Lampadaires (c) Kristin Espinasse

At a souk in the Medina of Marrakesh. (Mom, I promise I did not see the "no photo" sign until much later! Not that this would have stopped you from taking a picture!)

Update: No newsletter or word-a-day, on Monday. I'll be in Avignon, chez le plasticien, or plastic surgeon. Wish me luck (it's only a consultation, following the skin scare). Also, wish Jean-Marc & our crew courage--for it's the first day of the red wine harvest!

vexer (vexay) verb

    : to upset, to morally injure

il m'a vexé = he upset me
elle est vexée = she is offended
se vexer = to be hurt (emotionally) 

A person who is vexé might also feel irked, miffed, or annoyed--or quite over and done with you! (as was the man in the following story... read on....


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

Accidental Offender

While in Marrakech for un mariage, I joined a group of wedding guests for a visit to the souq--an outdoor market selling everything from oriental rugs to virility drugs (and in the "everything in between category", please know that for a certain number of dirham coins you can dance with a wide-headed, beady-eyed serpent, while the snake charmer holds your destiny in his flute filled hands!). 

I watched in amusement as we tourists let ourselves be lured into the crowded stalls of the bustling bazaar. "Come in, come in!" The stall owners beckoned, as we navigated the maze of shops. "It doesn't cost anything to look!" they called after the shy or suspicious shoppers. "And if you find it anywhere for less--I'll give it to you for free!" But I wasn't in the market for anything more than a treasured experience, and my fellow soukers--not to be confused with "suckers", for they were not at all falling prey to the peddlers--were helping to grant this wish. I watched as my friend Isa purchased, from the street chemist, Moroccan dye powder (for painting her kitchen) in canary yellow, Mediterranean blue, and brick red. As the shop-keeper transferred the colorful powder from large mason jars to tiny plastic baggies, he pointed to the opposite wall (covered from floor to ceiling with more mason jars, inside of which there were mangled roots and dried leaves and other mysterious things). "Can I interest you in some viagra pour femme?" My friend laughed at the shopkeeper's gumption. "Je n'ai vraiment pas besoin, Monsieur!" Isa's husband, Eric, who sat on a nearby bench, shrugged his shoulders but could not hide his pride. I was impressed with Isa's moxie, but I couldn't help but picture the locals, or the modest women in head-scarfs, and I wondered about the demand (a popular one?) for such a love potion. Out of respect, I quickly let the image (that of an eyelash-batting berber) dissipate in my mind's eye. Best to leave the shroud of mystery in its place, for such is the beauty of a foreign land.

Weaving in and out of the market stalls, our small group purchased Moroccan slippers, or les babouches, silver earrings, cendriers, tassels, and pottery. And when Temptation finally met me, she came swiftly calling from outside the ironmonger's. There, in a shopfront no wider than a minivan, I found my objet fétiche

It was an antique door-knocker (much like this one) shaped like a hand curled over a metal ball. The detail was such that the hand even had une bague on it! I had seen and photographed the hand-heurtoirs, but they were rarely found for purchase.

This one was unique in that it was a mini version of the others. The shopkeeper unhooked the iron knocker from the display and set it in my hand, where I cradled it, admiring its colorful facets, in faded blue and green and burgundy. The paint had been scrubbed off, leaving a fragmented patina which lended so much life to the object that, if it were mine, I wouldn't dream of tampering with it further. It couldn't be more accidentally perfect! 

The peddler told me a story about these iron hands, seen on doors throughout his country: "...placed at the entrance of one's home, they protect one from the evil eye!" His own eyes narrowed as he studied his potential buyer....

I nodded, further captured by the history, which I had never thought of or even wondered about before. "Combien?" I asked the skinny shopkeeper.

"500 dirham."

The antique piece was 50 euros. Too much for me--I had only 100 dirham--enough for lunch, but no where near enough to buy this unique, evil spirit repelling door piece (not that I had plans to put it on a door: It might be used on a wooden medicine cabinet, a desk, a beehive mailbox, an armoire--or used as a paper weight or an interesting bibelot--the possibilities were endless!)

Noticing my first attempt at negotiation, a member of our group wandered over.

"Combien?" Jean-Philippe asked, only to get the same answer from the owner ("500 dirham!").

"Too much!" my souk gardien informed the skinny adversaire. "Let's go!"

And with that, I let myself be led aside in what would be one of many moves in The Game of Negotiation. The stall keeper called us back, "450, then!"

"Non, mais, ce n'est même pas la peine!" "At this rate, it's not even worth negotiating," Jean-Philippe answered, brushing the man off, and I followed my friend to the next stall, as we carefully left our ears behind, at the thin man's shop--lest we miss the next offer!

"Take it for 250!" The man shouted.

Cupping one hand over his mouth, Jean-Philippe whispered to me: "How much do you have?" 
"Only a hundred," I admitted, feeling the first pangs of guilt--for I did not mean to take advantage of the thin man!--but before I could be completely overcome by my conscience, Jean-Philippe made the final offer: "100 dirham!" 

The thin man shook his head in aggravation. "Non! 120 dirham!"

I could not believe it -- the treasured object might be mine for 120 dirham--almost one-fifth of the price! Only, that is when I learned that the twenty dirham that were needed to seal the deal were nowhere to be found. My friend had spent all his money in the previous shops. The others in our group had disappeared and I stood there with my 100 dirham note, not daring ask the man to lower the price any further.

I rifled through my wallet, finding only a two-euro coin. But two euros did equal 20 dirham... if only the man would accept foreign currency--as the other shop owners had.

I had wandered away from the salesman in order to check my purse for any money that might have slipped into its very seams, and by the time returned to make a final offer, the shop owner ignored me! I showed him my 100 dirham bill and the two euro coin. He shook his head, angrily, and waved me away. "Je l'ai vendu!" he snapped, dismissing me. "It's been sold!" 

The thin man's reply came as swift as a slap in the face. More than the disappointment of losing the chance to buy the door-knocker, I felt a surge of shame. I knew the stall-owner had not sold the antique hand, or "chaser of evil eyes", as he had earlier taught me. He seemed to have yanked it from the display and hidden it away--after very nearly being thieved by an evil tourist! His message was clear: I would be the last person on earth to have the privilege of buying the door-knocker! All that was left to do now, was to SCAMPER back to the little hole from which I had crawled out of, while searching my purse seams for loose change.

"The shop owner is vexed," my friend Jean-Philippe, explained, feeling horrible that I'd missed the chance at buying the antique. Only what Jean-Philippe didn't realize is that he wasn't to blame. What's more, I'd taken away with me a priceless souvenir: one that would be a valuable lesson in respect: there is a limit to negotiation; in a healthy transaction there must be a positive balance... and that sometimes leaves a fine line between finding a good advantage for oneself... and taking advantage of another.


I never meant to vex or to take advantage of the thin man--and I yearned to turn back and let him know this truth... The idea came to me that I might even give him, flat out--for keeps!--the 100 dirham and the two euros, to boot--a steal, after all, for this lesson in humility! Only, out of respect for the one vexed, I did not turn back. In so preserving his self-righteousness, indeed--his very dignity--I dragged on.

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments and stories of your own are welcome, here, in the comments box. 


Selected French Vocabulary

un mariage = marriage

viagra pour femme = women's viagra

le cendrier = ashtray

combien? = how much?

le bibelot = knick-knack

adversaire = opponent

un objet fétiche = a favorite (collected) object

une bague = a ring

un heurtoir = (door) knocker


Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the five-star reviews, and order, here.


  Dragonflies (c) Kristin Espinasse

While walking along the ruisseau, Braise, Smokey, and I stopped in our tracks, and stood mesmerized by these dragonflies. Read a tender story about "The Lost Libellule," or dragonfly, here

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Trajet: Drivers, travelling in Morocco, and the road to Marrakesh

Moroccan Woman (c) Kristin Espinasse
In contrast to the chaos in today's story, we'll begin with a peaceful glimpse of Morocco. Read on, now, for another 'picture'! (Photo taken two years ago, on a family trip.)

le trajet (trah jay)

    : trip, journey

In books: French Demystified...simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student. Order your copy here.

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav file

Le trajet à Marrakesh était un veritable parcours du combattant!
The ride to Marrakesh was a real obstacle course!


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

The Motorway to Marrakesh

When Jean-Marc was asked to be témoin, or best man, in the marriage of a childhood friend, he could not refuse the honor--never mind the delicate timing (during our busy wine harvest!) or the not-so-convenient location: Afrique

No sooner had our plane arrived in Morocco's "Red City" than I began to suspect that the town's colorful synonym had something to do with blood, for the ride from the airport to the hotel was nothing short of a death march.

I stared out the shuttle window at fellow travelers along a chaotic chemin (was it a highway or an expressway?). It couldn't be an autoroute... or why would 5 lanes of traffic include both man and animal? By 'man', I mean homo pedestrian, and, by animal... well, there were camels and donkeys and dogs... and monkeys walking along the expressway, too!

There on the outskirts of the airport, we were one great procession, weaving, wobbling, crawling (were those toddlers teetering on the curb of the express way? Mon Dieu!) ...zipping, shrieking, and honking our way forward, toward the setting sun.

As the sky darkened, the fragile human and animal pèlerinage began to fade into the background, where streetlights ...when alight... cast a faint lumière on the surreal atmosphere.

Our bus lurched forward, yanked to and fro by the whim of its heavy-handed operator, who seemed faintly amused by his passengers' terror.

Between gasps, puffs, and more sharp intakes of air, I evacuated my fear, to the amusement of those more experienced passengers. The man in the front seat, on hearing me, began a game with the driver, so that each time a member of pedestrian traffic was spared, he shouted: râté! ("damn, missed that one!"). His macabre sense of humor only goaded the driver, who homed in a little closer, each time, to the living, breathing "obstacles".

From my unsecured seat (no ceintures, or seat belts!) facing the menacing windshield, I watched as entire families were transported on a single moped: father (in a protective helmet) at the helm of the rickety scooter, followed by baby, then wife. (The babies--for this wasn't the first family aboard a moped!--were sandwiched in between the driver and the veiled mother--neither of which wore safety headgear!) 

Criss-crossing the swaying flow of traffic, were the elderly and the disabled... who seemed to have wandered onto the highway from a hospital bed somewhere.... I watched a blind man (he would have had to have been aveugle to have ventured into this death trap) navigate across the traffic lanes, with the help of his cane! 

Arriving at a roundabout the traffic lanes narrowed and I heard scraping... I turned to see the metal bite of a donkey rubbing against our bus's window as the fellow travelers (our bus and the donkey) squeezed together when the lanes merged, or bottle-necked.  

Wait! No! But! Ahhhh! Gosh! Eek! Oh!.... I gasped.

"Raté!" the sadistic copilot shouted, in mock disappointment, and I saw that the donkey's hooves were spared from the bus tires. But I could take no more. I closed my eyes and thought about my childhood in Arizona, where drivers stayed to the very center of the wide traffic lanes. If a driver needed to change lanes, he first made his intentions known by deploying what, in America, we call a "turn signal" or "blinker" (a bright light that flashes a clear-as-day warning to surrounding motorists). As for fellow motorists ("motor" being key), in America we classify as "traffic" the collective presence of vehicles (mobile machines with four--or sometimes two--wheels and an engine) on a given road. And people are not normally considered vehicles, indeed, walking anywhere near a motorway meant that you would be committing a crime punishable by law (JAYWALKING!).

Speaking of crime, where were the traffic police? Who were the powers that be that were supposed to be watching over this swaying, scraping, uncontained menagerie? What about safety?

I leaned forward to inquire about traffic statistics, specifically incidents of death: "Just how many accidents mortels happen each year?" I asked the driver.

"No accidents!" he insisted. 

"No accidents?" Just then I watched another near-miss, when a scooter slipped sideways between a donkey-drawn carriage and a truck... were those feathers flying out of the truck bed? Was that a squawk? And what about the poor souls hidden from view--the casualties who were on their way to becoming casualties (or the chickens on their way to the slaughterhouse?) Didn't they count, too?!

"No accidents!" the driver insisted, and I noticed his conviction, which was backed up by his own testimony. Looking out over the streaming sea of innocents, some old, some young, some furry, some bent, he announced.

"God is protecting us."



Well, I couldn't argue with that. Whispering "amen", I stared, with awe, out the window, at the fragile-yet-confident travelers, who advanced toward the hazy horizon, beyond which the mysterious universe traveled on and on.  


French Vocabulary

le témoin = best man, witness

Afrique = Africa

le chemin = road

l'autoroute (f) = motorway, expressway

le pèlerinage = pilgrimmage

râté! = missed (target)

la ceinture = seat belt

aveugle = blind

accident mortel = deadly accident

Exercises in French Phonics is... " a great book for learning French pronunciation" Order your copy here

Sara midda's South of France: a sketchbook Sara Midda's South of France is a place of ripening lemons and worn espadrilles, ochre walls and olive groves, and everything born of the sun. It lies between the Mediterranean and the Maritime Alps, and most of all in the artist's eye and passion. Read the glowing reviews, click here.

In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.

Eiffel Tower Cookie Cutter -  handcrafted by artisans to last for generations. Order here.


auto ecole drivers school in France lamp post shutter hanging laundry
The shop sign reads "drivers school". Do you have a minute to read another story... about learning to drive in France? I'll never forget the smug feeling of driving to my driving school class... only to feel humbled, when I had to sit beside the 17-year-old students (at 38, I had been driving for almost 20 years! Yet... it was necessary to pass the French driver's exam. Read the story "Conduire" here


THANKS, to those of you who wrote in, in response to my story about the search for a good "skin doctor"! I am moved by your caring words, as former patients and as friends and family of those who have had an experience with skin carcinoma. Thanks also to the doctors who took the time to write in with encouragement and helpful information. Update: this picture was taken 6 months after my surgery. More about that scar on my forehead, here.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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

French Word-A-Day @ Twitter!

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

objectif (owb-jek-teef) noun, masculine

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


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The fun way to learn French

Audio File & Example Sentence:
Download Wav or Download Objectif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, Mom told me a story about the Native Americans from my native Arizona: has been said that American Indians feel that the lens steals their âme*....

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

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

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

French Vocabulary

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety