Audacity and "avoir du culot": going beyond the limits in Elba, Italy

Cove Elba Island
A quiet cove at Elba Island, off the coast of Tuscany.

avoir du culot

    1. to have the audacity, to have balls, to have some nerve

365 Days of French Expressions. See the book.
 

Avoir du culot: listen to this phrase and the following sentence

Avoir du culot: Il faut avoir du culot pour dépasser ses limites.
To be daring: You've got to be daring go beyond your limits.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

    by Kristi Espinasse

My husband has a gift for finding hidden jewels in nature. To get to these turquoise-colored creeks or calanques or coves, he will scale cliffs, repel from flat rocks, or simply jump in when there is no other way to "get down there"

But one of Jean-Marc's biggest challenges is being married to a poule mouillée--a wet chicken (French speak for "coward").  And my challenge (besides being married to him) is knowing and respecting my own limits: while I now understand that I do not have to keep up with him and his risk-taking friends, I do need to accept those invitations that are more in line with my Wet Chicken Adventure Level. Make that Wet-Chicken PLUS Level, for I've come a long way.

While I will never again follow a group of Frenchies through a railroad tunnel (to them it was an obvious shortcut, to me it was la folie!), I will, as of last week, trespass... It was during our getaway to Elba Island, off the Tuscan coast of Italy, that Jean-Marc and I visited a lot of public beaches, but one day we decided to drive to "Algue Cove"... Wandering through a neighborhood of stately villas, we searched for a path to the sea. We soon found one, but it was marked "Strada Privata"....

Villa in elba

"I'd rather not," I said, hurrying ahead of my husband. "Let's just go up here. Surely there's another way." And there was, if you didn't mind the north side of the peninsula where the wind was so strong our hair was twirling above our heads--making one of us look like an upside-down broom. Speaking of which, there was no clean way out of this predicament: if we wanted a tranquil beach, à l'abri du vent, we were going to have to soil our values and break the law (or at least the neighborhood rules)!

In the end it was no big deal. Those stately houses on this elite peninsula were all closed up this time of year. Il n'y avait pas un chat! We easily made our way down to the sparkling inlet, where Jean-Marc found us a nice spot on top of some flat rocks overlooking the turquoise sea. As my husband settled in for a nap, a strange impulse came over me....

Scoping out the cove and all of the visible houses (shutters closed in winter) until certain nobody was around...I threw off my clothes and hurried into my one-piece swimsuit. Now tiptoeing down the rocks, careful not to wake Jean-Marc, my adrenaline was so high I hardly felt the ice-cold water after quietly slipping in--and there, in the middle of tiny bay, I began splashing.

To no effect! Jean-Marc was oblivious to my antics. Now I was freezing--but determined as ever to prove a point. First I'd have to wake him up!

"Hey-oh! COUCOU! Jean-Maaaarc!"

My husband opened one eye. Then two. Now he was wide-eyed, just as anticipated! "Eh ben!" he said. (That's French for "well, what do you know!")

And that was exactly my point: that I am not always this way or that way--from picky to prude (I won't list every fault in between). "Things are not always black and white!" Having shouted it out--all those mysteries that still swirled within me--I blew my old man a kiss and swam like a flock of wet chickens back to shore. (Mieux vaut une poule mouillée qu'une poule congelée!)


FRENCH VOCABULARY

la calanque = inlet from the sea
la folie = madness
pas un chat = nobody around (not a cat in sight)
coucou = hi, hey there!
mieux vaut une poule mouillée qu'une poule congelée = better a wet chicken than a frozen chicken

It's almost swimsuit season. I like this one. See others here.

La Roche-Posay sunscreen - rated the best by Consumer Reports!

Eiffel Tower Peace Sign T-shirt, order here.

If you haven't yet read my book, please check it out. Many thanks! Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

Kristin Espinasse 2018

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
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"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

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RECIPE: Annie's Soupe de Poissons

 

IMG_7724
A fish shop in Brignoles. 

 la soupe de poissons (sewp-deuh-pwa-sohn)

    : fish soup

Jean-Marc has been catching lots of little fish these days. Last time it was une rascasse! Apart from being unappetizing to look at, they are too small to eat. "Faites la soupe de poissons!" Make fish soup! our friends tell us. Recipe, in today's story....

 

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

It's the first week of August and we've got tomatoes coming out of our ears! (Now there's an expression to add to our growing list of English and French idioms...).

In the potager the other night, I was harvesting tomatoes when I realized there was no way we could eat them all before they rotted. I needed to learn how to can! Meantime, why not give some away?

I thought about our neighbor, Annie.... but almost as soon as the idea popped up that old faulty thinking kicked in: Annie's probably busy with her family. Or she might be resting. Or maybe she doesn't feel like company. It's 7pm--too late now anyway...  There seemed to be any number of reasons to stay put, and not risk stepping out.

But as I mentioned before, I'm working on such self-defeating and ingrained thoughts. I will no longer let doubtful thinking keep me from enjoying new experiences!

Quickly, I filled a paper bag with the best tomatoes and marched faster than my darting thoughts, right up the little dirt path, to the field between Annie's place and ours. Arriving at the edge of her garden, I heard a chorus of alarms: first there was the horse, which whinnied. The goose was next...honk! honk! honk! Then the dogs and the chickens chimed in. I didn't hear a complaint from the lapins, though. What should they sound like?

Barking, neighing, clucking and honking, the creatures approached the property line. I stood on the other side of the rope, not daring to venture any farther. Looking around I saw no sign of Annie.

And then I heard bleating... Turning toward the field above her house, I saw my neighbor walking her goat and her sheep. What an endearing sight!  A rare and beautiful glimpse of another place and time. I wondered if Annie had any idea how peaceful and lovely she looked.

Apparently not. As I walked up the dirt path, she held out her cane in a gesture of warning. "I'm not very presentable," she apologized. "I'm wearing my pajama top. The long sleeves help keep the mosquitoes away!" Annie smiled, offering a friendly welcome despite initial standoff. Next, she pointed to her pants, which were missing a zipper. The waist was nearly held together by a rubber band.

How refreshing it was to be around someone so down-to-earth. I raised my hand in a thumbs-up gesture. "No worries, Annie! So many of my pants are busted, too! Rigged together now with rubberbands, safety-pins, or, in a pinch, an old tie from Jean-Marc's office days!" How I wanted to say these words to Annie, but I couldn't find the French to express myself. And so I smiled and said instead, Quel plaisir de vous voir tous!

Pointing to Annie and her walking companions--a feisty young goat and a tired old sheep--I wanted to let her know how treasured an image they were, but I should be careful not to gush.... or come off as the hopeless Francophile that I am! I love French country life and the uncomplicated characters whom I sometimes have the privilege of knowing. 

I kissed Annie on each cheek and patted her goat and her mouton which, after a cursory greeting, returned to their foraging. (Chinese mulberries grow here like weeds and are a favorite to eat!)

"They are so sweet, Annie!" I didn't know goats acted like dogs, and were so outgoing. The sheep, on the other hand, seemed shy--especially for his giant size.

Annie told me that they were rescues, but that it wasn't so easy keeping up with all the animals. Picking up the ragged tail of her mouton, she laughed: "I just trimmed him. It's a little uneven but I did it my best!"

"You did an excellent job!" I assured her, impressed that she used kitchen shears when she didn't have the electric kind, made for the task. 

As I admired her handiwork, I saw the heavy sharp hooves of the animals and took a few discreet steps backward. Steel-toe boots would have been better than these flip-flops... 

Annie pointed to my skirt, below which my bare legs were splotched with red dots.

"Careful, the mosquitoes are getting you."

"Next time I'll wear my pajamas," I smiled, handing Annie the tomatoes I'd brought her. "I'd better get back. Jean-Marc wants to go on a boat ride and I keep finding excuses not to go."

Suddenly, Annie's expression turned concerned. "Go with him when he wants to take you on that boat. One day you'll be my age and you won't be able to enjoy such things anymore."

Annie's words struck me like a thunderbolt. Somehow, coming from this peaceful soul, the suggestion finally took hold.

"I've been out a few times..." I explained. "We went fishing last night. Jean-Marc caught a rascasse! We are saving all the little fish, freezing them, and plan on making la soupe de poissons at the end of summer!"

"I used to love to go fishing!" Annie said. She turned her gaze out to the parched field, beyond which the great blue Mediterranean beckoned.   

"Why don't you join us?!"

Annie smiled and quickly changed the subject. Taking my arm, she shared with me another recipe, (after the fava stew ingredients she suggested last time).
Max plays soccer 030
A classic wooden fishing boat in the South of France, photo taken in Giens.

ANNIE'S SOUPE DE POISSONS

"Saute all the fish in olive oil. First, add onions and garlic to the pan, frying them in the oil. Then add salt and pepper and wild herbs," Annie said, waving her arm, indicating all the plants growing here in the field: thyme, fennel, laurier...

I was curious whether one emptied the fish, or did we keep the insides--as well as the eyes

Annie confirmed that the entire fish was used. "The fish and the herbs will thicken in the pan. Next you can add some water to adjust the texture. Finally add a bit of saffron..."

"OK, I think I got it... olive oil, herbs, saffron, eyes and tails and stomachs..." I winked.

Annie smiled. "I'll remind you of the recipe at the end of summertime."

Now that was something to look forward to--the promise of another visit with Annie. With any luck, maybe we could see each other again before then? For even more lovely than the image of Annie walking her sheep and her goat, is the picture of her with her fishing pole--casting a line far out to sea.  

 

FRENCH VOCABULARY

le potager = kitchen garden

la rascasse = scorpion fish

le lapin (la lapine) = rabbit

quel plaisir de vous voir tous = what a pleasure to see you all

The World is your Oyster. Photo of young girl with telescope, my daughter Jackie (c) Kristin Espinasse, www.french-word-a-day.com
"The world is your huitre." Photo of Jackie when she was 7 years old. My girl, keep your vision steady and you will achieve your goals. Read a letter by Jackie in which she asks a work related question: Est-ce vraiment aussi dur qu'on le dit de trouver du travail? Click here to read her bilingual note.

Lunch in Provence. Schedule a vineyard tour with Jean-Marc. Join us in Chateauneuf or another Provence vineyard town (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Last month we met up with Rick (center, to the right of Jean-Marc) and his family and friends for a vineyard tour in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. After tasting at three caves, including Uncle Jean-Claude's, we had a sunny lunch and enjoyed talking about France, wine and writing. If you are interested in touring the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and beyond, Jean-Marc is your man. Actually, he's MY man, but I might share him for a day....

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

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crapahuter

A "crique" or little sea inlet along the littoral, or Mediterranean coast.
A "crique" or little sea inlet along the littoral, or Mediterranean coast.

 

crapahuter (krah-pah-ew-tay)

    : to clamber, crawl, trek, or yomp

 Also: to plough along, to trudge, to schlepp

Audio file: listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wave file

Pour accèder à la petite crique, on doit crapahuter sur les rochers.
To access the little sea inlet, we have to scamper over the rocks.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

    by Kristin Espinasse

Extraordinaire. C'était extraordinaire! When Jean-Marc returned from his latest swim, he was shaking his head in disbelief. "You can't believe the site I just found. Ten minutes from here, there's a natural baignoire full of seaweed. I just had a bain d'algues for free. Some people pay a 1000 for this at a thalassotherapy spa!"

My husband has been trying to lure me to the sea for some time and this enthusiastic report was yet another attempt. "We'll go in the evening before the sun sets. You won't have to worry about le soleil."

I'm touched by all these swimming invitations. And yet I can't explain my resistance, or understand how a former fish turned into a fish out of water. But there's no use over-thinking things. That joy of gliding sous l'eau and floating above it is in here somewhere. Now where did I put my bathing suit

"Wait for me! I'm coming!" I shouted, when next Jean-Marc headed for the port.

Soon we were walking along a pine-scented plateau (a favorite spot for exercising our dogs). Approaching our destination, I began to wonder what escalader means to Jean-Marc. (He had assured me we could easily access the natural swimming hole--une petite escalade was all it would take to get down to it. Petite? I have learned that words and concepts appear differently in my husband's mind than they do in my own. What's small to him is big to me and vice versa, whether the subject is minutes or mountains). 

"Here we are," Jean-Marc says when we reach the end of the plateau where the land falls off to the sea, literally. I look down at a pile of boulders.... Even if we manage to scale them, what if one lands on our head? Instead of further self-questioning, I try a pep talk."You've watched too many 911 dramas on TV," I tell myself, "and all those newspaper "shock" headlines haven't helped. Don't let the media steal your joy ever again! You've got a good head on your shoulders and God gave you a gut feeling--now let these be your guide!" 

A quarter of the way down the rocky gorge, I had to call my husband on his choice of vocabulary. "I'm not sure escalader is the word...."

I had visualized an upright descent instead of this by-the-seat-of-my-pants adventure. But clinging to the rocks like a crab--and advancing like one--felt like the safest bet. Like this, with my feet leading and my hands trailing just behind--my body horizontally clamped to the rocks--I scampered down to the sea.

Jean-Marc congratulated me on arrival. On a bien crapahuté! he said, finding the precise term for our descent. Next he turned towards the sea. "Well, what do you think?"

"I think you are right. You have found a special spot--un petit bijou!"

But we weren't there yet. If we wanted to swim in the sea (before enjoying the bain d'algues--easier to access) we needed to do some more clambering. This time vertical:

"Hug the rock wall," Jean-Marc said, guiding me out to Le Grand Bleu. I was grateful for the plastic shoes he bought me. My feet now gripped the rocks and were protected from sharp "underwater things" (like oursins). 

"Très bien!" Jean-Marc cheered.  "Now you've got to dive!" Jean-Marc was smiling through his diving mask, waving a bright red star fish in his hand. "So much to see out here--come on in and join me!"

Looking out to sea, I wondered how far those "sharp underwater things" continued. Not too far it seemed... I could now see the seafloor drop off once again. All it would take is a good aim. Go, go, go.... my mind chanted along with my husband's outward cheers. Allez! Allez!

Plouf! A cold sensation ran over my scalp to course over the entire surface of my body. What a feeling! I remember this now! It's all coming back--like a hot summer day in the desert. Gliding through the water at the neighborhood pool, the stifling heat left my 10-year-old body, giving way to cool imaginings. I might have been a fish out of water who'd tumbled in... or I might have been an adult on the seacoast of some fancy foreign country--or both, as I am here today.

"What are you thinking about?" Jean-Marc said, floating beside me.

"The good old days.... and the good ol' today." 

 

*    *    *

FRENCH VOCABULARY 

la baignoire = bath

le bain d'algues = seaweed bath

le thalassotherapie = spa treatment seawater as therapy  

le soleil = sun

sous l'eau = under the water

escalader = to scale (a mountain)

un petit bijou = a little gem
 
le grand bleu = Mediterranean sea 

très bien
= well done

un oursin = sea urchin 

plouf! = sound made when one jumps into the water

  Epices (c) Kristin Espinasse

Classic French Recipes in these Recipe-Stories:

Cake Aux Olives - This olive loaf makes a delicious hors d'oeuvre or snack -- or you can serve a few slices for lunch, alongside a salad!

Yogurt Cake is good any time of year. Now that we have zucchini à gogo in the garden, I'll be shredding it and making a gâteau au yaourt à la courgette. 

Mint and Goat Cheese Quiche - Scroll to the end of this post for the easy recipe. If you've got mint growing in your garden - this will be a delicious standby! 

For the three other recipes I mentionned last time (Tomato Tart, No Grudge Fudge, and Love-ly Fruit Salad), go here and scroll down the page.  

 

Blossoming in ProvenceRecent review of Blossoming in Provence (thanks, Jack!):

 Her use of French words and their meaning is a very helpful way for the reader to improve his of her knowledge on French. It is, incidentally the sort of book that one can read many times and still find it a pleasure.  --Jack

Order a copy here for yourself or a friend.

 



Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

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zone de confort

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Never miss a word of photo: get French Word-A-Day delivered by email, here. Pictured: our daughter, Jackie, at the écurie, where today's story takes place... By the way, is anybody else as terrified by horses as I am?


zone de confort (zown deuh kohn fohr)

    : comfort zone
. 

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following French words:
Download MP3 or Wav file

sortir de votre zone de confort = move out of your comfort zone
oser quitter votre zone de confort = dare to leave your comfort zone


Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the 5 star reviews, and order, here.
. 

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

Out of One's Comfort Zone

At the horse stables where my daughter has her riding lesson, Jules and I are sitting on the freshly-mowed pelouse. Mom is wearing her bubblegum-blue poncho and her panama hat with the red silk roses. She has spread out her Mexican tapis, the bright blue one with all the giant red fish, making our trespass even more conspicuous.

I try to hold my tongue, after all, I have recited enough rules for the day (earlier, in the village of Tulette, I noticed Mom making a beeline toward the café, where two Moroccan men sat smoking. "Let's not talk to anyone!" I suggested, not wanting to get involved in another names-and-telephone-numbers exchange.  Mom indicated she wouldn't, but eventually, mon adorable chipie de maman, left me at the table in order to chat with the shopkeepers, making friends and appointments as she went...)

Back on the grass at the stables, I spoke: "This isn't such a good idea," I said, of the blanket and the feather oreillers that Mom had dragged out to the lawn beside the horse arena. "In France people don't lie on the grass!" 

Mom's response was to rap on the feather pillow, ordering me to take a seat! Next, like a starfish, she threw out her arms and legs, fell back on the pillow, and sky-gazed. "AHHHHHH!"

My back toward the barn and to the riders who were surely reporting us, I sat there, crookedly, unwilling to relax into the comfortable pillow beside me. Leaning sharply on my elbow, my eyes scanned the horse park, where I began questioning the quality of grass....

Perhaps different grass has different rules? I wondered. This grass here, with its wheat tones and dry patches... was different, wasn't it?, from Paris Luxembourg Gardens grass. There, you wouldn't dare relax (...or have the pelouse police on your back!).

My elbow grew sore and my back, at such a crooked angle, tired... along with my rules and resolutions. "Go ahead. Lie back!" Mom suggested, eager to share the world from her eyes-to-the-sky perspective.

When my head hit the pillow the first thing I noticed were the leaves in the tree above me. SUCH GREEN LEAVES! With the sun shining down through them, the tips were saturated with color.

The feuilles, shaped like giant outstretched hands, waved in the breeze, capturing all of my attention so that when the stable-owner marched up and towered over me, I could not see her for the tree leaves!

I scrambled to a seated position in time to be read my rights. Surely we were in trouble for suffocating the grass!

But, instead of a reprimand, all I heard were these inviting words: Profitez, mesdames, de cette magnifique journée. With that, the stable owner slipped by, a smile and kindness still sparkling in her eyes.

 ***

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, feedback, and stories of your own are most welcome here, in the comments box.  

Let's create a fun list together....

100 (or so) Ways to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone!

I'll begin - with a few goals of my own:

DSC_0014
1.  Ask the baker whether you might take her picture!

2. Go on a solo road trip

3. Give a talk at a library (or a school), sharing an idea or a hobby

4. Plant bird-of-paradise next to your mailbox

5. Stop the car next time something catches your eye (like the lady who sat out in front of her home, knitting)

6. Paint happy stars on a door, chez vous!

7. Tuck wildflowers into your hatband

8. Write a 40-page novel... for your eyes only and just for fun!

9... (Your turn to leave some tips here in the comments box!)

 

French Vocabulary

une écurie = horse stable

la pelouse (also le gazon) = grass

le tapis = rug

la chipie (pronounced "she-pee") = rascal, little devil

mon adorable chipie de maman =  my lively, mischievious, light-hearted and charming Mom

un oreiller = pillow

la feuille = leaf

Profitez, mesdames, de cette magnifique journée = Seize and enjoy this magnificent day!

 

IMG_5147
On a recent walk near the river, Mom gathered wildflowers (chèvrefeuille, or honeysuckle, and genêt, or broom) for her hatband, or ruban de chapeau.

When you purchase any item from Amazon, using the following links to enter the store, your purchase helps to support this free language journal. Merci d'avance!

French Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide 

I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany. Read review for this memoir

  Capture plein écran 16052011 090119
Wicker basket. For the farmer's market, for the beach, for a carry-on, for a picnic... (that's my mom, Jules's basket, pictured below!) Buy this multipurpose "panier" here.

P1000694

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."
--Jacqueline

NEWSLETTER SIGN-UP: Has a friend forwarded you this post? Sign-up to receive your own free subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here