"Eclosion": Old love letters, a lifetime commitment, and "rien n'est acquis"...

postcards from Marseilles Provence France

Today's Word: une éclosion

    : blossoming, burgeoning

Audio/Listening: Click the link below to hear the French words in the following story. Then scroll down to the vocabulary list to check your French comprehension.

Sound File here


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

There were a handful of letters I meant to include in our vineyard memoir, colorful cartes postales from Provence saved from when Jean-Marc and I fell in love. I never did find the right chapter in which to insert ces déclarations d'amour and, finally, the cards were set in a box of "things to find a place for" beneath our bed. 

Last summer I took several months off from this blog to organize my thoughts and my life. Jean-Marc spent August at his man cave in the Alps... During la pétite separation I continued getting rid of the surplus in our home, trying to decide what to keep...while mindful not to toss the baby out with the bathwater. (Perhaps my husband of 27 years was safer in the mountains while I navigated "le retour d'âge"*?)

While tossing or donating "7 things a day" I uncovered more letters from Jean-Marc, dated 1990, '91, '92, '93, '94.... Turns out that handful of correspondence under our bed was but the tip of the iceberg!

Speaking of ice...

My husband returned from the mountains. Damn, he looked good! All tan and a dashing grin on his face. I began to melt all over again. He even had a gift in hand (an antique moulin à café to perk me up). Any complacency flew out the window and we quickly began revamping our efforts "not to take things for granted." But we would need more than appreciation to jumpstart a new season in our lifetime commitment. Sometime midsummer I began watching YouTube videos by a couples therapist. His tip? "95/5": you assume responsibility for 95 percent of the relationship (your spouse is responsible for 5 percent). To add to this injustice, cette iniquité, the therapist dared suggest I write down each day 25 things I like about my husband or our marriage. I did this for one day...when I had a sneaky idea: why not incorporate the "gratitude" practice into our morning ritual?

Je t’aime parce que...
There began a morning ritual of noting down one thing we like about the other. The gratitude pages grew and another chose was added to our early morning routine: “read one of Jean-Marc's mots doux from the past.” I dug out his cards and read them aloud. Lingering in bed, coffee on our respective nightstands, the sun rising beyond the window shutters, we relived our courtship days, as chronicled in the letters. So many details had been forgotten, like the “Morse” code we used for our international telephone calls (to avoid an onéreux phone bill).  And other particulars regarding our jobs, our wish to fonder une famille and notes on how to care for a lifelong commitment as explained in the following excerpt:

Amour, One thing I consider important is to talk, every day, even if we are tired, even if you don't want to for any reason. Talking sincerely is the best way to reinforce links and to prevent. Moreover, we will have this language problem and talking will help us to perform communication. Don't you think so?

Perform communication...That was Jean-Marc writing in English, 30 years ago...but it might have been me talking today: We need to communicate! We need to communicate!

Speaking of me talking, where were all my letters to JM? Qui sait? We didn't have to wait long to find out. One morning my husband appeared at the door of our bedroom, un sourire enjôleur on his face and a thick manila envelope. "Tu veux lire tes lettres aujourd’hui?"

He found them!

Postcards from Arizona to France

We now poured over postcards from the Arizona Dessert (Saguaro cacti and yellow poppies contrasted with his postcards of lavender fields and old stone farmhouses...), and letters long and short written on company letterhead (mine from the French travel company I worked for, his from the accounting firm qui venait de l'embaucher) taking turns to read or to carefully file the correspondence in a "his" or "her" pile, by date. On hearing JM read the date, I always pause to tease him, “So this was before (or after..) you bought me my one-way ticket home...” It always brings a chuckle...before we are gently quieted by the reminder that rien n’est acquis! 

In addition to the thoughtful cards, Jean-Marc sent me tape cassettes of French news "to help you keep up your French...." I sent most letters from the office, where I worked as a bilingual receptionist. One day, so deliriously in love, I stuck my head in the office photocopier just to have something interesting and passionate to send him.

E52F3BC5-8538-41AB-9C97-69549B4C401F

In big loopy writing or small hard-to-read cursive, our billets doux progressed and so did our plans. In a postcard of an old French mas from the winter of winter '92, Jean-Marc wrote poetically: 

It is in a house like this that I would like to live, when the passion of work and when age will have reminded me that nature is truly beautiful. And if in 30 years you will share my life, I hope you will be happy in this kind of landscape. (See postcard below...)

And here we are, 30 years later dusting off our histoire d'amour. There are dozens more letters to read and enjoy. We’ll be careful to keep them, and us, together this time.

 

FRENCH VOCABULARY
une éclosion = blossoming
la carte postale = postcard
déclaration d’amour =declaration of love
la petite séparation = little separation
le moulin à café = coffee mill
je t’aime parce que...= I love you because...
une iniquité = injustice, unfairness
une chose
= thing
le mot doux = love letter
onéreux
= pricey
fonder une famille = start a family
Amour = Love
qui sait? = who knows
tu veux lire tes lettres aujourd’hui? = want to read your letters today?
qui venait de l'embaucher = that had just hired him
rien n’est acquis
= nothing can be taken for granted
le sourire enjôleur = charming, beguiling smile
le billet doux = love letter
le mas = Provencal farmhouse
l’histoire d’amour = love story

*"Le retour d'âge": I slipped this term in later, in place of  "menopause". The term is slightly dated, but the literal translation is interesting: "the return of age"; poetically means: "the change", the change of life

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A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Celebrating today! + French for gentle, pleasant, sweet & Reader tips for a good relationship

French American marriage eglise church Marseilles wedding noces
Flying rice at our noces de mariage

Today, Jean-Marc and I celebrate 27 years of marriage. Help us mark the occasion by sharing your best tip for relationships in the comments below.

DOUX
(doo)
soft, sweet, gentle, pleasant, mellow

Practice your French Listening Skills. Click to hear Jean-Marc read in French and English:

Le mariage est comme le vin : doux, amer, intense, moelleux, acide ou plat. Mais un couple comme le nôtre sait apprécier toutes ces saveurs. Bon anniversaire de mariage, Chéri!
Marriage is like wine: sweet, bitter, intense, mellow, sour or flat. But a couple like ours knows how to appreciate all these flavors. Happy wedding anniversary, Honey!


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse 

What makes you happy? I think it is a good and healthy habitude to ask the question. One thing that makes me heureuse is when a relationship is going well--especially after a conflict. Never do we feel more grateful than when we are back on track with someone we love. We know we must never prendre pour acquis, never take for granted those we share life with, but life itself can trip us up!  This reminds me of the verb trébucher - to cause to stumble.... 

There are snags in every day. Did you wake to a broken coffee machine, une panne? Or, having made it all the way to the post office (early, to avoid la foule) you realize you left your mask at home...Pulling your shirt up over your face won't cut it--il faut faire un demi-tour... Big or small it's sometimes these dérangements that leave us deranged! If we're not careful l'énervement can carry over onto our entourage.

Having weathered moods, BROODS, and 'tudes, I'd say it is by the grace of God we've made it this far.  (Jean-Marc might give credit to another entity!) And 27 years later, nous y voilà here we are. Hallelujah! (My husband might say Allez L'OM! Go team!)

I am tempted to rewrite these last paragraphs which sort of veered off track from the original plan. Or maybe it's time to trust that "this is all leading somewhere!" Oui! Whether in an essay or in a marriage, have faith your efforts are leading somewhere... Just keep on trucking, and believe in a good future! 

*    *    *
Jackie Jean-Marc Max Kristi June 2021
This summer with our daughter, Jackie (24) and our son, Max (26)

FRENCH VOCABULARY
Listen to Jean-Marc prounce these words, then check your comprehension via the list below

Click here for the audio clip

les noces = wedding, nuptials
une habitude
= custom, habit, practice
heureuse/heureux = happy
prendre pour acquis = to take for granted
trébucher = to stumble, trip
la foule = crowd, mob; multitude
faire un demi-tour = turn back, make a U-turn
la panne
= failure, breakdown, out-of-order
le dérangement = inconvenience, trouble, bother
l'énervement = irritation, annoyance, frayed nerves
l'entourage = family, relatives, relations
nous y voilà = here we are
Allez L'OM = go team (go Olympique de Marseille!)

Jean-Marc Kristi Jens Gary Lou at Le Vin Sobre cave wine shop La Ciotat France
Jean-Marc, Kristi, Jens, Gary and Lou at Le Vin Sobre Wine shop in La Ciotat. Thank you, Jean-Marc, for creating the sound files for this journal, and for organizing wine tastings, which began in 2007--these have led to a lot of friendships...which reminds me, please remember to submit your relationship tips in the comments, below. 
Mediterranean sea and Port of St Tropez France
End photo from St. Tropez, known for its popular fall braderie.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


A Marriage Secret? + A Tribute to Mon Epoux

Ecrins national park alps
For this special edition, all the French vocabulary is featured in the story (the sound file returns next week). Picture taken last month at Ecrins National Park in the Alps.

Today Jean-Marc and I celebrate 26 years of marriage. I had not planned to write un hommage (and was due to update you on a mother-daughter périple)... when I realized il ne faut pas manquer cette chance!

I would have liked to have composed a list of 26 Things (God knows that would be a colorful one!)… but I think I just need to start from here, and work with what I have--and that would be this growing appreciation. I may not always feel that or realize that (or even want to admit that)... but the truth is:

That my life is better because of him
That my heart is larger from loving him
That my soul is stretched forgiving him
That my mind is calmed in union with him

We may not always be better, loving, forgiving, or united with one another--but our hearts have somehow kept us on track. On second thought, The Grace of God has kept us on track. (I can’t speak for Jean-Marc here. But he might agree that une force mystérieuse has kept us together. Qu’est-ce que t’en dis, Chéri?)

My favorite question for married couples is, “C’est quoi votre secret?” More than the answer, I love how this question causes two people to look into each other’s eyes and suddenly light up. There is that unmistakable smile of appreciation. And it is better late than never. Mieux vaut tard que jamais.

I think if somebody were to ask me our secret I finally have the answer: During difficult times, just hold on. And, as often as possible, se regarder dans les yeux...et souriez.

K and jm marriage
Hands squeezed tightly 26 years ago, and still holding on today. To follow our intimate story of love on two vineyards, read along as we write our memoir, The Lost Gardens.

FRENCH VOCABULARY
un hommage = a tribute
un périple = journey
il ne faut pas manquer cette chance! = mustn't miss this chance
mon époux = my husband
une force mystérieuse = a mysterious force
qu’est-ce que t’en dis? = what do you have to say about that
mieux vaut tard que jamais = better late than never
se regarder dans les yeux = look each other in the eyes
et souriez = and smile

Park ecrins alps
Ecrins National Park, in the Alps, one of the many French destinations I have had the pleasure to visit. Thank you, Jean-Marc! Happy Anniversary, Chéri!

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Faire la tête + A French grandmother's advice for a happy marriage

Jean-Marc and Kristi's wedding at the cathedrale in Marseilles France

If you have followed this blog a while, you've seen this photo a million times. Jean-Marc and I were both scared to death about an imminent "for life" decision! Soon after this picture was taken, we got some very good marriage advice from Jean-Marc's grandmother. Twenty-three years later, it is still one of the best tips for a healthy relationship I've come across -- even if we occasionally break the rule! (Mais bien sûr!)


TODAY'S WORD: faire la tête

        : sulk, pout, be in a huff, look cross


AUDIO FILE & EXAMPLE SENTENCE


Click right here to listen to the sound file, recorded by Jean-Marc

Faire la tête, ça veut dire "bouder", c'est à dire montrer du mécontentement tout en restant silencieux, passif. -sensagent
To sulk, means to "bouder", or to express annoyance while remaining silent, passive.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
 

I notice my husband is shaving this morning, something he rarely does anymore, now that he’s working from home as a wine sales rep.

"Where are you going?" I ask.

"En tournée."

Prospecting? Where? I wonder.

"In Saint-Raphaël."

Saint-Raphaël? My mind fills with visions of the foamy sea, sandy beaches, sidewalk cafés and brasseries, the boardwalk, the boutiques, the marché, and the glamorous Belle Époque architecture.... Suddenly a pulsion comes over me. The pulsion to pout.

"I didn't know you were going out today...." I grumble.
  
"Well, do you want to come with me?" Jean-Marc offers.

"You know I can't come with you. I have work to do!” With a huff and a puff I leave the room.

***

In 1994 the only conseil Jean-Marc's ailing grandmother gave me before I married her grandson was this: "ne boude pas." Don’t boude when love gets tough! “C’est terrible—insupportable!—une femme ou un mari qui boude!

I hurried to look up the word bouder just as soon as I returned from Grand-mère’s modest apartment in Lyon to Jean-Marc’s studio in Marseilles. I was hesitant to ask my husband-to-be what the word meant. What was it that was so terrible, so insufferable… something a husband or wife should never ever do? And why had Jean-Marc’s grandmother selected this bit of counsel above the rest?

"Germaine," as Jean-Marc’s mamie was called, was a stern woman who saw the collapse of a family fortune. In Morocco, after the war, she peddled house linens from her Estafette (a converted military supply vehicle) as there were six mouths to feed. When her husband, a prisoner of war, returned from la guerre, Germaine continued to "wear the pants," selling her linens porte-à-porte, while her husband went seaside to cast out horrific battle images along with his fishing line.

My first encounter with Germaine had me watching the once-authoritarian-now-frail woman eat the eyes right out of the fish on her plate! No sooner had I recovered from the fact that the French serve their seafood with its heads and tails intact, than I witnessed this unforgettable eye-popping scene!

Apart from Germaine’s advice not to sulk, she taught me where all those forks, knives, and cuillères belong on the French table, at once thoughtful about her bourgeois upbringing, and méprisante of it.

***

The French word bouder, it turns out, means “to pout”. From bouder comes the noun boudoir, which originally meant "a place in which to sulk". Though the dictionary says that a boudoir is "un petit salon de dame," it is really nothing more fancy or exciting than a pouting room.

I return to my sulking place, and continue to work and to sniff. Je boude, je boude!

"We'll leave in 10 minutes?" my husband suggests, popping his head in from the hall.

"I didn't say I was going with you!" I snap.

"Well, if you change your mind, I am leaving in 10 minutes."

I continue to faire la tête, or "be in the sulks," while my husband prepares for his surely glamorous tournée along the French Riviera. At my desk, I peck at the faded keyboard, staring into the dismal screen. I can’t concentrate on writing a story when I’m so busy obsessing about my husband’s freedom:

"Monsieur Espinasse goes to the sunny Riviera," I grumble. "Monsieur Espinasse would like the plat du jour. Would Monsieur fancy a glass of champagne with his foie gras?"

Despite my ridiculous imaginings and the cynical commentary that accompanies them, I know that reality is quite different. My husband’s door-to-door sales day will be spent lugging 18-kilo boxes of wine from one cave to another, navigating medieval roads, trying to find parking in a small French village full of one-way streets!

The glamorous day will continue as he stops for lunch at a grimy roadside gas station where he’ll pick up one of those preservative-rich sandwiches: un jambon beurre or un pan-bagnat. He’ll wash that down with a cup of bitter coffee before rushing to the next appointment. Finally he will weave in and out of traffic on the autoroute, struggling to get back to our village in time to pick up our son from basketball at the end of the day.

Meantime I will be working freely at my computer, trying to write the next great American story (or so my imagination would like to think!). To my left, there’ll be a café au lait, before me, the adventure of my choice, if I will but find the words to transport me there. Will I ever find the words? Oh, to be transported!


"Do you know what the word boudoir means?" I am out of breath, catching up to my husband, who is loading cases of wine into the trunk.

"Comment?" What's that? he asks.

"Boudoir. It's French," I reply.

"No. I don't know that word. What does it mean?" Jean-Marc asks, opening the car door for me.

“A sulking place,” I laugh. “It’s a place to bouder, or to be in the sulks.”

"Are you in the sulks?" Jean-Marc teases.

“Oh no, not me!” I glance out of the car window, to the heavens above. I hoped Germaine was watching. God rest her courageous, peddler’s soul.

I look over to the other peddler, seated beside me. Germaine would be proud of her grandson, who has, in his own way, followed in her steps.


***
This story is from 2006, and is included in the book First French Essais' Venturing into Writing, Marriage, and France.


FRENCH VOCABULARY
une tournée = a sales round (sales prospecting) 
le marché = market 
une pulsion = an impulse
un conseil = a piece of advice
ne boude pas! = don't sulk!
C’est terrible—insupportable!—une femme ou un mari qui boude! = It's awful—intolerable—when a wife or a husband sulks!
la grand-mère = grandmother
la mamie = grandma 
la guerre = war
porte-à-porte = door-to-door 
une cuillère = spoon
méprisant(e) = contemptuous, scornful
un petit salon de dame = a woman's sitting room
faire la tête = to sulk, to give somebody the silent treatment
le plat du jour = the day's special (in a restaurant)
un kilo = a kilo, or 2.2 pounds
une cave = cellar
un jambon-beurre = a ham sandwich with butter
un pan-bagnat = a sandwich made with tuna and olives (specialty from Nice)
une autoroute = motorway, highway
le café au lait = coffee with milk

First French Essais is available here in paperback or via kindle

 

First-French-Essais-book-cover

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


To have the munchies, in French + We have a party, I learn a few more lessons...

1-Mas des Brun French wedding anniversary country dinner
Photo (by Pascale Gauthier) of our wedding anniversary dinner, here at home.

AVOIR LES CROCS

    : to have the munchies (a sudden desire to snack)

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

The following story was written in 2014...

On Friday night 45 of our closest friends came over for a sit-down dinner to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Jean-Marc and I weeded our front yard, dusted our window shutters (Spiderwebs? Really?), and rented tables and chairs from the Mairie

Lesson no. 1: Etaler. (Spread out.)

As the guests arrived, I quickly saw what a bad idea it was for the boys to have set the hors-d'oeuvres table on an incline. Not wanting to question our son's 19-year old friends (who we hired to help)--and seeing their pride in their new jobs--I turned a blind eye and hoped for the best. And the guests did their best to cling together at the edge of the drinks table, with only one or two tumbling off the little hill every now and then.

Lesson no. 2: Impose-Toi! (Butt in!)

Because I'm jittery, Jean-Marc insisted he would take care of the party details. So when the hors d'oeuvres arrived--unassembled, in three giant ice buckets (were those tortillas for the spreads? If so which?)--my husband told me to leave it for the boys to work out. "If they have a question, they'll call Vava and Laurent (our friends/caterers)!"

Only, when Vava arrived for the party, she quietly pointed out the ratatouille (in dainty plates across the hors d'oeuvres table) was not for cocktail hour--it was for the main course

Lesson no. 3: Fourchettes, pas cuillières! (Forks not spoons!)

Finally seated, Jean-Marc announced to our 45 guests it was time to pick up our plates and head to the banquet--where the lamb and accompaniments awaited us. Sort of....

We watched as the men at the fire pit handed over plates of roasted meat, but where was the ratatouille? Quick, grab it from the tables in the backyard and dart back to the buffet--scrape, scrape, scrape. Now where were the serving spoons?

Whoops, spoke to soon--I meant forks! Run back to the kitchen and get fourchettes so the guests will quit trying to fling the meat from platter to plate with the help of two slippery spoons!

Lesson 4: On Mange à Table! (We eat at the table!)

All calmed down now, with full tummies, I noticed how some of the guests were getting tipsy.... All those special cuvées Jean-Marc brought out--including a 1994 Chateauneuf-du-Pape (grapes we picked before our marriage) had not gone to waste!

Jean-Marc now stood swaying, eating his ice cream behind me as I sat sober as a splash of water, talking to old friends. But every now and then my arm flew up to swat at my husband--who was dripping bright red cassis sorbet as he leaned over me and my new dress!

Lesson 5: Commander un bon DJ. (Hire a good DJ.)

When an uncomfortably-long lull had us lingering at the dinner tables, I wondered Where has Jean-Marc disappeared to? 

"He's fiddling with the sound system," someone explained. Finally, guests began trickling down to the boules court, where a dusty dance floor awaited. 

And awaited... and awaited. The music just wasn't doing it, and it was either the fault of Jean-Marc's smartphone (some music system!) or the fact that all those "request songs" we'd asked our guests for made for lousy dance material.

My poor husband now stood swaying on the dance floor until two lit girls and a faithful old friend joined in. I could no longer stand staring from the sidelines with the audience; it was time to buck up, disengage from the gawkers, and join the offbeat dancers.

Jean-Marc reached out for me, grabbing my hand and twirling me around a few times, when I stopped to whisper in his ear: "No one wants to dance!" I murmured, so as not to utter my true thoughts: they think our party sucks!

"Well," he said--the sparkle in his eyes melting me inside--"then they'll all go home earlier." With that he laughed, a little tipsy, and twirled me around and around. I was charmed by Jean-Marc's words. He was clearly remembering my aversion to all-night parties. And he was telling me, in his own way, that he didn't have to party all night either... but could be happy twirling his sweetheart around and around... till the party poopers went home.

Though my husband's words encouraged me (the only real party pooper in the group), it was still painfully embarrassing to be dancing with the awkward quartet, before a group of gawkers (who were only feeling awkward themselves, given the beat just wasn't calling them forth)... So when the current song ended I wiggled my way, as discreetly as possible, off the dance floor and into the kitchen to check on things.

The counter tops were inch-deep with liquid from all the dirty wineglasses. I now had a perfect excuse to be absent from the doomed dance floor. If anyone questioned my disappearance, I could cite "the flood on the kitchen counter." But once the water was sopped up, back out to the dance floor I went. 

You wouldn't believe the change of scene: disco fever had struck! The men and woman gyrated, twirled, and bucked back and forth across the dusty boules court. Dancing queens every one of them! Our friend Cyril (a former DJ) had thoughtfully taken over. Yahoo!

Lesson no. 5: La Nuit Blanche ne Tue Pas! (A sleepless night won't kill you!)

By 3:30 in the morning the dance floor was still going strong, but I was not. Worried about my neighbors, worried about my dogs (stranded on the balcony above us) and itching to call it a night, I watched nervously as the party carried on and on... right on into our kitchen.

Apparently our guests had an attack of the munchies! Plates of leftovers were pulled from the fridge. And the freezer was raided for leftover ice cream. 

But like a biblical Martha, I busied myself in the kitchen, trying to scrape melted cheese from the wicker platter (19-year-old boys didn't put a plastic sheet down first). Frustrated and wondering when the party would end--by 5 am or 6 or 7 -- noon?) I scraped at the braided bunch of cheesy wicker, finally shoving it aside.

Returning to the small crowd, I studied all the bright faces (5 or 6 friends remained). I noticed people enjoying life. Life was not some number. It wasn't "3 am" or two hours later, or the next day. Life was now, here for the taking. Why not grab it? 

* * *

The next day my mother-in-law lost consciousness. I am quickly finishing this story so I can drive to Marseilles to sit by her bedside. What's important in life? I don't know, but I am learning. 

*    *    *

I am beginning to think my husband is a much nicer person than I. For when--at that melt-down moment at 4:30 am--I said to him "They're still here!" He looked at me and, with a smile, he said, "they are having a good time at the party."

*    *    *

I am learning, from friends  and my husband, that what's important in life is that we help others to have a good time at the party.

Thanks for your thoughts for my dear belle-mère. (Three years after writing this post, and my mother-in-law is doing very well.)

  Bagatelle wedding Jean-Marc Kristin Espinasse
Jean-Marc, thank you for twenty years together. I have learned so much by your side. 

EMBRYOLISSE cream - used by French grandmothers and makeup artists

FRENCH GOURMET ITEMS - including herbs, mustard, coffee, tisane, chocolate, cakes

FRENCH SHOPPING BAG - made and knit in France!

PARIS METRO CUFF - Unique bracelet with a map of the Paris metro!

WORDS IN A FRENCH LIFE: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

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A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


stomach ache in French

Jean-Marc and Kristi in 1992

When Jean-Marc came to Phoenix to woo me we exchanged gifts. For me, a Provençale skirt 3 sizes too small. (Does my face look as pinched as my waist? At least he looks relaxed.) Twenty-four years later and we still miss the mark--but so far we keep trying to understand each other. (Photo from the forthcoming book "First French Essais." Out next month!)

New2

Style & comfort in the beauty of the Provencal countryside. 4 bedrooms & a study with a sofa bed, each with ensuite (full) bath. Villa comfortably sleeps 7-9 adults.


avoir mal au ventre

    : to have a stomach ache

j'ai mal au ventre = I have a stomach ache.

J'ai mangé les restes et maintenant j'ai mal au ventre.
I ate the leftovers and now I have a stomach ache.

Audio File:
Listen to the words and phrases above: Download MP3 or Wav

USA WINE TOUR!
Chief Grape will be staying home this year. In his place, two of the lovliest French wine embassadors ever! Meet Audrey Vidal and Caroline Jones. (Click on their names to visit their vineyards and to see Audrey and Caroline's 2014 tour schedule!  


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

Last night when my husband got into bed and reached for me like a giggly teen, I groaned.

"J'ai mal au ventre!"

It was true. Ever since clearing out our kitchen cabinets and our frigo, my stomach has been smarting.

"J'ai fini par jeter des choses!" I finally had to throw stuff out! I admitted to Jean-Marc. "But not without trying to finish them first!"

"Ah, ma chérie!" Jean-Marc laughed as he massaged my back. But when his fingers tiptoed over my side, I barked: "J'ai mal au ventre!"

"Aw, désolé, Chérie."

For a split second I enjoyed the unexpected commiseration. I guess my days of hiding three-day-old sandwiches at the bottom of the poubelle are over. Hurray! My man can finally accept that SOME things need tossing!

As I turned to plant a rewarding kiss on my husband's lips, I puckered out on hearing this:

"T'as jeté quoi exactement?"

Just what did I throw out? He dared ask a woman in the throes of stomach labor JUST WHAT DID SHE THROW OUT?

Men may never understand women. But here's the first clue: Don't ask! Ne pose pas une question si tu ne veux pas entendre la réponse!

 *    *    *

Ever seen someone chasing after a bus they've just missed? Shouting Wait! Wait for me! Well my husband will have to run fast to catch up with the kiss he just missed. He'll have several opportunities to make up for the misstep, beginning Wednesday--when we go into kitchen renovation mode! For the next three weeks our fridge (the one I emptied), our oven, and our campstove will be docked in the living room. We'll wash our dishes in the tiny bathroom sink, two rooms over. On second thought, maybe the outdoor hose is closer? Wish us luck!

Comments
To respond to this story, click here. (And if you are writing in to ask about the "labor" I mentioned, that would be stomach labor (from the bubbly parsley pesto I ate) and not uterine labor!) 

French Vocabulary

j'ai mal au ventre = I have a tummy ache
le frigo = fridge
ma chérie = my dear
désolé(e) = sorry
la poubelle = garbage can (or bin)
Ne pose pas une question si tu ne veux pas entendre la réponse! = Don't ask a question if you don't want to hear the answer

New rental in Provence! La Baume des Pelerins, in Sablet--spacious, comfortable the perfect place to return to after a busy day’s sightseeing, bicycling or hiking.

  Jean-Marc and Kristi

For those of you who stuck with me to the end of the post, your reward: a translation of the poetic French shirt I offered Jean-Marc (have another look at the opening photo) 

J'ai brisé les liens bleus et les limites de la couleur. Plongez-vous dans la blancheur et nagez dans cet infini. I broke out of the blue lines and the limits of color. Dive into the whiteness and swim (in the white free abyss) infinity is before you. (line two of quote by artist Kazimir Malevitch, born in the Ukraine. Serendipidous timing, as our thoughts and hearts go out to Ukrainians at this time.)

The picture above was taken on a family vacation, in 2006, and is full of symbolism. Years after I gave Jean-Marc that poetic T-shirt, he continues to show me that experiences are one of the most rewarding things in life when you dare to break out or briser les liens et les limites.

tree blossoms in Tulette (c) Kristin Espinasse
"J'ai brisé les liens bleus et les limites de la couleur. Plongez-vous dans la blancheur et nagez dans cet infini."

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A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


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. 

To comment on this word entry, or to add to it, click here

HulstonExclusive French made clothes now available to purchase on-line. Thomas Hulston Collections.


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.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


le mariage civil + noce + the French are softies when it comes to weddings

The Kiss - Kristin Espinasse Jean-Marc Espinasse (c) Nicolas Bourreli
"The Kiss". Jean-Marc and I celebrated our 19th anniversary with a hike along the sea and a swim at this calanque, in St. Cyr-sur-Mer.


la noce (nohce)

    : wedding, nuptials

faire la noce = to live it up
la nuit de noce = wedding night
le voyage de noces = honeymoon


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

Stopping Traffic

Memories are like bubbles. Full and rounded, the richest of them come rushing to the surface of our minds. I marvel at how my husband remembers some things and I, others. With the help of our individual recollections we knit together the past, enjoying moments from our romantic history.

This week Jean-Marc and I celebrated 19 years of marriage. The French call this anniversary les noces de cretonne. Cretonne being a type of fabric, the symbolism hints at the consistent weaving together of a sacred fil, the thread of love and commitment. 

All this talk of fabric and weaving reminds me of a vivid scene from our first wedding day. This was the town hall wedding or le mariage civil and in our case it took place two months before the church ceremony. It being a more casual gathering, there was none of that superstition about seeing the groom or bride beforehand. In fact, the groom and I drove together to our nuptials.

I'll never forget parading down the streets of Marseilles, in traffic. Grinning from ear to ear, I looked out our car window as Jean-Marc navigated from behind the wheel of his poor man's sports car. The red exterior of his Honda was chipped and dented, but inside might have been finer than silk and leather--the latter being Jean-Marc's just polished shoes (as for my dress, it was silk-like).

As we drove past all the chic boutiques on Rue Paradis on our way to pick up my bridal bouquet, it was thrilling to feel a part of this glamorous world surrounding us. And when Jean-Marc stopped smack in the middle of traffic, one lane away from the fleuriste, I literally stepped out onto Paradise Street.

"You'll have to hurry! There's no place to park," Jean-Marc explained.

I opened the creaky car door and landed in the middle of two lanes of impatient traffic.

It is awkward to be the center of attention, but there on my wedding day--crossing the street before the halted commuters--I all but twirled in my two-tiered dress!  Jaywalking across traffic lanes, light on my heels, I stole in and out of the flower shop, returning to my modern day carriage with an armful of calla lilies. 

The bumper to bumper traffic outside had not budged an inch, but was united in a collective (if imposed) pause. As I passed before the halted traffic, my wedding dress fluttering in the breeze, our parking sin was quickly forgiven as horns began to sound. Allez, les mariés!

The French are such softies when it comes to weddings! I smiled thanks to the audience of strangers and hurried into the car as drivers practiced their patience for one more "Marseilles minute". Even the calla lilies blushed, witnessing that steamy kiss!

 
To read about our church wedding, where the groom feared he was stood up and the bride got stuck to the outside of the church (wind and stucco are bad company for a bridal veil), read the chapter in my book.

French Vocabulary

le fil = string
le mariage civil = civil wedding, registry office wedding
la fleuriste = florist 
allez les mariés! = cheers to the bride and groom!
Marseilles minute = the amount of time (seconds, actually) another car will wait before blaring its horn at a stoplight turned green 

Max and his 18th summer (c) Kristin Espinasse
Max was born 9 months after Jean-Marc and I tied the knot...

Jackie "First Cowboy Hat" (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jackie came next... She turns 16 in September (this post was written in 2013...). This photo was taken recently, in Idaho--where she is spending the month with her grandparents... and trying on her American hat! Whereas I dreamt of France at her age, Jackie's life goal is to live in the States. "France is so old," she moans.

Together Forever (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Through Thick and Thin". Everyone and everything needs closeness. Picture taken in Orange (Vaucluse)

Kristi jean-marc espinasse 1994 Bagatelle wedding in Marseilles France
Those calla lilies and our town hall wedding on July 4th, 1994.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


se chamailler

Jean-Marc en train de bricoler. Jean-Marc doing some DIY.
Who could argue with a man in a dress? Not when he's repairing the front door! P.S. Would anyone like to explain just what kind of robe this is? There's a specific word for it--can you guess it? Comments welcome here, in the coin commentaires.

 Your comments on GMOs or genetically modified food were fascinating and educational. Thank you so much for taking the time to weigh in on the debate! If you missed the OGM (or GMO) discussion, please click here to read the comments and to add your own. GMOs do exist in France (that bottle of imported, brand-name ketchup in our fridge?), even if the production of GMOs are interdit.

 se chamailler (seuh-shah-my-ay)

  : to squabble, to argue, to bicker

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence in French: Download MP3 or Wav file

Depuis trente ans qu'ils étaient mariés, ils se chamaillaient tous les jours.
For the thirty years that they've been married, they have bickered every day.
 --Guy de Maupassant , Les Contes normands

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

Several months ago, during the nerve-racking period of waiting to find out which direction our immediate future would take, Jean-Marc and I got into a particulary awkward dispute. Looking back, I can't even remember what it was we were arguing about, but I won't soon forget how, by the end of the engueulade, one of us was wearing tomato on their face.

Prior to la tomate, and during the heated accrochage, I watched with amusement as my husband struggled to deliver his be-all-end-all winning point. Just as mine does when I am shaking with indignation, my husband's face turned crimson and his cheeks began to puff up... until the words building inside his mouth tumbled out! And when his gargled and incomprehensible "point" was made, he stomped off to his cave to save face (only in wine country can a man truly stomp off to his cave!)

As the door slammed, I began celebrating my victory (MOI VICTORIEUSE!).  I grabbed the soup pan that was drying in the évier and, polishing it, stole an admirative glance at The Face of Righteousness. 

But after making faces in the dull "mirror", primping my victory look, in vain, I had an inspiration: now might be a good time to try one of those home-made beauty treatments! My eyelids appeared to sag from so much wide-eyed dramatics and there were lines echoing the corners of my mouth. Les rides! In truth, I looked and felt just as defeated as my husband. All that word slinging had had its ugly effect! 

I had recently read somewhere that fruit acid peels were good and that one needn't pay all that money for un soin de beauté when the same—or even better—ingredients could be found for a dollar, in one's kitchen. Eyeing the fruit bowl, I noticed the half-dozen tomatoes, a gift from my friend Houria, who picked them in her potager that same morning.

After watching a couple of detailed YouTube videos on homemade beauty masks, I was ready to try out the two-step procedure: 1. cut tomato in half. 2. rub each half into face. 

It felt good to stand over the kitchen sink rubbing those tomato halves over my forehead, cheeks, chin and nose. The effect was soothing and I soon forgot about our marital chamaillerie.  When the juice quit dripping down my face, I moved from the sink over to the stove to see about dinner. While the mask did its wonders (there'd be a 30-minute wait), I would turn my attention to dinner prep.

Lost in a new level of peace that stirring up comfort food brings, I was startled when the front door flew open. That's when I remembered the caveman. My husband must have found the words he had been desperately searching for—and now he was back to deliver them! 

I felt my body seize up as I prepared for round two, la double defense. As adrenaline coursed through me, I became aware of a strange tightening in my forehead.... Next, my cheeks began to crack!

Oh no. The tomatoes! Standing there with smashed pulp on my face, I became aware of my gross disadvantage. But there was no time to rush to the sink to rinse off this humiliating flaw. And so I did what any she-fighter worth her stripes would do, I wore the tomato paste like war paint, letting what might have been a handicap—work as a scare tactic!

No, actually that is not at all what I did. What really happened was I stood before the husband-caveman-warrior feeling super defeated whilst the fruit mask tightened and tightened. (And, gosh, was that a tomato seed stuck to my nose? So ego-deflating!)

I quickly learned there's no better remedy for defensiveness than a home-made tomato mask. Unable to open my mouth without sending a dozen crackling lines up my fruit-hardened face, I decided to play it cool... and not so much as blink.

Oddly, Jean-Marc didn't seem to notice the tomato glop on my face—so concentrated was he on his point. Not wanting to draw attention to those seeds stuck above my narines, I stood unblinking, listening to my husband. The more I listened, the more he seemed to make sense. And when he was done making his point, only my eyes moved as they followed him out the room.

Strange how peaceful things felt when wearing the mask of non-resistance. I'll have to try it again sometime, on my own, minus the tomates.

 ***

To comment on this story, click here. 

French Vocabulary

la dispute =argument

une engueulade = a telling-off

la tomate = tomato

l'accrochage (m) = clash, row

moi victorieuse! = me winner!

un évier = sink

les rides (f) = wrinkles

un soin de beauté = a beauty treatment

le potager = kitchen garden

la narine = nostril

DSC_0277
Rembobiner? No that's not it... What is that French word that means "leveling off the bottom of a door so that it doesn't "catch" each time you try to close it"? That's what Jean-Marc is doing here. Click here to comment.

  • Read the book Words in a French Life. You'll find out how I met Jean-Marc, why he bought me a one-way ticket back to the States (good riddance!), and how I returned to marry him and to begin this French word journal, now in its 11th year!

 

DSC_0297
Plastic sheeting Jean-Marc will use to waterproof his new cellar. See the "cellar" here, at the end of this post.

DSC_0302
Jules is back home in Mexico. I'm left with these photo souvenirs. Mom writes: I was the only one Jean-Marc could hypnotize into being his little helper - later on in the day after I had picked up lots of rocks, climbed the ladder to hand them to JM I just looked up into his eyes and said, "Honey, I need a nap." I think this is a great 'study' for a painting of an old woman in France. When you look at me you can hear my bones creak and my silent moans.

DSC_0304

What is Smokey saying? Click here to add a thought bubble.

***

Check out our readers Best Tips for Learning French -- and if you have any French-learning tips that work for you, please submit them here.

Has a friend just forwarded you this post? To sign up for the free French word journal, simply click here. We'd love you to join our French word family!

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


casse-tete

Chief Grape and his puzzle
Jean-Marc's latest pastime. Read on in today's story column.

un casse-tête (kass tet)

    : jigsaw puzzle, brainteaser
    : difficult problem, headache 

Note: un casse-tête is a synonym for puzzle. The French more often call a puzzle "un puzzle" or "un jeu de patience".

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read today's word and the following example sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Les premiers puzzles se faisaient en peignant une image sur la surface d'une fine planche de bois que l'on découpait ensuite à l'aide d'une scie à chantourner... le mot anglais "puzzle" signifiant d'une façon générale une énigme ou un casse-tête. The first puzzles were made by painting an image on the surface of a thin wooden board that was then cut with help of a jig saw... The English word "puzzle" means, generally speaking, an enigma or a brainteaser. —fr.wikipedia.org

 

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

There is nothing so soothing as watching an overworked man piece together a jigsaw puzzle. Sitting quietly beside the crackling fire, a puzzle piece held gently between rough, calloused fingers, my husband is lost in concentration. I have had the chance to observe this "pieceful" scene, almost nightly, ever since Jean-Marc cleaned out the cellier, salvaging this old puzzle in the process.

Just outside the window, the rows and rows of grapevines—now leafless, woody, and sleeping like a log—no longer vie for his attention. For a rare moment, Jean-Marc is at peace.

On the table before him, my husband has laid down one of my mom's largest oil paintings—it appears to be the perfect base on which to construct his scattered oeuvre!

(Jules will not be shocked to learn that her painting currently serves as a foundation—au contraire—she is known to roughhouse with her art: scrubbing down dusty paintings and, sometimes, completely obliterating scenes with a coat of wet paint!

Sometimes Mom forgets her plein air paintings, leaving them out in the rain—only for them to survive, blessed by God's tears, dried by the muse or le Mistral!

Yes, by unwittingly lending her painting as a puzzle support, I think Mom will even be honored to learn that she is participating in this restorative effort, one that has an especially calming effect on her treasured—and tired—beau-fils.)

From the kitchen, where I am putting away dishes, I pause, enjoying the scene of a tired man "puzzling". The scene is restful, even to me. I sit down at the kitchen table to sip a steaming tisane and watch my husband work, this time effortlessly.

Initially, Jean-Marc tried to interest our daughter (owner of the puzzle) to participate with him in this jeu de patience. When Jackie eventually lost interest (or patience?), Jean-Marc continued working on her puzzle without her.

As I observe my husband I am humbled by his appreciation and interest in our daughter's puzzle. Watching him devote all his concentration to the subject, I can't help but feel a little ashamed at an unfair remark I made many years ago, before we broke up for the first time:

The heated scene took place on a busy street in Marseilles and went something like this:

Me: "You are so macho!"
Him (hugely offended): "Je ne suis pas macho! JE NE SUIS PAS MACHO!

I can't even remember what the subject was then, but tonight, sitting here sipping my tea, it is hard to contain my smile as the puzzle in the next room begins to come into view, piece by piece....

I now see two fuzzy kittens clinging side by side—innocent and helplesssuch a fragile couple!

How sweet to see a big strong man putting together a kitten puzzle! I think, when suddenly my mind returns to the accusatory scene on the busy city street, some twenty years ago.... 

Macho? What was I thinking?! I look over, affectionately, at the puzzle maker and feel a strong sense of gratitude for one man's care and diligence in piecing back together the innocent and fragile couple. It takes puzzle maker's patience. This I know for sure.

 ***

Learn more about our exciting (and rocky...) courtship, in the intro chapter to Words in a French Life. And in the follow-up book, "Blossoming in Provence", a girlfriend-come-wife learns many more lessons in patience!

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections and comments regarding today's story, or edition, are welcome here, in the comments box

French Vocabulary

le cellier = storeroom
une oeuvre = a work (painting, book, film) 
au contraire = on the contrary, just the opposite
plein air = a painting produced outdoors
Mistral = strong wind coming from the north or northwest
le beau-fils = son-in-law
une tisane = herbal tea
un jeu de patience = puzzle 

 

Rose hips (c) Kristin Espinasse
The pieces of Nature's puzzle.

Puzzle statue in Ramatuelle (c) Kristin Espinasse

A puzzle statue we spotted in Ramatuelle. I hope you enjoyed this edition. Keep up your French with the following, highly recommended book:

Exercises in French Phonics

Exercises in French Phonics bestseller on French pronunciation and how to pronouce French words correctly! (click here)

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

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