Previous month:
June 2019
Next month:
August 2019

Entries from July 2019

Culte: How I found out I was in a sect in France (humor)

Painting tour artistic retreat Provence France
Discover the magical light of Van Gogh this September in Provence. Join our small group with instructor Kurt Schwarz and paint in Provence during the best time of the year. Click here for tour details (picture of Jeanne LaCasse, reader of this blog and tour participant)

Today's word: un défi

    : a challenge

lancer un défi = lay down a challenge


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Note: the following (humorous) story is not intended to start a religious debate. It is to highlight just one aspect of French life. Please read it under the filter of cultural understanding! As always, this is a personal journal about my life, and one aspect of that--albeit a big one--is faith.

Mom and I went to church together for the first time in 30 years. You'll like this one, I assured Jules. That said, I warned Mom not to be alarmed when she heard the word 'culte'--it simply meant 'worship service'.

It could be, Mom surmised, that in France, a non-Catholic church is referred to as a cult.

Do you think? In any case, in English we don't use the word in the same way; cult, it seems to me, is most often associated with a group whose members have been brainwashed, or undergone un lavage de cerveau. Come to think of it, some would say as much of we believers, or nous les croyants... But that is another story and we won't get (too) religious here today--lest some of you sign off before I can secretly and methodically convert you! 

Not to worry, I am primarily here to share the French language and my life, ici dans l'Héxagone, for the past 25 years. Early on, I hoped to find a church, but I never thought it would take this long. It was a chance encounter with another marcheur (along the path I take each morning) that brought Mom and me to this tiny local just off the old port here in La Ciotat.

With all of 12 members in attendance, things went relatively well during our first visit to L'Eglise Evangélique Baptiste--apart from my singing Grace Infinie off-key, and Mom's fit of yawning (who could blame her, she doesn't understand French!) which began an hour into the culte. But by our second visit, a week later, Mom and I were in the swing of things, juggling two song books, confidently accepting the Eucharist (Ouf! It was only grape juice! wish I'd known that last week....) and having located the donation box (marked Grazie! on the side. The church's treasurer is Italian). 

We especially appreciated the young guest pastor, from l'île de la Réunion. His message on How Not to Worry and his words on positive thinking made me wish my whole family was present. So when he mentioned un défi at the end of the service, challenging us to bring one person to next Sunday's service, I began to wonder who I could invite....

Then, last night, my son and his friend Paul were here, busily making dinner. As Paul prepared homemade French fries, I sidled up to the kitchen counter and smiled. "Hey, do you want to come to church with me next week?"

Max didn't respond right away, but our frites maker chimed right in. "You go to church?" Paul seemed surprised.

"Yes. I do now! To the Baptiste Evangelique church."

"Oh..." Paul said, a sly grin on his face. Isn't that a sect?

"A sect! Paul, don't say that! No, it's not a sect! It's a Christian church." 

"Yes, well, we (French) consider it a sect," Paul said plainly.  

There followed a surreal moment in which my feet were now firmly in the shoes of every other religion on the fringes of what society deems classic, and the question begged: Did the French see me as a Jehovahs' Witness? 

Paul nodded. "Kristi, you did try to get me to come to church...your church did ask you to go out and find new members..." 

Trying to explain my denomination (Baptist? Protestant? Gospel?) to Paul via a creaky rendition of Oh Happy Day didn't work either. Paul smiled patiently, and asked, "Have you ever heard that sung in a French cathedral?"

No, admittedly. But I thought the French loved Gospel! What about all the Gospel concerts that fill up each summer? Did they consider gospel singers as part of a sect, too?

In the end, we all agreed it was a great song! And so the evening ended with Max, Paul and me belting out Oh Happy Day over a delicious plate of frites. Hallelujah for French fries and peace to all of those who's shoes we have not walked a mile in. It is better to feel empathy than to define it. I will never forget those 5 minutes in which I stood wearing, in another's eyes, a cloth that did not define me--a T-shirt market SECT. And I could see, for the first time, how things might actually look to the French, and how things could  actually feel to those on the fringes.

