Pictures from Grignan + an emergency visit to the vet--and the French word "epillet"
tenir la route

How to say zipper + recycle or repair your shoes! + Comps-sur-Artuby

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,
A cobbled path leading to church in the village of Comps-sur-Arturby. More photos at the end of this edition.

Today we are talking about repairing or recycling clothing. Please join the discussion, sharing your experience and ideas for staying stylishly up-to-date--while minding ecology and the economy.

Mas de la Perdrix - visit this charming rental in the south of FranceProvence Villa Rental Luberon luxury home; 4 bedrooms, 5 baths; gourmet kitchen, covered terrace & pool. Views of Roussillon. Click here.  


une fermeture éclair (fair-meh-tyur-ay-kler)

    : zipper


Audio file: The following example sentence comes from the planet-friendly French site
Listen to Jean-Marc read the words below:  Download MP3 or Wav file

Des semelles usées, un talon cassé, une fermeture éclair de sac coincée... Avant de les remplacer, vous pouvez confier vos chaussures et accessoires à un cordonnier. En plus, vous soutiendrez une filière au savoir-faire de plus en plus rare en raison d'un manque de clientèle.

Worn out soles, a broken heel, a purse zipper that's stuck... before replacing them, you can entrust your shoes and accessories to a cobbler. What's more, you'll be supporting a trade that is more and more rare owing to a lack of clientele. 

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

Last week the winds picked up here in Bandol, sweeping out the warmth of summertime. Though our seaside environment benefits from an extended season--or un été indien--my feet don't seem to know the difference: mid September now and j'ai froid aux pieds!

Time to put away the flip-flops.... Rummaging through the floor of my closet, looking for close-toed shoes, I discovered a few possibilities for fall: a pair of pseudo Mary Janes (not sure about the style), Converse hi-tops (hand-me-downs from Jackie, the interior lining is as holey as Swiss cheese), a pair of high-heeled dress boots--so cheap the talons are two different sizes (no wonder the markdown), a pair of black boots from the 90s--and a pair of black ballerinas from the same decade (I now wear the latter as slippers--so will have to rule these out as a possibility. Once sportswear turns into loungewear it's hard to sport the items in public again. Know what I mean?).

I stared thoughtfully at the eclectic pile. Tucking my flip flops into a shoe box--it seemed a little sorting might reveal some new possibilities. I spotted my loafers. Yes! Slipping them on I had a look in the mirror and realized, once and for all, I will never have that look of relaxed elegance: my ankles stood out beneath my pant legs, and the brown leather shoes were dull. Maybe a good polish would take care of that? 

Studying the motley crew of shoes, I now saw a workable set of possibilities for autumn. What's more, I remembered a pair of brown leather boots (those ought to take care of these ankles!) that would round out the collection.

In the cellar, I sorted through a box of shoes, finding the boots at the bottom. Pulling them from the tangle of chaussures, I was disappointed to see they'd been sorely twisted--their new shape resembling a curled crevette! I slipped them on, hoping to straighten out the toes, but when I tugged at the worn zipper it finally broke.

More than a broken zipper, I noticed how worn out the soles were. There was no use procrastinating, it was time to buy a new pair of bottes. But the last time I went shopping in the area, I found the shops unwelcoming and the prices even more alienating. I was only having a bad day, it wasn't the fault of the commerçants. But seeing all the merchandise, I wondered: how can anyone afford to dress these days?  My mind still lives in 70s prices--maybe that is why everything seems so expensive these days. I am fortunate to be able to replace my shoes, but I feel terrible for those who don't have the same privilege.

Studying the worn boots, it seemed I could squeeze another season out of them--I needed only to visit the cordonnier! An added incentive of visiting the local cobbler was the satisfaction of not adding to the dreaded pile--the universal garbage dump, or the landfills, that gets harder and harder to breakdown as time goes by. I can't bear to throw out another pair of shoes when I picture heaps of discarded chaussures all across the land--choking landfills with leather, plastic, and shoe glue. I wish I'd always thought this way, but I am a late-bloomer when it comes to recycling. It's only in the last 5 years that our household has installed boxes for glass, metal, plastic, clothing, batteries, and "small electric units" (our grocery store collects coffee machine, electric toothbrushes, and the like). Before that, we made an effort here and there, but were discouraged by the lack of follow-up (our village's recycling system, at the time, was hit or miss).

Boots in hand, I entered our town's cobbler shop and soon realized why people are not so motivated to extend the life of their belongings: because it can be costly to do so! There in the tiny shop, as I waited for the cobbler to finish mending a pair of sandals, I noticed the finished items on the counter, waiting to be picked up. A pair of high-heeled sandals had a receipt tied to them: 26 euros for the repair work! I began to calculate: at $35 dollars one could almost replace the dainty pair of dress shoes.

Ah, but les bonnes affaires coûtent cher! I remembered an old saying I once learned from a very wealthy French woman: Good deals cost a lot! she said, as I accompanied her shopping in Cannes. It's true, and I've witnessed the principle here at home where my husband delights in showing me his latest 19 euro steal. I zip my lip, knowing that in one more season I'll be sweeping those falling-to-pieces shoes into the dustpan, along with rest of the pile up on the doorstep. Some deal!

Back at the cobblers, I set my boots on the counter for the cordonnier to inspect. 

"I'll need a new fermeture éclair...and it looks like the soles are shot...anything you can do about the leather?"

I watch as the shoe repairer notes down some double-digit chiffres: 16.... 12.95...  The amount increases when I decide to go ahead and have the second zipper reinforced, just in case.

When the cobbler hands me the bill I'm lost for words, so he speaks for me: Est-ce que ça ira? Will this work?

I guessed it would have to... After all, what was the alternative? I could buy a new pair of boots--for twice the price (given the you-get-what-you-pay-for wisdom, mentioned above) or I could prendre soin, or care for my own boots. The price to do so was alarming, but in the end I was paying less than I would otherwise.

I hoped to be making the right decision, and in the time it took me to reply to the old cobbler, my eyes scanned his tiny shop. In addition to shoes there were several bags waiting for repair (this is where old Mr. Sacks, Jean-Marc's beloved sacoche, was mended). I remembered, now, Jean-Marc mentioning the ancient cobbler "You've got to meet this character!" Jean-Marc had said. I wondered now, just how many years had the cobbler been here? Were they even training cobblers these days? Wasn't it a dying trade?

As I stood there, hesitant, a few more locals walked in, dusty and worn shoes in hand. The cobbler greeted them by name and I gathered he had a few supportive clients. One more couldn't hurt. 

 *    *    *

Cordonnerie (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-word-a-day

To comment on today's story, click here. I would love to read about your experiences with caring for your own things, and your thoughts on sustainability, supporting local business, or whatever you feel like sharing. 

Extra credit.... Teachers, please share the French Word-A-Day blog with your students, to help increase their vocabulary. 


 j'ai froid aux pieds = my feet are cold
un talon = heel
la chaussure = shoe
la crevette = shrimp, prawn
la botte = boot
le commerçant = shopkeeper
le cordonnier = cobbler
le chiffre = amount, sum
la fermeture éclair = zipper
prendre soin = to care for, to take care of 

In Ways to Improve Your French: Listen to music!

ZazzZaz's album. Debut album from one of France's greatest recent success stories. Seemingly out of nowhere, newcomer Isabelle Geffroy (AKA Zaz) ended up topping the charts in France for over two months with this debut album, an engaging blend of Jazz, Soul and French Pop. With singles like 'Je Veux', even non-French speaking listeners will be enchanted by Zaz's voice. Order it here.

Join me on today's virtual tour of the village of Comps-sur-Artuby. These photos were taken in 2001.... The pictures are very small, but you can still get an idea of the breathtaking environment.

If you missed the recent photos tours, check them out:

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,

What has this old post office become? Some people in France live in converted chapels, others in ancient bread ovens (large architectural structures as big as a baker's), so the idea of moving into a post office shouldn't be so surprising.

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,

I believe this building is called un hangar, or shed. 


Max (c) Kristin Espinasse,
A then 6-year-old Max...


Les nuages, or clouds in Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Les nuages, or clouds, in the distance


Comps-sur-Artuby, France (c) Kristin Espinasse,
November in Comps-sur-Artuby...


Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Art studio "The Little Scops Owl"

Pronounce it perfectlyPronounce it Perfectly in French. 

* extensive pronunciation exercises including supplementary help based on poetry, proverbs, familiar sayings, historical quotations and humor

* A guide to French pronunciation expressed in the phonetic symbols of the International Phonetic Association (IPA) 

Order it here.

cordonnerie (c) Kristin Espinasse

I hope you enjoyed today's story from the shoe repair shop, or cordonnerie. To comment on today's post, or to send in a correction, please use the comments box here.

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Bruce in northwest Connecticut

You still have shoe-repair shops in France? I wish I had that option. The last one I knew of, in New York City, close 10 or 15 years ago.

Yet another reason for me to envy you.

Bill in St. Paul

When I was in college, being both cheap and broke, I lost the heel on my right loafer. I went to the college carpentry shop where I'd been working on a clock and, smartly so I thought, made myself a replacement heel out of scrap wood. It worked fine until I walked on a slick surface and almost broke my leg when my smooth-surfaced wooden heel slid like it was an ice skate. I had to change the way I walked to prevent any future mishaps. (Even polished granite floors were dangerous!)


Just a little stuff : I think the phonetics "y" is better than "oo" for the french word "fermeture". The "u" is pronounced like the german "ü".
Next (and last thing !) : "les bonnes affaires coûtent cher" (not : coutent).
Oh, that french....!
And since 2009, we have now a wonderful shoe-repairer (is this word OK ?) in Salernes.
Bonne journée à tous !

Eileen deCamp

We have a shoe repair shop here in Charlottesville and I have used it several times. The owner is similar to your cobbler. There is only one man working there and the shop is really small, and he is such a character. The first time I was there, he said "I close at 5, so don't come in here around 4:45 because I am ready to leave by then."

Kristin Espinasse

Bruce, sad to hear about the closing of the cobbler shops.

Bill, loved your story! Now, if you could have only recycled a bicycle tire... adding it to the wood heel. That might have been a good ground gripper!

Elisabeth, thanks for these helpful edits. Not sure I added the y correctly. It now read tyur, instead of toor.

Eileen, good to read about your local character. I hope he get's lots of shoe business!

Kris, Brittany

A good story, so many shoes cannot be mended these days. I bought an expensive pair of shoes about nine years ago and they are really comfortable. I wear them all the time, they have been heeled twice and soled once Our Cobbler in a nearby village is about thirty, and very good. He charged me €20 for heeling and soling the last time I took them. A bargain to me. When I took my husbands shoes into a shop in Sacramento some ten years ago they wanted $45 to sole them. I didn't bother as a new pair would have been cheaper.

Sue jean

Good for you Kristy. I find the throw away society shocking. But sadly as some have pointed out, it's often hard to get repairs, whether it's shoes or an appliance, but I always try that route first.

Ann M.Tubbs

we have a wonderful shoe repair, very near to us in Toledo, OH: Pasquale & Sons Shoe Repair
3646 Upton Ave Toledo, OH 43613
(419) 472-8803
Orthopedic Shoe Store
They have worked on our shoes for years, at a very reasonable rate! (and I remember my Swiss grandfather repairing shoes in his basement, on a metal last. He was a pharmacist, and had 5 children, so needed to be resourceful. From him, I learned to do simple repairs on my own shoes.)

Trina, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

As always, Kristin, a very enjoyable and well told story.

I left Manhattan in 2004, and there were still cobbler shops there when I left. I would have to suggest to Bruce to ask around. They do still exist! :)

Sue Jean is so right about how we have become a throw away society. I cringe when I hear about buildings coming down that are barely 50 years old! Yes, we can replace shoes for less than the cost to resole a pair...if we settle for a lower quality product. Most Americans drive most places, so shoes become ornaments more than functional, I guess. When I lived a walking lifestyle in Chicago and New York, I much preferred high quality shoes; in the long run, less expensive - not to mention environmentally sound and keeping local trades people (cobblers) in business.

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

une filière au savoir-faire
Could you add that to the list of phrases defined? It is in the quote that is spoken, and seems to be put into Englsh as a trade.

Is there more to that phrase, as to connotation?

There is a show repair shop in the village where I live. I am hoping they still resole Birkenstock sandals. My favorite pair is too worn now, the ones I can wear in summer barefoot and with socks in cooler weather.

Just have to get there.

Interesting notion that people drive so much that shoes are just for looks, in the US. Not for hikers, certainly, but perhaps in the main that is true.

Pennie in Canada

We've got a little show repair shop in our town. But I too wonder if someone will be trained to take over when he's gone. I like to repair and reuse. I like old and comfortable rather than new and stiff.



Your lovely story this morning set my mind a´spinning - we can almost write our life story upon the shoes of the decade that were our trademark. I wish I had the energy this morning to take you down my shoe path of yesteryear but no, I can´t do that this morning. I always find it interesting that you and I are experiencing similiar moments even though we are so far apart. Yesterday I looked into my closet and counted three pair of red hi'tops which Heidi gave me ten years ago when I moved back to Puerto Vallarta after my two year medical break with my broken hip and cancer in France. A flat black pair of flip-flops, and one pair of sandals. I laugh as I think back to my real-estate years when my entire trunk was filled with boxes of shoes so I could continually change to help my aching feet. All of my glorious cowboy boots in red, turquoise, black and brown. Designer of course and very expensive. But my favorite shoes of all my life were my English riding boots and my barn boots. I remember as a little girl running around the property in my own Mom´s English riding boots as I used a tree branch which I drug between my legs pretending it was a horse. Then of course there were my ski-boots, my after-ski boots, my hiking boots....I LOVED THEM ALL....Oh the memories shoes can spark in a moment from your wonderful stories.

Thanks Honey for this moment today....I love you.



Patience T.

Kristi,this is a great subject for conversation, we all have feet and feet love shoes. Here, in the L.A. Neighborhood of Brentwood we have a wonderful corner called "the mart" it has kind of a hokey farm theme and yes the shoe repair has been there forever. They are good and cost accordingly.
Now to speak to the next idea -recycle- There are, if it can be reused,resold,stores like Goodwill, or Jewish Federation or other charities that need a steady supply of merchandise. Many will give you their own evaluation that you can use for tax purposes. Some you estimate for yourself. All give employment so it is a double gift. I don't know if France or other countries have them.
Even in Montpelier,Vt. Where I summer recycle clothing stores do a lot of business.
Thanks for letting me into your life I love to read your postings!

gwyn ganjeau

Kristin, i loved that the caption under the photo at the top of the story said "the cobbled path..." and then you went on to talk about a trip to the cobbler! words rock.

i love the guys at the shoe repair shop here in downtown seattle. there are shoes i've taken to them to be reheeled several times. interestingly, they say business has never been better--a result of the economic downturn. people are giving things a second life before spending $ to replace. it will be interesting to see if that mindset becomes a permanent one once the need abates.

i have also been a part of 'skirt swaps' with girlfriends. it's a great evening of nibbles and beverages and everyone brings a few things that are in good shape but they just don't wear anymore. we find new homes for those things, and walk away with something we've usually admired on a friend. everyone wins!


Ever since the first time I heard the word une fermeture éclair I was blown away! A "Lightning Closing"..How APT, how exciting, how fun! And after the years of having only the options of buttons or hooks and eyes, how wonderful this invention must have seemed!

Joanie Clark

Shoes, shoes, shoes the bane of my existence. I wonder how many deal with the pain of shopping for shoes for feet that don't match. One foot, at least one size bigger than the other, funny little toes that peek out where they don't belong and sometimes want to drag on the floor, especially in sandals. Where did the days go when I was known as the girl with the fabulous shoes. I now go for comfort, still style is paramount and one must sometimes forgo comfort.

catharine ewart-touzot

when I lived in Fredericksburg Va I would donate to goodwill who sold them in bulk, I believe to people who sent them to Africa...piles and piles and boxes of shoes...

Bettye Dew in St. Louis

Both my mother and my aunt loved high heels and never felt dressed up without them. It was a sad day, my aunt said, when she had to "come down" to clunky heels. When I was a little girl playing dress-up, I always had plenty of cast-off heels to complete my outfits, my favorite being a maroon patent-leather pair. Although I never heard either my mother or aunt complain about her feet, when I was in my forties I began to develop foot problems, partly caused by running. I then had to look for shoes with bigger toe boxes, such as Eccos, and my shoe-glamour days, such as they were, were fini. Today when I see young women in stilettos, my feet ache for them. One day they too will have to "come down" or even look for comfort shoes themselves. (And by the way, those comfort shoes, though expensive, are long-lasting and repairable.)

Julie Farrar

Here in my neighborhood in St. Louis in the States we have a few cobblers from which to choose. However, I've realized that my very favorite shoes have one of those rubber molded soles/heels that can't be repaired, unlike my re-soled black boots. I'm sad.

I was amazed by the number of cordonniers in a town the size of Dijon. Until I realized that the French don't throw anything away until it's impossible to remake it. I was also surprised to find that the shoe repair shop was the primary place to go to have keys made. And it cost a fortune because the dozen keys for my apartment are all those old-fashioned brass skeleton keys except for my mailbox key.

