he has on jeans). Noticing the confusion on my face, Max explains: "It is for debate class. I'm speaking today!"

From the way his face is beaming, I can tell Max is very pleased with his appearance. His eyes shine brightly as he waits for my reaction. I have to admit, he looks quite charming, but, I am afraid, not for the reason he thinks....

In fact, the jacket Max is wearing is several sizes too big for him. Il nage dedans

Here follows a mother's dilemma: to coddle or to cut to the chase?

Do I break it to him, letting him know the veste is way too big (thus sparing him of being a target for his snorting, finger-pointing, cohorts)? Or do I mimic the enthusiasm that radiates from his entire person? I can only imagine what it must feel like to try on your father's best costume (or half of it)and to esteem yourself as big enough to fit into it! 

For a moment, I try to see my son through the lens in which he sees himself. Looking again at the boxy, over-sized jacket, I refocus...

No longer are the shoulder pads reaching out beyond his arms. No longer are his knuckles hidden beneath his sleeves. No longer do his legs look like toothpicks beneath the baggy jacket.

"Qu'est-ce que tu es beau!" I declare.

Max closes his eyes and smiles, revelling in the compliment. 

Still a little concerned about the size, I decide to test my son's current self-perception. "Do you think it might be a little too big?" I wonder aloud.

Max looks down, as if to consider size for the first time. "Peut-être. Mais ce n'est pas grave."

I think about his friendly tormentors and how they are about to receive today's bite on a silver platter. And will the teachers be able to conceal their amusement? After all, what is an adorable and endearing sight to a mother... might be a comic one to anyone else.

I will just have to leave it to my son to defend himself, with style and elegance—and what better place to do that than in debate class!


French Vocabulary

bonne fin de semaine = have a nice weekend
entrez = come in
le costume = three-piece suit
Il nage dedans!  = he is swimming inside!
la veste = suit jacket
Qu'est-ce que tu es beau! = just look at how handsome you are! 
Peut-être = maybe
mais ce n'est pas grave = but it's no big deal 

Max, playing in the snow -- only two years ago!

Max-identity card
My. How they grow! Mr. Max, photo taken last week.

And a little French to round out this edition!

Un peu plus tard, elle m'a marié et nous a donné deux beaux enfants. Comme elle était souvent frustrée d'élever deux enfants dans une culture et une langue étrangères, elle a commencé à écrire à ses proches sur sa vie d'éxpatriée... avec ses joies et ses peines.

Read the rest of Jean-Marc's letter--along with the English translation--in my book Blossoming in Provence. Click here.

Thank you for keeping my book in mind for your gift-giving needs. Blossoming in Provence makes an entertaining and educational present. Good for birthdays and Valentine's Day, to name a few occasions!  Thank you for your support :-) Order it here.

Finally, if you can't pay for a copy now--no worries, you might try to win one. It may not be too late to win one over at The Provence Post. I've been enjoying reading the comments there, including this one by Laurel (thanks, Laurel!):

"love Kristin's french word a day...the books are even better"

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.


Chief Grape and his puzzle
Jean-Marc's latest pastime. Read on in today's story column.

un casse-tête (kass tet)

    : jigsaw puzzle, brainteaser
    : difficult problem, headache 

Note: un casse-tête is a synonym for puzzle. The French more often call a puzzle "un puzzle" or "un jeu de patience".

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read today's word and the following example sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Les premiers puzzles se faisaient en peignant une image sur la surface d'une fine planche de bois que l'on découpait ensuite à l'aide d'une scie à chantourner... le mot anglais "puzzle" signifiant d'une façon générale une énigme ou un casse-tête. The first puzzles were made by painting an image on the surface of a thin wooden board that was then cut with help of a jig saw... The English word "puzzle" means, generally speaking, an enigma or a brainteaser. —


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

There is nothing so soothing as watching an overworked man piece together a jigsaw puzzle. Sitting quietly beside the crackling fire, a puzzle piece held gently between rough, calloused fingers, my husband is lost in concentration. I have had the chance to observe this "pieceful" scene, almost nightly, ever since Jean-Marc cleaned out the cellier, salvaging this old puzzle in the process.

Just outside the window, the rows and rows of grapevines—now leafless, woody, and sleeping like a log—no longer vie for his attention. For a rare moment, Jean-Marc is at peace.

On the table before him, my husband has laid down one of my mom's largest oil paintings—it appears to be the perfect base on which to construct his scattered oeuvre!

(Jules will not be shocked to learn that her painting currently serves as a foundation—au contraire—she is known to roughhouse with her art: scrubbing down dusty paintings and, sometimes, completely obliterating scenes with a coat of wet paint!

Sometimes Mom forgets her plein air paintings, leaving them out in the rain—only for them to survive, blessed by God's tears, dried by the muse or le Mistral!

Yes, by unwittingly lending her painting as a puzzle support, I think Mom will even be honored to learn that she is participating in this restorative effort, one that has an especially calming effect on her treasured—and tired—beau-fils.)

From the kitchen, where I am putting away dishes, I pause, enjoying the scene of a tired man "puzzling". The scene is restful, even to me. I sit down at the kitchen table to sip a steaming tisane and watch my husband work, this time effortlessly.

Initially, Jean-Marc tried to interest our daughter (owner of the puzzle) to participate with him in this jeu de patience. When Jackie eventually lost interest (or patience?), Jean-Marc continued working on her puzzle without her.

As I observe my husband I am humbled by his appreciation and interest in our daughter's puzzle. Watching him devote all his concentration to the subject, I can't help but feel a little ashamed at an unfair remark I made many years ago, before we broke up for the first time:

The heated scene took place on a busy street in Marseilles and went something like this:

Me: "You are so macho!"
Him (hugely offended): "Je ne suis pas macho! JE NE SUIS PAS MACHO!

I can't even remember what the subject was then, but tonight, sitting here sipping my tea, it is hard to contain my smile as the puzzle in the next room begins to come into view, piece by piece....

I now see two fuzzy kittens clinging side by side—innocent and helplesssuch a fragile couple!

How sweet to see a big strong man putting together a kitten puzzle! I think, when suddenly my mind returns to the accusatory scene on the busy city street, some twenty years ago.... 

Macho? What was I thinking?! I look over, affectionately, at the puzzle maker and feel a strong sense of gratitude for one man's care and diligence in piecing back together the innocent and fragile couple. It takes puzzle maker's patience. This I know for sure.


Learn more about our exciting (and rocky...) courtship, in the intro chapter to Words in a French Life. And in the follow-up book, "Blossoming in Provence", a girlfriend-come-wife learns many more lessons in patience!

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections and comments regarding today's story, or edition, are welcome here, in the comments box

French Vocabulary

le cellier = storeroom
une oeuvre = a work (painting, book, film) 
au contraire = on the contrary, just the opposite
plein air = a painting produced outdoors
Mistral = strong wind coming from the north or northwest
le beau-fils = son-in-law
une tisane = herbal tea
un jeu de patience = puzzle 


Rose hips (c) Kristin Espinasse
The pieces of Nature's puzzle.

Puzzle statue in Ramatuelle (c) Kristin Espinasse

A puzzle statue we spotted in Ramatuelle. I hope you enjoyed this edition. Keep up your French with the following, highly recommended book:

Exercises in French Phonics

Exercises 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    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

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


Shakespeare and Company bookstore Paris (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo taken in March 2010. The window at Shakespeare and Company bookshop... and one of the most exciting days of my life. I brought my book and Chief Grape brought his wine, which was a hit! I learned a little about public speaking—in preparing for the talk—and even more during the talk!


Today, read a story by French Word-A-Day reader Johanna DeMay

Following the Ange, or Angel story—about the passing of one of Paris's most unforgettable characters, I received several letters by readers who shared their experiences in the beloved Shakespeare and Company bookshop. Today, read Johanna DeMay's story. Feel free to share your own stories, here in the comments box.

troquer (troh-kay)

    : to barter; to exchange, swap

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence: Download MP3 or Wave file
Quand il n'avait plus d'argent pour acheter des livres, il troquait "ses moins favoris" pour obtenir un nouveau roman. When he had no more money to buy books, he bartered his "least favorite" in order to obtain a new novel.

The Genius of Shakespeare and Company
by Johanna DeMay
After hours of wandering around St. Germain-des-Prés on a chilly April morning, I finally caught my first glimpse of the famous bookstore.  None of the photos I had seen could convey the cattywhumpus quality of the place.  It looked like an illustration from a childrenʼs book.  It drew me in with the relentless tug of an outgoing tide.

The place was packed with people and books, and the people were as fascinating as the books.  A young man arrived to take over behind the desk, relieving the young woman who was off to lunch. The people in line waited while the two exchanged a few words in Franglish.  Then she breezed past me and the young man turned to his customers.

First in line was a short, barrel-chested old man in a well-worn motorcycle jacket. He had a mane of unruly salt-and-pepper hair, a jutting chin and brooding black eyes.  He plunked down a stack of books and 25 Euros.  The bookseller shook his head sadly.

“You know that these books will add up to more than 25 Euros, nʼest-ce pas?” the young man said.

Ecoute, 25 Euros is all I have.”

They looked at each other for a moment.  

“OK, which ones can you live without?”

“NONE of them.”

“OK, which ones can you NOT live without?”

“Your family has always been très gentille with me.  Youʼre not going to change that now, are you?”

Pas du tout.  So help me to choose.”  

The young man picked up the first book, eyebrows raised in question. The customer shook his head firmly and grabbed it. Another book, same result.  Third book.  The customer nodded and the bookseller set it aside.  When he had set aside 2 books he took the rest from the old manʼs hands, wrapped them up and handed over the package.  He picked up the 25 Euros from the counter and the two shook hands.  

I watched as the old man hurried out of the shop with his treasures.  When I looked back, business as usual had resumed, and all the people in line were smiling.

Le Coin Commentaires
Please help me to thank Johanna for her lovely story! Click here to leave a message in the comments box. 
Johanna is a studio potter in New Mexico and a lifelong lover of language.  She is also an avid cyclist and recently toured Provence on two wheels. Check out Johanna's pottery site, here:

 And Talk About A Wonderful Book Cover!...

TimewassoftthereReaders have recommended this book by Jeremy Mercer: Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare and Co.

Wandering through Paris's Left Bank one day, poor and unemployed, Canadian reporter Jeremy Mercer ducked into a little bookstore called Shakespeare & Co. Mercer bought a book, and the staff invited him up for tea. Within weeks, he was living above the store, working for the proprietor, George Whitman, patron saint of the city's down-and-out writers, and immersing himself in the love affairs and low-down watering holes of the shop's makeshift staff. Time Was Soft There is the story of a journey down a literary rabbit hole in the shadow of Notre Dame, to a place where a hidden bohemia still thrives. 

 Click here to buy a copy of Time Was Soft There.


French Vocabulary

n'est-ce pas? = isn't that right?

écoute (écouter: imperative form écoute! (toi)) = listen

très gentille = very kind, very nice

pas du tout = not at all



Johanna DeMay, who wrote today's story, is seen here. She and her husband, Will, pictured, visited me a few years ago.



 Riding past our vineyard, Will signals "au revoir".


Buy "Blossoming" at your local bookstore?
If you have bought a copy of Blossoming in Provence from a local bookseller, please leave me a message here in the comments box. It will be so helpful to know about your experience (was it easy to order? How long did it take to get the book?)

Capture plein écran 21122011 083440Here's a note from Jan:

We have a very charming little bookstore here in Monument called Covered Treasures that I just love. So, taking your advice from one of your emails advising of the availability of Blossoming in Provence, I printed off the information from Amazon and took it to my bookstore for two reasons. First, I prefer to support local businesses when I can. Second, I suggested that the owner might want to take a look at it when the copy I ordered arrives. Her comment when I showed her the book info was "What a beautiful cover!". I told her a little of your history to pique her interest. Who knows what might happen! At the very least, I'll get my book.  Jan in Monument, Colorado

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