tenir la route

Jean-Marc reading "Mastering the Art of French Eating" by Ann Mah (c) Kristin Espinasse French-Word-A-Day.com
I still can't believe this hunka hunka burning love (as one of my endearing readers calls Jean-Marc), yes I couldn't believe it then and now, 23-years later... I still can't believe he loves me. Happy anniversary, Baby. We celebrated our 19-year- wedding anniversary (the date we exchanged religious vows), on Sept 24th.

Jean-Marc is reading "Mastering the Art of French Eating," by Ann Mah. Highly recommended! Order your copy here and enjoy the 5-star reviews. More about this entertaining and insightful book on France and food, very soon...

tenir la route (teuh-neer-lah-root)

    : to stay the course

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

Hier on a célébré 19 ans de mariage. Notre fille nous a payé un compliment: Votre couple, elle a dit, a bien tenu la route. Yesterday we celebrated 19 years of marriage. Our daughter paid us a compliment: Your relationship, she said, has stayed the course. 

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

At a neatly-dressed table overlooking the sea, our celebratory lunch was coming to a disappointing ending. But it was hard to be annoyed at the waiter, whose gentle smile had been so kind and welcoming. I watched as he struggled to keep up with the tables during the lunch rush, and felt the growing anxiety he himself might be feeling. It seemed at any moment the new arrivals, to our left, would stand up and toss their napkins on the table, before leaving in disgust.

I had the urge to whisper to the impatient newcomers, "The waiter is not ignoring you, he is just a little overwhelmed at the moment." Instead, I minded my own business. Let life take its course has become my meditation lately. The idea is not to meddle in God's grand plan. Good things and bad things happen. It is how we steady ourselves that matters. We have simply to trust and to love.

Jean-Marc was growing weary of the wait, too. The stray cats had been a good distraction, but after watching the furry interlopers take turns patrolling beneath the tables for fallen scraps, my husband heaved a sigh of impatience. When could we finally order a cup of coffee? I could read his mind as his eyes scanned the restaurant's terrace for our waiter.

Oh no. I hoped he wouldn't voice the complaint or say something sarcastic. Not after the friendly exchanges we'd had with the waiter. But the truth was, I was losing my patience too. 

"You need to grab him when he comes by..." I hinted, the curt tone in my voice giving away my own exasperation. Such "suggestions" were the story of our married life. On the one hand I complained about my husband's nerve, on the other it was I who sometimes pushed him to the front lines of confrontation. Have you heard back from the plumber? Is the telephone company going to charge us for that? Really? 

I sank down a little in my seat. That everyday life could be an ongoing war was disheartening. That a moment of ingratitude could give way to a restless impatience, was even more humbling. How fortunate we are--and yet our hearts are as fragile as anyone's. These thoughts come to me after the fact. After I've melted into a pool of tears there at the bustling restaurant.

The sequence of events happened quickly. One minute we were waiting for the waiter, the next I was worrying about the impatient newcomers to our left... then the strained look on my husband's face... and the homeless cats.... 

And next I knew the waiter appeared, bearing a little plate of cake. I stared at the single candle on top, its flame already blown out by the breeze, despite the waiter's efforts to shield it. I noticed the spray of whipped cream that outlined the surprise cake. The sweetness hit me, suddenly, and the tears rushed up. 

"Thank you!" I squeeked, and it was all I could do to keep my eyes dry until the waiter left, resuming his sprint from one table to the next.

By the time I looked over at my husband, the barrage had opened and my face was flooded with tears. Jean-Marc's thoughtful gesture had pushed me over the edge of my own edginess. It was just a little piece of cake, but it might as well have been a shimmering engagement ring (and if it were, I suddenly knew, deep down, that I would marry him all over again today on our 19th wedding anniversary).

How thoughtful he is! Try as I might, I could not stent the flow of tears. Next came the runny nose and then the heaving.  I could not explain the reaction but, by all appearances, it looked as though I was mourning--instead of showing gratitude for the anniversary cake he had arranged to be delivered to me there at the table. 

"I can't explain..." I said to Jean-Marc whose eyes never left mine. (I wished they would, for his concentration only intensified my emotion, causing another wave or downpour of tears.)

"It's just that ...." I took a deep breath and finish my sentence, "On a quand même une très belle histoire..." It was true, we had, after all, a pretty damn good love story. 


Later, our daughter Jackie managed to put to words what I could not. On showing her the pictures from our anniversary lunch, and sharing with her my teary reaction, she offered: "Votre couple a bien tenu la route!"  Yes, our couple has stayed the course--at times an obstacle course. But we have held on for the ride.

I can't help but make a small parallel, now, when I think about those scraggly stray cats at the restaurant. How cavalier they seemed, as they strutted beneath the tables, but when so much as a strand of grated cheese fell to the ground, they lost all notion of ego or pretense and devoured the fallen scrap

"I'm not such a toughy, after all," I said to Jean-Marc as I wiped the tears from my face back at the table. I'm not sure he fully realizes that when push comes to shove in our marriage, rather than show my sadness, the well of tears inside of me freezes into a giant shield.

After the avowal, I quickly looked away to recompose. Wrung out from the tears, I watched those proud cats, who strutted to a stop, only to scramble when a sliver of sustenance fell from the sky above. Love is sometimes the same way, appearing in scraps. And suddenly, strutting along through life, tough as nails, we are dumbstruck by our hunger.

To comment on this story, click here.


 Bescherelle conjugation guide.     Capture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer)


The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Jean-Marc bought two round trip ticket to Sardinia for 68 euros. We stayed three nights at a B&B, near Pula. (Lodging was 60 euros per night and the 3 day rental car was 100 euros... just in case you are looking for something do do when in the South of France--visit a nearby island!)

We also celebrated this occasion back in July, when we remembered our civil ceremony.  See a steamy picture of that celebration, here.


The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Other reasons to visit Sardinia.... the flowers are so pretty this time of year...

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
If you love bikes you'll see plenty...

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
The locals sells their modest harvests....

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Already mentioned the bikes, but they're worth another line....

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
And if you like classic motos -- plenty of those!

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Personally, I'm a sucker for door curtains and their flirty ruffles! Love it when the tiles peek out.

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Also charming are the brochettes of Italians chatting next to the little trucks called "Apes" ("bees", in Italian).

Sheep in Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse french-word-a-day.com
I used to love to gaze at the sheep. Nowadays, I love to look for the shepherd!

Window shutters in Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Do these shutters speak to you, too? They come in all colors and sizes, but "natural" like this is fine by me.

Church in Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse
Your are always celebrating your anniversary, Jackie sighs. I can understand her confusion. Our civil and religious marriage ceremonies being months apart, there is the temptation to mark the occasion when it arises in July... and again in September. 

To comment on this edition, click here. Thanks for forwarding Frencthis post to someone who might enjoy it or relate to it.

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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What is a "nappe" in French?

Dad and straw hat (c) Kristin Espinasse
The family hat. John bought it for Mom, in Mexico. Mom left it to me, in France. Marsha borrowed it in San Remo, and yesterday, while sitting out in the morning sun enjoying our coffee together, Dad asked: may I use your hat?


une nappe (nap)

    : tablecloth, sheet (layer)

la nappe phréatique = ground water, water table
la nappe de mazout = oil slick
la nappe de brouillard = layer of fog

In English--nappe refers to either the ability of a liquid to "coat the back of a spoon" or the act of coating a food (i.e. to nappe a leg of lamb with glaze). --Wikipedia

Dad in straw hat (c) Kristin Espinasse
While at the market in San Remo, my belle-mère Marsha saw this tablecloth. Les coquelicots! Poppies! It would be perfect for the faded metal table we use, on the front porch, where we have breakfast and dinner these days. Plus, it's plastified! You can use a sponge to clean it. And we did, when I spilled spaghetti sauce last night, and when my young friend and upcoming novelist--10-year-old Madeleine--spilled hot chocolate. These self-cleaning nappes are formidable!

That's all for today's word (more pictures below), you can read more about the word "nappe" in these stories from the French Word-A-Day archives: 

brader = to discount
coussin = cushion 
brusquer = to rush, hurry, hustle 

Now for more photos of Italy, where we spent the weekend with Dad and Marsha... 

Jean-Marc washing cherries at the fountain in St Remo Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jean-Marc rinsing giant cherries in the fountain. He bought them at the market stall, after Marsha mentioned they were excellent for gout. 

Italian laundry in St Remo (c) Kristin Espinasse
Who needs one more laundry photo? There are so many, but it's hard to resist! Clotheslines remind me of the slow life, simple times, and eco-friendliness. Plus, they force you outdoors, if only for the time it takes to etendre le linge or hang out the wash. Depending on zoning laws, it may be illegal to hang out your laundry in your neck of the woods!

Dad and me (c) Marsha Ingham
My turn to wear the hat, and Dad has his trusty cap. Above, more laundry in the streets of San Remo, Italy. 

Plants and lace and charming Italian window (c) Kristin Espinasse
I love window vignettes! You'll find hundreds of them on this blog, including this one from a 2006 blog post on "10 ways to say No! in French". If you are a pushover, like me, that'll be a helpful article to read!

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Beach in St Remo Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse

 A clever floor runner! We also saw these coffee sacks used as wall paper at a local wine bar in San Remo. Repurposing is alive and well in eco-friendly Italy. To comment on a photo, or text, click here.

Superette or maraichere in Badalucco Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse

 Les poivrons, les haricots, de la laitue... peppers, beans, and lettuce in the hilltop village of Ceriana. The Italians love their produce and almost everywhere you look you'll find a kitchen garden. 

Photographing (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse

The camera lens turns on the photographer. Jean-Marc's iPhone rivals my Nikon D-60. Look at the crispness of those stones!

Flowers and church in Badalucco (c) Kristin Espinasse
Wonderful flowers outside what looked to be a nunnery facing this church.

Lunch at Il Ponte in Badalucco Italy - Kristin Espinasse

At Il Ponte Restaurant where Jean-Marc and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary. Ten years later and we brought these sweethearts with us to enjoy an unforgettable meal. No menus at Il Ponte. Just sit down and let Sergio bring you course after course of Ligurian deliciousness!

Jean-Marc and Dad talk to Il Ponte owner (c) Kristin Espinasse

Mr Sacks (Jean-Marc's side-kick ) came with us, of course! If only we had snuck a Tupperwear inside, we could have brought home leftovers!

Romaine lettuce for the garden from Badalucco farmers market (c) Kristin Espinasse

Jean-Marc and my dad. Time to drive home to France. Will the market lettuce (lots of baby romaine to plant) make the three-hour trip?  

Trompe l'oeil in Badalucco Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse
Did you enjoy your virtual travel to Liguria? It's not far from Nice, so next time you are in France why not cross the border and wander up to the magical hills of Italy's hinterland?

To comment on this edition, click here.

Many thanks for reading, and for forwarding this post to a friend! For the printed archives, go here.

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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sejour + how to say "a nice change of scenery" in French

Vespa (c) Kristin Espinasse
My family and I stole away for a two-day séjour in Italy. C'était dépaysant, as the French say--or a nice "change of scenery".

Mas la Monaque: rent this beautiful French home

Mas la Monaque - Rent this beautifully restored 17-century farm. Click here for photos

un séjour (say-joor)

    1. stay
    2. living room, family room

bon séjour = have a nice stay
une carte de séjour = a residence permit
le titre de séjour = green card
le séjour linguistic = language study vacation
la salle de séjour = the living room 

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

My dad and my belle-mère  love the area where we live, here near Bandol. They'd be happy swimming in the sea and working in the garden for the duration of their trip. But it seemed to me that they should take advantage of their séjour by seeing one of our favorite, not-so-far-away places....

"Why don't you two take our car and visit Ventimilli?" I suggested. Only, almost as soon as I said it, I realized that I had the urge to visit Italy, too! "Better yet, why don't we go together?" 

So on Friday we left our teenagers to dog sit, and we drove three hours east to Italy, where the Friday farmers' market was underway.

Jean-Marc and Mr Sacks (c) Kristin Espinasse
Mr Sacks (lower right corner) came with us, too! And that's Jean-Marc about to buy the pair of olive green moccasins. We tried talking Dad into a pair, but he clung to his well-worn sandals, which he duct-taped back together before this trip.

(A short pause to thank our sponsors... followed by more photos, below)

“La Trouvaille”--a true find in Provence!  Affordable vacation rental in our beautiful old stone house in the charming village of Sablet.

Hotels in France. Visit EasyToBook.com to find the cheapest hotels in almost all France cities. 

Kristi and Marsha
Me and my belle-mère, Marsha, split with the men and wandered through the crowds, ending up at a peaceful park. I'm wearing the hat Dad bought me, and Marsha is wearing my mom's chapeau. Mom is tickled to share her things with Marsha, and asked me to tell my belle-mère to use her easel (both women paint) and her kayak, too. Quelle chance that my moms like each other so much.

Chit-chatting (c) Kristin Espinasse
The slow life in Italy. In the park we enjoyed these circular benches which surrounded all the palm trees. Just as charming were the Italian ladies who chatted about tout et rien

  seaside eatery - Kristin Espinasse
We stopped at a seaside eatery for pasta and when it was time to pay the waiter pointed to the bill and said "This (here) is tax and not the service (or built-in tip). You can leave the tip on the table." It was just an old trick to extract extra cash, Jean-Marc warned my dad. When confronted, the waiter changed his story, indicating that if we wished to leave extra (for the tip is indeed already included in the total price, as a service charge) then we could leave it on the table.... 

Italian woman (c) Kristin Espinasse
If the woman with a T-shirt on her head finds out I took her photo she might clobber me. But what she doesn't know is that she is a work of art. This is one of my favorite images from our trip--it re-ignites a passion for portrait-taking (only boldness is lacking, and to ask a stranger permission is to destroy the photoworthy moment).

The sea, beyond, was rough and when Jean-Marc and Dad went out for a swim they were carried down the coast by a rip tide! They easily reached the shore (near the little cove you see just beyond).  

antiques shop in St Remo, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse
The next day we visited St. Remo, where another busy market was underway--and there were several antiques shops like this one....

Brocante or antiques shop in St Remo Italy
And this vintage boutique with the hand-painted shop sign.
Ring the buzzer (c) Kristin Espinasse
 I hope Dad doesn't mind all the photos I snap of him. So sometimes I'm sneaky... and pretend to focus on something else, like a set of door buzzers....

"For my door buzzer collection," I answer, when Dad looks curious about where I'm pointing my lens.

Dad and Marsha in St Remo (c) Kristin Espinasse
 "Dad and Marsha"--whoops, I mean, "a colorful Italian walkway" -- yes, that's what I'm focused on here, and not these sweethearts. 

supermoon 2013
We were looking at the night sky when Dad mentioned something about the supermoon--apparently this was the night to see one! This snapshot won't win the "supermoon" photo contests, but this is how the lune appeared on June 23rd in the town of St Remo, Italy.  

To leave a comment on this, or any other item in today's post click here. See you in a few days, with more French words and photos.

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French Vocabulary: la belle-mère = step-mother (also mother-in-law); le séjour = stay, vacation; quelle chance = how lucky; tout et rien = everything and nothing; la lune = moon 

Mailboxes in Europe "the hedgehog" (c) Kristin Espinasse
"The inchworm and the hedgehog" - Another whimsical mailbox to add to the collection

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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epingle a cheveux

Ionian Sea (c) Kristin Espinasse 
Jean-Marc and the Ionian sea in Sicily... where the saline breeze draws you to the salty waters, pleadingly. 

épingle à cheveux (ay pehngl ah sheuh veuh) n.f.

    hairpin bend (road, path); switchback

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

Le chemin de terre qui mène vers la mer descend en épingle à cheveux.
The dirt path that leads to the sea descends (in a series of) hairpin turns. 

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

 (Continued from part one: "Peur Bleue: A Morbid Fear".)

The miles-long footpath on which Jean-Marc and I were treading, from a Sicilian city down to the shores of its sea, changed from urban, to industrial, to earthy. I was anxious about crossing through the dark, graffitifed tunnel, when a sudden spell of terror, born of an overactive imagination coupled with every macabre news headline that I had ever read, had me freezing in my foot-tracks!

The idea of turning back was quickly factored out: just look at Jean-Marc, l'homme de la nature! He was so completely in his element, taken up with the salty breeze—pulled forth by the foamy claws of the sea! (I just knew he was looking forward to swimming in the winter waters below. A New Year's Day "bath" is a tradition for a true Marseillais.) 

But just when I let my spirit lift, we came out of the tunnel and face to face with a group of idle youths.... (Idle Youths = Tourist Abuse! in my news-headline-hazy head.) 

I watched my husband, who nodded an international greeting to the group, but my own neck was so stiff with suspicion that it couldn't manage the same salutation.

The group was seated on a rock wall, the other side of which plunged to the shoreline below. As we drew near I listened to their voices, which were foreign to me: not Italian, not French, not Spanish were they speaking. The headlines roared once again in my mind as we approached the strangers, who jostled one another, smiling and having a good time.

Tout va bien, I thought, reassuringly, there are women in the group, and they are all just having fun and acting carefree. But then so were Charles Manson and his "family"...! 

The grassy path we were now sharing was a switchback, hairpin turns from here to the sea. I studied the modern-day hippies. The only way to access the sea was via the switchback where the group sat, threateningly, according to my mind's graphic cinema, which reeled, helter skelter, with headline horror stories.   

 (Read the next and final installment here...)

Le Coin Commentaires / Comments Corner
Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome. Click here to post a comment to the blog. 

French Vocabulary
l'homme de la nature = refers to an out-doorsy, Mister Nature type
tout va bien = everything's all right

Trivia: Today's word "épingle" appeared briefly, in only one of the 1100 French Word-A-Day word editions. Discover it here.

We'll soon meet a character from this Sicilian city... so don't go anywhere and do check back on Friday. .

  Kristin & Smokey

Meantime... "The Continuing Education of Smokey-Doodle" (pictured here at 8 months):

Today's lesson: French Fashion!

No, Smokey dear, these are not to be worn in your mouth. These boots, that have trod upon thousands of Gallic grapes (I can understand your attraction to their sweetness...), yes, these cleat-covered caoutchoucs are to be worn as head ornaments. Voilà, Smokey-Doll. Now, your turn.... hold your head up high and don't let those fashion victims in the capitol intimidate you! It's all about creativity! And the best-dressed dog wins le prix!

Feel like learning a few more words... or seeing a few more pictures of France? Check out the French Word Archives, here!

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

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peur bleue

Door in Sicily (c) Kristin Espinasse
The French have a colorful word for what we scaredy cats feel. Read on. Photo of Italian door taken in Aciereale, Sicily. Get out and take some photos or keep a point and shoot camera on hand, at all times, and never miss a shot!

une peur bleue (per bleuh)

    : a morbid fear 

(also, in French expressions including color, see "l'heure bleu")

Audio File
: listen to the following words: Download MP3

Je connais des gens qui ont une peur bleue des serpents, des araignées, et des rats. Et vous? C'est quoi votre peur bleue? I know people who are frightened to death of snakes, spiders, and rats. And you? What scares the daylights out of you?

Pronounce It Perfectly in French with Audio CDs

avoir une peur bleue = to be scared stiff
faire une peur bleue à quelqu'un = to put the fear of God into someone


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

The rain in Catania, Sicily had us changing our plans: forget a periple through the vine-dotted hinterland—, we might take our chances and follow that patch of open sky.... 

In a rented Fiat Panda, Jean-Marc drove toward the clear coastline, and we hoped the industrial zone that we were currently passing through would break, just as the clouds had, and it did. We coasted into the city of Acireale, our eyes filling with history as it draped itself across the façades of the Baroque bâtiments.

A New Year's day parade was underway and we weaved in and out of the Catanian crowds, like fish in the Ionian sea just below, and when the sea breeze wafted past we followed our noses out of la piazza, past a dozen churches and chapels....

"Ça te dit de marcher jusqu'à la mer?" Jean-Marc proposed, pointing up to the street sign, which indicated a footpath to the sea.

I am not so adventurous as my husband, but it is a new year!: a good time to shake off one's lazy ways and a good time to put other's wishes before one's own. 

Halfway down the isolated path, doubts began to creep in. Strangely, there was no one else around—unless you counted the ghosts of graffiti. And where there are graffiti there are gangs, are there not?! I thought about the industrial zone we had passed through earlier... industrial zones where delinquents roam!

Stop imagining the worst! I cautioned my mind, which was ever jumping to conclusions, thanks to the news reports that had fed it over the years!

Still, I began to panic. What if a couple of drug-hungry hooligans were hidden at the end of the painted tunnel through which we walked? Switchblades came to mind. My heart thumped and, fast as that, my mind was off and running... with all of the sensational headlines that I had ever read! The macabre news came back to haunt me. It was for this very reason that I had to stop reading the newspapers last year, when the collective shock value of so much bad news had begun its debilitating effect until it seemed safer to stay in ... than to venture out.

It is thanks to almost daily telephone calls to my mom, Jules, that I am reminded of all of the good in this world, despite so much tragedy. Though my mom spends a lot of time in her room, when she does get out the door... to the Mexican streets beyond, she is shaking hands and kissing faces and smiling at the locals—and wondering why she doesn't get out and dance with life more often.
"But Mom!", I always warn her, "you should be careful where you go!" Nevertheless, by the end of our conversation, I have listened to yet another lively story of love: or what happens when you reach out and literally touch someone. 

During last night's call we shared our sadness about the horrible tragedy: the shootings that took place this past weekend in our former home state of Arizona. And yet, Jules reminds me, you've got to trust others, despite it all. We cannot live in fear, which only perpetuates more of the same.

The antidote to this peur bleue, or "blue fear", may just be a red badge, or un emblème rouge: the courage to face our fears, to continue to count on and be counted upon by others, and to trust that it is, after all, a beautiful life.


(Read part two of this story, here.)

To post a comment on this story or on today's word, click here.

French Vocabulary

le bâtiment = building

la piazza = Italian for square (village square)

Ça te dit de marcher jusqu'à la mer? = Are you up for a walk to the sea?


Graffiti and all, it's still a beautiful life! Photo taken in Aciereale, Sicily, Italy. 

Smokey (pictured here as  a pup) recommends the story "Mémère"--about his own mom and the funny French term of endearment that they gave her as a pup! Click here.


Bien dire magazine Keep up your French with Bien Dire (magazine subscription). A 52-page magazine to improve your French that you'll enjoy reading! Full of interesting articles on France and French culture, Bien-dire helps you understand what it is to be French order here.

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

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Chairs, Tiles, Bouteilles (c) Kristin Espinasse
If you have not yet done so, you must read Robert Camuto's book "Palmento" (as Jean-Marc does, in the following story!). Read the rave reviews. Photo taken last week at the iCedri B&B in Sicily....

gourmandise (goor mahn deez) noun feminine

    : a fondness for food

J'ai mangé par gourmandise et non pas par faim. 
I ate for the fondness of food and not for hunger. 

Audio File: Listen to today's word and example sentence: Download MP3 or WAV


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

I am sitting cater-corner from my husband, on the edge of the B&B bed. I have covered the hand-sewn lace bedcover with two small bath towels. I would not want to drop so much as une miette anywhere in Vittoria's chambre d'amis, prepared with such care and hospitality.

Outside, the camellias are in bloom and the fresh scent of citrus perfumes the air. Only in Sicily! It is wintertime but the flowers in southern Italy are blooming like well-nourished souls, which brings me back to my mission: le dîner.

As for the evening victuailles, it is each to his own or chacun pour soi tonight, especially since we have enjoyed a copious lunch, one that lingered on into the afternoon.... Jean-Marc, at the head of the bed, is reading, but that won't keep me from eating. I reach for the paper bag, wondering how to say "delicatessen" in Italian? I should have paid more attention to the names above the shopfronts but my eyes were trained on the colorful cauliflower (in purple!) and the plethora of prickly pear, or fichi d'India, that decorate the streets this time of year.

Currently all of my attention goes into opening this paper deli sack as quietly as possible.  I try to be discreet because I can't bear it when my husband stops to watch me eat. He always has to make such a big deal about it, as do all of the French with their vocal voeux of "bon appétit!

Jean-Marc Espinasse (c) Kristin Espinasse
                     I stole away to Sicily last week... with him...

With Jean-Marc completely absorbed in his book, I reach into the noisy sack. I notice that my husband has bought two kinds of cheese, quelques artichoke hearts in olive oil, two typical bread rolls (one covered with toasted sesame), a box of bruschetta crackers, and two chocolate bars....

Continue reading "gourmandise" »

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Taken at the bed and breakfast in Italy.

Smartfrench_2SmartFrench CD-ROM --"the smart way to learn French"

acceuillant,e (listen to the sound clip, below) adjective
  welcoming, friendly

Le véritable poète a pour vocation d'accueillir en lui la splendeur du monde. The true poet's vocation is to welcome within himself the world's splendor. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

My high heels scraped over the jagged cobblestones and I linked my arm through Jean-Marc's for balance, stopping to throw my head back for a view of the hilltop castle beside which we now stood. Large spotlights, fitted into the ground between the old stones, lit the medieval walls which disappeared into the black Piedmontese sky.

Jean-Marc and I continued down a winding path in Castiglione Falletto in search of pasta. When the first restaurant was full, we shrugged our shoulders and headed toward the brightly lit sign that read "BAR". From the bar's terrace we approached a window and peered in. The place was empty but for an older woman and two men who sat playing cards. The woman made eye contact and motioned for us to come in. When we hesitated, she opened the door and came out to greet us.

"We just want a plate of pasta," Jean-Marc explained, not yet recovered from his truffle and cream lunch in Alba. "No pasta," the woman apologized. Then, as if an Italian light bulb went off in her head, she chirped "Risotto!"

We took a cushioned seat at the back of the bar, just beneath a strip of fluorescent lights and next to a blaring TV. Noticing the program "A Prendre Ou A Laisser" (Take It Or Leave It), Jean-Marc remarked about how the Italians had adapted the French game show. "How do you know the show didn't originate here?" I argued, this to a man who still believes Barolo could be a French wine (given the Piedmont winemaking region used to be part of France).

When Jean-Marc asked our doting hostess about the wine menu, I shot him a look that said that THIS was no place to be a wine snob, we were in a BAR after all--not a wine bar but a European snack bar.

"This will be good," I assured Jean-Marc. "Pull your chair over next to mine." He did, only to begin swatting at fruit flies which collected above his wine glass. His arms fell to the table after I shot him another look, not wanting the sweet lady who had given us such a warm welcome to worry about a few flies.

The woman, who called herself "Renza,"* brought out a platter of thinly sliced cold cuts, delivered with a smile, followed by a look of uncertainty. I nodded enthusiastically while elbowing Jean-Marc. "MmmMmm, this is very good!" he assured her. And it was.

As we ate the first course, I could hear Renza chopping away in the kitchen. Minutes later we would be drooling over her celery, walnut and gorgonzola salad, pulling the lemon pips from our olive stained lips.

When Renza tried to enlighten us on bagna cauda,* the third course just before the risotto, we couldn't understand an Italian word she said. Undeterred, she pointed to the roasted yellow peppers, the halved onions, and the "hot bath" they found themselves in. "B-a-g-n-a c-a-u-d-a!" she repeated.

The final dish was rice. Just rice. (And who'd have thought that Just Rice could be this good?) We pushed aside the leftover risotto, too full to finish, and watched wide-eyed as Renza returned with a wicker basket full of sliced Italian cake, or "panettone," unshelled peanuts, clementines and a sprinkling of wrapped Italian caramels.

When the bill came I thought Jean-Marc might start dancing, just like those fruit flies above his wine glass: only nine euros for his five-course meal (and the wine, only two-fifty per glass)! Jean-Marc pulled out a twenty and fished around for another ten. Renza accepted the twenty and pushed his wallet closed, sealing the transaction with a smile as warm as b-a-g-n-a c-a-u-d-a.

                                    *     *     *
Renza_1left, Renza and me.
References: Renza (recipes and more about Renza in this book); bagna cauda = a warm sauce (anchovies, olive oil, and garlic) for bread and boiled/roasted vegetables
*To find Renza, just look for "La Terrezza Bar Da Renza" when in Castiglione Falletto.

Hear French:

Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and quote: Download accueillant.wav

Le véritable poète a pour vocation d'accueillir en lui la splendeur du monde.

In Gifts & Books:
CreusetrisottoLe Creuset risotto pot made of enameled cast iron for even heat distribution

PanettoneChristmas Napoli Panettone Cake - Traditional Italian Dessert

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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contrefaçon (Italy, Intro)

Not far from Ventimiglia, is the quiet village of Coldirodi.

In_a_paris_moment_1In A Paris Moment by Meredith Mullins "... makes us want to rush out and look at the world, not just Paris, but all the world." --Mary Pope Osborne

une contrefaçon (kontr-fah-sahn) noun, feminine
  1. imitation, counterfeit, counterfeiting
  2. forging, forgery, fabrication, infringement
  3. pirating

Contrefaçon comes from the verb "contrefaire" which means to imitate, to falsify, to mimic, to disguise, to infringe, to feign or to distort.

La politesse n'est en elle-même qu'une ingénieuse contrefaçon de la bonté.
Politeness in itself is only an ingenious disguise of goodness.
--Alexandre Vinet

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

The drive from our medieval village in France to the seaport town of Ventimiglia, Italy takes only an hour and a half. It is a breathtaking ride most of the way, with the glimmering Mediterranean sea below and, east of Nice, hills peppered with villas, the colorful facades showing a charming patina from age and the salty sea breeze.

In Ventimiglia there is a jewellery shop on every street and perhaps as many liquor stores. Shop windows are gushing with bottles of Ricard* and Italian grappa, and for those who like l'or* Ventimiglia has gold à gogo.* Perhaps the idea is to put a little wind in your sweetheart's sails* before venturing in to purchase that ring or collier?*

On many a street corner you'll see a man dressed in a flowing boubou,* Louis Vuitton handbags dangling from each arm and more monogrammed purses bursting from a duffle bag... all knock-offs. While Ventimiglia is known for its smoking deals on jewelry and alcohol (due to a lower liquor and jewellery tax) and for having one of the largest outdoor markets in Italy, it also seems to be the capital of...

"Contrefaçon," my husband says, filling my coffee cup with steamed milk.
"What is contrefaçon?" I ask, passing the breakfast muffins.
"You know, FAKES."
"Si, si," says Sonia, the innkeeper. "But if you want a Louis Vuitton, one that even the boutique sales people can't tell is faux, see Fernando next to the fish stall, just past the flowers. He has the season's new collection before the real line hits the shops! You cannot tell the difference!"

We are not in Ventimiglia for LV purses, alcohol or flowers, but to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The Italian Riviera is a good choice for its proximity to chez nous,* for its gastronomy, for its seaside allure and for an exotic change of scenery. (Exotic because we can't speak Italian and such foreignness has a way of throwing a warm pink hue on everything.)

"Ventimiglia is known for la joaillerie* and alcohol," Sonia confirms. "But also for its beauty!" she says, waving her arm out to the turquoise blue Ligurian sea. We are seated on the terrace at the most eclectic lodge I have ever seen. Jean-Marc found the secluded B&B via an internet search and made reservations illico.* The former convent is practically perched over the sea and overrun by purple vine flowers, fig trees, lavender, blackberries and bamboo.

The stairs inside the house have no edges but are worn and sloping from eight hundred years of being tread upon. The white-limed halls are covered with black and white photos of Hollywood stars. In our room's library, I find an odd assortment of books including a thick volume of the collected stories of Jane Austin, a book titled "Psychopathia Sexualis" and a "Dictionary of Marine Insurance Terms".

The breakfast Sonia has made us is as eclectic as the convent itself. We begin with dessert: crème caramel and a peach yogurt. Next, there is a tray of cantaloupe and Italian ham followed by a deep-fried omelet with sliced hot dog. Sonia then brings out an apple cake and a plate of fruit which resembles lychee but smells like a rose. "From my garden," she says.

I notice Jean-Marc isn't eating the hot dog omelet or the apple cake and I end up eating it all, not wanting to hurt our hostess's feelings. On I went, feigning hunger or, to get a little more kilométrage* out of today's word: "en contrefaisant la faim."

                                              *     *     *
For past chapters in this story, visit:

Italy, Introduction
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

References: Ricard = a brand of French pastis; l'or (m) = gold; à gogo = in abundance; to put wind in one's sails (from the French idiom "mettre du vent dans ses voiles") = to get a little tipsy; un collier (m) = necklace; un boubou (m) = a long robe worn in parts of Africa; chez nous = at our house; la joaillerie (f) = jewellery; illico = right away; le kilométrage (m) = mileage

French Pronunciation
Listen to Jean-Marc recite today's quote:
La politesse n'est en elle-même qu'une ingénieuse contrefaçon de la bonté.
Politeness in itself is only an ingenious disguise of goodness. --A. Vinet
Download contrefacon.wav

contrefaçon littéraire = an infringement of copyright
contrefaire une signature = to forge a signature
contrefaire sa voix = to disguise one's voice
saisir des contrefaçons = to confiscate counterfeit (objects)

Mediterranean_women_stay_slim_too_1 Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too: Eating to Be Sexy, Fit, and Fabulous!

Italian_sketchbookIn My Italian Sketchbook, 30-year-old artist Florine Asch follows the tradition of the 18th century Grand Tour, when writers, architects and members of European high-society embarked on long journeys around Italy, taking in key cultural sites, often sketching as they went.


Vendange2004 013
Photo taken in 2004, on our 10-year anniversary.

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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dépayser (day-pay-ee-zay) verb
  1. to disorientate, to disorient
  2. to give a change of scenery to; to give a welcome change of surroundings to

dépaysant,e = exotic
dépaysé = out of one's element
un dépaysement = a disorientation

sentir dépaysé = to feel like a fish out of water; to not feel at home

Citation du Jour

Les passions s'étiolent quand on les dépayse.
Passions wilt when we disorient them.
--Gustave Flaubert

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

We are sitting in Il Ponte restaurant in a little Italian village called "Badalucco". Sonia, our hostess at the B&B, recommended we visit the arrière pays for a change from the Italian Riviera. "There's this wonderful restaurant," she says, kissing her fingertips, "Bene!"

"Tell them Sonia from Latte sent you! 'Latte,' like milk!"

Badalucco is an artists' village in the Argentine Valley. Faïence is scattered throughout the modest ruelles. On at least one miniscule winding village street, a painted ceramic plate announces each residence (one plate per door) and around every corner, a fresco. My favorite image is of a cat sitting next to a story. The words to the story are painted on the village wall, on a blue background.

Just like in a postcard image, the elderly Badalucchesi are seated in front of their homes, shucking beans and chatting with their neighbors. They stop from time to time to rinse their hands in the neighborhood fountain.

At the River Argentina we crossed the pont to access the family owned 'Il Ponte' restaurant. We weren't offered a menu; instead the waiter appears with a ceramic plate of fried zucchini, Italian cold cuts and some sort of fresh white cheese. Olive oil is drizzled over le tout.

Jean-Marc is trying to order Italian wine as they have offered only French. I tell him to stop fussing over the wine menu, "Just look at this! Will you just look at this! How do you say 'heaven' in Italian? In French, it is "le paradis." In a little lost village in the hinterland of the Ligurian coast, we have stumbled upon Le paradis du palais.

My husband says he would like to live in Italy. I guess Ligurian food does that to you. But still, it seems strange for a Frenchman (un Marseillais de coeur!) to admit that.

"They're so nice here," he says, as the waiter walks off humming in Italian. I'm wondering if it's the wine. Has it gotten to him? I understand his desire to move to San Francisco--but Italy?! Strangely, I've never known a Frenchman who moved to Italy. A French woman, oui, but not a French man. Don't get me wrong, the French love to visit Italy--but to s'expatrier there--c'est autre chose!

"J'aimerais bien vivre en Italie un jour."
"Sans déconner?" I say, teasing him in his native Marseilles' tongue.

It must be the rolling hills, or the Barolo wine. Or the fresh spinach linguini or the gambas. "You can eat the shells they're so good!" It could have been la baignade in the warm Ligurian sea after the meal at Marco Polo.

For me it is those little funky trucks on three wheels, the Vespa scooters, the pomodoro sauce the village lady was making as I passed by her front door. It is the language--the sound--of Italians speaking.

It is the Italian people. They have real joie de vivre mixed with a sincere generosity. It drips from their pores when they wave their arms high and low to tell you that you must, must visit the arrière pays. Try that restaurant. Savor this fruit. Eat. Enjoy. See. Come back!

A little dépaysement, ça fait du bien pour l'âme.

French Vocabulary
l'arrière pays
(m) = the countryside inland from the riviera; une ruelle (f) = an alley, lane; la faïence (f) = earthenware; le pont (m) = the bridge; le tout (m) = everything; le palais (m) = the palate; un marseillais de coeur = one who is Marseillais in his/her heart, though not born there; oui = yes; s'expatrier = to expatriate oneself; c'est autre chose = that's another thing; J'aimerais bien vivre en Italie un jour = I would like to live in Italy one day; sans déconner? = are you kidding?; les gambas (fpl) = Mediterranean prawns; la baignade (f) = the swim; une joie de vivre = a joy of life; ça fait du bien pour l'âme = that does the soul good

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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