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Entries from December 2015

A realization + Bon bout d'an in English

Mas-des-brun-hat

TODAY'S FRENCH WORDS: Bon bout d'an!

    : Happy end of the year!

ECOUTEZ/LISTEN to Jean-Marc pronouce these words: Download MP3 or Wav

Bon bout d'an. Il est de tradition, en Provence,  de souhaiter un "bon bout d'an"  à la fin de l'année. Happy end of the year. It is a tradition, in Provence, to wish a "good end of the year" at the end of the year.

Where to rent in FranceMAS DE PERDRIX. A home in France that artists and writers love to rent.  Work on your creative project in this inspiring environment.

 


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE....

    by Kristin Espinasse

The end of the year is quickly approaching and I ask myself the same tormenting question: What to write about? 

Instead of worrying too much about the answer, maybe I can stop and give thanks. Especially thanks to you for taking the time to read my stories. If it weren't for this journal and your readership I would not have the motivation to write. And though I still don't know if I love writing (writing which so often incarnates itself as a living, breathing pest or a mean gym coach always shouting, "One more situp!" I do enjoy the freedom that writing gives, a release from so many fragmented sentences that occupy my mind at the approach of another deadline. The worst is how most of those sentence fragments never pan out. And the story is swept back into the abyss, like a child swept out to sea

Thinking about it--all those unfinished sentences clambering in my mind--they all might go away if I changed careers in the new year! Gone would be the writing deadline, and that would be that

But isn't that the lazy man's attitude? Which brings me to the realization, finally, of why I write: because the discipline is good for me, and because, overall, writing is a positive exercise. 

I didn't mean to talk about writing, in this, the last post of the year. But doing so makes me realize.... (I was going to go on, but, on second thought, that is not a fragmented or unfinished sentence, that last one. It is a full stop answer. To fully appreciate its meaningfulness, I'll pause now and look up the definition....)

    to realize: to understand and to become aware of something.

Oui! C'est ça! 

Wishing each of you a bon bout d'an, as we say in our neck of the Provencal woods. May you realize many things in the new year! And may these awarenesses help you and help others too.

Amicalement,

Kristi

Smokey-kristi-kumquats
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COMMENTS
To comment on this post, click here or use the link at the end of this letter.


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Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
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"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

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The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Story

Village-tree
Christmas lights in our village of  St Cyr-sur-Mer


Where to rent in FranceMAS DE PERDRIX. A home in France that artists and writers love to rent.  Work on your creative project in this inspiring environment.



TODAY'S WORD: le menuisier


    : carpenter


ECOUTEZ/LISTEN: hear Jean-Marc pronounce the following sentence: 
Download MP3 or Download Wav

    Le menuisier. Le menuisier a donner à Kristi un cadeau de grand signification.
    Carpenter. The carpenter gave Kristi a meaningful gift.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE...

    by Kristin Espinasse

Today, in the seaside town of La Ciotat, I received a gift from a complete stranger after I wandered into his workshop... which turned out to be an antiques store.

"What are you looking for?" he asked with a warm welcome. But there was nothing I could think of. On my way through the shop, packed with intricately-carved armoirs and gilded mirrors, I saw a cross so forgotten that it was camouflaged right into the cold stone wall--a threshold between the showroom and the carpenter shop.

"What about this?" I said. The antiques dealer plucked up the dusty crucifix which was mounted on a threadbare wooden cross.

"I don't know," he said. "It's been here forever. Have it, it's yours.”

Tonight, I finally see the meaning in those last two lines, and I am so grateful for this gift and for the mystery behind it.




Carpenters-cross
For more photos of this cross, click here and scroll through the pictures.


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Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

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Is your work good? Truth, Chiaroscuro, and the Creative life

1-IMG_20140803_192154-EFFECTS
An artist painting at the port near our vineyard

TODAY'S FRENCH WORD: clair-obscur

    : chiaroscuro 

Chiaroscuro in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures. Similar effects in cinema and photography also are called chiaroscuro. -Wikipedia


Nov2014WHERE TO RENT IN FRANCE?

MAS DE PERDRIX. A home in France that artists and writers love to rent.  Work on your creative project in this inspiring environment.

FRANCE & MONACO: - short-term holiday rental properties throughout France.

 

ECOUTEZ /LISTEN to Jean-Marc read the following French Download MP3 or Download WAV


Nous sommes chacun de nous notre propre clair-obscur, notre propre morceau d''illusion qui essaie d'emmerger...de devenir quelque chose de solide , quelque chose de réel. We're each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion trying to emerge into something solid, something real.--Libba Bray 



A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE


    by Kristin Espinasse

Instead of dedicating an entire post to my fear of the telephone, I will tell you what happened when I ventured, recently, to answer The Ringing Boogeyman. A woman whom I had met many months ago, at the physical therapist's, spoke. "Do you know who this is?" she asked.

Strong and énoncé, I recognised the voice.

"C'est L'Artiste!" she confirmed. (No, she didn't say that, but in the interest of privacy, we'll say she did!)  

Did I remember her? came the next question. But how could I forget the petite francaise wearing head-to-toe elegance. In dramatic eye-shadow, her hair neatly styled, she told me about her passion for painting, eventually sharing with me a pressing question: just what did her latest art works evoke? What did the viewer feel--what was the spectator's true, unbiased opinion of The Artist's  paintings? Would I come over to her studio and tell her what I thought of her work?

Looking back on that day at the physical therapist's, I am struck at how--even at the age of 90, with a lifelong career in art--one still struggled with uncertainty in regards to one's work.

Fast forward now to three weeks ago. The little piece of paper with L'Artist's phone number was finally pushed under my desk calendar.  I never found the courage to be her critic. 

"I have a favor to ask," the Artist said, over the phone this time. "I have just received a catalogue from a foreign art gallery. The introduction talks about my work. But I cannot understand English. Would you be willing to come over and translate it for me?"

One week later,  a great big mutt greeted me at the gate of a secluded home. "Corsa! quit barking!" The Artist scolded. Delighted by the scene unfolding before me, I followed, awe-stricken, past the flowering garden, past the atelier, to the kitchen entrance where a place was set for me at a table that might have been a 19-century still-life. I took my place before  an espresso cup and saucer made of pottery, and a dish of marscapones. Looking around, I tried to take it all in, without appearing impolite--this place rich with style and savoir-vivre.

Above the kitchen range, a giant abstract painting in golden tones seemed to cast light across the room, to the table before me where a bowl of oranges drew my regard back to the kitchen door, where Corsa the dog wagged his body, mirroring the excitement inside of me at being in the presence of Inspiration. By now I had visited the atelier across the garden, and seen 6 foot hight paintings stacked twenty deep the entire circumfrance of the workshop. Standing there, I became aware of the artist standing behind me. That is when I remembered the original request: an honest reaction to the artist's work. But instead of reacting, I stood quietly--trying to "really see" the abstract, lively and colorful works before me.

In a disaster of consequences (my delayed reaction), the artist quickly apologized, whisking me out of the atelier, back into the kitchen--never to know my innermost thoughts, thoughts still as abstract as the canvas before me!

Settled down to work, now, at the table, I opened the art catalogue, expecting to breeze through the translation. But line after line I was tongue-tied--completely incapable of finding the French words to convey the abstract English sentences I was reading. 

That is when the artist gracefully let me of the hook. "Chiaroscuro?" she repeated, as I tried understand the unfamiliar word. "It is a term we use in art." Waving her hand, The Artist assured me she had gotten the gist of the text, and that I should not trouble myself further. But I was very troubled at having let her down as a critic and as a translator!

Later, mopey at home, the chiaroscuro term returned to me. Looking it up I happened upon the words of Libba Bray--words that would  finally, express my emotions as I stood before The Artist's latest works:

We're each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion trying to emerge into something solid, something real.

These words spoke to me. And I finally understand how a 90-year-old artist can still doubt her work, being, herself, ever in the process of emerging.


DSC_0660
             See the latest photos at my Instagram.

COMMENTS
To comment, click here.


SABLET HOME - for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence.


FLUENT FRENCH - Do you know French but have a hard time getting the words out during conversation? Click  here

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
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"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

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Monkeys, Encouragement and French

Smokey-heart-window
Smokey, illustrating today's story. Thanks for reading and sharing this post. 


TODAY'S WORD: le singe

    : monkey

ECOUTEZ/LISTENDownload MP3 file

Les singes sont bien trop bons pour que l'homme puisse descendre d'eux.
Monkeys are much too good for men to have descended from them. -Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE...

    by Kristin Espinasse

La Vie en Rose... rose as a monkey's nose!

I started my day with two swift emotional whacks. I tell you this not for sympathy, but because the alternative would be not to tell you, and then to write about something else (I'd planned to write a humorous essay about my fear of the telephone.)

Normally, I'd have gone ahead and written the light-hearted essay, just as so many of these feel-good posts have been composed:  the midst of chaos. Perhaps writing the non-story, at those times, has helped me find my way back to emotional ground zero. More likely I have written because I have sponsors and the show must go on.

But I am still the ringmaster of my life. I choose which animals jump through which hoops. Or, as a popular saying goes:

    This is my circus. These are my monkeys.

(Incidentally, it took me the longest time to figure out the meaning behind that one!) I think I get it now. Or at least as it relates to my current situation: helplessness.  I am helpless in being able to help someone I love to wholly love herself.

(The tears just burst out. So the end of the previous paragraph seems to have hit the bull's eye!)

And I am helpless in getting others to understand me (same circus, different monkey). So without going into too much detail--and to sum things up:  I woke up this morning in the same situation as most of the human race. And, seemingly, a little more helpless than the day before. But the question remains: how to pull ourselves together? How to show up for work (or school, or an appointment) in a million little tear-stained pieces? 

I was about to give you the answer when I realized I have completely misquoted the popular  "Circus - monkeys" idiom! -- which should read the exact opposite of how I've quoted it! The original words are:

    "Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

I guess I have remembered the quote in the way that it most speaks to me: All of life's problems ARE my problems. My family's problems... my friends' problems... the world's problems - these are my problems - these are my monkeys. 

The answer, then, as to how to soldier forth, is this:  Love thy monkeys! Listen to them, hold them, forgive them, assist and reassure them. And remember: you're a monkey too. So love you.

 

Smokey-lemons

COMMENTS
To comment on today's post, click here. Merci beaucoup. More photos here at Instagram

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

NEWSLETTER SIGN-UP: Has a friend forwarded you this post? Sign-up to receive your own free subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here


Tiens bon! How to say "Hang in There" in French

Nice & Serre Chevalier 029
When nature decks the halls. Photo taken in Serre Chevalier, near Briançon.

TODAY'S WORDS: TIENS BON!

    : hang in there!


ECOUTEZ / LISTEN - hear Kristi pronounce today's expression: 

Download mp3 or Download wav file

 


Nov2014WHERE TO RENT IN FRANCE? Special thanks to our longtime sponsors--Marilyn, David, and Marianne--who have been a great support to my newsletter! See their French homes, click on their highlighted links, below:

  1. MAS DE PERDRIX. A home in France that artists and writers love to rent.  Work on your creative project in this inspiring environment.
  2. FRANCE & MONACO: - short-term holiday rental properties throughout France.
  3. SABLET HOME - for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... 

by Kristin Espinasse

I have not yet put up our Sapin de Noël and I did not send off any gift packages, or colis, in the mail this year. I will get my Christmas act together, somehow. Meantime, as the specter of Conformity looms--apparently taking up residence in my tightened throat,  I take comfort in reminding myself of what this season is about. Is it really about giving presents to each other or is it about celebrating the gift we have been given?

For me, that gift is Jesus Christ, by whom the Christmas season was inspired. Having read the previous line, you are either cheering or jeering or a little nervous about the unsubscribe response to my personal journal! (Thank you for caring! A thoughtful subscribership = enough readers for me, no matter individual beliefs).  

Rassurez-vous. I did not come here to talk about religion (I know that's a pas-pas. Just as talking about climate change was a no-no...). I am here to talk about all the pressure so many are feeling during "the season." There is pressure to give and pressure to receive. If you are feeling either type of pression, I offer two powerful French words for you now:

TIENS BON!
(HANG IN THERE)

Whatever your beliefs, whatever your convictions, the best gift we can give someone (and the best we can give ourselves ) this time of year is love and acceptance. Not all of us can get our acts together. But we can offer these gifts of soulagement along with compassion and understanding (sympathy), which is what everyone wants, deep down.

With love - and many thanks for reading,

Kristi

P.S. La Prière de Sérénité
If you  feel particularly anxious or hopeless this time of year, read The Serenity Prayer in French and English. Click here

COMMENTS
To read the comments of to leave one , click here.


