An exhausting surprise at Jackie’s Alpine “hébergement”

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Serre Chevalier Vallée, with its snow-capped cimes. Photo by Jean-Marc

TODAY’S WORD: se soutenir 

: to help one another, to support one another

Audio/Listening: Click the link below to hear the French words in the following story. Then scroll down to the vocabulary list to check your French comprehension.

Listen to Jean-Marc’s recording, click here


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

On Monday, Jules and Smokey opted to stay cozy at home while the remaining members of our household made the three-and-a-half-hour trajet from La Ciotat to Serre Chevalier. Jackie moves there next week, but this week her two-day formation began, and we wanted to be there pour la soutenir

Having dropped Jackie at Jules Melquiond Sports, we took advantage of le déplacement to get some work done. For our son, Max, a wine salesman at Domaine de La Mongestine, that meant visiting a few accounts in nearby Briançon, including a cool wine cellar called 1000 & Cimes, and a favorite restaurant Le White, located high up on the snowy slopes. Meantime, Jean-Marc checked on a few of his clients in Chantemerle village... and my job was to tag along, paying close attention to all the details in order to report back to you, Dear Reader. The pressure is on, now, to type up this report by Friday. Je suis à la bourre! Je suis charrette!

I really love this last term "charrette", learned while watching yet another wine tasting. This time we were chez Hervé et Eliane in their lively chalet in Monetier-les-Bains. The couple heartily welcomed us, smack in the middle of several projects--including a reconversion of their spa/hotel, now called "Alliey & Spa appart-hotel". 

"Je suis charrette!" Hervé admitted, pushing aside the contents of his kitchen table to make room for a tasting of Mongestine wines. Charrette? What an interesting way to use this word! What exactly did the expression mean?

"It comes from journalism and deadlines," Hervé said, swirling some rosé, “you know, ‘to be pressed’." The dégustation continued as I took mental notes for my own rédaction and deadline. Our brief meeting over, we said goodbye to Hervé and Eliane in time to pick up Jackie for lunch at L'Alpin, in Briançon, and enjoy a decadent meal: raclette (a gigantic half-wheel of cheese “au lait cru” heated by a copper bar. Diners scrape (or 'rake') the cheese onto a plate). Miam, miam!

After her first 9-5 day at Melquiond Sports, we met Jackie in time to visit son hébergement: a tiny, 15-square-meter studio located up the hill from the ski shop. Small as it is, this apartment is une vraie trouvaille given accommodations are extremely hard to find (so many seasonal workers needing a place to stay).

The ad mentioned "4th floor" (really “5th,” in American English) and no ascenseur, but we counted two extra flights as we huffed and puffed our way up to the apartment from the lower hill (only 5 flights if you hike up the hill and enter from the front :-).

Seven flights and no elevator? I trusted our girl could do this hike several times a day. But it could prove inconvenient when she's pressed—-when she’s charrette! Speaking of charrette, she's going to need something like that--a cart with wheels--to drag her groceries up all those stairs. Bon courage, ma fille! It will all work out. And it'll be quite a work-out at that!

Voilà for our quick aller-retour to the Alps this week. Jules was happy we made it home safe late last night, in the pouring rain. She and Smokey are the most adorable welcome home committee, one of them wagging a tail the other offering a warm hug. This brings us back to the word soutenir, which is what this trip was all about.


FRENCH VOCABULARY
se soutenir = to support each other
le trajet = journey, trip, drive
soutenir = to support
le déplacement = business trip
la cime = mountain peak, pinnacle, summit 
la formation = training course
être à la bourre = to be running late
être charrette = to be pressed, overwhelmed
la dégustation = wine tasting
la rédaction = writing, essay
la Raclette = a local dish made of cheese, charcuterie, and potatoes
fromage au lait cru = unpasteurized cheese
miam! = yum!
un hébergement = accommodation, lodgings
une trouvaille = a find
un ascenseur = elevator
bon courage = good luck
une charrette = a cart with wheels
un aller-retour = round trip 
soutenir = to support
le chamois = goat antelope 

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Max woke before dawn to hike up and see les chamois—a goat-antelope native to these glorious mountains.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. 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 of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Guess Where Jackie is moving?... and the expression “être sur son trente-et-un”

Chantemerle Serre Chevalier Vallée Alps France
The French Alps at Serre Chevalier. Have you heard of this popular ski resort in Southeastern France?

TODAY’S WORD: être sur son trente-et-un 

  : to be all dressed up, all dolled up

Audio/Listening: Click the link below to hear the French words in the following story. Then scroll down to the vocabulary list to check your French comprehension.

Click here to begin listening


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE
by Kristi Espinasse
“Être sur son trente-et un”

Behind a curtain at Le Printemps department store, dans une cabine d’essayage, my daughter is trying on an elegant black pantsuit. The gabardine costume is similar to an outfit a friend wore to Saturday’s dressy gala...

“Jackie, that looks great on you! It’s a classic and you will have it for a very long time. Dress it up or down—you could wear it just about anywhere!"

My 24-year-old agreed, adding, “I can wear it to work....”

Her comment was so innocent... Truth be told this was not an appropriate outfit for her new job. Should I gently enlighten her? After all, this would not be the same dress code as Baccarat... shouldn’t she know that by now? 

By now, seven weeks since leaving Miami after une escroquerie, our cadette was doing better. Gone was the numbness, la colère, and the depression. Maybe it was a good sign she suddenly wanted to wear a power suit? I just wouldn’t want her to feel out of place—when even France feels out of place to her right now. And I’m so afraid she’ll get back on that airplane and disappear...yet I’ve got to be honest with her and quit handling my grown girl with kid gloves.

“I don’t think this is something you could wear for your new job at the ski shop...” 

“Pourquoi pas?” Jackie countered and this time Innocence wasn’t talking. This was Boldness. She reminds me of her grandmother when that rebel spark flies out. 

Jackie’s grandmother, Jules, also worked in a ski shop. While we wore jeans (my sister Heidi and I worked there too) Mom wore silk dresses and patent leather pumps at The Alpine Ski Keller, in Phoenix Arizona. But that was the 80s. That was also a time of transition in Jules’ life. There, in “The Valley of the Sun,” Mom went on to become a top producer in real estate before burnout led to her early retirement in Mexico. 

Back in France, in Serre Chevalier Vallée, Jackie will soon be in a similar transition. While she has recovered from a terrible scam, she is still trying to find her footing, après avoir perdu pied. Going back to Miami is tempting, but something tells her ce n’est pas le bon moment. So when a friend put up a Help Wanted sign in their family-owned ski shop, the universe seemed to be nudging.

Bienvenue à Jules Melquiond Sports!
Since getting the job, Jackie’s been busy researching the company, founded by Jules Melquiond. champion de ski et ex-slalomeur de la grande équipe de France des années 60.... Searching the company’s Instagram account and its website, Jackie shared various nuggets with me as I cooked dinner: “Did you know the shop sells luxury ski apparel? And that it boasts one of the best French boot-fitters in the country?”

Skilled boot-fitters? Our girl is sure to find her footing in the mountains! And high-end apparel? She might be able to sport that elegant costume after all. But for now, please join me in wishing Jackie bonne chance at Jules Melquiond Sports. She begins training next week!

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I leave you with a postcard from the collection of love letters Jean-Marc sent me 30 years ago... the message on the back is timeless as our daughter begins a new chapter in the Alps.

Serre Chevalier est un pays magnifique. Tout est sain et je me plais à venir ici...avec toi. Serre Chevalier is a beautiful place. Everything is healthy and I enjoy coming here...with you. —Jean-Marc

FRENCH VOCABULARY 
être sur son trente-et-un = to dress up 
la cabine d’essayage = fitting room, dressing room 
le costume = suit
une éscroquerie = a scam
un(e) cadet(te) = youngest
la colère = anger
pourquoi pas? = why not
Serre Chevalier Vallée = major ski resort in southeastern France
perdre pied = to lose one's footing, to be overwhelmed
ce n’est pas le bon moment = this isn’t the right time
champion de ski = ski champion 
équipe de France = French team
bonne chance! = good luck!

Chantemerle sapin de noel wood heart door star
For more photos and a story about a stolen kiss in the Alps, click here.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. 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 of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Le Ravin: Jean-Marc's car accident in the French Alps


Today's Word: le ravin

    : ravine, a deep or seemingly bottomless chasm...

Audio File: Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the last sentence in his story, below.

A BILINGUAL STORY  by Jean-Marc Espinasse

(English version follows, below)

Puisque que la météo avait prévu de la neige dans les Alpes, je me suis décidé à partir tout seul ce weekend pour faire de la randonnée en profitant de cette première neige fraîche de l'année. J'avais déjà utilisé notre petit Jimny 4X4 pour venir dans les Alpes alors qu'il neigeait et j'avais pu vérifier que cette voiture avait une bonne tenue de route dans ces conditions là.

Mais ce soir, la neige était très glissante et vers minuit à presque 1 km de mon arrivée finale un petit animal a traversé la route. À vrai dire je ne sais pas si j'ai mis un coup de frein ou si j'ai mis un coup de volant pour l'éviter, ce qui est sûr c'est que la voiture est partie en travers et qu'elle est entrée dans le ravin. Vous pouvez imaginer l'effroi et l'horreur que j'ai vécu, ne sachant pas, pendant cette chute, si ce ravin était pentu, s'il était long, s'il y avait des arbres , une rivière... bref je me suis véritablement vu mourir. Cette descente infernale dans ce ravin n'a duré peut-être que deux ou trois secondes mais pour moi elle a duré une éternité.

La voiture est miraculeusement restée sur ses quatre pneus puis elle a stoppé net. Heureusement j'avais ma ceinture de sécurité et j'ai été franchement étonné de savoir que j'étais en vie, sans aucune blessures. J'ai réussi à ouvrir la portière malgré la neige je me suis rendue compte de la chance que j'ai eue puisque la voiture n'as pas fait de tonneaux dans ce ravin très pentu. Il m'a fallu 30 minutes pour grimper, à l'aide des branches de buissons, les 15 m de dénivelé enneigés et rejoindre la route où un ami était venu à mon secours.

Après une très mauvaise nuit de sommeil je me suis réveillé sans courbatures et j'ai trouve les personnes qui m'ont aidé à remonter la voiture sur la route. Il a fallu un tracteur agricole avec un treuil, un porte-char pour amener le tracteur sur le lieu le travail et enfin un camion avec plateau pour pouvoir mettre la voiture accidentée dessus et l'amener chez le garagiste. Trois officiers de police sont également venus pour couper la route pendant cette opération délicate. Après avoir attaché la voiture aux câbles, le très puissant treuil du tracteur a réussi à la remonter au bord de la route sans aucun souci. Quel a alors été mon étonnement de voir que la voiture n'était pratiquement pas accidentée et que le moteur a démarré au quart de tour.

Le soir de cet accident, il y avait un tirage du loto historiquement élevé. Je n'ai pas joué à ce jeu mais j'ai quand même eu l'impression d'avoir gagné le gros lot. Je n'ai eu aucune blessures, la voiture n'a pas eu besoin d'être réparée et j'ai finalement pu profiter de cette neige fraîche, à l'origine de mon accident mais qui a également amorti et évité le pire dans ma course folle au sein de ce ravin.

ENGLISH VERSION

Since the weather forecast had called for snow in the Alps, I decided to go alone this weekend to hike, taking advantage of this first fresh snow of the year. I had already used our little Jimny 4X4 to come to the Alps while it was snowing and I had been able to verify that this car had good handling in these conditions.

But tonight the snow was very slippery and around midnight, almost 1 km from my final arrival, a small animal crossed the road. To tell the truth, I don't know if I put on the brakes or if I used the steering wheel to avoid it, what is certain is that the car took off sideways and so entered into the abyss. You can imagine the dread and horror I experienced, not knowing, during the fall, if this ravine was steep, if it was long, if there were trees, a river ... in short I truly saw myself dying. This hellish descent into the abyss only lasted maybe two or three seconds, but for me it lasted forever.

The car miraculously stayed (upright) on its four tires and then came to a stop. Luckily I had my seat belt on and I was frankly amazed to know that I was alive with no injuries. I managed to open the door despite the snow and realized how lucky I was since the car did not roll over in this very steep ravine. It took me 30 minutes to climb out, using the branches of the bushes, the 15 m of snow-covered vertical drop, and reach the road where a friend had come to my aid.

After a very bad night's sleep, I woke up with no body aches and found some people who helped me get the car back on the road. It took an agricultural tractor with a winch (a hoist), and a tank loader, to bring the tractor to the area and finally a truck with a platform to be able to put the damaged car on it and take it to the garage. Three police officers also came to cordon off the road during this delicate operation. After having attached the car to the cables, the very powerful winch of the tractor managed to raise it to the side of the road without any problem. I was astonished to see that the car was hardly damaged and that the engine started at a quarter-turn (of the key).

On the night of this accident, there was a historically high lottery drawing. I didn't play this game but still felt like I had won the jackpot. I had no injuries, the car did not need to be repaired and I was finally able to take advantage of this fresh snow, which was the cause of my accident but which also cushioned and prevented the worst in this mad race into the abyss.

 Jean-Marc cross-country
Jean-Marc enjoying the snow.

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A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. 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 of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


How to say cane (or trekking pole...) + photos from French Alps

Golden retriever dog stick
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.

Non merci. I needed both hands to fall on as we advanced up the rocky ravine, even if I felt surefooted in my tightly-laced bottes de randonnée.

Kristi at Ecrins national park

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. 

 

FRENCH VOCABULARY

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, goat-antelope
Regarde! = look!
ça y est = that’s it
rien que pour le plaisir = just for the pleasure

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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. 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 of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Cheri, did you pay the water bill? Two breakdowns in the Alps....

Today's word (posted in 2004): en panne

    : broken down, out of order


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Last winter Jean-Marc and I bought a tiny chalet in the Alps--so small the previous owners named it "Blanche Neige". So far, we have only tested 3 nains (when Jean-Marc, our son, Max, and friend Jorge went skiing early January). I stayed home, leaving the man trio to share the loft upstairs and the lilliputian quarters below.

This past weekend, Jean-Marc and I drove the 3.5 hours from La Ciotat to Serre Chevalier, to spend time at Blanche Neige and to be with our friends. After a nerve-racking drive in rain and in slippery ice, we made it to the mountains after dark, only to hike past the snow that had made a 3 ft wall in front of the stone cabin. What a relief to make it inside and to light a fire in the poêle à bois before taking hot showers and tucking into bed beneath the rafters.  The next day and night went well, more hot showers and enough water to boil pasta... but on Sunday morning we woke up to a worrisome panne....

I noticed it when I tried to flush the toilet. No water. No water, no flush. In the bathroom, one room over, I turned on the faucet. A few drops came out, et c'est tout! 

Returning to the loft, I made my way over to the mattress on the floor and crawled back into bed. "On a un petit problème," I informed Jean-Marc, who then began to cite a few possibilities, including our facture d'eau.

Did he just say he didn't pay the water bill?

Little stone cabin

I looked outside the windows to snow flurries and an icy winter white scene. It was freezing out and there would be no hot shower this morning. And who knew what else was in store? No water meant no coffee, no tea, no porridge. (Porridge may be an exaggeration, but it adds drama don't you think? Oatmeal sounds so boring. Both, however, require WATER!)

Back to the unpaid water bill (if this indeed is the culprit), the old Kristi would have been fuming inside. But the new Kristi (after 25 years of marriage...) stayed calm and reached for the bottle of Evian beside Jean-Marc's side of the bed. With the few ounces of water that remained, I carefully washed my hands. As for my late-to-pay-the-water-bill husband, if he was thirsty he could drink wine! But I needed to have clean hands--the least amount of comfort given the situation we were in!

We maneuvered our way out of the loft (some ducking, some squatting to get past the wooden beams beneath which we sleep). There in the one-room pièce below Jean-Marc opened a door on the floor and entered the cellar below. After fidgeting with the robinet he asked me to turn on the faucet in the kitchen sink. Nada. Pas une goutte.

Jean-marc calling for help
Jean-Marc, calling the water company

Around this time we heard our neighbors' voices and Jean-Marc went outside to find Françoise at her window and, across the street, Jean-Yves was standing in front of his house. More than sympathizing with our dilemma, our voisins quickly flew into action. Françoise texted the emergency number for our water company and Jean-Yves sent over a giant vase of hot water (a treasure better than gold!) I quickly washed up (à la bird bath) and dressed--in time to answer the door. An agent from the water company had arrived.

Quelle image! Looking out from our diamond-shaped window I saw a character from another epoch. The young man wore an unusual béret: flat as a pizza and around the same size in diameter!

"Quel beau chapeau!" I said, greeting him. Remembering the varying types of bérets (I bought an Italian one (falls nicely over the ears) for my mom last year) I asked, "Is it Spanish?" I noticed his ears were completely exposed and I had a mind to pull down the sides of the flat béret and cover them. It was freezing outside! 

"No, it is from the French army. Ça s'appelle une tarte!"

Next, his colleague arrived carrying a giant cocotte-minute and the two descended into the cellar. With the help of a tank of gas and a blow torch, the men melted the ice that had formed around our pipes and the water flowed once more!

Trap door to cellar
Trap door to the cellar full of wine and icy pipes! (And do you spy Mr Sacks?)

That evening we invited our neighbors over for an apéro to thank them for their help. Françoise brought Danièle, who is lodging with her, and who is doing ski touring with our other neighbor, Jean-Yves, an expert mountain guide. Jean-Yves showed up with un fromage de tête (a delicacy consisting of various meats (ears, cheeks... all combined with a lot of parsley and set with gelatin). As we sat before the fire, chatting, I admitted to Danièle that it is so very hard to ask for help, isn't it? If I had been here alone, I told her, I don't think I would have ventured out to knock on my neighbor's door. I would have tried, somehow, to get by. (I can only imagine, in such a scenario, how things would've looked by day two!) And to think there are people who remain in similar absurd situations...all because they are uncomfortable asking for help. 

Danièle reminded me of the French valeur of solidarity. "Especially here in the mountains, in a far-off hameau like this one. We all help each other. Never hesitate to ask for assistance--that is how it works!" On that note I asked our guests about the unusual béret the plumber wore, and the trio each had something to say, beginning with Jean-Yves: "Ce sont les bérets de chasseur alpin." 

"They were worn by the military," Francoise, said. 
Danièle pointed out that these béret-porting troops were the ones who scoured the mountainside during the war both to protect civilians and defend the border.

Jean-Marc added that, since obligatory military service ended some twenty years ago, with President Chirac, certain young men wear the béret out of regional pride and to honor tradition.

My mind returned to the picture I saw outside our diamond-shaped window, of the young man in his extra-wide béret. I remember how timeless he looked. The scene could have very well been from another time and place, except, thankfully, he was only here to rescue our pipes, and, in so doing, prevent a possible guerre des rose or war of the roses. Which reminds me, my hubby did indeed pay the water bill. It was time to thank him for that...only he was already back outside, trying to fix our car which would not start. Oh no! Another panne! 

***
Many thanks for reading. Edits are most welcome in the comments, below.

Jimny suzuki
And we had just gotten our car out of the shop, remember?

Soutiras beret chasseur alpin militaire
Le commandant Soutiras, officier des Chasseurs alpins, en 1939

FRENCH VOCABULARY

Blanche Neige = Snow White
le nain, la naine = dwarf
le poêle à bois = wood stove
la panne = breakdown, out of order
et c'est tout = and that's all
la facture d'eau = water bill, invoice
la pièce = room
le robinet = tap, faucet
pas une goutte = not a drop
le voisin = neighbor
quelle image = what a sight!
la cocotte-minute = pressure cooker
un apéro = pre-dinner drink
un fromage de tête = pork brawn, head-cheese pâté
la valeur = value
le hameau = hamlet
le chasseur alpin = mountain infantry man
Blossoming cover
Book birthday! Blossoming in Provence turned 8 years old last month. This book came together during a 21-day publishing challenge. Today's challenge is to ask for help (still so hard to do!) in getting this book into the hands of someone new. Would you kindly consider buying a copy for a friend? Thank you in advance. Time now to have a piece of cake and celebrate!

PastedGraphic-3
I hope you enjoyed a little bit of French history in today's story. Come to France to experience the rich culture. Photo by my friend Beth, from her Lavender and Vine Tour, info here.

Max wearing his wool hat
Our son Max, wearing another timeless hat: after the authentic béret, here's a men's newsboy cap, (more styles here). 

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. 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 of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Ces bottes sont faites pour marcher (These boots are made for...)

Maison de village in saint chaffrey alps
Village home in Saint-Chaffrey, Southern French Alps

Today's word: la botte

    : boot
    : bundle (sticks)
    : bunch (radishes)

Click here to listen to the following sentence in French
Eh bien, ces bottes sont faites pour marcher et c'est exactement ce qu'elles vont faire. --Nancy Sinatra
These boots are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do. 

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

Our drive up to the Alps was getting off to a bleak start. Not five minutes into our trip and we encountered a monumental embouteillage, only this time it wasn't les gilets jaunes protesters--it was VINCI--the company in charge of the motorway. It was they who had closed les péages. I looked out our passenger window to a sea of commuters who would not make it to the office by 9 a.m..... 

Jean-Marc began driving on the road's shoulder, passing two lanes of stalled vehicles to reach a raccourci farther up on the right. Following a caravan of renegade drivers, we weaved back down through La Ciotat...to shimmy up the backside of Cassis. There we broke off from the southbound traffic and entered the freeway north--not a single car ahead of us now. It was surreal--like the day after the end of the world, and only the two of us remained.

On the opposite side of the autoroute, heading toward Marseilles, thousands of cars were backed up. Little did they know what lie ahead. Les pauvres!

The two of us carried on, three-and-a-half hours northwest to Serre Chevalier--where a group of mountain towns are niched among the southern French Alps. It was there, 24 years ago, on the banks of the rivière Guisane, that Jean-Marc proposed to me. But that was not the reason for our return....

We were there to celebrate the 50th birthday of Jean-Marc's friend Fred (godfather to our son Max). It was Fred's parents who loaned us their apartment years ago, for Jean-Marc's special plan. As we drove past Saint-Chaffrey, I looked up the street to where that old telephone booth used to be--the one Jean-Marc slipped into to phone my Dad and ask permission to take my hand in marriage. He burst out of that phone booth like Superman, having transformed from a bachelor to a near-married man!

Nostalgia courses through me when we return to les Hautes-Alps. It was here our children learned to ski, and here where we have our longtime mountain friends--a group of athletic bon vivants who love nothing more than to wake before the sun rises and hike 8 hours (mountain peak to mountain peak?) in the summertime. They are funloving, hard-playing professionals--and for years I have watched them from a distance...in awe.

Coincée, bloquée, compliquée--or simply lacking confidence--I often find a pretext to stay in our cheap hotel room rather than pile in with a houseful of extroverts while les sportifs go downhill skiing or meet for a daylong randonée. I don't have the gear and have all the fear. Part of this (the non-idiosyncratic side) goes back to a mistake I made years ago when Jean-Marc took me to the top of the mountain to une piste noire.  It was there I learned I could not ski. I eventually inched my way forward, on my bottom, cussing all the way down the icy, steep slope. (This explains why I no longer cuss, or dire des gros mots--I used up every single expletive on that day!)

While the black diamond (the word for a vertical ski run?) was Jean-Marc's mistake, I regret to this day that I didn't sign up, then and there for ski lessons. And so, for all these years I've stayed in my room, which only alienated me from our mountain friends who came to know me as Jean-Marc's femme sauvage. In the end, I didn't even bother to go to the mountains, but sent Jean-Marc off on his own.

This time something shifted in my brain. It might have been all the walking (and some running) I have done since September. Or my state of mind (improved from physical exercise). Somehow all those blocks--or one of them--lifted! And when we walked into our friend Guillaume's ski shop, I marched right up to the sales girl and said je voudrais des bottes qui ne glissent pas! 
Hautes alps piste trail hiking boots ski de randonne
Hiking while Jean-Marc does cross-country

Having found a solution to a fear (slipping) I've held on to for ages, I followed my husband to the nearest piste and chased him right up the side of the mountain (OK, a small section of it) but I may as well as arrived at the summit of Mont Blanc! That is how good it feels to overcome something that has held you back for a very long time.

At Fred's 50th birthday party, I joined our friends and danced the night away in my new hiking boots. The faux-fur trim is an affectionate nod the femme sauvage at heart who is, little by little, climbing her way out of her hotel room--to the dance floor and beyond.


Non-slip bottes de neige
Visit our mountain friends here:
Guillaume's ski shop 
Benjamin and Virginie's restaurant (menu pictured below)
Lionel's Bière Alphand
Hervés Hotel (not the cheap room I mentioned in my story!)

Le white restaurant at serre-ratier benjamin melquiond

FRENCH VOCABULARY

la botte = boot
un embouteillage = traffic jam
les gilets jaunes = the yellow vests, see yellow vests movement
le péage = toll (booth, bridge)
VINCI = partner to the French government, this company is in charge of many of the roadways throughout France
le raccourci = short cut
les pauvres = poor things!
bon vivant = one who enjoys life
coincé(e) = uptight
sportif, sportive
= athletic, sporty type
ski de randonnée = ski touring
une piste = track
je voudrais des bottes qui ne glissent pas = I would like non-slip boots
merci = thanks
femme sauvage = wild, unsociable woman
Little chalet of dreams
A stone chalet in the Hautes-Alps. Do you enjoy reading about this part of France?

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. 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 of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Serre Chevalier + How to say "flat rate" when searching for $ deals in France

cadran solaire sun dial alps time clock painting on wall
Ambition is the downfall of man. (L'Ambition est la perte de l'homme). A message on a lazy sundial in Serre Chevalier. 

un forfait (for-fay)

    : flat rate, package deal, 

un forfait week-end = weekend package (price)
un forfait mensuel = monthly subscription
un forfait boisson = drinks included
un forfait de ski = ski pass

Audio File and Example Sentence
Download MP3 or WAV

Jean-Marc a trouvé un forfait hotel pour les vacances d'hiver.
Jean-Marc found a hotel package for winter vacation.

A Day in a FRENCH Life... by Kristin Espinasse
"Kissed by a Stranger--or A Bise in Le Bez"

Jean-Marc drove us to the mountains for our kids' spring break. I guess I need to quit saying "kids"--as our son Max will soon turn 19! All the more reason to profiter or take advantage of these family getaways!

"Does Jeanne ski?" I say, turning to the back seat, where the kids are settling in for the 3+ hour drive home. Jeanne is Max's petite amie and I'm wondering if we should bring her along next year--and so stretch these family vacations as far as they'll reach! But there I go trotting off to the future again....

a home in the French Alps snow shutters

I put a stop to the "eventualities" by looking out the car window and focusing, instead, on the four good days we have spent in Serre Chevalier--where Jean-Marc found another package deal, or forfait: 4 nights, petit déj compris! But dinner was not included in the deal, so we were delighted to be invited to our good friend Fred's!

I hoped our son's godfather (Fred), who normally insists that we stay with him in his family's chalet, would not be offended that we picked a hotel this time. As we dined with him and his family that first night--enjoying 4-cheese fondue in the cozy living room, I searched our friends' faces for disappointment, and listened, waiting for the inevitable question: Mais pourquoi vous n'êtes pas restés chez nous?

But when I saw how relaxed our friends were--and how they never questioned our hotel reservations--I began to wonder if we shouldn't get our feelings hurt instead. Kidding aside, it was probably a nice break for both families to have their own chez soi. I feel for people who own a home in a vacation mecca and who are regularly visited by travelers. How can they ever enjoy their own pied-à-terre or home away from home when they are busy sorting out sheets and towels and meals?

But just because we aren't sleeping under the same roof doesn't mean we can't enjoy each other's company by day. While helping Fred's mom, Marianne, put away the dishes, she asked if I would like to join her le lendemain for a hike in Névache. I panicked, thinking about hours and hours outside in the unforgiving sun. It's not worth going under the knife again... But rather than try to explain things, I rattled off something about needing to spend the morning finding a summer school fashion program for Jackie. (And when the latter heard this, she perked right up, solidifying my plans!)

The next day I had to follow through with my promise. While I did plan on doing a little research, I did not want to spend our 4-day break behind a computer screen. So by noon, I was ready to take a small stroll through the village of Le Bez, where our hotel is located.

stone chapel in Le Bez Serre Chevalier French Alps

Le Bez is a tiny hameau nestled into the base of the mountain. As I walked up the slippery hill, the place began to look familiar to me... Oh yes, there was that cadran solaire I had photographed the last time we were here... and beyond, I saw a sign to the sentier botanique. Oh to be back in springtime--enjoying all the wildflowers and papillons along the path!

Chalet homes in Le Bez Serre Chevalier French Alps

Like a butterfly, I weaved back and forth along the snowy path, enjoying the charming buildings as though they were filled with nectar. I pulled out my smartphone and begin snapping photos. So much for promising to bring my real camera (which is less and less practical the more I use my camera phone! I'll live to regret this when the day comes to print the pictures; meantime I'll believe recent studies about how lower quality pictures no longer seem to faze viewers--who are content, instead, with content. Indeed, it is the subject of the photo that moves us--rather than its sharpness).

1-IMG_20140224_114247
A tiny chapel doesn't budge as les oeufs, or eggs, travel up the mountain.

As I left the fountain and headed up a small snow-capped path, I ran into a local and was greeted by a very warm bonjour...

"You are not from here?" The gray-haired mountain man said. "Alors, je vous fais la bise!"

With that, the one-man welcome committee reached over and planted the most friendly kiss I had ever received on my cheek.

1-IMG_20140224_113352
        shadows and a little warning "careful of snow sliding from rooftop"

That was funny. Last time I checked the French were a lot more reserved than that. Any cultural know-how I'd gleaned up to now told me that complete strangers did not kiss--not unless they were with a person who knew the kisser.

Ah well, I reasoned, surely the local knew my friend Fred! Still, something told me that if my friend were here he might not have recognized Mr. Kissy Face. But his fist would have! 

                                            *    *    *

  1-IMG_20140224_115653

Back at Fred's, for dinner, a small fire broke out on our table as we sat enjoying fondue that first night, every French woman seated declared "This is why I have an electric fondue maker at home and not a traditional one!

Fondue is a great way to entertain and not a lot of work, either. An added amusement is the games the French play while eating fondue. "If your piece of bread falls into the melted pot of cheese," Fred's dad, Michel, tells me, "then you have to remove an item of clothing." I was careful to keep that bread on my tiny fork, but my lovely neighbor was not as lucky.... 

Ouf. In the end, everyone kept their clothes on. But imagine if Mr. Kissy Face had shown up? He might've invented another fondue game: Every time your bread falls into the pot... c'est un bisou! We call that spin the bottle where I come from (in French that's le jeu de la bouteille :-)

French Vocabulary

la petite amie = girlfriend
le petit déj (déjeuner) = breakfast
Mais pourquoi vous n'êtes pas restés chez nous? = but why didn't you stay with us?
chez soi = at home
le hameau = hamlet
le lendemain = the following day
le cadran solaire = sundial
le sentier botanique = botanical path
le papillon = butterfly
bonjour = hello
alors = so then
je vous fais la bise! = I'll give you a (welcome) kiss!
un bisou = a kiss
le jeu de la bouteille = spin the bottle

 

 1-bez


Next Meet-up: April 8, 2014 in Paris

Join me in the Marais for a musing on foreign accents! I'll be speaking at Adrian Leed's "Après-Midi"-- following in the footsteps of artists who have spoken there before me. Click here to add your name to the Facebook "attendance" page. (If you can't make it, please hit the "maybe" button on the Facebook page and I will bring you with me in my thoughts :-)

(James Navé will give a talk in March; also check out his upcoming class "The Poetics of Writing: Imaginative Storm Paris Workshop") 

1-IMG_20140224_115828

For you menu readers: blettes, courge, and chou (chard, squash, and cabbage).

1-fountain
Just look at this wooden water way coming from the 18th century fountain. Felt good to run my hands along the side, appreciating the artisan's efforts.

Apple tree
The old apples are still hanging on, waiting to be pushed forth by blossoms.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. 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 of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


vadrouiller

  Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
 Shelter on a rainy day. Read on, in today's story.

vadrouiller (vah-drouih-ay)

    to roam, wander, trail along
    

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc
 

Download Wav

 or 
MP3 
Vadrouiller. 
J'ai vadrouillé toute la journée à Paris, en attendant mon train. 
To roam. I roamed all day in Paris, waiting for my train.


        Paris shopping bag

I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. A percentage of sales will support the nature conservancy. Order one here.




A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

I have waited out the rain for two hours in a family run café along Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg. Family run, if you consider the conical condition of the waitress (a pointy pouch predicates a boy, the French told me, when I was in the same condition as she. Three months later, Max was born, as if by symmetry). 

Shouldn't she be resting instead of dashing to-and-fro, drying the raindrops that land in perpendicular plop-plop!-plops! on chairs which line the shoulder of the trottoir?

From my perch, beneath a glass awning, one step up from the flooding sidewalk, raindrops land on the tables, not far from my feet. I have been watching the locals, the vagabonds, the globe-trotters, and the tourists duck into door frames, eke out asylum under awnings, jump puddles, and dash for metro, just opposite, kitty-corner.

I study the darkened square en face. One side is lined with taxis. Out of the question. I will not take a taxi, the price of which represents one night in a youth hostel (single room: 40 euros, no bath, no toilet). I should know: I have been doing homework for my next périple through Paris. (Apropos youth hostels: one doesn't have to be a youth to be hostel, or to lodge in one.)

I stare at the hostile heavens. It is my turn. I must go, must quit entertaining thoughts of how to get the waitress to sit my bags. How she might be bribed—up to 10 euros (yes, it would be worth every centime to be freed of this weight)—to store the bag until my train leaves (at the end of the day...). But visibly, this won't work. I can tell by the way the produce arrives—lettuce, potatoes, céleri-rave, tomatoes—via a delivery truck. (The driver is drinking a complimentary café-au-lait at the bar). I watch the legumes being lowered, via an ascenseur that  just appeared, out of the floor, from beneath a large tile—next to where the driver is sipping his complimentary crème.  I stare as the lettuce bottoms out into the belly of the bar, disappearing into the basement below, where an invisible chef will labor in cramped quarters for the lunch crowd that arrives at noon.

Every nook and cranny of Paris is filled, by lettuce, a cook, by raindrops.... There is no place for my bag, not here anyway. Not in the 7th arrondissement. But what about the 12th? I will need to take the metro to the Gare de Lyon and search for a baggage sitter.... It is called une consigne isn't it? They do exist, don't they? I have another look at Paris Insider's Guide a free booklet that Clydette gave me. It is chock full of information, everything but where to store one's bags during that precarious  "in transit" time: neither here nor there, loaded down with a suitcase filled with books and sportswear... I might be ready for a marathon, but for the books. So many books!

I should call Robin, or Christine or Meredith or Janet or Penelope or Laurel... or Ann... they want to help. Why not let them? I have my doubts. Self-doubts. 

Ann! I could go to the American Library. Hang out all day... 

Loiterer! Espèce de vadrouilleuse! I look up and notice the pregnant waitress, who is quietly considering  me from behind the comptoir. It is time to press on. Liberate this perch for another self-conscious, soaking, stranger.  

I pay for the tartine and the two crèmes.... Leave a tip for a college fund, never mind that the university is free. Maybe the unborn child will study aux états-unis? Next, I wait in the corner café until a light at the end of the crosswalk turns green at which point I travel, perpendicularly, like the rain, jaywalking across the intersection. Beyond, I see the cannons of the Invalides. The eyes at the end of their barrels are watching me.

***
Le Coin Commentaires
Comments, corrections, and suggestions are most welcome. Click here. Merci d'avance!
 

 


They say that a writer is influenced by the stories she reads... I am re-reading and loving Good Morning Midnight. It is not for everyone... read the reviews first!


When you shop via any of the following links, you help to support this free language journal!

  
"No one who reads Good Morning, Midnight will ever forget it." -- New York Times

Sasha Jensen has returned to Paris, the city of both her happiest moments and her most desperate. Her past lies in wait for her in cafes, bars, and dress shops, blurring all distinctions between nightmare and reality. When she is picked up by a young man, she begins to feel that she is still capable of desires and emotions. Few encounters in fiction have been so brilliantly conceived, and few have come to a more unforgettable end. Order a copy here and read along with me!

PARIS, JE T'AIME, a film for Paris passionatas.
  

Paris Metro (c) Kristin Espinasse at www.french-word-a-day.com
 Smokey says: if you aren't going to show photos of me (because you are behind...), at least tell them that you saw a few golden retrievers in the metro, and how it scared you when they got so close to the danger line on the platform -- but not as much as it scared you when their non-seeing master followed close beside. Can we have a round of applause, now, for seeing-eyed dogs who deliver their charges safely over the worlds danger zones?

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. 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 of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


cadran

Nice & Serre Chevalier 029
A cadran solaire in Serre Chevalier. Thank you, "Newforest", for leaving a comment about this sundial:

"The inscription in Latin stresses our human condition: VULNERANT OMNES ULTIMA NECAT,
= Toutes (les heures) blessent, la dernière tue.
= All hours wound, the last one kills."


cadran (kah-drahn) noun, masculine
    : (clock) face, dial


Audio File: Listen to the French word cadran, hear the following phrases:
Download MP3
* Download Wav

le cadran solaire = sundial
faire le tour du cadran = to go right around the clock
.

A_day_in_a_french_life
In the Alpine village of Le Rosier a wise woman sits soaking in the sun, its reflective rays lighting up the face of her centuries-old stone chalet... which slopes to the side of a winding country road, opposite the cemetery.

I slip by our heroine, camera in my hand--French fountains, sundials, façades on my mind, discretion my hymn. I have 15 minutes to photograph this town, minus Madame (privacy), while my husband and my children wait patiently for me back at la mairie.*

Before Madame, a cup of steaming coffee and a book dress a simple iron table parched for color by the passing of time; beyond, the snowy Alps glisten. I imagine myself in the woman's shoes (make that hiking boots) some twenty years down the timeline: existing peacefully in a petit village montagnard,* just around the corner from the free-flowing fountain. Perhaps after a life of keeping up with the Joneses, this woman is now keeping quiet with the country cows: living finally, simply, in the here and now.

About two meters above the woman's head, a 19th-century cadran solaire* is painted on the façade: its fading face a reminder that not only man-made things--but also Time--eventually disappear into eternity. The previous thought has me matching up words: man/futility... nature/eternity. I think about my picture-taking hobby and what it means to me. Far from feeling disconcerted, I am inspired to enjoy "right here, right now" ... never mind that the photos that I am taking will go the way of the fading sundial: No! it is the hunting and the discovery of images that fuels the soul -- and not the collecting of them: the first is action (read: aliveness!), the second (collecting) is passive and "piling up" and the "up" part brings me back to those Joneses  -- whom I'm trying to stay a millenium away from. Indeed, the only thing I want to keep up with anymore is the laundry (I might have said "my dreams" and I'm sure my mom will have her say about that! "Laundry? Forget the laundry! Go out and play!" And so I am trying to...)

Enough philosophy, which, along with good intentions, has that "passive" quality. It's all fine and well to wise up -- and one can wax evangelic till the cows come home. But sooner or later "life" will intervene as life is wont to do just when "know it all you" thinks she has a clue about what is good and what is true. The bottom line is patience and isn't patience born of love? Stay tuned for part two of this story, where an almost enlightened expat... ends up with a flat and an unexpected piece of good luck.

*     *     *

Comments, corrections, translations (for the French words in this post....) always welcome in the comments box. Merci d'avance! PS: while you're there, don't forget to answer the photo-du-jour question at the end of this edition...

Shopping:

French Clockmaker sign : a reproduction of an old French merchant's sign

Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves : made with no colorings, artificial preservatives, pulps, purees, juices or concentrates.

In French Music: "Au sourire de l'âme" by Pep's (recommended by my son, Max)


Photo du Jour (see the question, below)

IMG_6097
Today's question: When's the last time you ordered take-out and from where? Tell us about it, here, in the comments box. (photo: A take-out joint in Marseilles)


Recommended album "Liberta" by Pep's (my son Max's favorite): from the clip, below.
.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. 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 of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


What does pêle-mêle mean in French? And how to say carpet (moquette)

Pêle mêle ( = confused, rushed, disorderly) shop in French Alps (c) Kristin Espinasse

Photo taken in Barcelonnette

Pêle-Mêle

(pel-mel)

higgledy-piggledy, any old how

  


Jean-Marc pulled into the snow-n-slush parking lot behind l'Equipe Hotel, got out and searched for the entrance. Ignoring the two-foot-tall board marked ENTREE, he side-trekked around the back of the building. I think he purposely misses these "how-to" signs and, in so doing, he turns life into one man's perpetual back-to-nature quest (and French boot camp for his prissy American bride).

Max, Jackie and Miss Priss followed, dragging our bags up the steel-grated stairs reserved for employees; we hiked around the brasserie to find ourselves back on track with the normal guests who approached the hotel in a conventional fashion.

Three hours earlier, just before heading out for the French Alps, I'd talked my style-unconscious husband out of his Glad Bag valise so that this time we were not stealing past other hotel guests—me with a duct-taped suitcase, the kids with a plastic laundry basket "drawer-for-the-weekend" and my husband with two hefty garbage bags (the deluxe kind with built-in handles, and not the cheap ones with the detachable plastic yellow string), contents thrown in pêle-mêle.

In the Ubaye valley, where the village of Enchastrayes is nestled, the nearest town being Barcelonnette, we were greeted by three French mutts—which explained the surprise-on-ice we'd sidestepped out on the Path Less Traveled. The dogs' owner stubbed out her cigarette before checking the reservations book.

"Chambres 15 and 16," she said, pulling two keys from a wallboard of 23 hooks.

Max pointed to the keychain and quizzed his sister: Did she know what the small, abstract wooden carving represented?

"Un castor!" she correctly guessed.

We climbed four levels of moquette-covered stairs, pausing to catch our breath in front of a needlepoint wall hanging, its thick yarn ...in mustard, orange and black... looped loosely across a cotton canvas. Plastic flowers, now faded, punctuated each landing.

Two floors up, Jean-Marc pushed the long metal key into the keyhole at room 15. He had to tug the door forward as he turned the key to the right and to the left (this tugging and key jiggling was in response to an indice he was discovering in real time—as he watched a demonstration given by the young woman standing next to a vacuum cleaner and cart two doors down.

No framed needlepoint art in the rooms, just more plastic flowers and more synthetic-carpet tile. Each side of the bed in room 15 had candle lighting—except a plastic flame stood in for a fiery one. Behind a vinyl accordion door, the bathroom, which included a plastic flamingo pink shower head draped over decades old robinetterie, smelled like a porta-potty.

"No, it doesn't smell like that," Jean-Marc retorted. "It smells like a hospital."

"Oh," I said, encouraged. The kids' room was a repeat of our own, except that it had twin beds.

The stringy sound of a violoncello filtered in from chambre 14, the cellist's glorious musical notes almost canceling out the infant's cries from the room above; such wailing from deep in the icy French woods, along with the bow and string (sans arrow) next door, seemed in keeping with one Frenchman's return to the Land Before Time, and the hotel decor, though not prehistoric, had that barbaric feel with just the right dose of vulgar to temper Miss Priss's great expectations.

I watched my husband unpack his bags with gusto, and it occurred to me to face our circumstances with a similar verve or joie de vivre.

With a little effort, I could begin to see our surroundings in a new light: no longer did the room feel oppressive. With renewed thinking, I began to feel a flutter inside my spirit, as a new sense of adventure was born. One that would sustain me, again and again, each time my husband reserved a hotel room....


French Vocabulary
 

l'entrée (f) = entrance
pêle-mêle = in confused haste
la chambre = room
le castor = beaver
la moquette = carpet
un indice = clue
la robinetterie = plumbing
la joie de vivre = joy of living

 

====Note: any text from here, on, will not be included in the book.=====

Your edits here, please!

Thank you for scouring this story for any typos or blips or inconsistencies in formatting (for example, all chapter titles should look similar to today's formatted title. All French words (in the story) should be in italics... etc). I appreciate your efforts to help me. Thanks again! Click here to submit corrections.

 

 


Listen: Hear our daughter, Jackie, pronounce today's word: Download moquette2.wav

Expressions:
chambre moquettée = bedroom with wall-to-wall carpet
faire poser de la moquette = to have a fitted carpet laid
la moquette murale = fabric wall covering

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. 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 of any amount.

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