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 KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

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

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


sang-froid

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The Christmas decorations are still up in the town of Grignan. Have you taken down your holiday decor? Click here to comment

le sang-froid

    : calm, equanimity, imperturbability

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc (I am told my husband has a beautiful voice! Don't miss it): Download MP3 or Wav file

Lors de situations conflictuelles, çela aide pas mal de garder son sang-froid!
During situations which involve conflict, it helps quite a bit to keep calm!


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

When Jean-Marc was inspired to clear out the cellier—on Christmas Eve—I did my best to contain my annoyance. Not to be unthankful, but couldn't he have chosen any other day of the year? A day, say, when our extended family wasn't about to arrive for Le Repas de Noël? After all, there were any other number of last-minute things to do besides emptying out the mudroom!

Ten years ago I would have manifested the strong opposition that I currently felt regarding my husband's absurd sense of timing. As manifestations go, it would have been a subtle one (I might have sulked), yet packed with menace (continue doing your own thing... and I'll fly back to America. You'll see!).

But such manifestations were for naught (my then boyfriend put a stop to the nonsense by buying me a one-way ticket home!)

We've come a long way, Chief Grape and I, though the first years of intercultural marriage were as shaky as the pile of junk that now lined the outside of our mudroom, nearly blocking the entrance where our guests were due to arrive in the next hour or so! To my amazement, the entryway was now cluttered with everything from a broken globe to a lonely lava lamp. 

I stood staring at the chaos. Instead of order and polish we now had dust and "demolish"...or so it looked from my blurry perspective. No matter how far I think I've advanced along the path of sagesse, I'm always astonished at how quickly I can lose my footing when I lose sight of the horizon in time to notice a weed along the way.

No use staring at the lava lamp and its dusty company. Remembering to "look up!" I experienced a radical change of perspective. What had appeared to be disorder... was beginning to look like order! I looked beyond the piles, past my husband, and into the cellar.... The shelves looked neat and tidy—and you could actually see the floor!

Motioning toward the stacks, Jean-Marc explained, "Jacques is going to help carry these things to the car". 

Bien sûr! My husband's timing was not so absurd after all. He had simply waited until his brother's visit (tonight, for Christmas Eve dinner), to haul off the junk. 

Once again I am reminded that what might not make sense to me, may very well be clear in the grand scheme of things. 

 

Le Coin Commentaires
To leave a comment, please click here

Read about that one-way ticket home in the introduction to Words in a French Life


French Vocabulary

le cellier = storeroom

le repas de Noël = Christmas dinner

la sagesse = wisdom
. 

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Both photos in today's edition were taken in the town of Grignan, where we had a lovely stroll and a bite to eat, on Friday, with friends Toni and Gary. (We ate at Le Poème de Grignan. It was delicious!) Can you recommend a restaurant in Provence? Click here to share it with us!

Capture plein écran 21122011 083440
The photo, left, was also taken in Grignan, during another sweet stroll with my aunt and uncle. The picture was snapped so quickly -- almost as an afterthought. Had I known it would be used for the book's cover, I might have swiped the neighbor's pot of geraniums, and placed it near the door! Just as it is (without anything "blossoming") we'll chalk it up, this flowerless "Blossoming" cover, to one more quirk of French life.

Meantime, I would like to take a moment to send out an enthusiastic appeal to anyone who has not yet purchased a copy of my book: 

Please support a self-published author--each time you do, you make the world a more creative place! 

Click here to buy a copy of my book. Merci beaucoup!

 

***

Further Reading:
Check our Larry Krakauer's blog, in which he writes about his visit to our vineyard. Click here. You'll even see a photo of my brother-in-law, Jacques, whom you read about in today's story.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

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

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


epousailles

Betrothed Bikes (c) Kristin Espinasse
Betrothed bikes in Orange, France.

épousailles (ay poo zeye) noun, feminine, plural

    : nuptials, wedding

Paris-based novelist Janet Skeslien Charles is back with us today to talk about "le Oui" or the "I Do" of a union of two....


Le Mariage
by Janet Skeslien Charles


In my novel Moonlight in Odessa, Daria, a young Ukrainian who longs for a better life marries Tristan, an American she meets through an international matchmaking organization. He said that he was a teacher, but Daria arrives at his home in California, she realizes that Tristan is not exactly who he said he was. But can a happy marriage be built based on a foundation of lies?

Today, I thought it might be interesting to talk about marriage in France. In French, le mariage can mean “the wedding” as well as “the marriage.” Did you know that only a mariage civil, a civil wedding ceremony, is recognized by the French government? A couple must be married by a maire, a mayor, before they can be married in a church. As a future bride, I was disappointed, imagining a sterile city hall wedding. Au contraire, city halls have beautiful rooms and the maire did a lovely job of personalizing our ceremony and he even spoke a few words of English.

My favorite expression concerning weddings is Mariage pluvieux, mariage heureux, a rainy wedding makes for a happy marriage. I heard this expression in Burgundy when it started to rain on my own wedding day and have heard it several times since, a small consolation to the brides who live in this lush, green, rainy country.

When we talk about a white wedding in America, we picture a bride in white. Many French brides choose to wear white gowns as well. In France, however, un mariage blanc, literally a “white marriage,” indicates a marriage of convenience. Here in Paris, we see many foreigners who want to live in France, so they marry a French friend or pay a French citizen as a way to gain valid working papers. The film “Green Card” with Gerard Depardieu deals with a French man who marries an American woman so that he can live in the States. In a mariage blanc, both parties understand that it is not a real marriage. In France, this kind of marriage fraud is a crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a 15,000 euro fine.

Of the 273,500 wedding celebrated in France, 84,000 were considered mixtes, or mixed, between a foreigner and a French citizen. According the newspaper Libération, marriage is considered the “main source of immigration in France.” In the last few years, French authorities have acknowledged a scam called mariages gris, or a gray marriages. Unlike a mariage blanc, where both partners are aware that the wedding is in name only, a mariage is considered ‘gris’ when a person who doesn’t have legal papers uses a French citizen in order to get a carte de résident, a Green Card. It is a union in which one partner doesn’t realize that the reason for the wedding was paperwork, not love. The recipe is simple – seduction, a wedding, the arrival of a carte de résident, divorce. This kind of marriage, a sentimental scam, is punished more severly than mariage blanc.

Even when two people have good intentions, engagements and weddings between foreigners aren’t easy. When an American friend and her French fiancé announced to his parents that they were going to get engaged, his mother replied, “C’est un peu extrême, non?”, or That’s a little extreme, isn’t it? The wedding didn’t take place. In “Moonlight in Odessa,” Daria’s future in-laws were not very kind to her either, though it was Tristan’s idea to rush into marriage. I wonder how readers would classify Daria’s marriage to Tristan – white, gray, or downright black.
. 

Le Coin Commentaires
To respond to Janet's essay, or to leave her a message, please click here to access the comments box.

 
%2AIMG_3559_small[1] Janet Skeslien Charles’ debut novel Moonlight in Odessa was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of their top ten debut novels of Fall 2009. 

9781608192328[1]-1 It was Book of the Month in the September issue of National Geographic Traveler. BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime featured Moonlight in Odessa for two weeks in February 2010.

Click here to order Janet's book.

“This is a delicious novel—wise, witty, wonderfully written...”—Vivian Gornick

"Charles’ transatlantic saga explores the dichotomy between Eastern and Western cultures, as well as the assumptions and sacrifices people make in the hope of a better life.” —Booklist

 



French Vocabulary

un maire – the mayor
un mariage – wedding or marriage
un mariage blanc – a marriage of convenience
un mariage gris – a scam in which a person marries a French person in order to gain valid      
    working papers, then divorces the unsuspecting spouse
un mariage civil – a civil wedding ceremony
Mariage pluvieux, mariage heureux – a rainy wedding makes for a happy marriage

 

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Smokey says: my pawrents: Maw (right) and Paw (left). Speaking of le mariage, I hear these two eloped in Marseilles. Don't miss the story, here, in the latest book (a perfect gift for dog-lovers!) Click here to order.

 

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

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

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety