How to Say Valentine in French?

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.


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