Today's French expression: Se donner le mot (also le pointu, manque de chance, la pissaladière...and hangry...)

Patisserie pastry tarte fraise choux wine
Are French bakers in cahoots? Read on in today's story. Also, see our book update at the end of this post.

Today's Expression: Se donner le mot

    : to pass the word around


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

by Kristi Espinasse

A few days ago, my husband and I were headed to the old port, to take out the little pointu we are trying to buy. The wooden fishing boat is not ours yet, but the owner has kindly allowed us a few sorties, or outings, until Provencal bureaucracy kicks in and we are granted the honor of purchase.

As I was saying, we were on our way to the docks... when we decided to stop for a pissaladière--a delicious pizza-like 'slice' topped with sauteed onions, anchovies, and an olive... Pulling up to the first bakery, we noticed the iron curtain was down. 'Oh, it's Tuesday!' I said to Jean-Marc. 'C'est fermé le mardi...'

There was a second bakery nearby and, manque de chance, it was closed too! Having left the seafront, we headed in to town. Oh, stop at that one! I said. 'I hear they make everything on site, and that it's delicious!' Jean-Marc parked à la Marseillais (illegally) in front of the garage next to the boulangerie...when suddenly the garagiste appeared. (Not to scold us, but to inform us the baker was closed).

Ils se sont donnés le mot? What--are they all in cahoots? Jean-Marc quipped.

(At least I think that is what I think my hangry husband said. In any case, what a picture his words painted in my mind, of so many apron-clad bakers 'passing the word': Psst! Hurry--Hide the onion tarts! Shutter the storefront! Alert the garagiste!)

That's no way to do business. But, from my experience, the French aren't always in it for business. (I'm thinking of the time the dry-cleaner turned my brother-in-law away. 'Five shirts?' she said. 'No. I can only handle two today...'

And isn't that what we love about France? It is everything on a smaller, more charming scale...just like our little red-trimmed fishing boat. I'll tell you more about that in the future.... For now, I'm off to post the end of Chapter Two of our memoir. I hope you will dive in, and read along with us.

Pointu little fishing boat wine eagle la ciotat
Jean-Marc managed to find a bakery...only they didn't have pissaladière. So he got quiche!

FRENCH VOCABULARY

lepointu
= Provencal fishing boat
la sortie =
trip, outing
manque de chance =
tough luck
a la marseillais =
Marseille style (the way the locals from Marseille drive)
la pissaladière =
Provencal onion tart
c'est fermé lemardi =
it's closed on Tuesdays
la boulangerie =
bakery
sedonner le mot = to pass the word around
vraiment faim + irritable =
hangry
lagaragiste =
mechanic

THE LOST GARDEN BOOK EXCERPT (from Jean-Marc's chapter)

And all went like in a dream, at least that is how I recall it. The wines in the tanks were delicious (one eventually got 91 points in The Wine Spectator), the family seemed happy and I felt like a rock, like the King of the World.

But in November 2007 a few weeks after the harvest, when the vine leaves started to fall, I suddenly felt like my dear leafless vines: dead. A heavy, brutal burnout/hibernation phase lasted for 6 long months, until the next Spring when the new vine leaves burgeoned once again. During that very dark time, my future award-winning wine tasted bad, flat... bland to me.  I could only see black clouds in the sky, my whole vineyard project and even my own physical life were definitely going to hit the wall. I was sure of it.

(For those who have purchased our book, read all of chapter two, here.)

To purchase The Lost Gardens, a book-in-progress, click here and scroll to the end of the post.

Reader feedback from Chapter Two:

Dynamite!!!!...Your writing seems to have one upped your sharing and it's a good balance back and forth. I'm eager to "follow along" but encourage you to take your time. After all you are living it! --John Hawke

Old boat pointu sicily
A charming Sicilian pointu, or wooden boat

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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue doing what I love most: sharing vocabulary and cultural insights via these personal stories from France. Your contribution is vivement appréciée! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
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♥Send the amount of your choice

"Bonjour, Kristin, I have enjoyed your blog now for a great number of years, watching your children grow up, your moves from house to house, enjoying your stories and photos and your development as a writer. It's way past time for me to say MERCI with a donation to your blog...which I've done today. Bien amicalement!"--Gabrielle


Ragout: Simple recipe for Provencal stew + kitesurfing in Giens peninsula, near Hyérès

Ragout provencal stew fava beans feve

For those reading our autobiography, The Lost Gardens, see the update at the end of this post. If you have purchased our book-in-progress and lost your passwords to access the chapters, leave a message in the box at the end of this post. 

The beauty of an online book-in-progress is all that can be included in it! I've just added the first photo album to our memoir, and will continue to enhance the story with images. To purchase The Lost Gardens, click here and scroll to the end of the page to purchase.

Today's Word: le ragoût

    : stew

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE, by Kristi Espinasse

Yesterday I was making a delicious ragoût with the fresh fèves from our garden...when my son invited me to the beach to watch him kite-surf. 

