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Un Matou + A Most Unusual and Creative Concept for Cat Adoption in Marseilles: Café "Le Coin des Chat'Mis"

The hidden Provencal estate where I learned the words, "Pour vivre heureux vivons cachés"

Casa abril provencale bergerie architecture France pastoral
One week ago we were walking in the countryside around Flavia and Fabrice's historic domain, where we enjoyed a traditional French meal with some Brazilian sizzle!

Today's word: les ailes

    : wings

une aile = a wing

Click here to listen to les ailes and the following quote

Les paroles sont comme des oeufs : à peine écloses, elles ont des ailes. -Proverbe malgache
Words are like eggs: when they are hatched they have wings. -Malagazy proverb


    by Kristi Espinasse

It was a wonderful day, Jean-Marc said, remembering lunch at Flavia and Fabrice's last Sunday. If only my husband would continue that thought--and write the rest of this compte-rendu! The tricky thing, you see, about recounting your life in an online journal is knowing where to draw the privacy line--especially when writing about friends. But with my friends' blessing, I'll now share about an inspiring afternoon in the countryside near Aix.

...Entering the Franco-Brazilian couple's country home, I had the urge to take photos. Instead, I hung mes affaires on a carved hook, and tucked my smartphone (and its lens) inside my purse. After all, I didn't know Flavia and Fabrice well enough to take such photo-op liberties. Even if this was lunch at my sister's (it wasn't) I would not splash her life all over the internet--at least not without her permission.

Bref, it was thanks to my sister that this reunion with Flavia (who I'd met over 25 years ago at a wedding) came about. Flavia's son was going to Denver for an internship, so Flavia contacted me to see if I could put her in touch with my sister, Heidi, who lives in the same city....

By the time we walked into Flavia and Fabrice's library last Sunday, for the champagne apéro, I was kicking myself. Talk about a photo op! The entire length of one wall held a fitted antique bookcase and built-in fireplace with its carved mantel.  The fire below crackled as it might in an 18th-century novel (indeed, leatherbound books lined the paneled bookcase. Photos graced the shelves as well, offering a sentimental history of the family who lived here.

Fabrice and flavia gite house rental in provence near aix-en-provence
Fabrice and Flavia

After meeting at Berkeley and living for years in Sao Paulo, les jeunes mariés decided to move to France and into Fabrice's family home, which had been empty for decades. The young couple threw open the shutters, dusted off more than a few tables and chairs, and went about reviving the historic, memory-filled domain (Flavia and Fabrice were married there, years before) of 400 hectares, including family vineyards and wild thyme-scented garrigue. 

I took a seat on a long leather couch which faced several fauteuils, their carved feet reflecting the beauty of the piano in the background. 

"The piano doesn't work!" Flavia insisted, "but it is useful." Our hostess demonstrated by setting down a silver candleholder, a gift from Sylvie and Jean-Charles who had come up from Marseilles to join us for lunch. As we greeted les Marseillais, that awkward new-acquaintance feel quickly fell away and soon we were chatting passionately with the friends of our friends. Sylvie, a dentist, created an unusual concept for a French dental office: she put in a large window behind which her sterilization room is visible to clients. What a novelty in France! (My first French dental appointment was in a private home in Lille. I could smell dinner cooking in the next room while my dentist drilled my tooth...not bothering to first numb the area. Surprisingly it did not hurt, unlike a story--which can suffer when you wander off track....)

Back to Flavia and Fabrice's. It was now time for le dejeuner. By the time we followed our host, Fabrice, past a maze of rooms, past the sunny Provençale kitchen with its cast-iron cooker, to the dining room with its arched ceiling of stones, we were moving on to the meat of our conversation (as well as the meat of our Sunday meal!: wild sanglier--compliments of a local hunter. Flavia admitted her family receives a lot of "gifts" like this, and I could relate, having lived on two vineyards and having received more than a fair share of wild pig, rabbit, and even a feathery pheasant).

Back to the meat of our conversation, for me it was the moment Sylvie's husband, Jean-Charles, shared a quote that summarized the challenge I'd felt, up to here, about writing: 

In French we say, "Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés." Hearing the wise and sobering quote, I felt a familiar pinch.  Deep down I know a peaceful life is a private life.

"To live happily, live hidden" the words were immediately relatable, but it took on even more meaning when I returned home, to look it up. Turns out those are the last line in a famous fable, "Le Grillon," by Florian. Here briefly is the story:

A little cricket is lamenting his sort as he watches a magnificent butterfly go from flower to flower. Admiring the purple and gold of her showy wings, the cricket complains about his rather ordinary face and lowly existence...when next he sees a group of children chase after the butterfly. Grabbing at its wings, its head, and its body, the crowd accidentally tears the butterfly apart. The little cricket is stunned and promises never to want to live in the limelight, like the poor butterfly.

Jean-Charles, pointed out that in France, the French are careful not to be showy. They don't talk about their salaries or their possessions...or too much about their private life. They don't talk too much about themselves because... Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés! To live happily, live hidden. Or, said in another way, Great honors are great burdens.

