From huppes to rapaces--birds in our French garden, les oiseaux dans le sud de la France

seagul gabian moette goeland
Un gabian strutting across the table on our front porch. Read to the end for all the useful French words and expressions.

Today's Word: s'envoler

   : to fly away, to take flight; to take off, to be blown away

Hear Jean-Marc read the following in French and in English.
Si tu te sers de la liberté en échange d'autre chose, comme l'oiseau, elle s'envolera. If you use freedom in exchange for something else, like the bird, it will fly away. --Gao Xingjian (émigré to Paris, Nobel Prize for literature)


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
"Freedom is for the birds." That's a funny title for today's musing, given "for the birds" means anything from "worthless" to "not important". No wonder birdwatching is less popular these days than surfing the net or social etiquette or wearing the right dress (stuff I think about. More about that later).

Mysteriously, the moment I chose "birds" as the subject of today's post...the most exotic oiseau in Provence paid a visit to our garden! I had just sat down for a solo lunch on our front porch, which overlooks the wild garden when I recognized those white and black zebra wings and that impressive crest sur la tête. I'll never forget the first time I saw une huppe after it landed on our pétanque court back in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. Quelle curiosité! I have only seen a few over the years and had I been eating lunch inside I never would have seen this animal diurne as it alighted on the diagonal trunk of our pepper tree (in the opening photo, you see the weeping branches of the faux-poivrier).

Hoopoe_with_insect
A hoopoe. Trapped in its "bec" a potato bug (good for hoopoes bad for chickens??). By Artemy Voikhansky

(And now, a brief interlude in time to list some birds in our neighborhood, and where we see them)

le martinet = swift (seen in the air this time of year)
le rouge-gorge = robin redbreast (seen in our Judas tree)
le corbeau = crow, raven (the gigantic parasol pines across the street)
la pie = magpie (struts around yard, often seen in the mulberry tree, eating!)
la mésange = chickadee (hedges)
la hirondelle = swallow (in the air)
le flamant rose = flamingo (rare in our area, spotted on the seashore)
le pouillot fitis = willow warbler (not sure, but I hear they exist here...)
le merlin noire = merlin (parasol pines? Am I confusing them with those crows?)

Tourterelle dove

As I sit typing this post, I hear the familiar screech of a green perruche and am transported back to a few summers ago... Mom shouting for us to hurry outside--a bunch of parrots were flying around our palm tree, attracted to the bright orange dates growing there. How did these exotic creatures end up in the Land of the Mistral? Were they escapees from a neighboring villa? Fugitives from the zoo in Toulon? In the days that followed, I quizzed everyone from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who regularly ring our doorbell to the municipal meter maids (trained to spot freeloaders!). Thanks to these accidental informants, I learned a lot about la perruche à collier (Psittacula krameri), including a few things we immigrants have common…(more here).

Just last night, Mom, Smokey, and I were sitting beside the cherry tree surrounded by doves (two or three in Jules's lap) when Mom noted that what is usual to us (all the soft gray tourterelles in our garden) is spectacular to others. As natives of Arizona, living in The Sonoran Desert, we enjoyed the roadrunners, quail, and hummingbirds (which do not exist in France), but seagulls were something never seen before! These days they are ubiquitous in our seaside town. (The locals here call them "les gabians.")

Cormorant
Les cormorans

Speaking of birds by the sea, the cormorant is another species in our voisinage. I see the same couple every day, in one of the coves along the boardwalk. Ils sont là, tes amis! There are your friends! Jean-Marc always says, when we walk by. There is a certain comfort in seeing the same birds in the same place at the same time, every day.  

Of everyday birds we can count on pigeons! They left the boardwalk and moved into our yard after the first lockdown. Three confinements later, gone are the restaurants (and all the savory scraps along le trottoir...). Now all our doves (and our chicken) must share seeds with these economic migrants. Speaking of hungry birds this brings us to a sad parenthesis: birds of prey (les rapaces in French). I am certain they are what snatched up two more of our chickens in the last months. After learning owls (les hiboux or les chouettes) can swoop in and carry off a hen, I began to suspect Le Petit-Duc, whose evening cry à la metronome is unmistakable. On second thought, and after talking to a venerable paysanne who lives nearby, it had to be une buse (a buzzard or a hawk). 

That leaves us with the biggest bird in our garden, our hen, Edie. We are doing our best to protect her. As for protecting all the other birds in our neighborhood, they say it is important not to use pesticides--and if you want to attract more birds into your yard, keep a shallow bowl of water, food, and put out a few more birdhouses. I'm going to purchase some wooden nichoirs at the next chance. Tell me, what are your secrets to enjoying the presence of birds? What benefits have you experienced? My smartphone informs me I've spent less time on the internet last week. Isn't that freeing? Now if I only I could quit ruminating about what to wear for a few upcoming social events. After three lockdowns I'm more comfortable watching birds than dressing up. I wish, like the hoopoe, I could just wear zebra wings every day (and for fancy occasions une crête sur la tête).


Kristi hens
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FRENCH VOCABULARY

s'envoler = to fly away
un oiseau = bird
sur la tête = on the head
une huppe = hoopoe bird
la pétanque = boules
quelle curiosité = what an oddity
diurne = diurnal, daytime
le bec = beak, bill
le faux-poivrier = "false pepper tree" (schinus molle)
la perruche = parrot
la tourterelle = turtledove
le voisinage = neighborhood
le trottoir = sidewalk, pavement
le rapace = bird of prey, raptor
un hibou = owl (can also mean "grouchy person"
la chouette = owl
le petit-duc scops = scops owl
le paysan, la paysanne = farmer, peasant
la buse = buzzard, hawk

pigeons in tree

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

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nid

Cannet
World Cup enthusiasts in Le Vieux Cannet des Maures -- an ancient village niché dans une colline/ nestled into a hill overlooking the valley of the Maures.


le nid
(nee)
noun, masculine
nest



It was the purple flowers that first caught my eye. Turning my back to the tournesols,* I set down the garden hose, tripping over it on my way to check out the fuzzy pointed tops jutting out of the stone flower-bed. Only two days before, I had envied the flowering mint in the neighbor's jardin,* and wondered why our own herbs never seemed to bud like that.

Moving in closer, I knelt down and examined the delicate lavender-colored flowers with the mint scent, just next to the bunch of three-leafed trèfles.* That's when I saw the nid*: a swirl of brown twigs no bigger than a child's knee. My hand drew close to the tumbledown nest as I searched for the small spotted eggs that I imagined belonged inside. Rien.*

I studied the fallen nest, amazed at one bird's creation, now cradled in my palm. Looking skyward to the towering oak above, I wondered which branch let drop this quiet-mannered tenant.

Perhaps the little nest followed in its gawky inhabitants' tracks, quitting the branch as the young birds quit the nest* (only to fall instead of fly). Who says le syndrome du nid vide* is for the birds? Might an inanimate bunch of sticks feel the loss as well?

Somewhat heartened, I looked down to the patch of mint, to the flowering bed of herbs that caught the empty nid. I thought it a heaven-scented place to land, and softly so.


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References: le tournesol (m) = sunflower; le jardin (m) = garden; le trèfle (m) = clover, shamrock; le nid (m) = nest; rien = nothing; quit the nest ("quitter le nid" = to leave the nest); le syndrome du nid vide = empty-nest syndrome

                                    
French Pronunciation:
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "nid": Download nid2.wav
Hear Jean-Marc's recite the French proverb: Petit à petit l'oiseau fait son nid / Little by little the bird makes its nest.: Download nid4.wav

Terms and Expressions:
nidifier = to build one's nest
la nidification = nesting
le nid d'amour = love nest
le nid d'oiseau = bird-nest
quitter le nid = to leave the nest
trouver le nid vide = to find the birds have flown
le syndrome du nid vide = empty-nest syndrome
un nid de guêpes = wasps' nest
un nid-de-poule = pothole

...and the English expression "nest egg" = le bas de laine (hoard of money) (also "le pécule" = store of money)

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A few lines by Arthur Rimbaud, to illustrate today's word, "nid" :

Au bois il y a un oiseau, son chant vous arrête et vous fait rougir.
Il y a une horloge qui ne sonne pas.
Il y a une fondrière avec un nid de bêtes blanches...


In the woods there is a bird ; his song stops you and makes you blush.
There is a clock that does not strike.
There is a bog with a nest of white beasts...

