To humble oneself + what to give someone you've unintentionally hurt

Letter of sympathy
Russian comfrey and letter of sympathy (with misspellings), reads Sir/Mam, I offer all my regrets for the loss of your chickens. I am sincerely and deeply sorry for the pain this has caused you..." (Read on, in today's story column.)


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.


se rabaisser (seuh rah bay say)

    : to humble oneself, to show humility or respect

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

Je me suis rabaissée devant le potager, en visant mon plant préféré. Et puis, je l'ai arraché!
I lowered myself before the kitchen garden, and targeted my favorite plant. Next, I yanked it out! 

  At only $8 Exercises in French Phonetics is a great tool for improving your French.

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

I left Annie's whimsical garden with a bag of stinging nettles and a mission: to plant the medicinal orties and, secondly, to heal an open wound--celle de ma voisine.

The orties, no matter how menacing their bite, would be easy to manage; I needed only to wear gloves to transplant them. As for the pain we'd caused our other neighbor--I was not sure how to proceed... so I followed--hanging on as my body whisked forth my soul, over to the field just below.

There in my own jardin, I landed. Walking past the flowering consoude, with its ornamental purple bells, I knew instantly it was the one. I had just given a seedling to my friend Cari, keeping the mother comfrey--all decked out now in blossoms--for myself. Even then I knew I should have given the best away, and patiently waited for the seedling to grow into another purple-belled marvel. It wasn't too late this time around....

Se rabaisser (the French translation for "to humble yourself") literally means to bow down, and this I did before the royal purple bells of Symphytum x uplandicum--the noblest subject in my potager.

I knelt not as a worshiper before an idol; I met the ground as a broken heart falling in pieces! If the act was dramatic, it encompassed more than the sorrow for my neighbor's lost chickens, it carried with it the weight of other trespasses--both personal and universal. Isn't that what it feels like to be deeply sorry, or navrée? As though the weight of a world's sins rests on your guilty shoulders. 

Kneeling there, the rocks below me drove their jagged edges into my skin. But I felt only the pain of shame as I searched for words.

 "Please let there be understanding--and forgiveness. Please heal this pain."

There was nothing I could do to bring back the stolen chickens. And only God knows how hard I try to keep our dogs inside our property lines. The best I could do was to reach out to my neighbor: apologize, ask what I could give or do, and let her see the human face behind the unknown perpetrator. 

As I stood there, now, on a foreign doorstep--my heart thumping in my throat, my arms holding out a potted plant its leaves going limp before my very eyes--my new neighbor studied me, her lips a straight line.....

 (A suivre/To be continued here in Part 2 of story)

To respond to today's story, click here

Note: highlighted links within the story refer back to previous journal entries:

Annie's garden (including part one of today's story)
Kristi's garden (picture)

celle de ma voisine = that (wound, blessure) of my neighbor
le jardin = garden
la consoude = comfrey
le potager = vegetable patch
navré(e) = deep sorrow, sadness for one's mistake

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. See pictures here.

  Seeds of Hope Jane Goodall

Plants are the best gift, no matter the occasion! An olive or peach tree, aloe or comfrey! They nourish, improve the air we breathe, and are often healing. A book about plants is the next best gift of all. I am offering one copy of Jane Goodall's latest: Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Here's how to enter:

Leave a comment in today's comments box.  You can say anything at all: respond to today's story, or tell us your favorite plant. Click here to comment and enter.

P.S. I can't promise, so don't hold me to it--but if I manage to get a signed book on Monday night--when I go to see Jane Goodall speak in Aix!!--then I will include the signed copy in the giveaway. Otherwise the book will be shipped to you directly via Good luck!

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A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens

Doux: mild, temperate, sweet in French

Tomato vine, cherry tomatoes, golden retriever, hide-n-seek, France, gardening (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jouer à cache-cache means to play hide-n-seek. This was a favorite game of Smokey's when he was one-years-old (pictured), though his hiding places were a bit obvious. Now, at 4, he likes the classics: a good ol' game of catch is fine by him. 

doux (do)

    : mild, temperate; sweet, pleasant; soft; lenient

Doux also refers to a gentle person--or how about a gentle soul, like the one hiding behind the tomatoes? Speaking of tomatoes, we're busy harvesting them--along with grapes--during this exceptionally mild weather. 

Terms & Expressions

un billet doux = a love letter
le vin doux
= sweet wine
dire des mots doux à quelqu'un = to whisper sweet nothings
faire les yeux doux à qqn = to make eyes at someone (to look at someone with puppy-dog eyes) 
Share more terms and expressions here, in the comments

Example Sentence:
Une période de temps doux et sec au début d'octobre fait en sorte que les apiculteurs ont amplement le temps de préparer leurs ruches en vue de l'hiver qui approche... A run of warm dry weather in early October is providing beekeepers with ample opportunity to prepare their hives for the coming winter.... (from FAC express and Linguee dictionnaire)

 Bescherelle conjugation guide.     Capture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer) 

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

"It looks like we will have tomatoes up into November!" I tell Jean-Marc, pour la troisième fois. I am excited by the findings in our garden, and motivated to do better next time. (Next time I will stake those tomatoes, which have spread like a riot across the garden beds. Though unruly tomatoes taste just as good, they are harder to find than "ruly" tomatoes--which don't hide behind the parsley or get tangled in with the cucumbers (will need to tie those up next time, too).

Here in the South of France, the weather on this 22nd of October is si doux! si doux! It's so mild outside. I watch the locals swim in the sea and the farmers collecting grapes this late in the season. (As I type this, Jean-Marc and the kids are high on the hill behind our house, working on a morning-long vendange. And when they are done, I know one of them will return to the beach, to wash all the grape juice off with the help of a salt-water bath!)

But back to fall weather... I love to see the autumn wildflowers pop up and to discover which plants are flowering. The roadsides are flanked with yellow beauties called millepertuis, or "a thousand holes"--for the tiny perforated leaves they sport. (In English we call them St John's wort). Some use the flowers to treat depression. My husband uses them to organically care for his vines (do vines get the blues?)

Also flowering here in our garden are the verbena plants—in French la verveine. Their blossoms are like lacy spears and, though silver-tinted, they are pretty in the golden vase Mom brought me years ago from Mexico.

I'm on my way outside now, to collect another bunch of verveine—for the lemony aroma, which freshens the house (and, some say, wards off les moustiques... But my experience is that it attracts the very same! Just last night I stood there with une poignée of leaves (to sweeten my tea) when--zap!--I was bitten by a flimsy passer-by! I watched as the drunk pest staggered off through the air, leaving its victim seething with vexation. How a weightless bully can displace a giant ever amazes me. 

No use letting a wobbly mosquito ruin one's mood. An extra drop of honey in one's tea is sometimes enough to restore sanity. (And a dab of miel on one's mosquito bite couldn't hurt either). When it comes to lotions and potions, Mother Nature's pharmacy is full of possibilities.

*    *    *

  Melissa and cabanon

Pictured above: In other "flowering plants of October," here are some melisse, or lemon balm (I think...). A friend thought it was de la menthe, or mint--and though it tastes a little minty, it is not mint. What would you call a plant whose leaves looked like mint and whose flowers looked like this, pinkish-red?

French Vocabulary
pour la troisième fois = for the third time
si doux = so mild
la vendange = grape harvest
le millepertuis = St John's wort
la verveine = verbena
le moustique = mosquito
une poignée = a handful
le miel = honey
    =>expression, être tout sucre, tout miel 


Hibiscus and smokey
Bill Facker, are you reading? Here is the hibiscus plant you bought us in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes. We dragged it south, when we moved. One year later--it's bloomed! (pictured: Smokey, in a rare holding-that-tongue-in moment).

Rosemary and smokey
Like the verbena plant in our yard, this rosemary is very old. But oh the blossoms it produces! What do you use rosemary or verbena for? Share some ideas, here, in the comments box.

Lemon verbena in the house. Did you read the previous post, about our current remodel project? Click here to see it. The work has not advanced since then.... 

Plastic protection sheet
Mom's painting matches the construction tape that holds up these plastic walls. The idea is to keep out dust....

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens

Pictures from Grignan + an emergency visit to the vet--and the French word "epillet"

Jackie (c) Kristin Espinasse

 Sweet 16! Today, September 18th, is Jackie's birthday and we've had chocolate cake for breakfast and look forward to Chinese food for dinner. (Meantime she's begun another day at fashion school. But after our dog's recent drama, and Jackie's hands-on response, I think she'd make a great veterinarian! Read on, in today's French infused story column....

un épillet (ay-pee-leh)

    : foxtail or grass seed

Ever found an épillet on your dog? Comment here

 Bescherelle conjugation guide.   Capture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer)


Foxtail (c) Curtis Clark
Audio File and Example Sentence: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or wav file

Lorsqu'un chien se met brusquement à se secouer les oreilles au printemps ou en été, penche la tête, refuse qu'on le touche… il y a probablement un épillet là-dessous !

In spring or summer, when a dogs begins abruptly to shake its ears, lower its head, and refuse to be touched... there is probably a foxtail there beneath!

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

On Monday I picked up Jackie from the bus stop and enjoyed a lively conversation with our soon-to-be 16-year-old. Driving home, we talked about motivation, about keeping on top of things, and how all this helps in pursuing one's dreams. It was refreshing to see how receptive Jackie was, vs. our sometimes draining dialogues which make me feel like such a nag, and leave my testy daughter feeling guilty, too.

Despite the renewed mother-daughter complicity, our life is good outlook was challenged sooner than expected. Arriving home, Jackie agreed to feed the dogs and help bring in the laundry on the line and fold it. Instead of grumbling, she approached her daily 15 minute chore (part of a new routine this school year!) willingly. 

"That's my girl!" I cheered, "and thanks--I really appreciate it!" Even Braise, our golder retriever, was in a good mood, and we laughed as she jumped and danced while waiting for her croquette dinner to be served.

Then suddenly Braise fell to the ground and began yelping in pain. We watched as she mowed her head across the gravel, her cries growing more insistent. When we got her to stand up, she couldn't walk a straight line, but advanced crookedly across the yard--all the while lowering her left ear. And when she suddenly began shaking her head, as dogs do their bodies, after a bath--we realized something was amiss.  

Hordeum murinum, or foxtail (c) Curtis Clark
My heart sank with the realization that this could be it--the dreaded "death torpedo" pet owners fear: those nasty grass seeds, or foxtails, that catch in a dog's coat and travel up and into the ear or eye or nose. I heard all kinds of horror stories--that once inside, they travel to the brain or the lungs, killing the animal! 

Jackie was posed and calm as she held Braise close and instructed me to have a look inside our dog's ear.

"OK, OK! Here we go....." the least I could do was to mirror my daughter's composure; just as important, we didn't want to be a ball of nerves in front of our suffering dog.

Indeed, animals are so sensitive--and intelligent. In contrast to the wild cries and head shaking pain, Braise remained as still as a monument, modeling a quiet bravery that hinted at the delicateness of the situation.

"It must be excruciating, the pain!" Jackie remarked, as I peered into Braise's ear, pulling and prodding to get a closer look. But all I saw was dirt--the kind I should have been regularly cleaning out. Now guilty feelings intermingled with all the worry.

As the moments passed, without another complaint from our dog, we nurtured a growing hope that maybe whatever had "gotten" her had somehow disappeared.

"Maybe it was only the beginning of an ear infection?" I said to Jackie.

"Peut-être," Jackie hoped, and we held our breaths as we slowly released Braise from our grip.

Our brave patient took a few uncertain steps, as though she herself were nursing the same espoir. Only she didn't make it far before she fell over, beside the withering lavender bush.

Seeing Braise disoriented like that, we were sick to our stomachs with worry. We watched helplessly as Braise plowed her head across the gravel, her muffled cries rising in her dusty wake.

Something was horribly wrong.

"Jean-Marc!" I shouted up to the second floor, where Jean-Marc was working in his office. A moment later four of us were careening down the road, to the veterinarians. Jean-Marc had asked Jackie to stay behind, but our daughter insisted Braise needed her comfort and assurance.

Quelle chance! The vet was still working at 7pm, and she welcomed us into her office.

Jackie and I tried to heave Braise onto the steel examination table, when Jean-Marc waved us aside and picked up our clinic-phobic dog. "Allez, hop, up you go!" I could see Braise's hair falling in a sheer layer across the steel surface beneath her--so terrified is she of doctor's offices.

When the vet warned that our dog must remain completely still, Jean-Marc steadied her in a head lock and I hugged her body tight. Jackie murmured assurances: Bravo! C'est bien, Braise! T'inquiète pas, mon chien! C'est bientôt fini! 

We all watched as the vet directed the special tweezers into Braise's oreille. She too was impressed by Braise's bravery. "Most dogs would go crazy about now." 

"She wants us to help her," I said, remembering back to the scene at home. Braise would have let me stick forceps in her ears, so desperate was she; her quiet obedience was such a contrast to her throbbing pain, making her message loud and clear: do what you need to do to fix this! Her composure was remarkable. It was as though she had gone to another place in her brain--doggy nirvana--where she was waiting out the traumatic moment. 

"Voilà!" The vet pulled out the so-called torpedo of death, and cleared up one or two idées fausses, or rumorsin the process. "It is rare that this would kill a dog, she said, offering the bit of broken foxtail for our viewing. "But they can be dangerous. It's not just the ears they menace, they are often found in between the fingers and toes... " (This helpful tip was followed by a demonstration, in which the vet collected a dozen more broken foxtails from between Braise's paws!)

"The danger here," she said, is when they pierce the skin and travel through the body... sometimes puncturing the lungs!"

The vet encouraged us to cut back the grasses on our property and to check our dogs every day. It would be extra work, given we have two large and furry golden retrievers, but I could just add that to the kids chore list. And of course, I would do my part, too. Living here in the countryside, it would take a family effort to keep back those lurking torpedos... but the good news was, we now had a wonderful new veterinarian, just around the corner.

To comment on today's post, and share your own experiences and insights into today's word or story, click here. Thanks for sharing today's post with an animal lover.

 "Torpedoes of death" -- it's a chilling term, but I learned so much from Carla Jackson's article on Hordeum murinum or "Hare Barley" and how it menaces man's best friend. 


Rollerskating in Fréjus (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Rollerskating with Braise in Fréjus, in 2007. (Jackie was 10-years-old)


   French shopping bagI Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.

More Photos from France

If you can't make it to France just now... we've got you covered: enjoy these virtual tours of some of my favorite villages in Provence and beyond. 

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Matchy matchy. A blue door coordinates with a whimsical bag...

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Roses and "grignandises" -- or sweets and temptations from Grignan.

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Always room for another pot of flowers...

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Time to put Grignan on your bucket list.

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Roof tops, or toits, and a blue horizon.

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, visit
Don't steal the café sugar. You never know who's a tattletale. Story here.

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, visit
The village of Grignan is known for its famous resident (Madame de Sevigny) and for its roses--but don't tell that to the valerian flowers, which shout their presence from the very rooftops.
Window and stork in Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, visit
 Another Grignan resident.

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse,
I will add more photos to this collection. Please click here and see when the next postcards from Grignan are posted. 

To comment on this edition, click here.

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


A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Artists along the port in St. Tropez (c) Kristin Espinasse

Still pinching images from Google image search (I promise I took these!) after my computer crashed one week ago (typing this post on my son's PC).... This photo was snapped in St. Tropez. Its artist theme fits with today's story of the "tree artists" (or pirates, rather...). Read on, in today's column.

chaparder (sha-par-day)

     to pinch, to lift, to steal

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

Pirates of the Olive Plantation

For the next week or two there will be a modest camping-car parked in the driveway below our house. This is part of Jean-Marc's solution to our tree-pruning dilemma: hire a specialized team to tackle the project in one intensive fortnight!

Like this we have insta-neighbors—though we don't see them or hear them very much. Tanguy* and Thomas, who arrived Friday from the Gard region, will spend their days cutting back the enormous oliviers that have graced this land for centuries.

It would be fun to imagine the two tree-trimmers as Edward Scissorhand's distant French cousins, but the truth is they look more like pirates than gothic gardeners. (There's a definite Johnny Depp connection. It must be the rock ‘n’ roll demeanor they share. It's that giant silver hoop, or créole, that Tanguy sports or that bad boy air that surrounds Thomas, who, with une clope dangling from his lazy smile, easily perpetuates the myth that cigarettes are seductive.)

I knew a little bit about Tanguy before he came to live here for this short séjour. His partner, Aurélie, has helped at all our grape harvests. I had a hunch that Tanguy might know a lot about how to forage wild plants, as Aurélie does, so I asked him to help me identify some pissenlit (or confirm it was indeed dandelion) that I was hoping to use in the kitchen. That is when I learned that Thomas, Tanguy's friend and co-pirate, knew a thing or two about les plantes sauvages. At the picnic table, yesterday, a sleeveless Thomas reached down and snapped up an herb with lance-shaped leaves, declaring it plantain.

Thomas handed me the wild specimen, which I could use to compare against other wild plants—eventually adding it to my knowledge base. I am hoping to have a certain understanding of the comestible plants on our property ("certain" being the key word. I want to be sure the plants I am picking are mangeable and not poisonous as they are destined for soups, salads, and juices).

Changing the subject, so as not to take up Tanguy and Thomas's lunch break, I said: 

"By the way, that would have been a great photo of you two in the olive trees this morning!" I was remembering the image of Tanguy and Thomas, each on a different branch high above the ground which is graced here and there by wild orchids this time of year.

Tanguy laughed. "You aren't the only one to think so!" he admitted, telling me how he and Thomas seemed to be stopping the traffic that normally cruised by the great olive field. 

More than a sight to behold, the tree-trimmers were surrounded by some very attractive commodities: the centuries-old branches that were piling up on the ground beneath them.

"One grand-mère pulled over, hiked up her skirt, and climbed onto the olive grove," Tanguy explained. "She plucked up a couple of olive branches, saying they'd make great gifts (an olive branch symbolizes peace—what better offering than this?).

"Another guy pulled over and snapped up an armful of leafy cuttings. 'For my sheep,' he explained." (I wondered if the punk rock sheepherder was back? Was this whom Tanguy saw stealing away with the olive branches?) 

Tanguy shook his head, smiling. "I let him take what he wanted. Sheep love to eat olive branches!"

(Come to think of it, that was true! I remembered the transhumance that took place on our land last month—and how the sheep stood on hind legs to reach the olive branches!)

I listened to stories of the other motorists-turned-thieves. What funny images it all painted in my mind. It was amusing, too, to think that Tanguy and Thomas weren't the only ones to share a pirate's likeness—apparently half our neighborhood did too!

I pictured Tanguy and Thomas dangling high up in the olive tree (or ship mast...) as a host of unlikely pirates landed on the orchid spotted deck below, before disappearing with the leafy loot.


 Here I have to smile at the colorful French definition of today's word:

chaparder: dérober de modestes objets (to steal objects of modest value). True, the branches weren't worth much, but many an unsuspecting thief found value in those discarded tree limbs, and yo-ho-ho! away they rode.

*Learn all about the cool name "Tanguy"--click here and scroll down to the story column. We met Tanguy via his partner, Aurélie. I wrote a poem about her here: "...Heroines with hot peppers in their hearts, they sizzle with mystery and soul." Read the story-poem "Bohème" - click here.

French Vocabulary

un camping-car = camper van, RV

un olivier = olive tree 

une créole = large hoop earring

une clope = cigarette

un séjour = a stay

le pissenlit = dandelion

la plante sauvage = wild plant

le plantain = known as ribleaf, lamb's tongue and other names

mangeable = edible

127 things to do in Paris: click here to read the latest reader-submitted tips!

Olive trees
The gnarled and noble trunks of the olives trees that Tanguy and Thomas are pruning this week.

Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.

Sunflowers (c) Kristin Espinasse
Always leave on a sunny note--something I sometimes forget, especially when taking for granted the daily comings and goings of family. Speaking of sunny, have you planted sunflowers seeds yet? If you don't have a big yard, where else could you plant one? Ever seen one of those cool sunflower houses--where you dig a square trench and plant seeds all around - leaving space for the "front door" door? When they are grown you can connect the tops! To comment on any item in this post, click here, and thank you for forwarding this letter to a friend.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

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

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


  Capture plein écran 14082012 121905

Mr. Farjon came by to drop off this newspaper clipping (see our son, Max, posing with our town's mayor after a military march). Mr Farjon brought a few other things when he came to visit. Read today's story for more.

une épine (ay-peen)

    : thorn

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence: Download MP3 file or Wav file

Les épines, ça ne sert à rien, c'est de la pure méchanceté de la part des fleurs. Thorns are good for nothing. Just a flower's way of being spiteful! —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


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

I had an unexpected visit from Mr Farjon the other day. It was such a coincidence, as I had been thinking of him recently—nostalgically remembering all the visits he paid me a several years back.

Just like old times, Mr Farjon parked his ancient Peugeot (a bicycle) outside our portail, leaning it against a giant wine barrel, one of two that flank the entrance to our courtyard. Running up to the gate to greet him, I noticed how stiff his legs were as he walked, slightly hunched over. Instead of leading him to the picnic table, beneath the old mulberry tree, I offered him a seat on the steps beside it.

I was eager to point out our new friends in the garden.... Four years ago, there wouldn't have been any mirabilis jalapa, or marvel of Peru, growing here—and forget about the lily of Spain, or valerian, which now shot up throughout the courtyard, in splashes of raspberry red! Today our garden is home to many a drought-tolerant flower, thanks to those who have sown the love of plants in my heart.

Despite the drought (read: we did not water our grass this year, and parts of the garden suffered the pinch), there were a few plants I wanted to show Mr Farjon, now that the plant whisperer had re-appeared after a 4-year absence.  

But it was difficult to concentrate on my guest, what with Smokey hovering between us. Like a gawky and attention-vying sibling who wants to join in, Smokey wagged his entire body, inching between my friend and me. His full body wag said I'm so happy to see you!, never mind the two had never met before. Indeed, it had been that long—a dog's life—since Mr Farjon last came to visit.

Despite the giant fly of a dog buzzing between us, I managed to speak to Mr Farjon.

"What have you got there?" I asked Monsieur. Waiting for the answer, I casually pushed Smokey aside, but the dog just wiggled back in again, so I gave in.  

Smokey and I watched as Mr Farjon selected a long and thorny stem from the pile of just-picked weeds beside him.

"It's a chardon. We call it chausse-trappe," he explained. With that, my friend told the story of how the plant got its name: the roman army dug ditches and filled them with this needle-sharp weed. And the poor used it as well, piling on rooftops....

"To keep away thieves?" I guessed. 

Mr Farjon shook his head, repeating, simply, that the dried plant was piled on housetops. (I guessed again: for insulation?)

As I tried to picture the thorny rooftops, Monsieur Farjon presented the next specimen, aigre-moine .

"Sour-monk" I mumbled, trying to translate the term.

As with each plant he brings, Monsieur took pains to point out where he had uprooted it. "Next to the telephone line. Beside the ditch—just up the street, after the fork in the road."

If I made the mistake of showing a blank look, Monsieur repeated himself, in addition to his usual stuttering, until I nodded convincingly "Yes, beside the telephone line, up the street--just after the fork in the road!" It seemed important to Monsieur that the plant's location was understood, and he insisted that certain plants were very rare these days. When new vineyards are planted, many of these rare plants are torn out. "You can find this plant by the telephone pole," Monsieur repeated, sending an unmistakable order that I should stop and observe the weed the next time I drove by.

"It contains tanin," Monsieur spoke a bit about the aigre-moine. "It was used to color wine." Just as I began to wonder whether or not to run and get Jean-Marc from the wine-cellar (wouldn't he love to know about this one?!), Mr Farjon set down yet another specimen.

"Epine du Christ."

"I remember that one," I said, softly. Mr Farjon had once showed me the thorny weed, otherwise known as "Christ's crown". It was this weed—found here in our neighborhood, that was used to torture Jesus.

We paused in time to move to the picnic table, where I asked Mr Farjon if he would note the names of the plants in today's lesson.


As he wrote, I noticed his hands--the hands of a plant man! Long nails, perfect for pinching or cutting weed samples, and dirt beneath the tips--evidence of the morning's plant harvest!


To some people, long soil-stained nails equal unkempt.  Others might notice the beauty of these nails, with their hard, smooth surface and elegant curve--perfect for scooping out a plant's delicate racine. As I stared at Mr Farjon's nails, I was unexpectedly envious. I wished my own nails were as healthy looking (though, admittedly, I couldn't own up to the caked dirt part--but that is only because I have not earned the right to wear dirt on my person--or under my nails. But a plant genius may sport soil wherever he pleases and the world would do well to respect him for it!)

As for Mr Farjon, he was oblivious to all the thoughts bubbling up in my head, thoughts about how and how not to appear to society. Thankfully, Monsieur's attention was focused on the task before him.

Watching him write, I had a hunch that the moment was something to capture. It may not have been history in the making, and this may not have been an historical figure, but the moment and the person were just as fascinating. I ran to get my camara.

It occured to me to try and capture a shot of the two of us, by using the automatic timer. I wished I had put on make-up or styled my hair, but that was a poor reason to miss capturing the moment. 

The first photo didn't turn out, for my hand flew up as I fell down in the seat, just before the camara clicked.

Voilà, the second photo worked. Notice Mr Farjon's concentration. He would eventually look up, to question what all my running back and forth was about.


"Now look into the lens," I said, coaching my subject.

 "I'm not photogenic," Mr Farjon demured.

"You are beautiful!" I assured him.

"My birthday is tomorrow," he confided. 

(He was turning 83.)


The trusty Peugeot... I took a photo of the two when I first moved to Sainte Cécile. I didn't know Monsieur at the time, but thought I'd spotted an unforgettable character. (Now where is that photo... somewhere in the archives here.) 

 I sent Mr Farjon off with some samples from my own garden. He very much wanted the two kinds of chamomile growing there, gifts from the Dirt Divas. I tucked several dates inside the bag, for a sweet surprise--nourishment a plant genius needs while burning the midnight oil, poring over plantasauruses or thesauruses or dictionaries, rather. 

Then I watched as he rode off into the blue and green horizon.


As Mr Farjon took a right at the end of the lavender row, I wondered if I would ever see this man again. And this, not because of his advancing age.


Click on the highlighted words in today's story to read the corresponding stories, such as "Love in a Cage" in which Monsieur asks: is your husband the jealous type? Click here.

Meet Mr Farjon's older brother, a wine farmer, in the story "to help out"

Meet several of Mr Farjon's "friends"--that is, the wild plants that grow in this part of Provence

Read about another visit from Mr Farjon, in the story "fleurette".

More garden posts here.


Mr Farjon's handwritten notes botaniques, above

Capture plein écran 14082012 121756
Here's the rest of that newspaper clipping that Mr. Farjon thoughtfully clipped for us.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
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