A Deeply Meaningful French Word

A Christmas story filled with French words

Pointu boats in Bandol, decorated in Christmas lights (c) Kristin Espinasse at

I have a little gift for you today. The gift of language. Today's word of the day--make that "words" of the day, for there are many here--is in the story below. You'll also learn about this photo--snapped December 19th in the town of Bandol.

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

Driving round and round the seaside town of Bandol, I heard a faint mumbling beneath my breath: 

"But of course there's no parking--everyone's set out to do their gift shopping just like you!"

Stalled at yet another crosswalk, herds of shoppers passing by my car, coats and purses scraping against my headlights, I looked up at the giant Santa. He seemed as troubled as I (just look at those eyes!).

Claras war

Troubled and nervous! With the rain pouring down on my windshield, I proceeded to the next stop--and yet another crosswalk. It was tricky to see the pedestrians--given their knack for appearing from behind dark corners and landing in the middle of the street! 

With stress and frustration mounting, I had an urge to peel out of traffic and head for a quiet place to wait things out. I had one hour until my daughter's school bus arrived. Instead of using it wisely (to hunt for presents), I could use it indulgently (to pout!).

Now was a good time for a pep talk!

Look, there's a fishing and tackle store! You'd never have seen it if it weren't for this parking dilemma! You're sure to find something for Jean-Marc in there... One less thing to worry about! See what happens when you consider the bright side of things? GOOD happens!

My emotions jumped from despair to the very heady feeling I had now--that of espoir! Hope born of humility--for isn't that how it works? Put aside doubt (Will I ever find a gift?) and pride (And not just any gift--the perfect gift!) and intolerance (why am I not finding parking NOW)--and experience grace!

Grace indeed! Not only did a parking spot appear, but so did a peaceful and inspiring scene! I locked my car door and hurried over to the dock, just a few feet away, to snap a photo of some old fishing boats. Pointus! Their little masts were lined with Christmas lights.

The scene! And the colors! That blue, that gold. It was right out of a Van Gogh Starry Night painting.

I pulled my new Smartphone out of my coat pocket and approached the line of boats. Clicking on the camera app I knew chances were slim, this time, that a grumpy homeowner would pop out of one of those port windows and scold me for filming

With my umbrella teetering on my shoulder, my hands were free to take several pictures before turning toward the boutique-lined streets, opposite the port.

My former cares had completely fallen away as I marched down the street to collect Jean-Marc's gift. I still had no idea what the gift was, but felt confident of finding it in the tackle shop I'd spotted while stuck in traffic. And to think what a pathetic doubter I'd been! All it had taken was a slight tweak to my attitude. How well I'd handled that! How wise I had become! 

Rounding the corner I stopped dead in my hi-falutin' tracks. Oh no! The tackle store was closed!

C'est pas vrai! Now what to do? That old familiar grumbling returned, a little more colorful than before--as echoed in the words of the grumpy shoppers who passed me by: "@$#! Why are shops closing at 5pm, days before Christmas?!"

 Yes! Dagnabbit! Why indeed? Now what was *I* to do?

As I stared at the cobblestone pavement, watching puddles form where pavers were missing, a little inkling came along--hoppity hop hop--like a one-legged bird.

The little inkling said: "Excuse me, Mam, but maybe you need to retake The Test?"

"The Test?"

"Yes, Mam," Little Inkling said, reaching for the toe of my boot to balance his one-legged self. "See, so far it's been easy. You remembered to slow down, to breathe. You readjusted your attitude. You gleefully snapped up that parking spot and enjoyed the impressionistic scene just beyond it... but somewhere between there and here you--if you don't mind my saying--somewhere along the line you got a little sidetracked.


I thought back to all those shoppers I'd skipped past... and that smug feeling I had at being the one person around here who knew just where she was headed! How impatient I'd become when that slowpoke (the one back there with the sagging bonnet and cane) dawdled in front of the chemiserie, blocking my way to the tackle store! 

A tackle store that was now closed! Shoot! If I'd only sped it up a bit, I'd have made it in time!

"No!" said Little Inkling, hopping excitedly around my foot. "That's not the answer."

"Well, what IS the answer?" 

As Little Inkling and I stood debating, the one towering over the other, SlowPoke--with her saggy bonnet and noisy cane--had eclipsed us! She hobbled up the street, the picture of perseverance.

Looking back down to Mr. Inkling, I laughed. "Well, I thought I'd learned to trust in the outcome. But now that this store is closed, it's true--I'm riddled with doubt again! How will I ever finish my Christmas shopping on time? I guess now's the real test--to trust another opportunity will soon appear."

(Here, Little Inkling cleared his throat...)

"Oh yes," I remembered, "And, meantime, to be patient with others along the way!"

"Très bien!" the little one-footed creature said. And, turning his beak up the path, my eyes followed his gesture until I saw a glowing light in the quincaillerie, or hardware store.

"Aha! I have just the idea for Jean-Marc! Oh, thank you, Little Inkling! Thank you!"

I hurried up the street, pausing cautiously at the crosswalk. As I stood looking left, right, and left again, ever the prudent American, someone leaped off the curb from behind me, landing right in the middle of the street!

I shook my head in appreciation, watching as SlowPoke traversed the rue, just like any French pedestrian worth her salt. Crippled or not, they sure know how to stop traffic!

Post note: the names of the characters in today's story have been changed, in respect of their privacy. But I can share with you their professions:

  • "Little Inkling" is a spokesperson for the non-profit "A Fish's Rights!" (spends his weeknights in front of the tackle shop, distracting would-be shoppers!).
  • "SlowPoke"-- she's a B-movie stuntwoman and a seamstress at the chemisier. 
  • The character known as "Kristin" goes by "The Birthday Girl" in real life--or at least on Sunday--when she'll turn 46! 

All three wayward souls wish you happy holidays--may the coming week bring you peace and joy! Thank you for reading and for all the encouragement you have sent me in 2013. I hope these stories encourage you, too.


la quincaillerie = hardware store
l'espoir = hope
un pointu = classic Mediterranean fishing boat
c'est pas vrai! = No way!
la chemiserie = shirt shop

Listen to A French Christmas and "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 


Picture taken up the street from the tack shop. My perfect birthday gift would be for all those chairs to be filled with those who read and enjoy this blog! Let's see about a meet-up here, in the new year!

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