belles fringues

The first day of harvest (Part II) ended with a blast! And a down-on-his-luck Chief Grape drove, with a flat-tire, two hours beneath the darkening, cold sky. The harvesters waited for him, working late into the night to process the grapes, which made it back to the farm in the back of a crooked and wobbly wagon. So much for romancing the grapes.

belles fringues (bel frayng)

    : glad rags, one's best clothes


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

"Glad Rags"

Looking around our kitchen, at the bright smiling faces belonging to our harvest crew, I couldn't believe our luck: here were eight innocents who had volunteered to spend the next 12 days hunched over a leafy, catch-me-if-you-can grape plant. Between the whipping wind and the winding branches, the game of grapes-gathering is an exercise in patience, endurance, and pluck. The work is épuisant at best and this exhaustion, which begins deep within the muscles, works itself outward, to the very surface fibers of one's sweaty chemise.

Au fait... had my husband informed our newest équipe about the dress code? I set down my slice of pizza and looked around the room at a dashing group of would-be pickers, when a sneaking suspicion came over me, one I could not keep hidden and so shared it verbally:

"Just one more thing, everybody... Did Chief Grape warn you about wardrobe?"

Bright smiling faces froze in time for a look of confusion to spread like a run in one's stockings. Indeed, holey stockings were the order of the day!

"You have brought along your old chiffons, or rags, haven't you?"

(Confused looks turned to panic and I could very nearly see inside the minds of our équipage as they mentally riffled through the contents of their suitcases. Which threads would be the first to go?)

Picking up the thread of their thoughts, I added, "Your clothes or any items you choose to wear for the vendange, will be as good as gone when the harvest is over! T-shirts will be ripped, jeans, grape-stained, and socks, shredded -- from the stickers out there in the field!"

With that, I reached for two bags and dumped the contents onto the table. "Never fear! These," I explained, "...are gifts from our former harvesters!"

I reached down to the pile and, one by one, held up examples of time-tested-and-torn uniforms: there were Sandy's steel-threaded overalls (how else could they have survived so much pawing on the part of scratchy grape branches? ). And there were Charles's faded jeans (worn for Harvests I, II, and III!) and there were a dozen holey socks (washed, and with burrs and stickers intact!) ... and even a pair of Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear (???).... 

The panicked expressions on the newbie harvesters' faces turned to amusement when it was time to share the hand-me-down T-shirts, the advertisements on which garnered many an appreciative glance--especially one which read:

"Je l'ai fait en dix minutes!" ("I did it in 10 minutes").

While the harvesters snickered intuitively, my tendency was to question, or second-guess, such sartorial sagesse (Just what, exactly, had been done in ten minutes? And was this a prideful statement or a matter of fact?)

Never mind. The double-entendre T-shirt was just the ice-breaker and, one by one, the harvesters approached the pile of "glad rags" -- for they were very grateful to spare their own wardrobes!

Robert from the UK was first: "Pardon me. What size is that T-shirt?"

"I'll take the overalls!" Collin (Richmond, Virginia) ventured.

"That's a cool top!" Earlene (Tennessee/Paris) declared, holding up a soft gray demi T-shirt that reminded me of the fashion in Flashdance. It would certainly look good on her (Earlene teaches gyrotonics in Paris! Talk about abs!)

Earlene's harvest roommates, "Lulu"-Not-Her-Real-Name, and Caroline (Bostonians adoptées), would not need the hand-me-downs (This was Lulu's second harvest at Domaine Rouge-Bleu and she'd gone over wardrobe specifics with Mom Caroline). To be clear, this mother-daughter team probably wouldn't even need a bed or a sink or so much as a Band-Aid -- for their suitcases were filled with Self-Reliance and First Aid for All (Lulu even loaned me her mobile phone so that I would not have to drive to my doctor's appointment in Avignon "alone")!

Jamie (Taipei/London) wondered whether, by chance, there was another sweatshirt for loan... and Vince (New York/London) asked whether he might, after all, have a pair of holey socks with the built-in burrs and stickers. "Good idea!" I cheered, handing him a mismatched pair, and plucking off a burr or two in passing. Vince would quickly replace the scratchy impostors, on setting foot into the field the next morning.

