cross-cultural awareness: say it in French, do it often

Moroccan Woman (c) Kristin Espinasse

I made a lovely acquaintance. Don't miss her in today's story. Picture taken in Morocco, where my mother-in-law once lived and where we celebrated her 70th (in 2011).

la conscience multiculturelle

    : cross-cultural awareness

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

Comment développer la conscience multiculturelle et le respect des autres régions du monde?
How to develop cross-cultural awareness and the respect for other world regions?


Style & comfort in the beauty of the Provencal countryside. 4 bedrooms & a study with a sofa bed, each with ensuite (full) bath. Villa comfortably sleeps 7-9 adults.

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

Clumsy? Ignorant? Afraid?: On not letting your mind talk you out of enlightenment

Driving alone toward Marseilles, my pint-size Citroën was whipped to and fro by the Mistral wind. Passing a semi-truck was a chilling experience, but when cars swept by to my left, au même temps, I gripped the steering wheel in terror.

Wouldn't it be ironic to crash on the way to hospital? Just when I began picturing myself in bed beside my mother-in-law--sporting the same drip system as she--I shook my head, putting the brakes on an overactive imagination. I was not destined to be Michèle-France's hospital roommate. I was going to be her visitor!

Only, arriving at St. Joseph's réanimation wing, I learned visiting hours were over....

In the salle d'attente, I waited to know whether hospital staff would make an exception. After all, I'd travelled far to get here--and even kept calm looking for parking when the hospital lot was complet!

Flipping through a fashion magazine, waiting for the staff's answer, a murmuring of Arabic tickled my ears. Two women seated en face were in a lively conversation. Every so often their sentences were peppered with French. 

The older woman wore a traditional dress and a head scarf and her daughter (?) faded jeans and dyed blond hair. She looked my age, en le quarantaine...

I set aside the magazine. Why look at models when you could admire the real thing? Authentic women

"You are mixing languages," I laughed, entering the conversation.

The blond smiled and her mom lit up. Thick gold fillings in Mom's teeth sparkled along with her smile.

"I do the same," I assured them. "Only in French and English--when I talk to my kids."

My waiting room friends giggled, and I thought to tell them about the wonderful movie I'd seen the night before: La Graine et le Mulet by Abdellatif Kechiche. Only I was quickly riddled with doubts. To  suddenly bring up an Algerian-Tunisian film... wasn't that, after all, assuming? Or dumb or ignorant or flippant? Along the lines of "Hey, I notice you're North African and I just saw a North African film!!!

Et alors? As if guessing or alluding to another's culture was a no-no. The tricks the mind plays on us to keep us silent and alienated one from the other! So what if I put my foot in my mouth? What was important was to reach out. 

"Where are you from?" I blurted, only to die a twelve-second death when the daughter hesitated.

(One-thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three....)


"Oh, I hear Algeria is beautiful." 

One-thousand four, one thousand five... my new friend was looking at me silently. If she was seeing my thoughts, she was now picturing my great French aunt, who carried around a razor blade in her pocket! A war bride in Algeria, she was poised to slit her childrens' throats, then her own, rather than be killed by a native during la guerre d'indépendance Algérienne. It was a matter of dignity.

The shocking thought was but a flash, part of a great Kaleidescope of images that churn in my mind as it sifts life's experience. Here, now, with the bottle blond and the gold-toothed grandma, a new set of images swirled into the technicolor machine, a mind ever hungry for understanding.

Soon (back in the waiting room) a lively conversation began. As barriers quickly dropped talk turned sentimental. "I don't understand why we all can't get along," the bottle blond from Algeria said. Live and let live. We need only respect one another's religions.

Hallelujah! Inshallah! This was my kind of conversation: away with the small talk, get right down to matters of the heart. But just when we were getting to the soul of things, my telephone rang. It was my mother-in-law trying to talk me out of coming to the hospital.

"Too late," I said, "I'm here. Now if they'll only let me in to see you! I'm waiting to see if they'll make an exception to the rule."

When I hung up the phone, the women across the room were in an excited conversation as they turned to me. "But you should have told us your situation. Come!" said the younger woman, pulling me over to the door where a note had been posted to the wall."

"You need to call this number and they will let you in!"

"But I've missed opening hours..."

"Tell them you've come from very far away!" And, with a smile and a wink, my new friend added, "Arizona, you said? Yes, tell them that!"

Our eyes embraced as we said goodbye to one another. We had so much in common, least of which our homelands in the desert.

 *    *    *

Update: my mother-in-law is doing much better after near kidney failure. She was her regular feisty self when I visited, yesterday, and she swore she'd kick me in the butt -- me donner un coup de pieds aux fesses, if I hung out in her room any longer! So scram, she said, get lost... and bring me a few madeleines next time you visit. This hospital food is for the birds!

To respond to this story, click here.

 New rental in Provence. In the charming village of Sablet--this spacious home is the perfect place to return to after sightseeing, bicycling or hiking. Click here for photos.

Paris window (c) Kristin Espinasse

A picture (taken in Paris) that reminds me of my mother-in-law. I can almost see the stylish interior, inviting us inside for a taste of some delicious olive tapenade. Read a favorite story "Mal Barré" (Up The Creek) about my French mother-in-law. Click here.

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"Alternative Blackboard" (seen yesterday, in Avignon). Alternative. I love the word, ever since discovering alternative music back in high school, thanks to the guy for whom I ditched the prom (we listened to The Smiths, instead). The following story (not about the guy or ditching) was written a few years ago... it's called Beauty and the Buck and it's simply an alternative to the story column below, or part 5 (or 6?) of The Hospital Chronicles... I just hope you'll read the example sentence, below, which may spark your interest for the story that follows!

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draguer (drah-gay)

: to hit on someone, to make a pass

draguer en voiture = to go cruising for chicks or guys
draguer dans les boîtes =  to cruise nightclubs
se faire draguer par une fille/un garcon = to get hit on by a girl/a guy

Audio File & Example SentenceDownload MP3 or Wav file

Au retour de l'hôpital, on a dragué mon ambulancière!
On the way home from the hospital, my ambulance driver got hit on! 


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

Let Beauty Transport You

You have met almost all of the characters that I encountered at the hospital in Avignon. But I haven't yet told you about Camille (kah-mee). Lovely, lead-footed Camille, the ambulancière who came to collect me after chirurgie and recovery.

Camille wasn't as playful as High Heeled Simone or as sure-footed as Nurse Swagger. She was certainly as trusting as L'Infirmière-Trianglist, but without the chutzpah we witnessed in Madonna of the Gurney. We won't compare her to my surgeon, whom we have not read about... though she is even younger than he. (Come to think of it, that makes me sound old, but that couldn't be, for, as The Gut Doctor said: "We don't typically see patients as young as you...")

Young Camille arrived on time. It was I that was running behind and I wasn't so much running as I was sleeping... until a nurse, whom I had not seen before, threw open the door. "Madame Espinasse. Mais! Vous n'êtes pas encore prête?!

I looked down at such unprêtedness, which was written all over my paper-clad body (still dressed in the ink-blue hospital gown). And then it hit me: I had fallen back to sleep after the snack that Infirmière-Triangliste had given me. 

I sat up so fast that my head began to spin. "Doucement!" the nurse warned. Looking past her I noticed my first guest, which turned out to be the driver who had come to take me home. I waved excitedly. "Prenez votre temps," the driver said, greeting me.

I dressed quickly in the tiny bathroom and, when I could no longer resist, I looked into the mirror... That is when I realized our dilemma!: how to get from the hospital room to the car without showing the Hideous Surgical Wound--the one which was glaring back, from the middle of my forehead, from behind the see-through surgical glue! The shock of seeing the visible wound was quickly replaced by the stress in trying to figure out how to hide it from the innocent bystanders whom I might pass on my way to the car. I had no scarf, no hat, no fringe, or bangs, to cover the unsightly area. In a desperate effort to conceal the frightful wound, I gathered a long lock of hair from the right side of my head... and swung it round, and over to the left side, just as I had seen men of a certain age do... only the result was absurd.

Conscious that my driver was still waiting, I grabbed my things and, using my hand to cover my forehead, I quickly followed l'ambulancière out to the car, passing only a few accidental gawkers along the way.

Once in the car, in the front seat, I struck up a conversation with the driver, not willing to let my mind linger on the image I had seen in the mirror.

"Ceci c'est une ambulance?" I began... Camille corrected me. This was a spiffy VSL, or véhicule sanitaire léger--a kind of medical transport used for patients who can sit up. I realized how lucky I was that our insurance covered part of this transport from the hospital to our home, 40 minutes north--for we were smack in the middle of the harvest (Chief Grape couldn't pick me up) and, though it was very kind of her to offer, I didn't want Aunt Marie-Françoise to have to leave work early, to fetch me.

I was grateful for my chatty conductrice, whom I tried to listen to for the duration of the drive. I learned that Driver Camille has seven cats, still lives with her mom, has just passed her ambulance-driver's exam (...!), lives in a nearby village, would like to learn English, loves her job and especially her clients! This next-to-last point was illustrated by the way she weaved in and out of traffic while holding an ongoing dialogue with her dizzy passenger. In this way, Camille managed to take my mind off more than my wound (thoughts of which were simply replaced by thoughts on mortality as we spun past sports cars and sandwiched in between semi-trucks, while exiting the freeway...)

Veering off the autoroute, via the exit ramp, I noticed two sets of ogling eyes in the truck beside us. "Regardez!" I said to Camille. "Oh look! You have a couple of admirers!"

Camille looked surprised, until I set things straight: "Well, they sure aren't waving at me!" And, zut, if that wasn't the wrong thing to say. It would only put Camille in the awkward position of having make excuses for her good looks, the ones she was just becoming aware of.

But, true to her outer beauty, she managed to react with grace. "I have never had this happen to me before," she giggled, looking back at the fan club who were now disappearing into the horizon as we exited the freeway. I took my eyes off the fans and refocused them, as if for the first time, on the lovely brunette whose job it was to transport me. I admired her fresh beauty, and I sensed her naïveté. I thought about the long road ahead of her, in which there would be, among joy, hurts, disappointments, fears. But naïveté can also be a wonderful quality, and, along with that lead foot (I had to check my seat belt once again), it will help her over life's hurdles... now if our darling driver would only mind the speed bumps a bit, for a smoother ride for both of us! 

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


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

French Vocabulary

ambulancier, ambulancière = ambulance driver

la chirurgie = surgery

mais! vous n'êtes pas encore prête? = But! You aren't ready yet?

doucement = take it easy

prenez votre temps = take your time

ceci c'est une ambulance? = this is an ambulance?

la conductrice (le conducteur) = driver

zut! = damn!


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It's been over five weeks since my surgery. I went to the doctor's office, yesterday, to have another look beneath my bandage. Though I'm still nervous about what I saw, I'm keeping my hopes up. Meantime, I took a stroll through Avignon, post doctor visit, and came across this philosophical writing on the wall. The chalked-up words read: Garder le moral si possible (Keep your chin up, if possible), son âme à l'equilibre (and keep your soul balanced). The next tip I found particularly helpful: "Le truc c'est de pas y penser" (the thing is not to think about it). 

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Compassion and Cat (c) Kristin Espinasse

Saperlipopette! Not a cat in the house (well, apart from this one... see her in the lower window pane?) I suspect readership may have... strayed... as a result of these ongoing "derma dialogues"... but I'll stick to my guns, as any woman from the wild west would... and continue to tell my story. Meantime, I'm offering an alternative read! Today meet the vamp who showed up at my wedding: click here to read "Garce"! ...And for you hospital whores who remain, follow me now to the sexy surgery... in the following story!

le dodo (doh doh)

    : childspeak for "sleep"

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc say these French words: Download MP3 or Wav file

Fais dodo, 'Colas mon petit frère...
Go to sleep (Nicholas), my little brother...

                                             -from a well-known comptine, or nursery rhyme


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

The Schnozzle Scheme

The warm blanket that Madonna of the Gurney had offered me... was plucked off, rather precipitously, right before the doors of the "ice block" flew open! Wheeled briskly forth like that, I entered the bloc opératoire.  I noticed how narrow and cluttered the room was, and High-heeled Simone was right: it was freezing inside

I recognized Nurse Swagger, who returned in his new role of electrode engineer (to be sure, he stuck three or four of the electric conductors across my chest, before setting an oxygen mask over my mouth and my nose. I sensed how the mask sat crooked and this disequilibrium begged to be set straight. I began scrunching my nose in an attempt to reposition the oxygen mask... only, my efforts attracted the attention of Nurse Swagger, who soon became suspicious of my fantastical facial ticks....

"Il y a un problème?" he asked, and his answer was to push the mask farther to the side, defeating my silent, painstaking efforts to reroute the apparatus.

But I wanted all that oxygen, so as soon as Nurse Swagger turned his back I began the nose-scrunching scheme all over again, in time to coax that mask back over, for the full effect (as for just what effect that was, well, in my mind excess oxygen = some kind of nirvana: and nirvana seemed a better place to be than on a hospital gurney, shivering).

I was gulping down air like a tipsy astronaut-sailor when the second nurse appeared, with an announcement: "Je vais vous endormir." As her words fell off I felt pressure near my wrist... I recognized the feeling; it was the tube being connected into my arm. Next, I sensed a warm thick flow of quelque chose.

Suddenly the air, which I had been sucking in with abandon (for just how often does one get the chance to breathe pure oxygen?) ... suddenly that intoxicating air... became just that: toxic! Toxic Imposter Air! It seemed a foreign current had entered into the air supply! Alarmed, I thought to signal the malfunction to Nurse Swagger, who was slightly friendlier than whoever had just hooked up the faulty anesthesia.

...Anesthesia... that's when it occurred to me that there might be a connection between that warm flush in my arm... and this rush of seemingly toxic air in my mask. Surely this was the anesthesia coming into effect? I braced myself as one might right before hitting a wall. And if a wall ever did appear, I don't remember it.


"I"ve just given you a dose of morphine." I woke to the nurse's words, and to a blurry room. I reached up and patted my forehead, which was smooth. I could just feel the edges of the bandage, I didn't dare navigate to the center of  wound, over which surgical glue had been used. I tried to sit up. I felt that giddy. I felt that good.

I became aware of  a row of beds beside mine, and realized that the nurse's words, about morphine, were for the woman on the gurney beside mine. And it hit me, then, just how much I had to be thankful for.


Post note: As the dermatologist said (during that first visit), regarding my basal-cell carcinoma: "If you have to get cancer, this is the best kind to get!" Classified as "nonmelanoma", one feels extravagant even calling it "skin cancer"? That said, basal-cell carcinomas are treated as carefully as "the bad kind", which may explain why surgery is so invasive.... As one doctor put it: the spot you see on top of your skin, may be only the tip of the iceberg! If you missed the post-op photo, those who are not fainthearted may see it here.

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, questions, or stories of your own are welcome here in the comments box

To read all the chapters in the skin cancer chronicles, click here.... and remember to stay in the shade!

For those of you who have stuck by to read these hospital chronicles, merci beaucoup! I hope you will now take a minute to read the alternative story I posted (at the top of this letter) about the Panther from Paris... or the ex-girlfriend guest at my marriage! Click here and enjoy.


French Vocabulary

saperlipopette ( click here) = gadzooks!

le bloc opératoire = the operating theater

je vais vous endormir = I am going to put you to sleep

quelque chose = something


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Bar toutous

Le Bar à Toutous. A "dog bar" in Sarrians... really just a bowl of water that the thoughtful employees (at the tourist office, here) set out for the furry drifters. This photo comes from the archives, from the post on "Childspeak" from which today's word "dodo" and the word in this picture "totous" are taken. Click here to discover some fun French words... from out of the mouth of babes!


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grape wine harvest in france with tractor boots harvester, winemaker, buckets, jean-marc
And a Message from the Chef himself: Chief Grape: Find our wines in the US and in many other countries thanks to this link. Thanks for your support!

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Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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On today's "reading options" menu (alternatives to what may be, for some (including myself!), a gruellingly long retelling of a short hospital stay), we've got drunk birds (the ones who dip through our vineyard each winter) ...and (option two) continue reading the latest installment in the skin cancer chroniclesVoilà, the choice is yours: a) Drunk Birds (click here) or b) Drunk Patient... either way, je vous souhaite bonne lecture! Wishing you happy reading! Note: there are really no drunk patients in the following story, though a shot of pastis might color up the narrative!

patienter (pah-see-ohn-tay)

     : to wait 

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following French words. Download MP3 or Wav file

J'ai patienté à l'extérieur du bloc opératoire.
I waited outside the operating room.

Verb Conjugation : je patiente, tu patientes, il/elle patiente, nous patientons, vous patientez, ils/elles patientent

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

Bottoms up, Doc!: A patient's overactive mind

The hospital was unmistakably French. Beyond the occasional quirk, that Gallic "something" came through the very walls, which were painted deep lavender, a colorful reminder that this was Provence.

I looked at the deep purple walls and listened to the hum of the busy 'scrubbers', that is, the nurses and doctors in uniform. From this horizontal position, on a stretcher, or brancard, midway down the hall, I was in the middle of the action, with, depending on how you looked at it, the very best seat in the house!
Waiting my turn for surgery, I spied the hospital staff as I listened to secrets and avowals, to wishes and regrets and, oddly, to news about funny-looking garden pets....

"J'ai ammené les nains de jardin!" "I've brought the garden gnomes!" one of the nurses notified her colleague, and I had to check myself to make sure that the calmant, or happy pill, I'd been given really hadn't kicked in... In fact, had I heard the nurse correctly?

"Yes! I've put them on your desk." "Oui, je les ai mis sur ton bureau," the nurse replied, confirming the whereabouts of the bearded creatures. I quickly reasoned that someone would be gardening this weekend, and I rested there, assured that the hospital staff were not desperately short of help....

Doctors and nurses breezed in and out and I caught spicy snippets of conversation. One nurse answered a phone in the bureau, opposite, and I became curious when her voice lowered (and were those giggles?) as she discreetly closed the door. There was nothing left to assume or imagine or invent... except that the breathy nurse was planning an amorous cinq à sept: the famous afternoon tryst that is rumored to happen in France sometime between leaving work (5 pm) and arriving home (7 pm). Meantime, it was only 1 pm in the afternoon, and I hoped Breathy Nurse would come back to her senses in time to check on the whereabouts of my surgeon....

Oh, there he was now! "Hi, Doctor!" I managed to lift my head, but my chirurgien breezed by, disappearing around the corner. In his wake three nurses appeared, chattering about their plans for lunch...

Lunch! Yes! So it was l'heure du déjeuner! Oh, gosh, I hoped my doctor was headed for the cafeteria. He was on his way to the mess hall, wasn't he? After all, what brilliant surgeon could operate on an empty stomach? Let me rephrase that: I know just how shaky and good-for-nothing I get when lunch hour arrives....

Then again, I hoped Doc didn't eat too much! I always feel so lazy and slack after that regrettable second helping. And what if there was wine at the cafeteria? Would Doc help himself to it? A glass? Two? A little wine might steady his surgical hand, but if he threw down half a carafe... well then...

Just when my mind began to draw up all sorts of Dionysian disasters--or wine-fueled fiascoes of the surgical sort--I heard a deep voice beside me....

"I am your infirmier-anesthesiste." It was a male nurse, who had come to hook me up for the general anesthesia. Oh no, I thought, not you! And it could have been any nurse-anesthetist: male or female or garden gnome. It wasn't their gender that I held against them....

"Let me see your arm," the nurse ordered, and his eyes followed the green line from my hand, down to the top of my wrist, where, a little farther along the top of my forearm--in that awkward spot--he pushed in the sharp aiguille.

I really felt only the needle's pressure and I thanked the nurse for the absence of douleur.
"Je suis trop fort." "I'm a pro!" he told me, and swaggered off.

 "I'm a pro!" I whispered to myself. "Je suis trop forte!" I affirmed, lest any pre-op fears remain. If it worked for the confident nurse... it might just work for me. Now to figure out how to swagger on into the bloc opératoire....


In the next episode we will, hopefully, bring this saga to a close! In any case, Friday's installment should bring us up to date with the post-surgery letter. And then I ought to tell you about yesterday's check-up, where I saw beneath the bandage for the first time in two weeks... and wondered what the results might have looked like... had I chosen the gut surgeon, after all.

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, comments, or stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.


French Vocabulary

un brancard (chariot-brancard) = stretcher or bed on wheels

le bureau = office

le cinq à sept = amorous tryst

le chirurgien = surgeon

l'heure (f) du déjeuner = lunchtime

une aiguille = needle

la douleur = pain

Je suis trop fort! = I'm so good at this!


  Harvest King (c) Kristin Espinasse

 A proud Chief Grape congratulates this year's Harvest King: Jamie Song. See another picture of Jamie, at Vince's blog.

   Exercises in French Phonics
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"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy here.


It might be worth your while... to meet the character in the following story. You'll never look at a plastic flower in quite the same way... Click here and enjoy the photos, from Caromb, which accompany this tender tale.

If you enjoyed today's edition, please take a minute to forward it to a friend. Merci beaucoup!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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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

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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".

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Lanterns in St. Maurice (c) Kristin Espinasse
Not keen on reading another installment about skin cancer? Pfff! I don't blame you! Just skip the following story (I promise it's not gory! you'll even meet another great woman...) and click over here and read a story ("Ripping off the Winos") about shortchanging the locals (it's the last time the French ever asked an American to mind the cash register, and with good treason reason!).

un calmant (kal mahn)

    : a sedative, tranquillizer; painkiller

Calmant is also an adjective meaning tranquillizing, soothing, painkilling

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

L'infirmière m'a fait avaler un calmant.
The nurse had me swallow a sedative.


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

The Happy Pill & The Percussionist

Although she did not mean to, when high-heeled Simone checked out she took with her the very life of the room. C'était éteint, like a candle, and so I honored the mood and dozed off in the hospital bed.

When next I woke an infirmière breezed in. Ça va, Madame Espinasse? I turned to face a beautiful nurse, whose looks were tempered by a fuzzy fleece coat, wide-rimmed glasses, and a lazy chignon. She might have just woken up and stumbled into her own kitchen for a cup of coffee -- only this wasn't a kitchen, but a hospital room and, malheureusement, there was no fresh-brewed kawa!

The nurse smiled expectantly and I remembered her question.

"Oh, oui--ça va. Merci!" I studied her polyester coat, the synthetic material of which had bunched up, ici et par là, into little knots, the kind that beg to be picked at during periods of boredom or stress. And, not that I held it against her at all, but I respectfully questioned whether this jacket (a kind of dust-catcher, or "attrape-tout") corresponded to "hygienic". I couldn't help but recall how strict hospital authorities had been, in the packing instructions I received, about bringing into the hospital only such items as I had sanitized.

A vrai dire, I felt a little envious of the nurse's warm and homey coat, and I thought, after all, I might have brought my own polyester jacket with the little balled or snagged fibers--the favorite one I wear around the house when the weather chills (never mind the frisson it triggers in my husband).

"Il fait froid." I decided to sympathize with the nurse, only that is when I remembered former my hospital roommate's (Simone's) warning: "Brace yourself! The operating room is a walk-in freezer!" Had this bundled up nurse come from there?

"I'm always cold," the nurse explained and I relaxed (so she hadn't come from the walk-in meat locker...) as we got to chatting about art and music. Her son, a graffiti painter (graffitist is now a recognized vocation?), was working in San Francisco.

