Our golden retriever, Smokey, and one of his many sticks. In today's story, Jean-Marc searches for the perfect bâton along the sentier to Fontenil, high up in the Southern Alps. Read along and learn a dozen useful French terms including a funny word for perfectionist...
Today's Word: le bâton
: stick, cane, staff
: le bâton de ski = ski pole
Sound file: Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence in French and in English.Un alpenstock est un long poteau en bois avec une pointe en fer, utilisé par les bergers pour voyager sur les champs de neige et les glaciers des Alpes depuis le Moyen Âge. Les alpinistes francophones appelaient cet objet un "bâton". An alpenstock is a long wooden pole with an iron spike tip, used by shepherds for travel on snowfields and glaciers in the Alps since the Middle Ages. French-speaking climbers called this item a "baton".
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
Le Fignoleur (The Perfectionist)
On a hike with Jean-Marc in Le Parc National des Ecrins, I discovered my husband's rare perfectionist side. This quirky behavior began after he picked up a fallen branch and, snapping it in two, carefully fashioned a walking stick. Advancing along a trail of faded pine needles, my guide reached for another branche d'arbre, examined it thoughtfully, and tossed the one he had been using.
Tu veux que je t’en fasse un? Would you like me to make you one? Jean-Marc offered.
C'était dommage, Jean-Marc remarked, to have missed the changing colors of the beautiful mélèze trees. The leaves on these conifers were now a dull brown, but there were other vivid scenes to enjoy: the clear blue sky and the candy red berries on the trees in the fields we'd passed earlier, where the moist earth was upturned by wild sangliers in search of bulbs.
"I didn't know there were wild pigs in the Alps...." I said, reaching to pick up one of the bulbs the boars had left behind.
Eh oui, my Montagnard replied, wrestling with yet another found branch. His foot pinning it down, he pulled one end of the branch until it snapped in two. Voilà! As he measured it against the previous stick, until the length was to his liking, I was about to tease him for such fastidiousness. Instead, curiosity won out. I wondered, was there a specific term for this stick Jean-Marc was so obsessed with?
"C'est un bâton," Mr. Finicky answered. Such an ordinary word compared to these synonyms I would later look up, like alpenstock or trekking pole or shillelagh!
"A good one should come up to your chin. Comme ça," Jean-Marc demonstrated, leaning against his latest find. "High enough to balance a pair of jumelles...." Too bad he had forgotten those binoculars. On second thought, Jean-Marc was so intent on finding the perfect bâton, he couldn't focus on much else—though he didn’t miss the chamois, when it clipped past, some 200 meters below us. Regarde!!
The fawn having disappeared from view, my husband began smoothing out the “handle” of his (6th? 7th? 8th?) bâton, using the rough bark of a larch tree to saw the tip. Running his fingers over the edges, Ça y est! It looked like this would be the one!
I watched my mountain man set off now, down the canyon, over a deep bed of crunchy autumn leaves. And it made me smile to see him stomp down with his feet, and tap the ground with his bâton, rien que pour le plaisir, just for the pleasure of hearing the sounds of fall.
le bâton = stick
le sentier = path, way
le fignoleur/la fignoleuse = perfectionist
la branche d'arbre = tree branch
bottes de randonnée = hiking boots
c'est dommage = it's too bad
le mélèze = larch tree
le sanglier = wild boar
le montagnard = mountain dweller
les jumelles = binoculars
le chamois = fawn
Regarde! = look!
ça y est = that’s it
rien que pour le plaisir = just for the pleasure
I regret not getting a picture of Jean-Marc with his beloved bâtons! For the moment, our roving perfectionist is busy finishing up his chapter, dotting every i and crossing every t, in hopes you will follow along with his (and our) vineyard story.
A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.
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