Previous month:
March 2020
Next month:
May 2020

Entries from April 2020

Our mystery guest + le cafoutche = The "everything room" in France

Our cafoutche store room
Up till now, the best part of our cafoutche was the view. More about a few sweet and savory projects in today's missive. Thank you for reading and sharing this post with a friend!

Today's Word: cafoutche

  : storage room, cupboard

AUDIO FILE: click here to listen to the following quote in French

Cafoutche: De l’occitan cafoucho synonyme de cahute. A Marseille il désigne un petit placard où l’on met de tout et de rien. Peut désigner la cave, aussi bien qu’une petite pièce fermée ou un débarras. Cafoutche: from Occitan cafoucho synonymous with hut. In Marseille this designates a small closet where you put everything and nothing. May refer to the cellar, as well as a small closed room or storage room.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Not only is our guest on the mend, she is mending! Helping, that is, to fix everything from a punctual petit creux to our unruly store room--insisting all the while, ça fait du bien de travailler. What a positive way to look at work--as something that makes us feel better! I know this is true with my writing which I often put off to a later date, making the restlessness worse and stifling the atmosphere!

Rimbaud once wrote: La vie fleurit par le travail.

Life here is flourishing at the moment thanks to our accidental helper. My belle-soeur Cécile (our guest...had you guessed?) has been busy in the kitchen, making both savory and sweet tarts. So far she has made une tarte aux épinards, une tarte aux aspèrges, and two tartes aux fraises given it is strawberry and asparagus season here in France. Using her friend Jérome's recette, which calls for white wine and sunflower oil, ma belle-soeur made the most delicious crust I have ever tasted--so good I think I could eat just the crust for lunch! 

Between delicious meals, Cécile is eager to help us with le nettoyage de printemps. It's hard to stand by while my belle-soeur is sweeping our front and back porches, so I grab the dustpan and je mets la main à la pâte (which is more reasonable than putting my hand back in the pâte, or pie crust, no matter how addictive it is...).

Done sweeping, my belle-soeur has now offered to help reorganize our cafoutche, that room where the French put everything from tools to cat food--every machin-truc that does not have a home. Cécile, being a welder and furniture maker, is not only familiar with the bits-and-bobs that I cannot identify--from méches (a piece you attach to a drill, they come in many sizes...) to équerres--she will be able to make one of those organizational boards where we can hang all our tools! I can't wait to be able to see everything! To find a hammer and a nail when I need it!

Cords  chains old door
Before putting up the wonder board I've been wishing for, to organize all our tools, we made use of the back of the old door--arranging all the cords, wires, ropes, and chains there. Everthing by theme, everything in its place! Chaque chose à sa place.

As we begin the task of sorting through the rest, piling everything on top of the ping-pong table for easier viewing, dear Smokey appears, wagging his tail, and Jules is not far behind. Noticing all the activity, all the flourishing, Mom is full of praise:

"Cécile--we are never going to let you go!"

No way we're letting my belle-soeur go! Hors de question! I can think of a few more projects we could do together...plant a potato patch, make obelisks for the garden...oh, and we still need that pie crust recipe!

Speaking of tarts, having finished this story I'm now going to sneak down to the kitchen to see about the banana pie from last night. Bye just now and remember, work is good for the soul and pie tastes best after a good sweat. (Lots of sweating in writing...chiseling words from the brain is hard labor!)

    *    *    *

le petit creux = the munchies, a little hunger
ça fait du bien de travailler = it feels good to work
la belle-soeur = sister-in-law, step-sister
une tarte = a tart 
...aux épinards = with spinach
...aux aspèrges = with asparagus
...aux fraises = with strawberries
la recette = recipe
mettre la main à la pâte = to join in, to pitch in
le machin-truc = thingamajig
chaque chose à sa place = everything in its place
une méche = drill bit (also a lock of wavy hair, which a drill bit resembles)
une équerre = flat angle bracket, shelf bracket
hors de question = out of the question

Reverse Dictionary
On the mend = en voie de guérison
to put off = remettre à  plus tard, repousser
Banana pie
Ouf! J'ai bien galéré. Whew! What a struggle today's post was from beginning to end--owing to a few technical glitches at the blog, which have all been sorted out. Now to sort out that banana pie! Bye-bye!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Prenez soin de vous + Take care of your French with a dozen more words

A gift from our guest: dried cyclamen, a ballet of expressive flowers!

Today's Expression: Prenez soin de vous

    : take care of yourself (plural: yourselves)

Audio file: Click here to listen to today's phrase in French and English

by Kristi Espinasse

Someone close to us, someone young and strong, had an accident--une chute while alone at home-- followed by a trip to ER for some points!

The emotional and physical scars are there, but our bien-aimé is here with us now and will stay in time to recover from the choc. Today's short entry is a reminder to you and me to continue to check in with those who are living alone. Which of our friends are on their own? Which family members? Which colleagues? Have you seen the post lady lately?

Big, strong, young? Grand, fort, jeune? Don't forget to check on these ones! Check on everyone. Self-check. Vérifie!

I am off to check on our guest, who somehow managed--between the ER and here--to pack a bunch of goodies for us to share at the table: gingembre, poireaux, citrons, oranges--les agrumes--which have since been added to soup and put into a simple cake. The house is now smelling spicey and delicious, a comfort to all. 

Thank you for reading these weekly chronicles and in-so-doing checking in on me! Be sure to prenez soin de vous. 


une chute = a fall
points (point de suture) = stitches
le bien aimé = beloved, loved one
le choc = shock
grand = big
fort = strong
jeune = young
le gingembre = ginger
le poireau = leek
le citron = lemon
un agrume = citrus fruit
prenez soin de vous
amicalement = yours
Smokey April 23
Prenez soin de vous. Take care of yourself. Here in La Ciotat, we are drying out after 3 days of rain. The sun feels so good! 

Sunshine  hen  parasol

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Etonner and a big surprise on Easter morning

Garden april 2020
Our up-n-coming Victory Garden--where I hang out (and try to chill) when I'm not bossing everybody around... Read today's story and please share this French word journal with a friend. That's an order!

TODAY'S WORD: étonner

   : to surprise, amaze, astonish

Audio file: click here to listen to the following sentence
Les bonnes actions sont choses fort naturelles, et pourtant elles étonnent toujours. Good deeds are natural, nevertheless they always amaze us.
Adolphe d'Houdetot ; Dix épines pour une fleur (1853)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

"The Bearded Easter Bunny"

Early Sunday morning I headed to the poulailler to feed our chickens. Now that we have 5 poules we are collecting around 4 eggs a day. (For weeks, Mama the white hen, has laid que dalle. That's French for zilch! But this doesn't stop her from going into her straw-filled nichoir, pretending to be productive. I know the feeling, Mama--the fear of what would happen if we quit producing, performing, or otherwise making use of ourselves. We fear we might somehow be dismissed, rejected! But we'll get to that later in our story. Or try to....

On my way out of the pen, I automatically lifted the hatch over Mama's nesting box and did a double-take. 

There, atop the fresh straw, were two giant oeufs...chocolate eggs! I stood beside the nesting box, experiencing a wave of emotion. Easter eggs... for me!

Hidden eggs
The chocolate eggs (one is actually a fish...)

This tender gesture was so unexpected, so humbling. A surprise gift...pour moi? After all, most times I am seen as the Sergeant around here. Spending my days, as I do, trying to keep everyone in line. What they don't understand, this family, these bandits young and old, is that all I want is for everyone to have what they need, and for everything to run smoothly....

Wash your hands, Max. Be safe in Miami, Jackie! Don't lick the jam jar, Jean-Marc!! Lock your door, Mom. Don't nap on the lettuce patch, Smokey!

I feel everything will fall apart (or be squished!) if I don't keep "our world" together. Having written that, I am reminded of the thought (put to words by French novelist and dean of the Académie française, Jean d'Ormesson):

Si étrange que ce puisse paraître, le Monde après nous continuera à tourner. Sans vous. Sans moi!

Indeed, strange as it may seem, the World after us will continue to spin. Without you. Without me!

May as well let go...
Looking at those delicate chocolate eggs, I began to relax, in time see and receive a hint of my family's unconditional love. I carefully collected the gift and returned to bed, where my coffee was waiting and the morning devotional* was open, ready for me to read to Jean-Marc.

"Somebody left a big surprise for me," I said.

"C'etait Max..." Jean-Marc replied.

Max? I had been certain it was somebody else, sure it was Mom who hid the eggs! I had not even considered our 24-year-old. And now my mind was filled with the scene of The Bearded Easter Bunny, sneaking out at night to hide the surprise.

What is it about an unexpected gift that so moves us? Could it be we feel unworthy or undeserving? And here we find ourselves beholding a most exquisite, symbolic gift wherein we--we nagging Casse-Bonbons, we Mean-Wells (if not always seen-wells), are reminded we are deeply loved and appreciated, warts and all.

It reminds me of redemption, which so happens to be the theme of the week. Joyeuses Pâques !


Max painting  in garden
The Bearded Easter Bunny enjoyed painting in the garden on Paques :-)

Related Stories:
=> Unfit Mother
=> Control Juice
=> Casse-bonbons
*Morning devotional: La Bonne Semence. The daily message is free and can be listened to via audio, in French, here. Excellent for your French, too!


le poulailler = henhouse, chicken coop
la poule = chicken, hen
que dalle = zilch, nothing, nada
le nichoir = nesting box
les oeufs = plural  of oeuf, egg
Joyeuses Pâques = Happy Easter

Kristi in the pen with chickens and Smokey
With all 5 chickens and Smokey the lettuce crusher.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Débrouillard: Share your thoughts, examples, and tips on resourcefulness

Duct tape in french
Mr. Fix-it is at it again! This time he's "mended" the hammock... Years ago I began a list to record the ways in which my husband shamelessly uses duct tape to fix things. I'm kicking myself for not keeping up that list. I'd best put my energy elsewhere, into today's post about resourcefulness.... Enjoy and please share it with a friend.

Today's Word: débrouillard

    : resourceful, crafty, clever

Audio file: click here to listen to the following French

Ses camarades disaient de lui : C'est un malin, c'est un roublard, c'est un débrouillard qui saura se tirer d'affaire. Et il s'était promis en effet d'être un malin, un roublard et un débrouillard. His comrades said of him: He is a clever man, he is a rogue, he is a resourceful man who will be able to get out of trouble. And he had promised himself to be a clever, a rogue and a resourceful. Guy de Maupassant , "Bel-Ami"
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
Resourcefulness is the word of the day. I love the French translation: débrouillard or ingénioux--and even more than these, I admire those who put it into practice. Before sharing these lovable débrouillards, I'd like to ask you to think about some of the resourceful things you do -- is resourcefulness second nature to you? Has this pandemic has caused you to look at the materials around you in a new light, to see these as supplies?

Coincidentally as I type this, one of those news pop-ups has invaded my screen. The alert reads:

Coronavirus. La France connaîtra en 2020 sa plus forte récession depuis 1945... (in 2020, owing to the coronavirus, France will experience its worst recession since 1945...)

If that isn't a motivation to roll up one's sleeves and begin to look at our "things" and "stuff" differently, then what is? Just what are some of those resources we have at hand? If you are like me, you may be overlooking many of them:

I learned this astuce from our yearly meetup with relatives near Aix-en-Provence: each Christmas Annie and André treat our family to a turkey and mixed bird dinner (André is a chasseur). As les oiseaux roast over the fire, Annie places baking sheets full of baguette slices across the fireplace floor to catch the drippings. Guests enjoy these savory slices alongside Christmas dinner.

This "catch the drips tip" is a delicious reminder of the usefulness of bread as a sponge for collecting les restes: whether it's a delicious pasta sauce coating your pan or this amazing hamburger ratatouille--don't wash that pan! don't wash that bowl--not until you have wiped down all sides with bread slices. (plus, wiping down a pan with bread makes the pan easier to clean...). Transfer the coated bread into a Tupperware or baggy and enjoy the savory toasts  (put them under the grill) at the next meal-- served alongside a green salad they make a satisfying lunch, or serve them as a convivial apéro. I do this every time I remember to, but often, I am at the kitchen sink pouring liquid soap into the pan ... before I realize I have just ruined a good opportunity! 

There, that title woke you up! Who knew wine was a resource? Here at our place, even if we all don't drink it, none of us (not even I...) let it go to waste. This next tip I learned from the wonderful Babé (bah-bay) who was the best help each time bottling season came around at our vineyard. As we stood side-by-side in the bottling truck, Babé entertained us with stories of her life and a few great tips, too--like how her houseplants drink wine...

"Never let a drop go to waste! When you reach the end of a bottle, fill it with water and go and feed your plants!" Since learning that tip I "rinse" every bottle, filling it with water to collect what wine remains...and feeding it to my garden plants or directly to my compost.

I was supposed to begin this post with a word about conspiracy theories and why, if I were a Truther (is that the word?), or conspiracy theorist, I'd have a thing or two to say about the coronavirus: my theory would be that The Powers That Be (that be trying to eliminate us all?) -- it was THEY who came up with the Minimalist Movement, created Marie Kondo, got us all to clear out our homes entirely before BAM! hitting us with the coronavirus. Now that we've given away almost everything (I donated a pile of bandanas that didn't spark joy! Those kerchiefs would have made good face masks!) we are as vulnerable as ever. We even sold my daughter's sewing machine after it remained in the closet for 4 years. Dumb, dumb, dumb--sewing machines, like flour, are a hot commodity. (speaking of farine, I hope you are all making the 4-ingredient super fastoche bread loaf right now. I make it every night and bake it each fact I just burned a loaf while typing this post! So much for resources! I'd better end on this note: it is presence of mind that makes us aware of all the wonderful resources around us...and it takes presence of mind, as well, to protect them. 

*    *    *

Burnt sourdough
Is this burnt loaf récupérable? On verra....

It would be a great pleasure to learn about the ways in which you, dear reader, use and repurpose the materials around you. From saving rubber bands to cutting up your husband's T-shirts and making safety masks (see my belle-mère, Marsha's, video)--please share your tips in the comments. Merci d'avance!


roublard =street smart
débrouillard = resourceful, clever, crafty
une astuce = tip, hack, trick
le chasseur = hunter
un oiseau = bird
les restes = leftovers
la farine = flour
récoupérable = recoverable
on verra = we'll see
Our dear Smokey, in between the flower pots.

Smokey and the glycines
Smokey and The Glycines--could be the name of a band. I love this profile pic, with his hooded eyes and a glimpse of that tongue. 
What his Tinder photo might look like?

Happy smokey
Faithful friend for life.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Goodbye La Bise: This Pandemic Marks The End of a French Kissing Custom

La Ciotat empty boardwalk plage lumiere beach palm trees
Empty streets in La Ciotat. But this isn't the only reason why citizens here may be spared from the coronavirus. It has to do with an unusual sanitary practice dating back to the plague. More, in today's story.

Today's Word: épargner

    : to spare

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the French below:

La Peste épargne La Ciotat. Grâce aux mesures sanitaires, au courage des femmes, la cité maritime se préserve du terrible fléau. -Frequence

La Ciotat is spared the plague. Thanks to sanitary measures, and to the courage of the women, the maritime city preserves itself from the terrible plague.

Epargner was word of the day on Dec. 15, 2008, with an alternative meaning

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Since President Emmanuel Macron declared the current Covid-19 pandemic une guerre sanitaire we, along with many countries, have been careful to respect the government-imposed confinement. Each night our family gathers to watch the news, to learn how Paris and Grand Est are faring. Yesterday, when Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned the virus is spreading quickly to other parts of the Hexagone, and that protective gestures are now a matter of life and death, we all felt a chill creep in. 

"This will be the end of La Bise for the rest of France..." our son, Max, predicted.

Currently, all French are practicing les gestes barrières, including no more bises, or "salutation kisses"--a habit that's been easiest to break for citizens of our town because we've been out of the habit for 250 years. As those of you who have visited La Ciotat can attest, our seaside town is the only place in France that does not practice la bise. The ritual kiss was ended during the 18-century plague, where La Ciotat had the lowest mortality rate. 

According to town records, if La Ciotat survived La Peste, it was thanks to an army of determined women who guarded the city ramparts, literally pushing the fleeing Marseillais and other non-Ciotadens off of the mur de peste

Wall built to keep out the plague-Mur_de_la_peste
Mur de la peste. Plague walls such as this one can be seen around La Ciotat. photo from Wikipedia

Pierre-Edouard Lemontey writes: Le petit port de la Ciotat échappa au fléau par la sévérité des femmes, qui se chargèrent seules d'en garder les avenues. The small port of La Ciotat escaped the scourge by the severity of the women, who were responsible for guarding the avenues alone.

It is not clear what the men--Les Ciotadens--were doing during the epidemic (playing boules, as we will soon see?), but according to numerous sources including our city's website, the bravery and efforts of les femmes Ciotadennes saved the town. Having survived the plague, La Ciotat would go on to become the birthplace of cinema, as well as the town where boules or petanque was invented.

This brings us to Fanny. All who are familiar with the popular game of petanque will recall the Kiss Fanny tradition. According to this Petanque site:

Being fanny (être fanny) means losing a game of boules or pétanque without scoring a single point— losing 13 to zero. (In the USA, we call that a “shutout” game.) Having to kiss Fanny is the ultimate humiliation for boules players everywhere.

You do not have to literally kiss someone's derriere... a photo or a statue will do... 

If you ask me, this unusual ritual is second only in humiliation to another tradition, known by locals as La Fanny. This bonjour gesture involves, as you guessed, the fanny or behind, and dates back from the time when La Bise or social greeting kiss was outlawed in an attempt to protect citizens from the plague, which had already killed 60 percent of nearby Marseilles' population.

Centuries before the elbow bump would be the socially acceptable salutation during a pandemic, those brave French women who guarded the cobbled streets of La Ciotat came up with a new way to greet: They called it "La Fanny" in honor of the bravest in their Bubonic army. Their heroine, Fanny, returning home from an exhaustive day wrestling plague-ridden subjects over the fence, and in a bid to protect her family/friends from catching the malady that she herself might be harboring, refused la bise. Turning away her cheek and pulling her arms close lest they carry traces of the disease, Fanny jiggled her bum in what would become a quaint and cheeky bonjour.

The tradition caught on and all citizens began using the new, more sanitary, greeting, affectionately known as La Fanny. To this day our town is the only place in France that does not practice la bise--instead, it does the bum greet.

I admit this was the main reason I ruled out The Cheeky City back when we sold our vineyard and needed to move on. Sanary! Bandol! La Cadière! I begged Jean-Marc--anywhere but La Ciotat. As someone who is easily embarrassed, I knew I could not bear to greet our new neighbors via a--pardon my French--"butt bonjour."

But when Jean-Marc found this charming bungalow with a yard where I could plant my permaculture garden, I was bummed (in another sense of the word)!  Reading up on the culture of the bum bonjour--La Fanny--I learned there are many ways to practice the cheeky greeting.  There is a version or... a bum for everyone! Everything from....

The well-heeled/upper-class/Aristocratic Fanny (involving a slight turn to show your backside...a bum curtsy if you will... to the casual/blue-collar Fanny (a no-shame jiggle-jiggle-jiggle of the derrière!)--all are fitting and acceptable ways to say hello here in La Ciotat (but don't try this in Paris--or be regarded as a country bum-kin).

Beyond Paris and the countryside, other countries would do well to follow our cheeky example here in La Ciotat and avoid passing along an illness. Anglophones, for example, could shake their booty instead of shaking hands. So remember: Don't shake. Shake, shake, shake! instead.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, I have found my own comfortably conservative version of La Fanny. Please stand with me now and let's practice the bum bonjour together. Here we go....

Show us your backside...
Jiggle-jiggle-jiggle! (giggle giggle giggle)....

I call this version the "April Fools' Fanny!" Enjoy it and be sure to share it with a friend.


P.S. If this was your first April Fools of the day, let me know in the comments, below--or tell us what jokes have already been played on you. I leave you with a picture of my sister-in-law and me greeting family à la Fanny. Both of us are doing the April 1st version, bien sûr! That's Cécile pointing out the Jean-Marc is doing it the wrong way! Isn't that what siblings are for? To help us with our social étiquette? :-)

P.P.S. As usual, your corrections are most helpful and appreciated. See a typo or a grammar mistake? Let me know in the comments and thanks in advance!

La fanny
I hope you enjoyed today's history lesson, a reprieve from the news.  And while the bum bonjour may not spare us from COVID-19, staying home will help save lives!  Take care everyone. Stay home. Before long we will all be kissing again! Vive la bise! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.