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)

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