After a busy week, I wanted nothing more than to eat this delicious Provencal stew and then take a nice long Sunday siesta. But I know that stealing away with my son won't be as easy as the years march on, and so, You're on! I said, and we headed back to the Giens peninsula, near Hyérès.

After renting gear, we found the popular kite-surfer beach and hurried to the shore to unravel some important strings. The sandy beach was dotted with colorful cerf-volants and all the kite-surfers wore wetsuits. 

Max kitesurf giens beach plage
 

Even if the sand was being whipped up into my eyes and the sun was burning down (igniting my fears after a frightful experience) I felt so alive beneath the colorful, kited sky, listening to the joyful voices of those wind-harvesters: Mec! Tu peux m'aider? Man, can you help me? Max said, asking a stranger to help send off his orange and white kite. 

I watched my 23-year-old inch back into the sea, slip his feet onto his kite board, and disappear into the sparkling horizon, his kite flying high with the others. I might have dreamed such a beautiful scene, had I stayed home and rested. But this--this salty scent in my nose, this wind in my hair, these vibrant colors above and the gentle tones below of sand, grass, and charming picket fences--this was real.   

A creature of habit, a creature of comfort--these are tags I need to send off, like a kite. I am first and foremost a creature: I was created to go with the flow of life. And oh, the places Life takes us, when we let go and grow.

*   *   *        

Grass picket fence giens beach kitesurf hyeres
FRENCH VOCABULARY

le ragoût = stew
la fève = broad bean, fava bean
le cerf-volant = kite
mec = guy
tu peux m'aider = can you help me

PROVENCAL RAGOUT
A warm stew to pack for the beach on a windy day!

-Fry some lardons (sliced, fatty bacon), 2 onions, 5 diced potatoes, and garlic
- add the fava beans and cover with water (I like to add a can of tomato sauce).
Add some bay leaves, salt, pepper and thyme. Simmer an hour.

Serve with a side of plain couscous (cooks in one minute!) or bulgur and some hard-boiled eggs. We had a nice Compté cheese. Max deemed the meal 'the perfect thing to eat before surfing!' :-)

BOOK EXCERPT
One day as I rushed to fill platters with charcuterie, hard-boiled eggs and cheese, one of the harvesters meekly asked could she have that can of kidney beans in the cupboard? That is when I learned that part of the harvest crew we had hired were vegan. What did vegan even mean in 2007?

Fast forward, now, to 2012. Sunk down into my driver's seat, I clutched the paper pharmacy sack and wondered, would it all unfold like the last time, when a gigantic surge of energy was both the gift and curse behind my husband's vision? Gazing at our new (old) house (another home in need of renovation) I took a deep breath, stepped out of the car, and headed over to the front porch....

(For those who have purchased our book, read all of chapter two, here.)

To purchase The Lost Gardens, a book-in-progress, click here and scroll to the end of the post.

Reader feedback from Chapter Two:

Dynamite!!!! I more impressed than usual. Your writing seems to have one upped your sharing and it's a good balance back and forth. I'm eager to "follow along" but encourage you to take your time. After all you are living it! --John Hawke


Field of phacelia
A field of phacelia flowers, a soil amendment planted by Jean-Marc the year before he planted his dream vineyard. Thank you so much for buying our book-in-progress. Your support has helped us to begin our book and to keep going, chapter by chapter. Mille mercis!

Has a friend forwarded you this post? Receive your own FREE subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue doing what I love most: sharing vocabulary and cultural insights via these personal stories from France. Your contribution is vivement appréciée! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
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♥Send the amount of your choice

"Bonjour, Kristin, I have enjoyed your blog now for a great number of years, watching your children grow up, your moves from house to house, enjoying your stories and photos and your development as a writer. It's way past time for me to say MERCI with a donation to your blog...which I've done today. Bien amicalement!"--Gabrielle


Hérisser: from a prickly critter...to a verb to help describe an emotion we all felt last week

Writing desk

Ten days ago, my husband and I launched a book and then everything went up in flames--here on the homefront and there, inside Notre Dame. As emotions billowed up all around, we stepped back, stepped away, and then finally stepped up to the plate again. The next installment of our book is up, and we are going to take things chapter by chapter, dealing with the emotions as they surface (unexpectedly, as they did last week). Meantime, everyone who has ever loved Notre Dame will have experienced today's verb. I know our son did, when he walked into the room to share the news. Standing there in shock, every hair on his arms stood up:

Today's word: se hérisser

    : to ruffle, to stand on end (hairs), to bristle

*un hérisson is a prickly hedgehog

Click here to listen to the following sentence


Une émotion est un ensemble de réponses automatiques à des situations extérieures. Il y a des réponses corporelles bien sûr : le cœur s'accélère, les poils se hérissent, la sueur coule sur le visage... --Futura Sante.com
An emotion is a set of automatic responses to external situations. There are bodily responses of course: the heart is accelerating, the hairs are bristling, sweat is running down your face ...

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

As someone who writes about French life, I often feel the pressure (and sometimes the need) to address a current event here in my blog or, as one ruffled reader wrote (years ago, following a series of terrorist attacks) "on your platform! Why aren't you talking about (said political issue) on your platform! By not saying anything you are saying something."

