How to say zipper + recycle or repair your shoes! + Comps-sur-Artuby

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,
A cobbled path leading to church in the village of Comps-sur-Arturby. More photos at the end of this edition.

Today we are talking about repairing or recycling clothing. Please join the discussion, sharing your experience and ideas for staying stylishly up-to-date--while minding ecology and the economy.

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une fermeture éclair (fair-meh-tyur-ay-kler)

    : zipper


Audio file: The following example sentence comes from the planet-friendly French site
Listen to Jean-Marc read the words below:  Download MP3 or Wav file

Des semelles usées, un talon cassé, une fermeture éclair de sac coincée... Avant de les remplacer, vous pouvez confier vos chaussures et accessoires à un cordonnier. En plus, vous soutiendrez une filière au savoir-faire de plus en plus rare en raison d'un manque de clientèle.

Worn out soles, a broken heel, a purse zipper that's stuck... before replacing them, you can entrust your shoes and accessories to a cobbler. What's more, you'll be supporting a trade that is more and more rare owing to a lack of clientele. 

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

Last week the winds picked up here in Bandol, sweeping out the warmth of summertime. Though our seaside environment benefits from an extended season--or un été indien--my feet don't seem to know the difference: mid September now and j'ai froid aux pieds!

Time to put away the flip-flops.... Rummaging through the floor of my closet, looking for close-toed shoes, I discovered a few possibilities for fall: a pair of pseudo Mary Janes (not sure about the style), Converse hi-tops (hand-me-downs from Jackie, the interior lining is as holey as Swiss cheese), a pair of high-heeled dress boots--so cheap the talons are two different sizes (no wonder the markdown), a pair of black boots from the 90s--and a pair of black ballerinas from the same decade (I now wear the latter as slippers--so will have to rule these out as a possibility. Once sportswear turns into loungewear it's hard to sport the items in public again. Know what I mean?).

I stared thoughtfully at the eclectic pile. Tucking my flip flops into a shoe box--it seemed a little sorting might reveal some new possibilities. I spotted my loafers. Yes! Slipping them on I had a look in the mirror and realized, once and for all, I will never have that look of relaxed elegance: my ankles stood out beneath my pant legs, and the brown leather shoes were dull. Maybe a good polish would take care of that? 

Studying the motley crew of shoes, I now saw a workable set of possibilities for autumn. What's more, I remembered a pair of brown leather boots (those ought to take care of these ankles!) that would round out the collection.

In the cellar, I sorted through a box of shoes, finding the boots at the bottom. Pulling them from the tangle of chaussures, I was disappointed to see they'd been sorely twisted--their new shape resembling a curled crevette! I slipped them on, hoping to straighten out the toes, but when I tugged at the worn zipper it finally broke.

More than a broken zipper, I noticed how worn out the soles were. There was no use procrastinating, it was time to buy a new pair of bottes. But the last time I went shopping in the area, I found the shops unwelcoming and the prices even more alienating. I was only having a bad day, it wasn't the fault of the commerçants. But seeing all the merchandise, I wondered: how can anyone afford to dress these days?  My mind still lives in 70s prices--maybe that is why everything seems so expensive these days. I am fortunate to be able to replace my shoes, but I feel terrible for those who don't have the same privilege.

Studying the worn boots, it seemed I could squeeze another season out of them--I needed only to visit the cordonnier! An added incentive of visiting the local cobbler was the satisfaction of not adding to the dreaded pile--the universal garbage dump, or the landfills, that gets harder and harder to breakdown as time goes by. I can't bear to throw out another pair of shoes when I picture heaps of discarded chaussures all across the land--choking landfills with leather, plastic, and shoe glue. I wish I'd always thought this way, but I am a late-bloomer when it comes to recycling. It's only in the last 5 years that our household has installed boxes for glass, metal, plastic, clothing, batteries, and "small electric units" (our grocery store collects coffee machine, electric toothbrushes, and the like). Before that, we made an effort here and there, but were discouraged by the lack of follow-up (our village's recycling system, at the time, was hit or miss).

Boots in hand, I entered our town's cobbler shop and soon realized why people are not so motivated to extend the life of their belongings: because it can be costly to do so! There in the tiny shop, as I waited for the cobbler to finish mending a pair of sandals, I noticed the finished items on the counter, waiting to be picked up. A pair of high-heeled sandals had a receipt tied to them: 26 euros for the repair work! I began to calculate: at $35 dollars one could almost replace the dainty pair of dress shoes.

Ah, but les bonnes affaires coûtent cher! I remembered an old saying I once learned from a very wealthy French woman: Good deals cost a lot! she said, as I accompanied her shopping in Cannes. It's true, and I've witnessed the principle here at home where my husband delights in showing me his latest 19 euro steal. I zip my lip, knowing that in one more season I'll be sweeping those falling-to-pieces shoes into the dustpan, along with rest of the pile up on the doorstep. Some deal!

Back at the cobblers, I set my boots on the counter for the cordonnier to inspect. 

"I'll need a new fermeture éclair...and it looks like the soles are shot...anything you can do about the leather?"

I watch as the shoe repairer notes down some double-digit chiffres: 16.... 12.95...  The amount increases when I decide to go ahead and have the second zipper reinforced, just in case.

When the cobbler hands me the bill I'm lost for words, so he speaks for me: Est-ce que ça ira? Will this work?

I guessed it would have to... After all, what was the alternative? I could buy a new pair of boots--for twice the price (given the you-get-what-you-pay-for wisdom, mentioned above) or I could prendre soin, or care for my own boots. The price to do so was alarming, but in the end I was paying less than I would otherwise.

I hoped to be making the right decision, and in the time it took me to reply to the old cobbler, my eyes scanned his tiny shop. In addition to shoes there were several bags waiting for repair (this is where old Mr. Sacks, Jean-Marc's beloved sacoche, was mended). I remembered, now, Jean-Marc mentioning the ancient cobbler "You've got to meet this character!" Jean-Marc had said. I wondered now, just how many years had the cobbler been here? Were they even training cobblers these days? Wasn't it a dying trade?

As I stood there, hesitant, a few more locals walked in, dusty and worn shoes in hand. The cobbler greeted them by name and I gathered he had a few supportive clients. One more couldn't hurt. 

 *    *    *

Cordonnerie (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-word-a-day

To comment on today's story, click here. I would love to read about your experiences with caring for your own things, and your thoughts on sustainability, supporting local business, or whatever you feel like sharing. 

Extra credit.... Teachers, please share the French Word-A-Day blog with your students, to help increase their vocabulary. 


 j'ai froid aux pieds = my feet are cold
un talon = heel
la chaussure = shoe
la crevette = shrimp, prawn
la botte = boot
le commerçant = shopkeeper
le cordonnier = cobbler
le chiffre = amount, sum
la fermeture éclair = zipper
prendre soin = to care for, to take care of 

In Ways to Improve Your French: Listen to music!

ZazzZaz's album. Debut album from one of France's greatest recent success stories. Seemingly out of nowhere, newcomer Isabelle Geffroy (AKA Zaz) ended up topping the charts in France for over two months with this debut album, an engaging blend of Jazz, Soul and French Pop. With singles like 'Je Veux', even non-French speaking listeners will be enchanted by Zaz's voice. Order it here.

Join me on today's virtual tour of the village of Comps-sur-Artuby. These photos were taken in 2001.... The pictures are very small, but you can still get an idea of the breathtaking environment.

If you missed the recent photos tours, check them out:

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,

What has this old post office become? Some people in France live in converted chapels, others in ancient bread ovens (large architectural structures as big as a baker's), so the idea of moving into a post office shouldn't be so surprising.

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,

I believe this building is called un hangar, or shed. 


Max (c) Kristin Espinasse,
A then 6-year-old Max...


Les nuages, or clouds in Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Les nuages, or clouds, in the distance


Comps-sur-Artuby, France (c) Kristin Espinasse,
November in Comps-sur-Artuby...


Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Art studio "The Little Scops Owl"

Pronounce it perfectlyPronounce it Perfectly in French. 

* extensive pronunciation exercises including supplementary help based on poetry, proverbs, familiar sayings, historical quotations and humor

* A guide to French pronunciation expressed in the phonetic symbols of the International Phonetic Association (IPA) 

Order it here.

cordonnerie (c) Kristin Espinasse

I hope you enjoyed today's story from the shoe repair shop, or cordonnerie. To comment on today's post, or to send in a correction, please use the comments box here.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Secheresse: Why My Neighbor Showers in The Backyard With The Tomatoes

Something useful to do during the dry season...



noun, feminine


If you were to sneak over to our backyard fence, part its curtain of faded jasmine, and look past a ditch full of wild fennel grown as tall as our older child, you'd spy our next-door voisin showering beneath the fiery heavens at daybreak, scrub-a-dub-dubbing right in the middle of his potager!

But you wouldn't see a steel nozzle above his head or an anti-skid mat beneath his feet. Only a sturdy kitchen stool separates him from the muddy ground below, with its neatly trellised vines—vines which are, oddly, bursting with fruit during this, The Year of the Drought....

There, amongst ripe red tomates, stands my eco-conscious neighbor, garden hose held high above his head. I see no shelves on which to set his shampoo (is that a vinegar rinse he is using?... they say old wine is good for both hair and plants!), and no modesty's-sake shower curtain protects him from this housewife-voyeur (hence those bright blue swim trunks). On closer look, there is a serene expression on the showerer's face, as water from the tuyau trickles over it, splashing and quenching the thirsty légumes beneath.

In this period of sécheresse, the municipal Powers That Be forbid us to water our gardens... but no one said you couldn't wash yourself! I watch as the shower water rains down over the would-be parched vegetables, and I am impressed with my neighbor's clever solution to irrigating his garden.

"You ought to try it sometime!" the man in the blue swim trunks calls out. I freeze, as would any nosy neighbor who has been found out.

My cheeks turn as red as those well-watered tomatoes and I quickly release the jasmine, letting the floral curtain fall to a close.

FRENCH TEXT translation by
"La Douche du Voisin"

Si tu te faufilais jusqu'à la clôture de notre jardin, écartais son rideau de jasmin fané et regardais au-delà d'un fossé rempli de fenouil sauvage qui a poussé aussi haut que notre enfant aîné, tu apercevrais notre voisin d'à côté prendre sa douche sous les cieux ardents à l'aube, frottant, frottant, juste au milieu de son potager !

Mais tu ne verrais pas de pommeau de douche en acier au-dessus de sa tête ni de tapis antidérapant sous ses pieds. Seule un solide tabouret de cuisine le sépare du sol boueux en dessous, avec ses vignes soigneusement palissées - des vignes qui, curieusement, regorgent de fruits en cette Année de la Sécheresse...

Là, parmi les tomates mûres et rouges, se tient mon voisin soucieux de l'environnement, le tuyau d'arrosage tenu haut au-dessus de sa tête. Je ne vois aucune étagère sur laquelle poser son shampoing (est-ce un rinçage au vinaigre qu'il utilise ?... On dit que le vieux vin est bon pour les cheveux et les plantes !), et aucun rideau de douche pour protéger sa pudeur de cette curieuse ménagère (d'où ces maillots de bain bleu vif). En regardant de plus près, une expression sereine se lit sur le visage de notre doucheur, tandis que l'eau du tuyau lui ruisselle dessus, éclaboussant et étanchant la soif des légumes en dessous.

En cette période de sécheresse, les autorités municipales nous interdisent d'arroser nos jardins... mais personne n'a dit qu'on ne pouvait pas se laver ! J'observe l'eau de la douche tomber sur les légumes qui auraient dû être desséchés, et je suis impressionnée par la solution astucieuse de mon voisin pour irriguer son jardin.

"Tu devrais essayer un jour !" lance l'homme en maillot de bain bleu. Je me fige, comme le ferait tout voisin curieux qui a été découvert.

Mes joues rougissent autant que ces tomates bien arrosées et je lâche rapidement le jasmin, laissant le rideau floral retomber pour clore cette scène.

French Vocabulary

1. la clôture - the fence
2. le rideau - the curtain
3. le jasmin - the jasmine
4. le fossé - the ditch
5. le fenouil - the fennel
6. l'enfant (masc.) - the child
7. le voisin - the neighbor
8. la douche - the shower
9. le ciel - the sky
10. le lever du jour - the daybreak
11. le potager - the vegetable garden
12. le tuyau - the hose
13. la boue - the mud
14. le sol - the ground
15. la vigne - the vine
16. le fruit - the fruit
17. la tomate - the tomato
18. l'année (fem.) - the year
19. la sécheresse - the drought
20. la maison - the house

Please help me edit this story for clarity and for typos. Click here to point out any formatting problems, as well. Thank you!

French definition of sécheresse by Petit Larousse: "état de ce qui est sec."

L'amitié est une plante qui doit résister à la sécheresse.
Friendship is a plant that must resist drought.
 --Joseph Joubert

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety