Bois, Kindling, or Tinder in French + A Fun and Free Activity while walking
Big News! A Change is Coming + se lancer dans l'inconnu

What is “Sobriété Énergétique”? + How to warm up in winter (with la bouillotte)

Noel Christmas in La Ciotat France
Our town's tourist bureau produces a delightful series of travel posters. Here’s one for Christmas, spotted while Jackie and I enjoyed an evening stroll by the port. Notice the traditional wooden boat, or “pointu.”

TODAY’S WORD: la bouillotte  

  : hot water bottle

Avec le froid, la hausse du coût de l’énergie et la menace de coupures d’électricité,les gens s’équipent. La bouillotte revient à la mode. With the cold weather, the rising cost of energy and the threat of power cuts, people are getting equipped. The hot water bottle is back in fashion.

Click here to listen to the example sentence + all the French in today’s story

by Kristi Espinasse

It's mid-December and with ice forming on the car's pare-brise and condensation dripping down our upstairs windows it’s been tricky keeping warm—even in the south of France. My husband and I have quit wrestling over the thermostat and come to a compromise: I'll keep the indoor temps a toasty 22C (71.6F)--and he can shut off the heat at bedtime...which makes for an icy visit to le petit coin in the middle of the night. As for Grandma Jules, we’ll turn a blind eye to her temperature-dial-doings in her studio around the side of our house. But even Jules's cranked-out space heater has its limits. Heureusement, Mom's new old cat has become more than good company these days: Lili is a good leg-warmer!

The term sobriété énergétique* seems to be a buzz-word in French politics lately. Citizens are incited to keep household temperatures no higher than 19C (66F). But even with extra layers of clothing and a wool cap and gloves (Grandma's tip) this eco-friendly environment feels hostile to me and my daughter. Is it true women suffer the cold more than men?

While collecting wood and making fires in la cheminée is one way to generate heat in winter, for a few years now I’ve relied on a good old-fashioned bouillotte to keep me warm in bed. Winter in our 1960s villa means the upstairs is Siberia while downstairs is Les Tropiques. This poses a dilemma when I go upstairs to the North Pole to read peacefully in bed while my husband stays by the fire, watching soccer in our sizzling salon. (BTW it's France vs. Morocco in tonight's World Cup semi-final. Things are really going to heat up...) As soon as I open the door to our stairwell, the frigid air makes me shiver. Sometimes I can see my own breath!

We do keep our upstairs bedroom "heated" (the quotes refer to our inefficient radiator on the wall. I do feel its warmth when I place my hand upon it, each time I enter the tiny room). Thankfully I have my hot water bottle ready to glisse beneath the sheets.

My trusty chaufferette was a gift from Max, and I love the extra-long version. It warms the length of my back and its non-scratchy housse is soft to the touch. The heavy, two-liter model is tricky to fill up but I have a system that works well: I fill half the bottle at the steaming kitchen tap and top it off with a kettle of near-boiling water. Occasionally I get burned (last night I lost my grip when the boiling water seared my skin as I filled the bottle. You should've seen me dancing to the tune of Ne lâche pas la bouteille! Don't drop the bottle!

While la bouillotte has its hazards, it won't keep me from sleeping beside boiled water in cold winter. C'est douillet! They say hot water is a healthier source of heat (vs. electric heat, i.e. the electric blanket). A hot water bottle's chaleur lasts well into the night. Or long enough to temper the freezing in-between time after which you'll find me hurrying downstairs to switch back on our thermostat, before returning to bed with a hot cuppa. Ah, coffee, that marvelous inner-bouillotte that heats you through and through. Yet one more way to warm up this winter.

Restez au chaud et à bientôt,


le pare-brise = windshield, windscreen
le petit coin = toilet, bathroom, loo
heureusement = thankfully
la cheminée
= fireplace
la bouillotte = hot water bottle
le salon = living room
glisse (glisser) = to slip
la chaufferette = heater, a small heating device
la housse = cover
Ne lâche pas la bouteille! = Don't let go of the bottle!
C'est douillet = It's cozy
Restez au chaud et à bientôt = stay warm and "see you" soon

*La sobriété énergétique. Energy sobriety is the reduction of energy consumption through lifestyle changes and social transformations.

Portrait of my husband. When Mom suddenly asked Jean-Marc to pose for a photo, he went with the moment. Here he is posing beside a small collection of found kindling, including sticks, pine cones, and some trusty cardboard. Wishing all of you a lovely rest of the week, and remember to go with the moment (where joy often hides).
Ile flottant
Sweet of the Week, No. 2: Îles Flottantes. One of Max's Floating Islands (little meringue "islands" floating on crème anglaise... also known as Œufs à la Neige "Snow Eggs"). Max made this one with the sugar sprinkles when he was 15, after being an apprentice at a restaurant in Orange. (Twelve years later he followed his flair for flavor to the wine business.) Have you ever tried Îles flottantes? What is your favorite French dessert? Share with us in the comments.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety