Bike in Puymeras (c) Kristin Espinasse

France is on the road again, with a new Président de la République française, though some wonder where we are headed. Photo taken at le Girocèdre restaurant, in Puyméras

mésaventure (mayz-avohn-tewhr)

    : mishap, mischance, misadventure

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

Almost as soon as our new "France United" president was elected, things fell apart here at home. The painful mésaventure happened last night, here in our kitchen. As certain accidents go, it was both bizarre and comical (with all due respect to the injured one).

Jean-Marc had opened the kitchen cupboard to check on the new mousetrap he had set, using a big hunk of Munster* for the tempting appât. I don't like cruel mousetraps or the fact that I—having unwittingly shopped for the cheese—have contributed to a souris's demise , so it should have come as a relief to learn that the mouse got away. As it was, I was unaware of the mouse's luck or that Jean-Marc had set another trap (the details of the accident would soon be revealed as we sped to the emergency room...).

From my vantage point, I saw a man opening a cupboard door, as if to toss something into the recycle bin beyond. Nothing unusual apart from the high-pitched scream that followed:


My first thought was that Jean-Marc had pinched his finger while shutting the cabinet door (happens to me from time to time only I never scream like that!) 

"Est-ce que ça-va, Cheri?" I asked, feeling somewhat smug about my own ability to tolerate pain. 

AÏE AÏE AÏE! "C'est pas vrai!" Jean-Marc cried. "I've dislocated my shoulder again!" 

The freak accident happened when Jean-Marc went to reach for the cheeseless trap. The mouse had succeeded in getting l'appât, leaving the trap springily intact. As Jean-Marc reached for it it snapped. Startled from the snapping he jumped, yanking his arm back before his finger got caught in the apparatus. It was the unusual jerking movement that caused his already troubled shoulder to dislocate.

After three hours at les urgences in Orange, Jean-Marc woke from his morphine-induced sleep. Like the previous visit, it took four assistants to put his shoulder back into place.

At two-thirty a.m. we pulled into our driveway. The crickets were singing beneath the bright moon which lighted the path to our front door. As we walked, I looked over at my one-armed man, whose upper body was wrapped in a tight elastic bandage. 

In contrast to the peaceful night, my mind raced. I felt that familiar tightening sensation in my throat. The alarm would sound in three hours' time and the race would begin again: this time without a second driver (to chauffeur the kids back and forth), without a bottler (we have 8,000 units of wine to bottle this week) and without an expressive speaker (Tuesday's wine-tasting has grown to 30 guests!).

On second thought, knowing my husband he will be just as eloquent, even with only one arm to wave around while talking wine. Up to me to refill glasses 120 times—should he decide to serve 4 wines!

"Tout se passera bien. Ne t'inquiète pas," Jean-Marc offered, as I shared my soucis. To eloquence I think we can add that he's got terrific reassurance!

Bon rétablissement, Chief Grape!


Comments Corner

To respond to this story or to any item in this letter, thanks for using the comments box.

If you like, you can read about the previous shoulder dislocation... and the one before that, too! 

French Vocabulary

la mésaventure = mishap

l'appât (m) = bait

la souris = mouse

aïe!  = ouch! ow!

est-ce que ça-va cheri? = are you okay, dear?

c'est pas vrai! (ce n'est pas vrai) = it can't be true!

 les urgences = the emergency room

les soucis = worries

Tout se passera bien. Ne t'inquiète pas = Everything will work out fine. Don't worry.

bon rétablissement! = get well soon!


*Did you know?

*The name "Munster" comes from the word "monastère" (monastery), the peasants having taken the habit of paying part of their taxes to the Ducs of Lorraine, by giving up some of their cheese.

Le nom de « Munster » vient du mot « monastère », les paysans ayant pris l'habitude de régler une partie de leurs impôts aux ducs de Lorraine en livrant ce fromage. --from French Wikipedia


  Wash-n-Dry (c) Kristin Espinasse

"The wash and dry cycles in Provence". Photo taken in Puyméras.

Thanks for forwarding this edition to a friend! Also:


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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la prise de conscience

Père et Fille. Jean-Marc and Jackie (did you read her letter on maquillage?). Tomorrow, March 29th, is Chief Grape's 45th birthday!

la prise de conscience (preez-deuh-kon-see-uhns)

    : realization

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

Cette prise de conscience était un peu troublante. Il parait que ma peau a vignt ans de plus que moi. This realization was a bit troubling. Apparently my skin is twenty years older than I am.

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

She said I need to reapply sunblock every two hours, that when I drive I should put on a long-sleeved (linen) veste in summertime, and that I might consider having the windows in my home (where I work) coated with ultraviolet window film. But the kicker was, she said I have an old peau... She did say that, didn't she? 

Standing in the dermato's office, I watch the scrutinizing regard of the doctor, who does not avert her eyes when delivering the conviction: "Vous êtes plus jeune que votre peau!"

 Because she says the word "jeune" several times in the same paragraph, I initially take it as flattery. Since when was middle age "young"? ...But then the words begin to translate themselves, as French words do, slowly... surely—tick, tick, tick—until, like a grenade, they explode with meaning. 

She never said I was young... she said I was younger than my skin... which I guessed, was old!

   "44 year-old woman". Photo taken 4 weeks ago... those are stitches from the second basal cell surgery. My forehead is coming along, too...

No need to guess any further, the dermato is blunt: "You have prematurely old skin! Votre peau a vingt ans de plus que vous!

I am tempted to shush her up, tempted to claim and enforce that universal rule of tact, only, reason tells me that tact is sometimes nothing more than a tool for illusionists: it is magician's smoke! I don't want Houdini, I want Dr H, whose higher goal it is--in telling me the truth about my skin--to prevent further dégâts.

Dr H. says I will need to catch up to my skin's age! The good news is I have twenty years to do so.... Meantime, I will need to slow down the "advancement" of my cellules--and prevent further skin cancers associated with older skin--by slathering on the sunblock, closing the curtains in my bright office, and staying out of the sun. 

(It is a strange new goal, that of trying to catch up one's biological age to one's physical age! Weren't the two the same?)

The other good news was that the third mysterious growth (or the purpose of my doctor visit) turned out to be a harmless angiome--and not another invasive cell. OUF!).

I pay the doctor 42 euros, thank her for the "reassurance", and leave the office. When I get into my car I look into the rear-view mirror....

First, the crows feet leap out. Gosh, the lines around my eyes are deeper than I remembered their being... my skin looks tired, too.

I have the desire to google "44-year-old skin" or "44-year-old woman" just to see what I should look like. What, after all, should I look like? 

In the end, I resist the urge to let google toy with my emotions. I am strong, tough as leather, and you might even say I have the skin to prove it.

French Vocabulary

père et fille = father and daughter

joyeux anniversaire = happy birthday

la veste = jacket

le/la dermato (dermatologue) = dermatologist

Vous êtes plus jeune que votre peau = you are younger than your skin

Votre peau a vingt ans de plus que vous = your skin is twenty years older than you are

les dégâts (m) = damage

une cellule = cell

un angiome = angioma (a benign tumor made up of blood vessels). Our son Max was born with a dime-size bright red "angiome" on his forehead. The doctors referred to it as "une fraise" (a strawberry)

ouf! = phew! 


Alex Polner Jean-Marc Espinasse Joanne Polner N.J. at Vestry Wines NYC
Another snapshot from Chief Grape's USA wine tour. Here is Jean-Marc with Alex and Joanne Polner. Photo taken at Vestry Wines in NYC.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Tuesday is Valentine's Day! Don't miss these excellent French terms of endearment. Be sure to scribble one of them into a card or, better yet, whisper one of these into someone's oreille! Photo "Waiting for some Sweethearts" taken in Paris. 

bosse (bohce) noun, feminine

    : bump

J'ai découvert une bosse sur la tête. I found a bump on my head.


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

(A review of the past four weeks...) 

Sometime last month I began waking early each morning with a strong sense of apprehension. 

"It has to come off," the dermatologist had said, confirming my worst fears. Dommage you didn't come in three years ago, it would have been a matter of a few stitches then...

After the surgery on my forehead, last fall, in which a lesion about the same size as the one of my nose was removed, I was afraid to go back under the knife. Given how much they took off for the similar-sized growth, might I lose my nose? (I remembered all those Google images for "basal cell carcinoma", and all my feverish internet searching which yielded horror image after horror image--including amputated noses!)

My middle-of-the night sweats continued. Then, something mind-altering happened. I discovered a bump on my head...

Fast as that I forgot about my nose. I turned all of my attention to the pea-size growth on the side of my head, une bosse as hard as a rock.

I wondered, was I being paranoid? Had the bump always been there?

At the Clinique de Provence the lab technician called me in a second time. "We need to take another X-ray..." I stepped back onto the machine, resting my back on its cold metal wall for balance. Following the technician's example, I put the tip of my finger on my head, indicating the bump's location, and stood so still I dared not breathe. As the X-ray began, the floor beneath my feet moved from side to side, like a fairground ride, only much slower. It was my mind that raced, in a marathon prayer.

    Notre père qui est aux cieux.
Que ton nom soit sanctifié....

And then, briefly:


"OK, you can wait in the salle d'attente..." The technician showed me out of the room.

The third time the technician returned, she informed me that the doctor wanted to do an échographie. More information was needed.

As I waited for the ultrasound exam, the woman beside me complained about her test results which indicated a sprained wrist. How would she cope? she wondered aloud.

I left the distraught woman, and was led into another room where I lay down on a table, letting the doctor smear a cold gel onto the side of my head. I watched the computer screen as the doctor ran a kind of large rollerpen over the bump.

"When did you first notice it?" he questioned, his accent as heavy as my own. Iran? Pakistan?

"A few months ago." 

The ultrasound screen showed my scull, which looked like the surface of the moon. A little farther along this smooth surface, we saw the bump. The doctor paused to measure it: 7.2 mm

"Have you seen other patients with these kind of bumps on their heads?" I wanted to know.

"Ne vous inquiètez pas," he assured me. The bump was hard and not soft. I took that to be a good sign, guessing that tumors were soft. "But you will need to have a brain scan..." he added.

The doctor was kind enough to make the appointment for me at the hospital in Orange. The downside, I would need to wait one week until I could have the necessary test.

During the one-week attente, I rarely thought about my upcoming operation for the removal of the lesion on my nose. It seemed absurd, now, to worry about a patch of skin, one that could easily be removed. But how would a bump on the side of my head be removed? Should it be removed? And then it occured to me: if there was a problem with my head, then maybe there would not be an operation on my nose afterall...

In the following days I thought about the many undones in my life. I would need to burn my diaries! Also, would there be time to make another book? I would want to save these blog stories for my kids to enjoy one day... as a way for them to know their mom better--she is not the overserious maman that they mistake her for. ...Please, dear God, make it so that this bump is benign--it is my kids who need their mother, my husband who needs his wife, my mom who needs her daughter, my family, friends who need...

On January 12th, my friend Phyllis accompanied me to the hospital, where I had a brain scan. An hour later, when the doctor called me into her office, we had not sat down before she announced: c'est bénin

I repeated the foreign words enough times for them to register, before throwing my arms around the conservative doctor, and babbling the news to Phyllis, who I could have KISSED! And maybe I did.

Ten days ago I had that second lesion on my face removed. Wide awake this time, I can tell you that the operation went beautifully and I am the proud wearer of 17 rock star stitches that travel down my nose like a backward "L"...

During that interminable week of waiting for the brain scan, I had tried to decide just what was the most important thing in life--or what would be the most meaningful way to live out the rest of one's days, whether that be one month or one decade. I am honored to have the answer stitched down the side on my nose, beginning in one great "L". Love--loving everyone who we come in contact with: the lovely ones and even the grumpy ones. Especially the grumpy ones!

I get my stitches out on Wednesday. I often look in the mirror, just to check them, and to remember to say thanks. And I am thankful for this bump on the side of my head (my husband calls it my corne, or "horn", indeed, I am a Capricorn! And this boney bump--though it may not be as grand as the mythic goat's--is a great reminder to live strongly, fortified by love. 


Le Coin Commentaires

I appreciate your comments! To respond to this story, click here.  


French Vocabulary

dommage = too bad

une bosse = bump

Notre père qui est aux cieux. Que ton nom soit sanctifié.... = Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name

la salle d'attente = waiting room

une échographie = ultrasound

ne vous inquiètez pas = do not worry

une attente = wait

c'est bénin = it's benign


Cafe-1More empty chairs... 


Tip: Check out our "What to do in Paris?" page, and see all the great tips that readers have sent in!

Meantime, here one more tip: Visit the American Libary: this week Robert Camuto is speaking. He is part of a three person wine/cheese/perfume panel! Check it out here.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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St Paul Pigeon (c) Kristin Espinasse
We've seen this turkey, er, pigeon, before, and we're bringing him back to illustrate today's fun-to-pronounce French word... read on and/or share your favorite French words in the comments box.

    Note: The next post will go out on November 2nd! 

la scoumoune (skoo moon)

    : tough or rotten luck, mischance

Audio File: listen to "scoumoune": Download MP3 or Wav file

Oh là là! Aujourd'hui c'est la scoumoune!
Today we're having bad luck!

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

Outwitting Bad Luck

Yesterday, nearing the end of my final visit to the local nurses' station, les infirmières and I had a good guffaw at la technologie: that ever-advancing entity that allows you to cut out the middleman (in this case, the secretary and the accountant) and to be your own boss! ...that is, when technology isn't the boss of you....

Re technology, the time had come to regler, or to account for, the ten "bandage" visits, so I pulled out my handy dandy Carte Vitale: a plastic card that resembles a credit card and that is sort of used like one... only, instead of paying for groceries or clothing or gasoline or conneries with it... one pays for medicine and doctor visits.

Carte vitale

One of the nurses took my health card and inserted it into a handheld accounting machine, or sabot (similar to the ones you see at French restaurants, when the serveur returns to your table with the dreaded addition). 

I listened as the nurse read the tiny screen on the card machine: "Carte muette...." It seemed that the tiny puce, or digital-information chip (see gold-squared example, above), was illisible. This happens when the card is scratched (i.e., by loose change in the cardholder's porte-monnaie) or when dust has collected in the shallow crevices of the puce.... or when your wife uses the card to scratch ice off her automobile's windshield, in winter.

When the machine refused to comply, the nurse yanked out the card, stared at it, and reinserted it into the thin card slot. "On recommence..." "We'll try again," she explained.

"Carte muette," she repeated. I looked over at the other nurse, who had sat down in the chair beside mine, in time to go over her busy schedule for the day. "Essaie l'autre." "Try the other," this nurse hinted, pointing to her own sabot (each nurse has a portable machine, which is handy for registering information during house calls, for those patients who are treated offsite).

When the second machine balked, the card was retrieved just as abruptly. This time friction was used! Rubbing the card against her jeans I recognized the nurse's resorting to a popular "anti-muette" technique used by doctors and pharmacists and other health-care workers turned temporary accountants. It is always amusing to watch these professionals get down to "The Jeans and Sleeves technique". Only, just as predicted, when the jeans didn't do the trick, the card was slapped against Nurse's shirtsleeve and swiftly refrictioned against the soft cotton there.  

"Ah là là! C'est la scoumoune!" the nurse vented, as we waited for the results of this latest attempt to outwit the card or the card reader. Only, la scoumoune? I may be superstitious, but wasn't that a bit risky to mention "bad luck" whilst we were smack in the middle of it?

Superstition and paranoia aside, I had simply forgotten an important mathematical law: multiply two negatives and you get a positive! My eyes looked over, expectantly, to that petite, persnickety machine when, Shazam!, just like that it engaged (and very unceremoniously so: a few "coughs" and a buzzing sound signaled the connection). And mine was the chance to witness, firsthand, the mystery of universal laws and equations... or, simply, less astoundingly, the hiccups of modern technology.


Le Coin Commentaires

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

Thank you for reading! We'll be back on November 2nd with more stories and photos from a French life... 'See you' then :-)


French Vocabulary

regler = to pay

la carte vitale = French national insurance card

les conneries (f) (! = term is a bit vulgar) = non-essentials, damned stupidities

le sabot = handheld machine, used for swiping a credit card (note: un sabot is a clog or wooden shoe. These little card machines get their name from the fact that they are similar in size to a "sabot", or clog.

le serveur = waiter

l'addition = bill, check (l'addition, s'il vous plaît = check, please!)

carte muette = silent card (note: une carte muette is also a menu without prices (given to dates or guests) 

la puce électronique = microchip

illisible = unreadable

essaie l'autre = try the other


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Flower steps

Chief Grape and his briefcase. That's my beautiful husband, left, somewhere in Sicily. Voilà, now that I've got your attention... do you have a minute for another story? Please read "Over The Rainbow, Bluebirds Fly" - about the little swallow that was saved, last spring, on our farm.


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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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couper la parole

Door Knocker blue door france (c) Kristin Espinasse
In case you were wondering, this photo has nothing to do with anything. I was just scrambling to find a picture, in my photo archives, for today's post! (This door-knocker picture was taken in Orange, where today's story takes place...) Note: the next edition will go out on Monday.... 

couper la parole (koo pay lah pah rhohl)

    : to interrupt a person who is speaking

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

Excusez-moi, je vous ai coupé la parole.
Excuse me, I interrupted you. 

A Day in a French Life... Kristin Espinasse

Guts, Madame!

I left the surgeon's office feeling more uncertain than ever. Perhaps this doubt had to do with a certain certainty: I had gone into the consultation with a plan of my own and, almost as soon as the doctor began talking, I cut him off. How stupid: je lui ai coupé la parole!

And we had been off to such a good start! I had nodded bonjour as I watched the white-smocked chirurgien walk across the office, dossier en main, and take his place behind a massive bureau. True, I was a little surprised by his youth--and it brought me back to the realization that middle age has indeed hit when doctors and surgeons begin looking younger than you! (and when, in fact, they are younger than you!)

"Bonjour, Madame. Que puis-je faire pour vous?" the doctor greeted me. I noticed his smooth skin--it had that "healthy glow".

In answer to the doctor's question, I pointed to the growth on my forehead and tried to remember the translation for the diagnosis given by my dermatologist: "J'ai un basil.. baso... basilo.... Uh, c'est un carcinome."

"How long have you had this?" he questioned, his eyes crossing as they narrowed onto the bump in the center of my forehead.
"About a year... I think."

"...And there's another on my nose..." I pointed to the second growth, the one my dermato said we'd keep our eyes on--for its location made it a little more complicated to remove. 

"I see..." the doctor nodded his head.

"How will you remove these?" I asked, filling in the silence that followed. "That is, do you think the second one should be taken out?"  

The doctor began to explain that he would remove the first one by excision.

"Oui, oui..." I chimed in, remembering my crash course on basal cell carcinoma (I'd surfed the net, in a frenzy). Positively brimming with knowledge I informed the doctor: "You'll take out a bit of skin... examine it... and take out some more--until all the bad cells are removed. C'est ça?"



When I learned that the growth would be removed all in one go, I became suspicious. Wasn't there a better, less intrusive, way? "Have you heard of Mohs?" I questioned. "You know, la chirurgie de Mohs?"

The doctor confirmed that he was familiar with it, had even used it in the past, but that he no longer practiced the "little by little" method; instead, a large section of skin would be excised. To illustrate this, he took out a piece of paper and drew an imperfect circle (representing the growth). Next, he drew an imperfect rectangle around that... and filled in the area between the circle and rectangle with dots. The dots represented traces of bad cells, or how far the carcinoma might have traveled.

I thought about the size of the excision. "But what about scars?"

"There will be scars, Madame!" the doctor's response was abrupt, and I sensed that my tendency to worry-obsess was beginning to show. For a moment, I regretted the formal atmosphere... how much more at ease I might be, if we were, say, at a dinner party. I might be seated next to the surgeon, who would have had, ideally, "one too many" or "un de trop". Formalities aside, I might then pour out my obsessional heart: asking, with abandon, every absurd question currently plaguing me. What's more, the surgeon, instead of responding so abruptly, might loosen his tie and answer along these lines: "Don't worry about the scars, babe, I'll take care of them!" On second thought, this scenario was even less comforting than the first...

"But can you make little scars?" I repeated, returning to the present moment.

With this, the doctor became vague, answering my question with a fact: "I do not usually operate for skin cancer on people your age. My patients are much older." (I gathered that older people did not mind the scars?...) I remembered all of the elderly patients whom I sat next to in the salle d'attente (I had passed the time trying to guess their ailments, deciding that the fair-skinned woman across from me might have a carcinoma, that the full-bellied man beside me was there for a digestive difficulty, and the little ladies with the plastered hair to my right... well I hadn't gotten yet to their diagnosis... when the doctor called on me. But the truth was the truth: none of them had put on mascara that morning, which led me to suspect that a scar on the forehead wouldn't upset their aesthetic universe.)

Speaking of the universe of aesthetics, my next question centered on the growth on the side of my nose. 

The doctor's eyes began to cross, once again, as they narrowed in on my nose. He nodded his conclusion: it was a delicate area and there would be risks. The doctor illustrated this by placing his finger at the tip of his nose... and pushing it up. I sat staring into his nasal passage. 

"Stitches might pull at the skin, causing the tip of the nose to lift--like this!" he warned. "I would have to leave part of the wound open (to heal on its own), to prevent this."

I studied the doctor's momentarily disfigured nose. Mine might be more permanent! That is when the words "plastic surgeon" appeared in my mind's eye. This brought me to my next question, more of a confirmation:

"But you are a "chirurgien digestif", n'est-ce pas? What exactly is a digestif surgeon?"

With that, the young doctor patted his stomach, and spoke, for the first time, in English: "Guts, Madame!"

So "guts", or the digestive tract, was his specialty...

"Oui, je vois..." And I did understand, clearly--though I was more disillusioned than ever. Why would a guts surgeon work on my gueule, or face?

I regretted the direction in which my thoughts were headed. And I wished I hadn't talked so much (I'm afraid all that "education" I got on the internet was no help with the current consultation). And, though the doctor's words did not inspire confidence--due, in part, to my own fixed mindset!--I did take away some very good advice... even if I've taken it out of context... yes, in the murky months to come, in which I'll need to decide on a course of treatment, I would do well to listen to the doctor's words: Guts, Madame! 

Courage, indeed.


Post Note: last night I went back to my internet searching and learned that the doctors proposed method ("standard surgical excision") is, in fact, the "preferred method" (before Moh's). I felt a little better, and will now think about going back for surgery. Meantime, it won't hurt to have another consultation with another doctor. En avant! Onward march!

Le Coin Commentaires

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

Related story: "Peau": about my visit to the French dermatologist.


Selected French Vocabulary

je lui ai coupé la parole = I cut him off (in speech)

bonjour = hello

le chirurgien, la chirurgienne = surgeon

le dossier en main = file in hand

que puisse-je faire pour vous? = how can I help you?

dermato (dermatologue) = dermatologist

la salle d'attente = the waiting room

Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

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


A scene from the town of Faucon, not far from Vaison la Romaine. Photo taken two years ago... during a photo périple. Read about another photo journey here, in an inspiring stroll I took through the town of Rochegude. Click here to read the post "SAISIR".

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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les betises sign signage typeography balcony French
We'll go ahead and use this photo (for its calligraphie) to illustrate today's story, which might as well be titled "Les Bêtises de La Peau" or "Skin Stupidity". Read on... and cover up with sun screen!

la peau (poh)

    : skin

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

Protégez votre peau du soleil. Mettez un écran solaire.
Protect your skin. Apply sun screen.

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

Skin Sins

It looked like a blemish... only it didn't go away. On studying the spot on my forehead, I wondered whether it was a scar--one I had somehow overlooked? Only, I couldn't remember running head first into anything recently.... Besides, I would have remembered the bleeding, the bandaging, and the scabbing (not to mention the embarrassment).

After prodding and poking at the bump, to no avail (I guessed it wasn't acne...), I decided it must be an age spot--a pearly one at that. At the age of 43, I seem to be manufacturing them! There is one above my right eyebrow... and another is coming into view over my left sourcil. Only those spots are the color of age-spots: brown. Did age spots come in other colors and thicknesses?

When the flesh-tone spot in the center of my forehead began to grow (it was growing, wasn't it?) I began to have doubts and, one weekend last month, I threw all of my worry energies together in time to make an appointment chez le dermatologue.

Only problem was: in August, in the South of France, all dermatologists are on the sunny beaches of Costa Brava (just kidding--in truth, I do not know where skin doctors vacation in summertime, but they do vacation, and, therefore, it was difficult finding someone to diagnose the worrisome growth).

I would have to wait three weeks to see a skin specialist in Orange. On my way to his office, I kept forgetting things: where I put my wallet, especially. I managed to misplace it three times that week, whereas I'd never before lost my porte-monnaie. If I am absent-minded by nature, this head-in-the-clouds tendance became epidemic the week of my appointment.

The dermatologist's office is located in an historical hôtel particulier. Stepping past the sky-high iron gate, I peered around the cobbled courtyard. It looked bleak (no swayback benches, no giant pots with trailing flowers), but then it occurred to me: what busy dermatologue had time to sit or to water plants? I decided this was a good sign and stepped over the threshold.

Inside, the only other patient in the sterile waiting room sat reading Voici (France's version of People Magazine). The woman had a big bandage on her ankle. I wondered what skin-related malady had befallen her? 

After checking in, I waited beside the woman with the ankle bandage, and as I read the cover of her magazine, I overheard voices in the next room:

"Je vous ai fait un rendez-vous chez le chirurgien plasticien. I've made an appointment for you at the plastic surgeon's...the secretary was saying to the young woman who had just seen the doctor.

When it was my turn to be examined, the diagnoses came almost as soon as I arrived at the examination table. No magnifying glass was needed, no special flashlight. The only instrument the doctor used was a great blue magic marker. 

Doc used the thick blueberry-colored marker to draw a circle around the mysterious growth, highlighting the area that would need to be excised. Next, he handed me a mirror.

I stared at the spot on my forehead, which appeared even bigger than before. "C'est un carcinome baso-cellulaire." "It's basal cell carcinoma," the doctor explained.

Still starring into the hand mirror, I saw my glassy eyes flanked by mascarad wings, which blinked. 

The doctor assured me: "It is the most common type of skin cancer: nonmelanoma. I diagnose at least one case per week. A lot of farmers around here get it. (I thought of my husband, Chief Grape, who had already had an 8-inch chunk of flesh taken out of his back, some 15-years-ago. He would need to be reexamined!) 

If left untreated, the doctor explained, the cells would keep on growing. But I would probably die of old age, he assured me, before I would die of this type of skin cancer. "That said, basal cell carcinoma is malignant and can spread to the bone, in which case it is best to remove the growth."

The doctor washed off the blue mark from my forehead and scribbled a note to a colleague, a visceral and digestive surgeon, just up the street at the Clinique de Provence.

I wondered whether I shouldn't travel farther, to have some sort of specialist remove the facial growth?But when I voiced my concern, the doctor chuckled: "No need to send you to China to have some cells removed!"

 I laughed, too. True, it was no use complicating the matter. First things first, get the growth removed! And no time to dally, for a second growth appeared last month, piggy-backing the first.


Post note: I was uneasy about the idea of a visceral-digestive surgeon cutting and sewing my forehead! Wouldn't a plastic surgeon be a better choice? For days I debated the doctor's recommendation. And then I said a prayer and asked for peace of mind about my decision... and that is when the answer came to me, clear as day: "visceral" means "organ" -- and isn't skin the biggest organ we have? Therefore an organ and digestive doctor would seem to be the right match! I'll see the doctor this Tuesday, which is also la rentrée, or back-to-school for our kids.

 Le Coin Commentaires
Statistics show that 3 out of 10 light-skinned persons may develop basal cell carcinoma in their lifetime. It is the most common form of skin cancer. Share your "sun sins"--experiences, stories, and knowledge-- here, in the comments box--and help spread awareness of this preventable disease. 

 Update: Read about my visit to the surgeon's... where I learn that a gut doctor has been recommended to remove the facial growths... Click here

A picture of the spot:
You can see the spot on my forehead in a picture I posted last month. Click on the following link and look for the first picture (with the pink scarf) in this story column (then click on the picture to enlarge it). The pea-size, flesh-tone spot is in the center of my forehead, one or so inches below my hairline: http://french-word-a-day.typepad.com/motdujour/2011/08/collier.html


French Vocabulary

le sourcil = eyebrow

la tendance = tendency

le porte-monnaie = wallet

un hôtel particulier = private mansion

Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

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



trompe l oeil wall painting france

This Frenchman has the right idea: wear a hat! Photo of the trompe-l'oeil taken in 2009, in Pourrières.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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These ladies light up my life. Mom and I had an inspiring visit with the Dirt Divas. I wish I had had a tape recorder with me to capture some of the chippy bantering! From left to right: Malou, Jules, Doreen, Kristin. Click to enlarge the photo.

avouer (ah voo ay)

    : to admit

avoue-le! = admit it!

Example sentence: J'avoue que je suis un peu sauvage. I admit that I am a bit unsociable.

The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris

The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work. Order The Greater Journey here.


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


I decided not to tell Mom until she got here. Why ruin her trip? Why get her thinking on something, ticking about it, when, instead, she could experience another day or two of peace? Besides, she had 24 hours of travel ahead of her and I wanted that trip to go as smoothly as possible.

And so I waited until she arrived to admit to her that I had broken a promise (that is, I think I had promised? It seemed I had. If my guilty feelings were any indication, then I had surely given Mom ma parole).

When I finally told Mom about the broken promesse, prefacing the avowal with enough of a lead-up that Mom was poised to receive une bombe... I let it drop, my little firecracker: Mom, I am so sorry....

... but I did not get around to having your latest painting framed! It is still rolled up, as you had left it, and I am afraid that it might be damaged, having been stored in that position for this long....

Closely, I studied Jules's face, not being able to stand another instant of guessing what her reaction might be. Suddenly, all the worry lines that had built up during my long lead-in to THE AVOWAL... disappeared.

"Is that it?" Mom questioned. I assured her it was. Only, instead of being disappointed, Mom seemed utterly pleased! Oh, that's nothing!, Jules assured me, falling back onto her pillow in relief.

On the subject of pillows... I notice Mom's head has been resting a lot on her oreiller in the last week... (This brings us to Secret No. 2.... : Mom's Avowal)

By day four or five of Mom's visit, my suspicion is growing.... and by lunch on the 7th day, I have lost my appetite. A lump in my throat, hopelessness rising inside, I look across the picnic table to Mom. Something is just not right. That contagious charisma that shines out from within has been replaced by a dull regard.  

I begin to string together the clues:
She's not brushing her hair...
She's sleeping till noon... 

I suspect Mom's reclusive behavior has to do with her medications... the ones she promised she would bring with her to France this time! My eyes begin to smart. There's that pinching sensation that warns that tears are on the way. When I resist (holding my eyes tight), I feel my very own anxiety ignite... 

That evening I fight the urge to retreat, to lick my own wounds up in the privacy of my room. Instead, I stop by Mom's window in the courtyard. The shutters are open and Mom is seated on the other side, framed by the room's light. She is wearing her brightly colored dressing gown with the glittery sequins. If only the colors in her sunken soul matched her vibrant robe.

I carry a garden chair over to the window and its ledge becomes a table between Mom and me. My question breaks the silence. "How are you feeling?" Having asked THE QUESTION, I brace myself for Mom's avowal.

She admits: "I've been halving my medication..."

The information sinks in. My chippy of a Mom has done it again! Though I feel like screaming, I decide, instead, to try for once to learn from past lessons. I calmly ask Mom to tell me exactly how many pills remain. Mom produces two packets, two different medications. She pulls out the sheets of tablets and begins counting. "Well... if I cut them in half, then..."

"No half doses!" I remind Mom. "Now, tell me, how many days do you have left?" I hear the macabre irony as the question rings in my ear, for, without medication, Mom is not truly living: she is suspended, in time, like a deer frozen before headlights.

Mom explains that she was not able to get four weeks' worth of her medication, and I am reminded of the shoddy situation of health care elsewhere. Not everyone has the privilege of walking into their pharmacy and leaving with enough medications to meet their needs. 

My heart goes out to my mother and to her husband, who tries hard to meet all of her needs. Only, this time, it was an impossibility.

I learn about how he has saved coupons in order to be able to stock up on the supply of medications that Mom would need for this trip. Only, they were a week short of being able to benefit from the 2-for-1 offer... and so Mom left with "almost enough medication". Because the idea of traveling all the way back to Mexico, having just gone off her meds, frightened her, she began dividing for the future!

Mom tells me that the secret she's been keeping has only aggravated her symptoms.  "But, Mom!, you should have told me, immediately! Transparency!," I remind her, "is the key to peaceful living."

As soon as I've preached my latest sermon, I am struck by the absurdity of my cloudy philosophy (I remember my own secret...). From now on, I might do well to practice transparency before illuminating others on the virtues that lead one to peace. 


Post note: so I made Mom a deal: why not make it our goal to accomplish two monumental-to-us tasks: to get the painting framed and to get to the doctor! 

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections and comments are welcome. Merci d'avance! Click here to leave a message.


Related story: This isn't the first time our mother-daughter relationship was put to the test. Once, I locked Mom out of the house (I don't think I've written about that one...!!!) and another time, two years ago, Mom came to France without her anxiety medication. We had to live through a trying power outage, which only added to the moodiness (click here)!

French Vocabulary

chippy = (adj = rascally; noun = rascal)

ma parole = my word

la promesse = promise

une bombe = bomb

un oreiller = pillow

la robe = dress 



"The Courage to Face Another Day". A trompe-l'oeil in the village of St Roman de Malegarde.

Shop like the French!

Capture plein écran 12052011 095657Shopping trolleys--seen everywhere in France--are practical, attractive, and a good way to spare a tree or to avoid using yet another disposable plastic sack! Check out the range of colors, here, click Shopping trolleys (or click on one of the trolleys here)

Capture plein écran 12052011 095757 Stripped trolley

  Doreen mom

"Missing Malou". Kristin with Doreen and Mom. (Photo by Malou)

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Jackie. This is my daughter and she tells the best stories, just like her grand-mère, Jules. (photo taken in 2010)

"It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horse, the leaves, the wind, the words that my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes."

-Gustave Flaubert (thanks to Jim Fergus for sending me this favorite quote!)

le beurre (bur) noun, masculine

    : butter

Please jump right in and share your butter/"beurre" terms and expressions here. I'll begin...

beurré(e) = plastered
avoir un oeil au beurre noir = to have a black eye
le beurre de cacahouètes = peanut butter
(your turn. Get out your dictionary then click here and share beurre terms and idioms)

Audio File : Listen to the following sentence: Download MP3 or Download Wav

Il était une fois un philosophe qui aimait les jeux de mots. Il appelait, par exemple, le butterfly: le beurre qui vole. (translation below)

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

(On the Origins of Flying Butter)
This morning my daughter scrubbed down, head to toes, with Betadine. Next, she said she was hungry but did not eat, nor did she drink so much as a drop of water.

We were running late to the Clinic de Provence after Jackie took extra care with her hair, blow drying it, straightening it, exercising all her control over it. Finally she shut off the sèche-cheveux, and voiced her little heart out: "J'ai peur, Maman."

"Did you take off all of your nail polish and jewelry?" the nurse quizzed.

"Oui," Jackie replied. Next, my 12-year-old was given a pill that made her eyes droop until she turned over in the hospital bed, from her back onto her side.

I wanted to brush my hands across her face, but wondered about the iodine/detergent surgical scrub that she had showered with earlier. Would I just be putting germs back on her face? My hand reached for her hair, instead.

"Can you remind me of the story you told me last night?" I asked my girl. "About the butterfly...."

My daughter nodded her sleepy head and said...

Il était une fois un philosophe qui aimait les jeux de mots.... Il adorait aussi les butterflies dont il renommé "Le Beurre Qui Vole"...

Once upon a time there was a philosopher who loved to play with words. He also loved butterflies which he renamed "flying butters"...

As Jackie told me her story my mind wandered back to the simple surgery: only two teeth to remove. But why the need for an anesthesiologist? Why put her completely to sleep—was it necessary? Couldn't we have waited for the teeth to grow and push past the gums before having them extracted?

The door to room 103 burst open and two infirmières collected my daughter, as one collects an umbrella while rushing out the door, late for work. I wanted to shout "be careful!" Instead, I stepped out of the nurses' way.

As the gurney careened down the hallway on the way to the bloc opératoire, I overheard one of the nurses assure my daughter, "Ce n'est rien". Just a little operation. With that the trio disappeared into a sterile chamber.

As I stood there staring at the empty hall, a little old man in a bathrobe hobbled by, slowly, softly, like a butterfly.

Butterfly in france


French Demystified...simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student.

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


Still itching for stories from France? You will ADORE Lynn McBride's blog It’s called Southern Fried French (www.southernfriedfrench.com) and it’s about living the good life at the 14th century Château de Balleure, with her friends  and chatelains Nicole and Pierre.


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

abricot or apricot (c) Kristin Espinasse
Fruits and vegetables ought to help this cold... (picture taken at the farmers market in Les Arcs-sur-Argens)

attraper (a-tra-pay) verb

1. to catch, to pick up

une attrapade (a-tra-pahd) f = a reprimand
un attrape-mouches = a fly-catcher
un attrape-touristes = a tourist trap
attrape-tout (adj) = a catch all

attraper froid = to catch cold
attraper un rhume = to catch a cold
attraper une contravention = to get a ticket
attraper un coup de soleil = to get a sunburn
se laisser attraper = to be had
attraper quelqu'un = to trick someone
se faire attraper (par quelqu'un) = to be told off by somebody
attraper le coup = to get the knack of something

Je préfère attraper un torticolis en visant trop haut que devenir bossue en regardant trop bas.
I'd rather get a stiff neck from aiming too high than become hunchbacked from looking too low.—Sylvaine Charlet

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

I caught a cold last week. In French, that would be: J'ai attrapé un rhume.

My husband says: "As-tu téléphoné au medecin?" This is so French of him, the reflex to head straight to the doctor at the first sniffle. For me, c'est hors de question to go to a doctor's office and mingle for one hour with a roomful of microbes in la salle d'attente.

"Prends un Dolipran, ça te fera du bien." my friend Barbara suggests.

"Vas-y, mets toi au lit," my husband encourages. He'll fix dinner tonight. Suddenly tout le monde is sympathetic. But the most sympathetic of all is le pharmacien, whose job it is to sell me un traitement.

I ask for a salt water nose spray and le pharmacien returns with two cans of a new brand that I have never heard of. "I only need one can," I point out.

"C'est une meilleure affaire," he explains. "Deux pour un" or "two for one" as we say in English.

"But is it REAL salt water. De la vraie?" I ask.

He assures me that it is and piles the cans into a bag along with some powders and chalky disks that fizz will fizz when I add water to them.

I walk out of la pharmacie, my pockets now 15 euros lighter. I know my husband is right and that I should have gone to the doctor. A doctor visit costs 20 euros and the prescribed medications would have been reimbursed (health care payments) along with the visit.

By the next morning the children are fussing over me:

"Ça va maman? Tu te sens mieux ce matin?"

"Yes, Max. Thank you. I do feel a little better."

"A tes souhaits, maman!" Jackie says when I sneeze. "Pauvre maman..." 

I smile appreciatively at my little nurses. Le médicament helps some, but it is les mots that soothe the most when we are sick, n'est-ce pas?

French Vocabulary

As-tu téléphoné au medecin?
= Have you called the doctor?

c'est hors de question = it is out of the question

un microbe (m) = a germ

la salle d'attente (f) = the waiting room

prends un Dolipran = take a (paracetamol tablet)

ça te fera du bien = that'll make you feel better

vas-y, mets toi au lit = go ahead and get in bed

tout le monde = everybody

le pharmacien = the pharmacist

un traitement (m) = a treatment

une meilleure affaire (f) = a better deal

de la vraie = the real (thing)

n'est-ce pas = isn't that so?

pauvre maman = poor mommy

le médicament (m) = medicine

La Ciotat 8.16.03 047
One of my little nurses, Jackie.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
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