Enquiquineuse: The famous French advocate who was known as a pain in the neck
Les Bienfaits de la Solitude or The Benefits of being alone

Third greatest Frenchman after Charles de Gaulle and Louis Pasteur + Charlie Chaplin's big French heart


After I began watching Invisible People (homeless interviews) a series of unusual things happened here in the sunny south of France. Our heater broke. Then it snowed. Then our water heater broke. Then our car would not start. And then our daughter's car broke down! And then I ended up all alone for two weeks.

This is not to say that you will have bad luck if you focus on the homeless. But if some of these things happen to you (if your usual comforts suddenly disappear), it is much easier to relate to the down-and-out...and to the lonely. More about the latter in the next post. For now, I want to share about another of France's bright stars. 

Abbé Pierre's "holy anger" drove him to fight for the rights of the sans-toit, those without a roof over their head.  Read about this fiery Frenchman, below, and thank you for sharing this post with a friend.

le (la) sans-abri (sahns-ahbree) noun, masculine & feminine
    : homeless person

"Sans-abri" means, literally, "without shelter"; les sans-abri = the homeless.
=> SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe) is also a term used for the homeless. Les SDF = The homeless



by Kristi Espinasse

The following post was written in 2007...

Day before yesterday, I watched and listened as the French mourned the death of their favorite personnage: l'Abbé Pierre, voted third greatest Frenchman after Charles de Gaulle and Louis Pasteur.

"Abbot Peter" was the short priest with the long beard, the white-haired legend in the black beret, the former Resistance fighter in a dark cape who now clutched a bleached wood cane.

Like his appearance, Abbé Pierre, who once broke his vow of chastity, yielding to the force of desire, was a man of contrasts. Humble and soft-spoken, he was driven by a "holy anger" and known for his passionate outbursts when speaking for the homeless. He once told Jean-Marie Le Pen to "shut up!" (Ta gueule!) after the president of the National Front implied that all of France's ills stemmed from immigration.

His beliefs were sometimes unorthodox, as he felt that priests should be able to marry, that gays should be able to adopt, and that women should be able to be ordained. Above all, Abbé Pierre believed in the homeless and their unspeakable living conditions; caring for the sans-abri would be his life's mission.

While [ex] President Chirac was said to be bouleversé* by Abbé Pierre's death, it was the thoughtful words of a homeless man that touched me the most as I listened to the midday news: "Sa mort, ça me fait plus mal que la morsure du froid," his death, it hurts me more than frostbite."

Frostbite and hunger were on Abbé Pierre's agenda, made famous in 1954 when he stole into a radio station and demanded the microphone during a live broadcast. It was a murderous winter for the homeless in Paris and an old woman had just been found frozen to death on the Boulevard de Sebastopol, an eviction notice still in her hand. Reaction to Abbé Pierre's outcry was overwhelming and the French, both rich and poor, responded with blankets, coats, heaters and money as well as with rice, pasta, bread, chocolate and canned food. Charlie Chaplin (exiled in Paris at the time and made famous for his character the "Little Tramp") handed over many thousands of francs, with the explanation "the money belongs to the vagabond I portrayed".

Abbe pierre and the ragmickers of emmaus
   (book available here)

It was in 1949 that Abbé Pierre founded the Emmaus Society with the idea to "travailler avec des pauvres pour des pauvres" to work with the poor for the poor. The poor that were to become his followers were also known as the "Ragpickers" by reason of the junk that they collected, organized and now sold in open-to-the-public warehouses throughout France. For this, Abbé Pierre was sometimes referred to as the "ragpickers' saint".

Activist for the poor for more than five decades, at 5:25 a.m. on January 22nd, at the age of 94, Abbe Pierre's light went out, when he died in Paris after being hospitalized for a lung infection. The feisty yet humble Frenchman had requested that the following words be written on his tomb:

                               "Il a essayé d'aimer." ("He Tried to Love.")

References: les sans-abri (mf) = the homeless; boulversé(e) = deeply upset


Listen to my daughter, Jackie (soundfile recoreded when she was 10 years old), pronounce today's word and read the French headlines -- from the journal "l'Orient Le Jour":
La mort de l'abbé Pierre, apôtre des sans-abri, bouleverse la France
The death of Abbot Pierre, apostle of the homeless, shatters France
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Jean-marc and son max planting cinsault at mas des brun vineyard

Meet Jean-Marc and our son Max in Texas and in Portland! 

Max and Jean-Marc will be pouring the very last US bottles of Mas des Brun and other delicious wines next December in TX and OR. If you live nearby, don't miss 
seeing them.

Houston,  TX : December 13th at 7 PM
- Winemaker Dinner at Bistro Provence13616 Memorial Drive. Tel : 713-827-8008. Reservation needed. 

Portland, OR: December 15th :
- Blackbird Wine Shop ~ Drop in tasting, 6-8 PM. 4323 NE Fremont Street
Portland OR  : December 16th :
- Pastaworks at City Market ~ Drop in Tasting, Noon - 2 PM. 735 NW 21st Avenue
- Providore Fine Foods ~ Drop in tasting, 2 30-4 30 PM. 2340 NE Sandy Blvd
The Harvest Wine Bar ~ Winemaker Dinner, 6 PM. 14559 Westlake Dr, Lake Oswego. Tel : 503-747-7263. Reservations needed
Jean-Marc Espinasse
For any questions, please call  or email Jean-Marc at [email protected]

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Words in a french life
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Le grinch
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Thanks, Kristin, for posting your story of Abbé Pierre. Much much needed, and valued, emotional and information fuel in this time of possible despair.

Nancy Stilwagen

Definitely not the homeless as the cause of your misfortunes. More likely that Mercury is retrograde. LOL! Really, it could be the Universe showing you how quickly you could become homeless. Most people are one paycheck away from that. It is a sad comment on us that we do not see the homeless as people. I hope this attitude turns around!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristi,

Thanks for sharing Abbé Pierre's story again! Incredible man!

Diane Heinecke

Thank you, Kristin, for introducing me to the video, Invisible People. It inspired me to take some cash from my private savings account and buy 100 pairs of Hanes men's white crew socks. I will visit our community's homeless shelter tomorrow and hand out two pairs to each of the men & women I meet. I'm a little nervous, but will ask God to guide me. Peace!

Kristin Espinasse

Bon courage, Diane! Cheering you on!

Dave Kapsiak

Kristin- A timely reminder for those of us with so much, rushing around trying to find gifts for the holiday. Those many less fortunate would just love a warm pace to celebrate this season.


Once again you have enlightened me - and what a story. Thank you. Sorry about you last two weeks and all the repairs you have had to do. The upside is - they will not need doing again for a long time. That is what I tell myself when I have to spend money on appliances/auto. Thank you for sharing the love the Abbott Peter shared.

Jackie Clark Mancuso

Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. I’m a big Chaplin fan. His films play a role in the new Paris-Chien adventure [plug!] out April 2018: Hudson and the Puppy: Lost in Paris.

Valerie Meluskey

Thank you so much Kristi for sharing this beautiful post and opening our hearts a little bit more. No matter what we face, connecting with the heart to the self and all others makes life more endurable. Appreciation!

Kristin Espinasse

Jackie, congratulations on your latest book! 

Vicki Armstrong

I, too ,am reading a book about a homeless man ( Breakfast at Sally's )about their amazing stories of survival sans-abri. You are right, it is a real eye-opener and makes me see differently about street people. A good lesson on how we too often stereotype people before ever trying to understand them.
thanks you for sharing your story today.

In the US, "Sally's" refers to The Salvation Army.
It's worth the read

Sue J.

Your words about l'abbe Pierre brought tears to my eyes. An amazing life. Thank you for telling us about him.


Thanks, Kristi for this reminder about the needs of others. I have a bag of groceries by my front door which I will take to my church for distribution to the farmworker families in the Salinas Valley. Our local ecumenical prayer group is praying for the successful mission of pastors who are now in Haiti taking aid to a school there. I find it is easier to make a positive difference in the lives of others when you gather with like-minded folks. I simply cannot imagine you alone.
The suspense is killing me!


Our dear Kristi,
Your post today (once again!)fills me with inspiration and gratitude for such souls as Abbe Pierre and Chaplin(I totally did not know about his generousity!)--and also once again,makes me want to help,if only in some small way,somone(s)needing help today.
Thank you for this needed reminder!
Kristi,I think the things that happened to you and Jackie are also a sign for all of us to be aware of our blessings.Doing without can be a huge reminder of just what we do have.
Natalia. XO

Judith Dunn

Kristin... your tale about Abbe Pierre was so inspiring... I have found that love and kindness must be carefully taught, just like thier opposite:hate. We are always so quick to judge others if they look a little different, walk a little different and speak a language we do not know. If only we can learn from Abbe Pierre and show some compassion to those who are less fortunate and maybe look different thanwe look. Many people's live turn on a dime, as they say. More random acts of kindness by all of us who have something to share..... I pray your story will inspire all of us to be better citizens of our own communities. We have 4 bags of clothes and two bags of household items to donate this year to the Salvation Army. Next year we will try and do more. J. Dunn


Thank you for sharing about this amazing individual. I had heard of him but didn't know much about him.


Charles de Gaulle, lol! After losing France to the Germans by ineptitude, he spent the war protected in England (ie. who saved his skin). Then riding back into Paris claiming victory for himself, after the Resistance and everyone else had won it back. He only became popular by propagating a cynical - and extremely thankless - populism. Lol.

Ken Curtis

When I lived in northern France we always loved to go to the local Emmaus warehouses. After moving there from the south coast of Turkey it allowed us to completely furnish our place in France with exceptional furniture (most of which would be called "French country antiques" in America). Emmaus are brilliant places run by exceptional people and we thoroughly enjoyed them. I knew they were founded by a special individual, but not the full story of him. Thanks for a great piece on this important facet of French history.

Patricia Sands

Thank you for reminding us of this remarkable man and the lasting legacy of his life. His philosophy and goals live on through Emmaus. Keep inspiring us!

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