Arsenic in my omelette? Animal instincts + French vocabulary you won't find in a textbook (like the slang word for concierge...)

Irish cob horse in provence
A scene from Cousine Sabine's, where we enjoyed Sunday's "cousinade" or family reunion. The horse is an Irish cob.

Today's Word: un abreuvoir

: watering hole, drinking bowl, trough, birdbath, fountain

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read in French and in English

Study the sentence below, then click on the following sound file to hear the French and English
On peut conduire un cheval à l'abreuvoir, mais non le forcer à boire. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
I was in our chicken pen, refilling the water bowl and collecting the "oeuf du jour" when I had an inspiration: Go over and flip the straw bale! that inner voice whispered.

"Come here, Edie," I said to my chicken and the two of us headed over to a knee-high botte de paille. Ready? Flip! And there, on the underside of the humid mass, the potato bugs were teeming! Dozens of them! What a feast my little hen would have!

"Go on Edie! Eat! Bon appétit!

Edie approached the writhing wall of insects and cocked her head, left, right, left...and her pupils dilated as she moved in for a closer look. If you know chickens, you can picture my hen's jerking motions, which I feared would scare off the bugs. "Go on, Edie! before it's too late!" (If you know potato bugs, you'll recall their protective mechanism: these “roly polies” instantly curl in on themselves, making a repulsive hard shell barrier).

"Edie! What's the matter with you? Look at that live feast! A veritable bug buffet. "Eat, Edie, eat while you can!" But my chicken just stood there, her neck seesawing, her head jerking as her giant side eye followed the critters up and down the slithering wall. I had the urge to take her by the beak and lead her to the high protein lunch but the use of force would have been unkind, not to mention futile.

On peut conduire un cheval à l'abreuvoir, mais non le forcer à boire

It reminds me of the saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. (You can present somebody with an opportunity but you can't make them take it!) Clearly, Edie wasn't seizing this chance to swap out those bland pellets for some crunchy isopods!

Frustrated and disappointed, I left my cocotte to her own devices and went to check in on Mom, whose studio is across the driveway from the poulailler. Mom and a newly-groomed Smokey were in bed watching cat videos on Youtube. 

Giving my best impersonation of a stubborn, wide-eyed, head-jerking chicken, I recounted the story of the Supreme Potato Bug Festin that Edie refused. Mom and Smokey were amused and when I was done flapping my wings and pecking at thin air it suddenly hit me, another kind of folly: we act the same before our own Beloved's gifts (whether that be God, a loving family member, or friend). We fail to recognize the goods being set down before us--whether food, advice, or care. We think we know better. We go and eat soggy, day-old pellets instead.  

"See you later," I said to Mom and Smokey, leaving my beloveds and heading around the corner into the house for an afternoon nap. Before I fell to sleep I surfed the net and there is where I saw a serendipitous post from a permaculture site I follow. Can you believe they were talking about potato bugs? Quelle coïncidence! It turns out potato bugs or "cloportes" are excellent workers in the garden as they eat up heavy metals in the soil, such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and plomb de la terre which are dangerous to humans. 

La Sagesse de La Nature/Nature's Wisdom

Aha! If my hen turned her beak at my generous offering it was because her instincts were telling her Don't do it! Don't eat that! 

Yikes! If she had eaten those metal-charged crustaceans, would I then have arsenic in my omelette? Lead in my Eggs Benedict? Francium in my frittata?  Adding to the confusion, the internet says potato bugs are okay for hens to eat. What then, is the answer? If not to let my chick decide for herself, and trust her own animal instincts!

It all makes me think about the current times we are living in. So many of us are trying to lead our stubborn loved ones to the water. But we can't make them drink it! It is frustrating, unnerving, disappointing! As for me, I am glad my chicken did not drink the "water" I offered her. After all, what do I know? I would do better to entertain friends with my Jerky Hen Impression than to tell anyone what to do.

Bonne chance et bon courage. I'll be back next week with more French words. If you enjoy this letter, please share it with a friend.

Amicalement,

Kristi
P.S. Some trivia: did you know "cloporte", or potato bug, the subject of today's story, is also French slang for "caretaker"? Cloporte means "concierge" in French! It is fun to think we have hundreds of concierges in our garden :-)

P.S.S. Please consider following my Instagram account -- apart from the photos I post of our area in France, it is a good backup. Should this newsletter experience a glitch, you will always be informed of a new post via Instagram 

FRENCH VOCABULARY
un abreuvoir = trough, watering hole
l'oeuf du jour = egg of the day
la botte = bundle (also "boot", see post)
la paille = straw (paille expressions, here)
boire = to drink
le poulailler = henhouse, chicken coop
le festin = feast, banquette (see post here)
la cocotte = chick, chook, in French child speak (see "baby talk" post)
le plomb = lead
la terre = earth, soil
bonne chance = good luck
bon courage = be brave
amicalement = kind wishes

Sainfoin fleur flowers
In front of Cousin Sabine's, a field of pink "sainfoin": a plant of the meadows which was formerly cultivated as fodder. Une plante des prairies qui était autrefois cultivée comme fourrage. Below, after one of Cousin Sabine's relatives hung it there decades ago, an old mailbox disappears into a venerable plane tree.

plane platane tree swallows mailbox

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


New French words, including "chamaillerie" and A Dieu to one of our chickens...

La ciotat shore
I am going to bookend this edition with beautiful photos, to help balance a sad topic today. Here is a picture of our beautiful shoreline in La Ciotat, the city we live in--with Grandma, our our golden retriever, Smokey, and our chickens. You will learn many new French words at the end of today's story, so please read to the finish.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Yesterday afternoon when our plumbing backed up and all our toilets were en panne, I had this ominous feeling that the coming week would be un cauchemar

Then, at 4 am, ce lundi matin, my hens woke me. It wasn't un cri de détresse, more of a chamaillerie. Jealous by nature--especially when it comes to food--the chickens push each other around for the best spot on the fence, where they prefer to sleep each night. Once in a while one of them gets knocked off and wanders around the garden clucking until found and helped back up on the fence. 

Suddenly I heard my Mom, who was calling for me from the porch below. I threw open my bedroom shutters to find Mom in her slippers and pajamas. "One of your chickens is loose," Jules said. "I'll get my shoes and see you outside."

I met Mom in the garden and by then she'd collected the errant poule--the rusty brown one. We put her safely back in the pen, but, the next morning when I went to feed the chickens, I saw white feathers everywhere. Des plumes partout!

Mama, my white hen, was on the ground! At that terrible moment, my own Mama ran up, sparing me of having to look too closely at our 3-year-old hen. Mom held our hen, examining her from head to talon. C'était étrange. There was not one mark on her entire snow-white body, meaning an animal hadn't gotten to her. And we do not have hawks here on our city block, though we do have hungry goélands (but seagulls are not known to attack hens). Could she have been poisoned? ...Yet all those feathers hinted at some sort of struggle.

We may never know exactly what happened to our hen, and I am very sorry to share this sad tale today. But the alternative was to crawl under the bed covers and let the heavy blanket of sadness do its thing. After the stress of our plumbing situation (now fixed, merci Jean-Marc!) it seemed the best thing to do was to keep things flowing, including these tears. 

I want to end with un grand remerciement to our snow white chicken, Mama--you brought us so much more than eggs! We called you Colette when we got you, but you quickly became "Mama"--first in pecking order and forever in our hearts.

Mama chicken hen

FRENCH VOCABULARY
en panne = out of order, broken
un cauchemar = a nightmare
un lundi matin = a Monday morning
un cri de détresse = a cry for help
une chamaillerie = squabble, quarrel
c'était étrange = it was strange
la poule = chicken
des plumes partout = feathers everywhere
le goéland = seagull

Kristi and hens

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


Faire bon ménage? Golden retriever and chickens & CONTROL JUICE (is it fueling you, too?)

Sussex hen and coucou hen
If you take one thing away from today's post (about letting go...), let it be this: Control Juice is for wet chickens, or scaredy-cats. (Le jus de contrôle c'est pour les poules mouillés). Let go of your fear--and your controlling nature will disappear. 

Faire bon ménage

    : to get along

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence

Faire bon ménage signifie bien s'entendre. Cette locution peut qualifier une bonne entente, une relation équilibrée entre deux personnes ou animaux qui vivent en harmonie ensemble. "To make good housekeeping" means to get along well. This phrase can include a good, a balanced relationship between two people or animals that live in harmony together.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

"Control Juice": something to give up after wine?
(or is it time to go back to wine??)


    by Kristi Espinasse

I really mean for this to be as smooth and entire as possible--this post and, come to think of it, this life. Cette vie. I struck gold this morning by finding, relatively quickly, a phrase to sum up today's story: faire bon ménage (to get along). And then the extended meaning: more than how my chickens and my golden retriever are getting along, this is an update on how my whole family--all three generations currently living under one roof--are getting along. (Quick answer: pas mal!)

Let's start with the latter: after one meltdown, one short-lived separation, and a monumental ménace: (moi) to go back to America (this one directed at the whole group of bandits) "and you can all (Jean-Marc, Jules, Max, Jackie, Smokey and the chickens) fend for yourselves--ALL OF YOU!!! I have glued myself back together thanks to my chickens almost becoming glue (more about that in a minute)....

L'ESPOIR
This morning I woke up feeling hopeful. I was seeing my entire family of banditos through rose-colored glasses... Yes, I was, until everything turned on a dime (c'est toujours le cas!). My son could not find his wallet (for the third time this week) and I instantly took on his agitation and then some.

"When you find that porte-monnaie," I barked, "put it BACK in the same place. Find a home for it!!"

Find a home for it! Find a home for it. I keep saying this to everyone. Can't find the mosquito spray? Find a home for it! Looking for your car keys? Find a home for them! Lost your swim trunks? Putain de merde. TROUVE-LE UNE MAISON!!!

My son was now running late for work and would not be able to pay the freeway toll without some fric! With my hand in my purse, rooting for money to loan him, I did not see the giant window, une baie vitrée, in front of me and so walked right into it, jarring my ego more than my nerve-endings. 

CONTROL JUICE IS FOR CHICKENS
My son, unaware of my collision, continued his own tirade. "But I can't find a home for my wallet when my room has been taken!" How could I argue with that? So when Max pulled out of the driveway, late for work, I shouted, "Don't forget to close the gate so Smokey and the chickens don't get loose." This set him right off, my 23-year-old, who swore if there was one thing he did right it was to close that gate each and every time! 

Just as we were arguing, I heard squawking...

Mon Dieu! Turning, I saw Smokey had gotten out of the house and was chasing the hens! Having put every ounce of my control juice into keeping my family and my flock in order, everything fell apart in that instant.

And that was it. I mean, that did it! Having reached the End of the Rope, this post-apocalyptic scene was the burial to my nerves as I once knew them--possibly beneath a bed of feathers!!

And here is where Grace stepped in. As my son backed his company car out of the driveway, shouting the injustice (he is a gate-shutterer if there ever was one!!) to our entire neighborhood, I let go of the embarrassment of yet another public family scene... and focused on a miracle going on in the opposite direction.

Smokey was indeed chasing the chickens... but nobody was getting killed! 

Every ounce of agitation and every bit of pent-up frustration melted away--along with all of that control juice--as I beheld the beauty of the scene in front of me: creatures getting along relatively well.  

It all reminds me of the popular saying, something we nervous people and highly sensitive types are often reminded of (by our loved ones or therapists): "Did anybody die?" 

No? Then everything is going to be OK!


***
Postnote: Mom just strolled by on her way out to the beach. Where are my blue sunglasses? she wanted to know. (!!!)  Normally, I would suggest she find a home for them...but she stole those sunglasses from Max.... Oh, les bandits!

FRENCH VOCABULARY
la vie = life
faire bon ménage = to get along well
l'espoir = hope
pas mal = not bad
c'est toujours le cas = it's always that way
le porte-monnaie = wallet
putain de merde! = dammit! (can be more or less strong depending on the situation)
trouve-le une maison = find it a home
le fric = money
une baie vitrée = large, sliding glass windows
Berina and Jules
Mom's first friend in France and a beautiful scene from last night: Berina, from Taïwan (living in Hong Kong and Cassis) and my Mom. Two funny, strong, and beautiful women who hit it right off! 

Roasted red peppers
Jean-Marc made bar (sea bass from the Altlantic, vs Loup, or sea bass from the Mediterranean. I made these roasted peppers and other cool dishes to go along with the fish.
Jean-Pierre Berina Kristi Jean-marc
Jean-Pierre and Jean-Marc go way back--they met in business school in Marseille. I only met Berina last year, and I can't wait for her to move full time to Cassis from Hong Kong. One day! P.S. look at those fans. It's sweltering in France... 
Eggs and roasted peppers
Roasted pepper recipe near the end of this post.

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!