Further reading: In this blog's archives, check out Explaining your Religion in France


le culte = service, worship
un lavage de cerveau = a brainwash
le croyant, la croyante = believer
l'héxagone = France
le marcheur = walker
le local = room in a building 
ouf! = phew!
un défi = a challenge
une frite = french fry

Artistic retreat provence france paint lavender artist
In the opening of this post, I shared my friend Beth's ad for her painting tour. Her company, Lavender and Vine Tours to Provence, makes it easy for artists to travel, as they provide easels, stools, palettes, etc. for guests. More info and pictures of the tour here.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

French for 'to upset, annoy, frustrate or impede'...

Jackie and Breizh at our first vineyard
Jackie and beloved Breizh at Domaine Rouge-Bleu. Jean-Marc writes about our kids, who harvested with us, in his latest chapter.

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 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 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

Mom picking passiflora flowers
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.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

How to say 'minor crime' or misdemeanor' in French? And a fishy story for you today....

Municipal garbage
Is it OK to toss your trash into a neighbor's garbage can? Or into a city trash receptacle? Are there limits to this? Is it a minor offence or are your greatly offended to find another's trash...for you to manage? Read on, in the following story.

Today's word: le délit mineur

    : misdemeanor, minor offence, minor crime

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE, by Kristi Espinasse

It all began with a very fishy story--this malentendu between my neighbor and me. And how ironic that the whole matter was cleared up the day I threw out the trash.

Paused there at my front gate making sure the coast was clear, I had not imagined running into Mom's friend, who lived in a condo across the street. A week-old swordfish hidden in a sack behind my back, the idea was to avoid seeing anybody as I hurried over to the municipal garbage can to pitch the leftovers rotting in our frigo. Heaven forbid anyone would witness my stinky délit mineur (was it legal to use the public poubelle for one's private waste management? It's tricky to keep up with the garbage when the truck's already passed and you've missed the latest pick-up!).
There was no way this stinky espadon was going to sit 3 days in the back yard trash can. Recently I had come up with another option when things in our fridge perished: la poubelle municipale ! Intended for the plastic cups, cigarette packages, beer bottles and icecream wrappers the tourists sometimes tossed over our fence on their way back from the beach, this handy poubelle de rue is emptied daily. Surely I could use it for a fishy emergency?... Little did I know the Universe had an emergency of its own: to unite a couple of estranged voisines.... 
To be continued.... Sorry to have to cut the story in two. To make up for it, I've packed extra vocabulary in the first three paragraphs :-) 

le malentendu = misunderstanding
le frigo = fridge
le délit mineur = misdemeanor 
la poubelle = garbage
l'espadon (m) = swordfish
le voisin, la voisine = neighbor

Field of phacelia
We received some encouraging feedback on Chapter 6 of the vineyard memoir Jean-Marc and I are writing together. I leave you with readers comments as well as another excerpt from The Lost Gardens

[A] heart-wrenching telling of a trying period. So vividly told. I remember reading the "same" stories while you were living them, and you were similarly adept at making the period sound stressful but ultimately rewarding... --Janet

Your raw, honest account of how you really felt at this time is stunning. And your sincerity is overwhelming. This story from you and Jean-Marc , written individually in your own words, is brilliant. Looking forward to future chapters. Bravo! --Chris

CHAPTER 6 (excerpt from The Lost Gardens)

On top of our bickering about all the little details of the harvest, Jean-Marc wasn’t himself lately. As he set out in every direction to bring this whole wine project together, he was losing a lot of weight. And he was constantly on the phone. I knew he was updating friends on his various exploits at his new vineyard, as well as ringing up suppliers--whether for extra harvest buckets or to locate a needed part for the tractor he'd just learned to operate. But were all of the calls to professionals? I began to wonder. What if there was another woman? As silly as that would seem when we were alone out here among fields of grapes, it would explain my husband's unusual behavior--especially the disconnection I had felt from him lately....
Click here to order The Lost Gardens, and begin reading right away.

Kristi harvesting
Reader feedback on Chapter 6 of The Lost Gardens:

How overwhelming it must have been to know you must help and figure what was needed to help your husband on your own. It must have been a physically demanding and draining experience. Certainly, the young female harvesters couldn't escape your notice. I am glad to hear that you had a "letting go" experience. It is so important to realize that we cannot control everything. --Teri

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

s'emparer & seizing the mystery of communication from 'beyond'


I wonder if today's story is confusing or if it may sound strange? Then again, telepathy--whether with the living or the dead--is a mystery! (painting from 1880 of  our seaside town, La Ciotat, by Johan Barthold Jongkind)

Today's word: s'emparer

    : to grab, seize, take hold of

Example Sentence:
Au tournant du xxe siècle, les partisans du spiritisme s’émerveillent des progrès de la technologie et s’en emparent pour démontrer la validité de leurs thèses sur les phénomènes parapsychiques, comme la télépathie ou l’interaction avec les défunts. -Les spectres magnétiques de Thomas Alva Edison

At the turn of the twentieth century, partisans of spiritualism marvel at the progress of technology and seize it to demonstrate the validity of their theses on parapsychic phenomena, such as telepathy or interaction with the deceased.

 A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

The Other Side

During a morning swim in the sea, I begin looking for my daughter who works in one of the paillotes de plage, or beach restaurants right here along the shore. Normally, I try not to be so conspicuous when I pass by Jackie's workplace (often on foot, via the boardwalk)...but after her father nearly ran his canoe ashore while spying on her, I figure a lap or the near vicinity... is innocent enough.

Some 30 feet off shore, wearing my giant sunhat, I'm doggy paddling past the restaurant and its rows and rows of transats. Glancing over the sun chairs to the dining area, I can't see my daughter. I do see the bartender, the beach attendants, and the manager. I'm sure Jackie is working today... Why isn't she anywhere in sight? 
When next I catch sight of her and begin watching my daughter from afar, I am visited by a thought that's been on my mind lately, especially since close friends of ours are grieving the loss of their son. I wonder as they do: are the dearly departed watching us from beyond? And can they somehow communicate with us?
Being somewhat in another realm myself --I mean, far out in the seafloating--whilst my daughter is on material ground (the solid shore)--my swim provides another perspective on this afterlife mystery....
Looking to shore, I can see my dear one. She is currently unaware of my loving regard from "beyond" as she goes about her busy workday. 
Ah, she is wearing her new shorts and the restaurant's t-shirt. Is that a white bandana in her hair? I see she is sporting a ponytail today. And look at her go! She's her usual efficient self...when at work at least! 
I am now smiling from afar when suddenly my daughter pauses and her eyes scan the horizon.  Does she sense that I am out here? Oh, that gut feeling. Hers is particularly strong!
What with hundreds of tourists in the water, I easily hide behind a cluster of swimmers. It's best she does not know I am around. It will only interrupt her. And she needs to stay on track. Oh! There are some customers! Hurry, Jackie! I can see them even before my daughter does, and she suddenly turns, as if by an inkling... and greets them with that lovely smile. 
My heart swells so big that I begin to float away, along the shimmering barrier that separates us, when I see my dear girl turn once more. She is walking towards me now! 
Ouf! She is only on her way to set another table (still completely oblivious of my presence on the other side of the shore). Good. Keep going, Jackie. You are doing great! Today the restaurant, tomorrow the sky's the limit.
I'm swimming away now. I've got to let her be. Goodbye my girl. Though you can't see it--somebody, on The Other Side, is sending you good energy!
s'emparer = to grab, seize 
la paillotte = a restaurant along the beach that can be taken down at the end of the season
le transat = sunbed, deckchair
ouf! = phew!
BOOK UPDATE: THE LOST GARDENS, by Jean-Marc & Kristi Espinasse
Jean-marc and kristi around 2010
Photo of Jean-Marc and me taken midway into the first vineyard project--right when things were calming down--and just before life stirred up once again...

Reader feedback from Chapter 5 of our memoir, The Lost Gardens:

I had always wondered how you actually got going, so my thanks to Jean-Marc for the insight. I think that for me there is sense of wonder at the way you both balance your writings.  The story would not be the same if it came from a single author. Keep it up. --Mike Young

Thank you, Mike, for your note! I hope it will encourage others who have not yet bought the book, to jump in and follow our ongoing narrative about our vineyards and our struggles. 

Vineyard in Sainte Cecile les vignes

Excerpt from The Lost Gardens

At some point, I started to be disconnected from the reality since, at that point, everything I was doing ended in a positive result. This led to a lot of excess confidence which caused some big tensions between me and my wife. But since I felt certain I was right, I thought that these disagreements were not worth debating and I was sticking to my own ideas, insisting on them even when they made my wife nervous or uncomfortable as she held on to those "unstable ladders" that I climbed, two rungs at a time.

Even with no experience, I really felt like I was going to rock the wine world with the upcoming harvest, making wines which would rapidly become the most famous ones in the area... and beyond.

That was indeed my euphoric state of mind a few days before our first harvest began...and this, just one year after I had suffered from my first depression.

Click here to order The Lost Gardens, and begin reading right away.

Jean-marc t-shirt

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Oreilles, ecouter & 25 years ago tomorrow....

Town hall marriage
July 4th 1994 - For our civil ceremony, 25 years ago, we were surrounded by close friends. More about marriage, in today's chronique.... 

Two words for you today: oreilles & écouter...
(look for the translation in the quote below)

Ouvrez grand les oreilles. La meilleure chose que vous puissiez faire pour renforcer votre relation c’est de parler moins et d’écouter plus.

Open your ears. The best thing you can do to strengthen your relationship is to talk less and listen more.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

"25 Ears"

Setting out to write about our 25th marriage anniversary, I was wondering how to distill a quarter of a century into a neat and tidy blog entry...when I absentmindedly typed a title to this essay. A moment later, I noticed the coquille, or typo. Well isn't that the truth! I thought. 25 Ears is what every person needs in order for a relationship to succeed.

I don't know that success is the right word for this, either. This commitment. This partnership. This union. Success can be fleeting and nobody anticipates that when they walk down the aisle. Endurance is a better word. The verb is even more poignant: to endure.  I wonder what to endure is in French? Hang on--let me go look....

Here it is. The French word is supporter:

support, bear, endure, stand, carry, sustain....

Oh, yes! I like that for marriage! Especially the word sustain. But just what does that mean? I asked the same question, recently, in our memoir-in-progress, The Lost Gardens.  I leave you with an excerpt, below. As for distilling 25 years of marriage into a tidy post. No! It may take hundreds of pages....
I sometimes wonder what is the glue holding us together? Surely it is the wedding vows we took so seriously. Or could it be our insecurities? Our need for family? Or our fears? (Of what? Loneliness? Of making a mistake? Disappointing others?) Or is there...deep down in the depths of our souls...a Holy Grail answer? 

Perhaps as important as what keeps us together is what threatens to drive us apart. And though I have an idea or two, what if, after all, I am wrong? We are such complex things, we humans. And yet among the intertangled fibers of our hearts we all long for one and the same thing: unconditional love.

Is this why we behave so unlovably at times? Are we only testing Love's infinite waters? 

*   *   *
I spoke to my father on the telephone last night. He told me he will be happy to read our memoir when it is finished. I told him I completely understand his preference to read it straight through, and not in installments

For those of you who prefer the finished manuscript, remember just that, it will be 'finished': the finishing touches will have gone in and certain material may be taken out (like chapter 2. What was I thinking?!).

I was telling my Mom just the other day, 'Who knows, perhaps after the chapters are written we will remove my entries and let Jean-Marc's story stand alone.' One thing's sure: his chapters are flowing beautifully! Jean-Marc is gradually telling the story of what led up to his crash: the fiasco that led to this decision to sell our dream vineyard.

For those who want the unedited grits-and-all version, do not miss our book-in-progress which you can begin reading immediately. Every book sale that comes in sustains ( supports, bears, endures, stands, carries) our writing project. Mille mercis for the strength  you have given us!

Kristin and Jean-Marc Espinasse by Cynthia Gillespie-Smith
photo by Cynthia Gyllespie-Smith


Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.