That left Kevin, who was late to the show (his flight from California was delayed) and who would have to pick through the ripped and scratchy remains--which might just have to be sewn together to make a uniform large an tall enough to fit this young man.

As for the "I Did it in Ten Minutes" T-shirt, I'm not sure which chippie snapped it up. And regarding the obscure message, I know enough to inform you that the sartorial wisdom written there has nothing to do with picking time! Which reminds me, forget minutes!, did we break it to the harvesters that they're in for 10-hour days?


Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome right here, in the comments box! Merci d'avance :-)

French Vocabulary

épuisant = tiring

la chemise = shirt

au fait = by the way

une équipe = team

le chiffon= rag

la vendange = wine harvest

un équipage = crew


Garde-manger (K) Kristin Espinasse

Meantime, I'm concentrating on getting salads and other savories on the harvest table. These garde-mangers (seen and photographed on our 2008 visit Basque country, would sure come in handy. Wish I'd snapped up a half a dozen!

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Professor Herkie enjoys a few cru carrots in his dinner each day ... Bob Bashford

Photo of "Hercule" taken by Bob Bashford. Bob notes (about his dog's name): Hercule of Walmart' ...  the 'Hercule' from Agatha Christie's French detective ... the 'Walmart' because I picked him out of a litter of puppies in a shopping cart in front of that store.  So it is doubly appropriate that he was in your newsletter!  He's very proud!


Thanks again for the good wishes and smiles you sent regarding my skin soucis. The appointment on Monday, chez le plasticien, went well and, on Tuesday, I returned to Avignon to meet with the anesthesiologist. On Friday it'll be bon débarras, bébé, for this little rodent tumor will be history!


In the Story Archives...
Girotonics were mentioned in today's story... but have you ever heard of "gyrophares"? Read about Chief Grapes solution to the approaching hunters, who sometimes make grapes-picking a little chilling!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Vendange2004 018
Our son, Max, harvesting at Chateauneuf 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

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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).

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
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♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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Halt! Harvest Time. The next edition may or may not go out on Monday... depends on the state of the grapes!

une impatience grandissante

    : a growing anticipation


Audio FileDownload MP3 or Wave file

Comment décrire les sentiments d'un vigneron la veille des vendanges? C'est une impatience grandissante! How to describe a winemaker's feelings prior to the harvest? Anticipation!


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

Une Impatience Grandissante

I'm up early, looking for a word to describe the general atmosphère around here--at an 18 acre Vauclusian vineyard... 24 hours prior to harvest time! This side of the open window, where a minty morning breeze reaches me, I hear a rooster crowing in a far off basse-cour and the rumble of a tractor in the leafy field to the west, opposite which the sun has yet to rise from behind Mont Ventoux; given the headlights which brighten the vine rows, my guess is that the farmer harvested le grenache or le cinsault throughout the cool night. Not a bad idea considering the week's sweltering temperatures. Though it feels like la canicule, a true heatwave happens when stifling temperatures continue into la nuit, without relief. 

Jean-Marc tells me that it will be a little cooler this weekend, that there may even be un peu de pluie followed by a light Mistral. I keep my fingers crossed for our own vendange, which leads me to settle, finally, on today's word (also the title of today's missive): "A Growing Impatience", or, in less poetic prose: anticipation. Only, every time I think of the word "anticipation", it throws me back to high school, when my friend Holly, learning of my prom date and bent on seeing my face flush red, sang the tune by Carly Simon: "Anticipation" ( is making me wait!...). Holly sang the Heinz ketchup version and not the Carly Simon original, which we were unaware of, it being a little before our time). As Holly sang, I prepared to go to the dance with a junior on whom I had a short-term crush. And now, three decades later, I've another crush coming on.... A Grape Crush!

To be honest, my husband (no connection to the aforementioned prom date) is the one in love with grapes--and the crushing of them--and, because I vowed to follow him anywhere, I have ended up here, in the Rhône Valley, anticipating the arrival of so many harvesters who will soon sit down to the table and wonder "Qu'est-ce qu'on mange?"

What's for lunch, indeed!!! Never mind that our frigo is bursting and our garde-manger now groans beneath the weight of its bounty; the question now is how to get all those ingredients to add up to a satisfying meal? It seems we're in for a humble beginning (my brother-in-law has voted for les sandwiches. He is only being practical, trying to inspire my inner American cook; now to dig in deep, past le ketchup and le peanut butter.... and find her --'else perpetuate a certain gastronomic myth which has the French assuming that hamburgers and Coke are on every star-spangled menu!).

Meantime, my husband, Chief Grape, is busy with his own pre-harvest flurry. He is washing out buckets, or seaux, painting the old benne, which will receive all those ripe raisins, and scouring his cement tanks. I am relieved to hear him whistling and joking and stopping to eat his lunch -- what a different picture this is from four years ago, when I witnessed a gaunt figure racing back and forth, from the cellar to the field, fueled by his own sweating flesh. He never took the time to eat, and stayed up late into the night trying to keep one step ahead of the voracious vendange. I feared the harvest would consume him completely. In the end I understood that he had put himself, sweat and tears, into the wines that he made.

These days my husband pushes away a part of his lunch... and I wrap up les restes to snack on later. He is no longer a skinny first-year vigneron, he is a grape chief, which, come to think of it, makes me Mrs Chief ! I think it may be time, now, to do away with so much self-doubt, and begin to live up to my new name, Mrs Chief, by getting into some of the former, beginning with the harvest menu....


Le Coin Commentaires

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


 Please have a look at how last year's harvest jitters were handled, here, in the story "Affolement" or "Panic" - you'll also see Smokey's Elizabethan headgear....

 See a picture (from the story reference, above) of what Jean-Marc looked like after the first "voracious" vendange. He has since gained back all the lost weight.

French Vocabulary

l'atmosphère (f) = atmosphere

la basse-cour = farmyard

le grenache = a grape variety

le cinsault = a big-sized grape used in rosé wine

la canicule = heatwave

la nuit = night

un peu de pluie = a little rain

le mistral = a kind of northern wind

la vendange = wine, or grape, harvest

qu'est-ce qu'on mange? = what's for lunch?

le frigo = fridge

le garde-manger = pantry

le seau = bucket

la benne = the moveable bin at the back of a truck

le raisin = grape

les restes (nmpl) = left-overs


For those of you who asked for some Smokey and Braise photos... Here's Smokey, ogling the carrot salad (I like to mix pureed avocado, olive oil, lemon, and roasted (sometimes burnt!) pine nuts inside.

 Here's another harvest lunch possibility... now if only tomatoes will stay in season for another month... Click here for the Tomato Tart recipe.


Braise (Smokey's mom) says: "I'll eat anything!"

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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My better French half, "Chief Grape": king of the vines in his grenache-tinted "robe" (photo taken 3 years ago). Today we begin our 4th harvest for the red wine! 

la vendange (von-donzh) noun, feminine

    1. grape/wine harvest or vintage
    2. grapes (harvested); grape crop

vendanger (von-don-zhay) verb
    1. to pick or to harvest grapes

synonyms: la récolte (harvesting, crop), le ramassage (collection), la cueillette (picking)


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

Welcome to Grape Camp!

Grab a bucket and follow me out to the vines today. Got a windbreaker? Casquette? Sunglasses? Courage? Good, you'll need them!

Now reach into our flat-bed camion and get yourself a pair of sécateurs and some gants. Pull them on. Voilà!

Go ahead. Choose a vine row. There are many! Trip over a giant galet or two as you make your way over to the grapes. Set down your bucket next to a gorgeous pied de vigne—its leaves already burnt orange and crumbling from the ten day old Mistral. Feel the wind whip your hat off and gasp, mournfully, as you watch your sun shield billow over a field of vines. One less comfort... Get used to it!

Reach down, down, down, and gather a bunch of grapes. Take precautions (distinguish your fleshy fingers from the blue fruit). Now position your shears.... Clip! Relieve the branch of its heavy fruit. Aahhhh.... Watch the vine spring back, feeling lighter on its feet. As for you, you'll carry that weight, bucket by bucket till the sun goes down. Hup, two, three, four! Hup, two, three, four....

By the eighth or ninth vine put your hand on the small of your back, feel the pain in your reins, and let out a nervous chuckle—mumbling something about how you ought to take up yoga! Now look up, amazed, at the reality before you: an interminable field of vines! Listen as your chuckles turn to chokes, sobbing chokesMon Dieu, whatever gave you the idea that harvesting French grapes was something like romantic?

Continue to bend, stoop, and sometimes sit.... the 40-year-old vines "en goblet" are back-breakingly low to the ground. They hide their grapes well under a parasol of leaves (you'll need to crawl under the slumping vine in order to reach the grapes). The wind, now in full force, gives you a little kick and, fast as that, you're kissing the trunk where all the little balls of fruit are clustered. Chuck those grapes in the bucket, push yourself back up off the ground, and get a move on! This isn't a vacation, c'est la vendange!

Crash! You've stumbled again. Time to take your pick of juicy French expletives (you've learned plenty from the pickers) and curse those *@#!! WEEDS that have just tripped you up again, leaving scratches and, soon, swelling. Curse organic farmers and their fields of mauvaises herbes! On second thought, hats off to organic farmers and their fields of meter tall weeds (while they may be a harvester's hell on earth, weeds are a sign that the grapevines have been spared of herbicides).

What's that? You say you need to use the powder room? Well, Laaah DEEE daaaah! The "powder room" is right here! Ne soyez pas si prude! Just drop your drawers! 

Huh? Worried someone might see you? Well, then, there's a cypress tree at the end of this field. But hurry up, we need you back here illico presto!

Off you trot while your fellow harvesters giggle and snort. Oh, go on, no one's watching!

Back to work now and shhh! Don't talk so much. See that big guy over there with the queue de cheval? That's my brother-in-law (the self-elected supervisor). He checks buckets by the minute. Make sure yours is full and don't blame it on the dull shears (as I did, last time he checked) or he'll teach you an old French farming dicton:

"Il n'y a pas de mauvais outils, il n'y a que de mauvais ouvriers!"
(There are no bad tools, only bad toilers!)

What's that? You say you're thirsty? Didn't you bring a water bottle? Never mind. Have a slug of this. No, it isn't milk. There's water (albeit murky) inside.... It was the only container Chief Grape could find. Lord knows he isn't finicky about gourdes, only grapes. Grapes! Grapes! Bring in the grapes!

"Ten more buckets and you can stop!" Chief Grape shouts. No, he's not talking to you, Grapehead! (Nor, to me!) He's talking to our twelve-year-old son, telling him that the boy's shift is almost over.

Mwahahaha! As for you—we have YOU for the day. Now get on with it! No talking! ALLEZ! Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two three four.... Welcome to grape camp!

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections and comments are most welcome. Thank you for leaving a message here, in the comments box. 

French Vocabulary

la casquette = cap
le camion = truck
le sécateur = pruning shears 
le gant = glove
voilà! = there you go!
le galet = stone 
le pied de vigne = vine stock
le mistral = a powerful, cold, northern wind
le reins = lower part of back (avoir mal aux reins = to have pain in the lower back)
mon Dieu = my God
en gobelet = vines that are low to the ground, untrained, shaped like a gobelet
c'est la vendange = it's harvest time
les mauvaises herbes = weeds
ne soyez pas si prude = don't be such a prude
illico presto! = right away!
queue de cheval = ponytail
la gourde = water bottle


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:: Audio File ::
Listen to my daughter (9-years-old at the time of this recording...) pronounce today's word & quote:
Comme les vendanges, les amours tardives* sont les plus délicieuses.
Download vendange.mp3
Download vendange.wav

Terms & Expressions:
  une vendangeuse, un vendangeur = a grape picker
  une bonne vendange = a good vintage
  les vendanges = grape harvesting time
  un vendangeoir = a grape-picker's basket
  la vendange en vert = a green harvest (crop/cluster thinning)
  vendanger une vigne = to harvest a vine
  pendant les vendanges = during the grape harvest
  faire les vendanges = to harvest or pick the grapes
  vendanger de bonne heure = to get an early start on the harvesting


Comme les vendanges, les amours tardives sont les plus délicieuses. / Like the grape harvest, love gathered late is the most delicious. --Jean Amadou

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
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The other Jackie (c) Kristin Espinasse

In a sea of vines... a favorite friend of mine.

bohème (bo em) m,f

= bohemian

 Synonyms: vagabond, indépendant, original, or counterculturist

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

"Harvest Heroines"

(Part I of the harvest is over and the girls have gone. This story is for them.)

Heroines with hot peppers in their hearts, they sizzle with mystery and soul. I want to wade in the whites of their eyes, lingering long enough to ride the evening tide. Into their hippy hearts I shall slide!

There, on the surface of the sea, above the soul's cavity, I will be wild and free, tattoos on my hips, tattoos on my knees. I'll cut my hair hither and thither, or shave it off altogether!

Hélas they are gone and yet I remain, little much more than squarely the same.



My sister-in-law Cécile
My sister-in-law, Cécile

Jackie and Aurelie

Pictured: "Jackie from Scotland," left, Aurélie, right. The girls will be back on Sunday for the second part of the harvest. (Photo taken last year, when Mama Braise had her puppies. I think that might be Smokey, there in Jackie's arms.)

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, questions, and messages are most welcome  here, in the comments box. 


Jackie, Jean-Marc, Aurelie, and Daniel (c) Kristin Espinasse
Hither-thither-haired Jackie, left, Aurélie, right. Far right: Daniel-Gérard (American), who wishes he spoke better French so as to appreciate the fun and funny girls.

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La boheme film opera-1  La Bohème... an Italian film

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I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. A percentage of sales will support the nature conservancy. Order one here.

Bohemian Paris-1 Bohemian Paris: Exotic and yet familiar, rife with passion, immorality, hunger, and freedom, Bohemia was an object of both worry and fascination to workaday Parisians in the nineteenth century. Order here.


"La Vie En Rose" cooking is fine compilation of rustic French foods... --Publishers Weekly. Check out this book for click here to order!

Eiffel Tower Room Divider
Eiffel Tower Room Divider






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montagnes russes

On the fold-out bed, comparing notes. From left to right: Aurélie, Jackie ("Jackie from Scotland""), and I. More harvest photos on the way....

montagnes russes (mohn tan roos) noun (f,pl)

: roller coaster


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

A full day. What more can one hope for but a full day? Yesterday was one of those: plein!  

Here is but a compte rendu:

  • Max began lycée
  • Our golden retrievers ran away
  • The grape harvest began
  • And, finally, a second edition!

With equal parts excitement and emotion, we rode the roller coaster, with its mountains of grapes and its valleys of escape (where were the dogs? Where had they gone?!)

During uncertain times it helps to remember: we are but passengers. We ride the montagnes russes, we do not drive or conduct them. The best we can do is to buckle our seat belts and have faith (or wear a crash helmet).

So it was that at the end of the day... the grapes were picked and the wine was already being made. And, before the moon rose over Mount Windy, I looked east and offered one more plea:

Come home! Braise! Smokey! C-o-m-e h-o-m-e!

My eyes bore into the field beyond, vines laden with ripening fruit. I was scanning night's horizon when two flickers of Golden light caught me by surprise, putting a stop to these wildly roving eyes.

Post note: After a 10 hour escapade, Smokey made it home first, followed by Mama Braise. Grateful, thankful, reconnaissant - what word can describe the feeling? No words, finally, only jumping and squealing.

 Le Coin Commentaires: 
Corrections, questions, and comments are most welcome. Click here to leave a message.

French Vocabulary

= full

le compte rendu = a run down, report 

le lycée = high school

montagnes russes (fem. and always used in the plural)  = roller coaster

reconnaissant(e) = grateful



Our two newest harvesters: Daniel-Gérard, left, and Alexis, right.

Sharing recipes... stay tuned!

Smokey and his belles de nuit. Gone is the cone! He is healing beautifully.

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affolement & Recipe for Zucchini and Potato Gratin

Balcony in Nyons (c) Kristin Espinasse
I heart lonely chairs. More pictures of Nyons in an upcoming Cinéma Vérité.

affolement (ah-fol-maohn) noun, masculine

: panic, perturbation, unsteadiness

verb: affoler: to cause panic and s’affoler: to panic.

Sound file & Example Sentence Download MP3 or Download WAV

Pour l'instant, l'heure n'est pas à l'affolement.
Now's not the time to worry.



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

Affolement, it is the French word for panic—that feeling of s-p-i-n-n-i-n-g!

Part one of the wine harvest begins this week and the first team of harvesters are arriving e-a-r-l-y. And though I have been keeping notes (grocery lists and "choses à faire") it is impossible to pencil in the unexpected or l'imprévu, no matter how often my crayon hovers over the lists, trying to anticipate fate.

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? are no longer a journalist's formula: these are the "askings" of an anxious organizer. As I jot down mind matter (all those pensées that prevent peace) I can't help but remember "the best made plans" and wonder whether these lists aren't partly in vain? De plus, I am learning that dotting the i's and crossing the t's of rigidity (there's that word again) only ever ends in flurry: Dame Chaos will invite herself to la fête so one might as well join in and get used to whim! (Never mind that I have scotch-taped myself into place, in preparation for a flurry of fate.)


In other, more important news, Jean-Marc, who, for the next month—and for the duration of the wine harvest—will be known as "Chief Grape," had a tiny run-in with fate: while readying his farm equipment he was stung (just over the eyebrow) by une guêpe! It is painful just looking at him and all that ballooning of skin.

I look into his eyes, one no bigger that a sliver:
"Does it hurt?" I ask, pushing aside my list.
"Non, c'est juste un peu gênant." No, it's just a little annoying, he replies.

And somehow his answer strikes... lines through my lists... taking all this "chaos" and putting it, somehow, right.


French Vocabulary

un affolement = panic

chose à faire = things to do (list)

imprévu (adj and n.m.) = unforeseen, unexpected

le crayon = pencil

la pensée = thought

de plus = what's more

la fête = party

la guêpe = wasp

    => learn a quirky tip, or une astuce about getting rid of guêpes, or wasps. Click here for the story "Uninvited Guests Guêpes"

non, c'est juste un peu gênant = no, it just a little annoying

A Day in a Dog's Life... by Smokey "R" Dokey


Today I get my staples and stitches removed! In anticipation of the event, I've "loosened"  a part of my cone (exhibit A, above. Notice the jagged plastic, next to my teeth!).


All in a day's work!

RECIPE: Gratin de Courgette & Pomme de Terre


Have I showed you a photo of my brother-in-law lately? He and his girlfriend came over yesterday. Mariem helped me put together a casserole for dinner as we sat at the kitchen table slicing zucchini and potatoes and chatting about "quick and easy harvest recipes!"

When the slicing was done, Mariem added a little olive oil to the glass baking dish and the two of us went about layering the vegetables, knocking hands as we worked.

We began with a layer of thinly-sliced potatoes, then a layer of zucchini... then salt and pepper and a tiny pouring of cream (we mixed store-bought béchamel + heavy cream, a.k.a. what was on hand.) Mariem's five-year-old boy joined in and I watched, awed, as the vegetables disappeared into the casserole dish. Finally, we topped the legumes with one last sprinkling of salt and pepper and the remains of the cream... then into the oven (150°C -- or 300°F) for one hour.

I had some garden fresh tomatoes on hand (a gift from my friend Houria) and we tossed those with olive oil (a gift from Alexis, who is back, joining us for this harvest) and parsley and salt and pepper. A light dinner or, as the French would say juste ce qu'il faut...

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"La Vie En Rose" cooking is fine compilation of rustic French foods... --Publishers Weekly. Check out this book for click here to order!

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Our tractor's girophare (upper left) and Braise-the-Dog (lower right, hidden). Click on image.

Today's word is "girophare", though "friggin' girophare" would be more correct, or simply "frigging" (which fits the mood of our story better and which is, you all might agree, a much more common and useful word (never mind the English) than "girophare"). Hélas, as this Gallic gazette is used in classrooms, we'd best stick to "girophare" as our French Word of the Day. So here goes:

girophare (zhee-roh-far) noun, masculine
    : revolving light

Audio File
Listen to today's word (here Download girophare.mp3  or here Download girophare.wav ) and hear an example sentence. Can you understand what Jean-Marc is saying? Add your interpretation to the comments box.

... and lest you still think "girophare" is a useless word, my sister-in-law, Cécile, who is seated beside me wearing a T-shirt that reads "No Brain No Pain" argues--having passed her French driver's license three times: one for her car, one for her motorcycle and one for her poids lourds*--that girophare is a
useful term--if only to know for which emergency vehicle to yield to (the ones with the blue girophares, is it)?

* le poids lourd = tractor-trailer

Yesterday, day seven of the wine harvest, we trucked out to the garrigue to pick the grenache and carignan grapes. The Mistral was out and whipping through the vines which, in turn, would whack us with their dry, leafy arms as we advanced through the muddy vine rows. But today, the "harvest hazards" were far beyond that of a few scratchy, face-slapping vines, far greater than a few scraped and swelling shins and a bad back....

As we approached the vine rows, we saw them: les chasseurs! We stood frozen, exaggerating the fear on our faces, in hopes of communicating our message to the "meat harvesters". One of them, a rifle slung over his shoulder, approached.

"We are harvesting today," my brother-in-law, Jacques, pointed out. The hunter simply nodded, and I didn't see his convincing eyes as my own were glued to that gun.

"Ça fait peur, non?" I questioned, not knowing how else to communicate my angoisse to the hunter. The latter walked on and, like that, buckets slung over our own shoulders, we took our posts: one petrified picker per vine row.

Soon, we blended so well into the leafy vines that, except for a bright yellow casquette here, and a red hood there, you hardly noticed us but for the trembling vine leaves that gave us away: as harvesters... or as javelinas?

My sister-in-law and her friends, Jack and Aurélie, quickly advanced to The Front Lines, closest to the shots which ricocheted through the valley. As for me, I was lagging, the last of the pickers... until I realized that the man with the rifle was behind even me.... I have never picked grapes so fast and,
lickety-split, I'd emptied five vines of their fruit in time to find myself back "in the safety of numbers".

POP-POP-POP! Bang, bang, bang! The shooting recommenced, never mind the assurances of the voiceless hunter.

"What are they hunting?" Erin asked, and I noticed her calm demeanor.
"Sanglier?" I offered, remembering the apple enticements that my neighbor had distributed throughout his own parcel of vines... just one field over!

"Perdreaux," Jean-Marc guessed. Ouf! Perdreux seemed like a safer bet to me, for you had to shoot toward the sky for birds, didn't you? ... and not into a field of camouflaged pickers!

Stepping over the shell of an expended cartouche, I felt a chill rush up my
spine and I could no longer contain Anxiety. "I HATE THIS!"  I shouted.

"Will you stop!" Jean-Marc's slapping remark felt like a bucket of cold water to the face.
"I can't help it!" I replied, still smarting from his remark, and remembering one too many stories about a women being mistaken for a wild boar. This, coupled with those poachers... and their penchant for pastis.... did little to reassure.

"The hunters are out in the forest," Jean-Marc explained, changing his tone and trying to be reassuring. "It just SOUNDS like they are closer," he said, tossing another grappe into a bucket.

It was no time to argue about there not being a forest in the environs... just fields and fields of grapes... and so I let the other harvesters comfort me.

"You are more likely to get cut with pruning shears than shot by a hunter," Aurélie assured, and I looked down at my hands to the various cuts collected over the course of the harvesting week, unsure about Aurélie's statistics and just where we stood with them now. Wasn't it about time to get shot?

Bang, Bang, Bang! POP-POP-POP!

On this latest round of gunfire I noticed how Jean-Marc casually climbed into the tractor and switched on the flashing girophare located on the roof of the tractor cab.

"A little concerned, are you now?!" I barked at my husband.
"I just turned on the girophare to reassure you!" he protested.
"And to signal to THEM that there's more than feathers behind these friggin' vines -- n'est-ce pas? Eh ben--c'est VACHEMENT RASSURANT!"*

*** END***

Jacques-kristi (photo, with Jacques. I'm the one wearing a pained-petrified look).

A note to Martha and Judy (wives of Charles and John) and to Erin and Ross's parents: No worries! The hunters are gone today (and for the rest of the harvest); only the mean Mistral to contend with from here on out.

Post note: we finished harvesting that parcel of grapes in record time -- so fast that Jean-Marc announced that the harvest would end two days sooner than expected. Calculate for yourself just how those meat harvesters figured into THAT equation.

(It's late now, and I've got to go and get the kids from school... then catch up on the housework. Would you all like to pitch in and help put together a Reference section for today's column? Please add the asterisked terms & expressions to the comments section* and merci beaucoup/much obliged!)
*Please do not email the translations, but use this link (to the comments box) to submit a translation. Corrections always welcome!

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Atlas Pocket Classics: France: (Travels with a Donkey, Gleanings in France, A Motor-flight through France)

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Fruit & cheese garde-mangers for sale on a sidewalk in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. I wonder if they make a mini version for the furry hero in today's story... read on in today's column.

Harvest update: two more harvesters arrived over the weekend: John (retired, from Indiana) and Ansley (living in Avignon; from Portland). They are staying with Erin (Australia), Ross (California via Washington State), and Charles (Rouge-Bleu investor from Florida) in a local gîte that Jean-Marc reserved for them. Ansley ended up with the couch and John will bunk with Charles (who snores worse than I do). Erin and Ross are sharing the second room. 

Harvesters  I knew I liked John when, asked about Charles's snoring, he replied, "It was no problem. Once I identified the source, I adjusted to it."
"I hear it sounds like a train," I said, of Charles's snoring.
"No," John replied, thoughtfully.  "Kind of like a cicada."

(Click on photo: left to right: Ansley, John (visiting), Marcy (visiting), Charles, Kristin, Jean-Marc, John, Ross, Erin)

Today's word:

garde-manger  (gard-mahn-zhay) noun, masculine

    : cooler; pantry, larder

In books:
The Professional Garde Manger: A Guide to the Art of the Buffet by David Paul Larousse
Garde Manger
, The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen by The Culinary Institute of America

Audio File:

Listen to the French word garde-manger and this example sentence: "Remets-le dans le garde-manger." (Put it back in the pantry) Download garde-manger.wav.Download garde-manger.mp3


I was chatting on the phone with my mother-in-law, thanking her for another three mustard jars full of homemade tapenade (enough to feed an army the harvesters) when I noticed the sketchy aller-retours of a kitchen mouse.

A perfect fur ball with legs that spun like an electric fan in summertime, the petite souris made several back-n-forth sprints from an opening near the baseboard... all the way over to the cat food bowl—three failed attempts before, BINGO!, the little mouse landed in the bowl, plucked up a cat croquette and, with a blur of revolving legs and a panic-stricken face, peeled out of that pit so fast the remaining croquettes hardly had time to settle before the mouse-voleur had disappeared behind the fridge.

"Good thing Coco (the cat) is passed out on the couch," I exclaimed, rooting for the cute rodent.
"What's that?" my mother-in-law asked, lost at the other end of the telephone line.

I might've further shared my thoughts, musing "When the cat's away the mice do play!" Instead, I thanked my mother-in-law for the tapenade.

Comment on today's post or share your own vignette, here:

Ross  aller-retour = comings and goings; la souris (f) = mouse; voleur (voleuse) = thief

(photo, left: the volonteer-harvesters brought roses... how nice is that?)

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Zip around in this Miniature Euro Electric Scooter
Doudou la Souris : soft toy for baby
In French magazines: Art & Decoration: Printed in French, Art et Decoration, is filled with ideas and how-to information for decorating all areas of the home and garden, including dinner table displays, flower arrangements, arts and crafts, and French interior design tips for all rooms of the house.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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♥ $25    
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