Josephine baker colins
Read about "Josey" (from our former stomping grounds of St. Maximin) in today's story... and don't miss a photo of Smokey's Ma and Pa at the end of this edition.




to keep oneself busy

Italian Josephine made homemade pizza the size of a hamburger patty, only there wasn't any viande, just a bony anchovy and a meaty olive or two. When she had the energy, she delivered her Italian pies and stayed to watch you enjoy them. And she never charged.

"Ça m'occupe." It keeps me busy, she would say, simply. As I ate, she would sit facing me with her cane, her knitted shawl, and her buckled shoes, and reminisce about an American friend, whose name she shared, and the adventures they had back in the '50s along the Côte d'Azur, when one ran an Italian épicerie and the other ran away from Paris. I listened, but mostly I studied Josey, whose dark eyes, once dull, now sparkled.

The last time Josephine showed up at my door with one of her trademark mini pizzas, she was carrying a black-and-white photograph.
"I have something to show you," she said. We sat at the table, I in my one-size-fits-all dress (weeks away from giving birth to my second child) and Josey with her shawl and cane and buckled shoes, the black-and-white photo between us. The scratched and faded image revealed the two glowing Josephines: one "café," the other "au lait." The women were dressed in satin kimonos and holding umbrellas, smiles as big as the complicity they shared. I studied the old photo from afar when suddenly my Josey mentioned that her friend loved to sing and dance....

Sing. Dance. Josephine! That's when I grabbed the photo from the table and viewed, up close, the veritable, the one and only Josephine Baker—the celebrated American danseuse (and sometime secret agent) known to appear at the Paris Folies in nothing more than a jupe made of bananas, her pet leopard, Chiquita, in tow.

My excitement was cut short when Josey told me that she was moving to Saint-Raphaël, that her daughter could no longer look after her here in Saint-Maximin. I quietly set down the photo and looked at my friend as a lump formed in my throat. C'est toujours comme ça, I thought bitterly. Just when you meet someone—the kind of person you can just sit with and say nothing to and not feel awkward, the kind who makes a little pizza pie for you because they are thinking of you in your absence—they up and move to a faraway city!

Before Josephine left, she pushed the photo across the table. "C'est pour toi," she said in her soft voice. I tried to tell her that I could not accept her photo, that she should keep it, but she insisted. I couldn't take Josey's only photo of her with her legendary friend...unless...unless it wasn't the only one? Perhaps there were others? Yes! There must be others of those "girls" in the good ol' days—other snapshots—with leopards and banana skirts and maybe a feather boa or two!

I watched as my Josey padded out the door, little steps with her big-buckle shoes. So fragile, she seemed, that you might have taken her for a broken-winged bird, but for the leopard-printed tracks in her wake.



 Thank you for pointing out any typos or important ambiguities (!)  here

French Vocabulary

la viande = meat

l'épicerie (f) = grocer's

le café = coffee

au lait = with milk

la danseuse (le danseur) = dancer

Folies = Les Folies Bergères (famous music hall in Paris)

la jupe = skirt

c'est toujours comme ça = it is always that way


Hear Jean-Marc pronounce the verb s'occuper: Download soccuper.wav

Expression: Occupe-toi de tes affaires! = Mind your own business!

Conjugation: je m'occupe, tu t'occupes, il/elle s'occupe; nous nous occupons, vous vous occupez, ils/elles s'occupent

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In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.

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Smokey's parents: Mr. Sam (left) and Mrs. Braise (brez). 

You did read the story of their elopement in Marseilles? They were about to board the train for Venise when we finally caught up with them! Read the story here.

 Recipe! Though I never did think to ask Josey for her pizza recipe, here is something similar...  a cinch of a recipe from my daughter's French godmother, Rachel. View it here.

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

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se tirer

Escape with me to Suze-la-Rousse (pictured here) and here!

se tirer (seuh tee ray) verb

    : to escape, to get (oneself) out of, to make tracks

se tirer tout juste = to just scrape by (financially)

Audio File & Example Sentence: Download Wav or Download MP3

Allez, on se tire!
Come on, let's get out of here!


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

Have you ever been a guest in a house that looked like a museum? I have... just last night!

The floors were polished stone, the walls were glass and so was the plafond!* The well-heeled hostess with the high hair and savoir-faire* was showing me around, when she paused and made a request.
"Would you go and get the plateau de fromage?"* With that she pointed straight on, to a vast corridor. I thought about how grand the house was, and how far one had to go... just to change rooms and get a plateau; this, to me, was the downside of "upscale" living.

Much obliged, I left the kitchen... passing by the cooking island, and the second refrigerator, and the second dishwasher... to the second pantry.

Midway down the hall, I entered a dark garde-manger,* where I saw two more doors. I headed to the one pouring out lumière* over the pantry's floor.

I could just glimpse the cheese platter on the counter beyond, a table-top made of wood particles -- nothing like the glimmering comptoir* in the first kitchen.

Entering, I noticed how narrow the room was, un endroit si étroit* that it must be only for storing things on shelves.... narrow like a library aisle, even slighter.

Just looking at the room made me uneasy--claustrophobic--and so I quickly went to collect the cheese platter, only the room was so slight, the ceiling so low, that I could hardly move forward to fetch le plateau.

Reaching for the platter, I noticed there was a sink... and even a stovetop with a pan and some fried eggs in it. But how was there room enough to cook in this antechamber? And was that our lunch? If so, who cooked it? And how could somebody be made to work in such a tiny area -- when there was a spacious kitchen farther on?

I was beginning to wonder about our hostess, but remembered that things are not always as they seem -- perhaps she herself cooked our meal from this tiny chamber -- so as to keep the main cuisine* pristine?

I quickly left the room and found my way--down the hall and past a palatial entrée*--to the dining room table, where the high-haired hostess was busy talking about the history of the house, who the architect was... and what you called this kind of style... of house that went on mile after mile.

Another guest arrived, carrying a platter of drinks. The hostess quickly responded to the intrusion: "Just set them there!" she said, showing her impatience at being interrupted.

As the hostess talked on, I focused on the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and thought about the trouble in caring for them all -- yet another downer in upscale living, I guessed.

"How often do you have to wash these windows?" I inquired.
Every Saturday, she replied. "We have a laveur de vitres".*

I thought about the window washer and wondered whether it was the same person who left the frying pan on the stove, before disappearing somewhere. But where?

I looked over at the guest who had just set down the drinks tray, wondering Was she really an invitée?*

"How long does it take your laveur de vitres to do the job?" I was curious to know.
"All day," Madame replied, before changing subjects back to the history of her house.

It was true that our hostess had a remarkable house, even if there were a few quirks, but I longed to return to my own chez moi.*

In spite of the size of the room, I began to feel the need for space--and oxygen--so when the hostess reclined in her chair and fell back into her coma of conversation, I slipped over to one of the French doors, slid it quietly open, and gasped for air.

Next, I turned to the other guest and whispered: Allez, on se tire!* Let's get the heck out of here!


(So much for last night's dream.)

Thanks to those of you who left answers in the comments box, explaining the difference between "un rêve" and "un songe". If I understood correctly... un rêve (like the one in today's story) is something that we do when we sleep. "Un songe," on the other hand, is something we do when we're awake, as in "daydream". Any more thoughts on dreams and daydreams? Your thoughts are welcome in the comments box.

French Vocabulary

le plafond (m) = ceiling; le savoir-faire (m) know-how, expertise; le plateau (m) de fromage = cheese tray; le garde-manger (m) = pantry; la lumière (f) = light; le comptoir (m) counter; un endroit (m) si étroit = such a narrow area; la cuisine (f) = kitchen; une entrée (f) = entrance; laveur (laveuse) de vitre =window cleaner (person); une invitée (un invité) = guest; chez moi ("my chez moi "== my home; Allez, on se tire! = Come on! Let's get out of here!


Exercises in French Phonics  Exercises in French Phonics, bestseller by Francis W. Nachtman, on French pronunciation and how to pronouce French words correctly!

Mille Bornes (Card Game).
First published in 1962, Mille Bornes (pronounced "meel born," French for "milestones") is an auto racing card game whose object, for each team of two players, is to be the first to complete a series of 1,000-mile trips.

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Words in a french life

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

French language software:
Rosetta Stone Personal Edition... recreates the natural way you learned your first language, revealing skills that you already have.

"Curtain Braid" (photo taken in Suze-la-Rousse). How to you like your home: cozy or contemporary. Answers here, in the comments box.

Braise and Smokey Dokey, nap time again... and again. Those are Christmas Crackers -- just arrived from England, sent by friends Kate and David (their daughter, Amanda, bought our sweet village home in St. Maximin, some ten years ago). They've since sold it and moved on... but our friendship continues. See the shadow on the chest? Those would be my bike's handlebars! Also pictured: A love note from my daughter, a painting from my mom, a horse drawing from my daughter...

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

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Buckling up those wine barrels in Châteauneuf-du-Pape


Ceinture de sécurité


noun, feminine

seat belt

Go back in time with me now, if you will, to the historic town of St. Maximin, where visitors from all over the world come to see the purported relics of Mary Magdalene (behind a thick glass encasement in the town's basilica).

The year is 1998 and the tree-lined parking lot in front of our centuries-old village home is complet. All fourteen parking spaces have been claimed. I am about to make one Frenchman's day by freeing une place—just as soon as I can wrestle my one- and three-year-olds into their car seats!

While I fasten Jackie's seatbelt, Max hums, pulls at my hair, or points to the pigeons in the dilapidated square. Beneath the campanile, which hasn't announced the hour in years, Madame A is scattering baguette crumbs again. If she keeps this up, there will be more birds in this village than beret-sporting Frenchmen! Maybe that's her plan?

I hear a familiar voice and I look up, past the car seat, to see Monsieur B, my other neighbor, shaking his head. "Elle est complètement dingue!" he mumbles, shaking his head at our neighbor. Perched there on the curb in front of  les pompes funèbres, Monsieur looks as old as Mary Magdalene.

Monsieur B hates it when Madame feeds the pigeons. "C'est sale!" he complains, pointing to the crotte-lined curb. I sidestep the pigeon droppings on my way around the car. Time to buckle in Max, now that his sister is secure in her car seat.

"Mommy's going to put YOUR ceinture on now," I explain. Max stops humming and releases another lock of my hair. His eyes leave the pigeons to refocus on my still-pursed lips. Next, his little voice insists, "SEN-tewr, maman! SEN-tewr!"

Ah, bon? It seems I am mispronouncing again. I see my son point to my lips as he opens his own mouth to demonstrate the correct sound.

The car behind me begins to honk. I signal un instant to the impatient driver, who is still waiting for our parking spot. Turning back to my son, I repeat the word as my three-year-old has instructed.

"SEN... SEN-tewr..." Yes! I now hear the difference: SEN—like century, and not SAHN, like sonnet.

"Voilà, maman!" the little voice confirms.

With that, Max resumes his humming, I run around the car (past the other driver, who flails his arms in exasperation), Madame A tosses more breadcrumbs, Monsieur B shakes his head, and the pigeons continue to populate the village square as life goes on in the little French town of St. Maximin.

French Vocabulary

complet = full
une place = a spot (parking place)
Elle est complètement dingue! = She is absolutely nuts!
pompes funèbres (fpl) = funeral home
c'est sale = it's dirty
la crotte = droppings
la ceinture = seatbelt
Ah, bon? = Oh, really?
voilà, maman = there you have it, mommy


See any typos in this story? Any other editorial comments? Click here to comment.



Le mensonge ressemble à la ceinture : il n'attache que son propriétaire.
A lie is like a
belt. It only secures its owner. --Proverb


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French pronunciation:
Listen to my 8-year-old, Jackie, pronounce this sentence: Maman, j'ai attaché ma ceinture. Mommy, I've attached my seat belt. Download ceinture3.wav

faire ceinture = to have to go without
se serrer la ceinture = to tighten one's belt, to go without
un coup au-dessous de la ceinture = a blow below the belt

la ceinture de sauvetage = life preserver
la ceinture de parachute = parachute harness
la ceinture de sécurité = seat belt
la ceinture marron, noire = brown, black belt (karate)

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

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

le trajet

For more about this image, see Photo du Jour below.

le trajet (trah-zhay) noun, masculine
1. distance; route; trip; journey
2. ride, drive, flight

choisir le trajet le plus long = to choose the longest way
refaire le trajet en sens inverse = to walk / drive back

Citation du Jour
Je ne me demande pas où mènent les routes; c'est pour le trajet que je pars.
I don't ask where the roads lead; it is for the journey that I leave.--
Anne Hébert

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
My husband saved up enough credit card points to treat us to a day at Parc Astérix. The only thing separating us from the roller coasters, flying swings and cotton candy was an eight hour trajet* from the south of France to the amusement park, located 30 kilometers north of Paris.

Jean-Marc set a wooden wine crate in the center of the backseat's floorboard then rigged his laptop computer to it. He cut off a few pieces of Velcro, stuck two pieces bristle-face-up atop the crate and two more beneath the ordinateur* before plugging a special adapter into the allume-cigare.* Max and Jackie sat on either side of the crate and, with small écouteurs* in their ears, watched Astérix & Obélix for part of the ride. When that film was over, they watched the French favorite, "Taxi," in which a pedal-pumping cab driver streaks across Marseilles leaving the villains in a puff of French exhaust.

Between films (or when the computer overheated) we took in views of the colorful countryside including fields of sunshine-yellow colza. Every once in a while we saw a panneau* pointing out a famous or historical landmark. To the sign "Basilique de St. Maximin"* Jean-Marc and I said, "Look Max and Jackie, that's where you were baptized!" When we cruised past the majestic Ste-Victoire mountain range, we argued over who the famous artist associated with Aix-en-Provence and the area was:

"It's Cézanne," I began, before second-guessing myself. "No, that's not it..."
"Matisse..." Jean-Marc offered.
"Definitely not."
"Van Gogh," he continued, pronouncing "Gogh" as "Gog," making me even more suspicious of his answers.
"No. No... maybe Paul. That's it--Paul Cézanne!"

Every kid enjoys seeing the sky-high éoliennes* with their serene, slow-twirling arms. When we passed a field of the tall energy-producing wind machines Jean-Marc asked a question. "Max, do you know how electricity is made?" It reminds me of the kids asking their father: Why is the sun hot? or What is air? or Where does God live?

By the time we got to Burgundy Jackie began to mistake one of those lattice-patterned electric towers for la Tour Eiffel.* While the structures are similar in shape, the electric tower is missing the point at the top (not to mention the stairs, souvenir shops and fancy restaurant).

Thirty minutes from the périphérique* in Paris, I began to blink my eyes to prepare them for the stinging effect I always feel when we approach the city. (Producing not tears of emotion, but tears from the city's pollution.) When the stinging didn't come I noticed that Paris seemed cleaner than usual. Jean-Marc explained that the speed limit around the périphérique had been reduced by 20 kilometers per hour and that this has not only saved lives, but it has made traffic more fluid and cut down on pollution. I can vouch for that, having seen it with my own cozy eyes.

Back tomorrow with more on Parc Astérix...

*References: le trajet (m) = ride; un ordinateur (m) computer; un allume-cigare (m) = automobile cigar (cigarette) lighter; un écouteur (m) = earphone; le panneau (m) = sign; basilique de St. Maximin = St. Maximin's famous basilica/cathedral; une éolienne (f) = windmill, windpump; la tour Eiffel = Eiffel Tower; le périphérique (m) = beltway, outer road skirting the city

Photo du Jour
A picture taken at Parc Astérix... The wall painting is a replica of a famous French bicycle ad circa 1895 by the artist G. Massias. To the left, wisteria.
                                          Children's books -- French themed:
Camille and the Sunflowers Despite the derision of their neighbors, a young French boy and his family befriend the lonely painter who comes to their town and begin to admire his unusual paintings. View it here.
Asterix the Gaul : When Roman Centurion Crismus Bonus finds out about Getafix’s magic potion, he kidnaps the druid to force him to reveal the recipe. So Asterix joins his friend in captivity and together they two plan to whip up a surprise with truly hair-raising effects.

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

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

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.