Reader Gary McClelland shares another speedy French adventure with you today... read on and discover something fun to do in Provence (or maybe chez vous?) Also, an extra sound file for you today: Jean-Marc has recorded the vocab section following Gary's story. Don't miss it!

Occasionally I receive an e-mail asking me to tell the story of meeting my French husband, Jean-Marc (affectionately known as "Chief Grape"). For anyone interested, please know you can read the whole story in the introductory chapter to Words in a French Life ... (at under $15, this book makes an excellent gift for a Francophile!) Here is an excerpt:
  Capture plein écran 28022011 085453Back in Aix, I was dancing the night away wholly devoted to study when I met my future (French) husband. He barely spoke to me the night we met, but his first words to me -- before even "Bonsoir" -- were "Il faut qu'on se revoie," we must see each other again. His dramatic greeting stopped time. When he handed me his card, I thought I had stepped into the pages of a fairy tale. Beneath his name, "Jean-Marc Espinasse," were the words "Roy d'Espagne"....

Thanks for ordering a copy of Words in a French Life, here. Meantime, we're working on making the next book, "Blossoming in Provence", available very soon!

la sortie (sor-tee)
1.  exit
2. outing or excursion
3. availability of forthcoming novel, movie, etc.

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file
Pour prendre une sortie dans la campagne, il faut prendre la sortie de l'autoroute.
To take an outing in the countryside, one must take the exit from the highway.

Reader Gary McClelland is back today with another outdoors French adventure. Thanks, Gary, for putting together this entire edition, including the word of the day, the example sentence, the vocab section and, along with ami Chris Saricks, all of the photos!
Biking the Rails in Provence
By Gary McClelland
Photos by Chris Saricks and Gary McClelland

After finding a place to park in the village of Pourcieux, Chris and I dashed toward the station fearing we were too late for the 10:00 departure of our train. We thought we had allowed ample time but had failed to note this map warning on the website about the sortie from the autoroute closest to Pourcieux: Attention, cette sortie n'existe que dans le sens Nice-Aix. Alas, we were coming from the opposite direction. So we flew by our intended exit and had to double-back through town traffic and then on the N7, a mythical road that has a similar status of the classic Route 66 in the U.S. As we approached the affable station master awaiting us in
his converted blue and white trailer, the church bells chimed 10. I panted, “Bonjour Monsieur, je suis désolé.” He looked surprised and asked, pourquoi? The website clearly recommended we arrive 30 minutes before our departure, not 30 seconds, so I said, “Parce que nous sommes en retard.” “Mais non,” he smiled, “le train reste ici.

After a little paperwork and instruction, Chris, my train buff friend from college days, and I were adjusting the height of the bicycle seats on our vélo-rail car. We were going to pedal our little train car the seven km from Pourcieux to St Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume and then return. Throughout France, many sections of abandoned
railroad tracks have been converted for use by touristic pedal cars carrying from two to five people. As both avid cyclists and train buffs, Chris and I had to experience vélo-rail. Even though each group would be pedaling their own car, there was a strict departure time for the train because passing, either coming or
going, was not possible. The website warned that in St Maximin we would need to help turn our heavy cars around afin de soulager les vertèbres of the train personnel.

We had chosen to bypass the vélo-rail in Plan d’Orgon, closer to where we were staying in Bedoin, because the Chemin de Fer de la Sainte Baume leaving from Pourcieux promised tunnels, viaducs, et ponts with views in many directions. As we pedaled up the easy but noticeable 1.5% grade to the tunnel, Chris explained that tunnels were usually at the top where the surveyors could no longer find easy grades. We could barely see la lumière à la sortie of the 180 meter Tunnel du St Pilon. We thrilled at the rush of the wind in our hair from our increasingly speedy descent until we began worrying about climbing this same section of track on our return. The promised views did not disappoint and we stopped on a viaduc for photos (being the last car in this morning’s train, we had no fear of blocking anyone).
Too soon we were at the end of the line in St Maximin. Pirouetting the car using the metal plate between the tracks disturbed the vertèbres of neither me nor the train man. Now as the lead car, Chris and I could not dally, but neither did we need to rush because the car behind us had three passengers and we had none. We pedaled hard on the climb so again we had time to stop for photos. Soon we were through the cool tunnel and racing for the station in Pourcieux. As we rounded a bend, a beautiful view of Cezanne’s Montagne Sainte-Victoire appeared. After another pirouette of our vélo-rail car to be ready for those voyagers departing on the noon train, we began our drive home, eschewing the autoroute for the nostalgic N7 and discussing our morning’s sortie très agréable on the rails of Provence.
Information about Le Velorail de la Sainte Baume, as well as links to numerous other velorails throughout France, is available at
Gary McClelland is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Colorado. He became a Francophile while spending a summer as a student in Paris in 1967.
Le Coin Commentaires
To comment on Gary's article, or to share one of your own favorite things to do in France, click here.

Don't miss Gary's other stories: "Pétanque" and "Péloton"

French Vocabulary
listen to these words

Download MP3 file 

l’autoroute (f)
– highway, especially a toll road
le sens = direction
Attention, cette sortie n'existe que dans le sens Nice-AixWarning, this exit exists only in the Nice-Aix direction
Bonjour Monsieur, je suis désolé = Hello Sir, I am sorry
être en retard = to be late
Parce que nous sommes en retard = Because we are late  
Mais non. Le train reste ici = No worries. The train stays here. 
afin de soulager = to relieve
la vertèbre = vertebra 
le chemin de fer = railroad, literally the iron road
le viaduc = railroad trestle
le pont = bridge
la lumière = light
Our amiable station master in Pourcieux
Lead car
The lead car in our train

 Approaching tunnel
Approaching the Tunnel of St Pilon with la lumière à la sortie
La sortie
La sortie
Chris enjoying rush out of tunnel

Chris enjoying the speed rush exiting the tunnel
Un viaduc
Un viaduc
Gary stoking the rail
Gary stoking the rail car
Chris and Gary on saddles

Chris and Gary on their saddles in St Maximin
Le pirouette
Preparing to pirouette the car on the metal plate
Les coquelicots along the tracks
Cezannes Montagne Sainte-Victoire
Cezanne’s Montagne Sainte-Victoire

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

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


wine grape harvest harvesters chateauneuf du pape
Our son, Max, harvesting at Châteauneuf-du-Pape some seven years ago. Yesterday, he and his 16-year-old buddies helped out with our rosé vendange. By the way...

The rosé harvest is finished! ... As we recover from the field and the four (behind which I've been roasting poivrons and sauteing courgettes....), let's take the time to enjoy another's story.  Read with me now the account of volunteer harvester, Thomas Mann, a friend and neighbor, who harvested at a nearby vineyard. But first, today's word:

la cueillette (kuh yet)

    1. picking, gathering
    2. crop, harvest

Also: cueillir (to pick, gather, pluck) 

Audio File: hear Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: Download MP3 or Wave file

la cueillette des raisins, des champignons, des pommes et des poires....
  the gathering of grapes, mushrooms, apples and pears... 

la cueillette de la lavande, des fleurs sauvages....
  the gathering of lavender, of wildflowers... 

la cueillette à la ferme, au verger...
  harvesting at the farm, at the orchard... 


V e n d a n g e

By Thomas O. Mann

“You want to do what?” was the typical reaction when I said I wanted to pick grapes in the vendange, the annual harvest in Cairanne, my part-time village in France’s southern Côtes du Rhône wine region.  I summered there for over a decade, but before retiring, I always missed the vendange because I had to go home to my job in Washington.  I wanted to experience the primeval magic of the harvest, the bacchanalian mystique of wine making, an important part of France’s rural patrimony, and a short-term stint of hard physical labor.

Cairanne is perched on the edge of a promontory dividing two rivers, the Aygues and the Ouvèze, in the Rhône Valley, between Orange and Vaison la Romaine, two larger towns that date to Roman times. Mont Ventoux, “the giant of Provence,” and the jagged rocks of the Dentelles de Montmiral rise on the eastern horizon. The mountains of the Ardèche lie to the west.  Vineyards dominate the local landscape, and the village is home to 40 wineries.

When September arrives, the grapes hang in ripe bunches, waiting for the right moment.  Their readiness is a function of the weather--they need warm sun and just the right amount of rain--and the critical sugar content, tested daily. Meanwhile, tension builds.  Clean wagons appear in the winemakers’ yards.  People keep a nervous eye on the sky. Too much rain at the wrong time could ruin the vintage by producing grapes that cannot make wine with the proper balance of fruitiness, tannin, acidity, and alcohol that vintners seek. Making wine sounds glamorous, but it depends on farming, always a risky business.

I get the call at night from the winemakers who agreed to let me work as a volunteer vendangeur for a day.  They issue me a pair razor-sharp pruning shears, and I report for duty early the next morning.  Riding in a rickety van, we follow the tractor into a vineyard where an empty wagon is waiting. Everyone gets a black plastic bucket, and we fan out across the rows.  It is hard work and the morning air is cold.  I feel the muscles stretching in my lower back as I bend to reach the grapes.  When the bucket is full, I carry it over to the wagon and dump in the grapes.  When the wagon is full, it is hauled off on a tractor and replaced with an empty one.  The sun gets hot by mid-morning, and we break for lunch at noon. My crew is a mixture of different ages, migrants from Spain, people without regular full-time jobs, and retirees.  Some are immigrants (or their descendants), from the Maghreb, France’s former North African colonies of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.  I try out my rusty 40-year old Peace Corps Arabic.  This gets some laughs, but my vocabulary is limited.

We begin the afternoon in another vineyard, whose old vines have few grapes. Then we finish the day on a steep hillside, picking from an organic vineyard with scratchy weeds growing between the plants, where you have to wrestle the grapes off their vines.  I am in mid-pick when the clock struck 6:00 p.m.  A senior crewmember points to the hour on my watch and tells me to stop working immediately.  I forgot for a moment that I was a laborer, in France, where workers’ rights are still taken seriously.  

The quality of the grapes harvested each season gives a preview of the vintage.  In a year with the right weather conditions, the grapes will look clean and healthy, and few will be sorted out. This year had a relatively wet winter and spring, and the grapes flowered later than they had in recent years. July and August were hot and dry, and the crop was smaller than usual, but the grapes are excellent. Back at the winery the grapes are fed into vats by a crushing machine, and the juices are left to ferment.  The type of wine being made, red, white, or rosé, determines when the skins are removed. We picked only Grenache grapes on the day that I worked, since Cairanne winemakers vinify each variety from each parcel separately before they are eventually blended together in the assemblage to make the finished product.  The vineyard’s mère de famille gives me a bottle of juice from the grapes we picked.  I plan to wash down an aspirin with a glass of the juice before passing out for the night. My back is a little sore, and I have a few nicks on my hand, but it feels good to have experienced the harvest at ground level.  By working as a vendangeur, I bridged the gap between being a “summer person” and a local, if only for a day.  

There is undeniable excitement in the flurry of activity during the vendange.  Crews of pickers are busy in the fields, tractors pulling wagons full of grapes slow traffic on the roads, and they queue up at the wineries to deposit their precious cargoes. Spots on the road become black and sticky with grape juice.  Tall mounds of raffle, the residue of the crushed grapes, pile up by the wineries, before it is carted off to an alcohol plant.

The romance I feel from being part of the vendange overlooks the economic realities.  The wine industry of today is partly an ancient craft, but also a modern business in a competitive global market. The traditional manual harvesting is mandatory for the vines that produce the best local wines in this region, and migrant workers still come here from Spain and Eastern Europe to work in the vendange. However, harvesting for the mid-grade wine in the Côtes du Rhône region is increasingly done by giant machines with menacing mechanical mandibles that devour whole rows of grapes at a time like giant insects.  In many wine-producing areas around the globe, all the grapes are harvested by machine, and I wonder if this will happen here as well.

In addition, the winemakers of Cairanne have applied for status as a grand cru of the Côtes du Rhône, which will recognize the excellence of their wines and could lead to higher prices in the future.  However, this also means that the French wine authority will delineate the areas within the Cairanne appellation that will be included in the cru, and those that will be left out.  The wine produced from excluded terrain will have to be sold at a lesser price as Côtes du Rhône or Vin de Pays rather than AOC Cairanne.  There will be winners and losers from the enhanced status.  This is further complicated by the fact that most wineries own many small parcels of land scattered throughout the Cairanne appellation, so the effects of the cru remain uncertain.  But the application is made and there is no turning back.

The countryside around Cairanne is perfumed with the intoxicating aroma of fermenting grape juice after the vendange, especially in the cool, foggy mornings of early autumn.  As I ride my bike across the countryside, I smell this tantalizing scent each time I pass a winery.  The leaves on the vines are beginning to turn red and gold, and soon I will go back to Washington until next spring.  I am glad to have felt the magic of the vendange.  Bacchus, the wine god of the ancient Greeks who brought the grape to Provence, would be content.   

Thomas O. Mann is a retired lawyer who divides his time between Washington, DC and Cairanne, France.  His stories about fly fishing have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, and various angling publications.  This is his first time writing about the wine industry.  


Le Coin Commentaires
I am so grateful to Thomas for allowing me to post his essay. I hope you have enjoyed it and learned from it as much as I have. A question for readers: is this how you pictured the wine harvest? What elements of the harvest would be most/least pleasing to you? Click here to leave a comment.

Related Story: La Page Blanche (The Blank Page): Read what it feels like, for a hostess, when the last harvester leaves... and see a favorite photo from Grignan!


Selected French Vocabulary

la vendange = the wine harvest

le vendangeur (la vendangeuse) = the grape picker

la mère de famille = mother

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.


Braise & Baby (c) Kristin Espinasse

"The Nudge" -- from The Smokey Files. This may be Smokey... then again it may be one of the Smokettes (that is, one of his 5 sisters... See more puppy photos, here.


                 Expression: avoir du chien = to have a certain kind of charm
Smokey received a note from his fan, Carol, in Belgium. It reads:
Voici un message pour Smokey pour illustrer sa superbe photo digne d'un portrait Harcourt:  "Beautiful Smokey Doodle Dandy". Avec ton Bandana, tu as vraiment du "chien". Here is a message for Smokey, to illustrate his superb photo worthy of a Harcourt portrait: "Beautiful Smokey Doodle Dandy". With your Bandana, you really have certain something (special charm).

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


Pro riders in the stage race Le Dauphine. Gary, who sent me the photo & wrote today's story, notes: You can't pick him out in the photo, but this year's Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans is in this peloton, along with Alberto Contador, who won the previous three Tour de France races.


Paris apartment for rent. St Sulpice. 

215 euros per night (min.  3-nights rental)
                       Click here for more photos!

le peloton (peuh lohtohn)

    : a large group of bicycle riders in a road race

Also: Peloton is also a military word referring to a group of soldiers.  Examples would be peloton d’instruction and peloton d’execution. (Thank you, Bill Blank, for this info)

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

Le peloton est un terme sportif qui désigne un groupe de coureurs qui demeurent ensemble au cours d'une épreuve. "Peloton" is a sporting term that designates a group of racers that remain together during an event.

Capture plein écran 02082011 154241 French music, or passive language learning... Relax back and listen to these vocab-rich songs. Order this "Paris" compilation



Cycling: Unwritten Etiquette and Rules of the Road
..... Gary McClelland

Le Mont Ventoux, or le géant de Provence, beautifully on display for wine tasters at Domaine Rouge-Bleu, attracts bicyclists from all over the world who want to challenge themselves on the hors catégorie climb used 14 times in le Tour de France.  They also enjoy the gentler rides cycling past the purple lavender, yellow sunflowers and brume, green vineyards under blue skies, while listening to the chanting cigales and smelling the natural perfumes of Provence.  French is at best a second language for the visiting cyclists so except for bonjour, bonne route, and allez, there often is not much verbal communication.  However, good cyclists know the unwritten etiquette and rules of the road.  In biking around Provence on a recent trip with my friend Tim, I experienced a number of examples of the unspoken etiquette.

When I stopped for a minor roadside adjustment, a lovely French women rode into the gap between Tim and me as we climbed over a little col.  When I passed her to catch up with Tim, elle a pris ma roue (she "took my wheel”, or rode closely behind me) in the universal request to be paced if I were willing.  I nodded agreement and wordlessly we were off on a brisk but not frantic ascent to the col.  On a climb the wind drafting advantages are not substantial, but the mental benefit of having someone set a good pace can be enormous.  Using the retroviseur attached to my sunglasses, I adjusted my pace to maintain a constant gap between us.  As we arrived at the summit sooner than either of us would have alone, she said, “Merci beaucoup, vous êtes très gentil.”  (I try to collect très gentil compliments when I’m in France.)  I briefly considered continuing to ride with her but that would have violated the important etiquette that riders who start together finish together.  As I slowed, I told her that I needed to await mon copain.  Later we encountered her as we biked in opposite directions and she threw me a warm smile, a big wave, and a cheery bonne route that gladdened an old man’s heart.

One evening climbing the same col from the other direction, on a short, quick ride before dinner, I rode up behind two local racers, who were, according to their jerseys, sponsored by a plumber in nearby Caromb. They were chatting during what seemed to be an after work ride.  I knew the etiquette that trying to pass them would be challenging them to a race.  But I wanted to get back to fix my appetizer of melon halves from Cavaillon filled with muscat from Beaume de Venise.  I tried to ease by with a calm “bon soir” but the flag was immediately down and we were flying up the col.  I edged out the 3rd rider to finish a distant second to the faster rider.  Then we said hearty bonne soirées and went our separate ways knowing proper etiquette had been followed.  The melons were delicious.

Un peloton looking for refreshment in Bedoin. Gary admits: "I wouldn't try to pass these guys on ride!"

Riding north one morning into a strong mistral wind, I taught Tim the etiquette of drafting.  Following closely in the slipstream of the lead rider reduces the effort by as much as 30 percent.  Drafting is just because the riders getting the benefit take all the risk—touching tires can send the trailing rider to the ground but not the leader.  There is a fine art to being close enough but not too close.  The important etiquette is realizing that when the leader flicks his elbow he is asking the follower to take a turn leading into the wind. By switching leaders at each elbow flick, a peloton can slice through the wind amazingly quickly.

 Gary notes, "my friend Derek fixes a crevé below the castle of Le Barroux"

The most important etiquette is that a bicyclist in dépannage knows that other riders will soon stop to help.  When I was on my first ride with the local Bedoin Randonneurs bike club, j’ai crevé.  Not wanting to slow them down, I urged them on but they wouldn’t think of violating the etiquette that we would all finish together.  However, Roger was not happy with my slow tire-changing pace so offered to take over.  Another rider told me to just let him do it, “he changes all our tires.”  In the blink of the eye, my tube was replaced and we were on our way to a beautiful ride in the Provençal countryside.   And we did finish together.  Knowing proper etiquette makes a cyclist part of an international community biking in Provence.

Gary's friends biking, au peloton, through the plane trees of the winery Chateau Pesquié.

Le Coin Commentaires
Did you enjoy Gary's article? Please help me to thank him, now, by leaving "un petit mot", a little word, in the comments corner. You might also share your own bike-riding stories. Click here

Gary McClelland is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Colorado, who became a Francophile while spending a summer as a student in Paris in 1967.  

Photo credits: The cycling photos were taken by Gary or by Gary's wife, Lou, or their friend Terry Mattison. Read another story by Gary (about Pétanque" : read it here.)


Gary notes: one of my favorite places to bike for its color and scenery is the Dentelles... note the yellow and fragrant genêt, or broom. Besides me, the people are Lily Welch and Terry Mattison (this note corresponds to the third photo, below left). The village is Suzette.

 Click on the following photos to enlarge them.

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French Vocabulary

le géant de Provence = the giant of Provence (synonym for Mont Ventoux, or "Mount Windy")

hors categorie = beyond categorization

le Tour de France = an annual cycling race in France and other countries

la cigale = cicada

bonjour = hello

bonne route = have a good ride

allez! = come on, let's go! get a move on! go for it!

le col = pass (geography)

le rétroviseur = rearview mirror

Merci beaucoup, vous êtes très gentil = thanks, very kind of you

le copain = buddy, friend

le bonsoir = hello (used in an evening greeting)

bonne soirée = have a nice evening

le dépannage = fixing, repairing

j'ai crevé = I have a flat (tire)

6a00d834515cae69e2010536f40e5b970b-500wiRelated StoryVélo: Mom talks me into buying a bike "for the endorphins it will bring!".... read the story here.

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Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone.


  Green Window (c) Kristin Espinasse
So much to love about this Alsatian window, if you're a fenêtre freak as I am! Let's begin with the green façade! Next, a terra-cotta pot (in a wonderful red contrast against the wall) with is "grapes" bottom! Beneath the grapes-bottomed pot, the blue flowers (lobelia?) and the lavender are country charm incarnate! Up above, we have an outdoor blind (do you see it?... there, above the angel!)

Do you have a moment for one more story? It is a recipe-missive: a slice of life followed by a slice of tomato pie! Read it here. (Fire up your oven first!)


The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris

The Greater Journey is the 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.

  Capture plein écran 03082011 102921 French Stories: A Dual Language book. Improve your French comprehension and build your vocabulary: read the side-by-side text in these classic stories.

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


Dog Days in Alsace (c) Kristin Espinasse

How many, like this little gal, dream of riding a scooter through France? Photo of "Ephie" (effy) taken last week in Colmar. Never miss a word or photo, receive word-a-day via email or by RSS updates (for Yahoo, AOL, Google and more).

un rêve (rev)

    : a dream

Trenet One way I learned French was by listening to the classics (check out songs by Charles Trenet). Share with us, here, your Best tips on learning French!

Example Sentence & Sound File:

J'ai fait un rêve. I had a dream. --Martin Luther King

*note: Jean-Marc tells me that "had", and not "have" is the popular French translation (at least it is the one that he is most familiar with), though MLK's exact words were I have a dream. How would you translate the famous quote? Your thoughts are welcome, here, in the comments box!

un mauvais rêve = a bad dream, nightmare
fais de beaux rêves! = sweet dreams!

Reverse Dictionary (notice how rêve is missing from these translations...)
Life is but a dream = la vie n'est qu'un songe
to be in a dream = être dans les nuages, dans la lune
everything went like a dream =  tout est allé comme sur des roulettes


"La Douce France" by Michael Wrenn

For those of us dyed-in-the-wool francophiles, it is a difficult question. Why do we like France so much?   The answer is more likely to come, not in sentence answers, but rather in paragraphs.  Many will start by telling about a French teacher long ago in high school who either inspired or tortured them, then there was a photo in a textbook or magazine, or a film that awakened something inside that beckoned us, not unlike the sirens of antiquity, to come to France.

But why France?, so many ask.   The French can be so difficult, so finicky, so hard to understand.   And yet, that becomes part of the challenge: not only to conquer this beautiful but beguiling language, but to understand and know the country and its people.   In the end, France dominates our hearts, our dreams, even our very souls.

Some of us came to France and immediately fell in love. After hearing more of Kristin Espinasse’s story, I find that we both share in that we came to France to study and were at first charmed, but had to go home and return again before we realized that la Douce France is where our hearts longed to be.

Kristin and many others like her have built their lives here.  They pursue their dreams, and have beautiful families.  Others, like me, have to be content with frequent trips, but I consider myself lucky to have a career where everyday I can teach young people about a land and a language that I love so much that I have devoted my entire career to its study.  It is my vocation and my avocation.  There is a special pleasure that comes when I am able to bring my students to France and share my love with them, and when I see that they, too, begin to love this special place, then I am a happy man....

Even with frequent trips to France, when I am back home in California I long and ache with all my heart to be in l’Hexagone. Especially in those darkening days of autumn and winter, when a trip to France seems like a lifetime away in far-off June, I find myself missing France.  It is in those times when Kristin Espinasse has become for me a tresor d’or.  Through her blog, she sends me a beautiful gift, three times a week, which allows me, for just a few minutes, to come back to my beloved France.  And as a petit bonus, she helps this old professeur as she manages nearly every time to find some word or expression that is either new to me or long-forgotten, despite all my education and work.

Not only does Kristin share her world with us, a world where languages and cultures intersect, but she opens her life to us and brings us in, sharing with her devoted readers her joys, fears, hopes, and dreams.  And by extension we share in the dreams of her beloved husband Jean-Marc, mother Jules, the children, the extended family and her friends.  Through her writing, we are drawn in, and we become part of this special world that she and Jean-Marc have created.  In viewing the comments from readers, it is immediately apparent that I am not alone in feeling this sense of a virtual family, all thanks to the efforts of this amazing writer.

As a reader for many years, I had longed to meet in person someone with whom I felt I shared so much.   When the offer came to come to Ste. Cecile, and to bring along my dear students, well there was no question, we were going.

That is how we found ourselves on a warm 4th of July afternoon, sitting under a mulberry tree, just feet from the vineyard as a few sprinkles fell and offered a little relief from the muggy temperature.  Jean-Marc showed us his old vines, and spoke to us about his winemaking; the students got to taste the fruit of his labor.  Kristin shared about the writing process while the youngsters intently listened to her anecdotes and observations of life in France.  Smokey and Braise vied for attention and calins from the students while the cigales sang and reminded us that we were surely in the South of France, not the Napa Valley.


Here, two people were not only opening up their lovely home with its view of the graceful vineyard, le Mont Ventoux and les Dentelles de Montmirail, but sharing their very lives with those who just happened to be there on that particular day.

As our autocar pulled away and we headed down the driveway that was lined with the rosemary and lavender that Kristin had pruned, I had a few words to share with my students to sum up our visit.  I said to them, “You have just met two people who followed their dreams.  If you like what you saw, perhaps it is time for you to start to think big, to dream, and begin doing the work that will make that dream come true.  Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams...”

As you can tell from Kristin’s and my words, this was indeed a very special visit.  Even with both of us writing our hearts out, we can’t quite seem to capture the magic that was felt on that warm afternoon under the mulberry tree.  Perhaps the answer is in something that was said many years ago by one of my former students when I asked him why he enjoyed his trip.  I don’t really know, he responded, but there is just something special about France.

Michael Wrenn, Professeur de lettres
Saint Helena, California

Kristin, Michael, and California students--the ones our teenagers (away at horse and basketball camp!) were so upset to have missed!


Le Coin Commentaires
Did you enjoy Michael Wrenn's account of his visit? Can you help to answer Michael's question: Why do we like France so much? Just what is it about "la Douce France" that has us longing to return to l'Héxagon? Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, in the comments box.

French Vocabulary

la Douce France
 = sweet (beloved) France; a common moniker made even more popular by a Charles Trenet song

l’Hexagone = a euphamism for France, based on the shape of its borders

un petit bonus = a little extra, an added bonus

un tresor d’or = a golden treasure

un professeur = a teacher, professor

les calins (m) = caresses, displays of affection or pets (of affection), in the case of animals

les cigales (f) = cicadas, a locust-like insect found in the South of France, known for its chirping sounds

un autocar = a tour bus

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             Thank you, Nicholas Howell, for these pictures!


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Words in a French Life: Lessons in Language and Love
"King of Spain": please don't miss the Gallic love story of how I met my husband... and mistook him for un roi. Read the introductory chapter to my book "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language", click here. (The photo, above, was taken (by Jules) on Mother's Day, several weeks before our 17 year anniversary).


Capture plein écran 11072011 093235
Has anyone read this book? I am wondering whether or not to order it!: The Summer of Katya: A Novel

In the golden summer of 1914, Jean-Marc Montjean, recently graduated from medical school, comes to the small French village of Salies to assist the village physician. His first assignment is to treat the brother of a beautiful woman named Katya Treville. As he and her family become friendly, he realizes they are haunted by an old, dark secret . . . but he can’t help falling deeply in love with Katya. Read customer reviews, 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

How to say "luck" in French + recipe for Lucky New Year Pie with Grand Marnier

Still Life Avant Pie (c) Lynn McBride

Quelle chance! We have a story and a recipe and photos--including the still life, above--for you today by guest blogger Lynn McBride

chance (shons) noun, feminine

    : luck

une chance = a stroke of luck
avoir de la chance = to be lucky
Bonne chance! = Good luck!

French Tartes or Southern Pies?  Oh, the dilemma…

by Lynne McBride

Here’s a favorite quote from Michelle Obama.  When asked what it was like to suddenly live in the White House with an army of staff, she admitted it was great, then said, with wonder:  “If you want pie, there’s pie!”  Hey Michelle, that’s my idea of paradise too.

OK, so what about French pies?  Well, the French  do things a little differently, no surprise there.   Bye-bye American pie.  The difference?  In addition to the sloping shape of the edge of the dish, an American pie is plump and indulgent, and can be piled exuberantly high with whipped cream or meringue, or topped with a decadent crust or crumbs.  Is that American or what?  A French tarte, alternativement, is in a dish that’s shallow with straight, fluted sides.  It’s thin and refined, understated and elegant, most often just a divine crust topped with beautiful fruits.  Oh so French.

French tarts (c) Lynn McBride

Must we choose between the two?  Oh let’s not.  I’m proposing two recipes this week, the best of both worlds.

As you may know...

Continue reading "How to say "luck" in French + recipe for Lucky New Year Pie with Grand Marnier" »

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


Lace Curtains in Nyons (c) Kristin Espinasse
Some romantic curtains (spotted in Nyons) to go along with our "Romancier" story, by guest blogger Janet Skeslien Charles.


romancier (ro man see ay) noun

    : a novelist
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Romancier, Romancière

9781608192328[1]-1 My name is Janet Skeslien Charles. I am a romancière from Montana who lives in Paris. In 1998, I came to France as une assistante d’anglais. Like many people who end up living in France, I intended to stay just one year, yet me voilà – here I am – twelve years later with my romanMoonlight in Odessa” (Bloomsbury) just out in paperback. I feel very lucky to be a guest blogger for Kristin this week and hope that you will enjoy my posts.
From 1998 to 2004, I taught in three different schools in Ile de France, which is what the French call Paris and its surrounding suburbs. One school was an hour away from my apartment. I spent more time underground in the metro than I did above ground in the classroom, running from school to school. After six years, I decided to stop running and work on mon roman and lead an atelier d’écriture.
I wanted a mix of Anglophones and French adult students, but it wasn’t easy to attract French students at first. When I told French friends about my atelier d’écriture, this is how it usually went:

“I’m starting a writing workshop.”
“Bravo!” Emilie said. “Children these days need help with their penmanship.”
“It’s for adults.”
“Well,” she said. “Many adults could stand to improve their penmanship.”
“The workshop is about telling stories, not penmanship.”
“Ah, oui…”

I thought Emilie had understood, until she twirled her finger near her temple, making the universal sign for crazy. “You mean for adults who have problems.”

“My students don’t have problems!”
“No, of course not. I meant they’re… slow.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my students,” I said. “They want to be writers.”
“But writers are born, not made.”

Chantal was one of my first French students. She wrote beautiful essays about books and characters, describing them lovingly as friends. It was the first workshop she had taken and I think she was surprised by her own work and by the encouragement of her fellow writers. Each session, it is a pleasure to see people share their work, gain confidence, and improve their writing.

I believe that writing is a pleasure that we can all enjoy and that anyone who writes is a writer, whether it be observations in a journal, sharing our thoughts on a blog, or sending letters to friends. Musicians take classes to improve their technique, why can’t writers? Do you believe writers are born or made? Or perhaps a little of both?  

It is challenging to be a un écrivain, finding le mot juste, finding the heart of a story or an essay, editing our own work and finding agents or editors. Many people fear being turned down. As I tell my writing students, rejection is a part of dating, looking for a job, and getting published. I show them rejections for a personal essay called “Interview in Paris” sent to ten literary journals. The first came within hours from Boston, the last came sixteen months later, also from Boston, with a word of praise. The largest rejection was one page long, the smallest a two inch by two inch scrap of paper. Write, edit, get feedback, edit, send out your work, repeat as needed.
It is rewarding to be un écrivain, finding the right word, finding the heart of a story, finding readers who love the piece as much as you do. Paris is a challenging and rewarding place to be a romancière. The city is nourishing yet full of delightful distractions. Here is my favorite kind: a café gourmand, a coffee served with three small desserts. Perfect as a small consolation in a moment of difficulty or as a reward to celebrate an unexpected victory.

Photo 2

My Belle-Mère was the first person to call me a romancière. We sat in her kitchen drinking coffee. She looked at me and said, “Just think, I have a romancière sitting across from me.” I loved the sound of the word. It sounded so romantic.


%2AIMG_3559_small[1] Janet Skeslien Charles’ debut novel Moonlight in Odessa was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of their top ten debut novels of Fall 2009. It was Book of the Month in the September issue of National Geographic Traveler. BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime featured Moonlight in Odessa for two weeks in February 2010. Foreign language rights have been sold in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, Iceland, Romania, Serbia, Taiwan, Denmark, and Spain. Moonlight in Odessa has been awarded the 2010 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance. 

Le Coin Commentaires
To leave a comment, click here. You might also help me to thank Janet for her behind-the-scenes essay on becoming a writer. To leave Janet a message, click here. Merci! And to order Janet's book, click here.

romancier, romancière = a novelist
un(e) assistant(e) d’anglais = an English assistant
me voilà = here I am
Ile de France = Paris and its surrounding suburbs; "one of the twenty-six administrative regions of France, composed mostly of the Paris metropolitan area. Its name literally means "Island of France", possibly from ancient Frankish Liddle Franke, "little France". (--Wikipedia)

un atelier d’écriture = writing workshop
un écrivain = a writer
le mot juste = the right word
un roman = novel
un café gourmand = a coffee served with three small desserts

"Le Roupillon" ("The Snooze"): picture of Braise (left) and son, Smokey, taken last November

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


A convivial game of boules in the town of La Ciotat. All photos courtesy of Lou McClelland.

pétanque (peh-tank) noun, feminine

    : a game similar to boules (bowles), originating from the Mediterranean and played in the South of France (and elsewhere!)

Audio File & Example Sentence
Download MP3 file
Souvent, le jeu de pétanque est accompagné d'un verre de rosé.
Often, the game of petanque is accompanied by a glass of rose.

Pétanque and Passion for Vin

Today, guest author Gary McClelland (whom I told you about before...) talks about playing Pétanques with the locals. We had the chance to meet Gary and Tim (whom you'll soon read about in today's story) and their lovely wives, Lou and Lauren, at a wine-tasting here at our vineyard a few weeks back.  They all joined Jens and Vanita (and fils) from Denmark. Jean-Marc was a little late for the wine-tasting. Good thing he eventually showed up, for my Danish and American guests might've been stuck with me and my thé glacé .

Boules in La Ciotat
by Gary McClelland

Leaving Cassis after a pleasant day touring calanques,* eating fish at the port, and ambling on the rocky beach, we drove the vertiginous road over Cap Canille to La Ciotat.  Sliding into an open parking place, we were sandwiched between water and a beautiful boulodrome* shaded by plane, pine, and palm trees.  Tim and I keep our boules* in the car for such emergencies....


We began a 1‐on‐1 game as our spouses amused themselves with a walk along the Mediterranean Sea. The locals occasionally watched, and one flashed me an approving thumbs up after my particularly good tir.* We asked Jean, warming up by himself, about local rules.  Saying it would be so much fun, he quickly had us in a 4‐on‐4 game with local players. 

Our team was Tim and Noel (both "point," trying to roll close to the cochon), and Jean and Gary (both "tir"). We worried we were in over our heads, but we didn’t embarrass ourselves in a competitive game in which the winning team would gagner* only one point each round. 

Tim, Noel, Jean

At times the up to 16 very‐similar looking boules arrayed around the cochon seemed overwhelming, but in this social game teammates give advice on strategy and aiming.  There was lots of friendly ribbing.  When René’s point shot zoomed past the target, she exclaimed, “C’est le TGV!”*    

(Jean measures carefully)

Boule The game of boules or pétanque (Provençal for “pied ancré”*) was invented in La Ciotat so for us it was like playing a pick‐up baseball game in Cooperstown. Our team trailed 8 to 9 when inadvertently one of their boules moved the cochon so that we now had the three closest boules. We only needed two more points to win and I still had my two boules.  I confidently anchored my feet in the circle and curled the first roll closer than any of the others.  A fine shot. Enjoying the moment and thinking of the thrill of hitting the game‐winning “home run,” I scanned the beautiful setting, the colorful veteran players in their Provençal shirts, and the expectant looks. Perhaps this motivated me to try a shot with too much panache or maybe it just slipped out of my hand, but the moment the boule left my hand, I knew it was wrong. 

Quelle horreur!” My ball glanced off one of theirs and knocked it closer than any of ours. Not only was my roll not the winning fifth point, but we lost all of our points. My teammates were stunned and I wanted to sink into the sea.

Our opponents won after several more rounds. Both teams posed for a photo and my expression was blank. Despite my horrible error they wanted us to play more but we had a long drive to our gîte,* so we had to decline.

“Then come another day,” Jean suggested. 
“What days do you play?” Tim asked.  Jean, with a look that expressed sympathy with our impoverished lives, replied, “tous les jours, bien sûr.”

Gary, fourth from the left, and Tim, second from the left.

If you enjoyed Gary's story, thank you for letting him know. Why not leave him a message in the comments box? Also, feel free to share any pétanque vocabulary that isn't mentionned here. Thanks in advance!


Gary McClelland is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Colorado who became a francophile while spending a summer as a student in Paris in 1967.  He regularly visits Provence and built a boules court at his house in Boulder, CO, to practice. 

Data analysis, statistics? Do you sweat this kind of stuff? Thankfully there are part-time pétanquers here to spell it out for us. Check out Gary's book.

~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~
la calanque (f) = rocky inlet from the sea; un boulodrome (m) = a place (usually a dirt "terrain" where one plays pétanque; la boule (f) = heavy steel ball; tir = “fire or shot,” in this case, a shot hitting an opponent’s boule to knock it away from the target cochon; le cochon, literally “pig” but the colloquial name for the small target ball; gagner = to win; c'est le TGV! (TGV = train à grande vitesse) = It's the high-speed train!; pied ancré = meaning behind the Provençale word "pétanque" = =“anchored foot” because one cannot move one’s feet or stride while throwing; le gîte (m) = a self-catering rental apartment, home, or small cottage (oftentimes this is the guest-house of a local).


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.
Refreshing mosterizing mist: vine therapy by Caudalie

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



Today's story, by guest author Arnold Hogarth, takes place in Paris, on the charming Ile Saint-Louis....  Speaking of Paris, mille mercis for the fun and inspiring Paris suggestions that you sent my friend, Greg-- who sends you his remerciements.

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Today's word from French Word-A-Day. (...sign up if you haven't already!):

colis (ko-lee) noun, masculine

    : parcel, package

Audio File & Expressions:
Download MP3 sound file and listen to my eleven-year-old daughter pronounce the following:

 par colis postal
envoyer/recevoir un colis

Trois jeunes de 17 à 20 ans ont été placés en garde à vue après le vol de 46 colis postaux. Three youths, aged from 17 to 20, were placed in police custody after stealing 46 postal parcels. --Le Parisien

Book: Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French

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P  E  R  C  E  P  T  I  O  N  S
by Arnold Hogarth

What is America’s fascination with France? Beyond the museums, walking tours, monuments, cafes----just what is it? Well, for this American, it’s the difference in values, attitudes, and perceptions submerged in the deep waters of each culture.
When, on occasion, one surfaces – there can be confusion, sometimes angst, but many times great humor, and even moments of sweet poignancy. This story is true . . . (more or less).

A Paris Lady

Post Office on Ile. St. Louis:
As I reached for the aluminum glass door to the tiny Post Office located on Ile. St. Louis in central Paris, an old lady carrying a cardboard box, of dimensions approximately 18” x 18”, rushed in front of me and at the last minute crowded between my extended arm and the aluminum handle I was reaching for—and  inserted herself and her box between me and the door. The box could not have been heavy, as she managed it easily with ungloved hands that showed the ash and wrinkles of a very old trooper.
The temperature was approximately 40 degrees. With neither gloves nor a scarf, she warded off the moist chill with only a worn wool coat, a crown of wiry snow white hair, a black and white checked cotton dress, black leggings and brown boots of the working type, not the fashion type.
She peered at me through glasses more resembling goggles, and said something in French. I speak no French, so spoke back in English -- and she just looked at me. Just then a teenage girl approached and said, “excuse me please,” nodded politely to the old lady, and said something to her in French. The old lady smiled thinly and the teenager then turned a sweet gaze on me and asked if I would permit the old lady to precede me.
I smiled at the old lady and she went to the postal counter on the right. The counter to the left had a young man heavily engaged with the clerk. I estimated his transaction would take a long time; so, I lined up behind the teenager, who insisted I go in front of her because I arrived before she had.

“Do you know who that lady is?” the teenager whispered to me in a lovely French accent.
“Why no,” I replied.
“Oh,” she said, “that’s Madam de Gerverseux,” as if I would immediately know who she was.
“Madam de Gerverseux?”
“I think she’s almost 90 now,” the teenager said, “she lives just around the corner in a small ground floor studio apartment.” Madam glanced around at us while the clerk went to the back room to fetch something. From her curious expression, I think she sensed that we were talking about her, and I think she understood some English. Taking a good look at her, I realized that she was quite attractive and her eyes were not old, but crystal blue and very penetrating. She smiled sweetly at me with a long and sturdy gaze.

She didn’t look close to 90--closer to 70--but because of her worn clothes and somewhat bent posture and movements of an older person, I didn’t think twice about her at the door; but, as I say, upon closer inspection, she was very pretty. The clerk returned and there was immediate reengagement regarding madam’s cardboard box.

“So, who is she?” I asked the teenager.
“Before the second war, around 1938,” the teenager said, “when Madam de Gerverseux was around twenty, she was the toast of Paris, a dancer, singer, and one of the great beauties of the era. She was an understudy to Josephine Baker, the famous, American Black entertainer, and worked with her many years at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysèes. All the children in Paris learn about Madam de Gerverseux life. She was also a hero in the French underground movement during the war and responsible for saving hundreds of French lives. Everyone knows who she is and what she has accomplished.”

“But,” I said, “she seems so bedraggled, almost like a street beggar.”
“Oh, no,” said the teenager, “she made a fortune during her time, and as far as anyone knows, she has a lot of money. It is said, though, that she lives like she does, because money is of little value to her. She tells people there’s nothing it can provide that isn’t available without it. We learned all about her in school, and every school child in France knows how wealthy she is.”

The clerk took Madam’s cardboard box from the counter top, cradled it easily on his hip and gently patted the top of Madam’s hand, and said something in French. She smiled radiantly, turned, nodded kindly to me and the teenager, and walked proudly with quick steps and pushed through the aluminum glass door. We watched through the window as she stepped briskly down the sidewalk. The sun was out and shown on her face as she turned and smiled at us through the window.

“I wonder what was in the box,” I said, “such a big box and so light.”
“Oh,” said the teenager, “there’s never anything in the box. She comes almost everyday at about this time, with a similar box and mails it to herself. Sometimes, you will see that the box is torn and scrapped where she has repeatedly removed the old label – and she brings the same boxes in time after time until there are in tatters, and then she replaces them with new boxes.”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to disparage the great women. Just then the clerk said something to me in French, and I shrugged.

“Yes, Monsieur, what can I do for you?” he said in broken English.
“Do you have a box like the one the madam just carried out?”
“Oui, Monsieur,” and he went to the back room. I could hear him rattle around and he soon reappeared with an identical box. “And what,” he asked, “do we put in the box?”
“Just this,” I said, handing him a note I had quickly scribbled.
“And where do we send the box, Monsieur” the clerk asked.
“Do you have Madam’s address?”
“But of course,” Monsieur.
“Please address the box to her,” I said.

As I went to leave, the teenager asked, “Do you mind if I ask what you wrote?”
I reached out my hand and held hers, and told her that I had written - "I love you".

Arnold Hogarth, 77, was raised in So. Cal. and currently lives in Fallbrook, San Diego county. He is retired and spends two months in Paris each year.

Please help me to thank Mr. Hogarth for his story by leaving your feedback and comments in the comments box! A simple "merci" might really make this writer's day, qui sait?


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photos (c) Kristin Espinasse. Lily of Spain flowers thriving along an ancient rock wall in Rasteau.
Valerian flowers (a.k.a. les lilas d'Espagne" growing from dusty ledges along a rock wall in Rasteau).

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


Photo taken in Visan, land of a million cats! Whether slightly color-blind, like this black-and-white cat, or completely non-voyant, Louis Braille believed that the gift of literacy belonged to everyone. Read more about this remarkable Frenchman who, as a child, would change the world.

non-voyant (nohn-voy-ahn) noun, masculine*

    : visually handicapped person

* the feminine is "non-voyante" (nohn-voy-ahnt)

French definition:
  "une personne qui ne voit pas; aveugle"
  (a person who does not see; blind)

AUDIO FILE: My son, Max, offered this example sentence. Click on the link to hear it:
  Les non-voyants utilisent le braille pour lire.
  (The blind use Braille to read.) Download MP3 or Wav file

We were at the breakfast table when the usual "Ça—c'est ma place!" and "Quit hogging the jam!" conversation turned into a thoughtful hymn... on blindness.

"Did you know," I began, "that the person who invented Braille was not much older than you when he created the system that would allow the blind to read?" I said to my son, who balanced a near-empty jar of jam over a slice of brioche—this, while glaring at his soeur cadette.

"What is "braille?" Jackie wanted to know, repeating the word as she had heard her Anglophone mother pronounce it (BREL).

Jean-Marc, who had caught the tail end of the conversation, piped in.
"Brel est un chanteur."
"No! I'm not talking about Jacques Brel!" I felt my feathers ruffling, and only two minutes into an uncharacteristic history lesson.

"She means 'Braille'," Max explained, clearing up any confusion by offering the French pronunciation of "Braille" (which, to my surprise, was "BR-EYE"!). Next, my son popped up, and hurried over to the cupboard to fish out a box of sucre.

"NO MORE SUGAR!" I cried, "and will you please listen! I am trying to..."

Max quickly turned the box of sugar to its side, and pointed out the raised dots.

"I had never noticed that before!" I said, running my finger down the side of the box, over the "lettered" relief. Are you sure that is Braille—and not some kind of bar code?"

On second thought, why wouldn't it be Braille, and why, by the way, weren't the jam jar and the milk carton sporting raised dots, too? With that, I ran my finger across all of the packages along our table top. That is when I realized that the box of sugar was the only package that could be read or identified by a non-voyant!

A sense of shame washed over me as I experienced another taken-for-granted privilege: that of correctly identifying a pot de confiture or a carton de lait. My guilty conscience automatically reacted, with the clearing of the throat and a swift returning to the former subject.

"As I was saying... it was a child who created this extraordinary system...." I tried to think of what to say next, but my mind was vaguely troubled. Thankfully, my daughter spoke next.

"Sometimes adults create things too," Jackie pointed out.

Le Coin Commentaires

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

If we were talking about blindness at the breakfast table this morning, it is thanks to Kathi Koegle, who had written me a few weeks ago, inquiring about "off-the-beaten-track villages" that one might visit in France. In the email exchange that ensued, I learned that Kathi, who works for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, had just been in charge of a bicentennial birthday party for Louis Braille.

It occurred to me that she might write an article for us all to enjoy and, when I asked, Kathi kindly obliged. Here, now, is her mini-biography on Louis Braille.

L o u i s  B r a i l l e
January 4, 1809 - January 6, 1852

This year marks the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the man who invented literacy for blind people.

Braille was born in Coupvray, a tiny village about 25 miles east of Paris. The youngest of four children, he lived with his parents in a modest stone cottage in the village.

Braille's father was the local harness-maker. One day when he was three years old, Louis was at play in his father's workshop. A fateful accident and subsequent infection rendered him totally aveugle.

At the age of 10, Braille earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. It was the world's first school for blind children. Louis was an outstanding élève, and he excelled in every subject. He also became a fine pianist and an accomplished organist.

photo from Wikipedia

While attending the Institution and yearning for more books to lire, Braille experimented with ways to create an alphabet that would be facile to read with one's fingertips. The system of raised dots that he devised--at age 15--evolved from the tactile "Ecriture Nocturne" code (invented by Charles Barbier, an artillery captain in the army of Louis XVIII) for sending military messages that could be read on the battle field at night sans light. Two years later, Braille adapted his method to musical notation.

Braille accepted a full-time teaching position at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth when he was 19. He taught grammar, geography, arithmetic, and music.

Sighted teachers and officials were slow to accept Braille's new method. It wasn't until 1844, eight years before he died, that the value of the Braille alphabet was officially recognized. Then, one after another, countries around the monde recognized the benefits of braille. Braille has now been adapted to more than 200 languages and dialects around the world.

Louis Braille died of Tuberculosis two days after his 43rd birthday. In 1952, his body was moved from a cemetery in Coupvray to the Pantheon in Paris to lie with other great women and men of France.

The stone house where Braille grew up is now a museum, and the street on which it stands is named Rue Louis Braille.

On the mur of the maison is a plaque that reads:

Dans cette maison est né le 4 janvier 1809 Louis Braille inventeur de l'écriture en points saillants pour les aveugles. Il a ouvert a tous ceux qui ne voient pas les portes du savoir.

In this house on January 4, 1809 was born Louis Braille, the inventor of the system of writing in raised dots for use by the blind. He opened the doors of knowledge to all those who cannot see.

Author bio: Kathi Koegle is Outreach & Development Manager for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired. A former French teacher, Kathi and her husband are making plans for their third trip to Provence.

If you enjoyed Kathi's story, please join me in thanking her by letting her know in the comments box.

You may also leave her a personal message, here: kathi [AT] wcblind [DOT] org

Kathi adds: "Enjoy a few pix from the Council's recent Braille Bicentennial Birthday Party. Guests enjoyed baguettes and six different kinds of French cheeses." (View pictures at the end of this post.)

In children's books: "Louis Braille, The Boy Who Invented Books For The Blind" & Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius

French Vocabulary

ça—c'est ma place! = that is my seat!
la soeur (f) cadette = little sister
Brel est un chanteur = Brel is a singer
le sucre = sugar
le pot de confiture = jar of jam
le carton de lait = carton of milk
non-voyant,e (m/f) = blind
aveugle = blind
l'élève (m/f) = student
lire = to read
facile = easy
Ecriture Nocturne = night writing
sans = without
le monde = world
le mur = wall
la maison = house

Read about Therese-Adele Husson:  a young blind woman and writer from provincial France 

Capture plein écran 17012012 103208

 Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France

In the 1820s, several years before Braille was invented, Therese-Adele Husson, a young blind woman from provincial France, wrote an audacious manifesto about her life, French society, and her hopes for the future. Through extensive research and scholarly detective work, authors Catherine Kudlick and Zina Weygand have rescued this intriguing woman and the remarkable story of her life and tragic death from obscurity, giving readers a rare look into a world recorded by an unlikely historical figure.

Reflections is one of the earliest recorded manifestations of group solidarity among people with the same disability, advocating self-sufficiency and independence on the part of blind people, encouraging education for all blind children, and exploring gender roles for both men and women. Resolutely defying the sense of "otherness" which pervades discourse about the disabled, Husson instead convinces us that that blindness offers a fresh and important perspective on both history and ourselves. Click here to read more about this book.

SmartFrench : learn French from real French people!

In French film: The Double Life of Veronique

French music: Jacques Brel

Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves

Kathi's photos taken at the celebration: Braille birthday party photos 005
A cheese close-up!

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

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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


Boats (c) Kristin Espinasse)
Marseilles is the setting for today's story. (Photo taken in the fishing village of Callelongue).

Who hasn't had the fantasy of leaving his or her old life behind to start over? What would happen if you gave up your job, city, state, and routine to move to another part of the world? Critically acclaimed writer and aspiring painter James Morgan does just that. Risking everything, he and his wife shed their old, settled life in a lovingly restored house in Little Rock, Arkansas, to travel in the footsteps of Morgan's hero, the painter Henri Matisse, and to find inspiration in Matisse's fierce struggle to live the life he knew he had to live. Part memoir, part travelogue, and part biography of Matisse, Chasing Matisse proves that you don't have to be wealthy to live the life you want; you just have to want it enough. Order "Chasing Matisse", here:

gober (go-bay) verb
  : to swallow, to scarf, to gulp down

se gober: to think a lot of oneself, to fancy oneself
un gobeur, une gobeuse = one who is gullible

And... ever heard of the word "gobe-mouche"? It means, literally, "fly-gobbler" and it is another word for someone who believes everything he hears. Can't you just picture those flies heading, one by one, into the mouth of the astonished (jaws dropped) listener of fantastic stories?

:: Audio File ::
Listen to my daughter, Jackie, pronounce "gober un oeuf" (gobble an egg): Download gober.mp3 .Download gober.wav


Hallelujah and Dieu merci* that I don't have to translate for a living. After re-writing my brother-in-law's story (originally penned in French), and sweating over certain words, I can certainly sympathize with any interpreters who have ever hiccupped before an unfriendly English equivalent....

The "Gober"* story held a wee dilemma or deux* in the translation department... c'est-à-dire*: what might sound all right in French, can sound altogether awkward in English. For this reason, I admit to having experienced a bout of creative amnesia (particularly near the last paragraph) while transcribing today's story. The convoluted truth is: I "forgot" the English equivalents to all of the doubtful words... and that is how they got dumped.

That said, you can see most of the story here now (in English)... or read the entire story (in French) here.

                         "Gober Un Oeuf" by Jacques Espinasse

Back in the beginning of the eighties, already 28 years ago, the southern quarters of Marseilles stretched out into the magnificent neighborhoods of "Mazargues", "Bonneveine", "La Vieille Chapelle", and "La Pointe Rouge"... not to mention "Le Parc du Roy d'Espagne" located near the hills of "Marseilleveyre" beyond which the famous calanques* of Sormiou, Morgiou, and Sugiton bring great joy to the Marseillais.

The neighborhoods, back then, were not yet exploited by those rich, unscrupulous property developers. Over time, though, the builders eventually bought up the great family farms where "natural" vegetables and fruits grew, and where chickens laid their eggs each day, eggs that delighted me twice each week.

My mother, between two piqûres* (she was a district nurse who made house calls) would stop by one of these farms to buy lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, artichokes... and seasonal fruit: strawberries, cherries, peaches, apricots... but what I looked forward to the most, each time she went to the farms, were those fresh eggs--laid that very day. In fact, when I was little, my greatest delight was to "gober un oeuf"!*

That might seem strange, but I did this with the help of a sewing needle, punching a little hole at each end of the egg, then sucking down the precious contents. It is really a very good treat and, what's more, it's all year long--as chickens don't have seasons!

These days, unfortunately, not one of the farms that my mother visited can be found... as apartment buildings have "grown" in the place of vegetables and fruit trees. Once in a while, though, I still have the chance to "gober un oeuf". Fortunately, in the arrière-pays* of Marseilles, one can still find a few of these fermes,* the owners of which knew how to resist the land developers who do not know the pleasure of eating a farm fresh egg.

                                          *     *     *
Pssst: If you liked Jacques' story, why not drop him a line and let him know? Email him at Jacques.Espinasse [AT]  (replace [AT] with @).

Dieu merci = thank God; gober = to gobble; deux = two; c'est-à-dire = that is to say; la calanque (f) = rocky inlet (from the sea); une piqûre (f) = injection; gober un oeuf = to gobble an egg; l'arrière-pays (m) = hinterland; la ferme = farm

Painless French: grammar, pronunciation, idioms, idiocies (culture) and more!

Songs in French for Children

Lego Make & Create Café Corner:

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