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

Ways to contribute:
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2.Paypal or credit card
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


How to say "life vest" in French: bouée de sauvetage

Barcelonnette France christmas decorations (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.

 

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.

 

DSC_0027
Smokey says"reftrovers... mmm mmm!" 

golden retriever puppies france vineyard dog
Smokey: back when leftovers were rare! (pictured Smokey and his 5 sisters)

Recipe!
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

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

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

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


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.

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.

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....

DSC_0122

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!)

DSC_0125
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!

DSC_0132
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.

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

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

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


chut!

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

DSC_0001
The "Alpha" giving me a warm welcome home. Tummy pats sure beat bubble baths (see below!)

DSC_0055

With my flying nun ears or esgourdes.

DSC_0018
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
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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!

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

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

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


caviar d'aubergines

Old French sign, handwritten, chalkboard, wooden door, eggplant, peppers, aubergines (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
"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.

Visions of France: See the breathtaking beauty of southeastern France from a spectacular vantage point. Shot in high-definition from a helicopter-mounted camera, these two programs afford dazzling views of historic Provence, and the world-famous Mediterranean wonderland The Riviera. Order this DVD.

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.

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

Ways to contribute:
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noyau

Marseilles (c) Kristin Espinasse
View from my mother-in-law's apartment, in Marseilles.

Tapenade

(tapenahd)

noun, feminine

olive paste

 

When my mother-in-law, Michèle-France, looks out the window of her two-room apartment, she can just about see the paquebots leaving Marseilles's Old Port, for Casablanca. That is when the memories of childhood in her beloved Maroc come flowing back.

One floor below, Janine is also staring out to sea from behind her tiny kitchen table, where she sits with her crippled little dog and waits for the telephone to ring.

At times like these, when nostalgia and solitude weigh on their hearts, Michèle-France's 4th floor apartment turns into a spicy olive-paste factory as my mother-in-law puts her petite voisine to work; her neighbor's job is to remove the noyaux from the olives.

Great bowls of hollow black fruit are soon delivered by 3rd Floor Janine up to 4th Floor Michèle-France, who mixes the olives with a couple of bay leaves, some anchovies, capers... and a few top-secret ingredients. The mixture is then marinated overnight. The next morning the mélange is poured into a food processor for grinding.

All that pitting and pulverizing plucks the loneliness right out of the women's souls, and the resulting pots de tapenade have the women on the train in no time, delivering the latest batch of bonheur to family and friends.

On Wednesday, Michèle-France brought over six mustard jars full of tapenade—three flavored with fresh basil leaf, three with red bell pepper—for Max's birthday celebration. As we sat at the table chatting, I spread spoonfuls of the dark olive paste over a sliced baguette before sinking my teeth in... Crunch!

"Janine doesn't always get the pits out of the olives," Michèle-France confided. "She can't see that well. I always know when she's left a noyau behind because my mixer goes CRACK CRACK!"

"Je vois..." I sympathized with my belle-mère as we held our sore jaws in our hands while our own teeth went crack-crack over yet another missed pit. But that didn't stop us from savoring the latest bocal de bonheur, and raising a toast to la petite voisine Janine.

French Vocabulary

le paquebot = liner, steamship
le Maroc = Morocco
la petite voisine, le petit voisin = term of endearment for "little neighbor"
le pot = jar
le mélange = mixture
la tapenade = olive paste made from crushed olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil
le bonheur = happiness
le noyau = pit
je vois = I see
la belle-mère = mother-in-law
le bocal de bonheur = jar of happiness

 

EDITS HERE, PLEASE!
This story may need a name change ("noyau" or "pit" doesn't capture the theme, which is on helping another, or sharing. "Solidaire" might be good, but it's so similar to the English "solidarity". How about "Tapenade"? or would "Bonheur" be the most fitting, for happiness can be as simple as sharing a simple culinary chore). Any suggestions welcome. Thanks for pointing out any typos, in French or in English, and any other rough spots or inconsistencies! Click here to comment.

 

Listen: hear the word noyau pronounced: Download noyau2.wav

Expressions:
le noyau familial = the family unit
cracher un noyau = to spit out a pit.
des fruits à noyaux = stone-fruit
électrons autour du noyau = electrons around the nucleus

La vie est une cerise. La mort est un noyau. L'amour un cerisier.
Life is a cherry. Death is a pit. Love is a cherry tree.
 --Jacques Prévert

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

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sabot

Bella Pizza (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Livraison Gratuite!" The sign reads "Free Delivery". Photo of pizza parlor taken in Marseilles' 8th arrondissement.

Sabot
(sah-bo)
noun, masculine
wooden shoe, clog, sabot  


In the eighth arrondissement of Marseilles, at my mother-in-law's apartment complex, Jean-Marc and I climb several flights of stairs until we reach the last two doors in the building. One of the portes has a sign on it that reads "peinture fraîche." The wet paint warning causes us to automatically curl our shoulders inward and pull our suitcases close.

Jean-Marc slides la clef  into the keyhole and pushes open the door to my belle-mère's one-bedroom apartment.

"Vas-y," Go ahead, I say, trying to catch my breath after stepping off the French Stairmaster. We have just climbed four flights of stairs! How does my poor mother-in-law manage without an ascenseur

My belle-mère's apartment, where we've come for a weekend getaway (Belle-Mère is staying with the kids, at our place), carries me back to my first impressions of France, to the quirky things I'd forgotten (after having gotten rid of them, for comfort's sake), to the Frenchness that's worn off things and places—the foreignness I wish would still pop out like so many doors on an Advent calendar, each with its own sweet cultural surprise.

All that stair-climbing has caused me to work up a sweat. After depositing my overnight bag in the bedroom, I make my way to the salle de bain. I have to enter my belle-mère's tiny bathroom sideways, inching my way to the tub known as un sabot, which in French means "slipper bath"—and for good reason: the bathtub is only slightly bigger than a pantoufle! 

The tub has an unusual bi-level base—stand or sit! I choose to stand, but when I automatically reach out to tug closed the shower curtain, there isn't one. Oh yes, I'd forgotten about that: shower curtains are rare in France!

A bit awkward in the curtainless bain-douche, I juggle the shampoo and the savon—all the while balancing a hand-held shower head so as not to flood the bathroom.

After the shower circus, I make coffee on one of those space-saving, three-in-one appliances where the lower drawer is a dishwasher, the middle section is an oven, and the burners are on top. I put water on to boil and go searching for a coffee mug; instead I find a stack of porcelain bols and am reminded that the French still drink their café-au-lait from a bowl, just as they still eat their cake with a spoon and not une fourchette.

I spend the rest of the weekend running into the Frenchness that I had left behind when we packed our bags and left Marseilles for the countryside ten years ago, for a home which has, over the years, gone from French to functional, from quirky to comfortable, from bi-level to... banale.

From the word sabot we get the verb saboter: "to bungle," or "to walk noisily." Come to think of it, it's no wonder I've become desensitized to the uniqueness that is France: I've been making too much noise and can no longer perceive it!

May this be a reminder to tiptoe past the Gallic culture that still whispers out from every French nook and cranny, to travel forward—light on my feet—so as not to "sabotage" this ongoing French experience.

 

Your Edits Here
Thanks for checking grammar and punctuation. Is the story clear enough? Good to go? Share your thoughts, here in the comments box. P.S. Thanks for checking the vocab section, too! 


French Vocabulary

un arrondissement
a city district 

la porte
door

la peinture fraîche
wet paint

la clef
key

la salle de bain
bathroom

la belle-mère
mother-in-law

vas-y
go ahead

un ascenseur
elevator

la pantoufle
slipper

le bain-douche
bath-shower

le savon
soap 

le bol
bowl for drinking hot liquids

la fourchette
fork 

banal(e)
boring, ordinary 

 

(Text from here, on, will not be included in the book)


Listen: Hear the word "sabot": Download sabot.wav

Terms & Expressions:
une baignoire sabot = short tub for taking baths "assis" (seated)
voir venir quelqu'un  avec ses gros sabots = "to see someone coming"-- to see someone's true intentions

 

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

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briller

IMG_7091
My mother-in-law and Jackie. Photo taken at the time this story was written, in 2006

briller

bree ay

to shine

 

My mother-in-law and I are lounging on the back porch, sipping le coca and eating pistachios. We chat about tout et rien, while admiring so many wildflowers that have sprung up across the lawn. 

Michèle-France has borrowed her son's T-shirt; the words on the front read "Señor Frog's." Under the title, there are four caricatures—all grenouilles. Two of the frogs have on sunglasses, the other two, sun hats. All four frogs are wearing striped swim trunks. My belle-mère's pearl necklace is peeking out of the T-shirt; the combination of frog-T-shirt-with-pearl-accent makes an amusing, if unintended, fashion statement.

"Il fait chaud ici," my belle-mère says, pinching her wool pants. "I don't know what to wear this time of year."

Sitting beside her, wearing a tank top and corduroys, I can relate. "Moi non plus!"

"En avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil ..." my mother-in-law begins to recite a popular dicton.
I beat her to the finish: "En mai fais ce qu'il te plaît!

As we laugh I catch a closer glimpse of my belle-mère. Michèle-France's fingernails are painted a glossy red. They are not too long, not too short: simply elegant. The string of gold beads around her wrist adds a delicate touch. My own nails are chipped and rugged. I would rather take a nap than paint them.

"Mothers don't always have time for les petits soins," my belle-mère sympathizes. Her words assure me she's no judge. She knows I am not lazy. Her eyes lock on the wildflowers as her thoughts take her back to early days, to rearing three turbulent children. "Only one year apart in age! First Jean-Marc, then Cécile, then little Jacques." She shakes her head, tapping it comically for effect. Her exaggerated gestures are humorous but, like a clown's tears, they distract us from the suffering heart within. I know she didn't cope as well as she would have liked to. When will she forgive herself?


"Nice shoes..." she offers. Our thoughts drift back to the present.

"These old things?" I tease my mother-in-law, who laughs.

"Well I've had THESE for eons!" Michèle-France retorts.

I look down at her patent-leather loafers, as if seeing them for the first time. Suddenly, they represent so much to me: a lifetime or two (my son's and daughter's), the duration of our belle-mère/belle-fille friendship, and the number of years that I've known my husband. The dainty loafers with the chic square buckle have appeared at marriages and baptisms, as well as funerals and hospital stays. I've seen them buffed, I've seen them battered. But today, oh happy day, how they shine!

. 

Your Edits here please. Thanks for pointing out any grammar, punctuation, or story-construction problems here in the comments box. On the other hand, if it's a smooth read, thanks for letting me know that, too!


French Vocabulary (under construction... anything missing?)

 

la grenouille = frog
la belle-mère = mother-in-law
tout et rien = everything and nothing
un dicton = a saying
en avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil, En mai fais ce qu'il te plaît = literally "in April, don't remove a string (of fabric); in May do as you please"; Note: this saying hints at spring weather. A warm day in April can fool people into wearing less clothing (and catching a cold when cooler weather sneaks in!) May temperatures are more stable and one can "do as one pleases". 
les petits soins = fussings (little self-care treats)
la belle-fille (f) = daughter-in-law

 

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

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

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety