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Entries from February 2012

une tribune

Pot of Flowers & Cat (c) Kristin Espinasse

Another cat picture... because we all need a bit of color and a little fur in wintertime (for those of you experiencing summer, here is a refreshing photo for you, too!) Photo taken in the town of Villedieu.

une tribune (tree bewn)

    1. platform (for speaker)

monter à la tribune = to stand up to speak

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

Cher Lecteur de French Word-A-Day,

Je suis "Chief Grape" et l'heureux mari de Kristi. Elle m'a gentiment donné une tribune aujourd'hui pour vous annoncer que je serai aux Etats-Unis le mois prochain pour faire la promotion de nos vins du Domaine Rouge-Bleu. J'espère sincèrement que vous pourrez assister à l'un des nombreux évènements organisés dans les 12 villes où je vais venir. Malheureusement, Kristi ne pourra venir avec moi mais je l'emporterai dans mon coeur.

A bientôt.
    (Listen to this letter in French! Download MP3 or Wav file)

Dear French Word-A-Day Reader,

I am "Chief Grape" and the happy husband of Kristi. She has kindly given me a platform to announce to you that I will be in the US next month for the promotion of our Domaine Rouge-Bleu wines. I sincerely hope you will be able to attend one of the numerous events organised in the 12 cities I will visit. Unfortunately, Kristi won't be able to come with me but I will bring her with me in my heart.

See you soon.
Jean-Marc Espinasse

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

After a season spent indoors, hiding from the sun, I ventured back outside yesterday to toss handfuls of wildflower seeds about (thanks, Dirt Diva Doreen, for all the packets of graines!). It is a new goal of mine to spend 15 minutes each day in the garden.

Wearing a big chapeau de soleil and sunblock even on cloudy journées, I am reuniting with the plants that were abandoned when that skin cancer scare sent me scampering... out of the flower bed and into a darkened mas.


I was sad to discover that this artichoke plant, which was doing so well up until a month ago (purple flowers from last summer) had been fatally bitten by le gel. Luckily, I had saved many of its seeds. I will be tossing some of those out along with the fleurs sauvages... and crossing fingers that all of the lovely flowers will return, with these handfuls of hope and scatterings of trust.

French Vocabulary

une graine = seed

le chapeau de soleil = sun hat

une journée = day

le mas = house or farm in Provence

le gel = the freeze

la fleur sauvage = wild flower



Things to love about French life: "modesty curtains", or "les brise-bises". How could you not love a term that has "kisses" or "bises" in its name? Share another thing to love about French life, here in the comments box.


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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

pas un chat

Mama Cat in Seguret (c) Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for the fun and delightful Favorite French Expressions you sent in last week! Today, learn about another favorite French expression, "pas un chat".

il n'y a pas un chat (see sound file, below)

    : there is not a cat (in the street); there is no one 

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

Le village de Séguret dort en hiver. On dirait que personne n' y demeure. Il n'y a pas un chat en février! The village of Séguret sleeps in wintertime. You would think that no one lurks there. There is no one around in February!

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

Tess came to visit for the weekend. It had been two years since we last saw each other, but that didn't seem to put one speck of "strangerliness" between us: our conversation easily picked up right where it had left off, almost a dozen saisons ago.

We chatted and chatted and chatted, and when our words filled the house to bursting, we burst out of the house, for a change of scene.

"Have you ever been to Séguret?" I asked my longtime friend, who replied that No, she hadn't been...

There was plenty of room for conversation in the old village of Séguret. Our words ricocheted off the cobbled streets, which were empty as our pockets, until we stuffed our hands inside of them.

"It's so cold!" I wish I had brought my gloves, Tessa said. 

I pulled down my woolen bonnet, and let the wind carry me forward, through the arched stone entryway to the quiet town.

As we strolled through the deserted village, we looked into village windows, which may as well have been movie sets--abandoned in mid-activity...

In the tea shop's window Tess spied three teacups which were left intact... as if the persons who had last sipped from them had just gotten up and walked away. The only thing alerting the viewer to the passing of time... were the Christmas decorations which were still hanging, this side of March! 

The eery ghost town feeling continued, but for a few pregnant cats, who followed us around as if we wore kibbles pinned to our backs.

I noticed all of the dusty flower pots, sticks in the places of stems, hardened dirt cracked across the surface. There was no one at the lavoir this time, no buckets of just-washed socks, no sudsy water, no withering wizened woman. There was no yappy dog in the doorwell facing the souvenir shop, either. The door was closed; the shop, locked. On the stone slabs facing the fountain, there were a few seat cushions, which blew off the moment we passed by. 

No matter how dead the town felt, our conversation remained vivant as we noted the sweeping view or turned to check on the pregnant cats, which followed us, having nothing better to do.

I was sorry to not be able to show my friend a more exciting time, especially as we had set out hoping for a change after months of being holed up inside. 

"Soon enough things will pick up!" I whispered to the full-bellied cats. "Enjoy the peace while it lasts!"  The same could be said to the empty-bellied pedestrians, who carried on walking through the peaceful perched town, noting the "clock-stopped" window scenes and chatting about everything and nothing.


Post note: I don't think this story did much to illustrate today's French expression: pas un chat. On the other hand, they say the French language is all about exceptions to the rules!

Have time for another story about my friend Tess? Read this one or this one


French Vocabulary

la saison = season

le lavoir = an outdoor communal wash (laundry) basin, usually made of stone (click here for a picture and a story!)

vivant = living



 In Séguret: a curtained door and a bird cage. 

Have you recently signed up to French Word-A-Day? You might enjoy the story behind it! Read Kristin's books Words in a French Life and Blossoming in Provence.


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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

Favorite French words & phrases: popote

Pied de Nez restaurant (c) Kristin Espinasse

Meet with Jean-Marc in Madison (WI) this coming March 14th or during his 2012 US wine tour

The recent prize giveaways have been a wonderful chance to discover silent readers, including Gus Elison (87-years-old, from Florida) and Marjorie Recinos (Newburyport, Massachusetts). Congratulations to these two, who have each won an antique key! Read on, in today's story column, to learn about who has won today's telephone call... (Photo taken in Le Castellet Village, at the restaurant Le Pied de Nez -- painting by Christian Pieroni)


la popote (poh-poht) [slang!]

    : cooking; officer's mess, canteen

Note: la cuisine and cuisiner are trustier word choices, should you want to talk about "cooking" with the French! However, if you are looking for a funny synonym, you might give today's word a go!


faire popote = to take one's meal with others
faire la popote
= to cook, to do the cooking
popote (adjective) = stay-at-home, home-loving

=> "popote" is also a child's word for "soup" 

Example Sentence
Aimez-vous faire la popote? C'est qui qui fait la popote chez vous? Do you like to cook? Who does the cooking at your house?

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

In the last grips of la grippe... I had better take things slowly today. Inspired by so many wonderful reader tips on listening, I had hoped to write a story about a beer-guzzling, check-bouncing, twenty-something... but this tender tale of a floundering young woman and The Loving Ear that steered her, will have to wait.

Meantime, I need to draw a number... for we have another prize winner in our latest drawing:  "Win A Telephone Conversation with a former Beer Guzzler Kristin"...

...And the winner is... 

Dana Jones!

Bonjour, Dana. I'm putting any jitters aside... and looking forward to talking to you very soon!


Wishing everybody a happy weekend and, if you feel like joining in on today's topic of conversation "Favorite French words and expressions", then you can leave your pick here in the comments box. Who knows, maybe another winner will be drawn?.... Click here to share your favorite French word or expression.



DSC_0021A beautiful--even in winter!--municipal garden in La Garde Adhémar. One of the many places you'll want to visit, when in the Drôme Provençale. For more things to do in France, check out these readers guides: What to do in Paris? or What to do in Aix?

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Jean-Marc in Sicily

 "Better Days" and Chief Grape. Picture taken in Sicily. Meet with Jean-Marc in DC & VA this coming March 10th-11th-12th or during his 2012 US wine tour

se reposer (reuh-poh-zay) verb

    : to rest 

Verb conjugation: je me repose, tu te reposes, il/elle se repose, nous nous reposons, vous vous reposez, ils/elles se reposent (past particile = reposé)

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

The Flu and The Blues 

"Repose-toi bien, Maman. Je te vois à midi." That was my son, Max, who stole past my bed, on his way to swipe a pair of his father's socks. I am so far behind on laundry....

Lying here with la grippe, I wonder how much farther behind I'll fall... if I stay in bed another day? In my mind's eye, I see papers stacked high on a desk, emails filling an inbox, dishes that need putting away--and a couple of teenage girls who might like a break from pasta and canned sauce. (Jackie's best friend is here for the week. Every time it is Jackie's turn to stay at her girlfriend's, she returns home to tell me what a magnifique cook the mother is. Every time the friend stays here, I roll up my sleeves in determination. Usually it is skill that foils my plan: this time, au moins, I can blame it on the flu.) 

Chief Grape is resting beside me; he is not feeling much better than I. He had the flu last week. This week it is something else. Trop de travail.

Ambition, drive, determination... Do we not sometimes chase after the wind?

Neither of us feels comfortable about being in bed on a work day and, though we lie here silently, I can almost hear that unspoken fear that tortures each of our minds: What if I never get up again?

But rest is needed, encouragement too. I look over at my tortured husband, and borrow my son's caring words: Repose-toi bien, cheri.


Le Coin Commentaires

Thank you for so many excellent tips on how to be a better listener (previous post); this time would you mind sharing your best tips for feeling better? Advice for easing the flu--or the blues--is appreciated. Click here to leave a message in the comments box.

Note: I am sorry and feel terrible about not being able to respond to every email and inquiry. I appreciate and read each and every note you send; it is a pleasure to read about you and, while reading, I am sending best wishes your way.

French Vocabulary

Repose-toi bien, Maman. Je te vois à midi = rest up, Mom. See you at noon. 

 la grippe = flu

magnifique = magnificent

au moins = at least

repose-toi bien, cheri = rest well, dear



 "Better Days: Version 2"

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

une causette + Win another "prize"...

French Poster (c) Kristin Espinasse

Jean-Marc ("Chief Grape) will be in New-York this coming March 8th--or during his 2012 US wine tour (Photo taken in Le Castellet Village, at the restaurant Le Pied de Nez -- painting by Christian Pieroni)

WIN ANOTHER PRIZE (click here to enter this drawing): Today, help me practice The Noble Art of Listening... Enter today's drawing and WIN a telephone call from me (Kristin) in France! (Well, maybe not as exciting an offer as the previous one, but then... it is better than a kick in the pants!) Read on, in today's missive... or enter right away, via this link.

une causette (koh-zet)

    : a chat

un brin de causette = a little chat

 Audio file...
(Sorry, all the Francophones in our house are asleep--that means you are stuck with me! Listen, at your own péril, to the following recording: Download MP3 or Wav file

Une causette c'est aussi de la communication informelle entre plusieurs personnes, sur l'internet, par échange de messages affichés sur leurs écrans. A 'causette' is also informal communication between many people, on the internet, by the exchange of messages posted to their computer screens.


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

Grande Bouche

To not get a word in edgewise. This English expression is too delightful, la preuve that the French do not have the monopoly on charming expressions.

Visualize, pour une minute, the edgewise idiom. Can't you just see so many exasperated Words trying, in vain, to slip into The Conversation? At their wit's end, the weary Words must throw up their arms and fall back... so as to sneak in, edgewise, to the lively, one-sided Conversation.

Though the can't get a word in edgewise expression amuses me to no end, it is no fun being Blabbermouth. I'd rather be Good Listener. But when conversation gets going... I can't help but take flight, until, once again, I am steering this chatty vessel--Conversation--through the maze of Off Topic. Wheeeee!---------

"C'est HS," my kids say, eyes-rollingly, and I listen in time to understand some teen slang (HS  = "Hors Sujet" or Off Topic).

 "Let me just finish my thought here..." my Mom suggests, gently, as we fly from one subject to the next. She is game to ride with me on the Ferris wheel of WORDS, and our daily cross-Atlantic conversations are as thrilling as any fairground ride.

"Oh, don't worry about it!" says my friend Claire, who spent the weekend with me. "It's a French thing!" Claire should know, as she has studied the topic for her forthcoming opus.

I'd love to believe that so much word-butting and edging in to conversation is evidence of intercultural advancement, that, once and for all, in that far-off horizon known as French Integration, I am finally making headway... Alas, the truth may very well be, that I am only making "edgeway". 



 Help me practice The Noble Art of Listening... Let me call one of you on the phone--for at least 20 minutes--anywhere in the world! Enter a comment (maybe a tip on how to be a better listener?) in the comments box and I --or MamaJules--will choose a winner on Friday, February 24th. Maybe I could even share our conversation--in an upcoming story? Click here to enter this drawing. I hope to talk to you very soon! 

 French Vocabulary

grande bouche = big mouth

la preuve = the proof

pour une minute = for a minute

    => also "grande gueule" (though this term may be offensive!)

H.S. = hors sujet = off topic


Virginia Cecil Casey

There's Blabbermouth, there on the left (in red). From left to right: Kristin, Virginia, Casey, Chief Grape, Adrienne. (Thank you, Cecil, for taking the photo--wish you were in it!)

Don't Forget to enter this drawing!
Let me call you one the phone! Should you hear heavy breathing in the background... never fear! (That's just me hyperventalating. I am very nervous about calling you, so please enter here and let me know that you would really like to talk to me!)

And now, can anyone end this edition with the lyrics... in French.. of Blondie's Call 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

reine de beaute

Smokaroo (c) Kristin Espinasse

Smokey says: Certes, on dirait qu'elle en a assez dans sa collection... sure, you'd say she has enough in her collection... but the truth is she adores every one of them! Today, find out who won une de ses clés... P.S. can you see the ombre or shadow of the missing key?


la reine de beauté

    : beauty queen

(Find out why this word is so special... read the story column, just below)

Audio file and example sentence
(note: the audio file feature will return... just as soon as one of the sleepy Francophones in my household wakes up!) 

Il se cachait alors dans un coin solitaire, fixant ses yeux ardents sur cette reine de beauté entourée d'hommages, de murmures flatteurs et d'envies jalouses

He hid in a lonely corner, fixing his passionate eyes upon this beauty queen surrounded by compliments, flattering murmurings, and jealous desires. --from "Le Correspondant", by Charles Douniol 

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

 Beauty Queens

Returning from the doctor's office, Wednesday, I lay back on my bed, tucked under les couvertures, as if a blanket's weight could anchor such rising emotions!

What exactly were these sentiments?  A mixture of relief and gratitude, to be sure: lab results were now back, confirming another basal cell—and that the doctor succeeded in removing all of it (without leaving so much as a flourish on my nose. Un miracle!).

But how to explain the other bubbles that were rising to the surface of mon âme? For this, I looked back at my laptop screen, where waves of good tidings were flowing into the comments box, following our recent giveaway contest...  

...Aloha from Samantha in Hilo, Hawaii!

...Mabuhay! from Manila in the Philippines. --Faith

...Bonjour... from Boutilier's Point in Nova Scotia, Canada. --Holly

There was something about your words, Dear Reader, that ignited a warm and cozy feu inside of me... a feeling of espoir and, especially, tendresse. I began to sense a tug, as the joyful greetings brought me back in time...

...Namaste from Shobha, in India.

...Hello from Tigard Oregon. --Chris

...Bonjour d'Ethiopie! --Tim

Until there I was, returned to my childhood home! Wearing my favorite golden robe and slippers, my eyes were scotched to the T.V. screen in front of me. Our mutt, Benji, by my side, his eyes were glued to that same screen... We sat, star-struck, admiring the prize-winning smiles of the beautiful representants, who announced their countries, along with warm greetings...

...Hallo aus Berlin, Germany und danke für alles. -Karl

...Buenos dias from Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. --Sheila

...Bonjour from Arizona....  --Gaelle

I watched, enchantée, as the beauties filed gracefully down the runway virtuelle, each contestant representing a different country:

...Hola! y Saludos! from sunny Puerto Rico. --Maria

...Hello from snowy Trondheim, Norway. --Siv 

...Bonjour from Perigord Vert, Dordogne France. --Janet

 OUI! I now could identify the comforting, nostalgic feeling inside of me—that of returning to the warmth and innocence of yesteryear, to a favorite childhood past-time: watching Miss Monde! How similar were the greetings that filed into the comments box... to those of the glamorous Miss World candidates who filed down the runway!

Merci beaucoup, dear reader, for your lovely greetings and good tidings! You are all, all of you, beauty queens to me!



CLICK HERE and look for my Mom, Jules's comment,where she shares about the Eureka moment, in which she came to choose our winner. You will then see a comment by me, announcing a second winner (this time via a random computer-generated selection!

Update: My father wrote me, after reading your comments, and I think he best succeeded in describing, in one word, what your messages represent: CARE.  Thank you so much for responding, with care, to these missives, anecdotes, vignettes, and essays. You fill us with hope! (Now to call Mom, who leaps out of bed each morning... to check in with you all via the comments box! She is such a copycat leaper!)


French Vocabulary

certes = most certainly, sure

l'ombre (f) = shadow

on dirait qu'elle en a assez dans sa collection = you'd say she has enough in her collection

une de = one of

une clef, une clé = key 

une couverture = blanket

un miracle = miracle

un sentiment = feeling

une âme = soul

le feu = fire

l'espoir (m) = hope

la tendresse = love, tenderness, fondness

enchanté(e) = enamored

virtuelle = virtual

Miss Monde = Miss World



More keys... and so hard to part with even one of them. Perhaps I need to learn the key to giving? Maybe another giveaway would be a good way to practice?



An antiques shop in Colmar. Tell us what French antique you dream of winning. Click here to leave a message in the comments box.

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

étourdie + Win a French antique!

Kristin Espinasse. Photo by Alison Johnston Lohrey

To win the mysterious French antique, on offer in today's story, simply say hello, here in the comments box + let us know where you are writing in from. After randomly choosing a number, I will announce a winner on Friday. More about the giveaway, in today's story column.

Photo by Alison Johnston Lohry (Note to self: next time you post a photo of your person, choose any other post title... besides "Scatterbrained"! P.S. do you see a scar on my forehead? Ta da! This photo was taken four months after the first operation and a week before the second operation, the one mentioned in the previous post.)

 étourdi(e) ay-toor-dee

    : scatty, scatterbrained; flighty


Audio File: listen to our daughter, Jackie, pronouce today's word and example sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Il est bien étourdi; mais, entre nous, son coeur est bon. 
He is quite featherbrained; but, between you and me, he has a good heart. —Voltaire, Complete Works of Voltaire 

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


I am having a fickle of a time deciding what to write about today. It isn't a matter of writer's block, or la page blanche, the difficulty here is l'embarras du choix! So many possibilities! Which path to choose when it is just too tempting to amble down each windy road and lose oneself in that whimsical place affectionately known as "Just Around The Corner"?

Enough dreaming, it's time to choose a topic! Let's see...

I might tell you about our daughter's renewed passion for  jumping (BMX bikes, this time—and not horses!). Jackie's hobby has me aching to line our concrete terrasse with mattresses! I watch, from the kitchen window, as our 14-year-old builds a new jump, adding yet another vineyard stone beneath the wobbly ramp (a repurposed wooden shutter) after each adrenaline-rich stunt.... 

Then again, I might write about some of  the readers who come to visit. But then there have been so many.... To write about one would be to leave out the others. Quel dilemme! Perhaps I could backtrack... beginning with a photo from the most recent visit? (See the end of this post.)

Encore une fois, I had thought to write a story about a thank-you gift, the one I am trying to think up  for the surgeon's assistante that I see this afternoon (stitches come out today!). What to give someone whom I know nothing about, but whose gentle confidence has touched me? Du vin? Des fleurs? 

I should also update you with the good news: Max, 16, passed part of his driver's exam!: oui, il a réussi le code! This brings him to the "hands-on" part of the exam: the actual driving with an instructor! (such a relief to turn over the co-pilot seat—still wet from my sweaty, gripping hands—to a trained teacher!)

As for writing topics, I also thought this might be a good time to bring up the subject of email... please forgive me if you have sent in a note and if I haven't gotten back to you! I am trying, but no matter how many activities I cut out, in order to devote time to answering email, I still can't manage to keep up with incoming messages. I feel terrible about this... please know that I read and appreciate every single word you send, whether via email or via the comments box. Thank you so much! 

There were about four or five or fifteen other lovely things, in addition to your treasured notes, that I wanted to talk to you about today, but time is up! So I will get to the fun part of this scatterbrained offering, this anti-essay that ran away to that curious "Just around the corner" place...

The G I V E A W A Y !

 In thanks for reading this French word journal, I want to offer you the chance to win a little treasure! The trésor is currently a secret, but here's a hint: anyone would love it: young or "wizened", man or woman. If you like French antiques, you'll love this historic memento, one from my collection... one I adore and would love to offer you!

You might frame the antique... or wear it (making an eccentric necklace or an avant-garde pin?); you could put it in a glass box or make a whimsical collage.... You could carry it around in your pocket as a lucky charm or use it to mark a page in a book (never mind the bulk!). It could make a cool paper weight... though you might have to tie an extra something to it.

To win this antique simply leave a greeting here, in the comments box, along with your city. Example:  "Hola from Jules in Puerto Vallarta!" 

 I will post the winner's name on Friday. No matter where you live in the world, you may enter the giveaway, by leaving a comment here. (Sorry, but no comments via email).

