Thursday, September 20, 2012
What is remarkable, or kind of funny, about this sign above the window? Your guesses in the comments box. Photo taken in Toulon, where today's story takes place.
Je ne suis qu'un simple ouvrier. I am but an ordinary working man.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Mom and I were in Toulon, yesterday, looking up at a giant monument when a man suddenly appeared, like a phantom.
"Do you know the story?" he quizzed, motioning to the statue above us.
I looked back at the plaque, to the dates, which corresponded to WWII. "Were you there?" I asked.
When he didn't answer right away, I worried about placing the man in the wrong generation (and over-guessing his age). Casually, I rephrased things: "I mean, are you from here?"
A smile lit up his wrinkled face, and he had to hold onto his woolen hat as if to contain himself. Once acknowledged, his voice hushed a notch. "There is another memorial plaque, on the other side..." he pointed out. "For the men who lost their lives in 1911...."
Mom and I listened, one of us translating as the stranger told his story.
"The battleship was called "Liberté"..." he began. "It was a brand-new vessel and it was carrying explosives. But almost as soon as Liberté left the port, the cargo detonated. The accident caused several hundred men to lose their lives."
As the stranger spoke, his light blue eyes shone through my own, the warmth carrying with it a tangible sense of that dramatic moment in time. So transported, we listened to the waves crashing against the burning boat, the cries of the matelots, and to our own beating hearts, we frozen bystanders, one hundred years in the future.
After the stranger finished his story, my eyes were gently released from the grip of his regard, and I found my vision wandering from the man's peaceful face, to his worn-out coat, to his scuffed purse and shoes. In his hand he held a feuille des soins, or receipt from a recent medical visit.
Around his neckline there was a layer of debris. Discreetly, I tried to identify it. It was the kind of dust that could collect after a long cold night on the streets of Toulon... poussière from an industrial city shedding itself on the unfortunates, or sans domicile fixes, including schizophrenics, runaways, and drunkards.
I observed the stranger's eyes, which were bright--sober as a newborn. His mind was just as sharp, and we listened, Mom and I, as he began to tell us about his beloved Toulon, this time in verse.
Les arbres qui l'entourent... la mer qui l'embrasse....
Mom listened as I tried to translate the poetic words as fast as the poet spoke them, but I could not keep up.
I couldn't help wondering if the beautiful rhymes were his own. "Verlaine?" I questioned.
He shook his head, surprised. "Now, where was I... oh yes! Les arbres qui l'entourent... Toulon, ville de fleurs... Toulon..."
After the poetry came a bit of trivia: do you know about les Farons?
I nodded my head dumbly (really not knowing a thing; in fact, when he said "Faron", I thought I heard "Pharaoh", and was soon lost in Egypt... when Monsieur interrupted my daydream, offering that le Faron was a hill. Pointing to it, he added: "There is a zoo up there." ).
Just then, I felt a poke to my side. "Ask him if he is a professor!" Mom elbowed me.
"Vous êtes un prof?"
"No, I am a simple worker," came the modest answer. "Juste un ouvrier."
His statement set my imagination on fire again, and I pictured everything from giant cranes to coal mines to dock maintenance.
But before we could find out his story, il a disparu. We watched the simple ouvrier walk away--until he reached the edge of the place de la liberté, at which point he disappeared—poof!—like a ghost. All that was left was the uncanny feeling... of having just received a privileged visit from a drowned Liberté sailor, or ancient matelot.
(Je sais, je sais... I know, I know... this story needs a vocab section. Meantime, feel free to define some of the words in today's story. Click here to add a definition to the comments box. Merci d'avance!)
In other stories: this stranger's words, "I am but a simple ouvrier," reminded me of another character we met in the town of Buis-les-Baronnies. Do you remember the last peasant?
We celebrated Jackie's 15th with my mother-in-law Michèle-France's chocolate cake. Uncle Jacques joined us, too.
If you are new to this blog, you might enjoy this mother-daughter story le frisson written last spring. You don't have to be a mom to enjoy it; if you've ever wanted desperately to connect with someone, you'll relate! Click here to read it.
Forward to a friend + Sign-up link
Do you know anyone who might enjoy these stories from France? When you forward this post to a friend, they may use this link to sign up for the emailed stories and photos.
In other news, Jean-Marc received a very big package yesterday. He has once again chosen the maritime shipping container as a solution to our storage needs! The large unit is not visible from the front porch (ouf!) and the wine color almost fades into the scenery... where grapes will soon compete with the colorful horizon!
For more stories of Jean-Marc's original solutions to life's dilemmas, read Words in a French Life or Blossoming in Provence. Your book purchase is a great support to this journal. Thanks.
A Message from Kristi: Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.
Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.
Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety
Happy Birthday to Jackie! She's turning into a stunning young woman.
Posted by: Judy | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Loved the story of the ancient matelot. I wonder if he was homeless? As for the sign, it is translated as anxiety insurance. I didn't know there was such a thing. It would be nice to have it, but sadly it doesn't exist.
Posted by: Beverley Persell | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 07:21 PM
To be insured/assured of "anguish" ha,ha! Is that the joke?
Posted by: Mem | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 07:21 PM
I just saw the post with the insurance agency where the agent's last name is Dangoisse :0) Wonder if the name brought him/her to the choice of metier?
Posted by: Gun Penhoat | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Is that the guy's last name? One anxious man! Seems like he found a fitting job :)
Posted by: Kim | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 07:25 PM
I wonder if the "D" as his initial further defines the sort of anxiety he is named after. And since all names eventually lead to a place or incident or occupation or some such defining word; where in the world did the incident of anxiousness take place? And to complicate it more; how long ago was that?
Posted by: Frank Levin | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Merci for your delightful stories, photos, experiences & insights, and for sharing your life and your family with us all! What a perfect way for far-away Francophiles to keep our love affair with all things French alive. Bravo Kristin!
Posted by: Susan in Oregon | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 07:36 PM
The cap U in the word ASSURANCES has been flipped -- the heavier part should be on the left.
Posted by: Chris Purcell | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 07:45 PM
cute....to be assured or insured from anxiety.
Posted by: Marshall | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Insurance from Mr. Anguish? :-D
Posted by: Vince DeKime | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 08:18 PM
The sign-Assurances D. Dangoisse--looks almost like the hardly advertisable promise of "assurances of anguish." I know: "false friends."
Posted by: Dave R | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 08:44 PM
L'assurance is supposed to make you feel better, more secure. But here it's offered by Mr./Ms. Anguish or Anxiety!
Posted by: Christine | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 08:51 PM
WHAT a pretty "baby" you have! Congratulations!
Posted by: Tonya in Arkansas | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Todays story is very touching!
Posted by: [email protected] | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Such a touching story and such beautiful children! Birthday wishes again to Jackie!
Posted by: jan greene | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 09:14 PM
... Krisrin... Your daughter is simply beautiful and has the most engaging smile! she will be beyond stunning in about 3 years! Perhaps a movie star, stage actress, writer ( like her mother) or perhaps a negeociant au vins, like her father! BONNE ANNIVERSAIRE a Jackie! Judi Dunn, Tallahassee , Fl.
Posted by: judi dunn | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Hi dear Kristin,
Oh,sweet Jackie is gorgeous!!! (just like her mom!)What a happy celebration!!
(PS Is the plastic bag she's holding one of her gifts?)
Another wonderful and touching post.
You have such a gift for not only bringing us into your experiences,but making us FEEL:
joy,sadness,or in the case of this man,his melancoly.Sacrifices.
THANK YOU for reminding us of all we have to be grateful for and what blessed lives we lead.
Love, Natalia XO
Posted by: Natalia | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 10:06 PM
The reason one buys insurance is to protect against "anguish!" I know, because I'm "The Travel Insurance Lady"!
