aimant + How to be a Chick Magnet + recipe
Spit, wrinkles and my braless hairdresser

Flâner: Francophiles love this word (and so do the French)

Brasserie le bolero in Marseille near old port

A stroll through Marseilles, some cheesy characters, a faulty ego and a sack of steel? De quoi faire une histoire amusante. All you need for an entertaining story!

flâner (flah-nay)

    : (to walk) to stroll, wander
    : (to do nothing) to laze, idle, lounge about

These flâner definitions are as charming as the word itself: to amble, lounge, lollygag, to traipse, sashay, drift... May they carry you away to a delightful place today!

Also le flâneur/la flâneuse = idler, lounger

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

Flaneur for a Day

When Jean-Marc mentioned he had some deliveries in Marseilles, Tuesday, I hitched a ride with him to the city. I had administrative paperwork to take care of, and was grateful the American Consulate could accommodate this last-minute ride share, by penciling me in!

"But I'll have to drop you off early," Jean-Marc warned. "An hour before the consulate opens."

That wouldn't be a problem, I assured my husband, happy not to have to drive or find parking in centre ville. There was only one little pépin, or glitch, to this free ride: I'd be sharing it with a carload of wine and a gigantic surfboard! 

"C'est la planche à voile de Pierre..." Jean-Marc explained, as he lifted the bars beside the armrest so I could crawl to the seat. Crammed in with the board on one side and the bars on the other, my breath suddenly shortened and I sensed a panic attack coming on, years after keeping anxieties at bay. It was time to refocus. Seated there in a sort of windsurfing vise, I reasoned: this is indeed another absurd situation--one only my husband could create!--but it would make for a good story, eventually. Now sit tight!

In Marseilles I learned that absurdity is in the eye of the beholder. Currently beholding a 6 pound set of steel balls, I huffed and puffed carrying out an errand Jean-Marc had given me ("In your spare time, please stop by Fred's office. He has a gift for Max....")

It was the least I could do, deliver Godfather's present to my son. I just wished I had known, beforehand, what was in the package (a set of bocce balls!). I could then have adjusted my planning--and done the pick-up after my hour-long stroll up and down the streets of Marseilles, from Rue Breteuil to the Vieux Port and back to the consulate to catch my ride home.

Then again, those heavy steel balls (or boules or pétanque balls as they are called here) were a kind of carte blanche in the city, opening many doors and opportunities....

Standing in front of Les Arcenaulx, a favorite artsy spot (you can have tea in a room full of books! and then visit the art gallery upstairs). For years I have enjoyed peeping in beyond the great doors, to the escalier lined with old mailboxes--each with a character all her own!

No sooner had I arrived, a three-kilo sack of steel balls dangling from my side, then the gaggle of old ladies in the entry quickly cleared! I now had an unobstructed view of les boîtes à lettres! As the women sent surreptitious glances, I snapped away.

mailboxes - les arcenaulx (c) Kristin Espinasse

Now, a little farther down the square, when I spotted a couple of construction workers in a third-story window, I didn't hesitate to ask for their photo. 

And when they balked, I smiled, lifting my little bag of boules. Photo? or a game of pétanque? With that, they chuckled, hamming it up:

  construction workers in marseille
Then they turned the tables--asking me for my photo! As they pulled out their smartphones I smiled up at them, feeling very small, wondering how gray were my temples, how thin was my skin? It was painful standing there like that, until I let go of my ego just as these two strangers had. 

Beaming from the unexpected exchange, I hugged my camera and package close, and wondered where the lucky charms would lead next.

After strolling past the friendly fishmongers lined up along the Vieux Port (and enjoying the school children who squealed seeing the octopus and other splashing fish on display), I needed a rest. The pétanque balls were heavier than ever and it felt good to set them down on the café table at La Samaritaine--my mom's favorite café, and an institution in Marseilles! 

Seated just inside the front door, I had a wonderful view of the Ferris wheel--and more memories of Mom came flooding back (how she dreams of riding the "Paris Wheel" as she calls the Ferris wheels of France, no matter where they are).

Ferris wheel in marseilles

Lost in a tender rêverie, the waiter's voice was startling to me. "Boules?" he questioned, the appreciation written across his face was unmistakable.

"Oh, they belong to my son," I said, wishing for a wittier response.

And when it came time to pay the bill, the clever response came (only it came from the waiter):

"Voici, Mademoiselle!"

Touché! The mademoiselle remark did wonders for the spirit, young as ever--no matter the weather! (And for his compliment, the waiter got a big tip and who cares whether he was honest!)

Watching the waiter erase the ardoise, or menu board, and add the day's special, I knew it was l'heure: "time," as the French say. Time to go meet my husband. But not without a great sigh of appreciation. The morning stroll through old Marseilles was enough to refuel this creative wagon and its sometimes overserious passenger....

...which brings me back to the car ride and the reminder that the day's voyage had begun with such absurdity! Come to think of it, that's an awfully unfriendly word for what is nothing more than innovation on my husband's part! And creativity leads to more creativity until, before you know it, you are floating through a new experience buoyed by exciting new characters--your heart soaring so high it might pop, but for a handy sack of steel balls to keep you safely grounded.

la planche à voile = windsurf board
un escalier = stairs
la boîte à lettres = mailbox
c'est l'heure = it's time

son Max playing boules or petanque

Delivered Fred's present to his godson, Max--who immediately put the boules or pétanque balls to good use :-)

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Tea, books and art; what more could one ask for? Yet it seems you enjoyed much more that day, with the nice people you encountered along the way. Well Except for the snooty women. They were just jealous because you could carry the heavy balls.

Tim Averill

Lauren and Gary and Lou and I never travel without our boules de pétanque, and you are right: they open a lot of doors and conversations! Our last visit to Marseilles was on a day so hot that the only refuge was sitting at a cafe where mist machines provided minimal relief. Our trip to the art museum (with an ulterior motive) revealed that air conditioning was not part of the cultural plan in Marseilles.
Thanks for sharing!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
I love the word "flâner" and maybe I'll try it out today! We just bought a pétanque set down in Charleston as a gift for our son's birthday this month. We had a set that we bought in Belgium but somehow it got lost in all the moves. I love the photo of the mailboxes and Max looks like he is enjoying his gift!

Ellen (in East Granby, CT)

Thank you Kristin, for the second reminder I have had this week to be open to life instead of overwhelmed by it. So glad I read your post first thing this morning.


I learned the word flâner as a teenager from the charming song "Le temps du muguet":

Il est revenu, le temps du muguet,
Comme un vieil ami retrouvé.
Il est revenu flâner le long du quai,
Jusqu'au banc où je t'attendais.

For thos who don't know it, you'll find it on YouTube, sung by Francis Lemarque and many others after him. The tune is that of a Russian folk song.

24/7 in France

France is such a great place to "flaner!!


I vividly remember my trip to the Consulate in Marseille. surviving the traffic, finding parking. I'd gladly accept a ride crammed in with a surf board! On subsequent trips I've been able to be more of a flaneur. As for the boules, you only needed to be carrying three so I have some sympathy for the extra ones. But as Tim noted, having boules ready for an impromptu game or fun exchange with les mecs seems quite reasonable to us.


Max looks just like his père now!! This is a beautiful article, Kristin!

Jan  Hersh

How pleasant to be a voyeur to a mademoiselle flaneur!
Adventure is open to those who open their minds!

Cynthia Gillespie-Smith

Marseille gets a lot of bad press, but it truly is a splendid city. Sounds as if it refueled your imagination, gave you a little window on another way of life, and offered opportunities for fun photos and mini-conversations. But only because you were open to it, Kristi!


Hi Kristen
Found your blog through Adrienne's nouvellette about Paris and Nice. Enjoy practising my French with your articles as I prepare to travel to the South of France soon. I see Laura's book listed on your site, will be staying at one of her and Frank's rentals in Magny des Villers. Love your book!

Diane Young

What a wonderful adventure - time to "flaner". Your blogs bring so much pleasure to us voyagers who are beginning the Third Age. Nice to get a pleasant report on Marseille. And Max is positively a younger Jean-Marc! Le printemps a arrive enfin ici au Floride. Tres formidable!

Patricia Sands

I love being a flaneuse anywhere in France! Your photo of the mailboxes is a great capture.


What a delightful stroll in my native town I miss a lot since I "emigrated" to the Var !! I always appreciated Jeanne Laffitte, that wonderful bookshop with a kind of tea-room, in that very interesting district, very close to the Vieux-Port, full of Restaurants, etc... !
Just 2 things : "rue Breteuil" - not Breteuille and... la SamaritainE.
I love that Café too.
But there was... a certain time ago (!) a famous and huge Café, just in front of the Vieux-Port, called Le Cintra, with a wonderful sight over the boats, the 2 "Forts" and the marinas. When I lived there, we were used, my family and me, to come and watch the fireworks for July, 14th, seated there and sipping some delicious stuff at night !
Autres temps, autres mœurs..!

And please forgive my mistakes...

Chris Allin

Lovely story, Kristin~


Our dear Kristi,
What (another!) wonderful post and pictures!
You have totally captured my imagination!
Love the word flaneur(ghost images here of Balzac and his notebook!)
Thanks to your inspiration,I am setting out to follow your example today!
Kristi,we are so privileged to be part of your life.Your stories bring words to life
and make us all happy participants.
Love,Natalia XO

judi dunn be in la France, anywhere, requires
the art of 'flaner' flaner properly, one must be OPEN to adventure.... as one never knows where the stroll may take them...We cannot wait till August 6th, when we will be in Paris , then the Dordogne for a month, doing nothing but practicing the 'art of flaner' which I think needs a touch of the 'je ne sais quoi' while drifting or relaxing.... Judi Dunn , Tallahassee, Fl. PS le temps parfait....


Darling Kristi,

Loved todays post…lets spend the night in Marseilles when I come to visit. I want to ride that Paris-Wheel…and drink Pastis with my old waiter friend at la SamaritainE - oh, the memories of my favorite city in the whole world. I´ll bet I spent a year daydreaming about having a boat to live on at View Port.

Funny, I had the same kind of day as you today - left the house at 7 a.m. with a big smile on my face and one great surprise after another entered into my day. Can´t wait to share those kind of days again with you.

Love your mailbox photo - wish I could have seen the photo the carpenters took of you because your description of yourself was spot-on. Loved the way you freed yourself from your bonds (is that the right word???)

Max is the most beautiful man in the whole wide world!!!! Please show him this sentence…he will laugh.





Thanks again for transporting me to your wonderful world of words. Whenever I read what you write, I feel as if I am right there with you---such a gift! Thank you for your words!!!

Nancy, San Antonio, Texas

Lovely! Makes me want to buy a plane ticket and go to M. Just received my copy of your new book and am really enjoying it. So glad you wrote it. Thanks for sharing your magical life.

Dawn Johnson

I drag out my Pétanque set whenever we have a family barbecue. It helps me to feel a little more French. I loved the photo of the mailboxes. Ironically, I received my copy of France magazine the same day. When I opened it that afternoon, lo and behold, another photo of the same mailboxes! I am hoping to get there this October.

Julia ~ Falling Off Bicycles

I was in Marseille last week! I would have loved to meet up and wander with you. Next time...

John Wm. Schiffeler

Why has the circumflex not included in "le flaneur/la flaneuse = idler, lounger"?

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks for the correction, John. Off to fix it....

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend, if you are reading this :-)

Susan Souza

I just finished this chapter in your book and I am so enjoying keep writing please.


Hi Kristen,

As always I loved your post. Makes me nostalgic of the time I lived in Toulon as a teenager. Max looks like a natural with his new boules. Makes me happy to see this generation keeping alive such a historic pastime. Avec plaisir et a la prochaine.


catharine ewart-touzot

just like everyone else you bring me back to my days in France..I also have been married to a Frenchman 19 years but the difference in our ages and stages of life make our lives very different ....nevertheless your stories certainly remind me how different my life would be had I chosen to stay in a lovely job with your writing, your pictures , your children and your husband...and Kristin stop the concern ref gray..if it is there it is lovely.

Betty Doolittle Tuininga

I too would love to be a "flaneuese" anywhere in France. Was not familiar with the word until taking a course for my MA in art history when I had the opportunity to study Impressionism and the flaneur. Really quite delightful even for this abstract artist. It really gave me insight into the life of 19th century Paris...I do think I would skip carrying the "boules"

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