French Vocabulary 
(section under construction... please check back!) 

 la page blanche = "the white page" or "le blocage de l'écrivain" (writer's block)

l'embarras du choix = a great variety of choices, an embarrassing number of choices

la terrasse = a paved area (sidewalk) or patio

quel dilemme = what a dilemma

encore une fois = then again

assistant(e) = assistant

du vin = some wine

des fleurs = some flowers

oui, il a réussi le code = yes, he passed the driver's exam

le trésor = treasure


Alison Johnston2

I had a good tchatche, or chat, with artist, fiddler, and writer, Alison, who lives part of the year in the postcard pretty village of Sauve. Photo taken by Jackie Espinasse.

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.



Tuesday is Valentine's Day! Don't miss these excellent French terms of endearment. Be sure to scribble one of them into a card or, better yet, whisper one of these into someone's oreille! Photo "Waiting for some Sweethearts" taken in Paris. 

bosse (bohce) noun, feminine

    : bump

J'ai découvert une bosse sur la tête. I found a bump on my head.


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

(A review of the past four weeks...) 

Sometime last month I began waking early each morning with a strong sense of apprehension. 

"It has to come off," the dermatologist had said, confirming my worst fears. Dommage you didn't come in three years ago, it would have been a matter of a few stitches then...

After the surgery on my forehead, last fall, in which a lesion about the same size as the one of my nose was removed, I was afraid to go back under the knife. Given how much they took off for the similar-sized growth, might I lose my nose? (I remembered all those Google images for "basal cell carcinoma", and all my feverish internet searching which yielded horror image after horror image--including amputated noses!)

My middle-of-the night sweats continued. Then, something mind-altering happened. I discovered a bump on my head...

Fast as that I forgot about my nose. I turned all of my attention to the pea-size growth on the side of my head, une bosse as hard as a rock.

I wondered, was I being paranoid? Had the bump always been there?

At the Clinique de Provence the lab technician called me in a second time. "We need to take another X-ray..." I stepped back onto the machine, resting my back on its cold metal wall for balance. Following the technician's example, I put the tip of my finger on my head, indicating the bump's location, and stood so still I dared not breathe. As the X-ray began, the floor beneath my feet moved from side to side, like a fairground ride, only much slower. It was my mind that raced, in a marathon prayer.

    Notre père qui est aux cieux.
Que ton nom soit sanctifié....

And then, briefly:


"OK, you can wait in the salle d'attente..." The technician showed me out of the room.

The third time the technician returned, she informed me that the doctor wanted to do an échographie. More information was needed.

As I waited for the ultrasound exam, the woman beside me complained about her test results which indicated a sprained wrist. How would she cope? she wondered aloud.

I left the distraught woman, and was led into another room where I lay down on a table, letting the doctor smear a cold gel onto the side of my head. I watched the computer screen as the doctor ran a kind of large rollerpen over the bump.

"When did you first notice it?" he questioned, his accent as heavy as my own. Iran? Pakistan?

"A few months ago." 

The ultrasound screen showed my scull, which looked like the surface of the moon. A little farther along this smooth surface, we saw the bump. The doctor paused to measure it: 7.2 mm

"Have you seen other patients with these kind of bumps on their heads?" I wanted to know.

"Ne vous inquiètez pas," he assured me. The bump was hard and not soft. I took that to be a good sign, guessing that tumors were soft. "But you will need to have a brain scan..." he added.

The doctor was kind enough to make the appointment for me at the hospital in Orange. The downside, I would need to wait one week until I could have the necessary test.

During the one-week attente, I rarely thought about my upcoming operation for the removal of the lesion on my nose. It seemed absurd, now, to worry about a patch of skin, one that could easily be removed. But how would a bump on the side of my head be removed? Should it be removed? And then it occured to me: if there was a problem with my head, then maybe there would not be an operation on my nose afterall...

In the following days I thought about the many undones in my life. I would need to burn my diaries! Also, would there be time to make another book? I would want to save these blog stories for my kids to enjoy one day... as a way for them to know their mom better--she is not the overserious maman that they mistake her for. ...Please, dear God, make it so that this bump is benign--it is my kids who need their mother, my husband who needs his wife, my mom who needs her daughter, my family, friends who need...

On January 12th, my friend Phyllis accompanied me to the hospital, where I had a brain scan. An hour later, when the doctor called me into her office, we had not sat down before she announced: c'est bénin

I repeated the foreign words enough times for them to register, before throwing my arms around the conservative doctor, and babbling the news to Phyllis, who I could have KISSED! And maybe I did.

Ten days ago I had that second lesion on my face removed. Wide awake this time, I can tell you that the operation went beautifully and I am the proud wearer of 17 rock star stitches that travel down my nose like a backward "L"...

During that interminable week of waiting for the brain scan, I had tried to decide just what was the most important thing in life--or what would be the most meaningful way to live out the rest of one's days, whether that be one month or one decade. I am honored to have the answer stitched down the side on my nose, beginning in one great "L". Love--loving everyone who we come in contact with: the lovely ones and even the grumpy ones. Especially the grumpy ones!

I get my stitches out on Wednesday. I often look in the mirror, just to check them, and to remember to say thanks. And I am thankful for this bump on the side of my head (my husband calls it my corne, or "horn", indeed, I am a Capricorn! And this boney bump--though it may not be as grand as the mythic goat's--is a great reminder to live strongly, fortified by love. 


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French Vocabulary

dommage = too bad

une bosse = bump

Notre père qui est aux cieux. Que ton nom soit sanctifié.... = Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name

la salle d'attente = waiting room

une échographie = ultrasound

ne vous inquiètez pas = do not worry

une attente = wait

c'est bénin = it's benign


Cafe-1More empty chairs... 


Tip: Check out our "What to do in Paris?" page, and see all the great tips that readers have sent in!

Meantime, here one more tip: Visit the American Libary: this week Robert Camuto is speaking. He is part of a three person wine/cheese/perfume panel! Check it out 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!
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Snapshots of France: the Basque town of Bidarray. 

noun, masculine
an announcement (of birth or marriage or death) 


This morning I received an email from a longtime reader. Only, on closer look, there was something unusual about the courriel: the sender's full name was repeated in the email's subject line. The last time that I received such a letter from a subscriber address it was bad news.

Clicking open the email, I soon learned that the sender was not a reader of my newsletter, but the son of a reader. The email was a faire-part announcing that his mother, Ginny, had passed away.

Ginny.... Like Cher, Madonna, Oprah, or Martha, it took only a prénom for me to recognize her each time her name popped into my inbox. I never hesitated opening her emails, which were full of warmth and self-depreciating humor. How could she be no more?

Caught off guard, I clicked shut the email and sat back to stare at my inbox, where the letter was sandwiched in between dozens of emails labeled "SPAM". Heartless spam! I quickly deleted the intruder messages in order to safeguard this delicate nouvelle.

Clicking back open the email, I noticed how the next line of the letter reflected the newly-peeled sentiments inside of me, including sorrow. 

The writer was apologetic about the delivery format of his message:
"I'd prefer a more personal way to let you know, but for many of you, this is the only contact information I have...."

I wanted to thank Ginny's son for informing this stranger, who, under the circumstances, felt something like a voyeur or an illegitimate mourner. After all, how to explain the relationship that I had with his mother, who was, in effect, a "virtual" acquaintance—someone I had never seen or spoken to before?

My mind was normally as busy as a hummingbird's wings, and now a new and sorrowful stillness reigned inside: a stranger's grief... my own.

I began to wonder. Had I answered Ginny's last email? I went back over the 61 courriels received from Ginny in the four-and-a-half years since she began responding to my internet column.

She addressed me as her "Chère amie du courrier électronique". Other times, I was "Chère Madame" or "Chère Kristin" or, simply, "Chère amie", to which she added, in her signature humble way "si l'on ose à le dire" ("if one might be so presumptuous as to say").

I noticed that self-effacing "P.S." that she usually added: "Réponse Pas Nécessaire" ("No Response Necessary", she always insisted, as if to say "you must, or should have other priorities than answering this silly note").

In the dozens of to-the-point emails that Ginny sent, she rarely spoke of herself and, when she did, she mostly poked fun at her persona: "Salut d'une vieille dame de Californie," she once wrote, and I can still remember the smile that it forged across this rigid-while-working face.

I learned that the "vielle dame" was a teacher, and "when lucky ... taught French". Mostly, Ginny offered encouragement and support. As to my first, practically pasted-together book (which she bought) she wrote: "I hope you sell a jillion of them!"

Whether in French or in English, her signature lines varied, and light-heartedly so, bringing to life one unforgettable character in my inbox: "Ginny 'la bavardeuse'," or "Ginny in the foothills of the Sierra, off Highway 50". By associating a "place" with her name, I could better identify this French Word-A-Day lectrice in an inbox full of unfamiliar names. For me she was "Ginny dans le piédmont.... where we are three inches low in rainfall" and "Ginny in Placerville, just downhill from Lake Tahoe" and, finally, "Ginny en californie... qui rêve d'un voyage en Norvège cet été."

Ginny, wherever you are, in the piedmont or, finally, up north (yes "up north" I trust...)—YOU ARE MISSED. And while I never knew the color of your hair, the tone of your skin, or the twinkle in your eye—you were indeed a mystery to me—I knew a charming precious bit about "la vieille dame de Californie".

P.S.: I wished my own signature line had as much zip, character, and warmth as yours... I'm sure that the teacher in you would be encouraging—so here goes:

"une moitié-vieille dame de Provence qui a beaucoup apprécié votre éloquence életronique"
("a half-old dame in Provence who very much appreciated your electronic eloquence.")

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French Vocabulary

le courriel

le faire-part
announcement (of birth, marriage, death...)

le prénom
first name

news, update

la bavardeuse
 (le bavardeur)
the chatty one

la lectrice

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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la toile

Canvasing St. Tropez
French art and a classic car along the port in St. Tropez. Send a friend or family member French Word-A-Day.

la toile (twal) noun, feminine
  1. cloth, canvas
  2. web

Listen: hear my daughter, Jackie, pronounce the word "toile": Download toile.wav

Le temps, c'est la toile dont je suis à la fois l'araignée et la mouche.
Time, it is the web in which I am at once the spider and the fly. --
Jacques Lesourne

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

At the Art Supply Store...

(Note: the following story was written in June 2006)

Françoise has not changed much in the three years since I used to haul toiles out of her shop for mom to work on. She still has her ballerina-thin figure and still paints cherry-red streaks through her chocolate-brown hair; the contrast is as stark as her customers' paintings, which line the store's entrance hall and make shoppers feel smug about their own art.

At the cash register, when I take out my carte bancaire, Françoise still picks up the phone to call over to the papeterie, shouting for them to bring back the hand-held credit card processor (the one the two stores have always shared, never mind the inconvenience).

"...moins vingt... moins vingt... moins vingt..." Françoise mumbles, as she tallies up the art supplies. She still gives my mom twenty percent off all items, only to round down the total. This morning she even threw in a freebie. "Those paintbrushes have been discontinued," she said. "I can offer this one to your maman."

To this day, Françoise listens to my mom's English, only to reply in French. Just how the two women can understand each other is high art to me, and the paintings that result from their exchanges need not be translated either, but are, like the language barrier the women have overcome--indeed, like love itself--they are transcendent.

*   *   *

Post note: Returning a few years later, Mom and I were sad to discover that Françoise's shop had closed down. Standing out on the sidewalk, we stared at the handwritten sign in the window; it read "A VENDRE". Our eyes caught on a bold reflection in the window; we turned to discover the bigger, fancier, deluxer store that had opened across the street.... 

Unlike Françoise's window, which sported tubes of paint, brushes, and even a few modest creations of her customers, the competitor's windows were filled with a new rage: "scrapbooking". Ink pads, stamps, glue and tiny cut-outs crowded the window. 

At the back of the glittery store, a few paint supplies hung, like the end of a belle epoque.


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French Vocabulary

la toile = canvas..
la carte bancaire = credit/debit card
la papeterie = office/school supply store
moins vingt = minus twenty (percent)
la maman
 = mom
à vendre = for sale
la belle époque
 = beautiful era

Terms & Expressions
une toile d'araignée = a spider's web, cobweb
la Toile = the Web (internet)
la toile de lin/de coton = linen/cotton cloth
la toile de fond = backdrop, backcloth
derrière la toile = behind the curtain
se faire une toile = to go and see a film
se mettre dans les toiles = to hit the hay (to go to bed)
la toile de Jouy = "cloth of Jouy,*" fabric printed with an 18th century scenic pattern (*Jouy-en-Josas, is a northern French town)

Colors of France : A Painting Pilgrimage

A watercolor artist's sketchbook and story, "Colors of France: A Painting Pilgrimage" sweeps readers along on Margaret Hall Hoybach's evocative journey along the back roads of France, from the Pyrenees to Brittany, and finally, to paint in Monet's fabled gardens at Giverny. What begins as a seemingly impossible dream becomes an interior odyssey and magic carpet ride, sometimes turbulent, but filled with beauty, humor and fulfillment.


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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.