Coursier: Delivering my dog's tumor to the post office...
S'esclaffer: Never do this alone in France

Mois & May in France: two things to know

Muguet or lily of the valley for May 1st in France or premier mai en france. (c) Kristin Espinasse

Friday is May 1st. Be prepared by reading about the Muguet tradition : Click here or here. And many thanks to the writer Mary Ellen Gallagher, whose thoughtful notes and research inspired today's post. 

le mois (mwah)

    : month

ça fait des mois
= it's been months
arrondir ses fins de mois =
to supplement one's income
tous les trente-six du mois = rarely, once in a blue moon

Listen to Jean-Marc read this French sentence: 
Download MP3 or Wav

Le premier mai on donne du muguet et, pour certains, mai, c'est le Mois de Marie.
On May 1st we offer Lily of the Valley and, for some, May is the Month of Mary.

Tita-coverToday we have the pleasure of reading an excerpt from Marie Houzelle's novel " Tita." Marie and I met at The Paris Writer's workshop four summers ago and I am inspired by her success ever since she rode off on her bike that last day of school. The following story gives many helpful insights into French life and a certain May tradition. Enjoy, and merci beaucoup, Marie!

an extract from Marie Houzelle’s novel Tita

“At ten past eight, (my sister) Coralie and I hang our baskets around our necks and go to the garden to choose our flowers. Peonies, dahlias, sweet peas, narcissi. Mother said we can take only those that are completely open, and where at least one or two petals have started shriveling. I snip off the whole blossom… and we pull the petals off into our baskets. Then, intoxicated by the surfeit of scents, the sharp red ones, the acid yellow, the many shades of pink, the quiet white, we stand among the rose bushes, fingering the supple membranes, the soft shallow cups, warm from the afternoon sun.

Soon the organ starts and we’re all on the move again, for the procession. In front, four choirboys carry a statue of the Virgin Mary, and we follow… reciting the rosary as we walk, one Our Father, ten Hail Mary’s and again, five times, while the organ punctuates our prayers with crisp cheerful chords. After each decade of the rosary, the bearers stop in front of a different side chapel, where incense burns and lights shine on the statue. Then, as the rest of us pass the chapel, singing, we throw our petals to the Virgin. I so love to sing, I tend to get carried away and not pay attention to what I’m doing. But we need to be careful: there are five decades, five stops in front of chapels, and it doesn’t look good if we spend all our petals too soon and then have nothing to throw but air.

For each stop there’s a different hymn but in between chapels we go back to C’est le mois de Marie, where Mary’s compare to the spring, to a lily (pure), a violet (humble) and a rose (loving). During the last decade, the Virgin is taken to the middle of the chancel, and everybody faces her to recite her litany. In Latin, not in French… The Latin invocations sound so much more thrilling: Rosa mystica, Turris eburnea, Domus aurea … as if ivory, gold, morning were burned into the Virgin’s substance. The Latin, the sweet scents, the songs waft me above the ground, and I seem to swing there, light and swift. Giddy.

Our baskets are empty now, so we can skip and romp through the narrow winding street around the church and into the avenue, greeted as we pass by the many older people who sit in cafes, or on benches and chairs outside their houses, enjoying the fresh air and the action. Among the adults, all but a few devout women eschew the Mois de Marie ceremonies, which take place around the usual dinner time. But at nine thirty, when we children walk home, the whole population of the town is out.

*    *    *
To comment on Marie Houzelle's story, or some of the thoughts it sparked--about traditions, childhood, family, church or France--click here

Marie Houzelle 

Marie Houzelle is the author of No Sex Last Noon (I Want Press). Her stories and poems have appeared in Serre-Feuilles, Pharos, Orbis, Van Gogh’s Ear, Narrative Magazine, and the collection BEST PARIS STORIES. She lives in Ivry, just outside Paris, with her bicycle.

Tita’s Glossary

C’est le mois de Marie This is the month of Mary. So begins a hymn that continues “it’s the most beautiful month, to the blessed Virgin, let’s give a new song.” May has long been linked with the Virgin. Special month-long ceremonies started in Rome in the 18th century and, through the Jesuits, spread all over Italy and France. The word May comes from Latin Maius [mensis], “month of Maia”. Maia was an Italic goddess of spring, warmth and fertility.

Tita by Marie Houzelle

In Houzelle's first novel, Tita is a seven-year-old girl growing up in the south of France in the 1950s whose life seems to be defined by obstacles: the many foods that disgust her, the school that fails to challenge her, and parents who struggle to understand her. Tita is precocious and clever, but in some ways painfully inept. She is thoughtful but frail obsessed with rules and rituals, and determined to understand the nuances. Through Houzelle's sharp, straightforward prose (which captures Tita's perspective), the story of how Tita grows takes center stage. She learns the alternatives to those things that have held her back or held her down. She challenges social strictures that she feels are meaningless. She battles her mother to get what she wants, and when sometimes that turns out to be the wrong decision, she acknowledges it. At the novel's end, Tita is still a little girl, but her brilliance, potential, and unusual way of looking at the world will have won readers over. --Publishers Weekly

Click here to order Tita, in paperback. Or you can directly download it here, to read the e-book.

An outtake from this morning's photograph-the-lilies session. One of our lilies is blurred but the other, "Smokey of the Valley", is clearly doing well and will get his stitches out on Thursday. Smokey's test results will be back in one week. To comment, click here.


"Father and Son." And on April 23rd, Jean-Marc and Max planted 5 rows, or 100 vines, of cinsault in front of the little cabanon. These grapes will make a small reserved wine to have with friends and family. To comment, click here.


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