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Entries from May 2018

Escalader: the story of Mamoudou Gassama, "The Spiderman of the 18th"

French president Macron and Mamoudou Gassama
"The Spiderman of the 18th" speaks with the President. Mamoudou Gassama's selfless act awarded him more than citizenship, a job, and a bravo from the President, it has given him--and all of us--l'éspoir in humankind. Let's hope that after the media invasion, this former refugee will be left in peace--to grow and to find happiness, and, finally, a bit of rest, in France. Read about this man's bravery.

Today's word: escalader

    : to scale, to climb

Listen to Jean-Marc read the sentence below, and today's word, in French: 

Click here to listen

Filmé par des passants, l’acte spontané de Mamoudou Gassama samedi à Paris a été vu des millions de fois sur les réseaux sociaux : on le voit escalader, à mains nues et en moins de trente secondes, la façade d’un immeuble parisien pour sauver un enfant de 4 ans suspendu à un balcon au 4e étage.

Filmed by passersby, the spontaneous act of Mamoudou Gassama Saturday in Paris has been seen millions of times on social networks: we see him climb, with bare hands and in less than thirty seconds, the facade of a Parisian building to save a 4-year-old child hanging on a balcony on the 4th floor.


    by Kristi Espinasse

By Monday morning, the heroic act of Mamoudou Gassama was all over the media. In awe along with the rest of France, I sat with my coffee, in bed, reading about the 22-year-old Malian refugee who had acted on instinct to save a 4-year-old child from imminent death. In his parents' absence (the father had stepped out for a few courses, or items at the store), the petit bonhomme wandered out onto the terrace of a 5th-floor apartment...and ended up dangling from the balcony.

Mamoudou, scaling to the 5th floor...

In the 18th Arrondissement of Paris...
As a crowd gathered below, screaming in horror, the young Malian man, who had been walking past, quickly assessed the situation before springing--quite literally!--to action. Within 30 seconds he had scaled the side of the building, going from balcony to balcony--at times jumping to reach the next level. Thank God he did not miss the bar! 

Reaching the 5th floor he landed on the balcony, having swooped up the crying child. The two safe inside the apartment, Mamadou had to sit down, his legs were trembling so badly. One can imagine his emotions were every bit as shaken. He had just taken a selfless risk, and could have easily slipped to his own death. 

Mamoudou recounted the incident to journalists:

"J'ai eu peur quand j'ai sauvé l'enfant et puis on est allés dans le salon, je me suis mis à trembler, je n'arrivais plus à tenir sur mes pieds, j'ai du m'asseoir" I was afraid when I was saving the child, and then we went into the living room and I began to tremble. I could no longer stand up with my feet. I had to sit down.

Dubbed "The Spiderman of the 18th"
In a second act of bravery, this Malian refugee faced an onslaught of reporters outside the hospital, where the firefighters had taken him and the child.  

Watching the news again Monday night, I was struck by this young man's composure and ability to speak a foreign language under a barrage of questions and the blaring, flashing camera lights. 

When he woke up, Saturday morning, the man who had escaped to France only last September, could never have dreamed the start of a new week would include a visit to the guilded salon of L'Elysee, a personal bravo and a job offer by French President Macron, and the gift of French citizenship; a cadeau even more precious to a young man who had travelled from from Mali to Burkina Faso, to Nigeria, and to Libya, where he was beaten before managing to get on a boat and cross the sea to Italy. His hope was to reach somebody who could help him, he who had been displaced from a very young age. On his way, he ended up helping a child--every bit as displaced as Mamadou had been.

We wish Mamoudou bon courage and bonne continuation, especially as he faces all the attention--the good and the bad (the jealousy, the questioning, the prying)-- that comes with being thrown into the spotlight.

As for the job? If he accepts, Mamoudou will soon be working as a fireman in Paris. I think you would agree, dear reader, that he more than passes the physical fitness test! More than that, he is an example to all of us to not hold back, to protect the innocent, and to be as graceful and recongizant as he, before a media flurry--or simply life's flurry.

Mamoudou Gassama interview on RMC
"Dieu merci, je l'ai sauvé." Thank God, I saved him. "Je l’ai fait parce que c’est un enfant. J’aime beaucoup les enfants. Je n’ai pas pensé aux étages. Je n’ai pas pensé au risque." I did it because it was a child. I love children. I didn't think about all the floors. I didn't think about the risk.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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French Mothers Day + J'ai la dalle - my son keeps saying this. What does it mean?

Hammock and Smokey
Halfway in? or halfway out (like Smokey here)? To continue receiving these updates via email simply click on this link for your subscription to be automatically validated (the link takes you to the latest post).

Today's phrase: avoir la dalle

 : to be hungry

Click here to listen to the following sentence:

J'ai la dalle. J'ai la dalle. Maman, j'ai très très n'y a rien à manger dans le frigo! -Max
I'm hungry. I'm hungry. Mom, I'm really really hungry....there's nothing to eat in the fridge!


    by Kristi Espinasse

The eve of French Mothers Day, my son and daughter appeared. I had been making dinner for their father (due home from work at the wine shop in the next hour), when suddenly our omelette-for-two became an occasion to casser la croûte

As we shared scrambled eggs (my omelettes so often end up this way...) the kidults came up with ideas for Mothers Day morning:

"I'll get up early. We can have coffee together before I leave for work!" Jackie's offer conjured up a cozy garden scene, the two of us curled into chairs drinking café-au-lait, birdsong in the background.... "And we can go to the beach for a swim...." 

Not to be outdone, Max offered to take me to lunch, to Bandol, where his sister works. Talk about a perfect Mothers Day plan!

Max is 23 now and Jackie will be 21 in September
   Our kidults, Max and Jackie.

Mothers Day morning, Jean-Marc headed back to Marseilles for his Sunday shift at the cave à vin. Meantime, my daughter overslept...with just enough time to peck me on the cheek, before hurrying out the door....

Max was passed out in his bed after returning home from la boîte de nuit at 5 a.m. I'll let him sleep until 11, I thought, and then we'll head out to the restaurant. It'll be crowded in Bandol, but Max will drop me right in front of the establishment, in true Mothers Day favor!

En attendant, I decided to putter around the garden and enjoy my fête....and that's when I discovered our carport was empty. No cars! Oh, yeah, that's right: I'd forgotten the three of us are now sharing one car (ever since Max sold his, before he began his exchange program in Mexico!)

Oblivious to our stranded situation, Max lavished in his sleep while I began to wonder about lunch--and so did Smokey--my ever-accountable, always ready to celebrate 3rd child.

The restaurants in our area were booked for la Fête des Mères. I decided to décongeler a few hamburgers from the freezer. I began frying some onions.... Adding the viande hâché, and some rice, I let the ingredients cook through while collecting some salad greens from the garden beds (which are literally beds--made up of our son's old bed frame and its sliding drawers!) 

I woke my son in time to enjoy lunch out on the porch, beneath the flowering pepper tree. "It's delicious," Max said. I really love the sauce, he added.

"Those are caramelized onions with honey," I pointed out

"But, I have to tell you something, Mom...." Max said, staring into his empty plate. "J'ai la dalle!"

So that is what he had been murmuring all week, "I'm hungry!" Well, I don't feel too sorry for him. There's something called a frigo here in our house, and there's food in there. Donc, sert-toi, mon fils! 

casser la croûte = to break bread together
la boîte de nuit = nightclub
en attendant = in the meantime
décongeler = to thaw, defrost
la viande hâche = hamburger meat
j'ai la dalle = I'm hungry
le frigo = fridge
sert-toi = serve yourself
Kristi Espinasse (2)
Mon cadeau pour la fête des mères, from Max (Jackie gave me a beautiful bouquet, on American Mothers Day, a few weeks earlier)

Look at that bracelet! Max is forgiven for not taking me to the restaurant by cab, by bike (seated on the handlebars, wheee!), by piggyback, or by puce (we could've hitchhiked). This reminds me of something my belle-mère would've said, to make us all laugh. Which reminds me, encore, how much we missed Michèle-France on French Mothers Day, and every day. 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a 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.

Darling reader, I need your "dacodac"! If you want to continue receiving this homespun letter from France, action is required

That's a wasabi plant in our garden
A wasabi plant beside our fountain...

Dear Reader, please note, as of today: Inactive subscribers must be removed from my French Word-A-Day email list in order to conform to the latest GDPR internet privacy laws.

=>To be counted as an active subscriber: click on any link in today's post (this one, par exemple!) 

Today's word: dacodac

    : Okie dokie (OK) 

Click here to listen to the following: Dacodac

Dacodac. Dans la version originale d’Orange mécanique (A Clockwork Orange), le terme correspondant est doobidoob, qui n’a pas le même sens. In the original version of A Clockwork Orange, the corresponding term is doobidoob, which does not have the same meaning.

Note: I have never watched the film A Clockwork Orange. I hear it's very very scary. So are the new internet laws for publishers like me! Please read today's column and be sure to click on any link in today's letter--it's a simple way to help my automated listserver distinguish active readers from inactive readers.


    by Kristi Espinasse

Pas de panique. This French phrase has been my saving grace, recently, as internet privacy laws--concerning you and me--go into effect today! I have no idea how to parlay legalese--I have a hard enough time speaking French--but I will give you a few pointers to help you continue receiving these updates from the homefront here in La Ciotat, France.

Merci pour votre dacodac!
First a little background. My French Word-A-Day subscribers have already given their dacodac to receive these letters. More than an OK (un d'ac!), you have had to complete a double opt-in procedure (jumping through at least two hoops --by filling out a signup form and then responding to the confirmation email). 

Today, we need to go one step farther: I'm asking you to put your hand on your heart and swear--jurer--you truly want to receive my French Word-A-Day email updates, because today, May 25th, as an internet publisher I am required to prove compliance to the GDPR European General Data Protection Regulation requirements. It amounts to transparency regarding a Take No Hostages (no unwilling subscribers) approach that I have followed since beginning this journal in October of 2002. For the record, I would no more consider putting somebody on my email list, against their knowledge or will, than I would invite myself to move into their home--and beg for "cookies" while I'm there! Only, the Powers That Be (the Internet Police Task Force) do not know this, and so today I must prove I'm not a squatter! I'm not squatting your inbox, searching for "crumbs" or personal "data" while there. Imagine!

Aidez-moi! Help!
Times like this I wish I had un avocat, un comptable, a personal secretary, and Mom--to cook me a taco at lunchtime, because by then my brain will be on overdrive having tried to keep up the professional end of this homespun journal.

Good news is you can help me by being an active member of this free newsletter--which is as simple as clicking open these emails when they arrive in your inbox! 

One more thing. At the end of every newsletter of mine, you will see an unsubscribe link and a privacy link. You are free to unsubscribe anytime, and the link is instantaneous--illico presto! Now isn't that a great phrase? Do stay with me. I've got lots more words up my French sleeve!

Mille mercis all you dacodacs out there. I truly appreciate you!


un avocat = lawyer
un comptable = an accountant
illico presto = right away!
dacodac = okie dokie

Kristi Espinasse 2018
I am happiest after I've written a story, or when I am gardening.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a 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.

Deballer: Max unpacks after his exchange program in Mexico

Kristi Max Jackie Jean-Marc Espinasse family
Together again. A nouveau réunis. If you are new to this blog, you might enjoy the story of our Franco-American family, beginning when the kids were very young. Click here to order the book.

Chaque jour apporte ses cadeaux. Il ne vous reste qu'à les déballer.
Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons. Ann Ruth Schabacker

Click here to listen to the example sentence

Today's Word: déballer

    : to unpack
    : to untie
    : to reveal


    by Kristi Espinasse

It's been over a week since our 23-year-old returned from his 10-month exchange program in Léon, Mexico. Jean-Marc and I picked up Max from the Marseilles airport...with a surprise in tow: Max's best friend, Antony, was there to meet us at la sortie. (The totally unexpected encounter garnered Antony three times the hug I'd gotten, but who's counting câlins? After a week of catching up with all his vieux pots, I got my son all to myself last night. 

Hot chocolate whipped cream IKEA couches

In our PJs, robes, and other cozy add-ons--pillows, hot-chocolate, blankets and a portable phone (what jeune homme can live without one?) we lounged on just-assembled IKEA couches in our newly-remodeled living room. Jean-Marc and I had planned the entire renovation around our son's return--the work had to be done by May 15th--or no deal!) And here we were now, enjoying an evening I had imagined many times over: just hanging out, watching a good movie.

Peaky Blinders

We were actually enjoying one of Max's favorite T.V. dramas, called Peaky Blinders. He had already seen all the episodes, in Mexico, but he missed a lot of details, owing to the thick accents (Birmingham? Irish?--I don't know, I've only begun watching and I'm hooked, just as Max was!).

Max tells me the series is well into its quatrième saison. That's good news for this Mama, as there'll be dozens more opportunities to chill with my firstborn. And that's the biggest câlin I can think of.

Kristi and Max
Picture of me and Max, from the post "Unfit Mother" (Une Mère Indigne. Read it here)

la sortie = the exit
jeune homme = young man
un vieux pot = an old pal
une quatrième saison = a 4th season
le câlin = hug
Paint provence with Tess
Family picnic
Max, left, and me, in hat, at our family picnic here at home in La Ciotat. I leave you with a picture of our new kitchen and living room!

OM match
The night after Max arrived, he and his friends--and a few of Jean-Marc's--gathered to watch the Europe League soccer finals, which, by the looks on their faces (apart from Max's) got off to a bad start for Marseilles!
Kitchen and living room

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a 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.

Escapade en Lozère + A hike and a surprise encounter in Cevennes National Park

Les vaches
An all-French edition, comme ceci, caused a few of you to head for the hills last time. Relax! Even if you don't read French, tell yourself, "of the 1000 most frequently used English words, some 50 percent come from French." Well, maybe this is an exaggeration (as was that sudden exodus to the hills, or collines... speaking of which, look at the beautiful scene, above). Thanks to my belle-soeur, Cécile, for today's picture and for your pittoresque words, as in your example sentence, below, from the last line of today's story.

Today's word: accrocher

    : to hang (something) up on

Le réveil fut majestueux, comme accroché aux nuages...
The awakening was majestic, like hanging on the clouds ...

Audio File... I have a surprise for you today. Our son Max is back from Mexico. It is he who has recorded today's file. Click here to listen to it. 

Click here to listen to Max read the example sentence, with accrocher


par Cécile Espinasse

Quand les emplois du temps sont serrés, et que l´on a quand même envie de se dépayser il faut savoir anticiper ce qui n´empêches pas les belles surprises.

De longue date était prévue cette escapade en Lozère, département magnifique et sauvage situé à 200 kilomètres de Marseille.
Nous avions avec une amie très envie de faire une randonnée dans le parc national des Cévennes riche par son histoire, cette région fut notamment un maquis antifasciste durant la deuxième guerre mondiale. Superbe par son architecture de maison en pierres de schiste et de lauze, mais aussi ses forets de chênes, châtaigniers, pins maritime.

Les vaches

Nous avons choisi de parcourir pendant 5 heures une partie du chemin de Robert Louis Stevenson, écrivain écossais qui durant l´année 1878 s´aventura dans les Cévennes avec son ânesse sur 252 kilomètres.

Après avoir laissé notre voiture dans le petit village de Saint Germain de Calberte nous avons pris la direction de Saint Jean du Gard. C´est une journée printanière qui nous attendait, baignée de soleil, de nature en plein éveil et de randonneurs qui comme nous marchaient d´un pas bien décidé.

Les vaches
Pas mal d´entre eux étaient accompagné d´un âne bâté, il va sans dire que ces randonneurs partent plusieurs jours et font des étapes chaque soir dans des auberges qui les accueillent ainsi que leur monture.

Nous étions admiratives, curieuses de tout et, de temps en temps nous nous écartions de notre chemin, attirées par un bruit, une plante, un arbre, une fleur sauvage... C´est ainsi que sur un chemin de traverse nous avons entendu des cloches. Au détour d´un virage broutaient deux vaches, petites, à poils très longs. Une autre bien plus grosse était couchée et ne semblait pas perturbée par notre présence. Aucun signe d´un berger quelconque ni de chien de ferme.

Les vaches
Je restai sur mes gardes un peu en arrière tandis que mon amie s´approchait plus vaillante que moi. Après un face à face droit dans les yeux avec l´une d´elle celle ci à fait mine de charger et nous avons passé notre chemin. Faisant demi tour un peu plus loin pour récupérer notre route initiale nous devions fatalement recroiser les bêtes. Le chemin n´était pas large et bien sur prise de panique je me suis mise à courir sur le talus ce qui a fatalement provoqué la course des vaches vers nous! Une fois à l´abri avons piqué un fou rire à gorge déployée! Le danger était passé nous avons randonné paisiblement humant l´air de la foret, écoutant les oiseaux.

Le soir nous étions attendus à Saint Hilaire de Lavit, commune qui ne compte qu´une poignée d´habitants, dans une ancienne magnanerie,"La magnanerie du Serre" où l´on faisait la culture du vers à soie. La propriétaire s´occupe d´une magnifique châtaigneraie, de ses ânes, ses moutons, ses chevaux... toute seule! Accueille jusqu´a neuf personnes en chambres d´hôtes, prépare un diner végétarien délicieux et plus que copieux. Offre une part d´histoire durant le repas.

Le réveil fut majestueux, comme accroché aux nuages...

For more of Cécile's creative work check out her Facebook page, Courbes et Diagonales, where you will see her designs. Read her previous story about Vespas, here, and her Insiders' Guide Where to Swim in Marseilles 
 (but my favorite story of hers may be about the Cat Café in Marseille...)

Read these classics:
Footsteps: Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer 
Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.


se dépayser
= to experience a change of scenery
un maquis = scrubland (also: WW2 resistance movement)
une randonnée = a hike
la lauze = flagstone, shale tiles
il va sans dire  = it goes without saying
broutaient (brouter) = to graze
poils (un poil) = hair, fur
rester sur ses gardes = keep alert
faire mine de = look like, give the impression
le talus = embankment
la magnanerie = silk farm
le réveil = waking up
Les vaches

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a 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.

C'est La Fête des Meres quelque part. Somewhere, it's Mothers Day (Just not in France)

My dear Mom
My precious Mom usually puts on her makeup lying down. In a pinch, she'll do things the conventional way. What I love about this picture are all the familiar items: her fish purse, her Panama hat, her compact mirror....

Something you don't know about me: I am (superstitious is not the word) very disciplined about not working or writing on Sunday. For me, it is a day to honor God (or Mom. And by that I mean "God or Mom" and not "God, or Mom"-- an absence of a comma in the first instance is used to distinguish the difference between the two (for some people there is no difference between the two). To me, most definitely there is!  Read on, in today's letter to Mom.

Dearest Mom,
It's a rainy Sunday here in La Ciotat and I'm feeling a pang of the blues. I wish we could be together--along with Heidi, Reagan, Payne, Max, and Jackie--for one big Mothers Day bonanza with you as the guest of honor!
Please forgive me for not sending a card or a gift. The Servicio Postal Mexicano ran off with such parcels 26 years ago, when you moved to Yelapa and I, to Marseilles! And no matter what we could send you it would not express our love and gratitude for you as our Mother anymore than these words which come from my heart, and Heidi's too...seulement, like a clumsy soeurette, I've hurried ahead (time zone in France vs Denver!) to deliver the message to you first :-P

Your feet resting on the open door of the oven (turned down low, warmth in an Arizona winter) you'd put down your racy book or The Bible and pause to tell us the story about Heidi and me looking down from the clouds and choosing our parents (we even chose different Dads!). This has always been a favorite story of mine, one I tell your grandchildren. But I know, deep down, it was God who chose YOU for us, and for good reason: you have shared your faith with us, and this faith is our anchor, our sustenance--our very espoir!

This is the biggest gift of all and you are the conduit. That makes you a direct pipeline to Heaven! But there must be a more poetic image for such a loving connection: It is your Motherly arms holding us whilst God is holding you. 

No matter how far away you are you are still protecting us. Though you had a broken tin roof over your own head for the past two years, you managed to keep a solid roof over our heads. One day we will write that story together, you, me, and Heidi, and share it with the world. Ceci c'est un début.
We love you, Mom! Aside from la foi, thank you for the stories, the solid rooftops, and so much more. It would take a pipeline to the beginning of time (where those letters and packages to Mexico ended up?) to measure a Mother's generosity, most especially la tienne.


P.S. After posting yesterday's essay, several people said, including my Dad, that the woman in the story, the person I most longed to be, is you.

*    *    *
Happy Mothers Day to all who celebrate, including my dear Belle-Mère Marsha, in Seattle today--and Lynn-Lynn too (I've a few Belle-Mères up my sleeve!). We are especially thinking Michéle-France, my belle-mère extraordinaire.

seuleument = only
la soeurette = little sister, kid sister, little sis
l'espoir (m) = hope
ceci est un début = this is a beginning
la foi = faith
la tienne = yours
la belle-mère = mother-in-law, also means stepmother

Mom on wheels
A favorite picture of my fearless Mom (I know, I know, you don't capitalize "mom" in that last sentence. Here's a bumper sticker for those grammar sticklers--tack it on the back of your car (my own rides a motorcycle or a horse): "M" for Mom, period! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a 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.

Profiter de la vie

Jean-Marc wooden boat
My old man, who records the sound files for this word journal. Merci, Jean-Marc!

If only we'd stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time. -Edith Wharton
Si seulement on essayait d’arrêter d’être heureux, on pourrait peut-être profiter de la vie.

Today's Words: Profiter de la vie

    : to enjoy life

Audio File: click the words below to hear the soundfile:

Profiter de la vie


    by Kristi Espinasse

When I am old and wrinkled—well into the troisième âge—I want to race along the shores of Brittany on my Mobylette, that most groovy of French bikes with an engine!

I want to be an eccentric vieille dame. I don't want to care about what anyone thinks, as long as I am not imposing myself on their philosophie de vie. I'll ride my old bike along the seashore. I'll wear black goggles and wrap a long wool scarf, in orange potiron, around my neck. Off I'll fly, scarf ends flowing in the wind.

I'll let go of the pedals, WHEEEEEEEEE... and sing a song by Yves Montand—or a tune from Les Misérables—depending on my mood.

I'll pack a picnic with all my favoris. Inside the panier there'll be boiled eggs, anchoïade, Gratin Dauphinois, pungent cheese, a soft baguette and a flask of Earl Grey. There'll be tangerines to eat and a few squares of dark chocolate.

I'll gather delicate coquilles from the foamy seashore and tie them to my shoes. You'll hear the jingle of seashells when I pedal by.

My voice will be agreeably hoarse, not from les Gauloises or le vin but from whistling all the day long—a habit I'll have picked up at the beginning of the century, when a certain Frenchwoman cautioned: "Les femmes ne sifflent pas! Women don't whistle!" That's when I puckered up and blew another tune... and another... and then one more!

I hope to have a dear old friend, one who is much more excentrique than I. She'll dye her white hair rouge vif or aubergine. We'll tchatche about the current generation and how people need to loosen up and 'profiter un peu de la vie,' enjoy life a little, like us.

I'll say, "Pépé! Les oursins!" and my old man will return from the rocky pier where he has spent the morning hunting sea urchins. When he cracks open their coquilles, revealing the mousse-like orange roe, I will remember that real treasures don't come with a price tag.

I want to live near the seagulls so that I may slumber beneath their cries and wake up to the whoosh of the sea. I'll push myself to a stand, smooth back my white locks, adjust a faux tortoiseshell comb, and say "Dieu merci!" for another day.

Before I tuck myself into bed at night I will, once again, empty mes coquilles into an old metal cookie tin, a treasure from long ago. Looking over at my seashells, I will give thanks: my cherished, tired tin runneth over.

When this story was first written, I didn't have a dog and could not know one of the essential vital ingredients to happiness (besides my old man) in one's golden years.

French Vocabulary
Listen to the following list of French words: 
Download MP3 

le troisième âge
 = retirement
Mobylette = a particular model of moped, a vintage Mobylette
une vieille dame = a venerable lady
une philosophie (f) de vie = a life philosophy
orange potiron = pumpkin orange
favori(te) = favorite
un panier = a basket.
(m) = anchovy purée mixed with olive oil
un Gratin Dauphinois = a potato casserole with milk, butter and cheese
une coquille = a shell
la Gauloise = brand of cigarettes
le vin = wine
excentrique = eccentric
rouge vif = bright red
aubergine = eggplant purple
tchatcher = to chat (away)
le pépé = grandpa
un oursin = a sea urchin
Dieu merci = Thank God
Paint provence with Tess

We both love to putter in the garden. It's fun to collect fava beans.
Le Levant Island

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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On the positive side: after the attempted break in, getting to know the neighbors (including somebody famous!)

poissonnerie la ciotat fish on ice thon loup dorade fishmonger
We're meeting our neighbors, thanks to our local fishmonger. Read about this endearing personnage (seen in the last photo) in today's story. 

le voisin

    : neighbor

Example sentence & Sound File

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the soundfile

Quand la maison du voisin brûle, c'est ton affaire aussi 
When your neighbor's house burns down, it is your business too.


    by Kristi Espinasse

She wears miniskirts that could get her arrested, but that is not why her nom d'affection is "Bifteck." I call her this for the way she fries up steaks at home after selling fish all day (the smoke sets off the "damn combo alarm," the one that warns of fires or thieves). But especially, I call her this, for the way our loveable personnage has helped "beef up" neighbor relations around here. Her fish stand, turns out, is the local hub or old-fashioned "water-cooler," as we would say back home.

I went to her poissonnerie the day after my run-in with the intruder. "Comment ça va?" Bifteck inquired, her long blond braid embellished with an island flower.

"Ça ne va pas du tout!" I said. "Il "était là. LA! Dans ma fenêtre!!"

"Peuchère!" Bifteck hurried around her fish stand to sympathize. Next, she proceeded to tell anyone within earshot what had just happened to their very own neighbor--moi! Like this, I met a lady my age who lives down the street... (the neighbor with that oeil-de-boeuf window. I'd always wondered who lived there!). She told me two men in a camion blanc have been circling the neighborhood. The pair knocked on her door and were insistent about giving her an estimate for some roof work she did not need. 

Next, I met the biker in flip-flops and a tank top, who lives a few doors down and who never lets solicitors beyond the front gate. Holding a sack of just-bought supions, he warned, "It's often a ruse to case your home!" 

Finally I met another voisin, who looked to be around 70. "Do you know who you are talking to?" Bifteck took me aside. "He's a world-famous chef d'orchéstre. He's so kind, but a true tête en l'air !" I ran home to google my neighbor who, turns out was 90! I wondered, did he know Harry--beloved South African conductor who also lived in Provence. Harry... Maybe it's not too late to write about that dinner at my friend Cyn's in which we spent a melodious evening, huddled around her piano, Harry's fingers dancing on the keyboard.

That night is now blurring in my memory, as are the specifics of Thursday's break-in which is more and more like a bad dream. If only the police had taken fingerprints. If only some item, some piece of evidence--a glove, lighter, or God forbid a knife (Bifteck found one after her own home invasion.  The police were able to get fingerprints, catch the guy and put him in the la taule for 5 years!).

But back to Bifteck, our local fishmonger, who is the strength of our voisinage. I've been to her stand 3 times since that chilling encounter at the bedroom window, and each time she cries out the news (like all crieurs or fishmongers worth their salt). And each time, a huddle of neighbors forms around the paella, or near the tuna, or by the coquilles saint-jacques, to listen to what happened to one of their own. The solidarity that ensues is enormously reassuring. As the saying goes:

Quand la maison du voisin brûle, c'est ton affaire aussi. When the neighbor's house burns down, it's your business too!

le nom d'affection (terme d'affection) = term of affection 
le bifteck = steak
la personnage = character
la poissonnerie = fish store, fishmonger's
il était là, dans ma fenêtre! = he was there, in my window!
peuchère! = you poor thing! what a shame
un cambrioleur (une cambrioleuse) = burglar
supions = small squid
oeil-de-boeuf = bull's eye window
le camion = truck
le blanc = white
le voisin = neighbor
le chef d'orchéstre = conductor
tête en l'air = scatterbrained
la taule = slammer
le voisinage = neighborhood, vicinity

Poissonnerie fish shop fishmonger
Thank you, Jean-Marc, for these beautiful photos of our neighborhood warrior with the purple flower in her hair.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Alone & Face to face with a burglar! Seule et nez à nez avec un cambrioleur!

Golden retriever smokey
Many people wonder how would their dog react should a break-in occur. I now know the answer. This picture says it all.

Today's word is "effraction," for "break-in". The following is a sentence by sentence account of a chilling run-in with an intruder on Thursday night--while alone in my home. After you read it, I would like to know your tips on securing your home--and yourself--as I am currently obsessed with the topic.

Thursday night Jean-Marc was with friends in Marseilles, watching the European semi-final soccer match (Marseilles vs. Salzbourg). Thirty-five minutes away (by car), here in La Ciotat, I settled in for the night, with my golden retriever on the floor beside my bed. Normally, Smokey is stationed downstairs, but when I'm alone we brake the rules.

I had closed my shutters around 8 p.m. before it was dark out. Lying in bed I was watching a crime show on Youtube when I heard a noise in the kitchen. I hit the pause button on my iPad and tuned in to the downstairs area. It must be our new dishwasher, I assured myself, returning to the scary program I was watching.

I continued to watch until I heard a distinct shuffle in the room below me (a former garage now enclosed, and currently used as a storage room--accessible from our driveway). After a few more "knocking around" sounds coming from down there, I determined it was my husband who had surely changed his plans and was unloading something from his car into the store room. It was around 9 p.m.

He was making such a ruckus that I told myself it had to be Jean-Marc--as no burglar would be that loud... 

Next I heard loud scraping, as though he was moving steel furniture. What the?... The grating was getting closer and closer until, suddenly the noise shifted to the shutters beside my bed, on the 2nd floor!

Something was out there on the ledge. I wanted so badly to believe it was my husband....who had climbed up the side of the house?  I recognized the familiar screeching of our un-oiled wooden shutters. It sounded as though somebody was swinging them back and forth outside the room beside mine!

The most chilling sound came next: not a pop, not a bang, not a crash of glass--it was the sound of forcing. Instantly I knew: somebody was breaking into the next room via that window. Within seconds, via blunt force, they would be inside our house!

The next moment happened in a matter of seconds--so quickly my dog did not even react! I flew out of bed and shot right to the tiny hall that joins the two upstairs bedroom rooms. I needed to let the burglar know this house was not empty. Someone was home! I flipped on the light to announce my presence. I still wanted to believe that it was my husband, but when I turned into the room and flipped on the second light I was absolutely horrified to see a dark figure hunching beside the window trying to force it open!

I could not believe my eyes. How could this be happening?

Remembering a friend of mine who surprised an intruder in her home in Marseilles, I did exactly as she did and charged right toward the intruder! A glaring window separating us, I could not see hair or skin--only the L-shaped form which took up the window's ledge and sidewall. My fist raised, my other hand holding my mobile phone, I shouted OH! OH!

I had heard my husband bark those words in parking lots, as a car was about to back into ours. OH! OH!--two forceful grunts that signal HEY! BACK OFF! WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING!!

Those two grunts--and my fist which punched the air in front of me with each step forward--and the figure in the window startled and began to turn away. Whether it jumped or clamored back down, I do not know. But when I felt certain it was off the outside wall, I threw open the window and shouted:


Looking around, all the neighbor's shutters were closed (unlike the one in the second bedroom where I was shouting from. The shutter I had left open, earlier....). And the silence. Not one person opened a window or a door. 

I quickly shut and locked the window and began fumbling with my mobile phone. Only I couldn't manage to dial I was shaking so badly! Fumbling and fumbling my first attempt to call my husband failed. Instead, I got our old home number. I could not manage to disconnect the call in order to try another number.

Finally I re-diled and got my husband, in time to tell him what was happening. Meantime on the landline I had dialed the 3 digits--what I thought was the French equivalent of 911.( I was wrong in thinking it was "118"!)

That's it! It's "112".... 

I was now on the phone with a dispatcher, who connected me to "17" (the number I should have dialed first: the police). But I panicked during long hold in which a recording said over and over, in French "you are at the municipal police. We will be with you shortly.... It went on forever, as I kneeled down low beside my bed. No lock on my bedroom door.

Though my legs were trembling so badly, I was not that afraid anymore. I knew the burglar had run off. Still, I was too scared to go downstairs and check to see if the police were there. The minutes passed as I listened for the buzzer at our front gate. 

"I can't believe they are not here yet!" I said to Jean-Marc, who stayed with me on the line the entire time. 

"I'm now 20 minutes Cassis. I'll be there soon," my husband assured me.

Twenty minutes? What if the intruder came back? Was he still lurking around the yard? I could not bear 20 more minutes! My voice now shook along with my legs "Please don't hang up!"

Next, I was startled by the buzzer. Surely it was the police. But what if it wasn't? 

Just like the woman who had charged toward the window 20 minutes before, I did not hesitate to hurry downstairs and open the front door. In the distance, I saw three shaded figures behind the front gate.

They said nothing.

I moved closer. "C'est le police?"

Post note: It was the police, arriving 20 minutes after the emergency call--almost at the same time my husband arrived from Marseilles! They did a tour around the property with their flashlight, took no fingerprints, and were gone. I was left feeling like an old lady who had heard noises in the basement.

I still can't shake this uneasiness or the memory of the figure in the window or the cracking sound of the frame about to burst. I keep thinking, What would the intruder have done, once inside?

Thank you for sharing your knowledge with home security and self-defense, in the comments below. Any reassurance is appreciated as well! As my neighbor said, "they won't be back." I hope she is right.



Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
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You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

Cécile's New Wheels! Vespa...Guêpe...What does a wasp have to do with the Italian scooter by Piaggio? + se faire chaler

deux-roues motorscooter vespa piaggio
You see two-wheelers ("les deux-roues") everywhere in France, whether scooters, mobylettes, bicycles, or trottinettes--this compact form of transportation is one way of outwitting traffic in Marseilles and Paris. Read my belle-soeur, Cécile's, story in today's all French edition.

Today's word was supposed to be guêpe, but in a last-minute switch-a-roo, it is now the more interesting phrase "se faire chaler", which I bumped into while editing Cécile's story. 


    : to invite someone to hop on the back of your bike

Street French 1: The Best of French Slang. Easy-to-use book teaches the essentials of colloquial French. Order it here.

Audio File & Example Sentence read by Jean-Marc:

Click here to listen to the sound file

Vraie guêpe avec sa taille fine, ses flancs ronds et son moteur qui bourdonne, le scooter créé en 1946 par Piaggio revient en 2013, baptisé 946. Entre-temps, Vespa a conquis le monde. Allez. Viens. Je te chale! (except last sentence)

A true wasp with its slim body, its round sides and its motor that buzzes, the scooter created in 1946 by Piaggio returns in 2013, baptized 946. In between, Vespa has conquered the world. Go ahead. Come on! Hop on the back and I'll take you!


by Cécile Espinasse

Ça me trottait dans la tête depuis quelques temps...l'envie, avec les beaux jours, de ne plus prendre les transports en commun pour me rendre à mon atelier, et traverser la ville pour toutes ces choses du quotidiens. Bus, métro, tramway, qui sont bien pratiques évidement mais avec le soleil on a envie de prendre l´air...

Je ne rechigne pas non plus devant la marche à pieds bien au contraire, cela permet aussi de découvrir de nouvelles rues, des pépites qui nous rappellent que des trésors sont cachés un peu partout dans la ville.

Mais il faut avoir le temps, et ce n´est pas toujours le cas. L´alternative qui s´imposait s´appelle "scooter"...

ET scooter vespa deux-roues

J´ai donc commencé mes recherches sur internet avec un site français qui a beaucoup de succès, j´ai nommé "Leboncoin". Sur ce site on peut vendre ou acheter tout ce qui est possible d´imaginer et dans toute la France.

Il y a des annonces de professionnels et de particuliers. J´avais évidemment un budget maximum que je ne voulais pas dépasser mais comme mes dernières expériences remontaient à mon adolescence je me sentais un peu dépassée.

A cette époque mon frère Jean-Marc qui a un an et demi de plus que moi avait une mobylette, il était donc logique dans ma tête qu´un jour viendrait ou moi aussi j´en aurai une. Mais ma mère n´était pas très chaude et je m´impatientais...Je me retrouvais donc à me faire chaler par les amis, à l´époque c´était sur un solex. Nous n´avions pas toujours deux casques, et ma mère qui connaissait tout le monde dans le quartier et travaillait beaucoup avec sa voiture nous surprenait . La sentence était la suivante : "Chaque fois que je te vois sans un casque sur la tête, tu attends un an de plus pour avoir cette mobylette!" Autant vous dire qu´au bout de 3 fois j´ai oublié l´idée d´en avoir une... !

Bref, des années après je me sens un peu perdue, ne connaissant pas grand chose à tous ces nouveaux scooters..Si ce n´est, en avoir conduit il y a 4 ans durant mon voyage au Cambodge,où je me suis beaucoup déplacée en deux-roues.

Nous avons aussi une rue à Marseille qui est presque complètement dédiée à la vente de véhicules d´occasions, mais plus on a le choix plus on se perd, moins on y comprend quelque chose...Mais mon œil commençait à s´aiguiser et, ce qui n´avait aucune importance il y a encore quelques mois commençait a réellement captiver mon attention.

Il y avait aussi la question de l´assurance à étudier, pas simple non plus: j´ai mon permis moto, mais les nouvelles lois disent que si l´on n´a pas été assuré entre 2006 et 2011 il faut faire une remise a niveau pendant une journée dans une auto école et payer 180 euros... Je me suis donc rendue sur place pour m´inscrire, et là! quelle n´a pas été ma surprise de m´entendre dire haut et fort et sans complexes que si je voulais payer pour avoir mon attestation sans faire la remise a niveau c´était possible !Ça, c´est toutes les magouilles de Marseille. Et... je n´ai pas dit non car finalement ça m´arrangeait bien...

Cette remise a niveau je l´ai faite un dimanche avec une amie qui possède un scooter. Nous sommes partis sur son engin et j´ai pu me familiariser avec "ET" comme dans le film ! C´est le nom de son scooter qui ne ressemble pas a grand chose et qui du coup ne donne pas envie non plus d´être volé, ce qui est une grande spécialité ici...Elle m´a même précisé une technique pour ne pas se faire voler ses rétroviseurs : Elle met un bout de scotch autour pour faire croire qu ´il est déjà cassé ! Ça m´a fait beaucoup rire ! Il faut être stratégique !

Vespa PX
Vespa PX

Et puis voilà, je me suis finalement décidé pour un Vespa, ils ont toujours été à la mode, réputés pour avoir une bonne mécanique et beaucoup de style !

Du coup j´en voyais partout, je reconnaissais même le bruit bien spécifique qu´ils font ! Il y a quelques modèles vraiment mythiques genre le "PX" et les rares annonces pour ce modèles ne restaient en ligne que quelques heures, une poignée me sont passés sous le nez...

Vespa Cosa

J´ai finalement jeté mon dévolu sur un modèle, le Vespa "COSA", vendu par un particulier amoureux des vieilles mécaniques et qui m´a assuré du bon entretien de la machine. La bête a du style, démarre au quart de tour elle est robuste et nerveuse, je suis en train de l´apprivoiser. Je me méfie des voitures, et des heures de pointe, il faut rester bien vigilant mais aujourd’hui je porte un casque et des gants !

Cela fait 15 jours maintenant que ma vie a changé, que je vais au marché, à l´atelier, à la mer, chez les amis, en Vespa ! Je vais même pouvoir aller jusqu´a la Ciotat embrasser Kristin et Jean-Marc ! Le pied !


For more of Cécile's creative work check out her Facebook page, Courbes et Diagonales, where you will see her designs. 


c'est le pied!
= It's great! It's amazing!
trotter dans la tête
= to run through your mind
prendre l'air = get some fresh air, go outside, go for a walk
rechigner = to do something grudgingly
dépassé(e) = overwhelmed
se faire chaler = to invite someone to get on the back of your bike
bref = in short, anyway
autant vous dire que = and let me tell you
la magouille = scam, scheming, cheating 
passer sous le nez = to slip through one's fingers (miss an opportunity)
jeter son dévolu (sur quelque chose) = to have one's heart set on
démarrer au quart de tour = to start right up (also "to fly off the handle")

Following another successful and busy season, France Today Travels are back with a choice of five inspiring trips for Summer 2019! Learn more.

Deux-roues in collioures
A "deux-roues" in Collioures, France

Cherry red vespa in Montmartre
Cherry red Vespa at the base of a vineyard in Montmartre, Paris

Midnight blue vespa scooter in Paris
Midnight blue Vespa in Paris

Vespa scooter in aix-en-provence
Vespa scooter in Aix-en-Provence. Can you see Cécile's nephew, Max, in the background? He'll be home from Mexico in 12 days. Who counting?!!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a 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.