Francophiles love this word (and so do the French)

Brasserie le bolero

A stroll through Marseilles, some cheesy characters, a faulty ego and a sack of steel? De quoi faire une histoire amusante. All you need for an entertaining story!

flâner (flah-nay)

    : (to walk) to stroll, wander
    : (to do nothing) to laze, idle, lounge about

These flâner definitions are as charming as the word itself: to amble, lounge, lollygag, to traipse, sashay, drift... May they carry you away to a delightful place today!

Also le flâneur/la flâneuse = idler, lounger

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

Flaneur for a Day

When Jean-Marc mentioned he had some deliveries in Marseilles, Tuesday, I hitched a ride with him to the city. I had administrative paperwork to take care of, and was grateful the American Consulate could accommodate this last-minute ride share, by penciling me in!

"But I'll have to drop you off early," Jean-Marc warned. "An hour before the consulate opens."

That wouldn't be a problem, I assured my husband, happy not to have to drive or find parking in centre ville. There was only one little pépin, or glitch, to this free ride: I'd be sharing it with a carload of wine and a gigantic surfboard! 

"C'est la planche à voile de Pierre..." Jean-Marc explained, as he lifted the bars beside the armrest so I could crawl to the seat. Crammed in with the board on one side and the bars on the other, my breath suddenly shortened and I sensed a panic attack coming on, years after keeping anxieties at bay. It was time to refocus. Seated there in a sort of windsurfing vise, I reasoned: this is indeed another absurd situation--one only my husband could create!--but it would make for a good story, eventually. Now sit tight!

In Marseilles I learned that absurdity is in the eye of the beholder. Currently beholding a 6 pound set of steel balls, I huffed and puffed carrying out an errand Jean-Marc had given me ("In your spare time, please stop by Fred's office. He has a gift for Max....")

It was the least I could do, deliver Godfather's present to my son. I just wished I had known, beforehand, what was in the package (a set of bocce balls!). I could then have adjusted my planning--and done the pick-up after my hour-long stroll up and down the streets of Marseilles, from Rue Breteuil to the Vieux Port and back to the consulate to catch my ride home.

Then again, those heavy steel balls (or boules or pétanque balls as they are called here) were a kind of carte blanche in the city, opening many doors and opportunities....

Standing in front of Les Arcenaulx, a favorite artsy spot (you can have tea in a room full of books! and then visit the art gallery upstairs). For years I have enjoyed peeping in beyond the great doors, to the escalier lined with old mailboxes--each with a character all her own!

No sooner had I arrived, a three-kilo sack of steel balls dangling from my side, then the gaggle of old ladies in the entry quickly cleared! I now had an unobstructed view of les boîtes à lettres! As the women sent surreptitious glances, I snapped away.

mailboxes - les arcenaulx (c) Kristin Espinasse

Now, a little farther down the square, when I spotted a couple of construction workers in a third-story window, I didn't hesitate to ask for their photo. 

And when they balked, I smiled, lifting my little bag of boules. Photo? or a game of pétanque? With that, they chuckled, hamming it up:

Then they turned the tables--asking me for my photo! As they pulled out their smartphones I smiled up at them, feeling very small, wondering how gray were my temples, how thin was my skin? It was painful standing there like that, until I let go of my ego just as these two strangers had. 

Beaming from the unexpected exchange, I hugged my camera and package close, and wondered where the lucky charms would lead next.

After strolling past the friendly fishmongers lined up along the Vieux Port (and enjoying the school children who squealed seeing the octopus and other splashing fish on display), I needed a rest. The pétanque balls were heavier than ever and it felt good to set them down on the café table at La Samaritaine--my mom's favorite café, and an institution in Marseilles! 

Seated just inside the front door, I had a wonderful view of the Ferris wheel--and more memories of Mom came flooding back (how she dreams of riding the "Paris Wheel" as she calls the Ferris wheels of France, no matter where they are).

Ferris wheel in marseilles

Lost in a tender rêverie, the waiter's voice was startling to me. "Boules?" he questioned, the appreciation written across his face was unmistakable.

"Oh, they belong to my son," I said, wishing for a wittier response.

And when it came time to pay the bill, the clever response came (only it came from the waiter):

"Voici, Mademoiselle!"

Touché! The mademoiselle remark did wonders for the spirit, young as ever--no matter the weather! (And for his compliment, the waiter got a big tip and who cares whether he was honest!)

Watching the waiter erase the ardoise, or menu board, and add the day's special, I knew it was l'heure: "time," as the French say. Time to go meet my husband. But not without a great sigh of appreciation. The morning stroll through old Marseilles was enough to refuel this creative wagon and its sometimes overserious passenger....

...which brings me back to the car ride and the reminder that the day's voyage had begun with such absurdity! Come to think of it, that's an awfully unfriendly word for what is nothing more than innovation on my husband's part! And creativity leads to more creativity until, before you know it, you are floating through a new experience buoyed by exciting new characters--your heart soaring so high it might pop, but for a handy sack of steel balls to keep you safely grounded. 

To comment click here. Thanks in advance! 

a planche à voile = windsurf board
un escalier = stairs
la boîte à lettres = mailbox
c'est l'heure = it's time


 Delivered Fred's present to his godson, Max--who immediately put the boules or pétanque balls to good use :-)

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Petanque set


Polished Alloy Boules (Petanque) set: Shop here.



Grape expectations
A must read for anyone who's dreamed of owning their own vineyard, at times gritty, at times joyful, Grape Expectations is an inspiring story of how one couple changed their lives."  —Jamie Ivey, author, Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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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.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Fishing boats, or "pointus", at the end of Marseilles... These vessels have almost as much character as the man in today's story. Read on and enjoy.

une âme (am) noun, feminine

  1. soul; spirit; heart; essence

La patience est le sourire de l'âme.
Patience is the soul's smile.
--Philippe Obrecht

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

In the tiny fishing village of les Goudes, the second to last port along Marseilles' limestone coast, Jean-Marc admires the small Provençal fishing boats while I snap photos. The names of the wooden pointus have as much character as the boats themselves: the fun-loving "Fanny" has received a new coat of white paint and the thick green border around her "waist" has been filled in again; "Paulette's" sides are a bit chipped which suits her chipie personality; further down the dock, the boats "Saint Antoine" and "Saint Nicolas" rock in silent meditation.

Stepping off the docks on our way out of the port, we hear, "Do you want some wood?" Jean-Marc and I turn toward the voice. "Please, take some," the man in the salt and pepper beard continues. Jean-Marc stares down at a pile of driftwood, or bois flottant. As if reading his mind, the fisherman replies, "It's no good for burning." Before Jean-Marc can decline, the man adds, "but you can make art out of it!"

Jean-Marc and I look at each other quizzically. "I'll show you," the man offers, introducing himself as "Camille" (pronouncing it 'ka-me'). "Venez," Come. I look over to the boats: Fanny and Paulette seem to wink and so we enter the fisherman's cottage.

Inside Camille's cabanon the walls are whitewashed--except for one--which holds the cheminée and is painted azure-blue. To the right of the front door is a matchbox kitchen delineated by a U-shaped counter; the kitchen floor is slightly wider than the fisherman's belly. Knives line the wall below a few dented casseroles. There are two wooden tabourets on the opposite side of the concrete counter, which overlooks the small room with the azure colored wall.

"These chairs," Camille explains, "are called 'assis-debout.' Workers lean back on them, not quite seated (assis), not quite standing (debout)." Camille demonstrates, pretending to shuck oysters on the counter before him.

"Venez." We follow Camille's suggestion and take the stairs which lead to a bedroom just off the wooden mezzanine. We walk single file past the unmade bed to the terrace, which overlooks the tiny port. There, on the balcony, Camille has put more driftwood out to dry. Below, I see Fanny and Paulette who are bumping hips on the sparkling dance floor that covers the sea all the way to Africa; the wooden Saints, Antoine and Nicolas, bob up and down and seem to make the sign of the cross in response to the dancing she-boats.

We leave the terrace, pausing before a chest of drawers. Camille points to the unusual applique that camouflages a lightbulb on the wall above; it reminds me of a buffalo scull from my native Arizona, only this one is made of bois and not bone. "Voilà. You can create something like this," he says, reminding us of the woodpiles bleaching beneath the Mediterranean sun. I admire the applique, wondering how we could ever make something so clever as it.

We return to the room with the azure wall to stand in front of the windows which are level with the boats outside. Camille explains that each year he paints the shutters and each year the Mistral wind strips them all over again. Last year he solved the problem by painting them with a product used on boats like Fanny. I study the painted blue shutters until my eyes land on what looks to be a bookshelf below. "Do you know what that is?" Camille says, noticing my interest. "The lavandières used to wash clothes inside there. The linens were pushed against the accordion base in order to free the dirt from the cloth."

At the end of our visit Camille tells us that the fishing port of Les Goudes is where the soul of Marseilles lies. I wonder if Camille might be the âme of Marseilles incarnate, but I don't tell him this. Instead we thank him for the driftwood and promise to "make art out of it."


la chipie = little devil; le bois flottant = driftwood; le cabanon = cottage; la cheminée = fireplace; la casserole = saucepan; le tabouret = stool; une applique = appliqué (bulb/lamp cover); le bois = wood; la lavandière = woman who handwashes clothes, washerwoman; une âme = soul

       The Pudlo Paris guide--available in English for the first time in 17 years!
       Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French

:: Audio File ::
Hear my daughter, Jackie, pronounce the word âme and today's quote:
La patience est le sourire de l'âme.
MP3 file: Download ame1.mp3
Wave file: Download ame1.wav

Francophile Gifts and more...:
  In DVD: Visions of France
  In music... Provence: A Romantic Journey
  Gathered from the salt beds of Camargue: Fleur De Sel

French Expressions:
une âme soeur = a kindred soul
rendre l'âme = to give up the ghost
se donner corps et âme à quelqu'un = to give oneself body and soul to someone

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

un filleul

(photo of my husband, Jean-Marc, and his filleul, Matthieu)

Easy_speak_frenchEazyspeak French teaches 800 vocabulary words; quickly extends conversational skills

un filleul (fee-yul) noun, masculine
1. godson, godchild

filleule = goddaughter
filleul de guerre = adoptive son (in wartime)

Mon filleul va bientôt partir, ainsi la guerre va devenir plus personnelle pour moi. My godson is going over soon, so the war's about to get personal for me. --Garry Trudeau.

"I love Marseilles. When I was young, I loved to feel the Mistral wind blowing through me. I would stand still and just let it whip through my hair. I can no longer bear the Mistral. But I still love Marseilles." --Mme. Chollet

In the spice-scented salon* of the Chollet's home, I marvel at four generations of French women, one as beautiful as the next. The great-grandmother, with her dark chocolate brown hair and large clip-on earrings, recounted her passion for the windy city. Curiously, her lust for Massalia* skipped a generation, to her granddaughter. Her very own daughter (seated beside her, dressed all in black and looking very Cannoise*) prefers La Côte d'Azur, explaining, "Les Marseillais* are violent like the wind that blows through their city! The wind is mild in Cannes."

I sat facing my friend Corinne, her mother, and grandmother, thinking about how my feelings for a city that I once called home had changed. I didn't always like Marseilles. At one point I despised it. Returning now, as a visitor, I am enchanted by this historical town founded by the Greeks over 2600 years ago.

Earlier, as we motored through the 8th arrondissement, past the Bagatelle (where Jean-Marc and I were first married, but that is another story...) I found myself wondering how, newly arrived, I could not see the charm and beauty of this ancient city. Back then, Marseilles felt like a perpetual attack on this desert rat. (I would not recommend moving from warm, dry Phoenix to cold, windy Marseilles; Chicago to Marseilles, why not, but Phoenix/Marseilles--forget it!)

The cruel wind, the absence of a "user friendly" anything, the aggressive, unsympathetic government employees who threatened to deport me, and the lack of edible tortillas were just a few elements that wrecked havoc on the successful integration of this Phoenician, in a town founded by the Phocaeans.*

But now, 14 years later, I can't help but be caught up in the whirl of this action-packed, passionate, multi-ethnic ville.* Marseilles IS violent. Like its famous Mistral wind, it kicks, pushes, whirls, stomps, spits, and sometimes slams, daring you to cling right back to it, for the ride of your life.

My first child came into this world via Marseilles, kicking and screaming like the wind, which might explain his constant joie de vivre. (My daughter was born in Aix-en-Provence, and is reserved like the Aixois, or citizens of Aix.)

But, returning to our story, and to the Chollet's cozy salon, we were about to celebrate the birthday of a little guy who had just turned two. Matthieu, pronounced "ma-tyeuh," is my husband's filleul* (and the birthday boy in question).

Matthieu's mother, Corinne, had prepared five desserts for the celebration and, knowing what a good cook she is, I got in line illico* to sample the gateau au chocolat,* crumble au poires,* Madeleines, gateau au yaourt* and a brownie...or two.

Next we watched the birthday boy (dressed in a t-shirt that read "J'ai 2 ans!" I'm 2!) boogie and chanter.* And what did he sing? A song about St. Tropez! I take it that passion for Marseilles has just skipped another generation.

References: le salon (m) = the living room; Massalia = Marseilles' original name; une Cannoise = a woman from Cannes; les Marseillais = the people of Marseilles; Phocaeans = inhabitants of an ancient district of central Greece; une ville (f) = a city; un filleul (m) = godson; illico = right away; gâteau au chocolat (m) = chocolate cake; crumble aux poires = pear crumble; gâteau au yaourt (m) = yogurt cake; chanter = to sing

Hear French spoken:
Listen to Jean-Marc recite today's quote: Download filleul2.wav
Mon filleul va bientôt partir, ainsi la guerre va devenir plus personnelle pour moi.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 19th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

Mille mercis for purchasing our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.