Bonne et Heureuse Année: the language of a new year

Kristi and Ricci American Shepherd
With Ricci, New Year's Day 2024. I love her from her nose down to her sweet toes! In today's story, a kindness from strangers gets the new year off to a meaningful start.

TODAY'S WORD: Bonne et heureuse année

    : Good and happy year

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

”L’Abreuvoir — The Little Water Trough”

Bonne Année! Meilleurs Voeux! Surtout la bonne santé! Entering our local supérette for some fresh milk and eggs, I see the shopkeepers huddled around the caisse, bright smiles on their faces as they deliver cheery New Year's greetings. This jolly outpouring reminds me of one more blessing in the new year: all of the familiar faces of our neighborhood and all of the local commerces that we sometimes take for granted. 

We learned our colorful fishmonger has finally gone out of business and what a great loss to our quartier.
"C'est dommage," I say to Jean-Marc. "After all that work I hope the couple are following their dream to retire in Spain!”

"Do you want to open a poissonnerie?" Jean-Marc teases me.

"Mais bien sur que non... c'est juste que...."It's just that I’m sad they are gone, and I regret not visiting them more often. Poissonerie Chez Laure, we hear, will be replaced by a rôtisserie and, as much as we love roast chicken, dans les parages there are now four commerces de volailles rôties.... plus de poisson!

Tant pis! We cannot begin 2024 with regrets. Better to start the year with les bonnes intentions. So on New Year's Day, towards the end of our morning walk, I invited Jean-Marc for coffee and a croissant at Plaza Beach. Daily, we pass by this café along the seafront and wave bonjour to Matthieu, le patron, but we never stop to order anything. (We did give Matthieu some business when my sister, Heidi, was here, last summer, when our smala--including Jules--gathered there several times for l'apéro. I have happy memories with my niece and nephew, and Matthieu spoiling us with an elaborate cheese platter.) 

If one New Year's Goal is to give our locals more business, another is to let them know they are appreciated. "Bonne Année!” I said to Matthieu as we sat down with our dog. “We don't come here often enough but I wanted you to know that what you are doing is impressionant! (Indeed, from a little hole in the wall, Matthieu has created an extended terrace café. He must cross the busy boulevard dozens of times each day to reach it from his tiny local beside the surf shop. “We see you working so hard every day. Do you ever sit down?"

As awkward as the delivery might have been (did they sound patronizing?), my words were rewarded with a warm smile and a confidence: “Si je m’assois je ne pourrai pas me relever. If I sit down I won’t be able to get back up!” And like that, our barista was off to cross the busy road once again and fire up the espresso machine.

Moments later Matthieu returned with some fresh water for Ricci. Despite all the tables he was tending, he stopped to bring our dog a refreshment!

That bowl of eau fraiche, delivered as it was, unexpectedly, in an empty ice cream carton, struck a few chords inside of me. As over-sentimental as it sounds, it touched my heartstrings. It was a small detail, the little water trough, but it was meaningful.

Out over the waterfront, sunrays dazzled the surface of the sea, mirroring a hopeful feeling inside of me. Meantime, the little water trough held its own sparkle, and it skipped across the water’s surface, like one kindness pursuing another: our own and that of the receiver-turned-giver. An endless cycle of goodwill, born simply of intention.


Bonne et heureuse année dear reader, and in case I don’t tell you often enough, you mean a lot to me. Your weekly presence is that sparkle on the surface of the sea, a light that guides me and keeps me writing. 



Plaza Beach
Matthieu's tiny local. We also stopped by for ice cream, last summer, with my niece Reagan. En face, or across the way, Matthiew has a large outdoor terrace with tables and chairs facing the seafront.


Click here to listen to the vocabulary words in French and English

une bonne et heureuse année = a good and happy year
l'abreuvoir (m) = water trough, watering place
bonne santé = good health
la supérette = convenience store
la caisse = checkout, till; cash register
le commerce = business
le quartier = part of town, neighborhood
c'est dommage = it's too bad
la poissonnerie = fish shop, fishmonger
mais bien sûr que non = of course not
c'est juste que = it's just that
la rôtisserie = rotisserie
commerce de volailles rôties = roast poultry business
dans les parages = in the area, in the vicinity
plus de poisson = no more fish
tant pis = oh well
le patron (la patronne) = the owner
le local = unit, space, room
la smala = large family, brood
l'apéro (m) = pre-dinner drink
si je m’assois je ne pourrai pas me relever = if I sit down I won't be able to get back up
l'eau fraîche (f) = fresh water

Sincere appreciation to those making a donation in support of this journal--and for taking the time to send it. 

Jim S.
Lynn R.
Linda H.
Ginny R.

Marcy W.
C-Marie P.

Carmen C.
Adrienne C.

Thanks for sharing your journey. Your words and experiences enrich my life. Wishing you and yours all the best for 2024! --Carmen

I have been with you for so long you feel like a dear friend. Thank you for continuing to share with your readers. I wish you and your family a new year filled with peace, joy and adventure! Adrienne

I finished reading “Words in a French Life”, and currently reading “Blossoming in Provence”.  Some of your stories have me laughing out loud (in bed at night)!  Always look forward to your weekly email. Amicalement, Linda


SUNDAY marked 12 weeks since this 9-kilo bundle of wonder came to live chez nous. Thank you, Ricci, for enriching (and energizing) our lives! 

Jean-marc and ricci on the flat rocks la ciotat

I leave you with a short clip, below, filmed on New Year's Day. Click the arrow in the center of the image, below, and for more pictures please follow me on Instagram.

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

Les Étrennes: This French new year's custom will have you digging in your pockets

Marseilles les arcenaulx mailboxes boite lettres
Photo of les boîtes à lettres taken in Marseilles at Les Arcenaulx. Thank you, Jean-Marc, for recording two sound files for today's post (the second is found below the vocabulary list). Note: if you are experiencing déjà vu reading the following column--tout va bien--the story is being revived from the archives


    : New Year's gift, tip, bonus

étrenner = to wear or use for the first time; to be first in the line of fire

Listen to Jean-Marc read from
Avec les vœux du Nouvel An arrive le moment des étrennes. Vous ne savez pas à qui donner ni quel montant consacrer à cette tradition ? Ce don d'argent n'est pas obligatoire, mais c'est un signe de gratitude qui permet d'entretenir les liens avec des personnes qui vous facilitent la vie. With New Year's wishes comes the moment of New Year's gifts. Unsure of who to give to or how much to devote to this tradition? This donation of money is not compulsory, but it is a sign of gratitude that allows you to maintain ties with people who make your life easier.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

On Saturday Mom and I were crammed between the two folding doors of an old telephone booth (now a tiny, free library brimming with books). We were checking the latest titles, including Shogun, which Mom could not read because it was in French. Helping return the book, I looked out through the window of the cabine téléphonique and spotted Postwoman Marie....

Postlady marie

"Mom! There's Marie! Should we give her her gifts now?"

Mom suddenly confessed she had eaten Marie's present. The giant plastic champagne bottle filled with miniature candy bars had been too much of a temptation, stored as it was for the past three weeks on Jules's kitchen comptoir....

We began searching through our coat pockets for some cash, for this was the opportunity we had been looking for... Tis the season of les étrennes! Time to tip those people in our lives who make our days easier or brighter. (And I certainly appreciate it when Postwoman Marie opens our gate and drops a package--rather than putting a yellow ABSENTE slip in our mailbox for pickup at the post office!)
"Hurry, she's getting back on her motorcycle!" Jules and I sped toward Marie, singing Maria Maria! 
Having caught up with la factrice, we showered Marie with kisses in thanks for her warmth and realness.

 Marie pulled off her heavy casque de moto, revealing bright blue cropped hair.

"Oh, I love the blue!" Mom said, "even more than last week's green!"

"Merci beaucoup," Marie smiled. "Attendez!" She said. Having accepted our gifts, Marie pulled out a stack of calendars from one of the satchels on her yellow motorcycle. "Il faut choisir...."

Mom was thrilled by the unexpected gift, and she thoughtfully examined the selection of themed calendriers....

Il y avait des chevaux, des champs de mer....

Not wanting to keep our postwoman waiting, I nudged Mom to hurry up and select a calendar.

"Oh, I'd better take the kitties," Jules decided, and Marie nodded, from one animal lover to another.
Our factrice put her helmet back on, only for Mom to shower her with more kisses. And when our blue-haired postwoman drove away there were bright pink kiss prints, les bisous, all over her helmet, and hopefully all over her heart.

Story Update: it is now January 2022 and Mom (who never receives mail) has Postwoman Marie's tip ready. "I'm giving extra this year--for her family." Jules is referring to "Guacamole" Marie's adorable, four-legged complice.


Click here to listen to the French terms below
les étrennes = New year's gift, a tip, (also "Christmas Box")
la cabine téléphonique = telephone booth
le comptoir = counter
la factrice, le facteur = postwoman, postman
la casque de moto = motorcycle helmet
attendez = wait
Il faut choisir = you need to choose
il y avait =  there were
les chevaux = horses
un champ de fleurs = fields of flowers
la mer = the sea
le bisou = kiss

Vocabulary that didn't make it into the sound file:
le/la complice = partner, partner in crime, accomplice

Kristi in telephone booth and smokey
Smokey and me at the telephone booth-turned-library from today's story

Jules my mom in front of coiffeur in la ciotat france
A favorite picture of my Mom, Jules, walking in La Ciotat

Les arcenaulx mailboxesClosing with another photo of the mailboxes at Les Arcenaulx. Stroll with me there in the story "flâner"

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

Haphazardly in French + Serendipitous Meeting with a Stranger, Part 1

Lavender and Vine painting tour provence
Experience a Lavender & Vine painting tour! Discover the magical light of Van Gogh this summer (lavender season) or fall (wine harvest). Join our small group with professional instruction to paint in Provence. Rates and tour info here.

Today's Phrase: au petit bonheur

    : haphazardly, randomly

Le bonheur, c'est de continuer à désirer ce qu'on possède. -Saint Augustin
Happiness is wanting what you already have.

January Book-A-Thon....
For two years now I have quietly read your blog, enjoying your triumphs and trials. Unable to sleep one night, I opened your email to find a request to buy your book. It was time for me to step out of the shadows and support your cause. What a delight! I have been unable to put it down. I wish you loads of success. --Jeanne
Blossoming cover
January book-a-thon: buy a book for a friend. Your purchase supports my writing and helps new readers find their way here. Merci! Available in ebook/Kindle or paperback.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

It was serendipity. How else to explain Saturday's meeting with un inconnu?...It was, as Madame said, not par hasard the way we ended up walking, one in front of the other on a cobblestone path at the same point in time....

Time! One minute more, one minute less and we'd never have met. Earlier at home, on our way to the car, Mom had said, Do you have any Kleenex? No? I'll go back and get some. Pockets stuffed with mouchoirs, and in town now, we were stalled another 5 minutes admiring the giant seed pods on a tree we could not name. Lolling about we approached le centre ville on our way to the art supply store, when a gothic church caught my eye. Let's go look! 
Church eglise la ciotat cathedral architecture gothic
To think all of these accidental adjustments in our schedule were not accidents, but were serving to line us up at an exact point on a geographical line of happenstance. There we were, meandering down a narrow street when Mom paused, colliding with the stranger behind her... 

Oh, pardon, Madame! Mom said. Apologizing, she motioned toward the historical buildings surrounding us. 

Ah, oui! C'est magnifique, Madame smiled. At this point she might have nodded and walked off. But she stayed...

Je suis
d'ici... she offered, her raspberry red lipstick drawing us in to such glamour: silver-white hair (I don't have a lot of it, she insisted) in a lovely twist, held up with a barrette. She wore wool pants, a jazzy, printed vest, black boots (they are hand-sewn, I got them at the farmers market!) a long foulard wrapped around her neck and big dark glasses.  She reminded me of one of those characters in Advanced Style.

Mom could not help herself: Look at you! You are so beautiful! The three of us huddled closer, and a conversation ranging from hair loss to the horrors of war ensued.  

(Stranger to Mom): Ah, you were born in '46, and I in '44--when bombs were falling over France! They placed my 4 siblings in various homes, but I was still nursing. The soldiers did not believe it so they squeezed my mother's enormous... (here Madame held out two widely cupped hands for effect...). To this day I am a skinny little thing, Madame concluded. When the Mistral blows through town it carries me away! But I'm out today... no wind! 

Mom was getting cold feet--not from the war story--no, it was the frozen cobblestones beneath her Converse hightops that were making her antsy. But before we moved on, Jules really wanted a photo of Madame ...
Je ne suis pas photogenic....Madame insisted--only to jump into my outstretched arm and smile ouistiti! Locking elbows, I marveled at the natural affection coursing through our hearts. Ce n'est pas par hasard...Madame repeated, as she looked up and flashed that heavenly smile.
*    *    *
Lavender and vine painting tour in provence villages art trip europe
The photo in the opening of this post, and this one, are from Beth. I have personally experienced her hospitality during one of her organized trips in Provence. Do check it out, it may be just the adventure you are looking for in 2019! 

le bonheur = happiness
un inconnu = stranger
par hasard = by accident
le mouchoir (en papier) = tissue, Kleenex
le centre ville = town center
le foulard = scarf, neckerchief
ouistiti! = cheese!

Kristi jules max in kitchen
Recent Instagram post: Three generations, with my Mom, Jules, and my son, Max.

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

How to say tenant in French?

Green Eggs and Man (c) Kristin Espinasse
Wish I'd gotten a picture of the hero in today's story. Meantime, here's a lovable stand-in. Photo taken somewhere in the Vaucluse...

le locataire (lo h-ka-tair)

    : tenant

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or  Wav file

Le locataire ouvre grand ses bras. "Entrez, je vous en prie!" il dit.
The tenant opens his arms. "Come in. Please!" he says.  

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

"La Ciotat, La Ciotat!"

I went twice to La Ciotat yesterday. First, in the morning--to get more ingredients for the Healthy Fudge--and again in the evening to look at an apartment for my belle-mère.

The second trip was Jean-Marc's idea. "But are you sure your Mom wants to leave Marseilles? All of her friends are there. And all of her friendly commercants, too." I remember meeting Michèle-France's pharmacist on my previous visit, and witnessing the cheerful bantering between the two women. In a new town, my belle-mère would lose these cozy ties--or have to slowly build them again. 

Jean-Marc assured me that his maman was desperate to move. After nearly two decades in her shoe-size apartment, Michèle-France feels like a bull in a birdcage. And because there is no elevator, she is obliged to climb four flights of stairs--the idea of which keeps her prisoner inside her own home (and one or two nagging health issues do nothing to encourage her to venture out).

In a flowering courtyard a hundred meters from the sea, a thin man is looking out from a ground floor apartment. The smile on his face is as warm as the sunshine pouring down on the flowering lauriers-roses beneath his window. 

"That's Monsieur C. He's moving back to Corsica," the landlady explains, guiding Jean-Marc and me up the stairs to lobby. 

In the entry hall, beside the door of the apartment, there is a giant poster in hues of blue--my mother-in-law's favorite color. The details of the affiche escape me when the porte flies open and another subject comes into view: the Corsican.

"Bonjour, Mr. C." The landlady apologizes for the invasion but we are apparently no bother: her tenant ushers us in with a warm welcome. "Entrez," he says, "entrez!"

We begin our walk-through of the one-bedroom apartment. Passing a hall closet, the landlady assures her locataire: "No need to open it, Mr. C."

"Je vous en prie!" Mr. C. insists, reaching down to push a heavy packing bag out of the way.

I peer into the tiny placard, which holds a few threadbare items. My focus returns to our voluntary guide, Mr. C., whose clothes mimic those in his faded wardrobe. He is wearing an oversized coat and pants and his fedora is about to topple off his head. Standing this closely to Monsieur, I smell fumes on his breath and notice how his eyes are softly lit.... I begin to wonder why he is moving and hope that wherever he goes he will be OK. 

"And here is the bedroom," the propriétaire points out. "The place comes furnished." 

As we step past him, Mr. C. smiles, pushing his packing bag out of the way once again. I reach out and grasp his shoulder in an automatic gesture of thanks. Thanks for the warm welcome. Thanks for being so helpful. Thanks for putting up with this invasion. Only, when I find myself patting his shoulder again and again, I realize my reflex may be overly sympathetic. I begin to wonder: if Monsieur didn't have the glassy eyes and octane breath--if he didn't have the repurposed suitcase--if instead he had a Louis Vuitton and wore a bow tie--then would I have patted him on the shoulder?

No, I wouldn't have! I would have been too intimidated. But here, there was no intimidation or awkwardness--only a sense of camaraderie. Still, I should be more composed--for overt displays of sympathy can come across as pitying, or worse--condescending!

As we continue to tour the stranger's apartment, I think about how quick I am to show affection to certain types of people. How chatty I can be! But put me in a room with the up and climbing Joneses, the cosmopolitans--or people my own age, or savants--and I'm suddenly tongue-tied and awkward. No way I'd be slapping them on the back, ol' pal style. Ça ne se fait pas!

As my mind overthinks my gestures, Mr. C. is going with the flow--the tide of strangers peering into the nooks and crannies of his upturned life. I notice the padlock on his bedroom window shutters; once again I have the urge to reach out... and comfort him? and for what? But the padlock, or cadenas, is proof of the fragility that up til know could only be sensed. 

"That's the WC," the landlady says as we follow her out into the hall again. "It's separate from the bathroom." Opening the door I'm cheered by the tiny room with its bright turquoise blue paint. There is a picture of a saint on the wall, her arms are outstretched just as Mr. C's were, on ushering us into his home earlier.

As I stand admiring the saint a sour scent lifts upwards from beneath my feet, filling my nose with an acidic tingling.... I quickly back out of the WC. but the scent seems to trail out to the hallway. I guess Mr. C. had missed the spot--as men will--only his aim was a little farther off than most.

Overall, Jean-Marc and I loved the apartment, and Mr. C's character lent an affectionate and adorable aura to the place.

"But we'll need to do some repair work," Jean-Marc explained. "Some painting... and we'll need to change the linoleum floors."
The deal was sealed with a bottle of wine - one Jean-Marc promised to bring on the next visit. With a little persuading, maybe we can get him to bring a bottle for Mr. C. (or would fudge be a better idea?), in thanks for his warm hospitality.

On our way out I brushed Mr. C's shoulder once again, finding it hard to resist the lovable character. The gesture wasn't condescending, no! How good it felt to touch a saint and to sense his gentle spirit run through me, filling my mother-in-law's next home with love and abundance.


Post note: The landlord tells us Mr. C. is returning to his native Corsica, after a stint in La Ciotat. No sad ending, here. May the beauty of the southern French island fill his days with joy.

French Vocab

la belle-mère = mother-in-law
le commerçant = storekeeper 
la maman = mom, mother 
les lauriers-roses (mpl) = oleanders
une affiche = poster
la porte = door
le locataire = renter, tenant
entrez = come in 
je vous en prie = please (go ahead)
le placard de rangement = small closet, often in a hallway
ça ne se fait pas! = one doesn't do that!
le cadenas = padlock 
le WC = toilet (bathroom) 

Words in a french life - joAnna students

Photos and words like this are the best reward for sticking to my writing dream, and pushing past all the doubtful moments!  Mille mercis to the students in this photo, and to their thoughtful teacher!

Hi Kristin,  I had an amazing 8th grade French class this year and some of the girls fell madly in love with Words in a French Life.  We did a weekly reading period on Mondays and they would literally fight over who got to read it.  Because I enjoyed them so much, I gave all of the girls in the class your book and they were ecstatic! ... I thought you might enjoy the picture!  

JoAnna, a middle school french teacher in Massachusetts

verrine surimi avocado crab smoked salmon

Another recipe--maybe we're on a roll?

Three sum years ago, when he was 15, our son Max had an internship at a local starred restaurant. There, he learned how to make verrines! I came across this photo in my archives, which comes in the nick of time: we have several guests this month and I've been needing some kitchen inspiration. This verrine (from the word "verre" or "glass") looks simple:

...a layer of chopped surimi (will replace this with real fish...), a layer of guacamole, a layer of sour cream, and a layer of smoked salmon. Top with anèth, or dill--something that happens to be growing profusely in our garden!

La ciotat france colorful buildings
Looking back on this post, written in 2013, I did not know we too would move to the historic town of La Ciotat in the summer of 2017

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

How to say crutch or crutches in French

Spaniel and cafe (c) Kristin Espinasse
""The rare Frenchman who uses the crosswalk" Computer is back and so are some long-lost photos from years ago! Youpie! Yay!

une béquille (beh-kee)

    : crutch, stand; kickstand (bike)

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following expressions: Download MP3 or Wav file

Elle marche avec des béquilles. She walks with crutches.
mettre une moto, un vélo sur sa béquille = to put a motorbike or bike on its stand.
se déplacer avec des béquilles = to get around on crutches

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

I was staring up at a flower seed display with packet after packet of possibilities when I heard a tap tap tap coming up from behind me. Turning, I saw a woman on crutches who was now looking up at the same rack of flower packets.

"Bonjour," I smiled, quickly turning back around in discretion. A moment passed before I thought to scoot over so that the newcomer could see the entire display.

"Ne bougez pas. Vous ne me gênez pas du tout," she assured me. Her hair, gathered up in a large twist, was the color of Mexican poppies ...or maybe honey-colored nasturtiums? ...the ones I was debating  whether or not to buy. I liked the idea they were edible plus pretty to look at. I had recently bought a pack of blue starflowers, or bourrache, for that very reason. Come to think of it I had recently bought quite a few packets of flowers, so maybe I'd better head off now, and meet-up with Jean-Marc, who was two aisles over, in the "automatic watering systems" section of the store.

But before leaving I felt the urge to say something to the middle-aged lady with the béquilles. During the handful of minutes that we had stood staring up at the flower seed présentoir, I sensed her endearing presence. We had only exchanged a brief greeting and that is when I saw what my dear aunt Charmly would refer to as stardust. It's that heavenly sweetness that emanates from a kindred spirit.

"Wouldn't it be lovely to have them all!" I said to the stranger, betting on the possibility that she, too, was overwhelmed by what the French call l'embarass de choix. There were so many flowers to choose from. I went to put back the seed packet I had been holding when the lady with crutches responded to me.

"Which one is that?" she asked.

"Oh... cosmos," I offered.

"Cosmos?" She had never heard of the flower before.

"Ah," I said, smiling. "They grow this high..." I motioned with my hands," and are covered with fuchsia flowers. (I was thinking of the cosmos that my mom had so loved, back at our farm in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes. The thought of Mom fawning over those flowers threw me back in time.)

Perhaps emotion had cast a fragile shadow over me, for next the stranger offered an affectionate compliment.

"Hold on," the woman said, as I  returned the seeds to the display. "I will plant them and they will remind me of you."

It was such an intimate and generous thought that it caught me completely off-guard. I thanked the woman with the Mexican poppy-colored hair and quickly hurried off.

It was a strange reaction and, even as I was walking away, I wanted to turn back... to say something back to her just as nice! But what?

Two rows over, in the watering section of the store, I stood there debating. I should go back and get the seeds that she had been looking at (morning glories, I think they were...) and tell her I'll plant them and think of her, too! But as the seconds turned to minutes I convinced myself that the window of opportunity had passed. At this point it would be too awkward to return.

Hélas this touching encounter will be filed under Missed Opportunities. Meantime somewhere in France dozens of cosmos will bloom this summer. I see the woman with the Mexican poppy color hair hobbling up to admire them. She's finished with her crutches by now, and a part of her is even jogging down memory lane.

Post note: Recently, I discovered in my seed collection a packet of Mexican poppies (a gift from Malou a few years ago). I will scatter them and think of the golden-haired stranger. She won't have the joy of knowing my gesture (as I had knowing of her plan) but that brings me back to stardust, which must--like the emanating and far-reaching light from which it is born--illuminate kindred spirits the world over. Somehow she will know.

To comment, click here. Share your remarkable experiences with strangers or talk about another theme in today's edition. Thanks.

French Vocabulary

le présentoir = display rack

ne bougez pas vous ne me gênez pas du tout = don't move. You're not bothering me a bit

le bourrache = borage

les béquilles (f) = crutches

hélas =  alas

un embarras = a difficulty (more here)

l'embarras de (or du) choix = embarrassing variety of choice, multiple possibilites

Au présentoir des fleurs je suis resté bête devant l'embarras de choix.
At the flower display I was stumped before all the choices.

avoir l'embarras du choix = to have too many solutions

Rainbow over the vines (c) Kristin Espinasse
Months before we moved to our first vineyard, in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes, we would visit it. Here is a picture of Jean-Marc beneath a rainbow... and on the verge of a colorful future in winemaking. You can also see the kids and our dog Braise.

Jean-Marc will kick off his USA Wine Tour in March!  Click here for more info and to see what other cities he'll visit. 

The Dog Wash (c) Kristin Espinasse
A blessing in disguise is what Jean-Marc calls my latest computer crash... for when my PC was repaired, we recuperated all the pictures that were lost during the first computer crash! It is fun to see the kids, in 2007. That's Braise they are washing... in an old grape bucket from Uncle Jean-Claude's vineyard

Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.


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


Artists along the port in St. Tropez (c) Kristin Espinasse

Still pinching images from Google image search (I promise I took these!) after my computer crashed one week ago (typing this post on my son's PC).... This photo was snapped in St. Tropez. Its artist theme fits with today's story of the "tree artists" (or pirates, rather...). Read on, in today's column.

chaparder (sha-par-day)

     to pinch, to lift, to steal

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

Pirates of the Olive Plantation

For the next week or two there will be a modest camping-car parked in the driveway below our house. This is part of Jean-Marc's solution to our tree-pruning dilemma: hire a specialized team to tackle the project in one intensive fortnight!

Like this we have insta-neighbors—though we don't see them or hear them very much. Tanguy* and Thomas, who arrived Friday from the Gard region, will spend their days cutting back the enormous oliviers that have graced this land for centuries.

It would be fun to imagine the two tree-trimmers as Edward Scissorhand's distant French cousins, but the truth is they look more like pirates than gothic gardeners. (There's a definite Johnny Depp connection. It must be the rock ‘n’ roll demeanor they share. It's that giant silver hoop, or créole, that Tanguy sports or that bad boy air that surrounds Thomas, who, with une clope dangling from his lazy smile, easily perpetuates the myth that cigarettes are seductive.)

I knew a little bit about Tanguy before he came to live here for this short séjour. His partner, Aurélie, has helped at all our grape harvests. I had a hunch that Tanguy might know a lot about how to forage wild plants, as Aurélie does, so I asked him to help me identify some pissenlit (or confirm it was indeed dandelion) that I was hoping to use in the kitchen. That is when I learned that Thomas, Tanguy's friend and co-pirate, knew a thing or two about les plantes sauvages. At the picnic table, yesterday, a sleeveless Thomas reached down and snapped up an herb with lance-shaped leaves, declaring it plantain.