But what is a writer to do when a crisis is happening both on the national front--and on the homefront? 

As a wife, mother, daughter, sister, niece, and a woman going through the throws of le cinquantaine, I went into preservation mode last week. I know that sounds dramatic, given the much bigger news of Notre Dame burning down. Honestly, that day seemed like an omen. A very bad omen.

On the bright side--the bright side being the side I have always chosen to write about (the exception being certain chapters in the current book my husband and I are writing...)--on the bright side, thanks to the love and generosity of many, Notre Dame will be rebuilt.  

Last week, certain our book project had come to an end....only days after it had even begun, and still in survival/panic mode, I reasoned, You can always reimburse everyone for their book purchase!

Indeed, my fingers were very near the Paypal mass-refund button! Instead, Dear Reader, we are going to keep writing. Keep telling our story. My hope is that many of you will relate to our choices, our trials, and our faith. In fact, I think most of you will. I trust we are all very much alike and that stories like ours will give others the courage to follow their dreams, to stay committed to their families, and to try and see a bigger picture when life's ups and downs threaten to throw us off track.

The first two installments have now been published on the book site. Jean-Marc and I have written three full chapters. Those pages will go up gradually. If you have not yet purchased our book-in-progress, you can do so now and read the raw chapters before anything gets edited out!

Having felt deep sadness and regret, and hairs that stand on end or se hérissent, let's move forward! Let's keep building, stone by stone, chapter by chapter. And have faith that a year from now, things will look quite differently. What matters in any event--and in any relationship--is the will to rebuild.

For those who have purchased the book, click here to access  the next installment

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here and scroll to the end of the post

Note: after your purchase, a new browser window will open in your browser with the link to the book site and the passwords needed Look for that new window!

If you have purchased the book and need the passwords to access it: email your Paypal receipt to kristin.espinasse@gmail.com

Silly pic
Photo of me and Jean-Marc taken yesterday. Greasy (me) and unshaven (him). If we look like we've been dragged over the coals of emotion....We have! (And one of us lost a wedding ring in the process...) More in the upcoming chapters of The Lost Gardens (not to be confused with one's private garden. And therein lies the challenge: to tell our personal story with dignity and the right amount of privacy). Thank you for reading our memoir and book in progress

Has a friend forwarded you this post? Receive your own FREE subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue doing what I love most: sharing vocabulary and cultural insights via these personal stories from France. Your contribution is vivement appréciée! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥Send the amount of your choice

"Bonjour, Kristin, I have enjoyed your blog now for a great number of years, watching your children grow up, your moves from house to house, enjoying your stories and photos and your development as a writer. It's way past time for me to say MERCI with a donation to your blog...which I've done today. Bien amicalement!"--Gabrielle


Se livrer: Jean-Marc and I are writing a book!

THE LOST GARDENS
Jean-Marc and I are finally telling the story of why we packed up and left our beloved vineyard. Our co-authored memoir is titled The Lost Gardens and the first chapter is online now. This book-in-progress can be purchased via the link at the end of this post. Thank you and please wish us bonne chance.


Today's Word: se livrer

    : to surrender, to give oneself up to, be engaged

THE LOST GARDENS: a memoir by Jean-Marc and Kristi Espinasse

In August of 2017 my family and I said adieu to our heavenly domain by the sea. Here, beside the famous Bandol appellation, my husband, Jean-Marc, had planted his vineyard from scratch, and here is where I fell in love with a garden (and not just any garden...). In the midst of clearing, planting, and harvesting, we began to fix up the 19-century mas centered in the middle of it all.

But this is not a book about renovating a French farmhouse. And our story is nothing like the Hollywood hit: 'A Good Year.'

Indeed, it was one hell of a decade! Between hailstorms and compost heists, we survived the first vineyard (2007-2012) only to have our spirits pelted and our dreams stolen at the second domain (2012-2017). Jean-Marc and I have wanted to write about this experience for a long time. This, dear reader, is the story of Mas des Brun. 


PURCHASE OUR BOOK-IN-PROGRESS
If you would like to follow along as Jean-Marc and I write our vineyard memoir, chapter by chapter, you can purchase the online edition--the sections will be posted after they are written. Jean-Marc and I will take turns telling this story from our own perspectives, until the very last chapter.

Excerpt from The Lost Gardens:

A creak at the door woke me from my trance. There was my husband of 22 years. The Frenchman who, letter by steamy love letter, wooed me back to his country. The father of my children. The man whose every inspiration I had followed, no matter where it led us. (Except for the time he wanted to move to Healdsburg, California, in search of American grapes. No! I put my foot down then. France was my home now, even if we were about to uproot once again.)


Watching Jean-Marc approach, I set aside the towel I had been folding: the cloth was stiff and bristly from drying on the clothesline (our dryer broke down at our previous vineyard--at which point it seemed like a good time to practice the French art of hanging the laundry: oh, the romantic illusions we create in order to withstand unconventional living.)

My husband studied me for a few moments, his hazel eyes soft and tender before he said those unforgettable words:

"I will understand if you want to leave me."

***

Kristin and Jean-Marc Espinasse by Cynthia Gillespie-Smith
photo by Cynthia Gyllespie-Smith



Please Note:

=> The online edition is $29. Upon purchasing this item, a pop-up window will open with the book site address, a login and a password to access the story. (Be sure to look for the pop-up window in your browser! Email if you cannot find it: kristin.espinasse@gmail.com)

=> Your purchase of our book-in-progress, The Lost Gardens, is non-refundable, and does not include any future editions (paperback, hardbound, ebook...) in the purchase price.

=> As a partly interactive book, your comments, suggestions, emails on the topic are part of this book, could be used in future versions (or simply in marketing), and are hereafter copyright of the book's authors, Jean-Marc and Kristi Espinasse.

=> In a nutshell, you are purchasing/reading/participating in this book at your own risk and promise not to sue the authors. 🙂

Thank you for your understanding. Now, let's get on with this story! Chapter one is ready--click the buy now button below to begin.

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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue doing what I love most: sharing vocabulary and cultural insights via these personal stories from France. Your contribution is vivement appréciée! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥Send the amount of your choice

"Bonjour, Kristin, I have enjoyed your blog now for a great number of years, watching your children grow up, your moves from house to house, enjoying your stories and photos and your development as a writer. It's way past time for me to say MERCI with a donation to your blog...which I've done today. Bien amicalement!"--Gabrielle


Avec le plus grand soin: Meet Arnaud Chevalier

Rochefoucauld Charente

For those wishing to travel to France and to be guided by a most endearing host, I share with you first a message from my friend Tessa Baker, of Paint Provence with Tess:

With my May and June trips now full I thought I might remind you that I still have three places on my July 6th - 13th trip in the Charente. A perfect place to visit and paint in early July with chateaux, lakes, rolling hills, beautiful villages and one of the best markets in Angouleme with its huge river flowing through the centre of town. Click here for more info.

Today's Expression: grand soin

    : great care

Example Sentence: Click here to listen
Cette piece a été réalisée avec le plus grand soin. --Arnaud Chevalier
The piece was made with utmost care.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE, by Kristi Espinasse

A little while back, in the garden, Mom and I were sitting in mismatched chairs, wearing mismatched pajamas, and speaking (in mismatched languages) about a dear friend in Paris.

Andalé, Mom said, sending Smokey (our Velcro dog) off so that we could sip our tea in peace (or be drenched every time Smokey sidled up to us, ever ready to cuddle).

Allez, sort de là! I added, and when our dog finally settled for a nap under the fig tree, Mom and I resumed our dreaming...in English this time:

If there is one person we wanted to see in Paris it would be Arnaud Chevalier! I'm not sure who met Arnaud first, Mom or me...(OK! So it was Mom!) but over the years we have enjoyed following the jewelry designer on Facebook and then on Instagram, where he shares his view of Paris, his fascinating French heritage, his dear Cocker spaniel, Nemo, and his positive thoughts (Arnaud's...and  maybe Nemo's?). I think you will agree, Arnaud is a deeply endearing personnage. Here is a screenshot from one of his Instagram posts:

Screenshot_20190402-163550

Arnaud is also a writer, a poet, a designer--a continuous creator who suffered a great loss of a great love. Continually pouring his soul into his work, his heart marches on and we, his friends, followers, and fans are moved by his message--whether in words or wrought bronze. And speaking of bronze...

Returning home from that outing in the little fishing boat, I was halted by a package in my mailbox. Carefully turning it over, I saw it was from Arnaud. I had been looking forward to this parcel, and now it had arrived! 

First, a little background...

I had been following Arnaud's creative path--working for high-end jewelry brands to, recently, setting out to create his own line. Previously, with the high-end brands, he used the precious metals and gems at his fingertips. In Arnaud's own words:

For years I've been working as a jewelry designer for various brands, but I've always desired to develop a collection of my own. I wanted a high quality one, but it was a far too big investment for me to create the high-end jewels I was used to work with. It is then that I've decided to take an interest in the methods used by our distant ancestors -the Middle Ages craftsmen- whose jewels are still to be seen intact in museums. By using the same material and by following their gestures, it is a whole heritage that comes back to life.

Back to that parcel in the mail... Have you ever received a package that you were too excited to open? Well, after a few hours, my Mom put a stop to this nonsense. 'Come over here and open Arnaud's package!'

I sat on Jules's bed, beside our dear Smokey, and opened the bubble envelope, which revealed an elegant black box in gold trim....

MVIMG_20190329_124158

Do you see Smokey's eyes, dear reader? You should have seen the look on my face as I discovered Toby The White Elephant. Toby was inspired by Arnaud's love of animals and his involvement in animal welfare (he adopted an elephant).  There dangling on a bronze choker, was Toby, handmade in France--avec le plus grand soin--using the medieval techniques of lost-wax casting bronze and enamel 'grand feu'...

'The bronze may change color,' its creator informed me, 'only to take on a natural patina.'

Well, Arnaud, patina is one of my favorite things, donc pas de soucis!

I leave you, dear reader, with a picture of a weatherworn sailor (having just gotten off the little fishing boat, before a storm set it), wearing for the first time this beautiful piece by our friend Arnaud Chevalier. It is a gift I am honored to receive and a piece I will treasure forever. Mom suggests I go out and get a crisp white dress shirt to really show it off. What do you think? What would you wear with the magnifique Toby? 

MVIMG_20190329_124536

Visit Arnaud's website here (he also makes jewelry for men, handmade with care in France).

Montemboeuf Charente

Now back to my dear friend Tessa, for one more word about her Artist escapes in France. Tessa writes:

I also have places left on my September Roussillon trips when of course as part of our trip we visit https://www.carrieres-lumieres.com/ where we will see Van Gogh paintings projected onto the massive quarry walls along with fabulous music. The weather is still fabulous and the vines are turning gold. Please visit my site www.paintprovencewithtess.com to see the dates and destinations for the Charente trip and the Roussillon trips in September.

Wedding photo
That's it, dear reader...except for one more thing. Stay tuned for some exciting news in the next post. After almost 25 years of partnering in marriage--Jean-Marc and I are committing to something equally as meaningful, exciting, soul-searching, scary, nerve-racking, uncertain, gripping, risky, exhausting and well it's not what you think it is (just what do you think it is?***).... Just please be here for the next post--and thanks as ever for reading!

***No, it's not the tours. We're putting them on hold... for this.

Has a friend forwarded you this post? Receive your own FREE subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue doing what I love most: sharing vocabulary and cultural insights via these personal stories from France. Your contribution is vivement appréciée! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
 
♥ Send $10    
♥ Send $25    
♥Send the amount of your choice

"Bonjour, Kristin, I have enjoyed your blog now for a great number of years, watching your children grow up, your moves from house to house, enjoying your stories and photos and your development as a writer. It's way past time for me to say MERCI with a donation to your blog...which I've done today. Bien amicalement!"--Gabrielle


Glaner: In Memory of Agnes Varda (30 May 1928 – 29 March 2019)

Glass castle

GLANER MEANS 'TO GLEAN'
by Kristi Espinasse

In the dramatic opening scene of her memoir The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls is riding in the back of a New York taxi, wondering whether she has overdressed for the party to which she is headed, when she sees something that knocks the wind right out of her Park Avenue sails.

Out there on the curbside, an older woman wearing rags is rooting through a dumpster. On closer look, the garbage picker is Jeannette's own mother! 

As I read the page-turner memoir, I could only imagine how a daughter's heart seized up on seeing her intelligent, artistic, and once athletic mother rooting through the trash. What had brought her to this? And, more curiously, why was the waste picker smiling?

It wasn't until I saw the fascinating documentary, The Gleaners and I (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse), by French filmmaker Agnès Varda, that I began to see this touching scene quite differently, and even to recall a few gleaning episodes of my own. Before writing about those, I will share some of the eloquent descriptions I gathered from viewers' reactions to The Gleaners:

... a wonderful documentary that reminds us of how much we produce and waste in the world and how the disenfranchised (and artistic) make use of that waste to survive... The characters Varda encounters are equally compelling and interestingly are not portrayed as whiny or blameful of others for their situations: they simply state how they live and we are left impressed with their ingenuity. (anonymous)

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when we are introduced to a wizened Chinese man in Paris living at home among a heap of dumpster gleanings. He has taken in a boarder—a happy-go-lucky black man who hunts the day long for discarded food and items that he himself will repair and give away to those less fortunate than himself. "Somebody might need this," the ragpicker says. Evenings, the Chinese man will cook up the dumpster chicken in one of the ovens that his resourceful roommate has brought home. As the men prepare to dine together, seated on crooked chairs and ever amazed by their "fortune", I have to reach over and hit the pause button. Have you ever seen such sweet faces, such sparkling eyes, than on these two lovely men who care for one another and for others? 

In another scene, we observe a clean-cut wiry man stooping here and there as he scours the market stalls in Paris at the end of market day. Here and there he pops a broken piece of celery or apple or lettuce into his mouth... "Beta carotene! Vitamin K! I'm a biology major," he explains, adding that though he earns a salary, he still needs to eat and by the way, he's vegetarian! He admits that cheese is a little more difficult to find, but there's plenty of tossed out bread. We later learn that though he holds a scientific diploma, this biologist chooses to sell papers outside the train station. In a touching "who'd have thunk it?" scene, we see the same garbage picker volunteering his time, each evening, to teach refugees English. His carefully illustrated blackboards featuring, among other objects, a hand-drawn bike and its phonetic word equivalent, attest as much to his selfless and caring soul as to his professionalism and skill.    

There are several other heart-awakening moments in which Agnès Varda steadies her lens on the outcasts who in turn teach us more about the art of living than we will ever glean from the pages of any New York Times bestseller on the subject. The rag-wearing, sometimes toothless characters could write volumes on the subject. Meantime, they have more meaningful pursuits: getting by, while managing to smile at life. 

As for my own dumpster days as a child—I'd root unselfconsciously through the trash bin (one we shared with the neighbor in the trailer next door), ever amazed at the ongoing source of riches (in this case--cans of Hamm's beer which could be recycled for cash after stomping the cans flat!). Our neighbor, a single, middle-aged woman, regularly replenished the trash bin with this blatantly underestimated source of income! I began to feel sorry about her loss, which to me related to her pocket book and not her liver health (I had no idea that all those cans equalled addiction). 

I regret losing the desire to salvage things (publicly, at least), though the occasional foray through a stranger's trash still happens, but I am grateful to live here in France--where gleaning is alive and well and rooted deeply in the culture! How many times during family outings has an uncle or a cousin or a grandma stooped to pick up a tumbled down apricot or a chestnut, or paused to uproot a lonely asparagus or a bunch of herbs from the edge of a neighbor's yard. "Have you seen what they charge for this at the markets?" my in-laws shake their heads. Soon they'll make up a fresh batch of herbs de Provence--more fragrant and delicious than can be found on any supermarket aisle. 

When my husband returned from the States after his multi-city wine tour, he brought me an unexpected surprise: two charming rush-bottom chairs!

"I found them in the airport parking lot," Jean-Marc explained, "beside the dumpster." I admit, if he had brought those home 15 years ago--as a consolation gift for his two week absence, I might have been hugely disappointed! Nowadays, I don't want the ill-fitting T-shirt (quickly rung up at a pricy airport gift shop). I'd rather have a couple of bars of chocolate, or, in this case, some adorable chairs!) 

Each time I look at the chairs, I feel the same kind of affection one feels when looking at some of the characters in Agnès Varda's documentary. They are quirky. They are imperfect. They are charming. They are lovely. And, as one of the men in the film said, "they are needed."

Adieu, Agnès Varda. Thank you for the stories, for your precious gleanings on humanity. 

***
See it tonight. This film is available for rental, on Amazon, click here

Gleaners-and-i agnes varda

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The slammer (prison) in French. Don't miss today's 'Taule' story.

Very sorry for today's hasty letter. I'm in a hurry as I need to be in Paris by 9 a.m. for three days of community service. The authorities contacted us after the herdsman I wrote about filed a complaint. Turns out we are being prosecuted--not for misrepresentation but for empoisonnement! That punk rock shepherd I profiled in January is now claiming his herd suffered gastro-entérite--or le gastro--after grazing in our mustard pasture. (Jean-Marc had sown la moutarde as a cover crop or soil amendment before planting his vineyard.) 

The fact that sheep waltzed onto OUR property to enjoy a free meal doesn't seem to faze the French police, who informed us that when we made the verbal agreement, allowing the berger's flock to feed on our land, we were unwittingly taking responsibility for the said grazers' santé.

I am trying to see the good in this even if I am reluctant head out, now, for some punitive community service. The 8-hour chore I have been assigned is absolutely surreal: le nettoyage des ossements des Catacombes ( the cleaning of the catacombs ), i.e. Paris's underground cemetery of bones.

It took a moment to understand the punishment, owing to the confusing French legalease, and misleading words such as le nettoyage de l'ossuaire municipal. ("Ossuaire" threw me, but I recognized the terms municipale and nettoyage and so assumed I was to clean the floor of Town Hall--and not a wall of skulls and femurs!

Good news is the State is paying for my train ticket. All I am to do is to provide a personal scrub brush. (The municipal order that I received via registered mail contained a small packing list.)

  • votre brosse à dents (your toothbrush)
  • un flacon d'huile d'olive (a small flask of olive oil)
  • le plan des Catacombes de Paris (map of Paris catacombs, see attached).

A further note--an instruction, actually--states "une goutte par tête" or "one drop per head"). I guess they'll fill me in on the rest (is the olive oil some sort of skull emollient?).

Map-of-Paris-Catacombs
We are scheduled to meet in the underground cavern, in one of the bony tunnels mentioned in The Paris Plot and The Bone Curse (I've been nervously reading all I can get my hands on)! I've printed out the map of the former stone mine-come-cemetery. So much for claustrophobia! Off now to catch my train. 

Amicalement
Kristi

P.S. If they think I'm bringing my own toothbrush--get out! I'm taking Jean-Marc's. He's the one that got us into this mess!

Also, I have never been to the Paris catacombs. Have you? Would you like to see the historic underground cemetery? Should I add it to our Half-Day Tours project? Bring your toothbrush...and leave your gullibility at home. It's April Fools today! Let me know in the comments if you were fooled by this Taule Story (taule = prison).

 Crypt of the Sepulchral Lamp in the Catacombs of Paris. Photograph taken by Michael Reeve, 30 January 2004
Paris catacombs. (Photo: Michael Reeve)

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Drifting in French....(the vocabulary is in the story)

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Dear Jean-Marc,

Ha, you thought your birthday was over...but just one more thing before minuit: a letter of thanks.

Last night you said you had a surprise for me....

"But tomorrow is your birthday...."  

"Be ready by 9:30!" You countered, and though I tried I could not get you to cough up so much as a hint as to what kind of activity we'd be doing on your special day. Anything from lunch at a friend's vineyard to a glorious walk in your beloved calanques--was this a sea urchin month? I still haven't memorized the handy (you literally count the months on your knuckles) astuce that would tell us whether it was hunting season).

Don't miss the bus! You said this morning, and I began chucking all kinds of en-cas or just-in-cases into my backpack even though we might very well be going to the movies (but no, you are too much of an adventurer! I knew we weren't headed indoors). Pitching sunscreen, an extra sweater, tennis shoes and a water bottle and wearing a wide-brimmed chapeau, I followed you out to our car (ha! No bus! You were throwing me off track). Aha, you were also wearing your maillot de bain. So swimming might be involved....

As we drove along the coast here in La Ciotat the blue sea shimmered and white feathered  gabians swooped up and down the beach. Imagine that, I thought, our magnificent coastline was recently named one of the most beautiful bays in the world!

Oh, you've turned right...well, my guess was we were headed to the little Port of Capucins...to take our first ride in "Chrisline" (a traditional pointu--more about her later). You smiled, loving the game of leading me on.

After a detour in town in which we bought fresh daurade for lunch, we were heading toward our little port. Sure enough we were going to embark on the little red-trimmed boat! 

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The owner, Jean-Louis met us at the dock and after a quick rundown we were heading out to sea!

How close we were to the water in this tiny fishing vessel, a pointu just like the ones you proudly showed me when I moved to Marseilles in 1992. Since that time, we've dreamed of this boat...and now the day had come. 

You planned simple itinerary--an aller-retour to L'isle Vert... And as we put-putted toward the horizon, I noticed the ocean spray (really the sea, but does one say "sea spray"?) Well I was now soaking in it! Oh well, the pros and cons of a little fishing boat!

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With the help of many stolen kisses we reached The Green Island and pas un chat--not a cat in sight, but plenty of seagulls niched into the verdant coastline. We laughed at the memory of having lunch there, in the only restaurant on the tiny island (and it didn't have a W.-C....so the 4 of us (including Dad and Marsha) as casually as possible, filed past all the tables and, back to the dock (in plain view of the diners) slipped into the water for an impromptu swim! Ahhhhh! Never did a swim prove such a relief! Now back to the table for dessert...sly looks on everyone's faces except mine (which was as red and as embarrassed as the berries in my clafoutis !)

Having enjoyed that memory we talked about our dreams and our plans. That's when you turned off the engine and said, in French, "Let's drift." (Deriver, I believe is the verb you used.)

And so we drifted, the two of us, towards our favorite spot, La plage du Mugel. You pulled out two glasses and two different bottles. Sparkling water for me and Mas des Brun rosé for you. And we dreamed aloud, discussing a project-in-the works. If there is one thing that we love doing together, it is building something new--whether a garden or a vineyard. This time we are embarking on an entirely new path...or rather an outlet along our current path. And so we discussed the Day Tours we would like to organize for those readers with plans to visit France...

...Half-day Tours to vineyards, to calanques, and why not out to sea..on our little fishing boat?...

Just then your wine glass slid along the bow and the water began to rise up.... It's a little choppy out there, I said. 

Ce sont les moutons, you pointed out. The white-topped waves grew into a sea of "sheep" and our little boat began to rock....

We made it back to port, but I'm not sure an escapade at sea would appeal to everybody. A person would have to love the fine spray of sea (all over their body), and be able to relax when the sign reads "Pas de W.-C."....

Well, my love, we'll figure it out. Meantime, here's  to new projects and a new year ahead for you... "Mr. 52." 

Love,

Madame Pipi

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I hope Jean-Marc enjoyed this letter. You can make it even better by dropping some hints in the comments: Let us know what kind of Half-day tour would interest you:

1. A Vineyards Tour (visit one or two of our favorite places, and lunch in a café or bistro)

2. A hike in one of our scenic calanques, or sea inlets, and lunch (picnic or restaurant?)

3. A visit to one of our neighboring towns, such as Cassis or Sanary or Bandol or La Ciotat (which just this week was voted Most Beautiful Bay in the world!)

4. Cooking Together: We'll revisit our favorite family recipes and cook them here in our kitchen: La Tarte Tomate, Daurade au four, classic French salad (secrets, secrets...) and the classic yogurt cake. (Thanks, Frances, for this suggestion!)

....and, of course....

5. A ride in our Provencal fishing boat. She creaks a bit..not bad for being almost one hundred years old!

Thanks for choosing your favorite tour and adding any ideas in the comments, below.

For additional photos and videos, visit my Instagram account and be sure to hit the follow button.

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My French Garden and retirement?

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Today's words: prendre sa retraite

   : to retire

*.  *.  *

"You work too hard," my mom says. "You should retire."

Who? Me? Work too much? How could writing one or two posts a week make one a workaholic? Un bourreau de travail ?

*.  *.  *

Today marks three weeks away from my desk and it is beginning to show me something about the creative process:

Writing is 20 or 30 or 40 percent of the effort...

The other 60 or 70 or 80 percent is the "steam engine" behind the story: it is the words and sentences that file through your brain throughout the day and sometimes at night, no matter where you are--at home or away on vacation. What was the F. Scott Fitzgerald book in which two characters, a husband and wife, are at a dinner party and the wife looks over at the husband whose lips are moving as he stares at the ceiling?

"Darling! What are you doing?" She says.

I'm working! He snips.

The writing engine never stops completely (oh, the stories I've begun in my head since landing in the U.S. None have made it to the physical composition stage, and yet all of them have kept me occupied, or preoccupied).

I am not complaining about any of this, but want to highlight a little pépin, or glitch, about creation: It can slowly wear you down. 

I realize Mom is right, and now it is a matter of tweaking (I need to tweak the way I live my writing life).

My friend Kirsten took me to The Tattered Cover Book Store in Littleton, where I spied a humble garden journal. I've spent this morning (now back at my sister, Heidi's) sipping coffee and sketching my yard back in France: the fruit trees, herbs, the pond...even the bees. My niece, Reagan, shared her coloring pencils and the activity became even more enjoyable and revealing...

I had thought my garden had gone to pot, but I now see many of the plants are surviving the neglect. It gives me hope and a goal for when I return to France next week. It is a simple plan, and here it is:

Water. Tend. Visit. 

Water the plants and also the dreams you've forgotten. Lovingly tend the garden and the precious hours in your day. Visit the seedlings and other blooming things (new friendships, new interests).

I'm off now to spend time with my sister. We're going lunch together. Perhaps here in the beautiful botanical garden in Denver. It's a good place to dream and to rest before returning to my desk in La Ciotat. I have no plans to retire and, God-willing, will write until I'm ninety-five. More time to practice, to learn, and to share with you. 

Amicalement,

Kristi

P.S. Here is a link to the garden journal I bought. It has inspiring quotes and prompts (see below) on the pages.

I also picked up a book called The Writers Practice: Building Confidence in your Nonfiction Writing, as reading about writing can be helpful...when you are away from the work. 

P.S.S. Still working on my garden diagram. Click on the image below to enlarge it. MVIMG_20190321_094853

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Je vais m'allonger...

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Jean-Marc and I at The Bookworm of Edwards, with Hedy and Mark who surprised us. 

*.  *.  *

"Je vais m'allonger." As soon as my daughter said it, I knew it was the perfect phrase to share with you today.

Je vais m'allonger = I'm just going to lie down for a bit

This journal is on a little break, doctor's orders (actually it was my Mom who suggested some time off. And guess what? I'm listening to her)...so I'll keep today's entry short and sweet....

Je vais m'allonger, Jackie said, when she returned from work last night. She is staying with us at our rental here in Avon, Colorado.

I understand why she'd want to lie down at 6:30 p.m. I'd seen her in action earlier when Jean-Marc, Max and I visited her at work (she is a cocktail waitress at the Ritz Carlton. Voilà vous savez tout!)

Earlier at lunch, seated on a large couch facing a crackling fireplace, Max and I watched Jackie (dressed sleekly in black, wearing a Ritz apron) take orders from the family one couch over. The Mom was saying:

My daughter will have the tomato soup and grilled cheese. Can you make that gluten free? My son will have a large glass of milk...and I'm going to share the sliders with my husband. Also could we have ...

As the order grew, Max and I noticed Jackie was not jotting anything down, until finally she smiled and said, "Thank you. That'll be right out. Your room number please? (These three digits added additional bits of information, and now Max and I were really sweating it for Jackie (would she remember the gluten free bread?? Would she!), who now made her way through a crowded room to place the order--a few Excuse me Misses... along the way.

It's been thrilling to be here watching Jackie at work. And when we're not busy being awkwardly discreet guests at the cocktail lounge, we're enjoying being back in America and observing cultural differences (it is snowing here near Vail and I saw a woman wearing a mini skirt (bare legs) at the grocery store! I've also witnessed several men wearing shorts! You would NOT see this in the French Alps...unless an Englishman was there :-)

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A most-lovely group holding copies of my book Words in a French Life

Photo taken at Sunday's wine tasting and book signing in Edwards, Colorado (Thanks once again to The Bookworm of Edwards!). Jean-Marc and I were deeply touched by the encouragement and stories that attendees shared.

Whether you have read this journal from the beginning...or just signed on, I thank you for being here. It keeps me writing...and writing keeps me in awe of everyday life. (And naps help to process it all. Donc, je vais m'allonger....)

Amicalement,

Kristi

P.S. We will be in the States for two more weeks. I'm posting photos from our trip here, please hit the follow button and see the latest at my Instagram account.

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Enjoying every moment with my daughter.

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...when most of my family showed up at Jackie's lieu de travail...or place of work! And one more pic, below ..because my sister, Heidi (in green) was missing from the first photo. 

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