Mary Ann

Dear Kristin,

Your post about shoes came just in time to promote the pyramid of shoes for Handicap international on September 28, 2013 at the Esplanade de l'Arsenal for all your readers living in Paris.

Ellen from BH

Thank you for introducing us to Comps sur Artuby. I was curious to see where it was, and wound up walking its streets in Google streetview. Your other readers may want to try it, as it was an easy virtual visit. I was actually able to climb up the same path to that mas or Templar fortress in your first photo and spin around to see some of the same valley below. Delightful!


Our dear Kristi,
What beautiful pictures (and adorable six year old Max!)
As always(!) another wonderful and well written post!
I particularly enjoyed learning that my hubby and I are not the only two people left who repair our things instead of tossing them out and buying new(!)
You are an inspiration (again!)
Love, Natalia XO

Kathleen from Connecticut

Hi Kristi,
We have a wonderful cobbler in North Branford. He has resoled my husband's Birkenstocks, a couple of pairs of my shoes and put on new heels. He even made me a back pack out of leather in which the zipper is against my back. I designed it and he sewed it. Great job!
We thought that we had lost him for a while, but he moved out of Madison to North Branford. I would definitely recommend him.
My problem is that I'll buy a pair of shoes which I think will be great and then the hurt my feet. I will wear them around the house for a while to see if they will work,but sometimes whenI finally wear them outside, they just hurt. So consequently, I have many shoes which I never wear and they just sit in my closet. But we always seem to have that one or two pair which are our absolute favorites and we will wear them until they are falling apart and then we need the COBBLER!



My favorite use for old, worn out tee shirts (other than a quilt) is to cut them into strips and use as headbands/sweatbands while exercising. They wash beautifully, and when they finally are beyond use I don't feel guilty throwing them out.

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm

Hi Kristi! Another delightful read told from the heart!

I must confess my closet holds many beloved pairs of sandals and boots --- won't divulge the number:). I have found myself shopping more these days, enjoying my purchases more too. My motto is to buy only what I love; what speaks to me. I find this way my purchases don’t go out of style.

I do believe in quality, especially in footwear; having many pair that last me decades. Perhaps I learned this from my Norwegian grandfather who bought timeless, quality items and was very stylish or my mother who, though money was tight, bought all our shoes at Nordstrom’s as she believed the quality of what was put on our growing feet would pay off in years to come.

I am in love with my familiar, cherished things that conjure up memories. If I wear the threads bare or the soles thin, a repair is the perfect way to extend their life. My great-uncle had a cobbler shop in Seattle many, many years ago. Such a character he was; as a child the lasting impression his turquoise rings and bolo tie left on me.

I’m with Jules; my favorite pairs are riding boots and hiking boots for the adventure I’ve lived in them. I had on a pair of 30 plus year old Italian hiking boots just this morning. Thank you for inspiring me to remember the past and be gentle in the present.

Linda R.

Your story took me back to sixty years ago walking into the cobbler's shop in my little town - I can still remember the sharp smell of leather walking into his shop ... and whenever I smell leather, the shop is the first thing that comes to mind. My favorite shoes (hiking books) are the ones my daughter just claimed as her own - she left them in a closet when she graduated 17 years ago - who knew? I brought them to her during my latest visit. Sigh. My favorite recycle is a little purse I bought at a farmers market a few years ago - gorgeous fabric - I still get compliments. The zipper finally wore out this summer. My neighbor took out the zipper, added a flap of material that sort of matches, sewed on a piece of velcro and voila - almost as good as new. I love it. My grandmother's adage: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Another time ... but good advice nonetheless.

Linda R.

whoops ... boots, not books. : )


Thanks kid I liked it a lot. Looking a lot like your old self.

Jimm Hughey

Cher Kristen, I am way behind on your posts as life has been a bit full out here in So. California. In addition to this posts about your shoes, I also read your post on 7/18/13. Reading about the concert and how you felt, I am reminded of my cher faim, Susan. It would appear that you and she have a bit in common. Not only are both of you beautiful, but she feels a lot like you do about some things. Since she is a Personal Coach, she works at setting BOUNDARIES around the wild man in her life (me)...LOL! She is a bit of an introvert and likes to have her SORTIE close when she has had enough.
By the way, we are joining you and Jean-Marc in November for the cruise. Can't wait to meet you in person.
I am the hospital pharmacist that also has had face surgery for basal cell carcinoma, having grown up in the So. CA desert.
Jimm and Susan Hughey

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