Thomas handed me the wild specimen, which I could use to compare against other wild plants—eventually adding it to my knowledge base. I am hoping to have a certain understanding of the comestible plants on our property ("certain" being the key word. I want to be sure the plants I am picking are mangeable and not poisonous as they are destined for soups, salads, and juices).

Changing the subject, so as not to take up Tanguy and Thomas's lunch break, I said: 

"By the way, that would have been a great photo of you two in the olive trees this morning!" I was remembering the image of Tanguy and Thomas, each on a different branch high above the ground which is graced here and there by wild orchids this time of year.

Tanguy laughed. "You aren't the only one to think so!" he admitted, telling me how he and Thomas seemed to be stopping the traffic that normally cruised by the great olive field. 

More than a sight to behold, the tree-trimmers were surrounded by some very attractive commodities: the centuries-old branches that were piling up on the ground beneath them.

"One grand-mère pulled over, hiked up her skirt, and climbed onto the olive grove," Tanguy explained. "She plucked up a couple of olive branches, saying they'd make great gifts (an olive branch symbolizes peace—what better offering than this?).

"Another guy pulled over and snapped up an armful of leafy cuttings. 'For my sheep,' he explained." (I wondered if the punk rock sheepherder was back? Was this whom Tanguy saw stealing away with the olive branches?) 

Tanguy shook his head, smiling. "I let him take what he wanted. Sheep love to eat olive branches!"

(Come to think of it, that was true! I remembered the transhumance that took place on our land last month—and how the sheep stood on hind legs to reach the olive branches!)

I listened to stories of the other motorists-turned-thieves. What funny images it all painted in my mind. It was amusing, too, to think that Tanguy and Thomas weren't the only ones to share a pirate's likeness—apparently half our neighborhood did too!

I pictured Tanguy and Thomas dangling high up in the olive tree (or ship mast...) as a host of unlikely pirates landed on the orchid spotted deck below, before disappearing with the leafy loot.


 Here I have to smile at the colorful French definition of today's word:

chaparder: dérober de modestes objets (to steal objects of modest value). True, the branches weren't worth much, but many an unsuspecting thief found value in those discarded tree limbs, and yo-ho-ho! away they rode.

*Learn all about the cool name "Tanguy"--click here and scroll down to the story column. We met Tanguy via his partner, Aurélie. I wrote a poem about her here: "...Heroines with hot peppers in their hearts, they sizzle with mystery and soul." Read the story-poem "Bohème" - click here.

French Vocabulary

un camping-car = camper van, RV

un olivier = olive tree 

une créole = large hoop earring

une clope = cigarette

un séjour = a stay

le pissenlit = dandelion

la plante sauvage = wild plant

le plantain = known as ribleaf, lamb's tongue and other names

mangeable = edible

127 things to do in Paris: click here to read the latest reader-submitted tips!

Olive trees
The gnarled and noble trunks of the olives trees that Tanguy and Thomas are pruning this week.

Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.

Sunflowers (c) Kristin Espinasse
Always leave on a sunny note--something I sometimes forget, especially when taking for granted the daily comings and goings of family. Speaking of sunny, have you planted sunflowers seeds yet? If you don't have a big yard, where else could you plant one? Ever seen one of those cool sunflower houses--where you dig a square trench and plant seeds all around - leaving space for the "front door" door? When they are grown you can connect the tops! To comment on any item in this post, click here, and thank you for forwarding this letter to a friend.

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


Cabane de berger (the shepherd's wooden hut) photo by the Neurdein brothers. Here we have a slumbering sheepherder with his border collie and german shepherd (is it?) minding the troup. (When Mom sees this photo, she'll ditch her latest treehouse scheme... in favor of this fort-on-wheels with a nifty sliding door! Mom has had a hard time deciding where to anchor, here on the olive farm. This just may be the answer!) 


un berger (une bergère)

    : a shepherd, or shepherdess

la bergerie = sheep pen, sheepfold

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence, in French: Download MP3 or Wav file

Le berger amène ses moutons dans la plaine. Cela s'appelle la transhumance.
The shepherd brings his sheep to the flatland. This is called "la transhumance".

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

A Modern Day Nomad

Returning home from the doctor's on Monday, we ran into a roadblock along our driveway. Dozens of sheep, great and small, were feasting on the grass beside the olive trees! 

They're here! Hurry, get their picture! I said to Jean-Marc, who got out of our car to check the mail. Hurry! Before they wander off!

Sheep (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse
                           (Jean-Marc's photo)

Having collected the courrier, Jean-Marc made his way up the crowded and bleating path. There were sheep everywhere: in the road, in the meadow, and in the trees (or nearly!). I watched, amazed to see the peaceful-looking animals rip off and devour the thorny stems of the bushes, enjoying them like chewy licorice sticks.

Driving cautiously in my husband's wake, I rolled down the window to get a better look at the troupeaux, which included several nursing lambs—agneaux—and even a few black sheep. I smiled thinking of their proverbial brothers and sisters (and a few of my own family members...).

As Jean-Marc advanced, a shepherd appeared on the restanque just above. The two men began a lazy conversation. I struggled to get within earshot, but it wasn't until the shepherd whistled—and a Border collie materialized—that the path instantly cleared of its four-legged traffic and I was able to pull my car over to the side of the road. 

Jean-Marc, interested in some free soil amendment for his soon-to-be planted vines, was informing the berger about which pastures belong to us, and which were the neighbors'. As the men pointed and stretched their arms, measuring the expanse of the pâturage, I stole a closer look at the sheepherder.

He appeared to be in his early thirties, an unusual age for sheepherders, who, once upon a time, were either the very young or the very old (deemed useless to the family for anything but watching sheep!).

History had changed since the down-and-out times of early shepherding; it wasn't likely that this modern day berger was a burden to his family. Shepherds these days earn a living and, from all appearances, made enough to afford a smartphone! 

Apart from the portable phone, I noticed the shepherd's tattered wooden cane, une houlette. It had the famous hook at the end, useful for freeing the hoof of a trapped sheep, one that has fallen from the path.  

The shepherd tucked his canne under his arm, pausing to roll a cigarette as he listened to Jean-Marc. He was no ordinary shepherd, wearing a newsboy cap and a punk haircut. His short locks were punctuated by a single strand of braided hair that signaled nonconformist. Come to think of it, weren't punk rockers noncomformists who aspired to be nomads? This shepherd was the real deal, a living, breathing wanderer.

"Tomorrow, I'll park on the other side of the field," the berger informed Jean-Marc, pointing to his  beat-up shepherd wagon. It was one of those classic Estafettes, the kind Jean-Marc's grandmother drove during WWII, as she peddled house linens to the Pieds-Noirs in Morocco. 

"Ça marche," Jean-Marc waved goodbye to the sheepherder, before getting back into our car.

I still hadn't had a word with the shepherd, though I was itching to know him. What a fascinating story he must have to share. But I had a feeling he was a private type—he reminded me so much of  my rebel sister-in-law. And though I had so many questions, (just as I had for her), I didn't want to put him out and, admittedly, I didn't want to say something stupid or square to someone so authentic.

But then, wasn't I a little authentic too? How many times had I let my perceived squareness keep me from befriending the nonconformists? But I wasn't so straight as that.  Gone were the perfectly made-up face and fluffy hair. With a bandaged nose* and, wearing a sweater with holes (my dear mom's, for comfort), I might pass for a bohemian, like him.

Before putting the car into gear, I stuck my tattered nose out the window. "Nice dog!" I offered, admiring the hardworking Border collie, and noble chien de berger. "Is she good at what she does?"

A smile now stretched across the nomad's face, revealing a row of teeth as wandering as his sheep.

"Elle est la meilleure!" the berger replied, his enthusiasm as endearing as his smile.  "If one of these moutons ended up on that far off colline (with this, he stretched forth his cane, waving it for effect), Mieszka (mee-esh-ka) would be there in a flash, to steer her home."

It didn't take much, after all, to connect with the mysterious nomad who was so different from this heart-on-sleeves homebody. I had thought I had nothing to say, and yet, venturing the question, I was rewarded by the friendly, universal connection.  

To comment on this story, click here. Keep the conversation going by sharing your own stories about connecting with people so seemingly different than yourself. And what about Border collies and the intelligence of dogs? Notice any other themes in today's essay?  Thanks for sharing your thoughts, in the comments box.

 *bandaged nose: the stiches from the biopsy were taken out on Monday. Good news: this time the results came back benign, and not bcc!

Read about Jean-Marc's grandmother in the story "bouder" (to pout). It was Jean-Marc's grandmother who gave me some of the best mariage advice, namely ne jamais bouder! Click here for that story and the scene of the grandmother peddling linens from a military supply vehicle....


le courrier = mail

le troupeau = herd

un agneau =lamb

le mouton = sheep (some fun & colorful "mouton" expressions, such as "revenons à nos moutons, here)

la restanque = a kind of terrace held by a wall of stacked rocks

le pâturage = field of grasses from which animals graze 

la canne = cane

le pied-noir
= French citizen who lived in Algeria before independence. The term included citizens, like my mother-in-law and her family, living in other North African countries, such as Morocco, during or after wartime.

ça marche = that'll work

le chien de berger = sheepdog, such as a Border collie

elle est la meilleure = she's the best 

la colline = hill


Gus was so suprised and touched by the messages you left him for his 88th birthday. Gus writes (in typical Gus "all caps"):


Gus is pictured, above, with daughter Mary, who is, Gus tells us, "MY ONE FLOWER AMONG FIVE SONS".

Daisies in Sault village (c) Kristin Espinasse
Marguerites in the lavender town of Sault. Has a friend forwarded you this post? Sign up, here, to receive French Word-A-Day in your in-box.

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



What is remarkable, or kind of funny, about this sign above the window? Your guesses in the comments box. Photo taken in Toulon, where today's story takes place.

ouvrier (ew-vree-ay)

    : worker

Example Sentence:

Je ne suis qu'un simple ouvrier. I am but an ordinary working man.

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

Mom and I were in Toulon, yesterday, looking up at a giant monument when a man suddenly appeared, like a phantom.

"Do you know the story?" he quizzed, motioning to the statue above us.

I looked back at the plaque, to the dates, which corresponded to WWII. "Were you there?" I asked.

When he didn't answer right away, I worried about placing the man in the wrong generation (and over-guessing his age). Casually, I rephrased things:  "I mean, are you from here?"

A smile lit up his wrinkled face, and he had to hold onto his woolen hat as if to contain himself. Once acknowledged, his voice hushed a notch. "There is another memorial plaque, on the other side..." he pointed out. "For the men who lost their lives in 1911...."

Mom and I listened, one of us translating as the stranger told his story.

"The battleship was called "Liberté"..." he began. "It was a brand-new vessel and it was carrying explosives. But almost as soon as Liberté left the port, the cargo detonated.  The accident caused several hundred men to lose their lives."

As the stranger spoke, his light blue eyes shone through my own, the warmth carrying with it a tangible sense of that dramatic moment in time. So transported, we listened to the waves crashing against the burning boat, the cries of the matelots, and to our own beating hearts, we frozen bystanders, one hundred years in the future.

After the stranger finished his story, my eyes were gently released from the grip of his regard, and I found my vision wandering from the man's peaceful face, to his worn-out coat, to his scuffed purse and shoes. In his hand he held a feuille des soins, or receipt from a recent medical visit. 

Around his neckline there was a layer of debris. Discreetly, I tried to identify it. It was the kind of dust that could collect after a long cold night on the streets of Toulon... poussière from an industrial city shedding itself on the unfortunates, or sans domicile fixes, including schizophrenics, runaways, and drunkards.

I observed the stranger's eyes, which were bright--sober as a newborn. His mind was just as sharp, and we listened, Mom and I, as he began to tell us about his beloved Toulon, this time in verse.

Les arbres qui l'entourent... la mer qui l'embrasse....

Mom listened as I tried to translate the poetic words as fast as the poet spoke them, but I could not keep up. 

I couldn't help wondering if the beautiful rhymes were his own. "Verlaine?" I questioned. 

He shook his head, surprised. "Now, where was I... oh yes! Les arbres qui l'entourent... Toulon, ville de fleurs... Toulon..."

After the poetry came a bit of trivia: do you know about les Farons?

I nodded my head dumbly (really not knowing a thing; in fact, when he said "Faron", I thought I heard "Pharaoh", and was soon lost in Egypt... when Monsieur interrupted my daydream, offering that le Faron was a hill. Pointing to it, he added: "There is a zoo up there." ). 

Just then, I felt a poke to my side. "Ask him if he is a professor!" Mom elbowed me.

"Vous êtes un prof?"

"No, I am a simple worker," came the modest answer. "Juste un ouvrier."

His statement set my imagination on fire again, and I pictured everything from giant cranes to coal mines to dock maintenance.

But before we could find out his story, il a disparu. We watched the simple ouvrier walk away--until he reached the edge of the place de la liberté, at which point he disappeared—poof!—like a ghost. All that was left was the uncanny feeling... of having just received a privileged visit from a drowned Liberté sailor, or ancient matelot.


French Vocabulary

(Je sais, je sais... I know, I know... this story needs a vocab section. Meantime, feel free to define some of the words in today's story. Click here to add a definition to the comments box. Merci d'avance!)


In other stories: this stranger's words, "I am but a simple ouvrier," reminded me of another character we met in the town of Buis-les-Baronnies. Do you remember the last peasant?


We celebrated Jackie's 15th with my mother-in-law Michèle-France's chocolate cake. Uncle Jacques joined us, too.

If you are new to this blog, you might enjoy this mother-daughter story le frisson written last spring. You don't have to be a mom to enjoy it; if you've ever wanted desperately to connect with someone, you'll relate! Click here to read it.


Forward to a friend + Sign-up link

Do you know anyone who might enjoy these stories from France? When you forward this post to a friend, they may use this link to sign up for the emailed stories and photos.

In other news, Jean-Marc received a very big package yesterday. He has once again chosen the maritime shipping container as a solution to our storage needs! The large unit is not visible from the front porch (ouf!) and the wine color almost fades into the scenery... where grapes will soon compete with the colorful horizon!

For more stories of Jean-Marc's original solutions to life's dilemmas, read Words in a French Life or Blossoming in Provence. Your book purchase is a great support to this journal. Thanks.

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


Cabanon and Mont Ventoux (c) Kristin Espinasse
Fed up to your forehead with hospital stories? Je sympathise! Just skip, or saute, today's skin-cancer chronicle... and scroll guiltily or sneakily or self-consciously to the end of the page, to read, instead, about Chief Grape... on second thought, who wouldn't want to read about a hunky French winemaker? (But I do have faith in you and I trust , lecteur or lectrice fidèle, that you'll read on ... in time to meet today's non-hunky caractère extraordinaire: Madonna of the Gurney!) (Photo of cabanon and "Mount Windy" taken last week, near Suze-la-Rousse). 

un chariot-brancard (shar-ee-oh-brahn-khar)
: gurney, or metal stretcher with wheels

Correct Your French Blunders

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Audio File: Listen to these French words: Download MP3 or Wave file

A l'hôpital j'ai voyagé sur un chariot-brancard.
At the hospital, I traveled on a gurney.

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

Material Girl, The Garden Gnomes, and a few other colorful characters I encountered on my way to the operating room...
Do you remember Madonna in the 80's film Desperately Seeking Susan? ...Rebel Madonna with her hard-lined eyes and her black-roots-and-bottle-blond hair? Voilà! This would be the gurney nurse, Ms. Move Beds, Buster! (remember her from the previous story?)--she's the infirmière who transported me from my hospital room to the bloc opératoire.

"Quel âge me donnez-vous?" "What age do you guess me to be?" Madonna of the Gurney fished, as she guided my bed-on-wheels with the finesse of a bumper-boat pilot.

Quel âge? I was speechless... which might be explained by the happy pill that had just lodged itself in my throat.... impossible to displace it no matter how many jumping jacks, no matter how many dry gulps I'd gargled, back in the accordion-door bathroom.

Madonna of the Gurney was impatient for an answer and her agacement was hinted at in the way she slammed on her bumper-boat brakes. Suspended awkwardly like that in the sterile corridor, I eked out an answer: "Je ne suis vraiment pas douée pour ce genre de devinette!" "I'm really not good at this kind of guessing game," I apologized, playing it safe, after it dawned on me that the misguessing of her age--or eventual erring on the plus side--might backfire into my very near future.

Madonna of the Gurney parked me abruptly beside the surgical block. She snapped her gum once or twice, stalling should an age-defying numéro appear my mind. When it didn't, she sighed, reached deep into her nurse's poche and slapped a surgical cap, or bonnet, onto my head, pushing up my hair as an afterthought. Her brusque gestures had me divining at more than her age: I guessed her mood (la déception, or disappointment) and wondered whether it was payback time, as I had earlier imagined!
La vengeance never came and it all  goes to show just how little I know, least of all the mysterious depths of a stranger's heart. No sooner had she stomped off than Madonna of the Gurney reappeared, arms laden with warmth. And with a no-nonsense "if I'm going to be a Good Samaritan in this story at least don't make a big deal of it!" gesture, she threw a heavy wool blanket over me. Far from being written off as an enemy, it seems I'd somehow won her sympathy.
As you have already guessed by now, quick-witted and clever reader, that is how Madonna of the Gurney---or, simply, "Madonna"--earned her "Material Girl" moniker: it's all that warm wool, or material, she offers to grateful patients before they enter the ice block, or surgery room. But I'm jumping ahead of myself, for that, dear reader, is another story...

Post note: I just realized I left out the garden gnomes... the ones I mentioned in the subtitle to today's chapter. Will fill you in next time!
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

If you missed it, read the short letter ("comme si comme ça") I wrote on returning from the hospital.

Speaking of The Material Girl, I think I'll watch Desperately Seeking Susan - I wonder whether my teenage daughter will enjoy it as much as I once did. Click here to get yourself a copy. (I think Jean-Marc will enjoy the film, too--for the fact that Rosanna Arquette stars in it. He's been a fan of hers since she appeared in his favorite, The Grand Bleu.

French Vocabulary
voilà = there you have it
infirmière, infirmier = nurse
le bloc opératoire = surgery room
Quel âge me donnez-vous = what age do you guess me to be
l'agacement (m) = annoyance
la poche = pocket
le bonnet = cap
brusque = rough
la déception (! vocabulary note: false friend!) = disappointment
The year was 2008. This is Chief Grape, skin and bones after creating his first wine (indeed, he put himself into it!)... Find out why he isn't jumping for joie, in the story "Echantillon". Click here to read this selection from our archives.
All Star Smokey. I know: it's been a while since you've seen photos of Smokey R. Dokey....
Here he is playing basketball hamming it up with the harvesters. From Left to right: Vince, Robert (hidden), and Kevin.
Did you read about "Get To Know Each Other Night"? When harvest "uniforms" were handed out. Strangeley, no one snapped up the Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear. Read about what items they did snag, here, in the story "Glad Rags" or "Belles Fringes".

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


Autumn leaves (c) Kristin Espinasse / French Word-A-Day
Butterscotch leaves are collecting along the tree-lined lanes in our village. And in this photo, taken in Suze-la-Rousse a few years back, leaves are turning rouge.

la cheville (sheuh vee)

    : ankle

jusqu'à la cheville = ankle-deep
elle ne vous arrive pas à la cheville = she can't hold a candle to you
avoir les chevilles qui enflent
= to have a big head, to be full of oneself
être en cheville avec quelqu'un = to be in cahoots with someone

Audio File : listen to our daughter, Jackie, read the following French words:Download MP3 or Wave file

Ces sandals à talon mettent en valeur les chevilles.
These high heel sandals compliment one's ankles.


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

Allure after 80

I could barely see her lying there, curled up on her side, in bed. The nurse brushed past her and drew open the volets, before tucking the curtain cord back into its place, beside a dilapidated armoire

"Vous avez une camarade de chambre," the infirmière announced. 

"Bonjour," came the friendly reply, as the patient stirred.

"Bonjour, Madame", I smiled, setting my bag on the second bed, on which there was a neatly folded paper gown, sterile as the sheets below it.

"You can shower and change now... or plus tard," the nurse informed me. I then learned that my operation wouldn't be until 13:00. To pass the time and to take my mind off food and water (for the general anesthetic I'd fasted over 12 hours -- and would not be allowed so much as a sip of water until later in the day), I decided to wash and then get in bed and sleep off the remaining time.

"Would you like to use the bathroom before I go in?" I smiled to my roommate. 
"That would be a good idea," she agreed and slowly made her way across the room, to the tiny salle de bain, before closing the plastic accordion door, which remained open by an inch or so (it was broken, too). I heard the shower, which ran for 5 minutes, followed by the flush of the toilet, followed by the shower, which continued. She's just like me, I realized, creating a sound barrierin the absence of privacy

Meantime the nurse quizzed me: "You've washed with Betadine last night? Head to toe? Scrubbing your hair with it?"

"Oui. Oui. Oui.
"Bon. You need not wash your hair again, ce n'est pas la peine, but," she explained, handing me a small iodine-red vial, "you'll scrub your body once more." It was humbling, the realization that this sterilization process was more to protect the hospital and its patients from me, rather than the reverse.... And no matter how clean I try to be, in the end it seems I am just plain dirty.

The bathroom floor was wet from my roommate's douche and I soon discovered why: only a thin paper mat to absorb shower spray (and no shower curtain!). I worried that my roommate might glisse and fall, when next she returned to the bathroom and, looking around I found the only solution: industrial toilette paper! I tossed the useless mat into la poubelle and used toilet paper to sop up the flooded tiles. Doubtful that the floor was dry enough to prevent a dangerous slip, I reassured myself that we were, after all, in the hospital, just a few doors down from the bloc operatoire.. where a broken hip could be conveniently mended!

Dressed in the paper gown, crossing my arms over my backside, I returned to my bed and noticed my neighbor brushing her hair. After a moment of silence, in which I felt foreign eyes on me, I heard her speak softly.

"I looked very much like you, once upon a time..." 
I studied my roommate, who must be twice my age. "Same large front," she explained, riffling through her purse, from which she produced a photo. From its white framed edges, I guessed it to be from the 70's.

I studied the auburn beauty in the photo.

"I was 44-years-old, there..." she offered. (She must be in her 80s now...)
"I'm 81," my telepathic roommate smiled, and I noticed her hair was much the same color, only a lighter shade. 

"Do you see a resemblance?" she ventured.
Gosh, I didn't look anything like that. I drew the photo closer. How alluring she was, in a sky blue, cinch-waisted, plunging-necklined dress that flowed like an autumn breeze. Autumn! It was the color of that auburn hair... her long wavy tresses were richer than molten bronze. Bronze... the color of her sun-kissed skin.

"Where was the photo taken?" I wondered.
"In Saint Tropez," with this, I glimpsed a mischievous look. Indeed, she was what my mom would call "a pistol" or "a cougar" (indeed, at the time the photo was taken she had just left her husband and was following her heart to Spain!), what with that infectious smile and that playful demeanor that was beginning to reveal itself.

Studying the photo, I could just imagine the alluring subject walking away from the iron railing... and onto the Tropezian dance floor! My eyes fell on the thick belt that complimented her tiny waist... 44 years old at the time, she was one year older than I! 

"I... I've got to get a dress like that!" and, finally, I admitted what I was really thinking: Vous êtes ravissante! (I didn't dare mention she was sexy!)

"People don't dress up anymore," my roommate sighed. Next, her face lit up as she reached for her overnight bag. "Look at these!" said she, pulling out a pair of high-heels.

Les talons?! I myself had brought a pair of sterile slippers to the hospital... but this woman of a certain age was more forward-thinking in a possibilities-are-endless way! 

She giggled in delight as she swung her legs over the edge of the bed and slipped her crooked, arthritic feet into the high-heeled sandals, lacing the racy snakeskin straps around her ankles: "These, she explained, put one's ankles in the limelight!" I watched as her fragile feet were transformed... And I could see her now, dancing in that very same lumière.

"It is important to pay a little more for shoes," she explained. These cost a lot--I bought them in Marbella!--but I've had them for 10 years!" I noticed the timelessness of the high-heeled sandals--higher than any heels in my closet!

No matter that 40 years separated us, I was yearning, as young roommates do, to borrow those shoes! How attractive they were! My roommate admired them anew: 

"I'll buy a pair of sheer hose... that way I can wear them for several more weeks--even after the weather cools!" (forward-thinking indeed!). That is when I noticed her tan legs, enhanced by her above-the-knee skirt. 

When we were finished talking fashion, my roommate told me about her cat, Beryl (named after a gem stone). "Beryl can turn on the radio with his teeth! He does so every morning so that I can enjoy my programs." It was the truth and I had only to dig up the the local newspaper, in which Mr Beryl and his radio-alluming trick were featured, to verify it. The article also mentioned Beryl's penchant for art, and the favorite painting (one by his mistress-artist, my roommate, who affirmed: "He spends five minutes each day, gazing at that pastoral scene"). 

There was so much more that I wanted to know about my lovely ginger-haired roommate with the high heels, but she was whisked away all too soon, by an equally strong and colorful friend who'd come to take her home, to Carpentras.

That left me to consider the image of Beryl the cat and his sensational radio stunt. And though I regretted the lovely woman's absence, and not having learned more about her, I realized that you can know so much about a person, can't you, by the way their animals behave? And though I couldn't imagine Madame with her teeth sunk into a radio knob, I could easily picture her breaking all "assumed limits", in time to show some of us that all things are possible to she who has grit and good teeth!


 Le Coin Commentaires
Did you enjoy meeting "Simone"? I need to go back into my story and replace all the "she"'s with the name of this lovely lady. But I've quickly painted her portrait, in time to share it with you before it fades. Then again, could such a character ever fade? Thank you for sharing your response to the story, here in the comments box.

The nurses here in town continue to change the bandage on my forehead. I have no idea what the mark looks like and will think about that later! If you missed the post-op picture, be warned--you can see it here. Meantime don't forget to wear sunscreen - even this fall and winter!)

 Selected French Vocabulary

le volet = window shutter

vous avez une camarade de chambre = you have a roommate

infirmier, infirmière = nurse

la douche = shower

glisse (glisser) = to slip

la poubelle = garbage, or trash can, or bin

le bloc opératoire = operating room

le front = forehead, brow

la lumière = light

plus tard = later

la salle de bain = bathroom 

ce n'est pas la peine = it's not necessary

vous êtes ravissante = you are ravishingly beautiful

les talons (m) = heels

Have a minute to read about another French character? Click here to meet Camille, who lives at the end of Marseilles... where the sea sparkles as do the souls that live near it.

What are you currently reading? Here's a book I've yet to dig into

The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris

The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work. Order The Greater Journey here.

French shopping bag I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.

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