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

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

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


printemps

Printemps by Jackie (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse Photo: my 8-year-old, Jackie, collected these flowers and made the vase... the poppy flew off before her father snapped the picture.

le printemps (pran-tahn) noun, masculine = spring

Il y a des pluies de printemps délicieuses où le ciel a l'air de pleurer de joie. There are delightful spring rains wherein the sky seems to be weeping for joy. --Paul-Jean Toulet

A Day in a French Life...
Opening my front door I see the end of winter. While the groggy old oaks are still leaf bare, the abricotier* and almond trees are covered with the blossoms of spring. The dogwood beside our garage trembles as a crimson-chested rouge-gorge* delights in hopping from branch to branch causing a flurry of pink petals to fall and carpet the earth below with sweet-scented confetti. Joining the fête* are the sunshine yellow pissenlit* which spread their cheer across the lawn. Further down the lane the fun continues with the tipsy coquelicots* now hanging from the stone walls; soon they will cover the fields beyond.

I envy the feathered and petaled merrymakers who bring the dull countryside to life while I remain sluggish to give up this cozy hibernal shell. At once yearning for the soleil,* I cling to the coziness of winter and early evenings spent fireside.

Stepping out of the house, I see the dwindling woodpile--only five logs left to burn. A trail of ants leads into the house as if to coax me out of it. The campanile sounds and my thoughts turn to the village where my neighbors are giving up their winter shells: shutters are opening and blankets are airing from the second floor windows; below, the cafés now stretch out over the trottoir* along with an end of winter yawn. And just like a contagious yawn, so is the merrymakers' excitement for spring which pulls me over to the dogwood and under its shower of pink petal confetti now tickling my toes.

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References: un abricotier (m) = apricot tree; le rouge-gorge (m) = robin; la fête (f) = party; le pissenlit (m) = dandelion; le coquelicot (m) = poppy; le soleil (m) = sun; le trottoir (m) = sidewalk

Listen
: hear Jean-Marc pronounce the word 'printemps': Download printemps.wav

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France"...a heart-winning collection from an American woman raising two very French children with her French husband in Provence, carrying on a lifelong love affair with the language."

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

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

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


tourterelle

watercolor by Serge Nicolle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

les tourtereaux
(tohr-tewr-elle)noun, plural
lovebirds



Had you been one of the two turtledoves coo-cooing up high on the French telephone fil, you might have spotted another couple, sans plumes, on the patio below.

There, under an old tuile-roofed terrace, just beneath the sleeping bignonia vine, a man and a woman sat, close as the tourterelles on the line above, sharing a small patch of soleil at the end of a long rectangular table, on which their coffee cups rested.

"Tu n'as pas trop froid?" said he.
"No, and you?" said she.

Comme ça, they softly spoke, cooing to one another, each in his (and her) own language.

 

YOUR EDITS HERE
Is this short, intimate story something to keep--or something to delete? If it's a keeper, can you suggest edits? Many thanks in advance! Click here to add a correction or a comment.

 


French Vocabulary

le fil
wire, cable

sans plumes
without feathers

la tuile
tile

le bignonia
trumpet vine

la tourterelle
turtledove

le soleil
sun

tu n'as pas trop froid?
you're not too cold?

comme ça
like that

 

The following text will not be included in the book.

Listen to eight-year-old Jackie, pronounce the word 'tourterelle': Download tourterelle.wav

Synonyms for tourterelle: le pigeon, la colombe (dove), la palombe (ring-dove), le ramier (woodpigeon)

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

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

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


un oiseau

un oiseau (wah-zo) noun, masculine
1. a bird
2. a character (informal)

Also:
un oiseau chanteur = a songbird
un oiseau moqueur = a mocking bird
un oiseau de paradis = a bird of paradise
un oiseau de proie = a bird of prey
un oiseau mouche (un colibris) = a hummingbird

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Expressions

un vilain oiseau = an unpleasant person
un drôle d'oiseau = a strange person, an oddball
l'oiseau s'est envolé = the bird's flown (there's nobody there)
c'est l'oiseau rare = she/he's a rare bird
avoir une cervelle d'oiseau = to be bird-brained, scatterbrained
avoir un appétit d'oiseau = to have a bird's appetite; a very small appetite
donner à quelqu'un des noms d'oiseau = to insult someone
"petit à petit l'oiseau fait son nid" = "little by little the bird makes its nest" (success comes with work and perseverance)
être comme l'oiseau sur la branche = to be here today and gone tomorrow

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French Proverb

La belle cage ne nourrit pas l'oiseau.
A beautiful cage does not feed the bird.

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

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

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety