mal barre = up the creek, in big trouble, screwed

Paris window (c) Kristin Espinasse
When Paris looks a little like Provence. Note the subtle details: the outside-the-window cloth blinds, the "pigeon discourager" (can you see those sharp little pins on the window ledge?) the peek inside the stylish interior... 

TODAY'S WORD
mal barré (mal-baray)

DEFINITON
up the creek, in big trouble, screwed

AUDIO FILE: listen to Jean-Marc read the French words below: Download MP3 or Wav file

c'est mal barré = it's not looking good 

Si le mechant loup se pointe ce soir on est mal barrées!
If the big bad wolf arrives tonight we are in big trouble!

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

When I encouraged Jean-Marc and the kids to go on the ski vacation without me, I was looking forward to some time alone—even if the thought of staying on my own in this old mas in the forest scared me.

Why not have a friend over? I thought, only to realize that though I have a thousand friends they are all on the other side of this computer screen, reading this post, an ocean or a continent away. 

Then my mother-in-law popped into mind, and soon I was speeding along the seacoast on my way to Marseilles to pick her up and bring her back here to babysit me!  It might have occurred to me then and there, in the parking lot beside my belle-mère's apartment, that I had not chosen the best protector. But it was too late now. Standing outside the passenger side of my car, I reached past my mother-in-law, pulling the seat belt with me to buckle her in. I waited patiently as she pulled her tired feet into the car. "All in?" I checked, before gently shutting the door.

Back home I had Max's room all dolled up for my mother-in-law. I'd stolen extra pillows from all our bedrooms in order to make a cozy headboard for her to relax into as she read the gossip magazines Voici or Paris Match or her favorite fashion mag, Elle. "I've been reading this one for 50 years," she's fond of telling me.

Entering the TV room on our way to the stairs that lead to Max's room, my mother-in-law hesitated. "I think I'd better sleep here on the couch," she explained. Her eyes were fixed on those stairs. Looking over at the escalier I saw, for the first time, how steep those stairs were--and there was no handrail.

"You can take my room," I said, insisting when Michèle-France argued that the couch was just fine. As I helped her up the 4 or 5 stairs that lead to my room, I heard a noise and looked over my shoulder at the cracked window behind me. No one was there, but that vulnerable feeling returned. Maybe I should have brought my sleeping bag and camped out at my mother-in-law's? But her apartment is too tiny for a 4-day visit, no matter how appealing the thought of curling up in her armchair was just now.


That evening I spied my mother-in-law making our soup. She sat in front of her favorite feuilleton, or soap opera, having dragged the little side table into the room. She had set the vegetables on the table and the soup pot on the floor between her feet. I watched as she slowly peeled the pumpkin, letting the skin fall onto the table; next she cut off little pieces of pumpkin, letting them fall into the soup pan on the ground below her. 

As I walked into the room she startled, having been caught watching her soap—but it wasn't the feuilleton that upset me, it was the fact that she'd begun peeling those tough vegetables. I didn't want her to hurt herself. If you have ever peeled a French pumpkin, or potiron, you know how difficult it is to remove the skin without cutting off a finger in the process!

"I have my system," Michèle-France explained, and I smiled as I watched the vegetables drop into the pot. (Having taken a seat beside the chef, in order to try my hand at cutting up the onions, my pride was hurt when the pieces I cut missed the pot, landing on the dusty floor beside it.

"You need to work on your aim," my mother-in-law teased. Then suddenly her face looked pained. She explained that after her accident ten years ago, she cannot raise her arm much higher than the table, and therefore this gravity system works for her. I watched as a piece of carrot hit the pan on the ground below us.

When we finished the soup prep we carried the pot and the peelings (wrapped in the newspaper that had protected the table) back to the kitchen. My mother-in-law dragged her feet behind me and I couldn't help but fret over the stair she was about to descend to get to the kitchen or the old floor tiles that could trip her up at any time. Noticing me watching her she cracked a joke, as is her style; and then on a more serious note she said:

"I am not an old lady. I am a lady who is advancing in age."

Though my belle-mère did not mean to embarrass me, I was a little ashamed at how my watchful eye that followed her every step had not gone unnoticed.

At the kitchen table, we ate some pot roast along with our soup. My mother-in-law brought the cold rôti, along with a few other leftovers, including salade frisée, from her fridge in Marseilles. Only, seated there at the table, I noticed her difficulty in cutting her meat.

"Je peux?" I ask, hoping not to sound insulting.

"S'il te plaît," my mother-in-law appreciates the offer.

Reaching over, I cut up her viande into small pieces, as I used to do for our kids, when they were little.

Next, I got up to check the front door, making sure we were locked in for the night. Returning to the table I answered the telephone. It was my beau-frère, checking in on us.

"So how is your bodyguard?" Jacques snickered.

"What's he saying?" my belle-mère interrupted.

"He is asking about my garde du corps."

"Ah!" my mother-in-law laughed. "Well, if the big bad wolf shows up tonight, we are up the the creek!" 

I look over at my bodyguard, who can barely lift her fork to her mouth, because of a troubled shoulder. True, she won't be fending off any thieves should we have the misfortune of receiving a visit tonight... worse, she may even be a liability (for how can I head for the hills -- jumping out the back window, without her? I couldn't leave her like that. I'd have to drag her with me!).

And yet, her very presence is enormously comforting to me. After dinner I say goodnight, leaving my mother-in-law to watch her evening programs. Shutting the door to my son's room, I crawl into his empty bed, beneath the covers. There, I curl up and the sound of the television and my mother-in-law's occasional response to it soothes me.

Michèle-France may not be a bodyguard, but she's no old lady either. Her feisty character and loving presence are all I need to fall restfully to sleep.

***


French Vocabulary

le mas = an old farm house in the South of France

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

un escalier = stairs, staircase 

un feuilleton = soap opera (more here)

le rôti = roast 

la salade frisée = curly salad

je peux? = may I

s'il te plaît = please do

la viande = meat 

le beau-frère = brother-in-law (can also mean step-brother or half-brother)
 

How to properly pronounce French words? Read this inexpensive book!

 

Friends and shadows (c) Kristin Espinasse
At the stables, near Nyons, where my daughter used to ride.

Words... and more words (c) Kristin Espinasse

Memoir update: bad news, I put the memoir project back on the burner last week. I didn't want to be glued to my computer during my mother-in-law's visit and, being an all or nothing person, it was easy to convince myself that I'd dropped out of the project once a couple of no-write days slipped by. à suivre (to be continued, I hope!) (Pictures, some other books I published over the years, including one house-published edition. I seemed to have so much energy, back then... Blossoming in Provence, not pictured, was the latest publication.)

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Les dents de bonheur - "Happiness Teeth" are part of this elogy

Dear Reader,

The regular edition of French Word-A-Day will return in a few days. Meantime, I've been trying to write a eulogy for my belle-mère without sounding too sentimental, too dramatic, or too poetic--but all of these things, from poesie to sentimentality, evoke the richness of Michele-France's life. This--and her humor, her stubbornness, and that charming gap between her front teeth (the French have a term for this: "happiness teeth" or les dents du bonheur)--only begin to paint of picture of our beloved, ginger-haired Pied-Noir (born in Meknes and proud of it. She was the daughter of an equally strong-willed mother).

Since losing Michèle-France on Christmas Eve, I have pinpointed just what it is that provokes each flood of tears, each hiccup of emotion, each groan in my throat as I toss in bed, walk past her apartment, or sit on a pew watching the curtains close in front of her flower-topped casket, as I did Thursday. It is the realization that there will be no more. No more "My darlings" (Ma chérie, she would say with such tenderness), no more visits to her little apartment up the street, no more shared yogurt cakes, no more "I didn't want to bother Jean-Marc so I'm calling you to remind him to..." no more attitude towards the nurses, sass towards the shop assistants as she limped into the store with the help of her cane and her granddaughter, no more intelligent jokes, no more beautifully painted-red fingernails, a string of gold rings (one from her son) below, no more Elvis, no more bodyguard, no more teasing me about her son's ex-girlfriends, and, I will admit...

NO MORE TAPENADE. You little rascal, I say to my belle-mère during another earth-to-heaven conversation. I've asked you for years for your tapenade recipe. And you went and took it with you!!

In a poignant send-off arranged by the crematorium, to the tune of Love is all we have left, the curtains at the front of the ceremony room open once again. My belle-mère's casket is gone and all that remains is a crown of flowers on the floor. I am stunned.

* * *       

"I miss you so much it hurts," I wrote on Facebook, where my mother-in-law's account is still live. Though she struggled with technology Michèle-France did not let a learning curve keep her from keeping up with the times. Quickly overlooked by her Facebook friends (including some of you) were the gaffes she made (like using a photo of a stranger (you?) as her profile picture. And posting another photo--this time of one of my sponsor's luxury villas--to use as her cover photo). Her grandchildren (or was it my sister-in-law? for Jean-Marc had given up) eventually came to the rescue, helping her to find a suitable picture of herself to use as her profile (and the luxury villa was replaced by a more modest interior belonging to....my sister-in-law! This all could be explained by the following: while my belle-mère tried to conquer technology--she still couldn't figure out her smartphone camera, or else she might have posted a picture of her own lovely salon, or living room.). 

My heart now in a brace, I clicked open Messenger to read over the SMS conversations we'd had over the years. Michèle-France's texts were filled with gratitude and those silly stickers she got me to use, too (do you know the one with the dog digging in the ground and retrieving the big I MISS YOU heart? She was telling us she missed us even before she left this earth).

Now it is our turn to feel the weight of her absence. How heavy it is! Heavy as all those buckets of olives we were planning to cart over to her little apartment when, last fall, she announced that she was feeling better--good enough to make another batch of tapenade. We never got to make that tell-all batch, in which the longtime mystery (those ingredients!) would be revealed. Instead, a bigger mystery has replaced it: Where in the world is my belle-mère? I've been looking for her everywhere--in the sky, in my dark room at night, in the intricate designs in the tiles on my bathroom wall, in the waves crashing across the shore here in La Ciotat, at the top of our cypress tree beyond a bent branch--surely she's looking down on me? I can hear her tender voice, Ma Chérie, Ma Chérie....

She is, I decide, in every particle in everything, everywhere and everlasting. She is as close as a memory...as far as the Heavens. Surely she is up there--waving her tapenade recipe, smiling with those charming dents de bonheur. There is nothing she would keep from you or me, least of all her generosity. In the coming year, I will be reaching, reaching high for those heavenly instructions. I will share with you anything I find.

Amicalement,

Kristi


Michele-france jean-marc and mr sacks
My mother-in-law (those charming "happiness teeth"), my husband, and good ol' Mr. Sacks, who my belle-mère called "Monsieur Sacoche".

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Sad news: Une triste nouvelle concernant ma belle-mère


It is with great sadness that my family and I announce that Michèle-France--mother, belle-mère and granny extraordinaire--has passed away on Christmas Eve. 

We will share more about her life when we return to France for her funeral, which will take place on January 4th, 4 pm local time in France.  

Amicalement, 
Kristi, Jean-Marc, Max, and Jackie 

IMG_20150311_120157.jpg

belle-mère belle-fille mother-in-law daughter-in-law

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Rondelle + Recipe everyone's asking for! My Mother-in-Law's Summer Pizza!

Eggplant-tart
Michèle-France's Pizza d'Ete. Summer Pizza.

TODAY'S WORD: une rondelle

    : slice

Note: rondelle, in this sense, is used for slices of tomato, zucchini, lemon, sausage etc. Careful not to ask for a rondelle de pizza! Instead, ask for une part de pizza.

ECOUTEZ - hear Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and read his mother's recipe.
First, listen to the soundfile, then check the text (in the story below) to test your comprehension.
Download MP3 or Download Rondelle

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE


    by Kristi Espinasse

A favorite comfort food of mine is toast--and toast, in French, is pain grillé (think of it, "grilled pain"! No wonder it is so effective!).

My second favorite comfort food (nourriture de soulagement?) is anything my mother-in-law makes.  Lately, I am loving Michèle-France's summertime tart (really a pizza), and she recently posted the recipe on Facebook! For those who missed it, here's the recipe in French and English. Enjoy it and share it!:

LA RECETTE
Pour vous je donne la recette que j'ai improvisée...
Au lieu de coulis, j'ai mis une sauce avec tomates, ail, oignon, thym sur fond de tarte.
Ensuite, rondelles de courgettes, aubergines, rondelles de tomates, et au dessus quelques olives
Arroser d'un peu d'huile d'olive, du thym parsemé, sel, poivre.
Préchauffer le four. 180C degrés .
Laisser cuire en surveillant la cuisson. Bon appétit. !!!

RECIPE
For you I am offering the recipe I have improvised...
Instead of coulis, I put tomato sauce with garlic, onion, and thyme at the bottom of the tart (pizza dough)
Next, slices of zucchini, eggplant, slices of tomatoes, and a few olives on top.
Drizzle a little olive oil, and sprinkle thyme, salt, pepper on top.
Preheat the oven at 350F.
Keep an eye on it while it cooks. Enjoy!


COMMENTS
To leave a comment click here.

Smokey-reads
Smokey's reading recommendation (ebook, Kindle version here) and a few selected products for summertime. He is also dreaming of baking and his own French baguette pan, to help mold the ideal gallic loaf. A selection of French loaf pans here.

Jackie-fair

Congratulations to our 18-year-old daughter, Jackie, who received her Baccalauréat yesterday! She will go on to university in Aix-en-Provence, continuing her studies in Fashion Design.

Did you know...
International schools following the French Curriculum of education may offer the Baccalauréat (Le Bac) in lieu of or alongside a traditional high school diploma. The Baccalauréat is the traditional school-leaving qualification of French schools. The Baccalauréat is offered in several streams; subjects chosen for the Baccalauréat depend on the stream chosen by the student. (Wikipedia, "High School Diploma")

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Pillow talk, Ex-girlfriends and my Mother-in-law

Red sunflowers in a field of cinsault near Bandol, in Provence

My mother-in-law has discovered google translation as a way to read these posts in French.  I hope Michèle-France will enjoy today's story! (Picture of the red sunflowers growing in our field of cinsault grapes. To see the yellow tournesols, join me on Instagram.)

oreiller (oh-ray-yay) noun, masculine

    : pillow

Related Vocabulary
prendre conseil de son oreiller = to sleep on it (re decision making)
une taie d'oreiller = pillowcase
une bataille d'oreillers = pillow fight 
les confidences (f) sur l'oreiller = pillow talk



AUDIO FILE:
 listen to Jean-Marc read this sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Ma belle-mère m'a offert son propre oreiller. My mother-in-law offered me her very own pillow.

 BLOSSOMING-IN-PROVENCEBlossoming in Provence, "The sort of book the one can read many times and still find it a pleasure." --JH



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

At a beachfront café in Marseilles, Jean-Marc is buttering his mom's toast. "Honey or the confiture d'abricot?" he asks.

"T'es gentil," my mother-in-law thanks her eldest son. "Abricot, s'il te plaît." Taking a sip of her tea, Michèle-France turns her attention my way. "Tu es toujours si jolie," she says. 

Uplifted by her words, I send a grateful smile across the table.

"I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on you," my mother-in-law continues.

My thoughts race back in time. Guiltily I wonder, Did I remember the exact moment too? Little by little, I begin to see the Espinasse family's apartment, in the Roy d'Espagne neighborhood, near the end of Marseilles. I don't remember the pine forest or the sea. I do remember the shining white tiles in the hall entry. I remember that it was just Jean-Marc, his brother, and his mother who lived there in the three-bedroom apartment. I don't recall which floor of the high-rise they lived on—or even taking the ascenseur—though we would have had to.

I do remember the kitchen, where Jean-Marc's mother prepared an exotic-to-this-American dinner (or was it lunch?): lapin à la moutarde. I remember sharing the meal with Jean-Marc's friends, Rachel and Stephan. I do not remember Michèle-France eating with us. Did she discreetly withdraw to her room, to leave us, les amoureux, to dine?

As I reminisce, Michèle-France fills me in on where it was, exactly, that we met the first time she laid eyes on me: 

"I met you in the hallway, after you shuffled out of my son's bedroom!"

I vaguely remember the awkward encounter. Had I been leaving Jean-Marc's bedroom? Behind me, the disheveled sheets would have covered the mattress. You could just see the desk, where Jean-Marc had been showing me his brand new 1989 Macintosh—when we lost interest in computers. I could also see the hook on the wall, where a green robe hung; it was a gift from Jean-Marc's sister. Was I wearing that robe when I met Michèle-France in the hall?!

I must have needed the bathroom. I could almost hear Jean-Marc assuring me no one was around—just go on down the hall. The restroom was at the end of it....

That is when I must have come face to face with Maman. My fears were now materialized and I could not have been more embarrassed. Jean-Marc must have come out of the room, in time to make the introductions.

Any discomfort quickly disappeared when Jean-Marc's mother smiled an unmistakably warm welcome. I will never forget her words: "You can stay as long as you like. You are most welcome here with us. Bienvenue!"

I could not take her up on her generous offer at the time, as I would need to return to Tempe, Arizona, to finish another year and a half of school at ASU.

***

Taking a sip of my café au lait, it is 20 years later now and I do not seem to have overstayed my welcome. My mother-in-law's eyes continue to glimmer la bienvenue!

Michèle-France sets down her tea and looks at me softly. Next she shares with me, for the first time, what her thoughts were that first time we met.

"I remember thinking: this girl will make my son happy one day!"

I return my mother-in-law's gaze. Her words echoed in my mind as I try to etch them there, on a gray-mattered blackboard.

"Oui, je savais que c'était toi qui le rendrait heureux!"

Almost as soon as she's said it, I recognize the beginnings of a rascal's smile as it spreads across my belle-mère's face... evidence her mischievous side is waking up.

"Yes, you were une bouffée d'air frais—a breath of fresh air," she winks, "especially after some of the girls he brought home!"

Recognizing the direction in which we are heading, I raise my hands, quickly inserting my fingers into my ears. "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!" I laugh. Next I begin to hum.

When I take my fingers out of my ears, my mother-in-law is in the middle of reciting a string of sultry names, "Ma..." (MArilyn? MArie? MAnon?) but I will not listen to a word of it—just as I won't listen when Jean-Marc's longtime friends tease me about les anciennes copines.

Jean-Marc laughs as his mom continues her innocent taquinerie, and when it seems safe to unplug my ears I hear this doozy:

"Ah, and that one! What-Was-Her-Name? Je l'ai jetée de mon lit! I threw her out of my very own bed!"

I can't help but appreciate the colorful scenes my mother-in-law paints with her words, and I finally give in, picturing Jean-Marc's mom yanking some hussy, some fille de petite vertu out of her very own bed (sheesh, Jean-Marc—your mom's own bed!).

On a final, tender note, Michèle-France colors in a bright ending to the story:

"But for you," my mother-in-law says as she reaches across the café table and squeezes my hand, "for you I would have offered my very own pillow!"

 

FRENCH VOCABULARY

la confiture d'abricot
 = apricot jam

t'es gentil = you're nice

Tu es toujours si jolie = you are still so pretty

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

un ascenseur = elevator

le lapin à la moutarde = rabbit with mustard sauce

bienvenue = welcome

le café au lait = coffee with milk

Oui, je savais que c'était toi qui le rendrait heureux! = Yes, I knew it was you who would make my son happy!

une bouffée d'air frais = a breath of fresh air

l'ancienne copine = old girlfriend

la taquinerie = teasing



   Jean-Marc and Kristi in 1993

In love in January 1993... only six months before Jean-Marc bought me a one-way ticket home! Find out what happened after that, in the intro to the book Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language (the Polaroid image includes Jean-Marc's notation "la cloche ) fromages"--which is the cheese restaurant where we ate that night.  

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


cross-cultural awareness: say it in French, do it often

Moroccan Woman (c) Kristin Espinasse

I made a lovely acquaintance. Don't miss her in today's story. Picture taken in Morocco, where my mother-in-law once lived and where we celebrated her 70th (in 2011).

la conscience multiculturelle

    : cross-cultural awareness

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

Comment développer la conscience multiculturelle et le respect des autres régions du monde?
How to develop cross-cultural awareness and the respect for other world regions?

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.


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

Clumsy? Ignorant? Afraid?: On not letting your mind talk you out of enlightenment

Driving alone toward Marseilles, my pint-size Citroën was whipped to and fro by the Mistral wind. Passing a semi-truck was a chilling experience, but when cars swept by to my left, au même temps, I gripped the steering wheel in terror.

Wouldn't it be ironic to crash on the way to hospital? Just when I began picturing myself in bed beside my mother-in-law--sporting the same drip system as she--I shook my head, putting the brakes on an overactive imagination. I was not destined to be Michèle-France's hospital roommate. I was going to be her visitor!

Only, arriving at St. Joseph's réanimation wing, I learned visiting hours were over....

In the salle d'attente, I waited to know whether hospital staff would make an exception. After all, I'd travelled far to get here--and even kept calm looking for parking when the hospital lot was complet!

Flipping through a fashion magazine, waiting for the staff's answer, a murmuring of Arabic tickled my ears. Two women seated en face were in a lively conversation. Every so often their sentences were peppered with French. 

The older woman wore a traditional dress and a head scarf and her daughter (?) faded jeans and dyed blond hair. She looked my age, en le quarantaine...

I set aside the magazine. Why look at models when you could admire the real thing? Authentic women

"You are mixing languages," I laughed, entering the conversation.

The blond smiled and her mom lit up. Thick gold fillings in Mom's teeth sparkled along with her smile.

"I do the same," I assured them. "Only in French and English--when I talk to my kids."

My waiting room friends giggled, and I thought to tell them about the wonderful movie I'd seen the night before: La Graine et le Mulet by Abdellatif Kechiche. Only I was quickly riddled with doubts. To  suddenly bring up an Algerian-Tunisian film... wasn't that, after all, assuming? Or dumb or ignorant or flippant? Along the lines of "Hey, I notice you're North African and I just saw a North African film!!!

Et alors? As if guessing or alluding to another's culture was a no-no. The tricks the mind plays on us to keep us silent and alienated one from the other! So what if I put my foot in my mouth? What was important was to reach out. 

"Where are you from?" I blurted, only to die a twelve-second death when the daughter hesitated.

(One-thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three....)

"Algeria."

"Oh, I hear Algeria is beautiful." 

One-thousand four, one thousand five... my new friend was looking at me silently. If she was seeing my thoughts, she was now picturing my great French aunt, who carried around a razor blade in her pocket! A war bride in Algeria, she was poised to slit her childrens' throats, then her own, rather than be killed by a native during la guerre d'indépendance Algérienne. It was a matter of dignity.

The shocking thought was but a flash, part of a great Kaleidescope of images that churn in my mind as it sifts life's experience. Here, now, with the bottle blond and the gold-toothed grandma, a new set of images swirled into the technicolor machine, a mind ever hungry for understanding.

Soon (back in the waiting room) a lively conversation began. As barriers quickly dropped talk turned sentimental. "I don't understand why we all can't get along," the bottle blond from Algeria said. Live and let live. We need only respect one another's religions.

Hallelujah! Inshallah! This was my kind of conversation: away with the small talk, get right down to matters of the heart. But just when we were getting to the soul of things, my telephone rang. It was my mother-in-law trying to talk me out of coming to the hospital.

"Too late," I said, "I'm here. Now if they'll only let me in to see you! I'm waiting to see if they'll make an exception to the rule."

When I hung up the phone, the women across the room were in an excited conversation as they turned to me. "But you should have told us your situation. Come!" said the younger woman, pulling me over to the door where a note had been posted to the wall."

"You need to call this number and they will let you in!"

"But I've missed opening hours..."

"Tell them you've come from very far away!" And, with a smile and a wink, my new friend added, "Arizona, you said? Yes, tell them that!"

Our eyes embraced as we said goodbye to one another. We had so much in common, least of which our homelands in the desert.

 *    *    *

Update: my mother-in-law is doing much better after near kidney failure. She was her regular feisty self when I visited, yesterday, and she swore she'd kick me in the butt -- me donner un coup de pieds aux fesses, if I hung out in her room any longer! So scram, she said, get lost... and bring me a few madeleines next time you visit. This hospital food is for the birds!

Comments
To respond to this story, click here.

 New rental in Provence. In the charming village of Sablet--this spacious home is the perfect place to return to after sightseeing, bicycling or hiking. Click here for photos.

Paris window (c) Kristin Espinasse

A picture (taken in Paris) that reminds me of my mother-in-law. I can almost see the stylish interior, inviting us inside for a taste of some delicious olive tapenade. Read a favorite story "Mal Barré" (Up The Creek) about my French mother-in-law. Click here.

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


relancer + pomegranates and grandmothers c'est sympa!

pomegranate, grenadier, basket, cabanon, rush-bottom chair, and olive trees in France (c) Kristin Espinasse, www.french-word-a-day.comMiam-miam is French for yum. Recently, Jean-Marc bought some used wine-making equipment. The farmer's wife who sold it to him threw in a couple of  antique wine-presses, some old  wine barrels, and even a bucket of pomegranates! (Have you ever eaten one? Inside, there's a bunch of ruby red fruit, the size of a tooth. The French use it to make the famous grenadine syrup--but the "teeth" are fun to eat, too--just watch out for all the seeds. Do you spit them out or swallow them?)

rental in Provence

Rental in Provence Luberon. 4 bedrooms and a study with a sofa bed, each with ensuite (full) bath. This villa can comfortably sleep 7-9 adults. Inquire here.

relancer (reuh-lahn-say)

    : to bug somebody about (to remind him or her)
    : to reboot (computer)
    : to revive, or boot (economy, project)

relancer un client = to make a follow-up call to a client
se faire relancer = to receive a reminder

Thrilled to learn that a high school class has signed on to receive French Word-A-Day via email (thanks professor Engelkemeir!), I am now going to relancer my call to teachers: please keep this French language blog in mind as a learning resource for students. I've beefed up the vocab section for you today, in thanks for your consideration. (And I'll get my kids to help with the sound files, after falling behind this week!)

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

My mother-in-law called yesterday, and I had a hard time hearing her. She is no longer using a land-line, but keeps her cell phone for communication. 

"I'm sorry, could you please say that again?" I'd asked the question twice already, and didn't want to scare her away--or, worse, la vexer--by asking once again. 

"MAXIME EST PASSE ET ON A MANGE ENSEMBLE!"

"Ah! Max came by and you ate together. C'est sympa!" I was delighted to learn our 18-year-old had stopped by his grandmother's on the way home from school. This was definitely one of the perks of her recent déménagement from Marseilles. Seeing each other is a joy that is réciproque for both grand-mère and petit-fils.

grandson and grandmother, petit-fils, grand-mère (c) Kristin Espinasse, www.french-word-a-day.com
    Ten years ago, when Max was 8. He was devoted to his grand-mère even then.

"I made him a gratin dauphinois," Michele-France said and, I admit, I felt a tinge of envie that only grew with the next tidbit. "I told him to bring home les restes, but he insisted I keep it for my dinner tonight."

What a turkey! He's got his grandma wrapped around his petit doigt. Last time she made him a quiche that would have put Alsace to shame!

Michèle-France went on to say that, while Max was visiting, he took the liberty of hanging her laundry out on the line. "La corde est trop haute," the line is too high for me, she lamented. "I'd need to be three eskimos tall to reach it!"

I'm not sure whether my mother-in-law's language is politically correct, but her sentences never fail to paint a vivid scene in my mind, which is now entertained with the picture of three strained inuits totem-poled in front of the clothesline

After hanging dry her laundry, Max took his grandma grocery shopping, driving her to the market to buy "deux ou trois bricoles. And I needed to go to the pharmacy, too..." Michèle-France, pointed out, "but I couldn't make it that far. I wasn't feeling well." She didn't want Max to know she suffered from certain ailments, and so preferred to cut-short her errands rather than let on to her souffrance

"I want them to see me strong," Michèle-France always says, of her grandchildren.

I can just picture her standing tall inspite of her weakness. Straightening up her back in time to link arms with her larger than life grandson, as the two went up and down the grocery store aisles, a frilly basket in the crook of the taller one's arm. 

My mother-in-law ended our conversation on a humorous note, telling me about the bisous Max planted on her forehead, just after he finished putting all her groceries away (and setting the table for their déjeuner à deux). "He's so tall I can't reach him anymore," she sighed. "And now it is he who has to bend down to kiss me!"

Later, when Max returns home he doesn't mention that he's been hanging laundry and helping his grand-mère with her errands. "Oh, yah--I saw granny," he says casually.

As he turned to leave, I saw the smear of lipstick on his jaw line....  

I could just see her now, my mother-in-law, standing strong, standing tall--pushing past the pain to reach up high for that kiss. Wobbling there on her tippy-toes she defied gravity--stronger... taller... now the sky was her limit.
                                                                    *    *    * 

Max baseball cap

Max was a lifeguard here in France last summer. Most of his interventions involved resuscitation, mostly girls who had passed out from too much heat.

To comment, click here.

 

French Vocabulary

vexer = to hurt somebody's feelings
le déménagement = moving, moving house
c'est sympa = that's so nice 
réciproque = reciprical
la grand-mère = grandmother
le petit-fils = grandson
le gratin dauphinois = French potatoes and cream casserole dish
les restes = leftovers 
le petit doigt = little finger
la corde est trop haute = the line is too high
l'envie = want, wish
deux = two
trois = three
une bricole = trifle, thing 
la souffrance = suffering
le bisous = kiss
déjeuner à deux = lunch for two

When you shop at Amazon via the links below, you help to support this free language journal.

Bicycles shopper back

Max and Jules, Mont Ventoux, Vaucluse (c) Kristin Espinasse, www.French-Word-A-Day.com
Max (two years ago, at 16) with his other favorite grand-mère, Jules. I can just hear her now. "Now, Max. Repeat after me. 'You are ze most beautiful grand-mère in ze world!' " 

rue pourquoi-pas, whynot street in Toulon, yellow home with green shutters (c) Kristin Espinasse, www.French-Word-A-Day.com
Rue Pourquoi-Pas (Why Not Street) in Toulon. To comment on this edition, click here.

Pronounce it perfectly, book, French learning, tool, www.french-word-a-day.comPronounce it Perfectly in French. 

* extensive pronunciation exercises including supplementary help based on poetry, proverbs, familiar sayings, historical quotations and humor

* A guide to French pronunciation expressed in the phonetic symbols of the International Phonetic Association (IPA) 

 

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


How to say tenant in French?

Green Eggs and Man (c) Kristin Espinasse
Wish I'd gotten a picture of the hero in today's story. Meantime, here's a lovable stand-in. Photo taken somewhere in the Vaucluse...

le locataire (lo h-ka-tair)

    : tenant

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

Le locataire ouvre grand ses bras. "Entrez, je vous en prie!" il dit.
The tenant opens his arms. "Come in. Please!" he says.  

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

"La Ciotat, La Ciotat!"

I went twice to La Ciotat yesterday. First, in the morning--to get more ingredients for the Healthy Fudge--and again in the evening to look at an apartment for my belle-mère.

The second trip was Jean-Marc's idea. "But are you sure your Mom wants to leave Marseilles? All of her friends are there. And all of her friendly commercants, too." I remember meeting Michèle-France's pharmacist on my previous visit, and witnessing the cheerful bantering between the two women. In a new town, my belle-mère would lose these cozy ties--or have to slowly build them again. 

Jean-Marc assured me that his maman was desperate to move. After nearly two decades in her shoe-size apartment, Michèle-France feels like a bull in a birdcage. And because there is no elevator, she is obliged to climb four flights of stairs--the idea of which keeps her prisoner inside her own home (and one or two nagging health issues do nothing to encourage her to venture out).

***
In a flowering courtyard a hundred meters from the sea, a thin man is looking out from a ground floor apartment. The smile on his face is as warm as the sunshine pouring down on the flowering lauriers-roses beneath his window. 

"That's Monsieur C. He's moving back to Corsica," the landlady explains, guiding Jean-Marc and me up the stairs to lobby. 

In the entry hall, beside the door of the apartment, there is a giant poster in hues of blue--my mother-in-law's favorite color. The details of the affiche escape me when the porte flies open and another subject comes into view: the Corsican.

"Bonjour, Mr. C." The landlady apologizes for the invasion but we are apparently no bother: her tenant ushers us in with a warm welcome. "Entrez," he says, "entrez!"

We begin our walk-through of the one-bedroom apartment. Passing a hall closet, the landlady assures her locataire: "No need to open it, Mr. C."

"Je vous en prie!" Mr. C. insists, reaching down to push a heavy packing bag out of the way.

I peer into the tiny placard, which holds a few threadbare items. My focus returns to our voluntary guide, Mr. C., whose clothes mimic those in his faded wardrobe. He is wearing an oversized coat and pants and his fedora is about to topple off his head. Standing this closely to Monsieur, I smell fumes on his breath and notice how his eyes are softly lit.... I begin to wonder why he is moving and hope that wherever he goes he will be OK. 

"And here is the bedroom," the propriétaire points out. "The place comes furnished." 

As we step past him, Mr. C. smiles, pushing his packing bag out of the way once again. I reach out and grasp his shoulder in an automatic gesture of thanks. Thanks for the warm welcome. Thanks for being so helpful. Thanks for putting up with this invasion. Only, when I find myself patting his shoulder again and again, I realize my reflex may be overly sympathetic. I begin to wonder: if Monsieur didn't have the glassy eyes and octane breath--if he didn't have the repurposed suitcase--if instead he had a Louis Vuitton and wore a bow tie--then would I have patted him on the shoulder?

No, I wouldn't have! I would have been too intimidated. But here, there was no intimidation or awkwardness--only a sense of camaraderie. Still, I should be more composed--for overt displays of sympathy can come across as pitying, or worse--condescending!

As we continue to tour the stranger's apartment, I think about how quick I am to show affection to certain types of people. How chatty I can be! But put me in a room with the up and climbing Joneses, the cosmopolitans--or people my own age, or savants--and I'm suddenly tongue-tied and awkward. No way I'd be slapping them on the back, ol' pal style. Ça ne se fait pas!

As my mind overthinks my gestures, Mr. C. is going with the flow--the tide of strangers peering into the nooks and crannies of his upturned life. I notice the padlock on his bedroom window shutters; once again I have the urge to reach out... and comfort him? and for what? But the padlock, or cadenas, is proof of the fragility that up til know could only be sensed. 

"That's the WC," the landlady says as we follow her out into the hall again. "It's separate from the bathroom." Opening the door I'm cheered by the tiny room with its bright turquoise blue paint. There is a picture of a saint on the wall, her arms are outstretched just as Mr. C's were, on ushering us into his home earlier.

As I stand admiring the saint a sour scent lifts upwards from beneath my feet, filling my nose with an acidic tingling.... I quickly back out of the WC. but the scent seems to trail out to the hallway. I guess Mr. C. had missed the spot--as men will--only his aim was a little farther off than most.

Overall, Jean-Marc and I loved the apartment, and Mr. C's character lent an affectionate and adorable aura to the place.

"But we'll need to do some repair work," Jean-Marc explained. "Some painting... and we'll need to change the linoleum floors."
 
The deal was sealed with a bottle of wine - one Jean-Marc promised to bring on the next visit. With a little persuading, maybe we can get him to bring a bottle for Mr. C. (or would fudge be a better idea?), in thanks for his warm hospitality.

On our way out I brushed Mr. C's shoulder once again, finding it hard to resist the lovable character. The gesture wasn't condescending, no! How good it felt to touch a saint and to sense his gentle spirit run through me, filling my mother-in-law's next home with love and abundance.

***

Post note: The landlord tells us Mr. C. is returning to his native Corsica, after a stint in La Ciotat. No sad ending, here. May the beauty of the southern French island fill his days with joy.

French Vocab

la belle-mère = mother-in-law
le commerçant = storekeeper 
la maman = mom, mother 
les lauriers-roses (mpl) = oleanders
une affiche = poster
la porte = door
le locataire = renter, tenant
entrez = come in 
je vous en prie = please (go ahead)
le placard de rangement = small closet, often in a hallway
ça ne se fait pas! = one doesn't do that!
le cadenas = padlock 
le WC = toilet (bathroom) 

Words in a french life - joAnna students

Photos and words like this are the best reward for sticking to my writing dream, and pushing past all the doubtful moments!  Mille mercis to the students in this photo, and to their thoughtful teacher!

Hi Kristin,  I had an amazing 8th grade French class this year and some of the girls fell madly in love with Words in a French Life.  We did a weekly reading period on Mondays and they would literally fight over who got to read it.  Because I enjoyed them so much, I gave all of the girls in the class your book and they were ecstatic! ... I thought you might enjoy the picture!  

JoAnna, a middle school french teacher in Massachusetts

verrine surimi avocado crab smoked salmon

Another recipe--maybe we're on a roll?

Three sum years ago, when he was 15, our son Max had an internship at a local starred restaurant. There, he learned how to make verrines! I came across this photo in my archives, which comes in the nick of time: we have several guests this month and I've been needing some kitchen inspiration. This verrine (from the word "verre" or "glass") looks simple:

...a layer of chopped surimi (will replace this with real fish...), a layer of guacamole, a layer of sour cream, and a layer of smoked salmon. Top with anèth, or dill--something that happens to be growing profusely in our garden!

La ciotat france colorful buildings
Looking back on this post, written in 2013, I did not know we too would move to the historic town of La Ciotat in the summer of 2017

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


How to say kleptomaniac in French?

La Grotte restaurant in Marseilles (c) Kristin Espinasse
La Grotte - the restaurant at the end of Marseilles located dans les Calanques de Callelongue (les Goudes)

un kleptomane (klepto-man)

    : kleptomaniac

Audio File: Listen to the sentence below: Download MP3 or Wav file

Un kleptomane ne peut se retenir de dérober des objets, la plupart du temps sans aucune valeur. A kleptomaniac cannot help himself from lifting objects that are, for the most part, worthless.

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

After an emotional visit to the American Consulate, we swung by my mother-in-law's, buckled her into the car, and drove to the end of Marseilles where the coastline rumbles out to sea, the huge limestone rocks meeting a turquoise eternity.

We arrived at the last port, "Callelongue", where a couple handfuls of fishing boats rested along the tiny bay. Facing the boats, there was our longtime favorite restaurant, La Grotte.

Ça fait du bien. Ah, ça fait du bien! My mother-in-law and I agreed: getting out, with family, did wonders for the morale! But our spirits were about to be stirred up once again....

It happened when Jean-Marc shared an update about a certain someone. The news was innocent enough but my focus automatically shifted to my mother-in-law, who I knew would self-detonate in a matter of seconds.

One.... two... three! I listened as my normally lovable mother-in-law made a cutting and unsavory remark, before staring off in the opposite direction of her son. (Leading me to speculate that older people don't roll their eyes, they dignifiably remove them from the annoyance).

Ha! My eyes hurried over to Jean-Marc to witness his predictable reaction: "Maman, is it really necessary to make such a remark each time? Why don't you just keep it to yourself?!"

Michele-France mumbled something loud enough to solicit another peeved response from her firstborn. Well, if he didn't want to hear such a remark, he needn't have brought up a touchy subject, my mother-in-law insinuated. Things were heating up now!

As my eyes traveled eagerly back-n-forth I caught myself enjoying some guilty entertainment. But it was a relief, for once, not to be on the receiving end in the word-slinging arena! Besides, I might learn a tip or two from my mother-in-law--on how to dish it back!!

Guilt won out and I quickly jumped in to defend my belle-mère. This time Max and Jackie's eyes jumped in too as we followed the grumpy dialogue. Wishing to avoid a commotion (the tables all around were beginning to take notice) I begged everyone to calm down and try to be normal like the rest of the French families, who were enjoying their public outing in a good-mannered, typically reserved way.

Why couldn't we be normal like everyone else? (The previous meltdown happened when one of our teens would not stop saying the "b"--or "bouton" (pimple) word, thus breaking a rule enstated by the weak-stomached member of our family (no potty talk at the table, either, I'm always reminding everyone!). Allez. ça suffit. ARRET! Quit it!

Soon we were all on our best behaviors again, letting go of the worries and irritations of the week in time to enjoy plates of deep fried supions and even a round of ice cream sundaes! What a lovely lunch, I thought, standing up to stretch as Jean-Marc paid the bill. Only the newfound peace was short won....

I watched in disbelief as my mother-in-law picked up the table's ashtray. "Do you think I could take this?" she asked her son. My eyes were glued to the cendrier which hovered dangerously close to my mother-in-law's wide open purse.

I thought about what a dupe I'd been to sit there defending my rascal of a mother-in-law... when, in the end, she was about to pull one on us--"one" of those social don'ts that no longer seems to faze people like her. People like her who have already been labelled or judged or misunderstood or sadly shunned to the point where no matter what they do they're damned.  

I knew I needed to be understanding but despite all my efforts I had not yet, in my 45 year experience, evolved that far spiritually. It was still very important to my well-being to control all outcomes or, at times like this--as a desperate last resort--to keep up appearances!

"No! No she can't take that! " I implored my husband. "Tell your mom she can't steal the ashtray!"

Jean-Marc, caught in the middle, spoke firmly. "Laisse-le, Maman." Leave it, Mom.

But wasn't that, after all, a little hypocritical to judge my mother-in-law for wanting to swipe restaurant property? Hadn't I done the same at some point in the past? What about that time when, after a couple or 5 glasses of wine, I slipped a wonderful clay cendrier into my purse on leaving a historic restaurant in our old neighborhood? Who was I to be so shocked by my mother-in-law's simple desire? At least she had the politesse to ask if she could steal it!

"I should have just slipped it in my purse," Michèle-France explained, "and not bothered you about it."

Or was it pride that had me wanting to control the situation? We weren't going to risk our reputations, were we, over a cheap cigarette dump! Frustrated, I looked at the pitiful ashtray. It was only a standard glass cendrier. Rather than cause a scene, we could stop by the dollar store, on the way back--or any local quincaillerie--and buy her one! Or I could send her the pretty ashtray that we inherited from Maggie and Michael when we moved to our new house. If my mother-in-law wanted an ashtray, she could at least have a beautiful one. It certainly wasn't worth the risk of condemnation to steal this lousy thing! 

Michele-France spoke innocently to her son. "Do you think you could ask the waiter if I can have it?"

Oh gosh! This was almost as bad! She wasn't going to ask the waiter! This was the point at which I realized it must be pride that was shuffling all my emotions. If only I could learn that lesson, which began 10 years ago. And what little progress has been made...

"Jean-Marc!" I said, hoping to influence him. But my husband grew frustrated with the ridiculous situation and I watched as his turn came to self-detonate.

What a ridiculous situation indeed. And to think, up til now I wasn't in trouble with anybody! I had set out to mind my own business--pausing only to help defend my mother-in-law (that was it! Last time I'm sticking up for her--THE RASCAL!--only to end up on the attack end!)

It was too late now to try to keep up appearances. My husband threw up his arms, "C'est le monde à l'envers!" With that he stormed out of the restaurant, leaving me to translate--and then contemplate--his departing remark: "It's a crazy world!" Indeed, it's the world upside down.

Michèle-France wasn't fazed, but lingered suspiciously close to that ashtray before I snapped, "Come on, let's get out of here!"

"I'll just rest here until he brings the car around," my mother-in-law casually mentioned, pretending to ignore the ashtray. 

Oh no she wouldn't. Not if I could help it! With that, I coaxed the little trouble maker away from the table and its treasure, past the discreetly indiscreet restaurant audience, and out to the curbside where we waited for our ride.  

I couldn't wait to see how my husband would navigate... what with the world being as he said,"upside down". I guessed we had better put our seatbelts on! 

 

 
French Vocabulary

la grotte = cave

ça fait du bien = that feels so good

la maman = mom

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

le bouton d'acné = pimple
 
allez / ça suffit / arrête! = come on. that's enough. stop! 

le supion = une petite seiche =small cuttlefish

la quincaillerie = hardware and junk store

c'est le monde à l'envers! = this is crazy! (or this makes no sense!) 

 

"Cabanes de Pêche" or Fishermen's cottages in Marseilles (c) Kristin Espinasse
Cabanes de pêche. On the way to the restaurant, there are these classic fisherman's cabanes--used nowadays by families who spend the day at the beach. (The colorful doors open up and the family has access to everything from beach mats to little cooking stoves on which to fry merguez sausages for lunch!)

Kristin Espinasse (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse

To approve a single suggestion, mouse over it and click "✔"
Click the bubble to approve all of its suggestions.

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


douze

window shutter box lace wooden chalet clay pots rooster  in Queyras (c) Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for the encouraging feedback you sent in, following Monday's video! I learned so much from your comments and am reminded to just keep on keeping on! If you haven't yet, check out our Youtube channel--and look for the "subscribe" button! Today's picture was taken in the Queyras valley, near the French Hautes-Alpes.

douze (dooz)

    : twelve

les douze apôtres = the twelve apostles

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

Et vous, que faites-vous le 12-12-12 à 12h12? 
And you, what are you doing on 12-12-12 at 12:12? (--TFI.com)


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

In the kitchen this morning, I overheard Jean-Marc talking to our daughter, Jackie.

"Aujourd'hui, c'est le 12/12/12."

His words reminded me of the very special day. It's my mother-in-law's birthday! I think we'll call her at 12:12 and tell her twelve times that we love her. On t'aime! On t'aime! On t'aime!...

And then give her 12 good reasons why:

Elle est très drôle.
She is so funny. 

Elle est très intuitive.
She is veryintuitive. 

Elle est sensible.
She is sensitive. 

Elle est courageuse.
She is courageous. 

Elle fait le meilleur gâteau au chocolat du monde.
She makes the best chocolate cake in the world. 

Elle raconte les meilleures histoires.
She tells the best stories

Elle a de très bons goûts de décoration.
She got great taste for decoration. 

Elle est très fidele en amitié.
She a very faithful friend.

Elle est généreuse.
She's generous. 

Elle est attentionnée.
She's considerate. 

Elle est très discrète.
She is discreet. 

Elle fait la meilleure tapenade.
She makes the best tapenade.

Listen to the above text. Hear Jean-Marc list une douzaine qualities of his mamanDownload MP3 or Wav file

Happy Birthday to my beautiful belle-mère. Thank you for the dear children you have given me and thanks for sharing your son with me!

 

mother-in-law kiss france wicker chair antiques blue bottle french

Chez ma belle-mère. At my mother-in-law's. Picture taken by Jean-Marc.

french yogurt cake golden retriever tile floor bake fruit prunes
Time to make some cake! Smokey and I added prunes to this one. Click here for the famous yogurt cake recipe--the easiest, fastest cake to make! You probably have all the ingredients on hand...

Metro cuff
Paris Metro Cuff! It also makes a wonderful conversational piece -- to wear on your wrist.  A wonderful "conversation piece" for your wardrobe. Order one here.

   French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Oreiller (Or how to say "pillow" in French) + My Mother-in-Law teases me about my husband's past love life

DSC_0075
I couldn't find a picture to illustrate today's word (oreiller) so how about a snapshot of a favorite summertime libation? Also a great way to recycle these Domaine Rouge-Bleu wine bottles!

 

oreiller (oh-ray-yay) noun, masculine

    : pillow

prendre conseil de son oreiller = to sleep on it (re decision making)
une taie d'oreiller = pillowcase
une bataille d'oreillers = pillow fight 
les confidences (f) sur l'oreiller = pillow talk 

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read this sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Ma belle-mère m'a offert son propre oreiller. My mother-in-law offered me her very own pillow.

 

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

At a beachfront café in Marseilles, Jean-Marc is buttering his mom's toast. "Honey or the confiture d'abricot?" he asks.

"T'es gentil," my mother-in-law thanks her elder son. "Abricot, s'il te plaît."

Taking a sip of her tea, Michèle-France turns her attention my way.

"Tu es toujours si jolie," my belle-mère begins. Instantly uplifted by her words, I send a grateful smile across the table. It's a good thing I took the time to have my hair done. That seems to have made a difference!

"I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on you," my mother-in-law continues. My thoughts race back in time. Guiltily I wonder, Did I remember the exact moment too? Little by little, I begin to see the Espinasse family's apartment, in the Roy d'Espagne neighborhood, near the end of Marseilles. I don't remember the pine forest or the sea. I do remember the shining white tiles in the hall entry. I remember that it was just Jean-Marc, his brother, and his mother who lived there in the three-bedroom apartment. I don't recall which floor of the high-rise they lived on—or even taking the ascenseur—though we would have had to.

I do remember the kitchen, where Jean-Marc's mother prepared an exotic-to-this-American dinner (or was it lunch?): lapin à la moutarde. I remember sharing the meal with Jean-Marc's friends, Rachel and Stephan. I do not remember Michèle-France eating with us. Did she discreetly withdraw to her room, to leave us young amours to dine?

As I reminisce, Michèle-France fills me in on where it was, exactly, that we met the first time she laid eyes on me: 

"I met you in the hallway, after you shuffled out of my son's bedroom!"

I vaguely remember the awkward situation. Had I been leaving Jean-Marc's bedroom? Behind me, the disheveled sheets would have covered the mattress. You could just see the desk, where Jean-Marc had been showing me his new Macintosh—when we lost interest in computers. I could also see the hook on the wall, where a green robe hung; it was a gift from Jean-Marc's sister. Was I wearing that robe when I met Michèle-France in the hall?!

I must have needed the bathroom. I could almost hear Jean-Marc assuring me no one was around—just go on down the hall. The restroom was at the end of it....

That is when I must have come face to face with Maman. My fears were now materialized and I could not have been more embarrassed. Jean-Marc must have come out of the room, in time to make the introductions.

Any discomfort quickly disappeared when Jean-Marc's mother smiled an unmistakably warm welcome. As long as I live I will never forget her words: "You can stay as long as you like. You are most welcome here with us. Bienvenue!"

I could not take her up on her generous offer at the time, as I would need to return to Tempe, Arizona, to finish another year and a half of school.

***

Taking a sip of my café au lait, it is 20 years later now, and I do not seem to have overstayed my welcome. My mother-in-law's eyes continue to glimmer bienvenue!

Michèle-France sets down her tea, and looks at me softly. Next she shares with me, for the first time, what her thoughts were that first time we met.

"I remember thinking: this girl will make my son happy one day!"

I return my mother-in-law's gaze. Her words echoed in my mind as I try to etch them there, on a gray-mattered blackboard.

"Oui, je savais que c'était toi qui le rendrait heureux!"

Lest the lovey-dovey mother-in-law-daughter-in-law moment were too gushy sweet, my belle-mère adds a little spice to the moment.  I recognize the beginnings of a rascal's smile as it spreads across my belle-mère's face... evidence her mischievous side is waking up.

"Yes, you were une bouffée d'air frais—a breath of fresh air," she winks, "especially after some of the girls he brought home!"

Recognizing the direction in which we are heading, I raise my hands, quickly inserting my fingers into my ears. "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!" I laugh. Next I begin to hum.

When I take my fingers out of my ears, my mother-in-law is in the middle of reciting a string of sultry names, "Ma..." (MArilyn? MArie? MAnon?) but I will not listen to a word of it—just as I won't listen when Jean-Marc's longtime friends tease me about les anciennes copines.

Jean-Marc laughs as his mom continues her innocent taquinerie, and when next it seemed safe to unplug my ears I hear this doozy:

"Ah, and that one! What-Was-Her-Name? Je l'ai jetée de mon lit! I threw her out of my very own bed!"

I can't help but appreciate the colorful scenes my mother-in-law paints with her words, and I finally give in, picturing Jean-Marc's mom yanking some young tart out of her very own bed (sheesh, Jean-Marc—your mom's own bed!).

On a final, tender note, Michèle-France colors in a bright ending to the story:

"But for you," my mother-in-law says as she reaches across the café table and squeezes my hand, "for you, I would have offered my very own pillow!"

 

 Comments: to respond to this story, or to any item in today's post, click here.

To see that wedding picture again, click here

Don't miss this tender story about my mother-in-law (with a picture, too!)

 

French Vocabulary

la confiture d'abricot = apricot jam

t'es gentil = you're nice

Tu es toujours si jolie = you are still so pretty

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

un ascenseur = elevator

le lapin à la moutarde = rabbit with mustard sauce

bienvenue = welcome

le café au lait = coffee with milk

Oui, je savais que c'était toi qui le rendrait heureux! = Yes, I knew it was you who would make my son happy!

une bouffée d'air frais = a breath of fresh air

l'ancienne copine = old girlfriend

la taquinerie = teasing

  Jean-marc kristin

Click for a larger image. In love in January 1993... only six months before Jean-Marc would buy me a one-way ticket home! Find out what happened after that, in the intro to the book Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language (the snap shot image includes Jean-Marc writing "la cloche ) fromages"--which is the cheese restaurant where we ate that night. The restaurant places the cheese in a circle on the plate, with a glass of wine at each quarter on the "clock". As you can see, we finished most of the wine and were feeling both giddy (I) and enchanted (him). Well that didn't last long! Don't miss the story.

DSC_0012
Then and Now (2012). Photo taken on Jean-Marc's 45th birthday, last March 29th.

 

Listening skills & learning French: 

I could really relate to this question of Rob's, as I, too, struggle with listening to French. 

I was wondering if anyone has recommendations for a way for me to build my French listening skills? I am improving in being able to decipher written French, but spoken just moves too fast for me. I'd like something I could listen to that would slowly build my skills. --Rob, in Illinois

Leave your listening tips here, in the comments box.

A Message from Kristi
Thank you for reading my 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 the creative process of writing. My wish is to continue offering 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 of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens