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


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

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How to say "a thought" in French and rewiring the brain (neuroplasticity!)

Kristin Espinasse (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse
Where is the mind located and do our thoughts really have substance--as scientists have observed? They say our thoughts can control our pain levels and more. I believe this, having used mind over matter while receiving several shots during skin cancer removal. Now if I could only train other parts of my brain--especially the emotional parts. Note: the fur, above, is fake. I'm wearing my daughter's vest.

la pensée (pahn-say)

    : thought

 perdu dans ses pensées = lost in thought


    by Kristin Espinasse

A Beautiful Mind 

In an ancient outdoor amphitheatre, while watching Lillywood and the $@#&! bring down the house, I stood up, kissed our friends goodbye, and stormed out of the concert. 

Making my way through the maze of Arles, trying to find our car, I looked over my shoulder again and again to see Jean-Marc lagging behind me. "Why don't you catch up!" I snapped.

(Before being labelled the castrating wife, let me share this: I'm currently working on a monumental task... the outstanding effort of retraining of a brain (my own). And what you witnessed in paragraphs one and two, was yet another discouraging backslip! )

It is disheartening to lose ground on the path of self-improvement. But it gives me hope to know that a positive rewiring of the cerveau is not as impossible as it seems. By taking every thought captive, we can begin the task of replacing our negative thoughts with positive ones--and so forge a new path of positivity.

My goal is to be more flexible. To go with the flow. To be easygoing. To say "No bother. Things change! AND CHANGE IS GOOD!"

But it's a one-step forward deux en arrier process--this thought replacement business. Step one is to examine my troubled thinking: what frustrated me last night--what had me steaming out of Arles, my husband in my wake, was something I'll call "The Let Down Factor"--my body was reeling with it! 

The Let Down Factor has to do with suffering. In a nutshell it's this: you are voluntarily engaged in an uncomfortable chore, one that has a start time and an end time. For this reason, you agree to suffer the task--knowing it is pleasing (and or helpful) to someone else, though painful to you. You can struggle through the task because you can "see the light at the end of the tunnel" and, so seeing, you set your heart and your mind on the bright light--while ignoring the inconvenience. Like this you can confidently suffer the moment knowing how long that moment will last.

The Let Down Factor occurs when the light at the end of the tunnel fades to darkness. This happens when the "stop time" is renegotiated (the "moment" is stretched) by a second party, causing you to lose sight of the destination (or "Pain's End"). Here is a classic example:

Harvest Time. The Let Down Factor is a given when you agree to help a friend or family member with the grueling task of grape-picking. You begin naively enough setting your mind to the task, ignoring the sweaty droplets running down your face and the sticky scratchy weeds scraping your skin. You hold your bladder, knowing at break time you'll be back at the farmhouse with its private throne.

"We'll break at the end of this row," the winemaker says.

"Yes!" your brain responds, beginning the let down process: letting down its guard, letting the dulled senses awaken (you now feel the scratchy weeds, the annoying sweaty droplets--and that nagging need for which you'll soon find relief! You don't mind the pain because break time is coming up, as promised!)

...And then La Grosse Deception. The Big Disappointment.

"We're so close..." the winemaker says, changing his mind (and your destiny). "We may as well finish these last two rows!"

Amazed, you look up at the never-ending vine horizon, the scratchy weeds circle around your knees, and the sweat slips into your eyes, stinging them. And you can't hold it anymore! Panic sets in. Your mind paints a bleak, humiliating conclusion to this story. Whereas a moment ago you were numb to the environment, suddenly all your senses are alive and kicking--ready to get the heck out of the Godforsaken grapefield. Alas, it's not gonna happen!

Enter The Let Down Factor, or Extreme Disappointment 

Had you known the true "stop time" (end of task or effort) you would have remained in your "buffered zone", keeping your pain under the hood of your physical engine. Instead, you let down your guard and in rushed the sensory torture

So how does all this tie in to a wonderful concert in an ancient ampitheatre in Arles?

Faulty baffles, for one. The speakers pounded across the outdoor arena, up the thick stone slabs on which we were seated, and into our chest cavities!

"I don't like it when I can feel it booming in my poitrine!" my friend Emilie remarked. 

She was right. It felt as though every organ in my body was bathed in the liquid pounding vibration

I looked over to Jean-Marc, who had his hands over his ears (this somewhat reassured me. I wasn't a wuss after all--the music really was too loud!

"C'est saturé," another friend complained of the sound. "Oui," Jean-Marc agreed, getting up twice to have a word with the technical crew, but the ear- and organ-busting beat continued. Unwilling to let it spoil his evening, my husband searched for a solution. Leaving his seat near the speakers, he disappeared....

But not before our friends began talking of leaving a little earlier than planned. Such a reasonable idea of theirs, I thought, to wait for the last band, and then enjoy a few songs before leaving. The thought perked me right up, knowing we, too, could soon be leaving. My motivation was renewed with the fixed destination in my mind. (I could almost feel myself crawling under the cozy covers back home--my ears filled with soft cricket sound and not this horrible pounding!)

What a good idea! I thought, beginning to set my hopes on the near future. "Do you mind if we leave a little early too?" I asked Jean-Marc. 

Jean-Marc didn't mind, and I was thankful for the sacrifice he made. Only, come to think of it, he hadn't made it yet. In fact, where had he just skipped off to?

Surely he'd be back, as promised, after the 2 or 3 song limit. He'd promised. But when the second song finished...and the third... my thoughts began to reel and that Let Down Factor began wreaking havoc on my mind:

You're going to arrive home at three in the morning. Have the dogs been fed? You've got to get up early. You won't be able to work with a late-to-bed hangover!

My thoughts were interrupted when my friend Isabelle reached over to kiss me. "See you later! We're leaving."  All three songs were up, the others were following through with the plan--that same plan I had set in my own heart in order to endure. But now those speakers and the late night was getting to me. The light at the end of the tunnel had been dimmed. When would we be leaving now? The unknowing made the moment hard to bear.  

Looking around, I noticed everyone else was relaxed and having a good time. Why couldn't I be the same? Maybe all that beer they were serving helped dull the audiences' senses--while waking their energy. Maybe after ten years, now was a good time for a drink?

My frustration began to grow and grow.Ce malin! That sneaky one! Jean-Marc had approached the stage where the sound was equalized. That meant we wouldn't be leaving after "two or three" songs!

And yet, after the fourth song Jean-Marc reappeared--but by then I was standing up with my bag under my arm. I kissed those friends that were staying for the end of the concert, and motioned to my husband that we were on our way out!

 "No, it wasn't the one or two extra songs that bothered me," I argued, trying to find where our car was parked.  "It's that I was set on leaving at the promised time. Not knowing where you were or when you'd return was extremely frustrating. We might have stayed all night!"

 Adding to my annoyance was my husband's gentle swaying. He'd enjoyed a few drinks over the course of the night and his relaxation was at odds with my frayed nerves.

It hit me then. I didn't have to go on suffering that way. I could change my thoughts and in changing my thinking I could be at peace.

"I feel bad you didn't get to see the whole concert," I admitted. (Stumbling through Arles, I was now following Jean-Marc, who, tipsy, could find our way 1000s times better than his sober wife, who was lost again and again.)

"Don't worry about it. It all turned out well." My husband's words were soft. 

"I'm just not a night person," I explained. "And I don't like it when plans change." Listening to myself talk, I heard the familiar self-limiting beliefs. But it wasn't too late to change... I could alter my thinking and expand my limits. I could once and for all enjoy the moment--or at least allow someone else too! 

"It was such a chance to be there tonight, in an ancient outdoor theater. I'm glad we got to hear the last band." Seated in the car now, I reached over to touch my husband's leg and continued the positive affirmations:

"Thanks for such a beautiful evening...." I whispered, and on saying it, I began to feel the gratitude that was first born in my mind. Thoughts really do manifest.  


Comments and post note: I continue to retrain my brain after a lifetime of limiting thoughts. I hope to talk more about the subject of rebuilding the brain or neuroplasticity. Let me know your thoughts, here in the comments box. Can you relate to the "Let Down Factor"?

French Vocabulary

le cerveau = brain
deux en arrière = two back
le baffle = speakers
la poitrine = chest 

Last night's concert in Arles. Thank you, Pierre Casanova, for this photo I stole from your Facebook page. And thanks for a great evening with friends, beginning at Ariane's Natural Wine bar and ending at an ancient Roman theater.

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

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

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