"Quelle chance d'être un artiste qui a du travail!" I applauded. The nurse nodded proudly. Next I learned that she herself was an artist: a musician! "It all happened by accident," came the humble explanation, "when I found myself caught in the cycle of chauffeur." While driving the kids back and forth to music practice at the conservatoire, she had an inspiration: why not sign up for a class?Then, when one of the band members became ill during recital, fate decided which instrument my nurse would play... as she took the place of the trianglist! And, just like that, she went from mom-chauffeur to concert musician--travelling around Europe with her band!

How inspiring, the idea that one day you're a kid-chauffeuring mama, passing your time at the gas pump (plucking knots off your polyester sweater-coat, as the tank fills) and the next, you are boarding a flight to Barcelona for your next international concert!

Former roommate, Simone, would surely be smiling now, to know that another spark had arrived in the somber room, to light up a patient's soul. After we had chatted a while longer the triangliste-infirmière reached into her poche and handed me a pill. I took it with the littlest sip of water, remembering the "no water no food" rule. It occurred to me to ask just what it was I had swallowed.

"Un calmant."

A sedative? But, I had not asked for one... This led me to suspect that I should be nervous about what was coming next and, before I could bat an eye, another nurse barreled in... preceded by a gurney. "Move over!" the second nurse ordered, pointing to the wheeled bed. I was a little startled by the bed-switching protocol, for the switchover wasn't like that in the movies....

"But I have just given her the calmant," my nurse-trianglist argued. I then came to the chilling conclusion that the calmant would not have time to take effect (!), so when the second nurse asked whether I needed to use the restroom, I quickly hatched a plan... Closing the broken accordion door, I stalled in the salle de bain!

I waited there, beseeching the sedative to please kick in and do your trick! And then... was that a tingling sensation in my throat? Was my Adam's apple going numb? Non! Manque de chance! It was the sedative that was stuck there after too little water was used to wash it down!

I thought to jump up and down while swallowing as much saliva as I could gargle together (not having drunk an ounce of water in 15 hours) but my efforts were in vain. I was soon struck to my senses when the second nurse called: On y va? Ready to go?


The pill might not have worked... but the percussions were... and my mind played the music: there was the melody of the steel triangle and the high note of high heels, as my two new friends joined me, in spirit, for the next chapter in this story of skin cancer.


Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box. Merci d'avance!

Related stories:

1) My roommate: Audacious Octogenarian, Simone
2) Home from the clinic and that comme si comme ça feeling 


French Vocabulary

c'était éteint = it was snuffed out, turned off

infirmier, infirmière = nurse

le chignon = hair bun

le kawa = (slang) Arabic word for "coffee"

 malheureusement = unfortunately

ici et par là = here and there

un attrape-tout = catch-all (this term originated in politics, but can be used to describe a fabric that collects dust)

à vrai dire = to tell the truth, truthfully speaking

le frisson = shiver

il fait froid = it's cold

Quelle chance d'être un artiste qui a du travail! = What luck to be an artist who has work!

le conservatoire = school, or academy of music

la poche = pocket

le calmant = sedative

la salle de bain = bathroom

le manque de chance = no luck  

Exercises in French Phonics
Exercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation"
"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy here.

Night Harvest (c) Collin Wagner
Early morning harvest & clipping in the dark! "Watch your fingers!" we warned our crew, who added quickly to their battle wounds! Thanks, Collin @ Collin Cooks, for this picture! And check out Harvester Vince's blog.

  I Know How To Cook The bible of French home cooking, Je Sais Cuisiner, has sold over 6 million copies since it was first published in 1932. It is a household must-have, and a well-thumbed copy can be found in kitchens throughout France. Its author, Ginette Mathiot, published more than 30 recipe books in her lifetime, and this is her magnum opus. It's now available for the first time in English as I Know How to Cook. With more than 1,400 easy-to-follow recipes for every occasion, it is an authoritative compendium of every classic French dish, from croque monsieur to cassoulet. 


Maison Rose (c) Kristin  Espinasse

La Maison Rose. Read about the character who lives near here... I met her one year ago on a cold and hungry fall day...

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


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.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.