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Entries from April 2017

Metal, Bois, Fer - Meet my Belle-soeur! + Bilingual side-by-side text (new!)

Coffee tables mirrors iron wood france
Mirrors and coffee tables and a paravent, or screen, made by my belle-soeur, who is a welder, and artisan, and un amour. Read on.

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TODAY'S WORD: le fer

        : iron

le chemin de fer = railroad
le fer à repasser = iron (for shirts, slacks, etc)
le bras de fer = the game of arm-wrestling
le fer à cheval = horseshoe

Try Mastering French Vocabulary with Audio MP3


Soundfile: Listen to Jean-Marc read this French sentence

Fer. Aujourd'hui je vous présente ma soeur, un artisan qui travaille le bois et le fer.
Iron. Today I'd like to introduce you to my sister, a craftsperson who works with wood and iron.

Improve your spoken French with Pronounce it Perfectly in French or  Exercises in French Phonetics


I was wondering about how best to introduce my belle-soeur, Cécile, when a page on her website caught my eye. Clicking on it, I found a poem she wrote in place of a biography.

I took a short cut and included Google's translation of Cécile's poem. I happen to like its rough-around-the-edgesness which adds another layer of soul to the poem. The translation is clunky and not always fitting--like the wooden and metal rejects my belle-soeur rescues. So I am giving you an assignment today: find a more precise word each time you see one that just doesn't cut it and share it in the comments (link at the end of this post). Together with Cécile we will all be artisans today: word artisans and artisans tout court.

This is only an introduction. If  you would like me to share more of Cécile and her work, be sure to say so in the comments.

Note: It took time to figure out how to put in the following two-column table into this post, but it could be a helpful way to present bilingual text in the future. What do you think? I hope it shows up intact in your email (let me know in the comments at the end of post).


Fouiller les bennes,
démailler les tonnes d'acier
régurgitées par l'industrie.

Il y a l’œil qui cherche,
Qui se pose, qui dicte à la main
De prendre : là.
D'extirper de l'amas un fragment.
Le dépoussiérer, le caresser,
Le sentir du bout des doigts.
Extraire du tas enchevêtré
Des pièces non conformes, hors d'usage.

Il y a le grain et la fibre
Les tons qui se déclinent.
Il y a l'odeur qui accompagne
La main qui caresse ou qui hésite.

Sous l'écorce la patine qui éclôt.
Le mouvement chauffe la matière,
Lui offre un éclat.
Le bois respire.

L'atelier est un poumon
Qui abrite et donne le gîte.
Il y a les mains sales qui savent,
Sentent, touchent, embrassent,
Ou coupent mais apprivoisent.

Fusion des genres et matières.
Alliage des bois et des métaux.

L'intimité est en chantier.
Digging the skips,
Unravel tons of steel
Regurgitated by industry.

There is the eye that seeks,
Who arises, who dictates by hand
To take: there.
To extract a fragment from the cluster.
The dust, the caress,
Feel it with your fingertips.
Extract from the entangled pile
Non-conforming parts, out of use.

There is grain and fiber
Tones that decline.
There is the odor that accompanies
The hand that caresses or hesitates.

Under the bark the patina that hatches.
The movement heats the matter,
He offers a shine.
The wood breathes.

The workshop is a lung
Who shelters and gives the lodging.
There are dirty hands that know,
Feel, touch, embrace,
Or cut but tame.

Fusion of genres and materials.
Alloy of wood and metals.

Intimacy is under construction.



Cecile jean-marc martha charles atelier fer bois marseilles
Our special tour of Marseilles last week included a stop at Cécile's atelier, near the popular cultural Friche Belle de Mai. She is one of 10 artisans sharing this space.
Fer bois cecile paravent
Take a minute and follow my belle-soeur on Instagram. She is beginning to post pictures of her work! Click here to see a table she remade for me
Jean-marc 50
Jean-Marc turned 50 last week! Behind him, one of the mirrors Cécile made. Photo by Sandra Zirah


A bench Cécile made us, on the right. There is a much better photo of it at her website. And for any inquiries, do not hesitate to contact Cécile here:
One of Cécile's work stations. Did you enjoy meeting my sister-in-law via her poem and her work? Which pieces or phrases stood out? (I love "The workshop is a lung" "L'atelier est un poumon") Share your thoughts in the comments.


le fer = iron
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law
un paravent = a screen
un amour = a love
tout court = period, plain, simply

Stories you may have missed:
A story about my frangine, or sister-in-law, a French Robinhood


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  SABLET HOME- for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence. Click here for photos and more details.

AMAZON GIFT CARDS - for that hard-to-buy-for one on your list!

FRENCH GOURMET ITEMS - including herbs, mustard, coffee, tisane, chocolate, cakes


PARIS METRO CUFF - Unique bracelet and great gift for those who love Paris. Click here.

THE FRENCH LOVE THESE TOWELS - quick drying, good-looking


Lavender and vine tour provence france photography markets wine tastings

Experience Provence on a Lavender & Vine small group tour. Discover secret lavender fields, markets, Roman sites, private wine-tastings. Relax in a village home.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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In the face of bankruptcy : A creative solution to "resserrer les cordons de la bourse"

Phare Barbershop Dog La Ciotat France
A controversial "Salon Mixte" in our area.  Photo (c) Le Phare Barber Shop

TODAY'S WORD : resserrer

    : to close, to tighten, to strengthen

resserrer les cordons de la bourse = to spend less, to tighten the purse strings

Hear it. Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the following French sentence

Notre ville resserre les cordons de la bourse.
Our town is tightening its purse strings.

Easy French Step-by-StepEasy French is a bestseller, recommended by readers. Order a copy
And in today's story, more about Frexit and why the French--and man's best friend--will be well-coiffed by the time France leaves the EU.


by Kristi Espinasse

Will France leave the EU? It's a question many of us are asking. George Soros predicted it will happen. Frexit or no Frexit, the current economy has forced some French commerçants to come up with creative ways to keep their doors open and not shuttered and padlocked. But when the pet groomer went bankrupt and our local hair salon began catering to dogs--tongues started wagging!

Not everyone was happy about sharing shears with a sheepdog or having their hair highlighted beside a hound....

dogs in truck bed hound chihuahua, bulldog, jack russell, mexico, leashes tents
Outside our newly "mixed" hair salon, a motley crew awaits crew cuts! These four-legged clients must wait in the parking lot because a two-legged client was unwilling to sit beside a slobbering 4-legged client!
As expected, some French citizens formed "La Résistance" by opening illegal shops in their own homes. This trio (including our son Max and his grand-mère Jules) operate out of our kitchen and call themselves "The Bootlegged Barbers." Here, with the help of an electric "tondeuse à cheveux," they are assisting a young man who was shocked to find his chair at his barber's was now occupied by a 4-legger (scroll back to photo at the beginning of this post....) 

Because our family is dog friendly (we’ve shared our lives with two golden retrievers), we were not bothered by this unique--if not exactly cut-and-dry-- arrangement at our hair-cutter's. Just this morning, as I sat with a head full of tinfoil (a technique used to lighten one’s locks), the clients to my right, a couple of Hungarian Pulis, began scratching. 

"It’s the curl relaxer,” my hairdresser explained. “Time to rinse!”

Rasta fur Hungarian puli dog
Last time these two showed up at our salon they used up ALL the shampoo. The rest of us had to get by with a smelly (if hip and trendy) vinegar/baking soda lather!

I watched as the Rasta dogs trotted over to the sink, and jumped up onto the chair beside it—that's when the white-haired woman in the next seat grumbled.

“This is a salon – not a toiletteur!  

Calme-toi, Maman,” the hairdresser said, “times have changed since you ran the business. We now live in an equal opportunity society."

The hairdresser reasoned with her elderly mother: “You think you’re shocked about our furry clients. Think how upset she must have been (my hairdresser paused from lathering her mother's white hair) "...arriving in France where men and women share the public restrooms!"

I was amazed my hairdresser had read my story in our town's gazette, in a section in the back which profiles locals. Last week I wrote about the culture shock I'd gone through when moving to France. I shared the first time I walked into a unisex restroom--right past a classmate at a urinoir! This was in Lille, France, at a high school which had just welcomed our exchange program from Tempe, Arizona.)

So this is what it must feel like for my hairdresser's mother, a traditional French woman, to share her comb with a canine. I offered a sympathetic look and shared some advice that helped me all those years ago, back at the open urinal. “Il faut simplement fermer les yeux!” Just close your eyes!

And what was our surprise when every furry client in the shop closed theirs. 

As our village doyens and our village dogs learn mutual tolerance at our new and controversial "Salon Mixte," I will close this edition by sharing three facts: this was posted at midnight here in France, on est le premier avril, et c'est un poisson d'avril. Do not be fooled if you click here again.

Teckle dog
Un teckel à poil dur et sa maîtresse- patiently waiting their turns chez le coiffure? At what point in today's story did you know this was "une blague"? Let me know in the comments at the end of this post.


un commerçant = store keeper
toiletteur pour chien = dog groomer
une tondeuse à cheveux = hair clipper, hair cutter, trimmer
calme-toi = calm down
un urinoir = urinal
Il faut simplement fermer les yeux! = Just close your eyes!
un teckel à poil dur = a wire-haired dachshund
la maîtresse = mistress
une blague = joke
c'est un poisson d'avril = it's an April Fools' joke
on est le premier avril = it's April Fools' Day
chez le coiffeur = at the hairdresser's

Writing in paris
April 1st presents a rare challenge to write fiction! 
Last year's post made some readers angry enough to sign off!. The year before, and in 2013, readers simply felt sorry for me and my strange penance at the Paris Catacombs! (pictured: a rare chance I had to write in Paris, when my daughter had an internship there in 2015.)

Dog rainbow
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Le salon shopfront France Brignoles haircut beauty parlor April Fools shampoo shampooing coupe balayage hair highlights

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.