Renverser: Treasure at the bottom of Tante G’s Well

A basket of "boules" beside the door of this old stone cabanon. On most family get-togethers, a game of pétanque follows the meal. 


  : to knock over, to spill

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

“Down The Hatch: A Vintage Bottle of Champagne + A Deep Well = A Lost Treasure”

On Friday we left the seaside and drove 45 minutes north to the countryside of Fuveau, where Jean-Marc’s aunt lives in a cozy stone house beside an ancient puits. As most of our extended family was away en vacances, this was a small potluck gathering with its delicious “chacun apporte quelque chose” menu. Collecting a few tartes tomates from our car, Jean-Marc was especially happy to be arriving at "La Clapouille" as memories of his childhood—weekend visits in which his grandmother, aunts, and father gathered—gave this place a remarkably soulful feel.   

We added our French tomato pies and some American chocolate chip cookies to the buffet of fromages, charcuteries, and conserves (Aunt Marie-Françoise’s confit d'oignons was delicious over sliced baguette), and sat in a half-circle to catch up on each other's lives. Beyond, the sun began to set behind the rolling collines where rabbits and wild pigs still roam.

Setting down a plateful of petits-fours, I watched Jean-Marc wander over to the old stone well. He was followed by Geneviève’s son, Pierre. I knew exactly what the cousins were up to, “The Sunken Bottle” being among my first memories of La Clapouille (that, and getting disgracefully drunk when meeting Jean-Marc's family for the first time...).

The Sunken Bottle had nothing to do with my inebriated state (that’s another story). As for la bouteille, some 50 years ago, when this serene property was no more than a well and a cabanon, Aunt Geneviève (who owned the rural parcel), family, and friends would drive here from Marseilles to picnic and spend the day exploring. There was the river, below, and the lively étang where a teenage Jean-Marc, his siblings, and cousins delighted in fishing for les écrevisses.

Before several more villas cropped up, the scent of wild thyme, rosemary, and sarriette in the garrigue was intoxicating, and the aunts and their mother enjoyed gathering the herbes sauvages. Afterwards, they made their own flavorful mixes for seasoning. If lucky, each family would return to the city with little gifted bottles of handpicked herbes de Provence, for use on everything from ratatouille to French fries. That is how I received my first fiole (I still remember the little glass bottle) of this precious concoction.

On one such weekend picnic, someone put a bottle of champagne in a bucket and lowered it into the old well for chilling. But when later the family tried to retrieve it, the bucket was renversé and the bottle tumbled down the chute with a splash, to settle at the bottom of the well.

Since that time the picnics have continued and Geneviève built a lovely home across from the well and moved to Fuveau (where she opened a droguerie). She also began some projects on the land, including a terrasse ombragée, which was created by joining the well to the small cabanon via a tiled roof and a patio. It is there, on that terrace, that we sat watching the latest treasure hunters hatch a plan to rescue the vintage bottle of champagne.

As our son Max joined the cousins to toss a weighted rope down the shaft, another aunt, Marie-Claire (“Michou”) told about the time Max’s grandfather Gérard braved the “descent inside the well”, only he clambered back up before touching the surface of the water (some 5 meters down). Each generation (our Max now being the third) has pursued the pétillant “prize” but so far all efforts have been in vain. (And even if my son is nearing 30, I have expressly forbidden him to climb into the seemingly bottomless pit). 

Though it is amusing to watch my French family huddle around that well, figuring out how to reach the sunken treasure, it’s also a little sad to think they might soon succeed. Quel dommage! For the stranded bouteille is part of the soul that is La Clapouille, the palpable âme Jean-Marc senses each time he returns--it is wholesome, or the whole sum, of every happy and carefree moment spent with his late father and aunts. He has transferred this joyous réverénce to our son, who practiced his first giddy baby steps on the ground above the sunken champagne.

So I will keep my fingers crossed behind my back that no one outsmarts the well or the bottle, and that future generations will continue to gather around the chute, in creative pursuit.

I leave you with a short video clip of the cousins. You can hear our Max sharing his ideas for retrieving that bottle. Can you understand what he is saying? Enjoy and "see you" in a week!



Thanks in advance for your comments which are the icing on the cake of this edition! I love to read your words and learn so much from you (including spelling and grammar--so don't hesitate to send in a correction). Extra credit if you tell us where you are writing in from. And a gold star if you mention the weather conditions :-) Click here to comment.



Click here to listen to Jean-Marc and me read the French and English below

les boules = boules (game of pétanque)
le cabanon = stone hut
renverser = to spill, knock over 
le puits = well
en vacances = on vacation
chacun apporte quelque chose = each person brings something
la clapouille = from “clapier” or rabbit hutch
le fromage = cheese
la charcuterie = charcuterie, cold meats
le confit d’oignon = onion confit
la colline = hill
les petits-fours = finger foods
la bouteille = bottle
l’étang = pond
l’écrevisse = crawfish
la sarriette = savory
l’herbe sauvage = wild herb
les herbes de Provence = herbs of Provence
la fiole = vial
la droguerie = hardware store
la terrasse ombragée = the shady patio
quel dommage = what a pity
pétillant = sparkling

Little daisies and window with shutter
Love these little daisies at Aunt Geneviève's house.

Un grand merci to the following readers who recently sent in a blog donation. Your contributions not only support this journal, but they also motivate me to keep on keeping on writing through summertime. Thank you! --Kristi

Sally R.
Holly RS
Sheryl W.

"Thanks for the wonderful blog, Kristi, always a joy to read. . . All the best, Holly"

“Thank you for many years of “French Word”…sharing your life in France and keeping me in touch with my French, having retired from teaching 23 years ago!” —Sally R.

Game of boules in fuveau
I am bookending this edition with some boules--la pétanque being a favorite game for family and friends. Read about another family reunion in Fuveau, with photos, here
Game of boules (off to the right). Can you see the orange measuring tape dispenser? Handy for measuring across the jack (little yellow ball) to the boule.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
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Wheat Farm (c) Kristin Espinasse
Forget bluegrass - have you ever listened to a field of wheat? (photo taken in Orange)

le blé (blay)

    : wheat

le blé is also slang for "dough" (cash, moola)

la farine de blé = wheat flour
le blé dur = durum wheat
le champ de blé = wheatfield or cornfield
le blé noir = buckwheat 

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

The Sound of Wheat

The morning Mom left I fought the urge to crawl right back into bed. I might have slept all day, behind closed shutters, in a room as dark as a smarting heart. I didn't dare "go there"; instead, there was work to do including stories to write and beds to make. Besides, who could sleep with all the racket outside the bedroom window?

I tuned into the sounds filtering in from the countryside, where the grapevines are so full of leaves you can no longer see the ground beneath their green canopy. Rising from those mysterious depths was a familiar buzz one hears only in summertime: les cigales. They were awake now... only, much too late for Mom to enjoy their song! What should have been an exciting event--the first cicadas of the season!!!--left me feeling even more saddened. What a dirty trick played by the trilling "tree crickets"! They might have had la courtoisie to appear one day earlier in time to tickle a dear mother's ears!

Following Mom's departure, it took a forced change of perspective to set a despondent daughter back on track and, finally, I had an inspiration: Wasn't that, after all, a clever way for Jules to exit: on the wings of cicada song!

In the spirit of changing perspective--and not letting a sunken heart color reality--I headed out to do some errands and discovered that the technicolor world outside my door was still intact.

There was that field of bright yellow tournesols, just outside the town of Orange... yet another first of the season.  I regretted not pulling over to snap a picture of so many sunny faces... perhaps I would get back to it?

And there was that roadside fruit stand--a one-woman show featuring a grandmother, a rickety old bagnole, and a trunk filled with abricots à gogo! It was a little too late to stop for those and so I sped on by....

After finishing errands I found myself rushing home and wondering about that change-of-perspective that I had set out on... what was the good of intention when, in the end, you were not willing to stop, and and look, and taste, and listen! I'd missed the cicadas, I'd missed the sunflowers, I'd missed the rickety trunk of apricots!

In a whirl of regret, I was struck by a brightness entering into my car from the side. I turned to its source... in time to gaze at un champ de blé.

Pulling off the side of the road I lowered the car window and wondered: Have you ever listened to a field of wheat? Stick your ears out now, écoute!, the sound is gloriously "sizzling"!

I sat silently, letting the melody of wheat, along with the lazy, late-spring breeze, envelop me. Earlier, I had rushed right on by the other splendors of the countryside, and here was my chance....


Cars sped by but it was the wheat that now captured my eyes. I could just see the braided wheat tips crowned by those bleached feathery locks. Each blade of wheat might have been a soulful singer and an endless field made for a mesmerizing chorus! I shook my head in appreciation. And I asked once again, Have you never listened to the sound of wheat?


Le Coin Commentaires
Not everyone has the chance to live near a field of grass. But many other mind-altering melodies surround us. Share some of your favorite sounds with us, now. Which are relaxing? Which lift your spirits? Birds or frogs or a streaming river or the bumpings of its traveling logs? A child's sleepy breathing or a co-worker's joyful hum? Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, in the comments box.

Post note: I did go back to that apricot stand, and I regret not taking the time to tell you about the roadside sampling in which strangers stood side-by-side slurping juicy fruit and letting its juices trickle down their forearms - all the way to their elbows and their toes.

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French Vocabulary

la cigale = cicada

la courtoisie = courtesy

le tournesol = sunflower

la bagnole = car (jalopy)

un abricot = apricot

à gogo = galore

un champ = a field

de blé = of wheat

écoute! = listen! 

I meant to record every new flower in the garden... Never too late to pick up here with the first black hollyhock. I had wished for one for a long time! 

    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.

Easy French Reader: A fun and easy new way to quickly acquire or enhance basic reading skills

In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You. Click on the previous, underlined link, to discover many more French films!


Smokey (here, headed for the river) sends his best regards and would like to humbly suggest that his photo be updated more often. See a cute baby picture here!

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. Zelle®, an easy way to donate and there are no transaction fees.

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