French Vocabulary
le sapin de noël = Christmas tree
le colis = package
rassurez-vous = take heart
la pression = pressure
le soulagement = relief

Vineyard-landscape

For the past 6 weeks Jean-Marc has been managing this project: the clearing of these fields for his future mourvèdre vines. You can see the Mediterranean Sea, in the backdrop. If all goes well Jean-Marc will plant his 4th parcel vines in March, and the baby plants will be caressed by a salty sea breeze. More photos from our vineyard on Instagram

FLUENT FRENCH - Do you know French but have a hard time getting the words out during conversation? Click  here.

EXPERIENCE PROVENCE like a local on this unforgettable small group tour. Stroll the lavender fields, shop the farmers markets, enjoy private wine-tastings. Click here for more information


Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

NEWSLETTER SIGN-UP: Has a friend forwarded you this post? Sign-up to receive your own free subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here


La Joie de L'Ame. Where to Find The Soul's Joy

Bike-in-Amsterdam
More photos from my time with Susan, here at Instagram

TODAYS WORDS:  La Joie de L'Ame

    : the soul's joy

 

ECOUTEZ / LISTEN to Jean-Marc pronounce today's French words:
Download Joie-de-ame or Download wav


    La joie de l'âme est dans l'action.
    The soul's joy lies in doing.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE...
by Kristin Espinasse

Un hommage à L'Amitié / A Tribute to Friendship

IT all began at the train station in St Cyr-sur-Mer, where I was meeting my best friend who was coming to stay the night. Passing through la salle d'attente, I noticed a box of free books, and one in particular caught my eye. A perfectly kept volume by André Maurois, author of An Art of Living. Flipping through, my eyes caught on a quote:

    The soul's joy lies in doing.
    La joie de l'ame est dans l'action.

Landing on that page was serendipitous! I sensed that quote (by Shakespeare? Shelley?) would make the next 24 hours with my meilleure amie even more meaningful. Tucking the book under my arm I hurried toward the platform where the TGV was arriving. 

As the train whirled past, windows rushing by, I glimpsed rich, strawberry blond hair and that familiar smile of Susan's - and gave chase until I caught up with the slowing carriage. 

(Now, at the rate in which I am writing this--is "narrative" a rate?--we will never finish the story in time for you to feel refreshed from the read. So I must now give chase to any poetic aspirations and get right to the point: Thank you, Rouge-Bleu!

Rouge-bleu kristi susan
With my best friend, Susan a.k.a. Rouge-Bleu at her first harvest at Rouge-Bleu, our former winery.

Susan,  I must first thank you for allowing our "best-friend code name" to be borrowed for the vineyard my family began 8 years ago. It must have been strange for you to see the friendly term we use for each other now used on logos and boxes and bottles of wine! But when Jean-Marc was searching for vineyard name, he found much inspiration in our friendship moniker "Rouge-Bleu," symbolic in so many ways.

Now, I'd like to thank you, Rouge-Bleu, for the unforgettable birthday getaway you treated me to, this weekend in Amsterdam! Staying at The Sofitel Legend Le Grand was like visiting Heaven for a day. Plush white robes in the bathroom, down-feathered beds, our own expresso machine and... heated toilet seats!! (does The Promised Land have those?). I believe the next time I have a chance to experience such comfort will be, effectivement, in Paradise!  

Busy pushing all those buttons on that fancy contraption, I overheard you calling me from the next room. "Ready, Rouge-Bleu? The driver is on his way." It was time to quit testing the curious buttons and leave that heated throne in time for the city visit you'd thoughtfully planned. And I wouldn't have to leave the warmth for long, for I went from my heated throne to a heated sedan--and the chance to see Amsterdam from the comfort of a private car!

This comfort was much appreciated, given how cold things looked outside the sedan's tinted windows, where the Dutch--bundled from head to toe--walked or biked along the canals. What a chance, this chilly time of year, to see the city via a driving tour. Our guide was named John and he was, as the French say, au top!

With John at the wheel we glided past the coffee houses, the Red Light District and the city's architectural treasures and curiosities (including the Nemo museum, a building that looks like a sinking ship). After two hours we were delivered to the front of the Anne Frank house. Seeing the line going far down the block it seemed we would wait an hour to get in... when Susan produced two passes. And, illico presto! we were inside the building, a part of which is famously known as The Hiding Place. Walking through the dark, tiny rooms where 8 people desperately hid, was an upsetting contrast to the luxury we would soon return to. How are we to act from here on out? What are we to do? 

Walking beside my best friend as we made our way down the ice-cold streets, now sans taxi, I began to sense an answer. It came partly from all the consideration Susan has shown me  throughout our friendship - and part of it came from the quote I'd stumbled across at the opening of this story: We are to keep doing. La joie de l'âme est dans l'action.  

At the end of our 24 hours together, I thanked Rouge-Bleu for the chance to get away from the daily grind here at our farm. I was hesitant to return home to my lazy ways, but I now had a thought to focus on: keep doing!  These two words will mean different things to different people. I thank my best friend for her example. 

On the ride back to the airport, we had little time to catch our flight, but Susan asked the driver to make a special stop. "I need to do this," Susan said. I'll be right back. And I watched her hurry up a cold, wet alley to snap some photos in front of a Christian youth hostel. "My sister used to work here," Susan explained. "Seeing these will make her happy."

And that is what that quote means to me: Keep doing. For your efforts will bring others happiness. Indeed, The soul's joy lies in doing!   

 

COMMENTS
To leave a comment, click here

 

Max-and-susan

 In addition to being the godmother of our son, Max, Susan is the owner of Critics Choice Vacations. One of her greatest joys is to help others realize their travel dreams. Please keep my dear "Rouge-Bleu" in mind if you need assistance with your travel plans. The following link will take you to Susan website:
https://criticschoicevacations.com/

Susan's phone: 480-831-9076
email: Susan@CriticsChoiceVacations.com

 

An-art-of-living

The author I  mentioned in the opening of today's story was André Maurois. Here is one of his books. See the reviews and let me know if you enjoyed his book, An Art of Living

SHARE THIS POST
Thank you very much for sharing these posts. I will put up more photos from Amsterdam over here. And Susan will have more in her newsletter. Contact her to be added to her mailing: 

email: Susan@CriticsChoiceVacations.com

 

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

NEWSLETTER SIGN-UP: Has a friend forwarded you this post? Sign-up to receive your own free subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here


Paris Climate Talks & how to "glaner" before Global Warming

Glaner figs


TODAY'S WORD: 
glaner (glah-nay) verb

   to pick, to gather, to glean


BONJOUR... The United Nations Climate Change Conference is well underway now in Paris. Do you think it is too late to make a difference vis-à-vis global warming? 

Reading about our earth's demise has me thinking of a little known French verb -- a verb underdog if you like.  Meet the humble Glaner ("to glean"). Given the alarming statistics on global warming (some predicting extinction of mankind in the next 100 years) we may finally be motivated to literally pick up the pieces of this mess. Certain French artists  highlighted the practice years ago--making the art of gleaning as fashionable as the art of wandering. In other words, it's time to glaner as you flâner! Please read today's story.



ECOUTEZ/LISTEN:
Listen to Jean-Marc read the following text: Download MP3 or Wav file

Quand vous ferez la moisson dans votre pays, vous ne moissonnerez pas vos champs jusqu'au bord, et vous ne glanerez pas ce qui pourra rester de votre moisson; vous laisserez tout cela au pauvre et à l'immigré. - Leviticus 23:22

When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE...
by Kristin Espinasse
 

In the dramatic opening scene of her memoir The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls is riding in the back of a New York taxi, wondering whether she has overdressed for the party to which she is headed, when she sees something that knocks the wind right out of her Park Avenue sails.

Out there on the curbside, an older woman wearing rags is rooting through a dumpster. On closer look, the garbage picker is Jeannette's own mother! 

As I read the page-turner memoir, I could only imagine how a daughter's heart seized up on seeing her intelligent, artistic, and once athletic mother resort to rooting through the trash. What had brought her to this? And, more curiously, why was the waste picker smiling?

It wasn't until I saw the fascinating documentary, The Gleaners and I (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse), by French filmmaker Agnès Varda, that I began to see this touching scene quite differently, and even to recall a few gleaning episodes of my own. Before writing about those, I will share some of the eloquent descriptions I gathered from viewers' reactions to The Gleaners:

... a wonderful documentary that reminds us of how much we produce and waste in the world and how the disenfranchised (and artistic) make use of that waste to survive... The characters Varda encounters are equally compelling and interestingly are not portrayed as whiny or blameful of others for their situations: they simply state how they live and we are left impressed with their ingenuity. (anonymous)

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when we are introduced to a wizened Chinese man in Paris living at home among a heap of dumpster gleanings. He has taken in a boarder—a happy-go-lucky black man who hunts the day long for discarded food and items that he himself will repair and give away to those less fortunate than himself. "Somebody might need this," the ragpicker says. Evenings, the Chinese man will cook up the dumpster chicken in one of the ovens that his resourceful roommate has brought home. As the men prepare to dine together, seated on crooked chairs and ever amazed by their "fortune", I have to reach over and hit the pause button. Have you ever seen such sweet faces, such sparkling eyes, than on these two lovely men who care for one another and for others? 

In another scene, we observe a clean-cut wirey man stooping here and there as he scours the market stalls in Paris at the end of market day. Here and there he pops a broken piece of celery or apple or lettuce into his mouth... "Beta carotene! Vitamin K! I'm a biology major," he explains, adding that though he earns a salary, he still needs to eat and by the way, he's vegetarian! He admits that cheese is a little more difficult to find, but there's plenty of tossed out bread. We later learn that though he holds a scientific diploma, this biologist chooses to sell papers outside the train station. In a touching "who'd have thunk it?" scene, we see the same garbage picker volunteering his time, each evening, to teach refugees English. His carefully illustrated blackboards featuring, among other objects, a handdrawn bike and its phonetic word equivalent, attest as much to his selfless and caring soul as to his professionalism and skill.    

There are several other heart-awakening moments in which Agnès Varda steadies her lens on the outcasts who in turn teach us more about the art of living than we will ever glean from the pages of any New York Times bestseller on the subject. The rag-wearing, sometimes toothless characters could write volumes on the subject. Meantime they have more meaningful pursuits: getting by, while managing to smile at life. 

As for my own dumpster days—as a priviledged child—I'd root unselfconsciously through the trash bin (one we shared with the neighbor), ever amazed at the ongoing source of riches (in this case--cans of Hamm's beer which could be recycled for cash after stomping the cans flat!). Our neighbor, a single, middle-aged woman, regularly replenished the trash bin with this blatantly underestimated source of income! I began to feel sorry about her loss, which to me related to her pocket book and not her liver health (I had no idea that all those cans equalled addiction). 

I regret losing the desire to salvage things (publicly, at least, though the occasional foray through a stranger's trash still happens), but I am grateful to live here in France, where gleaning is alive and well and rooted deeply in the culture! How many times during family outings has an uncle or a cousin or a grandma stooped to pick up a tumbled down apricot or a chestnut, or paused to uproot a lonely asparagus or a bunch of herbs from the edge of a neighbor's yard. "Have you seen what they charge for this at the markets?" my in-laws shake their heads. Soon they'll make up a fresh batch of herbs de provence--more fragrant and delicious than can be found on any supermarket aisle. 

When my husband returned from the States after his multi-city wine tour he brought me an unexpected surprise: two charming rush-bottom chairs!

"I found them in the airport parking lot," Jean-Marc explained, "beside the dumpster." I admit, if he had brought those home 15 years ago--as a consolation gift for his two week absence, I might have been hugely disappointed! Nowadays, I don't want the ill-fitting T-shirt that he had quickly rung up at a pricy airport trap shop. (I'd rather have a couple of bars of chocolate, or, in this case, some adorable chairs!) 

Each time I look at the chairs, I feel the same kind of affection one feels when looking at some of the characters in Agnès Varda's documentary. They are quirky. They are imperfect. They are charming. They are lovely. And, as one of the men in the film said, "they are needed."

 

COMMENTS
I would love to read your thoughts on today's post and the subject of gleaning as one idea to freiner or put the breaks on global warming. Click here to comment



Gleaners-and-i

    - To see a preview of this wonderful film, click here.
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Film maker Agnes Varda turns her camera lenses toward modern day gleaners--the poor, the dispossessed, the ecologically aware and the alienated--to paint a new but still somewhat romantic image of those follow along behind the parade of life, picking through its remains. - Jean E. Pouliot

I enjoyed seeing parts of France not normally seen on the screen or by tourists. In fact in some ways this documentary could serve as a kind of travelog so widely does Varda and her camera travel about the French countryside and cities. - Dennis Littrell

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