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Entries from October 2020

Le glas: The death knell rang today in France

Eglise church in st cyr le glas sonne en franceLe glas sonne dans toutes les églises de France en hommage aux trois victimes de l'attentat dans la basilique de Nice. (-Midi Libre) The death knell is ringing in all the churches of France in homage to the three victims of the attack in the basilica of Nice. (pictured: Catholic church in St. Cyr-sur-Mer)

*    *    *

Many of you woke to the news of France's latest, most horrific terrorist attack (the fourth in under 6 weeks). Two women and one man were knifed to death this morning in Nice, only a half-mile from the 2016 truck attack in the same Mediterranean city.

The French government immediately put the country under a plan vigipirate (anti-terrorist security alert), at its highest degree. This comes on the eve of the nation's second lockdown.

Adding to the shock are the details behind the murders (certain info will be left out): it took place in a church. One of the victims, an elderly woman, was praying when she was killed. The second woman, who fled, wounded, to a nearby business, died after asking medics for a favor:

Dites à mes enfants que je les aime. Tell my children I love them.

The tears France is shedding and the pain the world is feeling is echoed in le glas: the death knell began ringing at 3 pm this afternoon. Here, on the eve of le confinement, as we process the news, one can't help but ask, How could this tragedy have been avoided?

One answer might be: By keeping quiet! After all, if the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo hadn't drawn...and if the teacher, Samuel Paty, hadn't lectured, had President Macron not spoken out--in the name of freedom of expression--no one would have been offended and thus enraged. 

But we all know that isn't the answer, and that the answer isn't as simple as that.

While I am the last person to know the answer, I have a few questions. Is freedom of speech sans exception? Or, is it like the French grammar rule that states: there is an exception to every rule. If so, what is the exception? There must be an exception

Doves by the sea in la ciotat
To the victims in Nice: Restez en paix.

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    
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To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Rien qu'aujourd'hui (Only for Today): A "How To" for difficult times

Poppies and our wild gardenDuring 10 challenging years at two vineyards (before moving to this peaceful, postage-stamp garden where our wine memoir is underway), I kept a copy of today's mind-centering thoughts in my purse. In uncertain times, such words may be helpful to you, family, or friends.


Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once. Rien qu’aujourd’hui, j’essaierai de vivre ma journée sans chercher à résoudre le problème de toute ma vie.

Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself. Rien qu’aujourd’hui, je prendrai le plus grand soin de me comporter et d’agir de manière courtoise ; je ne critiquerai personne et je ne prétendrai corriger ou régenter qui que ce soit, excepté moi-même.

Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one. Aujourd’hui je serai heureux, rien qu’aujourd’hui, sur la certitude d’avoir été créé pour le bonheur, non seulement dans l’autre monde, mais également dans celui-ci.

Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes. Rien qu’aujourd’hui, je me plierai aux circonstances, sans prétendre que celles-ci cèdent à tous mes désirs.

Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul. Rien qu’aujourd’hui je consacrerai dix minutes à une bonne lecture en me rappelant que, comme la nourriture est nécessaire à la vie du corps , de même la bonne lecture est nécessaire à la vie de l’âme.

Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it. Rien qu’aujourd’hui, je ferai une bonne action et je n’en parlerai à personne.

Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices. Rien qu’aujourd’hui, j’accomplirai au moins une chose que je n’ai pas du tout envie de faire, et si on m’offense, je ne le manifesterai pas.

Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision. Rien qu’aujourd’hui, j’établirai un programme détaillé de ma journée. Je ne m’en acquitterai peut-être pas entièrement, mais je le rédigerai. Et je me garderai de deux calamités: la hâte et l’indécision.

Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world. Rien qu’aujourd’hui, je croirai fermement – même si les circonstances attestent le contraire – que la Providence de Dieu s’occupe de moi comme si rien d’autre n’existait au monde.

Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life. Rien qu’aujourd’hui, je n’aurai aucune crainte. Et tout particulièrement, je n’aurai pas peur d’apprécier ce qui est beau et de croire à la bonté. Je suis en mesure de faire le bien pendant douze heures, ce qui ne saurait me décourager, comme si je me croyais obligé de le faire toute ma vie durant.

Note: My copy (the one in my purse) of "Just For Today" was a gift from A.A. The original text is from Le décalogue de la sérénité de saint Jean XXIII 

Jean-marc heidi doug kristi
New York, 2008. Jean-Marc, my sister Heidi, Doug, Kristi. Thank you very much for your words of sympathy following my brother-in-law, Doug's, passing.

Doves by the sea in la ciotat
This image (taken here in La Ciotat) always brings a peaceful feeling. Enjoy, take good care, and à bientôt.

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.

They don't have that in France! In Memory of my brother-in-law

My brother-in-law leaves us with countless memories of his generosity, big heart, and Tell It Like It Is character. In today's missive, a few French souvenirs, in memory of Doug.

Today's Word: inoubliable

1. unforgettable
2. never to be forgotten

Merci pour ces inoubliables moments en famille, Doug.
Thank you for these unforgettable family moments, Doug. Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the French

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

My brother-in-law passed away eleven days ago, Sunday. He was fifty-nine.

My sister is currently helping to write Doug's obituary. I wish I could be there with Heidi, in Denver, to help her find the words, to sit beside her as we rifled through old photos and said a lot of Remember That Time Whens....

One thing I'll always remember about my beau-frère was his no BS attitude. And when it came to his belle-soeur in France there was plenty of nonsense to call out! Take shower curtains for example. Years ago, when Doug and Heidi came to visit, Doug left a pool of water on our bathroom floor. It just wasn't like him - he was tidy, in an everything in its place way. And water’s place is in the tub. (An impossible feat to keep it there when your hostess has no shower curtain!)

As we mopped up the salle-de-bains, using thick square cloths (des serpillières gaufrées) and a broom, Doug offered to buy us a plastic curtain...and a decent mop, for crying out loud! I can still hear my brother-in-law's voice, a bit sarcastic, often blunt, it cut through the nonsense and revealed what it is we were hiding behind (certainly not drapes!).

“Kristi, why don’t you guys have a shower curtain?”
“Uh... they don’t have shower curtains in France.”
“What? You don't have shower curtains in France? Oh, come on!”

At that moment in time (newly arrived in France, living in the countryside of St. Maximin), I believed it was true. After all, there wasn’t un rideau de douche in any of the homes I'd visited so far. I never saw them for sale at our tiny quincaillerie, but you could find dainty curtains (les brise-bise) at the hardware store. And they were nowhere to be found at our supermarché, (which, incredibly, began selling Halloween costumes one year!). It seemed to be yet another commodité moderne the French hadn't yet discovered--such as tumble dryers or drive-thru banking or one-hour dry cleaning...remind me to tell you about my beau-frère’s run-in with the sassy lavandière who refused to press more than 3 of his shirts. Doug was perplexed: “I guess they don’t have a business mentality in France either!”

There began a decades-long joke between my beau-frère and me. The ribbing always ended with some encouragement: “Kristi, I am sure France has (such and such). Go find it!”

Apart from Doug’s skill at calling out people’s BS, my brother-in-law was an excellent chef. He went all out on Thanksgiving (best turkey and stuffing bar none!) and his Christmas dinner was Michelin-star superb. But the simple fare, eaten casually around the kitchen island, in our pajamas, made me feel truly home again! We Froggies (as Doug called us) relished these American brunches which Heidi and Doug prepared as a team, serving up sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, and waffles--and Mimosas and Bloody Marys too.

Doug's smoked ribs were another quelque chose you could not find in France! “You could make this, Kristi! Don’t give me that BS that you don’t have BBQs in France!”

“Well, we don’t have Green Eggs ® in France!”
“No, you probably don’t!” Doug smiled, proud of his new cooker.

The last time I saw my brother-in-law we were having breakfast together at Pancake House in Denver. This newly-forged tradition was a chance to reunite with The Froggies, Payne, Reagan (my niece and nephew), and Heidi (even after le divorce, the two were committed to family). Catching up over coffee and stacks of buttermilk pancakes, I told Doug about our recent predicament: "We keep getting locked out of Heidi's house," I laughed.

"You need an extra set of keys!" Doug said, offering to take we Froggies to the hardware store after breakfast. There at the quincaillerie, waiting for the key to be copied, my brother-in-law snickered. I'll bet they don't have Hide-A-Keys in France either!

I snickered back before a wave of nostalgia hit. Looking over at Doug, I saw his tired face, his baseball cap pulled low over his brow. He was not doing well. (In addition to sharing jokes about France, my brother-in-law and I shared the “Better Off Sober” etiquette…). Remembering all of my brother-in-law's caring gestures over the years, as well as his growing struggles, I didn't want our visit to end without due appreciation.

"That’s so like you to take care of these nagging details!" I blurted, waving the shiny new key in the air. "Thank you...for everything."

"Yah, well, if I didn’t do it you guys wouldn’t!" Doug laughed, before hugging us goodbye for the very last time....

* * *

Comfort Food. This morning I wanted to make meatloaf when I realized one ingredient was missing: Worcestershire sauce. In all the years I’ve been in France I have never bought a bottle. I am, finally, on my way out to search for it now. In a quincallerie? Beside the dainty curtains? Well, maybe not... I've gotta look harder!)

Thank you, Doug, for this and for your generous heart. PS, I know what you’re thinking: “Meatloaf? Oh, I get it: now you’re going to tell me they don’t have steak in France!”

Jean-marc heidi doug kristi
New York 2008 Jean-Marc, my sister Heidi, Doug, me.

At the Pancake House in 2018, with Reagan, Jackie, and Payne.

= unforgettable, never to be forgotten
le beau-frère
= brother-in-law
la belle soeur
= sister-in-law
la salle-de-bains= bathroom
les serpillières gaufrées
= waffled cloths for washing floors
le rideau de douche
= shower curtain
la quincaillerie
= hardware store
le brise-bise
= half curtains (pictured here)
le supermarché
= supermarket
la commodité moderne
= modern convenience
la lavandière
= washerwoman
quelque chose
= something

une étiquette = label

Years ago. I'll never forget Doug demonstrating how to open a bottle of champagne with a sword! "Sabrage is a technique for opening a champagne bottle with a saber, used for ceremonial occasions."--Wikipedia

Max doug jackie
Max and Jackie will miss their Uncle Doug, who took them to sports events and spoiled them with fun times--memories they will always have.

That time Doug and Heidi brought Grandma Audrey to France! And treated us to dinner at Le Louis XV and a stay at l'Hôtel de Paris!
Doug heidi grandma kristi jimmy
Old photos, wonderful memories. We are still digging through pictures--bye for now....

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.

Le rivage: Mother-Daughter adventure in Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Tree in beaulieu-sur-mer market square
A giant arbre (a Banyan tree?) in the market square of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, near Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Today's Word: le rivage

    : shore, bank, coastline

Click to listen to Jean-Marc read the French example sentence:

Tu ne traversera jamais l'océan si tu as peur de perdre de vue le rivage.
You will never cross the ocean if you are afraid of losing sight of the shore.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
At a sandy cove in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, my daughter and I left our rented transats to wade out through the warm waters of La Baie des Fourmis. Noticing the sea was murky and the views (a thick curtain of yachts) were moyenne….I began to have doubts about our mother-daughter getaway.

We could have had this same beachy experience in our own seaside town--where the Mediterranean is clearer and there are fewer ships. This negative voice was quickly muffled by splashing. "So happy to be here with you," Jackie said, swimming beside me. "Now if only we could meet up with Crevette!"

"Petite Crevette" is Jackie's friend from fashion school. Incredibly, PC was here too, in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat! Only it would be a little tricky getting to her...given she was employed on a private yacht far out in the bay.

I admit I wanted my daughter (briefly with us in France from Florida) all to myself--and had gone to certain lengths (traveling two hours down the coast) to be alone with her, juste nous deux! But when I put myself into Jackie’s shoes, I knew we had to do whatever it took to reunite with her copine.

Scanning the horizon, we wondered which luxury craft PC worked on? And what were the various means we could employ to get there? Swimming? Paddleboard? Kayak? That Woman Over There's raft? Jackie became so desperate she was about to hitchhike a passing boat. The little garbage-collection vessel was currently navigating very close to the sandy rive. I feared my daughter would hop right on!

As the boat puttered past, a giant sign along the shore came into view: LOCATION DE JET SKI. Having lived in Miami for the past year, Jackie had a few opportunities to ride a scooter des mers and felt confident she could make it out to the yacht, reaching Petite Crevette in style!

(Ouf! What a relief when the rental guy said all the jet skis had been taken.) “That leaves paddle boats!” Jackie hinted…

Several concerns came to mind:
Cost (40 euros--you could fly Marseilles-Rome via a lowcost carrier!)
Sun (worst time of day for exposure)
Hydration (see note below…)
And just how far? Well, we’d soon find out!

Paddle boat with slide
I didn't get a photo of our pédalo, so here's a picture of a typical paddle boat on the river in Quinson.

“Mom, will you help me pedal the boat?” Hearing my daughter’s voice erased my fears, replacing them with a rare taste for adventure! Now was the chance to make this weekend stand out in our memories forever! To turn our trip around from its murky-watered beginnings to a dazzling ending. 

Yikes, I hoped this wouldn’t be the end! Securing our lifejackets we stepped onto the little two-seater boat. Next, we set our menthes à l'eau's (drinks ordered before our last-minute plan) in the drink holders, hoping they'd keep us hydrated for the two hour aller-retour.

Allez, full speed ahead! After 15 minutes pedaling the two-man pédalo we were soaked and exhausted. No wonder our own town doesn't rent out paddle boats--because they are not easy to pedal on the sea! 

Just as we began to slow down, another pédalo came into view when a couple of Italians started racing beside us…. Jackie sped up, accepting the challenge! Our smiling and laughing adversaires--a grandfather/grandson duo--distracted us from our pain and we advanced another ten minutes in time to wave ciao! to the winning team.

We were three-quarters of the way, now, and Jackie could just barely see her friend, Petite Crevette (who did indeed look like a tiny shrimp from this distance). Soon we recognized PC’s long, strawberry blond hair and heard her familiar voice cheering us on. It was just the push we needed to make it over the finish line!

On second thought, we weren’t fini yet, only half-way through our sea adventure. But for the time being, before pedaling all the way back to shore, we were having a very good rest--and one spectacular reunion (see video below)! Jackie and Petite Crevette, having jumped into the water to meet half-way and embrace, were now swimming beside the little paddle boat, chatting a million kilometers a minute.  

Where there's a will there's a way. Merci, ma fille. Thanks to you I lounged in our boat, sipping my menthe à l'eau, enjoying the scene that would forever be etched in our memories--all because we got up off those sunchairs and ventured out beyond murky waters.

P.S.: As for the 40 euros? Worth. Every. Centime. Mais bien sûr!


un arbre = tree
le rivage= shore
le transat = sunbed
La Baie des Fourmis = bay of ants
moyen = average
petite crevette = little shrimp
juste nous deux = just the two of us
un copain/une copine = friend, pal

la rive = shore
scooter des mers = personal watercraft, jetski
ouf! = phew!
aller-retour = roundtrip
menthe  l'eau = a drink made of water and mint syrup
le pédalo = paddle boat
Allez = let’s go
la ligne d'arrivée = the finish line

un centime = cent, penny

mais bien sûr = but of course

I leave you with a short clip of Jackie and Petite Crevette's reunion. (Warning: this is every day street French, somewhat colorful...) Can you hear what the girls are saying? Here are some of the phrases:

Oh! C'est énorme!
(Oh, This is incredible!)

Comment ça va grosse folle?!
(How are you, you crazy girl!)

Putain! Ca fait combien de temps depuis qu'on s'est vu!
(&#%!@?! How long's it been since we've seen each other?)

I admit, the next words I have difficulty hearing/understanding, no matter how many times I liste to the clip. Here are some possibilities:

On se retrouve (or en se retrouvant) là..avec le pédalo le bateau...
We find ourselves here... with the paddle boat and the boat....

Help understanding French at - if you, like me, have any difficulty hearing/understanding spoken French, give David Tolman's French listening program a try. David has taught French online for 20 years, from his office here in France. Click here to access one of David's lessons and be sure to sign up for his helpful emails.
Mkt_FWaD_fleuriste02a (1)
Jackie in beaulieu sur mer
To read about a previous trip to Beaulieu--and learn the French word for dreamcatcher, click here.

Villa in beaulieu sur mer cap ferrat
Villa in Beaulieu sur Mer / St Jean Cap Ferrat area

Architecture along the sea in Beaulieu sur Mer
Baie des fourmis
Nightime in Beaulieu

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.

A story lost (but not forgotten): In Memory of Harry Rabinowitz

Seaside in Bandol France pine treeYears ago I had dinner at a friend's in Bandol and wrote about the musical evening--but never posted the story (it needed work). I found the written draft this morning and reencountered one of the characters from that night: Harry Rabinowitz. Today's column is in memory of the endearing British composer and conductor who was born in South Africa and died in France.

Today's French word: savoir (verb)

    : to know, be aware of

Listen to Jean-Marc read the quote below in French/English:
Le Coeur, seul sait le Pourquoi. Only the Heart knows the Why. --Kâlî Ferry.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Sometimes I would have a glass of wine before going to a dinner party, but that was years ago. Last night I discovered an activity just as relaxing: picking an aromatic bouquet for my hosts. Gathering fragrant fenouil, blossoming purple basilic, flowering mint, leafy green l'estragon, and lavande--its blossoms only slightly fading, I stopped to inhale the floral medley. A nagging doubt coursed through my mind: Is this a weird gift? Is it appropriate? Is it enough? Honestly, I think Cynthia and Ian would appreciate the country bouquet. But what about the other guests? Maybe they would show up with designer bouquets?

And there went my familiar train of thought--one that always ended with the strong desire to cancel everything and camp out at home in my pajamas (this time with a wilting poignée des fleurs!).

The familiar bout of doubt quickly passed and soon I was chatting with "Didier," as Cynthia and Ian prepared smoked salmon canapés and served wine at their kitchen comptoir overlooking the sparkling Gulf of Bandol. As the sun disappeared beyond the Mediterranean, guests gathered to listen to the expressive oenophile tell the story of how he came to love wine. Didier said:
"I was eight years old. It was a typical Sunday lunch in France except that, this time, my father said to my mother, "Would you like me to go out and buy a bottle of wine?

My mother said, "Why not?" and when my father returned with a modest bottle of red I watched as their eyes lit up like fireworks. I said to myself then and there, I want to serve people wine and make them this happy!" 45 years later, Didier has a shop in Cotignac and continues his love of sharing wine with those who enjoy it. 

Cynthia and Ian's other guests were as warm and... familiar! Yes! We had met Mitzi and Harry before--at Diana and Neil's home in Portland and again in Provence, where I would never forget Harry's question: "Why do you write?"

Pourquoi j'écris? What an honor he would ask! I remember facing the South African conductor, and wanting to give the true answer. I can't remember ever answering, but the question has stayed with me ever since.

"Well, why do you compose?" Our host, Ian, started up, putting Harry on the spot this time. And I smiled, thinking, now that was the perfect answer! I turned to Harry, waiting to hear what might be instructions from a musical genius. 

Instead, Harry threw his head back and laughed, and the joy in his eyes spoke volumes. There at the dinner table, we finished the mouth-watering Osso-Bucco, cheese, and dessert and were treated to an impromptu concert by the famous conductor.

As Harry played The Man I Love, Mitzi sang the words to it and to the following classics: Someone To Watch Over Me, The Sunny Side of the Street, I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter and Ain't Misbehavin'.

The piano seat was still warm when Didier stole it, to play La Bohème. And surprise surprise, Jean-Marc began to sing....

Je vous parle d'un temps
Que les moins de vingt ans
Ne peuvent pas connaître Montmartre...

The evening was filled with such delights and unexpected moments, but the biggest surprise came the next morning, as I lie in bed savoring the evening. I couldn't resist googling Harry, and that is when I learned that the young-looking man sitting next to me at the dinner party will turn 100 years old in March....

Post note: My story left off right there, and Harry was never to read it. He passed away six months later. According to Wikipedia: Harry Rabinowitz reached 100 years of age on 26 March 2016. He died on 22 June 2016 at his home in Lacoste, Vaucluse, France. Rabinowitz continued to play the piano every day until his death.

I often think of Harry's meaningful question. Why do you write? I have never been able to answer this exactly. But, today, on reading the lyrics of the songs sung that night, I have felt moved by the lines, moved by the work of men and women who sat down and quieted themselves in time to find the words. A very good reason in and of itself to write!

I realize, too, that I write to remember. I'm glad I wrote down the story of Dinner at Cynthia and Ian's, or else I would have forgotten the details of that night. But Harry, if you are listening, somehow, somewhere, I would never have forgotten you! Thank you for your question.

We may never know the exact or true answer as to why we do what we aspire to do...but the many possibilities--the Whys--are enough to keep our dreams alive.

savoir = to know
le fenouil = fennel
le basilic = basil
l'estragon (m) = tarragon
la lavande = lavender
une poignée = handful, fistful
une fleur = flower
le comptoir = counter, bar
Pourquoi j'écris? = why do I write?

Strangers in bandol france palm trees beach sea mediterranean french
A quiet scene along a cove in Bandol, west of Marseilles, Cassis, La Ciotat....

Merci beaucoup to my friend, Cynthia and Ian, for the memories of that special night with Harry and friends. Thanks also for your help, recently, in voting as an expat and this reminder to American citizens who live outside the US to vote

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.