Hi Kristin, I lost track of French Word-a-Day years ago. Out of the blue I checked back in and, what, Jackie was all grown up and living in Colorado, what?? So I started going back through the archives to somewhat catch up. Found out about your new book-in-progress, and on a whim, signed up. I am so glad I did!! I don't think blog writers realize how wearying, over time, it is to read about their seemingly endless streams of good fortune and triumph; it is so not like real life. Well, let me just say: you are different. YOUR BOOK IS REAL. I love it so much! Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Martha, A reader from long ago
Merci, Martha! I hope your review will inspire others to read our book. It is thanks to your support that we are able to advance on this memoir--something we have wanted for a very long time.
Today's Word: contrarier
: to upset, to annoy, to vex
: to impede, frustrate
Also: contrarier un gaucher = to make a left-handed person write right-handed
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
I'll bet you thought the misunderstanding with my neighbor had something to do with fish! Surely you were thinking I tossed some rotten poisson over her fence or that I was about to ditch the stinking swordfish in her poubelle because I was too lazy to roll out the bin on garbage day! And those guesses are in line with the theme of today's story: assumptions, misunderstandings...and paranoia.
Let's go back now to the front gate, where I was about to dart across the street to throw some rotten fish into the municipal trash can. Any plans to passer inaperçu were foiled when a car pulled up to the 4-way stop. I casually waved it forward, Allez-y! Go on! But the driver did not budge....
On closer look, it was her! The woman my Mom had met last fall, who happened to live across the street. I remember coming home from my walk and seeing the two chatting there at our portillon. Being all sweaty and puant, I was not ready to meet anybody, but that didn't faze Mom who was just happy to introduce her new friend....
Not two minutes into the conversation that followed and I began to wonder (and said as much to Mom later on): Shouldn't Mom be more careful about the strangers she meets on the street?
Fast forward several months. Here she was now, the neighbor I had been avoiding. Oh, hello. You are C (name withheld) I said, having reluctantly approached the car to peer through the passenger window.
Yes, C said. Do you have a minute? There's been a misunderstanding and I need to clear things up!
Of course, I said. Why don't you park over there....
Having backed into a space in front of our house, C got out of the car and we both turned, noticing the way the vehicle was parked à travers, almost diagonal and out of the parking lines. It reminded me of how anxious both of us were to set an awkward matter straight.
Don't worry about it, I said. I know why you are here and I am very sorry about the misunderstanding, I began.
Yes, C, agreed. I believe I said something that might have made you think I was....
No worries. Here, come on in and I can explain, I said, pointing to our gate, but C hesitated.
I have been very distressed over this. Très très contrariée, C admitted, clearly upset.
Yes, I see that, and I can explain, I offered, getting right to the point: You have to understand...at the time, you were a complete stranger to us. And when you told the story of how your Aunt, the butcher, tried to poison you with un saucisson... well, it painted a vivid picture in my head!
Yes, C sympathized. I realized that later, but I was so at ease talking with your Mom. And it was at that point that you walked up. And that's the last I saw of you or Jules.... You must have thought I was nuts. I have been so upset over what you might be thinking about me! I felt so bad for such a long time, C insisted. Très très contrariée. The thought that you misunderstood me!
I feared it would take time to convince C that I'd come 'round, that I didn't harbor any more doubts about her coming from a long line of French butchers who try to slowly kill people....
I have a funny story for you, I said to C, hoping that by sharing it on sera quitte--or we would sort of be even in the What I thought you thought category...
This whole time I worried you misunderstood me too! Because you hadn't seen Jules out and about lately, I feared you thought I had locked up Mom...in the little garage behind the house! And that I was tossing bits of bread to her and not letting her meet any friends or have any fun!
C laughed. No! I never thought that! I assure you!
Mom is free to meet whomever she likes, I said. But I do think she should be careful not to invite strangers back to our home. You never know who these people are.
I agree! C said, as we hugged and kissed.
Still, I was a little irritated, or contrariée, with Mom! After all, how come C thought I didn't like her? Had Jules shared what I said--after I asked her not to?
I hurried back to the dark garage where we keep Mom (just kidding, it was a garage until we remodeled it into a beautiful studio where we have invited Mom to live!). All but grabbing Jules by the ear and rushing her to the front gate, I informed her of her visitor. And I reveled, just a bit, in catching Mom off guard--just as she catches me off guard whenever she introduces me to strangers--and that is often!
Mom surprised me--and even inspired me--by being chiche or up to meeting whomever had just stopped by. With a bright and welcoming smile she greeted C and gave her a big hug. I am so happy to see you! I have missed you!
The three of us sat down at a table in the garden, where a final misunderstanding was cleared up. Turns out Mom had never tattled on me to C. It was only my fearful thinking that made me think so.
The moral of the story is: don't wait so long to dissiper un malentendu. As for fearful thinking, we need to toss it out--continually--like stinky fish!
le poisson = fish
la poubelle = garbage
passer inaperçu = to slip past unnoticed
allez-y = go ahead
le portillon = gate
puant = stinky
à travers = across, through
un saucisson sec = dried sausage
on est quitte = we're even
chiche = to be game to do something
dissiper un malentendu = clear up a misunderstanding
My beautiful Mom, Jules. If you have a minute click here to read the story about our walk on La Voie Douce (the gentle path)...and all the strangers I meet thanks to Mom.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety