Smokey, back from a romp with the ragondins.

historiette (ee-stor-ee-ette) noun, feminine

    :  short story

synonyme: nouvelle, récit

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

Last night I dialed up Mexico and listened as Mom picked up the phone at the other end of the jungle. I felt grateful to hear her voice and immediately asked whether she would like to hear about the fictional nouvelle that I had begun.  

Mom was game. 
Only, as I heard myself recount the historiette (involving a senile goat that wears recycled espadrilles), I realized--before Mom even suggested it--that I still wasn't addressing the muse... or was it that the muse wasn't addressing me?... or rather neither of us was "addressing" but rather "a-skirting". Quite simply put, we were, both of us, the muse and I, conveniently and once again skirting the heart's history. Whether or not skirts were involved is beside the point. Let's see, is there a point?

I think you use humor to deflect, Mom pointed out, in so many mom-wise words. 
Underneath the guise of comedy, lie your profound stories. 

I offered a few stuttered yah-yahs your right about thats. Mom was unconvinced. That is when she reminded me of a line she had just heard in a movie, words that stirred her heart, and maybe they would stir up my own in time to share a few true lines.

"You are God's Muse"

 "You are God's muse," Mom said, quoting the film. She left enough silence for the words to find feeling in my mind. We are God's muse.... 

Later that night, after the house had fallen to sleep, I somewhat reluctantly put my espadrille-shoed chevre aside, reassuring myself that the story could be told another time. I thought of Mom's words:
 "Remember, you are God's muse. Just fire up that computer, put your hands over that keyboard and LET IT RIP!"

I opened a new window on my computer screen. I took a sip of coffee, staring for a thoughtful while at the proverbial blank page. Finally, I typed in the title of my story. My throat tightened followed by a stinging in the eyes. Closing them, I felt wet lashes.

I looked up at what I had typed: only a word, only a heading. The title read "Naked". 

Next, I closed the word document and shut off the computer. I walked down the quiet hall to the bedroom, where I changed into my pajamas. I can't sleep without them.


   "Locked" in St Paul Trois Chateaux (c) Kristin Espinasse

                                          :: Le Coin Commentaires ::

 Click here to leave a comment, to share a story of your own, or to simply delurk in time to say "bonjour"... 





Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation"
"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy here.



KINDLE: carry thousands of  educational books with you to France & beyond.

51Qckm1DSfL._SL500_AA280_I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material


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 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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Moroccan Woman (c) Kristin Espinasse
The Picture of Grace. Moroccan women are beautiful!, my husband tells me. In 15 years of marriage, this is the first time he has said the unsayable, done the undo-able (admired another woman from afar... whilst I was "a-near"). But because he spoke the truth, I could not clobber him for it.

French Word-A-Day @ Twitter!

Here in France, my doctor says, we have a surplus of the H1N1 vaccine. In America, I tell her, even our president is waiting in line for it.

objectif (owb-jek-teef) noun, masculine

    1. lens (of camera)  2. objective, target


Yabla French Video Immersion.
The fun way to learn French

Audio File & Example Sentence:
Download Wav or Download Objectif

Ils étaient à l'aise face à l'objectif.
They were at ease in front of the (camera's) lens.

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

I don't go anywhere anymore without my camera. It hangs on my person like an oxygen mask. Just like missing a breath, I am afraid I will miss life if I am not able to capture it in digits and indulge in its dramatic detail bit by bit.

Pixel by pixel, I love to indulge in architecture and nature, but I am most passionate about the lines and the landscape of humans, strangers...

Cela dit,* I rarely photograph l'homme* because in the time it would take to ask permission -- the stranger's spirit escapes when natural expression gives way to "do I look okay?"

I called Mama Jules in Mexico to tell her about my photo periple* through Morocco:
I said, "A man shouted at me, 'No! No! No!' " 

Mom explained, from experience, that Moroccans do not like to have their picture taken:

"...for as I learned while living in France back in 1997 - Moroccans do not like to be photographed! I was lounging on my favorite bar stool one night in my hangout in the Moroccan part of your village of St. Maximin... I was 51-years-old and liked to celebrate each day with "Pastis 51". I always walked around the village with my camera hanging around my neck, but one night I made the mistake of lifting the camera up in this bar (the interior was all black and white, hundreds of great photos on the walls) very chic, the owner was from Paris and he and his wife were absolutely beautiful and very sophisticated. When the flash from my camera exploded in this little bar -- everyone dropped for cover under the tables and to the floor! That's when I began to learn the difference between my life and theirs...."

Next, Mom told me a story about the Native Americans from my native Arizona:

...it has been said that American Indians feel that the lens steals their âme*....

I had wondered about that gut-feeling I got back in Morocco; indeed, each time I lifted my camera, it felt as though I were lifting a weapon: not a stone or a bow and arrow: but a "soul-snatcher" capable of wounding... like a rock to a sparrow.

Post Note: I should point out that the man who shouted after me ("No! No! No!") eventually welcomed me to take a photo of his droguerie* (this, after I explained to him that I had not been pointing my objectif* at the children playing in the street, but at the beautiful bougainvillea just above. I assured him of this by sharing with him my camera's photos.

Comments are the best part of French Word-A-Day! Mom and I read each and every comment... and Dad checks in to see where you all are writing in from (so please list your city next to your name :-)

French Vocabulary

cela dit = that said; l'homme (m) = man; le périple (m) = journey, voyage; une âme (f) = soul; la droguerie (f) = hardware store; un objectif (m) = camera lens


Tagine Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron 2 Quart Moroccan Tagine:
Though I brought back a traditional terracotta tagine (one requiring coals...), I already have my eyes fixed on this modern version (which works with any stove top!). Santa Claus, are you listening? 

Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes from My Moroccan Kitchen:
Moroccan food features the delicious flavors and health benefits of other Mediterranean cuisines...

Un, Deux, Trois: First French Rhymes:
...a collection of 25 traditional nursery rhymes for children

French Exambusters Study Cards:
Over 1500 questions and answers written by certified teachers and professional translators with a focus on exam preparation.

How to say "tailspin" in French?....

"La Chasse Queue" (The Tail Chase) : Smokey's new favorite thing to do (with all that energy he's been building up since the attack) is to chase his own tail (missing, I'm afraid, from this photo -- it was hard to keep my camera's lens focused while laughing at my puppy's aerial antics... all that jumping and spinning!). To the right of his broken face, you'll see his healing cheek. He reminds me of Al Pacino in Scarface. Maybe it's the cheekbone (one is much higher than the other now. Perhaps it is just the swelling?).

Still in the mood to read? Check out Eliane's delightful message over at the Sullivan's blog (her words are in French and English -- an excellent way for us to grow our French!).

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 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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Boulangerie (c) Kristin Espinasse
A bakery in the town of Camaret sur Aigues, in the heart of Provence.

fille (fee) noun, feminine
 : daughter

Telle mère, telle fille.

Like mother, like daughter.


Audio File:

Listen to the French word "fille" and the above quote: Download mp3 . Download wav

A Day in a French Life...

by Kristin Espinasse

            (We Three: my daughter, my mom, and I)

At ten-years-old:
I liked motorcycles and baseball.
My daughter likes mascara and karaoke.

We both loved swimming...

I liked to wake up at the crack of dawn.
She loves to sleep in late.

I loved frogs.
She likes ladybugs.

I was round.
She's a stick.

I ate tacos.
She eats tapenade.

When I lied, my face turned crimson.
When she lies, hers turns convincing.

I collected desert wildflowers and gave them to the neighbors.
Jackie fancies bamboo, has a carnivorous plant, and is giving in other ways.

I was once called a bible beater and went and hid.
She got called "Blond!" once and was livid.

My daughter speaks in French and in English.
I spoke in English and in Tongues.

She has a godmother and a godfather.
I had a mafia of angels.

Jackie's great-grandmother and her grandmother were Catholic and Atheist, respectively. Mine were Mormon and Jack Mormon, respectively.

Jackie's table trick is to eat the eyes right out of the fish on her plate. She
learned this from her great-grandmother, a French woman who survived WWII. My trick was a disappearing act involving any food placed in front of me (except fish eyes). I learned this from my American grandmother, an excellent cook, who smoked her morning cigarette in the trailer's "salon" and called everyone "Hon".

Jackie's mom has healthcare and a mutual.
My own mom had a mutual agreement with my sister and me: what you say is what you get and whatever you say Don't Say You're Sick!

I really, really wanted a live-in dad.
Jackie really, really wants a horse; she already has a Father Hen.

When my mom got mad at a man, she moved on, took her kids with her.
When Jackie's mom gets mad at her man, she throws (virtual) plates, then meditates.

Jackie's mom is over-serious, over-sensitive, and over-anxious.
My own mom was over-generous and, sometimes, over-the-top.

Mom let me dig up the back yard once. "What the hell, let her make a pool."
Jackie's mom is a control freak, doesn't cuss.

I had a sister who was prettier than I.
Jackie looks like her.

At my daughter's age, I once started a fire in the field behind our trailer park, almost making homeless our neighbors, mostly retirees. I admitted this to Jackie (on confiscating a lighter!), who wanted to know whether I ever told my parents. (Mom, Dad: are you reading?)

I had a crush on Doug Pearson from kindergarten through eighth grade. He had dimples, or fossettes, and did a mean impression of Gene Simmons: fake blood, black eye-liner, and all.
Jackie's heart is faithful to horses: four-legged rock-stars each and every one.

I automatically pledged allegiance to the flag.
My daughter questions whether Sarkozy will keep his promises.

Jackie and her mom wear the same shoe size: 7.5
My own mom is one size smaller, though she is larger than life.

I was a real softie, though my daughter is really not so tough as she thinks she is. (Perhaps we are not so different after all?) And, every once in a while, I catch myself following in my mom's leopard-patterned, untamed tracks. Secretly, it comes as a relief: to free-up the over-serious, under-the-countertop, once carefree fille.*

                                               *    *     *
Note: this story was written over a year ago, when my daughter was ten. She turned twelve today. As for Jules, you'll have to ask her her age. Birthday wishes are welcome in the comments box. Merci beaucoup!

Waterpark Lorgues 015

My mom, Jules, in 2003 (after her first mastectomy!). That's Jackie on the left.

Puppies and Harvesters

DSC_0023Jacqui, Kristin, Pamela and the pups.

Note: there are now three "Jackies" here at our farm: my daughter, American Jacqui (pictured here) and Scottish Jackie.

Salut from Sainte Cécile, where the sky is pouring down rain and our harvesters are braving the muddy grape bog below. The heavens are howling; between grumbles, the sky spits fire helter skelter across the Provençal paysage.

I am waiting for the soaked soldiers to return, waiting with a pile of towels, hot coffee and Nutella...


Update: (one hour later...) the harvest continues beneath the still streaming sky. I hear howling in the distance, only, this time, it isn't coming from the heavens....

"Boot camp!" that's what Mom used to call harvest time. The harvesters might call it GRAPE CAMP!

The following edition is in honor of my Mom's and my daughter's birthday (September 23rd and 18th, respectively). Joyeux Anniversaire Jules and Jackie! Je vous aime.


French Wooden Alphabet Blocks for kids. Makes a great baby gift.

Urban Crayon Paris: The City Guide for Parents with Children

My French Coach by Nintendo. Playing My French Coach for 15 to 20 minutes a day is all you need to become fluent in French, no matter your age. The simple touch screen interface lets you spend less time learning the game and more time learning French.

Streetwise Paris Laminated City Center Street Map

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 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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Canvas: Toile, carte bancaire, papeterie and belle époque in French

Canvasing St. Tropez
French art and a classic car along the port in St. Tropez

la toile
noun, feminine

Françoise has not changed much in the three years since Mom and I have frequented her art shop. She still has her ballerina-thin figure and still paints cherry-red streaks through her chocolate-brown hair; the contrast is as stark as her customers' paintings, which line the store's entrance hall and make shoppers feel smug about their own art.

At the cash register, when I take out my carte bancaire, Françoise still picks up the phone to call over to the papeterie, shouting for them to bring back the hand-held credit-card processor (the one the two stores have always shared, never mind the inconvenience).

"Moins vingt... moins vingt... moins vingt...." Françoise mumbles, as she tallies up the art supplies. She still gives my mom twenty percent off all items, and then rounds down the total. This morning she even threw in a freebie.
"Those paintbrushes have been discontinued," she said. "I can offer this one to your maman."

To this day, Françoise listens to my mom's English, only to reply in French. Just how the two women can understand each other is high art to me. The paintings which result from their exchanges need not be translated either. They are, like the language barrier the women have overcome, indeed like love itself, transcendent.

*   *   *

Returning a few years later, Mom and I were shocked to discover that Françoise's shop had closed down. Standing out on the sidewalk, we stared sadly at the handwritten sign in the window; it read "A VENDRE". Our eyes caught on a bold reflection in the window; we turned to discover the bigger, fancier, more deluxe store that had opened across the street.... 

Unlike Françoise's window, which displayed tubes of paint, brushes, and even a few modest creations of her customers, the competitor's windows were filled with a new rage: "scrapbooking"... ink pads, stamps, glue and tiny cutouts crowded the window. 

At the back of the glittery new store, a few paint supplies hung, like the end of a belle époque.


Click here to leave an edit or suggestion in the comments box. Thanks for checking the vocab section, below. Note: the story was originally published without the sad post note (about the shop closing). Do you think the postnote should be included in the book? Or leave off the story with the happy ending?

French Vocabulary

la toile = canvas
la carte bancaire = credit/debit card
la papeterie = office/school supply store
moins vingt = minus twenty (percent)
la maman
 = mom
à vendre = for sale
la belle époque
 = beautiful era

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 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    
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la grippe porcine

Sanglier wild boar France niche pyracanthis
One sassy sanglier says, "Swine Flu! What's to you?" Tell us your opinion in today's debate, below.

la grippe porcine (lah greep pohr-seen) noun, feminine
    : swine flu

AKA: la grippe Mexicaine

Audio File: listen to my daughter pronounce the French words la grippe porcine Download Wav File . or Download mp3

*     *     *

Swine Flu Debate
In today's debate: la grippe porcine. Please chime in and tell us how you feel the news coverage on this topic (Is it excessive?) and its effect on you. Are you nervous or fearful about the Swine Flu, or what the French call "la grippe Mexicaine"? Or do you think, as one French woman recently confided to me, that topics like this just drive our attention away from other hot-button issues, such as the economy, unemployment... war? Did you see the French comedian's skit "Une Petite Grippe de Tafiole"?* I look forward to reading your thoughts, in the comments box. Meantime, I'm off to help Mom pack for her return trip to Mexico...

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

I am happy to see Mom ironing her pink poncho.
"You going to get dressed up?" I ask Jules.
"Oh... Well, would you like to wear these sandals?" I offer.
"No. I'm going to wear my tennis shoes."
"Ah... Did you need to use my hairdryer?" I question.
"No," Mom answers. "I'm just going to throw a blanket over my head!"

Obviously Mom is in some kind of mood and I intend to shake her out of it.

"Mom! You never know who you might meet on the plane!" I point out, trying to cheer her up before she leaves for the airport.  Jules is returning home, after a two-month absence. Though this should be an exciting time for her (reuniting with Breezy The Dog, her cats, and husband, John...), I notice that she is dragging. She wore house slippers to town the other day, and she's not putting on her make-up, as she does.

Her before-departure blues have nothing to do with the news (where Swine Flu in the City is a sexy media topic), and it isn't that she is sad to leave France... No, Mom's lethargy is the result of feeling paralyzed by fearful thoughts.

To be clear, it isn't the swine flu that scares Mom, it is the Mexican economy and how this will affect her adored amigos, her beloved Mexico. The restaurants have closed, as have many of the shops, and her husband has been sent home from work.

"I told him to stock up on rice and beans..." Mom mumbles and I can just see her train of tick-tick-ticking thinking. I tell Mom that I can relate to her obsessive, fearful thoughts. I, too, tend to latch on to a train of fearful, negative thinking, and don't know how or when to just let go. Besides, even when I let go, a different, equally defeating thought rushes in, only to replace the former one.

Mom and I sit there, each consumed with concern, until the quiet in the room attracts our attention. That's when Mom looks over at me and her face brightens until she's got that pull-herself-up-by-her bootstraps look in her eyes. Speaking of boots, Mom no longer wears spurs on hers, but gets by these days with a spike in her spirit.  That spirit is now shining through her pupils and I can sense a lesson coming on.

"Do you know the story about the farmer?" Mom begins.
"Which one's that?" I ask, glad for the distraction.
"The farmer who is sitting quietly in his kitchen, when a dozen pigs rush in, through the open door, creating mayhem. The china cabinets shake, the jam jars come crashing down, the wife screams, and the mug of coffee that the farmer had been enjoying falls off the table, scatters. The room is full of chaos!

(It takes me a moment to realize that Mom's story is a parable: the pigs represent thoughts, whether fearful, angry, or unruly.)

"When the pigs begin to overwhelm him," Mom continues, "the farmer gets up and chases them out of the kitchen, latches the door. Only, now, he is sitting in an empty room."

Sitting in an empty room seems fine to me, I reason... but before I can argue with that, Mom sums up her story:

"It is not enough to chase the pigs out. You have to fill that empty (vulnerable) space, replace the pigs with something else!"

Mom's story ends here, and she looks over at me with a knowing glance--only, I don't know what she's talking about. I begin to wonder whether Mom's forgotten something, left a certain point principal out of this parable. I mean, replace the unruly pigs with what? Flowers? Chickens, maybe? Cancan dancers (a nice distraction if not a change from that nagging wife)?

"I can't wait to get home!" Mom announces, and she's already off, to put that parable-lesson into practice.

"Do you have any shampoo?" Mom inquires. "Oh, and where's that hairdryer? I've got so many people to see when I get home!" I guess Jules is not going to wear that blanket on her head after all... Looks as though she has replaced those fearful "pig" thoughts with positive ones.

*    *    *

In Roussillon


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 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    
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Mmanm's photo's 181
Where Angels Fear to Tread. The red sign says "off limits to the public". That didn't stop Mom from wandering into the junk shop's entrails.  I shouted for her to come out and, when she did, she looked up at those angels, shook her head.

bousculer (boo-skoo-lay) verb

    : to jostle, push, shove; to bump into or against; to rush, hurry up
  to shake or liven up

Bousculer les habitudes, c'est encore le meilleur moyen de faire évoluer les choses. Shaking up one's habits...is still the best way to make things happen. --Cyrille Guimard

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

In less than two weeks Mom will return home to Mexico. Of all her coming and goings, this visit has been the least eventful (apart from Le Big Fry): no riding to Marseilles, weekly, in an ambulance, no standing in the soup line (and getting chewed out by her "stickler-for-rules" daughter), no pilfering through the local poubelles for Secret Garden lawn furniture, no running away from her hostess-daughter's home, in Saint Maximin (...and again in Les Arcs....).

If my unruly Mom's larger-than-life ways are shrinking, her mind and her dreams aren't following suit. She has places to go and gypsies to see and why, darling daughter, are you so serious all the time? Follow me!

I leave you now with a story from the archives. Meantime, off to see what Mom is up to....

June 7th, 2006...
Four days from now, life as I know it will be bousculée* when a certain character takes up summer residence chez nous.* You may remember her as the one whose shirt shot up when the French cancérologue,* using his elementary English, and in a thick accent, asked to see her teef...

"TEETH!" I cried to my mom, tugging her blouse back down. "He wants to see your teeth!"

What, you might ask, was a cancer specialist doing examining your mom's teeth? Bref:*

In the summer of 2003, my mom was at the Paoli-Calmettes* cancer institute in Marseilles for a mastectomy, but what she really wanted was a few new teeth. It had been years (ten? fifteen?) since she had set foot in a doctor's office and she was making up for lost time. There was her hip (the broken one, and the reason for her séjour* in France), and the teeth that she herself had pulled back in Mexico (you know, the littlish ones to the side of the side of the side of the two front ones). In a nutshell, her most recent visit rocked my world and, just when things are getting calmed down again, the woman with the flamboyant feather in her hat is returning.

It isn't the sum of a few more malentendus* that will soon shake up my quotidien,* but one starry-eyed survivor who, by her breath, will be a constant reminder to part from my tree-hugging ways, to venture out to the end of the limb and consider the view from the tip of an unsteady branch. Only from that perspective can one understand that baring a few cancerous teefs* in life is no big deal, the important thing is to trust, to take the instructions facing you and follow them even when you can't speak the language or understand the outcome, to know people will step in to help, if you will but let them. The rest doesn't really matter much and the lesson is always the same: it is better to bare your soul than to sit clenching your teef.*

References: bousculé(e) = shaken up; chez nous = at our place; le/la cancérologue (m.f.) = cancer specialist; bref = in brief, to make a long story short; Paoli-Calmettes = cancer institute in Marseilles; le séjour (m) = stay; le malentendu (m) = misunderstanding; le quotidien (m) = everyday life, routine; teef = (made up word for 'le sein' = breast); teef = (from the doctor's slurred English, for "teeth")

Terms and Expressions:
le bouscueil = debacle
la bousculade = jostle, scuffle, rush
se bousculer = to get a move on
Listen: Hear my son, Max, pronounce the word "bousculer": Download bousculer2.wav

Conjugation: je bouscule, tu bouscules, il/elle bouscule, nous bousculons, vous bousculez, ils/elles bousculent => past participle: bousculé

French synonyms for bousculer: bouleverser (to overturn), culbuter (to knock over), heurter (to knock against), pousser (to push) (but also to grow...), secouer (to shake)

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 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.


"Zig" and "Zag" a couple of gypsy chicks (...or "pintades") that live up the street. I mentioned them in Saturday's Cinéma Vérité, and showed a few other "characters" from my neighborhood including one Don Juan of a swan.

(boo-zhowt) noun, feminine

    wanderlust; itchy feet 

avoir la bougeotte = to have ants in one's pants, to be always on the move

French definition : envie de voir le monde - a desire to see the world

Example sentence from French news*:
Aujourd'hui, Robert Piché a toujours la bougeotte mais il voyage en sage aventurier. Today Robert Piché still has wanderlust, but he travels as a wise adventurer.

*"Le tour du monde - Commandant Piché : les racines du ciel," Le Devoir

Audio File: hear the French word "bougeotte" and the example sentence: Download Bougeotte Wave . Download Bougeotte MP3

My French Coach by Nintendo: Learn French through mini-games and competition
Speaking Better French: The Key Words and Expressions that You'll Need Every Day

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

The enigma surrounding my mother is beginning to dissipate. It began with her response to a question I posed in a recent post: "Tell us your goals". Mom's were to:

Hit the road, whether in a Porche or on a donkey, find out what lies around that next mountain!

There could not have been a truer statement and, in a nutshell, that is my Mom: 99 percent wanderlust, one percent rooted to the ground. As I read my own mother's comment among a dozen others, I think about Mom's husbands.

All four of them, if they read Mom's answer, would surely be shaking their heads at the day a young bride ran away: whether on foot, by car, by plane... or by Mexican ponga. She hasn't stopped "running" since, and she's never caught up with "that next mountain."  My mom, I am beginning to realize, is a gypsy at heart... which might explain why my childhood home came with wheels.

There in our single-wide trailer, I observed my mom and her "enigmaties" (so as not to say "eccentricities"); beyond the exotic exterior, deep inside her beautiful heart, basking in the twilight of mystery, was the golden seed. A French gypsy had unwittingly sowed it there, on fertile ten-year-old "soul", setting my Mom and, by design, me on a wayward and wonderful journey.

Today I invite you to enjoy part two of Mom's story. (Read part one here.)

Mom writes:

53 years later; as I recline around a lovely French table in the heart of Provence, memories of my first encounter with the French color my thoughts as I inhale the aroma of spring deep in the Rhone Valley. 

(note: Jules is missing from this picture... busy taking the photo from afar!)

I am seated with a bunch of Kristi's French relatives by marriage - my mind fading in and out of the scene - unable to follow their lively conversation. I reminisce once again of my first encounter with JOSEPHINE - the first and only Frenchwoman who took up her brush and painted my future on the rainbows of dreams.  Of course she was a GYPSY!!!
Josie's first words to me were "Bonjour, Cherie, comment vas-tu?"

My ears perked up and they were filled with this strange and melodious sing-song chatter....what on earth was this? At ten years old and in 1956 (pre-t.v. and coming from the mountains of northern Utah) I was ignorant of France and the most beautiful language in the world.
Josie's voice floated down the stairs enhancing this already enchanting memory.  Her slippers were a metallic gold, like the sparks of light bouncing off of her hair this late afternoon.  I didn't know which end of her to focus on first -- it was all so magnifique.  After her shoes my eyes caught the repeated glimmer of gold woven throughout the hemline of her dress.  In and out, the strands of gold swam through the heavier layers of thin taupe-colored yarn that constituted the knitted entirety of her dress. So many firsts for me in that treasured moment of time... a foreign language... metallic gold shoes... colored hair... a dress made of  strands of gold... BIG DIAMONDS on graceful fingers... and of course the finale: a glass of rose-colored liquid in a beautiful cup, fused on a stick of glass with a tiny upside-down saucer attached. How great it was to be ten years old, to have your body and soul quake with expectation and wonder of what is around the next corner!  At this moment I was seduced into the wandering, dreamy life I would continue to pursue with joy every day of my life.
I was invited through the gate into this magical garden of delights in the fall of 1956 -- a door I stumbled upon that opened up door after door... each doorway introducing me to the magic and wonder of life.  Josie and her adorable husband, Jimmy, lit the fires of language, history, archeology, cuisine, cocktail-hour, style & elegance, the art of sharing (with a ten-year-old)... mentoring to all of the little sprouts of my senses and soul.
There was so much to discover about Josie and Jimmy; of course I had to share this find with my 13-year-old brother, Rusty.  And so our adventure began.  When Josie and Jimmy met Rusty, I was kind of pushed into the background, understandably so, because Rusty was a star -- a STAR whose brightness couldn't be denied.  I was fine with this, mostly because he was my star too. Underneath my skin resided a solitary soul who could turn on and off her brightness when need be. 

*     *     *

I hope you have enjoyed my Mom's stories.  If you would like to respond to them, please do so here, in the comments box. Merci d'avance!


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 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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                                     In the town of Violès (Vaucluse)  

rencontre (rahn kontr) noun, feminine

    : encounter, meeting (of persons); duel, skirmish
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

(Note: The following post was written in 2009)

Jules made it from Mexico to Marseilles yesterday! On the way out of the airport terminal, Mom and I stopped along the tree-lined sidewalk to gather handfuls of grapefruit-size cones that the parasol pines had dropped onto the parking lot. Like that, our treasure hunt has begun and I'm excited thinking about where the next eight weeks will take us, as Mom and I help each other to see France through one another's eyes.

Speaking about seeing France, here is a letter that Jules wrote just hours before she left Mexico. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have.

A note about grammar and syntax (whatever that last one means): Mom is pouting in the corner as I prepare to post her unedited letter (I threw my hands up in the air, in despair, after the third run-on sentence, at which point I quit fixing things). Mom's just nervous about grammar, and thinks she's going to sound really dumb compared to some of the blog commenters (she cites "Newforest" and "Intuit" among others). Because Mom was thrown out of school at 16, she has a huge inferiority complex over her composition skills (having daydreamed through every English class). That said, I did reserve the right to edit out just one word (I replaced "interrupter" with "interpreter". I still don't know whether that was a Freudian slip on the part of Mom, but I don't like being referred to as an interrupter! Read on, in Mom's letter.

My Dearest Marie-Francoise,
I have waited since last week for the translation of your beautiful story. What a delightful surprise for me this morning. How generous of you to let us into a moment of your life in your beautiful village.  I wonder if everyone knows how famous your village is, perhaps Kristi can post a link.  Your wine is world famous! Whenever someone asks me where I am going to be in France I always say "Have you ever heard of "Chateauneuf-de-Pape? I'll be almost next door in a little village about 15 minutes north." 

I'll never forget the first time I visited your lovely home and vineyard, and your amazing wine cellar located in another area of the village.  Wine barrels of old wood the size of little French Citroen.  A treasured memory forever.
IMG_1648 I actually had a beautiful rencontre with a little old woman as Kristi and I were climbing up the ancient pathway to your house two years ago.  The first thing I noticed as we came around the corner were her bright red geraniums, then, as my eyes settled on what clippings I could swipe, my eye was drawn to her black and white checked tile floor with the little curtain of beads blocking my way.

IMG_1645 A few "Coo-coo's, are you there Darling?" and I had my new friend pulled from her morning chores in the back of her house, out in the courtyard explaining to my interpreter (Kristi) what treasures her garden held.  Kristi, do you think you could find that photo of us when she gifted me with the antique pot and plant that now resides in your office. Didn't we name that darling little plant "Rachel"?
My goodness am I off-track on today's subject, sitting here typing when I should be packing.  My little helper "Adela" has been ironing all of my little Mexican poncho's and now she is threatening me with the vacuum noise to get off this computer. Back to today's topic, "Little old ladies in the morning - preparing their entrances for another day in Provence Paradise."
I can remember when I spent almost a month in Marseilles with my husband John and my Mom Audrey, preparing for Kristi and Jean-Marc's wedding.  Jean-Marc found us a little guest house close to Vieux Port.  Each morning I would step out of the bedroom through a french door onto a lovely patio even larger than our bedroom.  This patio hovered over the street on the side of Marseilles beautiful hills.  John had arranged all of my paints and easel, along with a comfortable chair.  As I sipped my early morning "Pastis" (those days are long gone), I became fascinated with the different styles each woman demonstrated as she prepared her front entrance for the day.  The lady I was most drawn to was always dressed to the nines (heels too!) but her demeanor shouted drill Sargent attacking, attacking, attacking the steps with her broom and then scrubbing like the plague had passed her door the night before.  I continued to sip my pastis and watch the village unfold.

A few mornings later I abandoned my work and joined the fray to become one of the people in my painting.  My Mother thought I was nuts talking to everyone, continually telling me to 'settle down". My John just smiled and winked.  Throughout this visit I managed to meet most of the people on MY STREET, and even drift down to the docks and meet all of the fishermen. The woman who has remained forever in my memories was a little old lady directly across from my "studio" who encouraged me to become her assistant as we went from station to station each morning feeding the wild cats of the hills above our street.  After our work we would return to her little ground floor studio apartment, me to lie on her bed in the kitchen while she prepared me one of her many little treats each day as my reward for packing the water and food up the hills.  After my rest I moved onto the next neighbor, securing her German Shepard, so I could pretend I was a French lady walking my dog around the secret side streets of this vivid and famous city.  I will never forget the surprise in my little lady's voice when I called her 6 months later from Arizona.  She recognized my voice and I chatted on in English, she in French, as our tears of joy in real friendship trailed down our cheeks. 
COMO TALLY CHATS??? One of my first French phrases....
I was invited into many of the homes of Marseilles over the next month, sampling in love and friendship, experiencing the true hospitality of the French. I will always treasure these memories, especially walking Kristi down the isle in my black tuxedo.
Of course my Darling Jean-Marc found out that his future mother-in-law wasn't ready for the rock'in chair as I entered his life full blast.  Poor Jean-Marc had no idea what a woman (who had been divorced for 25 years--independent to the hilt) from the wild, wild west was like. As I have mentioned before, Jean-Marc and I have crossed over many torrential rivers together, I'm sure I was not what he had in mind, but I now occupy a giant part of his heart - a woman he lovingly started calling MOM about 5 years ago.
Time to finish packing - I'll see you all soon in our beautiful FRANCE. 

*     *     *
If you enjoyed Mom's letter, you might leave her a note in the comments box. Mille mercis!


In the French town of Violès... photo © Kristin Espinasse

Audio File: Download Rencontre * Download Rencontre-mp 3 
Toute culture naît du mélange, de la rencontre, des chocs. A l'inverse, c'est de l'isolement que meurent les civilisations. All cultures are born out of mingling, meetings and clashes. Conversely, civilizations die from isolation. --Octavio Paz

Mille mercis to Divya, Jacqui, Ally, and Leslie (and anyone I might have missed) for translating Marie-Françoise's story. You'll find their versions (in American and English) in the "routine" and "anodin" comments boxes!

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 keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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My mom, Jules, in 2003 (one month after her first mastectomy). She found her bike at the French flea market for 15 euros.

vélo (vay-loh) noun, masculine
     1. bike, bicycle

[from vélocipède]

La vie, c'est comme un vélo, il faut avancer pour ne pas perdre l'équilibre.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
--Albert Einstein

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word vélo and read the French sentence, above. Download Velo Download Velo

(The following story was written in September 2007)

My mom and I are standing in the sports shop looking at a wall of locomotion.
"That's the one!" she says, pointing to the retro model with the wide seat.

I recognize the bright turquoise vélo* with the caramel leather seat and wide longhorn handle-bars. We'd seen the bike last week at the neighbor's, where it rested on its kick stand and all but swung its haunch in hipness.

"If you want, we can ride bikes together," my neighbor, Danielle, had said. My eyes left the bright blue bonbon on wheels.
"I don't have a bike," I had answered.
"Can she try it out?" my mom asked, and I could have dissolved into a puddle of grease right there on the garage floor!

                                    *     *     *
Back at the sports shop my mom is stoked.
"You're going to have endorphins soon!" she chirps. "It'll be good for you to ride again."

The last time I rode a bike of my own I was headed home from Mesa Community College, only it was an ambulance that finished the trip for me. My mom received the $500 ER bill, and I sold my bike soon after. That was twenty years ago.

"Beats grinding your teeth!" my mom continued, praising the virtues of velocity. I can feel my teeth set as I approach that bike. I can't get the same vélo as my neighbor! That would make me a copycat! Besides, how would she feel to no longer own the coolest bike on the farm? And what about that ride she proposed? How's that going to look--the two of us pedaling to town like twins on our retro turquoise two-wheelers? Dorky if you ask me!

My mom is beyond dork. There she is in a pea-green poncho and a Panama hat. She pats the wide seat, then rings the bike's bell. Ring, ring, ring...RRRRIIIIIIINNNNNG! All customers look over to the bike display.
"Mom!" I hiss.
"Look at this thing! It's a Jimmy Buffet California dreamin' beach bike!" she says, ignoring me. "Do you know that Jimmy Buffet song?"
"No, I don't know the song and I don't want a bike!" I snap back. "What I need is a bench!"

Not one hour earlier we had left a home-deco shop in the town of Orange, where I found a curved wooden banc,* perfect for our front porch. Meanwhile, at the other end of the boutique, my mom found a present for her husband. She was set on buying it until I refused. (She needed my credit card for the transaction.)

"Mom! You just finished telling me that you were fed up with his drinking. You can't go buying him a set of Tequila SHOT glasses from Bavaria!"
"But they're so pretty!" she protested. I watched as she sulked back to the glass armoire and returned the shot glasses to their shelf, taking one last admiring glance at the red baccarat crystal.
"Please gift wrap them," I finally said to the sales lady, relinquishing control over my mother.

Back at the bike shop I am once again trying to control my mom. Only this time she won't have it. To my "I don't want your present!" she responds firmly: "It is not for you to decide whether or not to receive a gift. You simply accept it with grace!"

Just then, I felt all of my rigid, controlling ways melt. I turned to the salesman and asked whether there was another color.

"We have a different model in silver..." he said.

                                           *    *     *
I am reeling down a quiet country road, leaving cares and copycats to the wind. If I let go of the pedals and stretch out my legs, I can almost touch the vine rows on either side of me. I stretch out my arms until the tips of my fingers grace the mountains to the east and the setting sun to the west. I feel the touch of eternity. It must be those endorphins Mom talked about.

Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box.


References: le vélo (m) = bike; le banc (m) = bench

     Read more stories about my mom here.
 A basket for your bike, and some accessories, here.

     Streetwise Paris: the best-selling map of PARIS


Terms & Expressions:
  vélo tout-terrain (VTT) = mountain bike
  vélodrome = cycle-racing track
  vélomoteur = moped
  faire du vélo = to cycle, to go bike riding

Aromatic lavender honey
Rosetta Stone French (CD-ROM) -- "an award-winning method used by NASA and the Peace Corps"
In music: Putumayo Presents: Paris


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 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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baba cool

Mom's cosmos
My mom, Jules (her hands pictured here) was busy harvesting cosmos seeds up until her departure. She's gone home now, but the seeds are drying on my kitchen table--and they make me smile each time I walk past them.

baba cool (baba-kool) noun, masculine/feminine

    : hippy, flower child

The plural of baba cool is "babas cool".

    Il est baba- cool, respecte son gourou, et rejette la violence.
    He's a flower child, respects his guru, and rejects violence.

--from "Dictionary of French Slang and Colloquial Expressions"

Audio file: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word baba cool and read the example sentence (above):  Download baba_cool.wav

My mom will be waking up any time now, having traveled 24 hours en voiture,* en avion* and à pied* to arrive home in Mexico.

Having kissed her goodbye at 3:30 a.m., Thursday morning (Jean-Marc took her to the airport in Marseilles for her 6 a.m. flight), I spent the twilight hours moping around the kitchen... until I received a surprise several hours later! In Amsterdam, during her first flight connection, Mom had sweet-talked a "darling" traveler with a laptop into letting her leave a message* for me on my blog.

Thankful for the unexpected sign that she sent me, I thought about the surprise that mom was hoping for. Mom had one wish (on arriving home): that the one she loves would be waiting for her, flowers in hand. I listened to Jules's wish, which she repeated over and over on the days leading up to her departure, and hoped that she might be happily surprised.

So as to get her husband off the hook (just in case he forgot to show up at the arrival gate, fleurs en main*), and, as a way to welcome Jules home--and to put a great smile on her face--I thought we might all take off our reader hats today... and put on our baba cool* headbands.

That's right: let's be flower children just for a day, and just for Jules.... I'd love for Mom to wake up this morning with a beautiful bouquet on her desk... when she logs on to her computer... and visits her daughter's webpage. 

Here's how I thought we might compose that flower arrangement--and it won't even cost us a penny!:

 1. Choose one French* flower to put into the virtual basket (we'll use the comments box for our fancy flower "vase").

2. Include the city that you are "sending" it from.

If you do not know the French name for your flower, no problem, just write the flower name in the comments box, along with the city you are "sending" it from, and allow me or another reader to translate it for you.

*by "French"... I mean the French equivalent of the flower. For example: un coquelicot (or poppy) for Jules from Maine... or "un oeillet jaune (a yellow carnation) from Beijing"....

Note: the flower does not have to be native to the area that you live in: you can send an entire Hawaiian orchid leis (virtual, bien sûr!) from Tempe, Arizona, if you like!

Have fun and be creative (invent your own flower, if you so fancy), and thank you for your help (or should I simply say "Peace and Love" to you?!).

Ze Flower Chick en France.

en voiture
= by car; en avion = by airplane; à pied = on foot; message (see Mom's message): http://coucou.notlong.com ; fleurs en main = flowers in hand; baba cool = hippy, flower child

When you order through Amazon, via the following links, you help to support this French word journal -- soon in it's 7th year of publication!... and always free. Please note that the book lists (see left and right columns) are renewed "thrice-weekly", along with the posts.

Country French Florals & Interiors

St.Brigid Anemone Windflowers 15 Bulbs - Double Flowers (because Jules tells me "plant bulbs, plant bulbs!" and enjoy them this Spring!)

Stone (Granite) Mortar and Pestle -- a must for French pistou!

Printed in French, Cuisine Et Vins De France features dozens of recipes in each issue along with articles on wine, cheese, appetizers, table decorations, and more. 
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language

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 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.