A Little Tour of La Ciotat, France. Allez! On y va!
"Ebloui": Star-struck in St. Tropez at Club 55 with Roger Federer

“Smala” & Family Visit to Cassis, Aix-en-Provence, Marseilles

My family visiting Cassis: Kristi, Reagan, Heidi, Payne, Jean-Marc, and Max

TODAY’S Word: smala (smah-lah) noun, feminine

    : entourage, big family (famille nombreuse)

from the Arabic, zmalah: tribe

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

This first week with my American family has gone by en vitesse! Beaches, the farmers market, snorkeling in the Mediterranean and even cliff diving (for the guys). What a whirlwind good time it's been with Heidi, Payne, and Reagan since they flew in from Denver to Marseilles via Munich. So far we've visited La Ciotat, Aix-en-Provence, and Cassis and now my sister and her kids are in Paris (those last two cities rhyme if you pronounce them correctly…).

It was the first time my 19-year-old niece and 21-year-old nephew have been to France (not counting when Payne was a baby), and it was fun to hear their reactions to the culture (for them, the French light switches were backward, the toilet handle wasn't a handle (but something you pulled--thus the verb "tirer la chasse"--and a few other bizarreries in their Aunt Kristi's household for which we can't blame France!

A highlight of my family's visit was meeting up with my French family, thanks to Max who organized la sortie. My belle-soeur Cécile, beau-frère Jacques and his girlfriend Mariem joined us at the Vieux Port in Marseilles at Ciao Marcello for pizza. Though half the group could not understand each other, in the end language wasn't a barrier and our our mini réunion de famille was un succès.  After a 2-hour lunch we kissed each other goodbye. That is when a cozy feeling came over me as foreign word began to echo in my mind…. 

Smala. The word, borrowed from Arabic, means big family or entourage. As the word smala filled my mind, so did an appreciation for this chance to finally have my family in France for an extended period of time—time enough to, well, be a family in France: cooking together, cleaning together, caring for our Mom/Grandmother together, and especially laughing and loving together. At one of our big dinners on the front porch, I looked over at Jules and said: “Can you believe we are all here? All your kids and all your grandkids! We are all here because of you… “ Jules was visibly moved.

I was kicking myself this morning for not boarding the TGV to Paris with my sister and the kids for even more time with family. But I have a few obligations here at home....and just as soon as I typed those words I realized "will those obligations matter a year from now?"

The truth is, downtime is good. It is now thundering outside and the rain is pouring down—a good time to sit back and review some photos from this past week. I leave you with some of my favorite pictures and we'll see you next week for more updates from le bercail (another cozy word for home). 

Prenez soin de vous et à bientôt,


To leave a comment, click here. I would love to know what city you are writing from. Merci.

Another highlight of my sister’s visit was visiting Flavia and Fabrice in St. Maximin. I wrote a story about a memorable meal there a few years ago, « Pour Vivre Heureux Vivre Caché » (To Live Happy, Live Hidden)


My nephew and niece is Cassis

Heidi, Reagan, and Payne in Cassis

Thank you so much, Jean-Marc, for driving us around and for being a great guide.


Click here to listen to the French and English terms

la smala = entourage, family
en vitesse = quickly, rapidly
Cassis = Cassis
Paris = Paris
tirer la chasse = to flush the toilet
bizarreries = peculiarities
la sortie = the outing
la belle-sœur = sister-in-law
le beau-frère =
la réunion de famille
= family reunion 
un succès = a success
le TGV (le train à grande vitesse) = fast train
le bercail = home (slang)
Prenez soin de vous et à bientôt = take care and see you soon

Heidi, in Aix

Ana and Max making us dinner chez Max

To the following readers who this past week sent in a blog donation or purchased our online memoir, your contribution towards publishing this blog is the key to its longevity! I am sincerely grateful for your support. Merci beaucoup! --Kristi

Susan D.
Jed M.
Eileen D.
Jeanine C.
Virginia G.
Deborah H.
Susan H.


Sisters. Thanks to my son’s lovely girlfriend, Ana, for this photo.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Brenda Pfeil

Learned a new word today. Merci. I love your smala time. One of life’s blessings


HOW WONDERFUL!!! What a great treat to enjoy such quality time and fun activities with the family.
Count your blessings.

Wendy Rieder

Can't get enough of your postes, Kristi, and what a beautiful family you have!!

Best always,


Congratulations Jules - just look at what you created!! Beautiful family. So glad you all had this time together in beautiful France.


Bonjour des Arcs-sur-Argence
I do not think Marseille has an "s". Versailles does.

Diane Heinecke

Bonjour! Besides learning new vocab, like smala and bercail, I got to meet your family in photos, not just seeing their names in a post. Wonderful pics! I'm sitting here in Brunswick, Georgia, U.S.A. and wondering why my husband and I don't visit our four children more often. Busyness seems to be the excuse for all of us. But making memories lasts a lifetime and beyond.

Cynthia Lewis

I am so very happy for you and all of your family to have had this wonderful week together. Thank you for sharing it with your readers along with great pictures. Jules must have been "on cloud nine" with her beautiful family all gathered 'round ... what memories have been made from this reunion! Best wishes to all from Salisbury, Maryland (Eastern Shore).

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Brenda. Really enjoying our smala time!

Kristin Espinasse

Mille mercis, Wendy! 

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Diane, my sister, Heidi, says the same about making memories. It is so important to get together. I hope you will see your family soon. 

Kristin Espinasse


Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Cynthia. Mom really appreciates it all. It is so good to see her surrounded by her family and enjoying everyone after living in a foreign country and not speaking the language. 💕


Looks like everyone was enjoying their together time! Beautiful weather and family are a fantastic combination. So glad you had a lovely visit😍

Nancy Prushinski

Sometimes you spell Marseille with an "s", sometimes you don't. I have always wondered about the two different spellings when I have encountered them in various readings over the years. Could you please elaborate? Is "Marseilles" an anglicized spelling & Marseille the French spelling?


Our dear Kristi,
There absolutely is no better way to start my day than to see you and your beautiful family so full of love, smiling, happy and savoring your time together.It truly puts the most meaningful spin on just exactly life should be about! And ma chere, only you could use your gift of of ekphrasis so eloquently!
Such glorious pictures to accpany your words!
Thank you!!

dr abdul malik

interesting website. i learnt at least one new sentence (prenez soin de vous!). merci de vous.

dr abdul malik

sorry i forgot to mention my city: Toronto, Ontario. Canada.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristi,
Sounds like a fun time! I bet Jules was in heaven with everyone there!

Karen in Northport, NY

In synch across the pond this week. So sweet to see the familiar faces, so sad when we say goodbye again. Smala going on here, too, this weekend. I drove north to see extended family in Saratoga County, NY. Well, took the ferry across the Sound; I'm too slow to tackle the NYC traffic now. It's just the best to check in with everyone, laughing about how old we're getting, enjoying the antics of the younger gen, trying for moderation in the food and drink department. One cousin is a sommelier so the wine was far better than I can appreciate. And, yes, it's good to get back to my cozy nest and Not Talk.


I actually knew this word and was shocked and reminded of its use. Million dollar question, the pronunciation of Cassis - to pronounce or not to pronounce the last "s."


Kristin, we are a bit concerned about Jules. When you said your family was there long enough to care for your mother, together, we wondered if all is well. She's always been such an important part of your writing, that she, too, has an adoring public! You and all your family, including Jules, have fans in Indiana and Illinois.

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,

Being close in age to Jules and the mother of two daughters, I can well imagine the comfort and peace she must feel knowing you and Heidi, and your families, are so close. Such joy you all must bring to her… and to each other,

Kristin Espinasse

Bonjour Emmanuel and Nancy,
I often get corrected for spelling Marseilles with an s, but I like to spell it that way--given it can be spelled either way. That said, it is time to understand why Marseilles can be spelled both ways. I asked Chatgpt for the answer and here is what it says:

The city of Marseille, located in France, is typically spelled with an s in English to reflect its pronunciation more accurately. The original French spelling of the citys name is Marseille, which is pronounced with an s sound at the end. English speakers often adapt foreign words to fit their languages phonetic patterns, which is why the s is added in the English spelling.

The spelling variation might also be influenced by historical factors. In the past, the citys name was sometimes spelled as Marseilles in English texts. This spelling variation could have been influenced by the citys pronunciation in different regional dialects or by historical conventions of transliteration.

Its worth noting that the spelling of place names can evolve over time, and alternative spellings may emerge due to various reasons, including linguistic influences, anglicization, or individual preferences. However, Marseille is the more commonly accepted and recognized English spelling for the city at present.

While the spelling of Marseille as Marseilles in English has been less common in recent years, here are five quirky facts related to this historical spelling variation:

1. Historical Usage: The spelling Marseilles gained prominence in English during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was a prevalent anglicized form of the citys name during that time and persisted in usage until more recent years.

2. Literary References: The alternative spelling Marseilles can be found in various literary works and historical texts. For example, in Alexandre Dumas famous novel The Count of Monte Cristo, the city is referred to as Marseilles in the English translation.

3. Song Title: The spelling Marseilles is used in the title of a well-known French patriotic song called La Marseillaise. This song, which became the national anthem of France, was composed during the French Revolution and named after the city.

4. Sporting References: In the realm of sports, you may come across the spelling Marseilles in older sports reports or historical references. It was occasionally used to refer to the citys football (soccer) team, Olympique de Marseille, in English-language publications.

5. Regional Variation: The use of Marseilles instead of Marseille might have been influenced by regional dialects or accents in the English-speaking world. Some English speakers may have adopted the s sound due to their local pronunciation or the influence of neighboring languages.

Its important to note that while the spelling Marseilles has historical significance, the commonly accepted and recognized English spelling for the city of Marseille today is Marseille.

Text by https://chat.openai.com/

barbara michels

When I was a child, my grandmother always said "pull the chain" when she meant "flush the toilet".


Great story….having read the chatgpt, I’m not certain I would agree with the pronunciation as I don’t recall hearing “s” pronounced on the end of the word and I did live in Vaucluse for six years. In my “phonics”, I have heard “Mar-say-ye”. (Writing today from Möhlin en Suisse.)


Back in Paris with daughter, son-in-law, and two adolescent granddaughters, to show them (grandkids) were we lived in Paris over 20 years ago.
As the song says” Paris tu n’as pas changé mon vieux….
Tu es toujours le même Paris.”

Julie Farrar

It's never long enough with family members who are distant. My kids are both far away, so I've learned to just treasure all the hours I get -- especially if we are all together. Glad you got this time with them.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)