To bring this essay full-circle, the fable helps to explain the pros and cons behind writing about the high notes or private notes of this French life. And so I said to myself on the way home from an idyllic lunch, I'm not going to write about this. I mean how would Flavia and Fabrice feel about me describing their library or their kitchen--their private home! A while later, still restless, I remembered my sister's words. "Kristi, you worry too much! You just have to trust yourself."

Finally, there is someone else a writer must trust each time she writes a story: the reader. Without such trust you will put your stories in a drawer and lock them up forever, there beside your wings.

Now what would the little cricket say to that?

le compte-rendu = report
mes affaires = my things
bref = in short
un apéro = a drink before a meal, usually with hors d'oeuvres
les jeunes mariés = the young married couple
le fauteuil  = armchair
le sanglier = wild boar
Gites location apartments for rent in the provencale countryside
Thank you, Flavia and Fabrice, for providing some photos to illustrate this post, and for being such graceful and lovable hosts! 

Pictured above is "La Bergerie" - one of the rentals on Flavia and Fabrice's property (30 drive from Aix-en-Provence or Marseilles). Flavia writes, "If ever you have any friend looking for a rental in Provence I will be more than happy to send them info with pictures." For those who would like more information on this rental, leave a message in the comments and I will forward your request to Flavia :-)

Butterfly in st cyr les lecques france mediterranean sea

Whenever I read your blog I am moved emotionally. I feel the people that respond to your blog also add to the experience. 
-Kathy from Phoenix.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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With modern social media, it is often a difficult question of how much to share. I'm on the side of sharing life with one another but I always ask "is it OK to post this?" And I'm pretty aggressive in taking photos, but asking. I can count on one hand the number of times someone said "no." Sometimes as a tourist, I take photos surreptitiously (or try to!). Once in Aix-en-Provence I took a few photos with a telephoto lens from afar of one of those roaming parties for a bride-to-be. The bride-to-be and many of her friends dress up and go from place-to-place, stopping along the way to ask passersby questions. Perhaps a story on that some time Kristi. Anyway, this time I was spotted and the bride-to-be insisted I join the group for a photo. The result was a memorable photo of me amongst a large group of costumed women on the Cours Mirabeau.


Fabbo blog. You have embraced France with insight and sensitivity and a delightful degree of refreshing frankness. I find French people, contrary to traditional interpretation, don’t mind if you cross over a few personal and social boundaries
One chap said to me that pour vivre cache on dois vivre heureux also prevents jealousy!
With very best wishes,

Julie Farrar

While I won't completely disagree with your quotation, I have to say it explains a lot about why it is so hard to make friends in France. The French are not unfriendly, but it is difficult to feel like you can just shoot a text to one you just met and BOOM you're having lunch. On the other hand, on my last extended stay in France I met an American at a language meet up and we had lunch, dinner, told our life stories (surprise! he's adopted, just like my two children), and had planned an all-day road trip that will have to wait until this summer because I got sick the week of our planned adventure. But there are French people I'm friendly with but don't even know what they do for a living.

Keith Van Sickle

Before living in France, I lived in Switzerland, where people are even more private and less showy. It was said that you could be sitting next to someone on a park bench and that person could be either rich or barely scraping by and you wouldn't know it by looking at them.


If you lock up your wings then you never have the possibility of soaring.

Nyla Witmore

I have to disagree to some extent. There is a difference in being bragging and showy and being exhuberant and happy when something good happens. If sharing makes others around you joyful and happy for you, you know they are your real friends. If that “sharing” person is sensitive to others around them who may be going through s tough time, of course they will hold back. But if you share your good fortune by including others and also sharing the fruits of that good fortune , you can turn turn someone else’s life around or help them believe that they too can have a good life.

Gail Accuardi

Dear kristi,
The book by James Hollis, 'Living an examined life' sounds like a good book for many of us who enjoy learning and believe in the great gifts of differences among all of us. Viva la difference I believe is one of France's delightful sayings. We learn so much from our differences and we need people to talk about them and of course, write about them. Brava for you. Good subject. G

Lee Isbell

Your dentist without anesthesia sparked an old memory (back when I was an impoverished college student, so you know that was a long time ago). I had a painful cavity and went into the dental school at the university for a low-priced solution. It must have been a semester break, because I got the head prof. He drilled without anesthesia and credited his knowledge of toothly and rootly anatomy for avoiding the nerve. No pain. I kept him as my dentist for that short period in my life,

Kristine, Dallas

All I can say is Praise God you're an American in France- otherwise we'd never see or learn about the very private, non-showy French! :)

Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)

Sounds like a wonderful afternoon. I, too, struggle with what and how to reveal myself on social forums and refused to do so for many, many years. I still have mixed feelings, but do recognise that a positive has been the contacts from all around the world that I otherwise would not have made. Whilst this seems obvious, I feel a degree of friendship, despite having never met, that I wouldn't have thought possible. Still, my instinct is to vivre plutôt caché.

Wanda Sobran

Dear Kristi , I just simply love & your writing ! My husband I spend 2-3 months in France every year for the last 22 years . My husband Greg Sobran is an artist who makes a living from his paintings , the French is the most important . Bref , we would love to have Flavia
Info . Would also love to meet you one day !
We spend much time in Menerbe .
God bless you with peace & health .
Kindly , Wanda Sobran


And the Cricket would say “ Thank you Kristi, for trusting your reader and reminding us to stay humble while appreciating the beauty in our personal private lives!”

Your writing takes me to the estate, the library, the lunch and now I must Visit these rentals...soon.
BRAVA Kristi.
Please forward the information.
Merci Beaucoup

Bud Frawley

Dear Kristi,

Getting back to Provence one more time would be wonderful. Please help to satisfy my wanderlust by sending info on Flavio and Fabrice's estate.


Bud Frawley


Our dear Kristi,
Another wonderful post making us feel treasured for being able to share in your life,including such a wonderful afternoon with dear friends(who now seem like our friends,too!)and such gorgeous surroundings.
In all these years of reading your blog,I never once remember you crossing boundaries of privacy or lacking in kindness.No matter how trying the circumstances might be, there are encouraging words for all,particularly those who need it most.
We leave you feeling uplifted and looking forward to the next chapter.
Natalia XO


Aah Kristi, your reflections on the dilemma of where one draws the line when writing seems to be a common one. After all inspiration most naturally comes from the world in which one lives, and speculation of ideas and lessons grow from that. Perhaps the words of Anais Nin will provide a perspective: "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect." After all, why does one need to write but to make meaning from ones personal world as well as to entertain an audience. What a gift that is. Local journalist Richard Glover comes to mind who has been writing a humorous weekly article for several years sharing his perspective on life which includes reference to his world, which includes his wife, Jocasta, and sons Batboy and Space Cadet. His humour, derived everyday events make one raise such events to something special. As an audience I relish having the opportunity of reflecting on my own world through the ideas of writers like yourself, Richard a Glover, and others. I do so enjoy looking through your window, Kristi and "seeing" Jean Marc, Fabrice and Flavia and others (with their cooperation of course)as they enrich the everyday.

Barb Michels

Enjoyed your lovely story as I pictured you having your repas. While in Alsace I one had "marcasin" (wild boar). Is this the same as your sanglier?

Christine Cormack

One of your best columns Kristi! Keep writing.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristi,

I love the front of Flavia and Flavice's home! So pretty!

Philip Hicks

Yes, I would like to have the link to F&F's rental property. We have a favorite place near Barbentane, but this might be a place to include in our next trip. I've loved following your blog since your visit to the US many years ago. I worked at Ravenswood winery and helped with your connection to Rochioli. Sorry to have missed your events in the SF Bay Area.

Judy Feldman

Regarding writing and reading, I just read a great book by Colum McCamm called “Let the Great World Spin.” In an interview at the end of the book, he says, “There is the act of creative reading, and writing is more about a reader’s imagination than anything else. A book is completed only when it is finished by a reader.”

Just to let you know that we all appreciate your wonderful writing, which makes its reading so pleasurable!

Carole Fitzgerald

Hi Kristi , loved this story . yes I would love info on Flavia and Fabrice,s rental. sorry for the lack of capitals, typing this with one hand after an operation with plastic surgery to remove a squamous cell carcinoma last week. its in a cast from fingertips to elbow .love your writing on your blog and your books . are you having doubts about your writing future I hope not as I enjoy it so. take care love from oz carole fitzgerald

Briony Jones

The butterfly gorgeous and uplifting is translated into birdsong. The cricket itself advertises its presence with summer zither song. Playing our part includes and demands showing ourselves for who we are so I cannot subscribe to the ultra careful premise of the the fable.... As always a post worth reading and with food for thought. Thankyou!

Deborah G Page

A lovely account of your visit, and as always so considerate of others. Four years ago we rented the house in Sablet, based on the link in your blog, and it was wonderful. I would love to have information about this one also. Very best regards, Deborah

Carolyn R. Chase

Your photo of the country home is just how I pictured the Assoulines' house in the country which is featured in
"Portrait of a Woman in White" by Susan Winkle. What a surprise to open your post and see it there.

K. J. Laramie

Your sweet sensitivity makes me feel honored to know you ... and your ability to share just the right amount is Magnifique!

Joan Miller

Thank you for your lovely story and fable. So sad! Joan


Thank you for sharing with us your glimpse into the world of your friends. I do believe that by sharing something pleasant and inspiring with others, we enrich their worldview. That said, having been raised in a family that values privacy, I continue to grapple with how much I 'should' share or feel comfortable sharing with others online. A few readers who left comments above mentioned that the private nature of French people often makes it challenging to get to know them. In my experience, that is a case not only with French people but with New Zealanders, who tend to be private and quiet. Since moving to NZ 10 months ago, I have met many people but the ones whom I call 'friends' are Canadian expats.

Alice Halliday

Hi Kristie
Our son is a musician and often speaks of the Aix Festival. With this in mind and the wonderful couple and their environment you have written about, it would be lovely to have their contact details just in case we can go to the Festival in Aix this year. Every year I have hoped to go!
Yes, to live happily is to live hidden - or could this also be humbly? The good things in life are often hidden and require discovering!

diane rincones hess

Just catching up with your wonderful blog. Yes please would love the information on rental

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