quatre quatre (4X4) + photos of French landrover

Toy cars in Vaison la Romaine (c) Kristin Espinasse

"Traffic" in the town of Vaison-la-Romaine. A car lover will appreciate today's edition, which focuses on a unique off-road vehicle, the UMM. Thanks for forwarding the post on to a friend!

quatre-quatre or 4X4 (kat-kat or kat-ruh kat-ruh) (see sound file below)

    :  four-wheel drive

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Audio File and Example sentenceDownload MP3 or Download Wav

L'apiculteur est arrivé avec son 4X4 pour monter jusqu'aux restanques et deposer les ruches. The beekeeper arrived with his 4X4 to climb up to the rock terraces and place the bee hives.

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

This morning Mr Pottelet, the beekeeper, came to deliver four hives.  Jean-Marc met the apiculteur at the edge of the gravel driveway, where the two men took a steep passage that leads to several hillside agricultural terraces, where Jean-Marc will plant his vineyards.

I hurried to dress, grabbed my camera and rushed up the other side of the hill, just behind our house, but it was too late. The men were already headed back down the hillside, having placed the buzzing ruches

Zut! I'd missed the bee-installation. Never mind. My attention soon caught on the unique vehicle driven by the beekeeper. I watched the tail end of the rover disappear down the steep path, at which point I hurried down the stairs beside our house, to our driveway, where the quatre-quatre was now arriving.

Shaking the beekeeper's hand I couldn't wait to ask about his four-wheel drive.  "An UMM?" I questioned, amused by the metal lettering on the front of the car.

Lately I've been fascinated by the Citroën Méhari and the history of this off-road vehicle. The beekeeper's 4X4 looked like a mix between a Méhari and a taller landrover.
UMM or 4X4 manufactured in Portugal (c) Kristin Espinasse
The most famous UMM is probably the one that transported Pope John Paul II in one of his visits to Portugal. --Wikipedia

"It was meant to be a mix between a tractor and a truck," Mr Pottelet explained. The vehicle was originally conceived by the French engineering company Cournil as a prototype. Its raison d'être was to function as something between a tractor and a truck. 

UMM vehicle belonging to the Service Departementral d'incendie et de secours or fire rescue department (c) Kristin Espinasse
The design was sold to the Portugese who manufactured the UMM for the public until 1994. Currently, they are made for the military and utility services only. --Wikipedia The apiculteur's UMM was used by the fire rescue department

I circled around the tractor-truck, wishing more than ever that it were my own. Jean-Marc has wanted to trade in my Citroën C3 but, being only 8 years old, it is hard to justify the need for a new car.

"Does it get good gas mileage?" I asked the beekeeper, who told me the diesel engine doesn't consume much.

"But it can't be that comfortable," I pointed out, "how was the two-hour drive getting here this morning?"

"Elles sont très agréable à conduire."  "They are very nice to drive," the beekeeper said, summing things up.

dogs of France. Meet Kek (c) Kristin Espinasse
Most of the known Portuguese off-road drivers started their careers driving UMMs. --Wikipedia (the off-roader pictured beyond the window is called "Kek". He's the apiculteurs gentle Corgi/Westie mix... or was that a Jack Russell/Westie mix?

  UMM or 4X4 land rover (c) Kristin Espinasse

And it must be quite useful for him, I thought, what with the four buzzing hives he was able to transport.

I began to wonder how I might justify the need for such a vehicle of character?... Two golden retrievers and a steep and winding driveway... was that enough to justify it?

"Je peux vous demander une question indiscrète?"  

I wanted to know what a car like this costs. The beekeeper said he paid around 4000 euros after finding it in Le Boin Coin, the local classifieds.

4000 euros? By now Jean-Marc, who had been anxiously following the conversation, was looking relieved--interested even.  What with so many French Riviera women driving little Mini Coopers ($$$), he might count his lucky stars that his wife's set her sights on something grander.

bee hive and four-wheel drive (c) Kristin Espinasse
Now all my husband has to do is sell several hundred jars of honey to pay for it. Better yet, maybe he can trade for it? Wine and honey for a lemon? But this baby is no lemon!

To comment click here. What is your favorite car? Would you drive an UMM? What would you cart in the back? What could I cart in the back? Comments welcome here.

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Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone 

The UMM rover arriving high up on the third terrace. The beekeeper, who also has 12 donkeys, tells us these dependable workers would be ideal for clearing this land.... Don't tell Mama Jules, or she'll pass out in excitement. After a gypsy trailer, or roulette (or maybe even before it), she dreams of having a donkey.

Move over Popemobile... UMMs are THE beemobile! 

Back to work now.... Don't forget to forward this post to a car enthusiast (or even bee enthusiast!) Thanks. (P.S. Just look at all the work there is for a donkey. Is this justification enough??) To comment on today's word or story or photos click here


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apiculteur and abeilles beekeeper and bees (c) Kristin Espinasse


un apiculteur (aah pee kuul tuur) noun, masculine
    : beekeeper, apiarist

Example Sentence: (note: the sound file will be back soon... some technical difficulties today!)

Aujourd'hui on fait la connaissance de l'homme qui murmurait à l'oreille des abeilles. Today we meet the man who whispers to bees. 

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

"On Entertaining Angels"

It was the apiculteur, the beekeeper who arrived unannounced, or seemingly so (I would later learn that he and my husband had another one of those French arrangements whereby the one Frenchman had mentioned to the other that he would be by "dans la journée". Such are the specifics down south).

As the plans revealed themselves to me, there beneath the looming mulberry tree, I hunched over my lunch plate, as would a dog thrown a new bone: selfish-prone. I might have picked up my bone and moved it a dozen meters, over to the bush behind the clothesline, as Braise or Smokey might, but for a human snag called "manners". 

Seated with the harvesters at the picnic table, my nose now buried in a plate of charcuterie, I could not hide and so I tried, once again, to eradicate this stubborn sin: one of not letting others in.

I did my righteous repetitions...
Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.
Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.
Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise. 

I did my many mea culpas...
Lord, forgive me!
Lord, forgive me!
Lord, forgive me! 

Until my husband, more of a hands-on type, came over and all but plucked me up by my evangelical ear:

Chérie, c'est l'apiculteur.

I stood up and nodded as only a dog with a bone in her mouth could: with an are you going to take it from me or may I keep it? stance. (Time and Space being my meaty bone.) 

Thankfully, our unexpected visitor was spared the war going on in "there": inside my heart I knew that a warm welcome was the only way. I could catch up on "alone time" at some point in the future. In Heaven, for example. If I ever make it there.

Bonjour, Monsieur! I managed a smile. I stood there now, in front of the picnic table, debating whether to invite the man to join us for lunch. It's almost one o'clock, he must be hungry.... or maybe he had eaten?  

I stood. And I stood.... And when Jean-Marc began chatting on about the harvest... I slipped away, right over to my plate, and shoveled down my lunch. The food was tasteless, as good as guilt.

Chérie, Jean-Marc said, as the apiculteur walked off, Monsieur is going to check the bee hive. Why don't you go and get your camera?

"And what about your camera?" I countered, returning to my conversation with harvester Lou. Soon, I slipped away from that too. I could not concentrate. I became a distant listener, my eyes scrambling over Lou's shoulders and up to the front gate to spy on the bee guy.


The apiculteur put on one of those bee "space suits". He wore the classic rattan hat with a slight brim. A net covered his gentle face (for he did have a gentle face, that much I saw). 


I watched him pry off the ruche-top, then stop to re-apply smoke to the area and so put the bees at peace (if not to sleep). Next, he began lifting out the honeycombed slides inside. 

bees and the beekeeper (c) Kristin Espinasse

I asked Lou to excuse me while I ran into the house in search of my camera. Arriving near the scene, one slow step at a time, I felt a strange calm. The apiculteur was carefully studying the slides which were half full with honey. He stared at his stinging subjects and their honey stores as if for the first time. He stared as Romeo to Juliet. He stared as Narcissus on seeing his own silhouette. It was love. Apiculteur amour.

honeycomb (c) Kristin Espinasse

The beekeeper gently set down one slide, returning it to the ruche, and picked up another. A cloud of bees surrounded him, some stinging his bare hands. With each piqûre he calmly reached down and plucked out the dard. Eventually he reached for his gloves, slowly pulling on the protective wear. His motions were as punctuated as peace: no stops, no goes, all movements came together in one even flow. Smooth as honey.

apiculteur or beekeeper and bees or abeilles (c) Kristin Espinasse

I gravitated toward this serene scene. Perhaps, I wondered, quiet as a honeybee I, too, might touch him... taking with me some of that calm and inner peace.

Post note: After experiencing the beekeeper's bonhomie, I could not get to the kitchen fast enough... in time to pile high a plate with the best our kitchen had to offer. It was simple fare but judging from the look on the beekeeper's face, it might have been the next best thing to honey.

Le Coin Commentaires
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French Vocabulary
un apiculteur = bee keeper
dans la journée = sometime during the day
la charcuterie = cold cuts
Chérie, c'est l'apiculteur = Dear, the bee keeper's here 
Bonjour, Monsieur = Hello, sir
une ruche = beehive 
la piqûre = sting
le dard = dart 
bonhomie = good-heartedness  


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hats or chapeaux in Sicily (c) Kristin EspinasseShade in Sicily. More photos of Italy in this weekend's Cinema Vérité.

enflure (on-fler) noun, feminine

: swelling (of cheek, etc)

also enfler (to swell) and enflé = (swollen)

Sound File and Example SentenceDownload Wav or MP3

Notre chien a été piqué par une abeille. Sa "bosse," c'est l'enflure d'une piqûre. Our dog was stung by a bee. His "bump," it is the swelling of a sting.


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

"Bobbing for Bees in Elizabethan France"


Smokey is doing just fine after Friday's "stitching up" chez la vétérinaire (this following his attack by two dogs last fall. The first surgery, which left him with staples across the neck and the cheek, also left behind one stubborn wound, which would not close).  

If his furry face is swollen, this has more to do with curiosity than with surgery: on Saturday morning our Golden happened upon the honey hive!

Manque de chance! I had just fitted the one-year-old rescapé with one of those plastic head cones or "e-collars,"(e" for "Elizabethan," after the resemblance of the cone to Elizabethan-era fashion). Such space collars are designed to keep a dog from licking its wounds or, worse, from scratching them.

(We won't go into details regarding the farce involved in assembling a deceptively simple e-collar. Bref, it is a wonder more pet owners don't end up wearing them—as one does a straitjacket—for by the time the enigma of all those flaps and all those buckles has been solved, Insanity's onset is apparent in the e-cone assembler.)

Having fitted the cone around Smokey's neck, I stepped outside for some needed air in the garden, where I noticed how quickly our pup adjusted, undertaking normal activities (eating, roughhousing with Mama Braise, adventuring) unhindered by the constrictive cone circling his head.


Satisfied, I turned my back on the dogs and went about a few chores in the flower patch: the belles-de-nuit were ready for seed-harvesting and the cherry tomatoes (propped up with the help of the hollyhock's trunk) had a new crimson crop on offer. I tossed a few tomates cerises into my mouth while discovering the latest developments in the jardin.

My eardrums began to tickle and I turned to have a look at the front gate. Commotion in the periphery of my gaze had my eyes darting over to the wooden beehive, where Smokey had just stuck his head! Next, I saw our dog spring backwards from la ruche! He threw his coned head to and fro, then, on hind legs, he reached his front paws forward and began swatting (in vain...). That is when I understood or "got it": our patient had bees in his bonnet!

I took off running, my own arms flailing and swatting while a high pitch issued from deep inside of me, a mad and murderous menace directed at those bees! All that shaking and shrieking soon sent the swarm to pick on other life forms. As the bees settled on the lavender and the last of the sunflowers, I knelt down to look at Smokey's face, just beyond the not-so-protective cone.  Calm eyes starred back at me.

Stoic Smokey had not so much as yelped for help—not even when the two-legged tornado chasing him and those bees quit spinning—at which point he pushed his nose past the limits of the e-cone and kissed the dizzy woman, recognizing her as his own.


Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are most welcome. Thank you for leaving messages in this comments box.

French Vocabulary

chez la (le) vétérinaire = at the veterinarian's
manque de chance! = bad luck
le (la) rescapé = the survivor
bref = in brief
la belle-de-nuit = "lady of the night" flower
la tomate cerise = cherry tomato
le jardin = garden
la ruche = beehive


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The sign says "Products from the beehive". Picture taken in Serre Chevalier.

The Ultimate French Review and Practice: Mastering French Grammar for Confident Communication

abeille (ah-bay) noun, feminine

La diligente abeille n'a pas de temps pour la tristesse.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
--William Blake

Thank heavens the vines are abuzz once again! And, no, it isn't the grape pickers that are causing so much commotion--but the honey harvesters. That's right--the bees are back!

When the "girls" jumped ship two months ago, leaving their hive as hollow as a hull, I gave Jean-Marc a verbal thump on the side of the head. "Qu'est-ce qui s'est passé?!"* I cried from the other end of the telephone line.* Jean-Marc wasn't sure what happened, but I had a hunch:

Juggling happened. Newly acquired vines (and the tending of them), renovation, moving homes, bees... too many ballons* in the air and one fell. Make that *flew* for everyone knows that bees don't jump ship.

But beekeepers do, or can, or can do if they don't get their act together! No use getting mad, besides--every jongleur* deserves a second chance...

And so it was that, still smarting from that thump, or verbal "bee bop" alongside the head, my jongleur/husband raced right out, empty beehive in hand, and found his queen another colony--this, after much negotiation at the bee brokers (or would-bee brokers. The bee boutique in question doesn't officially sell bees but, faced with one head-thumped and hiveless husband, they quickly changed their pollinator policy.)

The bee homecoming (new bees, old home) was grand and included all the pomp and circumstance of a Provençal parade. (The "pomp" being Jean-Marc's Gallic march down to the blackberry capped creek....followed by an ear-shattering scream I heard out in the field...


...the "circumstance" being a footloose vine and one fallen Frenchman, the latter having tripped over the former, beehive in hands and 60,000 "girls" strong...


Meanwhile, clueless from the balcony and admiring the full moon above, the shriek caused my eye to wander from the moon and catch on an erratic movement below. Next, I saw a streak across the horizon and could have sworn it was a shooting star disguised in a bee suit. Those silly stars.

                                      *     *     *

Post note: our "juggler" succeeded in placing the beehive on its stone platform beside the creek, beneath the shimmer of stars above. But he's up to his old tricks again, with yet another ball in the air (French Wine Label Design). Check out his progress in the "Vineyard Update" at the end of this edition.

References: qu'est-ce qui s'est passé = what happened; the other end of the telephone line = the kids & I were still living in Les Arcs, Jean-Marc had already moved north to begin pruning season; le ballon (m) = ball; le jongleur (la jongleuse) = juggler; merde! = sh--!

     => Dont miss "A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them"
     => Langstroth's Hive and the Honey-Bee: The Classic Beekeeper's Manual
:: Audio File ::
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word & quote:
Abeille. La diligente abeille n'a pas de temps pour la tristesse.

MP3 file: Download abeille.mp3
Wave file: Download abeille.wav

Don't be caught in customs without it: Burt's Bees Head To Toe Starter Kit
Orange blossom honey from Provence
In Music: "Vive la France" by Jazz great Sidney Bechet including "Petite Fleur" "Moustache Gauloise" "Dans Les Rues D'Antibes"

Terms & Expressions:
  une abeille maçonne = mason bee
  une abeille tueuse = killer bee
  une piqûre d'abeille = bee sting

English Terms & their French Equivalents:
  to have a bee in one's bonnet =avoir une idée fixe
  it's the bee's knees = c'est chouette! c'est extra!
  bee eater (bird) = un guêpier

:: Vineyard Update ::
Thanks to a flurry of feedback from "The Wine Label Poll" Jean-Marc has come up with a new prototype that he will enter into our October 1st contest. Check out his latest here.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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My husband "King Bee" looking for a Queen. Thanks to our neighbor, Jean-Marie, he found a swarm (see it in the photo? just above the word "bee". Now to pry the buzzing mass from the underarm of that branch...

un essaim (eh-sehn [silent "n," nasal sound]) noun, masculine
  : swarm (of bees)
  : crowd, swarm (of people); bevy (of girls)

Ce qui n'est point utile à l'essaim, n'est point utile à l'abeille.
That which is not good for the swarm, neither is it good for the bee.

My husband isn't one to flirt with ideas. He homes in on a fancy... then sees that it doesn't pass! He's done this with wine, women, and now...worker bees. For the wine, he left audit, or accounting; for the woman, he left Owch,* and for the worker bee he's leaving allergies--my allergies--in the dust.

That dust! How it pours out from behind his giant tractor wheels... From the tractor cab, Jean-Marc points to the flowers and wild herbs which crowd in along the rows of grapevines. "I'm going to make honey!" he announces. "It will cure you!" He theorizes that the abeilles* will collect the local pollen (from all those sneeze-inducing blossoms) and that if I eat enough honey I'll be immunized! He really just wants to wear one of those bee space suits, if you ask me. It's the closest thrill to walking on the moon.

Speaking of space, I can tell you from experience that a Vauclusian vineyard in wintertime looks just like Mars: flat terre* all around, nothing but gnarly alien claws jutting out of the barren ground.

Those bare "claws" grew green heads over the past month and when I visited our wine farm last week the organic fields had returned to their earthy selves. Next to the leafy vines, just down by the creek, I saw where Jean-Marc had placed the ruche.* The glass-sided beehive was chosen a few weeks ago after we spent an hour in a bee shop in Bollène. A very patient saleswoman, "Véro," helped us assemble the most basic beekeeper start-up kit which basically stopped our credit card in its tracks. But, when Véro explained we could make more than 20 kilos of honey, I got to calculating... Things were looking lucrative until Véro asked if we had a "sehn"... We'd need one to begin the honey process. A sehn, a sehn, a sehn...I mumbled. There'd be no honey without it.

The first week I told anyone who would listen that we needed a sehn, which in my mind was a fancy queen bee and entourage, but in the mind of the French--and judging from the intrigue written across their twisted faces, it must've been something entirely different. Turns out I had been telling everyone that we needed a boob.*

Do you think I was embarrassed? Sure, but there have been worse language gaffes and I've said things, unintentionally, that only a French obstetrician can say without flinching. Such are the hazards of hijacking a foreign tongue (which to me is less risky than flirting with 50,000 worker bees and a few hundred doomed drones). I'll leave that to King Bee.

References: "owch" = my husband's ex-girlfriend, so-named for the stinging effect she had on me -- read about that here; une abeille = bee; la terre = ground, earth; la ruche = beehive; boob = the French word for "breast" is "le sein" (sehn) which sounds like the French word for swarm (essaim) (eh-sehn)
:: Audio File ::
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's French word, then the quote: Download Essaim.wav
Ce qui n'est point utile à l'essaim, n'est point utile à l'abeille.

Terms & Expressions
un essaim de jeunes filles = a gaggle of girls
essaimer = to quit the hive and form a new colony, to hive off
faire l'essaim = to swarm; to spread out, expand
un essaimage = swarming

The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden
Thousand Flower Le Grand miel honey in decorative metal pail - 26 oz from Bernard Michaud, France

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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