Posted by: Terry Seligman | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Today's story reminded me of the day I took a friend to visit the Deportation Memorial in Paris, only to find a beribboned delegation of military people and other officials in the rose garden. The gate was blocked and guarded by gendarmes who prevented us from entering and disturbing the ceremonies, but an elderly man came over to answer my questions. As we conversed, I learned about the tributes to the deported French Jews; and then asked if he was one of the guardians of the monument. "No, madame, he said rolling up his sleeve to show me a number tattooed on his forearm, "I am a survivor!" I was moved to tears, but he suddenly grasped my hand as if to comfort me. I will never forget his piercing blue eyes or his response.
Posted by: Carol McFarland | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Si ce Dangoisse, qui vend de l’assurance (sells insurance) est plein d’angoisse (full of anxiety), ça est une juxtaposition drôle !
Posted by: David Simmons | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 11:38 PM
I'll y avait un salon funeraire chez nous
du nom de Sansregret...J'allais a l'ecole avec ca fille.
Posted by: Nicole | Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Reminds me of the former Hotel Angst (anxiety) in Italy, which I mention on this French blog only because it belonged to the grandfather of a hotelier friend in Normandy!
Posted by: Mary Rack | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Wow, Carol, what a breathtaking moment. Thank you for sharing.
Happy Birthday to the beautiful Jackie!
Speaking of ironic names, how about a dentist named Dr. Hammer?
And as for "matelot," one time a camp director came around to all the rooms to see if all the girls had a "matelot" (meaning to say "matelas"). None of us did, of course, so we requested some! :-)
Posted by: Heidi | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Happy birthday again to Jackie, she's such a beautiful young lady.
I love J-M's storage solution!!
Posted by: Bill in St. Paul | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Jackie...you are too beautiful for words...beware of those charming young
French men. Men say the darned things to impress you.
Posted by: Grampa Kip in Idaho | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 03:25 AM
poussière = dust
sans domicile[s?] fixes = homeless
matelots = sailors
Les arbres qui l'entourent... la mer qui l'embrace = the trees that surround it, the sea that embraces it
il a disparu = he disappeared [how come it's not "il est disparu"?]
Posted by: EL | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Hi, Kristin, what a strange encounter! "It was an ancient mariner, and he stoppeth one of three..."
Posted by: Augusta Elmwood | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Vraiment, enfin, tu as retrouve le fil de tes uniques histoires en ton imagination. Brava.
Posted by: Jan | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 05:01 AM
Thanks for your guesses. I think David explained it best. He wrote
Si ce Dangoisse, qui vend de l’assurance (sells insurance) est plein d’angoisse (full of anxiety), ça est une juxtaposition drôle ! If this Mr Anguish, who sells insurance, is full of anxiety, then that is a funny juxtaposition.
By the way, thanks, David, juxtaposition is just the word I was looking for. Is that the word for when ones name matches ones vocation?
EL, thanks for the vocab section and for the correction (il EST disparu). Off to fix that one...
Nathalia, yes, that was one of Jackies presents (there was a necklace and a blouse inside, from Uncle Jacques and his girlfriend).
Grampa Kip, so happy to see your comment. Aw, thanks! And thanks to all for these wonderful birthday wishes and compliments for Jackie. She is extremely touched by your words!
Posted by: Kristin Espinasse | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 09:57 AM
from noel coward: "Matelot, matelot, where you go my heart goes with You, Matelot Matelot when You go down to the sea>"
Posted by: Gary Rodan | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 11:07 AM
When a person's name matches his/her occupation, that's called an "aptronym." I didn't know this until you asked, so I asked M. Google. The French anglicize it to "aptronyme."
Posted by: David Simmons | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Thanks for the lovely story today! Love the photos of Jackie! I really couldn't take a guess at the sign. My eyes were so bad this morning, I thought the word for the day was ouvrir. I was confused that it meant "worker" until I looked again!
Posted by: Eileen - Charlottesville, VA | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Wow, what a beautiful girl Jackie is. Happy Birthday, sweet girl. Kristin, today's story is breathtaking, perhaps you DID receive a visit from "a past life." In any case I enjoyed it immensely.
Posted by: Luci | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 04:10 PM
One of my most favorite stories, Kristin, this was really outstanding. Bravo! A treasured moment that would, of course, happen to you, because it takes a certain person to be aware enough to receive the treasure!
Posted by: Jennifer in OR | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Happy birthday to Jackie!! And how is this for an "aptronym"-- in our town there is a cosmetic/plastic surgeon with the name of
Dr.Hacker! Would you like him to work on your face?!?!?
Posted by: Sue LAthrop | Friday, September 21, 2012 at 11:31 PM
I'm a little late getting to read this but found it a very touching story and it brought tears to my eyes. Your words really brought the dear gentleman to life in my mind.
Jackie gets more beautiful every day and she looks so much like you, Kristin, that I often mistake you for each other in pictures when I first look at them.
Posted by: Susan Carter (Westminster, CA) | Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Le comble, c'est surement le mot "angoisse"! Joyeux anniversaire à Jackie un peu en retard et mes meilleurs voeux pour toute la famille.
Posted by: Leslie | Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 02:57 AM
How did your children so quickly become 15 and 17? !!!!! Five short years ago i was introduced to your blog by my now dear friend la prof teresa...this past summer we traveled together and almost made it to visit you. Blessings to you and your family in your new home. Perhaps we will visit again in arizona?
Posted by: Tammy | Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Et bien, moi aussi je suis angoissee a chaque fois que je pense aux assurances, mais quand meme!!! Tordant!!!! In English... LOL!!! This broker is a hoot! His name is "Anguish!!" Introductions must be worth watching.
But, hey! The French (and I) adore les jeux de mots! A la bonheur!
Posted by: jessica cole | Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 05:38 PM
LOL! People seeking advice would go to Dr.Anxiety! Angoisse=Anxiety
Posted by: Miranda | Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 08:29 PM
I really enjoyed reading your article. I haven't read the comments so someone might have told you already :the French spelling is "la mer qui l'embrasse", and you should write "il a disparu" instead of "il est disparu."
Thanks again for your delightful "chroniques".
Posted by: Lavender | Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Jessica: à la bonne heure ! mais le bonheur.
EL : il a disparu : c'est correct
il est disparu : c'est littéraire
La mer qui l'embrasse ... avec ss ...
A Kristin : Amusez-vous bien avec l'emménagement, la déco, etc... Ça ne finit jamais, n'est-ce pas ??
nadine, californie du nord
Posted by: nadine goodban | Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 05:27 AM
Loved the story! Happy Birthday, Jackie. What a beauty!
A juxtaposition is two opposites placed together to contrast the differences. An example would be if "Mr. Anguish" had a shop next to "Miss Placid."
In this case, I think the best term for Mr. Anguish selling insurance against anguish would be irony of situation.
Posted by: Jan (in Edmonton, Canada) | Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 05:32 AM
La juxtaposition sur la pancarte est Assurances et Dangoisse. Ça, c'est le contraste.
Posted by: David Simmons | Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Kristin, as always your delightful essays give me so much pleasure, this is the first year for 10 years I haven't been able to travel to my beloved France, but through you my heart is lightened and once again I am reliving my happy days. Health problems have prevented travel, but I am slo having to downsize to smaller flat,but I keep your books nearby, they are my tangible connection to where my mind and heart dwell. Now I have Bandol as somewhere .to whet my sphere of interest. I know you will all be blessed with a happy life there. I can never thank you enough for the happiness you have brought to my .life in recent years Your artiste grandmere ami Gold Coast,Australia. June .
Posted by: june furey | Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Thank you for your posts! I have followed them for some time and recently introduced them to my 14 year old son who is starting 9th grade French - I'm French Canadian and lived/worked in France (Le Lavandou / Paris). We now live in the US - heard about your blog on the AJC. When I asked him if he was getting your emails, he excitedly told me about today's post and forwarded to me - I don't get them for some reason but am so excited that my son is enjoying! Happy BD to your daughter! Time flies! Thanks again!
Posted by: Lorraine Lanoue | Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 05:42 AM