Manigances is not the word of the day, but if it were I'd tell you all about our dogs shenanigans. Instead, read about my prized neighbor, in today's column.
une ortie (or-tee)
: stinging nettle, white nettle
Faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties!
Don't push it (don't test grandma's patience!)
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
Once our golden retrievers were safely home and I'd finally claimed my husband's Forgiveness Flowers, I raced back up the hill to Annie's house. My 74-year-old neighbor lives at the edge of our north field, beside the borie-shaped well--where she had seen me chasing our dogs. I needed to let Annie know everything was okay. And I had to make sure no harm had come to her chickens!
I made my way past sky-high wildflowers, which grace the edge of Annie's place. Parting a curtain of giant yellow marguerites, I glimpsed Annie.
"Ça va, Annie?" As soon as I said it I slapped my hand over my mouth. "Oups! I haven't brushed my teeth. Better not come close to me!"
"And I haven't got any teeth!" Annie countered, smiling to prove it. We shrugged our shoulders and kissed each other through the laughter.
"J'ai un problème," I began. I told Annie about our dogs latest fugue--in which they were spotted stealing another neighbor's chickens! All chaos broke loose when yet another neighbor began ambushing the golden thieves, chasing away our dogs with grapefruit-size rocks!
"Are you kidding? They could have killed Smokey!" my son argued, when I spoke of the apology due our neighbor. It was my 18-year-old and his sister who had found our dogs, thanks to the foreign field workers (on the neighbor's property), who also filled the kids in on the drama. Using their muscular arms the Spaniards told the story of the stoning. Max pieced together the excited Spanish, and learned about the violent attack -- this time on our dogs.
"Put yourself in their shoes!" I said to Max, trying to reason with my son. "They lost three of their own animals!"
"No they didn't," Max said of the rock-throwers. "The other neighbor did!"
That's when my husband put a stop to the argument. "On va laisser ça comme ça!" We're going to leave things as they are (no one was going to go anywhere!), he said, pointing out that the neighbor had yanked one of our dog's (telephone numbered) collars off, during the ambush, and so threatened to call the police and report us. We'll settle things then, my husband seemed to be saying.
Annie listened to the drama as I recounted it. "I've got to apologize to the poor lady who lost her hens. But I'm not sure which house is hers--the three homes are so close together. What if I end up at the mad guy's house? The one who tried to kill our dogs (believing his hens were next on the menu).... It was, as the French would say, une situation très délicate.
Annie sighed, and held out her arm. "Come on, let's go have a cup of coffee."
Annie didn't have the answer, but the arm-in-arm stroll through her garden, and the drip coffee--reheated and served in mustard jars--eased my distress.
In this cozy atmosphere, I babbled on about my stubborn husband and son, as Annie shook her head, remembering aloud her own fiesty family. Soon we were laughing, even if the subject was tender as a feather (those poor chickens! I felt sick with regret!)
Rounding Annie's garden, passing by the wall of bright orange capucines and the riot of artichokes--I spotted the upturned T.V.
"Oh, Annie--you are my kind of friend!"
The old T.V. reminded me of our knob-turner from the 70s. Only, instead of getting tossed out when flat-screens came along, this T.V. ended up in the garden--as a flower pot! My eyes trailed up the tree peony that came rocketing out of the broken screen--talk about 3D!
Annie seemed a little embarrassed, and began explaining she'd run out of plant-holders, but I assured her the solution was pure genius!
Annie was tickled and it showed in her step as she tugged me along, now, to see the rest of her garden-- including rows and rows of fava and green beans. "I finally planted a potager this year," she said, and I remembered her gardener husband. How many years since he had passed? Wouldn't he be delighted to know his wife was growing things again!
"You did all of this?" I praised, and for my attention I received another excited tug. This time we were off to see the prized irises!
Those flowers were beautiful indeed, but it was the knee-high patch off to the side that really caught my eye.
Annie looked surprised by my interest. "You can have them all!"
"But don't you eat them?" I questioned, believing every French woman must have a repertoire of recipes for nettles.
"I can't stand them!" Annie admitted, "ça pique! ça pique!" She grabbed her trusty pick and motioned for me to stand back, refusing my offer to help.
Watching Annie, an old French expression trotted my mind, embarrasingly so:
Il ne faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties! (Don't shove grandma into the nettles patch!)
The lively expression caused me to smile to myself, guiltily, and when Annie turned to hand me the sack of orties, she couldn't know what I was thinking.
I was thinking about the miracle of living the French expressions I'd once only memorized from a book! I was thinking about how things only got better and better, once you stood up, dusted yourself off, and went in search of love.
I was thinking about how I was now the proud new owner of orties! Not everyone is in search of stinging nettles--not everyone finds in them a pot of gold (or a pot of vitamins, when you make soup!). But then there was a time when I wasn't in search of stinging nettles either, preferring to adorn my outside rather than adore my inside.
The more I hang with geniuses like Annie, the more I get my priorities straight. And a big priority, presently, was to go find that poor chickenless neighbor--and to apologize.
A suivre... (to be continued, click here for part 2)
The highlighted links within the post will bring you to more pictures. Simply scroll down the linked page to find them:
- Our golden retrievers - see Smokey's dad, too!
- Forgiveness bouquet - Jean-Marc is seriously good at picking wildflowers
- Borie-shaped well (you'll also see pictures of our home)
la borie = round stone hut
la marguerite = daisy
la fugue = runaway
la capucine = nasturtium
le potager = kitchen garden
les orties = stinging nettles
ça pique! = it stings!
Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone.
I planted the stinging nettles below the boulder (left). I did have a doubt... maybe they'll spread like rumors and become a nuisance! But then I'll have plenty of nutritious nettle soup one day! See 101 Uses for Stinging Nettles
Here are some wildflowers coming up in the lower field. You can just glimpse the lawn chair (right) where Aunt Geneviève rested after our family picnic, over a week ago.
If you enjoy this word and photo journal, please share it with a friend! And many thanks for reading.
A Message from Kristi: For twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.
Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. Paypal or credit card
3. 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