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?


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....)


"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!

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.

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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. 


"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,
    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

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Bicycles shopper back

Max and Jules, Mont Ventoux, Vaucluse (c) Kristin Espinasse,
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,
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) 


Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

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

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

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

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Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


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? (

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.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


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.

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.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

bouée de sauvetage

Barcelonnette (c) Kristin Espinasse
                           Decking the French halls in the town of Barcelonnette. 

bouée de sauvetage (booay deuh sove tazh)

    : lifebelt, lifeline, lifebuoy

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

I sit and I listen. I try to ignore the temptation to go upstairs and work on the computer. Email can wait. So can senseless surfing. This is where I need to be: facing my belle-mère, listening. As for the internet, which beckons, it can be a black hole in which I can throw every "spare" minute. I don't want black holes. I want fountains of light; presently I see them in my mother-in-law's eyes.

If I look closely, aligning my pupils with her own, then, more than light, I see the very fires of her soul. Heat enough to purify my own pathetic wanderings until I am back on track, engaging in life.

I train my eyes on the seventy-one-year-old speaker. Keep focused! none of this nervous glancing around the kitchen to dwell on yet another dusty distraction. The dust will always win, winning our very bodies in the end!

Lifesavers... she is talking about life savers....

"Elles sont mes bouées de sauvetage." "They are my lifeline," my mother-in-law is explaining. And I hear, once again, about the wonderful women in her life. The selfless "sisters" who check in with her twice a week. 

"Elles sont tellement occupées... mais elles sont toujours là pour moi."  "They are so busy... yet they are always there for me." I hear about her dear friends Katherine and Eliane: two French women who are, to my mother-in-law, veritable heroines.

Their relationship skirts the boundaries of "race" and religion (my mother-in-law being a proud "pied-noir" and an unconvertible atheist). Her "angels" are evangelical but my belle-mère doesn't mind their differences just as long as they don't preach to her!  

"Et qu'est-ce qu'on se marre! On se marre comme des petites vieilles!" Oh, and how we laugh! We laugh like little old women!" With that, my mother-in-law's eyes twinkle like sunlit drops from the Fountain of Youth.

She is laughing now, her heart 200 kilometers away, back home in Marseilles, where her angels are gathered with their own families. After a few more chuckles of appreciation for her friends, I watch her reach up to clasp her upper arm. Her shoulder is hurting her again; her laughing trails off and her mind returns to the present, where pain tortures her limbs.

My own heart is now light years away from the internet. I reach over to rub my belle-mère's back. I do not know whether she likes this outreached hand on her back, but I learn as I go.


    Le Coin Commentaires
    To leave a comment, click here. Merci d'avance!

French Vocabulary
la belle-mère
= mother-in-law
le pied-noir = a "black foot" (a North African born French woman or man) 


Bien dire magazine Keep up your French with Bien Dire (magazine subscription). A 52-page magazine to improve your French that you'll enjoy reading! Full of interesting articles on France and French culture, Bien-dire helps you understand what it is to be French order here.


Smokey says"reftrovers... mmm mmm!" 

Smokey: back when reftrovers were rare! (pictured Smokey and his 5 sisters)

Did I tell you that my mother-in-law is the best cook in the world? Here is one of my favorite recipes of hers... one that Jean-Marc uses this time of year. (Currently the recipe is in French only... you are welcome to help translate it!). Click here to go to view this recipe

Kindle 189
Kindle Wireless Reader, 3G + WiFi. Order one here.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

troisième age

Nyons (c) Kristin Espinasse
Stair-painting in Provence = creativity in the Midi. Share some arm-chair travel with a friend or a family member: send someone a free subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here

troisième age (twa zee em ahze)

: senior citizen


Sound File:
(a little behind the scenes clip today in which I demonstrate to Jean-Marc how I want him to pronounce today's phrase. Can you hear him tell me "(why not) do it yourself, then" (fait le toi-même): Listen Download Wav file or  Download MP3

A quel âge commence le troisième âge?
Senior citizen. At what age does one become a senior citizen?

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

"Elvis in ancient France"

Ah, if only you could have seen me dance! My mother-in-law sighs as we walk arm in arm in the land of olives: Nyons, France.

J'étais fine comme un haricot! You can't imagine it. Je dansais! Mais JE DANSAIS! My belle-mère insists.

"Careful! Hold on! Use the arm rail!," I order my belle-mère, who responds with one of the many moxie mouthing offs that she carries up her stubborn sleeve, even in sleeveless summertime:

"Ne me fais pas crier Manon dans toutes les langues!" she barks, soliciting stares from passersby. What they don't know is that the loose-lipped woman hanging onto my arm is only teasing me. Do not fire up my temper! she is saying, in so many colorful French words. But her technicolor temper doesn't scare me.

The truth is, she is happy for the fussing over by her American accompagnatrice. As I guide her up the ramp and down the smooth and sloping-with-centuries stairs, my belle-mère feigns indignation, though it is hard to hide that frustration of dependency and need--especially for one who used to dance the twist at high speed.  And don't get her started on The King of Rock:

"J'ai adoré El-veece! How do you pronounce his name?" She wants to know, her thoughts dancing with nostalgie.
"El vuss," I answer, steering my belle-mère over to the hand rail with a strong suggestion that she uses it. We are climbing the village stairs for a view of the red-tiled rooftops.

"You probably are too young to remember him," she sighs, admiring the hilly housetops below with their range of red tiles, some missing, some cracked, some covered with mold.

I racked my brain for memories. Elvis was alive in the 70s of my American childhood, but I was too busy listening to David Bowie....

Ground Control... presently that is our goal as we navigate the uneven floor of France. Tripping over so much as one cobblestone might put my complice in the hospital. Surely Elvis would sympathize were he watching the two women advancing with caution. If I listened closely I could hear an angel's voice: the King himself singing tenderly to us:

When I'm growing old and feeble
stand by me...

I cradle my belle-mère's forearm and listen as she spills her heart. Fear, she explains, has consumed her in this, her troisième age. She tells me about the recent freak accidents of her women friends "of a certain age": Catherine was pouring detergent into the washing machine when she lost her balance, fell, and shattered her knee. And Sabine was strolling through some foreign town when, slip.... what followed for both women were months and months of rehabilitation.

I thought about my own mom whose life took a turn after she slipped. One moment she was mopping the floors with her balai espagnol... and the next she was lying helpless on the cold wet tiles. She had broken her hip. She came to France to heal only to learn she had breast cancer. A double mastectomy followed.

My belle-mère falls back and I just catch her elbow in time for a discreet "save". By the way we rock and nearly roll over the ancient cobblestones, you might think we were dancing. DANCING! And what with Elvis's paroles piping in on the loudspeakers of our minds, That's All Right Mama, I like to think we were. We can turn our frailties in to footloose and fancy free, if only in our make believe. 

Ma Belle-Mère
That's my belle-mère, on the right.

Le Coin Commentaires
Questions, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome here in the comments box. Click here to leave a message. Merci d'avance!

French Vocabulary (any help with the vocab section is much appreciated. Do you know the definition to one of the French words in today's story? Thank you for sharing it here, in the comments box!


French blunders Correct Your French Blunders: How to Avoid 99% of the Common Mistakes Made by Learners of French. Speak and write French as if it were your native tongue! New and used copies available here.

Emile Henry

A French standby. Strong, durable, all Emile Henry cookware can be taken directly from the freezer to the hot oven, can go under a broiler and in the microwave; freezer and dishwasher safe. The natural clay is unsurpassed for conducting and retaining heat.




















Rosetta Stone French Level 1, 2, & 3  teaches you a new language naturally, by getting you to think, live and breathe the language. Read customers reviews here.

A Day in a Dog's Life... by Smokey "R" Dokey

Smokey says: "I'm no line cutter... but try telling that to the Pinscher, the Rottweiler, and the Samoyed,    all of whom watched, beady-eyed, this morning as the veterinarian whisked me away from the salle d'attente into the lurky murky non beef jerky room beyond....


What the impatient patients didn't know was that I was going straight into surgery... while they were waiting for vaccinations. (I'd rather be getting vaccinated!)

But today is the day to re-stitch things. My wound never closed and when a bone began to stick through the opening, alarm bells rang!

Wish me luck! (That's Kristin explaining to me a little about today's procedure and how all will work out.... Do I look as though I am believing her? I hope I am!) Comments welcome here.

Read the story about Smokey's attack and see a photo of him at nine weeks old, stapled back together.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Shiny Happy Petals!
Sicilian photos coming soon. For now, here's our twelve-headed tournesol (around twelve flowertêtes per plant)! And never miss a photo or French word: Sign up for FREE email delivery and receive this edition in your email box.

chut (shoot)

: shhh!

Sound file and Example Sentence:

Listen to my mother-in-law pronounce today's word:

Download MP3

or Wav


Chut! Elle dort. Il ne faut pas la réveiller. Quiet! She's sleeping. We musn't wake her.

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

Chut! My belle-mère is sleeping and I'd like to finish this letter before she wakes up. Only a thin wall separates us, so slight that the rattling of the keys on this clavier is enough to tickle her esgourdes to a start: the start of a new day.

Ça y est. Elle est reveillée. It is time to go and play. I would hate to leave my mother-in-law alone while I pass the morning fussing and fretting over each and every word, like some kind of writer nerd.

Ça baille! There's a lot of yawning coming through the wall. It seems Michèle-France is not sold on starting the day. Maybe the sound of Vauclusian church bells in the distance will sweeten the chore? Or the peppermint breeze coming through the open window? ...or the plate of Moroccan cookies left over from last night's festin (we celebrated my brother-in-law Jacques' 40thChut! chut! Don't tell him I told you....)

Un troisième bâillement.... A third yawn... and a forth and now a fifth! Quelle marmotte! She must be exhausted after yesterday's train ride from Marseilles to Orange. Comme d'habitude, she travelled with two chocolate cakes and two pots of homemade tapenade. The only other item in her bag was a nightgown and a dog-eared copy of Télé Loisirs. She's got our number: just a couple of busybodies out here in the country. She's prepared to watch TV while her son and her daughter-in-law work like bees.

But each day presents a new chance for turning the tables, for shaking up the still waters of rigidity. I'm going to surprise my belle-mère today—with a more playful spirit, tee-hee!—just you wait and see!

Le Coin Commentaires
Questions, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome in the comments box. Click here to leave a message and merci d'avance!

French Vocabulary

chut! = shhh! shush!

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

le clavier = keyboard

les esgourdes* = ears *argot (the term may no longer be current. Any thoughts?)

ça y est = that's it

elle est réveillée = she's awake

ça baille! = there's yawning!

quelle marmotte! = what a marmot! (what a sleepy one!)

comme d'habitude = as always

la tapenade = olive spread

Télé Loisirs =  Television Leisure (magazine)

A Day in a Dog's Life... by Smokey "R" Dokey

The "Alpha" giving me a warm welcome home. Tummy pats sure beat bubble baths (see below!)


With my flying nun ears or esgourdes.

Real Dogs don't take baths... or so I tried to convince them! By the way... I turned ONE yesterday (in case you are so inclined—you might send me a line. Click here :-)

When you shop at Amazon via any of the links at French Word-A-Day you help support this free French journal

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.

Easy French Reader: A fun and easy new way to quickly acquire or enhance basic reading skills

Words two Lessons in Love & Language...

Please keep my book in mind for your gift-giving needs! Makes a fun and educational cadeau for a Francophile or a would-be Francophile! Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

After less than three months in Lille, fall semester ended and it was time to return home to the desert. While my classmates headed back to Arizona, I found a way to stay on in France, with permission from the department adviser to do an independent study. In exchange for college credit, I wrote about French culture as I had experienced it in Lille and in my new town, Aix, where I had moved. I was just buying time; for what, I did not know. What was sure was that I did not want to leave France. Not yet.

"Take a great trip with a memorable travel book . . . and lose yourself in the South of France."-- Real Simple

Order a copy here. Merci beaucoup!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

caviar d'aubergines

Old French sign, handwritten, chalkboard, wooden door, eggplant, peppers, aubergines (c) Kristin Espinasse,
"Aubergines." An old door/former shop front in the town of Suze-la-Rousse.

caviar d'aubergines (kah-vee-ahr doh-behr-zheen)

    :  eggplant caviar

Audio file & Example Sentence: Download MP3 file or Download Wav

"...profiter des bontés de cette généreuse saison des récoltes et courir acheter aussi des paniers d'aubergines et de courgettes, pour... ratatouille et ... caviar d'aubergines." --from Le Soleil

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

Marseilles, 1992...

I fell in love with mousse before caviar. In the first case "mousse" was a charming street in Marseilles... and "caviar" was what was waiting for me at the end of that winding road, just a French football field from the sea.

There, in my future mother-in-law's kitchenette on Rue des Mousses, I watched as she hashed, pounded, and sweated -- putting all her concentration into cooking, her mind not having healed just yet. I watched, as droplets fell from her wet brow into the mixing bowl below, only to disappear into the roasted vegetables before the latter were pulverized. If only pain could be broken into as many morsels.

After the sweaty chore, my mother-in-law would sit on the end of her bed and cry and I, newly exported from America, would watch wide-eyed. 

It occurred to me to share with her all 24 years of my growing knowledge base... based principally on positive thinking... with heaping of hallelujah, a gallon of gospel... and a ounce or two of Epictitus:

"Where there's a will there's a way!" I would say, encouraging my mother-in-law to snap out of it. "You can do all things...." I'd sing.

But like all artists--literary, culinary, or other--my mother-in-law was going through a blue period. A French blue period (which was doubly blue... or doubly negative). She coped as she could and coping meant cooking -- and not trusting in an "otherhood". That is when I learned that my mother-in-law was an atheist. How, I wondered, could one cure this?

I looked into my cure-all bag, and soon saw that I was all out of tricks... and so I sat down beside her and filled my heart with sticks. When the sharp stick ends began to poke through my now bleeding heart--

I realized...

...that what was missing before, was my ability to empathize.

*   *   *

It is seventeen years later, now, and I think about those "24 years of wisdom" -- all that good gospel sense that I tried to talk my mother-in-law into, there, on Rue de Mousses, in a room no bigger than a shoe. It didn't stop my own blue periods (which would come soon after) from sweeping in, like paint across a canvas en lin,* it didn't spare me from the storms that follow sin, it didn't humble me as misplaced pride will again and again.

*   *   *

Last week I received a letter from my mother-in-law in which she thanked me for "ce temps que tu m'as accordé alors que Maxime était haut comme 3 pommes... je recevais des courages de toi...".*

As I re-read the tender letter, I take a moment to treasure my "incurable" atheist : she is a gift to me in spite of our differing beliefs. I have learned so much from her and, I hope, reciprocally, she from evangelical me.

*   *   *
Post note: I was looking up a recipe for caviar d'aubergine (that is what my mother-in-law was making me, in the opening to today's story)... when I happened upon this treasure of a video. If you love characters, as I do, then you will appreciate this informal Frenchwoman. Watch her pulverize garlic with the palm of her Provençale hand! (if you are reading this edition via email, you will need to click over to the blog to view the clip).

Update: Do not miss my Caviar D'Aubergine easy, easy recipe, click here


~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~
en lin = on linen; ce temps que tu m'as accordé alors que Maxime était haut comme 3 pommes... je recevais des courages de toi... = this time that you have given me back when Max was "tall as three apples"... I received courage from you

Paris metro towel

Paris Metro Subway Tea or Kitchen Dish Towel

La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange: The Original Companion for French Home Cooking.

     First published in 1927 to educate French housewives in the art of classical cooking, LA BONNE CUISINE DE MADAME E. SAINT-ANGE has since become the bible of French cooking technique, found on every kitchen shelf in France. A housewife and a professional chef, Madame Evelyn Saint-Ange wrote in a rigorous yet highly instructive and engaging style, explaining in extraordinary detail the proper way to skim a sauce, stuff a chicken, and construct a pâté en croûte. Though her text has never before been translated into English, Madame Saint-Ange's legacy has lived on through the cooking of internationally renowned chefs like Julia Child and Madeleine Kamman, setting the standard for practical home cooking as well as haute cuisine.

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Smokey golden retriever and eggplant aubergine raindrops france
Do not miss my Eggplant Caviar or Caviar d'Aubergines recipe--either way you say it, it's delicious. Click here.

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