Le Papillon / The Butterfly (c) Kristin Espinasse
On the way back from the clothesline, freshly dried linens in my basket, I knelt down to discover these two beauties: one animal, one vegetable, both minuscule.

le papillon (pah-pee-yohn) noun, masculine

    : butterfly

l'effet papillon = the butterfly effect

Audio file: Listen to my son, Max, pronounce these French words: Download MP3

le papillon. l'effet papillon.

Prédictibilité :
le battement d'ailes d'un papillon au Brésil peut-il provoquer une tornade au Texas?
Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas? (The famous title to a talk, on chaos theory, given by mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz.)


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

Beauty and the Buck

At a roadside recycling center my son and I are tossing empty glass bottles into giant containers. This particular recycling island, located just across the street from our local supermarket, accepts only glass and paper. For plastic items, we use the yellow municipal bags provided by our local mairie,* which sends a collection truck by our farm every Wednesday.

I look over to the receptacles for paper, and notice a stack of magazines. Somebody has carefully set them aside, for a stranger's profit. And so, while Max continues to pitch the bottles, je profite* flipping through the stack of glossy fashion magazines.

The pages are in perfect condition, not like the revues one finds in a busy dentist's salle d'attente.* What a find! All the top French women's magazines figure into the pile. I recognize the famous faces on the couvertures*: there's the starlet of the season (the public can be fickle, second only to the star machine that creates these here-today-gone-tomorrow fresh faces. On another cover I see the French president's wife (former model, current French fascination). As for the other magazines, c'est du pareil au même*: more perfect faces, more "how to" headlines (how to look ten years younger, how to lose 2 kilos overnight, how to seduce a stock-broker).

I push the magazines back into place, before backing away from the pile of pretty faces. I do not want to get caught up in the advertising machine of trying to look forever like a teen.

"Take them!" the voice of Vanity murmurs to me. 30 euros worth of new revues! You can enjoy them on summer vacation. What a value!"

"It's no value," I argue back. "Talk about an emotional expense!" I thought about all those false needs--costly needs--created by the glossy ads and by the articles on ever-elusive aesthetics.

I pause to remember my first make-over at the cosmetics counter of a major department store. After the saleswoman applied le maquillage,* she stepped back to critique her work. "You look... younger!" she declared, before proposing to me over $50 worth of creams and hide-your-imperfections coverings. Re my new, "youthful" look... I didn't tell the make-up artist--but I was only 17 years old at the time.

My grandmother, on seeing my made-up face said, "Don't gild the lily," but her poetic opinion was lost on me ("gild" didn't figure into my vocabulary and I couldn't point out "lily" on a flower chart). I was so busy chasing beauty that I ran right past it as it danced in the fields beside me.

Looking back down at the glossy magazines, I realized that this pile of perfection, however free, is of no value, ultimately. Not if it costs a priceless peace of mind--one that has taken over two decades to find--ever since I listened to the beauty technician try to sell me youth, as a teen.

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are always welcome and enjoyed in the comments box.

~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~
je profite (profiter) = I take advantange of...; la salle (f) d'attente = waiting room; la couverture (f) = cover; c'est du pareil au même = it's more of the same; le maquillage (m) = make-up

French Music Video: L'Effet Papillon by Bénabar
Note: if you are reading the emailed edition of this post, you may need to click over to the blog to see the French video. Don't miss it! (And if some of you would like to translate the song, thank you for sharing your work, here, in the comments box).


Si le battement d'aile d'un papillon quelque part au Cambodge
Déclenche sur un autre continent le plus violent des orages
Le choix de quelques uns dans un bureau occidental
Bouleverse des millions de destins surtout si le bureau est ovale

Il n'y a que le l'ours blanc qui s'étonne que sa banquise fonde
Ca ne surprend plus personne de notre côté du monde
Quand le financier s'enrhume ce sont les ouvriers qui toussent
C'est très loin la couche d'ozone mais c'est d'ici qu'on la perce

C'est l'effet papillon petites causes, grandes conséquences
Pourtant jolie comme expression, petites choses dégâts immenses

On l'appel retour de flamme ou théorie des dominos
Un murmure devient vacarme comme dit le proverbe à propos
Si au soleil tu t'endors, de biafine tu t'enduiras
Si tu met un claque au videur, courir très vite tu devras
Si on se gave au resto c'est un fait nous grossirons
Mais ça c'est l'effet cachalot, revenons à nos moutons (à nos papillons)

Allons faire un après midi aventure extra conjugal
Puis le coup de boule de son mari alors si ton nez te fait mal

C'est l'effet papillon c'est normal fallait pas te faire chopper
Si par contre t'as mal au front ça veut dire que c'est toi le mari trompé

Avec les baleines on fabrique du rouge à lèvres, des crèmes pour fille

Quand on achète ces cosmétiques c'est au harpon qu'on se maquille

Si tu fais la tournée des bars demain tu sais que tu auras du mal
Pour récupérer à 8h ton permis au tribunal

C'est l'effet papillon petites causes, grandes conséquences
Pourtant jolie comme expression, petites choses dégâts immenses

Le papillon s'envole
Le papillon s'envole
Tout bat de l'aile

Le papillon s'envole
Le papillon s'envole
Tout bat de l'aile

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