Brushes, paint, and clay figurines at a santon maker's in Marseilles. Read today's story about a few French traditions taking place on February 2nd. And don't miss a very personal update in the post note.
Today's Word: la chandelle (shahn-del)
Hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French word for candle in today's proverb: Download Chandelle.wav
Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle.
The game is not worth the candle. (It’s not worth it).
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
All good things must come to an end and in Provence santons are no exception. On February 2nd, at Candelmas (what the French call "Chandeleur") the meticulously arranged crèche is finally taken down and the colorful clay figurines are carefully put away. That's when the party begins--for February 2nd is also known as Crêpe Day!
Regretfully, our family didn't have any hand-painted santons to store, but boy did we put away the pancakes! When Jean-Marc couldn't find his mother's crêpes recipe, he rolled up his sleeves and made the batter au pif--mixing together a bunch of flour, several eggs, a drenching of milk, a dash of salt, a swirl of warmed butter, and a few larmes of water.
Meanwhile, I prepared the fillings tray: the salty and sugary additions that would top off the delicate crêpes. The salé selections included le gruyère, le jambon, le tarama, le saumon fumé, and l'houmous. As for the dessert crêpes, we had sugar for sprinkling and other sweet spreadables including fig jam, caramel sauce, chestnut purée, Nutella and Aunt Marie-Françoise's lavender honey. Missing were the whipped cream and my mother-in-law who, if she were here (instead of in Marseilles preparing sarrasin crêpes for her neighbor) would've loved a drop or two of lemon juice and a powdering of cinnamon to go with the sugar on her crêpes.
Jean-Marc had pre-cooked the crêpes for reheating at the dinner table, this, thanks to the handy dandy "crêpes party" machine (a Teflon coated unit with six mini pancake-shaped warmers). Because I didn't see my husband grilling the cakes, I can't be sure if he remembered to flip them with the right hand while holding a coin (une pièce d'or) in the left (an old French tradition for prosperity (and good crops!).
Some say the golden, round crêpes are reminiscent of the sun and, therefore, the coming of printemps. While our pancakes reminded me of those things, the golden disks had me thinking of back home where the Arizona desert is lit by the large chandelle in the sky. I remembered my nieces and nephews, little southwestern marmots who were probably just coming out of a long slumber in time to celebrate Groundhog's day, awake in time to enjoy my sister's homemade waffles (a sort of square-shouldered, dimply-cheeked big brother to the dainty crêpe and, in my experience, all the better for hogging).
POST NOTE: A CELEBRATION
I wrote today's story in 2007, in the medieval village of Les Arcs-sur-Argens. This is where I lived, where I began my blog, and where I made a life-changing decision to quit drinking. This week marks 19 years of sobriety! I will never regret the decision to stop drinking, which has led to so many improvements in my life and innumerable blessings. It led to a career in writing, an occupation that focuses my mind and allows me to turn life's frustrations and challenges into comedy (and on occasion, into meaningful reflections). One more thing: while editing this post, and researching Candlemas, I learned it is also called “The Purification.” In 19 years I have never made that connection, and I just had to run over to Mom’s and share the accidental significance:
“I'm no saint,” I said to Jules, “and I’m not saying I’ve been purified. But I like how significant this is--my sobriety corresponding to The Purification!
Mom looked at me and shared her own no-nonsense definition. In Jules’s Dictionary, and in all caps:
PURIFICATION = FREEDOM
Leave it to Mom to come up with a rockstar definition. I love it! And I feel it, with each sober anniversary. Freedom.
photo by Jules. Sobriety is one of three themes in our memoir "The Lost Gardens" (the other two topics are marriage and starting a vineyard). If any of those themes interest you, please check out our book.
Listen to Jean-Marc read the vocab list:
Click here for the audio file
le santon = clay figurine, nativity figure
au pif = "by the nose" (by guesswork)
une larme = tear
salé = salty
le gruyère = swiss cheese
le jambon = ham
tarama = a pink-colored, fish roe-based creamy spread
le saumon fumé = smoked salmon
le sarrasin = buckwheat
une pièce d'or = a gold coin
le printemps = springtime
la chandelle = candle
le brocanteur, la brocanteuse = second-hand goods seller, antique trader
A brocanteur selling santons at an outdoor antique market in Suze-la-Rousse
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety