"To get an eyeful" in French: An accidental trip to a “Naturiste” beach

Amidst fragrant parasol pine trees, see the charming blue umbrellas, lower right, in front of a highly sought-after restaurant and its terrace over the sea. Hiking down toward this turquoise paradise we had no idea it was a "no clothes" cove...  Too late, there was no turning back--not when we'd reserved a table at Chez Jo a week in advance!

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TODAY’S WORD: "se rincer l'oeil" ("to rinse the eye")

    : to get an eyeful, to see too much of something

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Last week we traveled back to the area of Cavalaire, for our 29th lune de miel. Our destination was a little over an hour's drive from home, and we made it there by 11 a.m. Jean-Marc kept asking me if I recognized the surroundings, but it had been 20 years since we took the kids here. "Look, there’s Fort Brégançon. Maybe Bribri and Manu will invite us for lunch?" Jean-Marc smiled toward the Presidential vacation residence (and now I can vaguely remember him saying the same when Chirac was president). 

La Plage de Cabasson (with a view of the medieval fortress out at sea) is beautiful at the end of September and its crystal clear waters were almost warm. We walked to the far end of the beach to spread out our towels and put up a large parasol. It felt so good to get into the Mediterranean and wade up and down the shoreline while Jean-Marc snorkled near the rocky outcrop. Drying off, we left our serviettes on the beach and enjoyed lunch at La Cabasse, where I toasted to Jean-Marc: so far this had been 20 sur 20--a top score for his well-planned itinerary. Bravo!

Fort bregancon
View of Fort Brégançon from the mainland, at Plage de Cabasson.

We'll skip talking about our quirky hotel but it may have been a herald for Day Two.... which was set to be the highlight of our trip. Our son Max insisted we go to La Plage du Layet to eat at the incontournable “Chez Jo”. We decided to again bring our towels and parasol for a “free” spot in the cove, and then splurge on lunch at the gourmet restaurant. But as we made our way down into the beach, any excitement about our plans quickly turned to panic when we passed a sign along the path that read "PLAGE NATURISTE"....

"A naturiste beach. Are you kidding me?"

"I had no idea," my husband swore.

"I can't believe this! The restaurant is part of une plage naturiste!"

"We can go somewhere else if you want!" Jean-Marc was as surprised as I was.

I was more annoyed than anything, and that energy made me stubborn: “No! I don't want to go somewhere else!” I wanted to be near the restaurant our son had raved about, where we had made reservations well in advance. There was no backing out now. We'd figure it out when we arrived! 

Hiking around the last bend I saw the restaurant to the right, and to the left a blur of skin...de la peau à gogo.

"Bonjour," I said to the waiter. "We have reservations for lunch. But we'd like to go to the beach first. Do you rent matelas?" We had not planned on springing for lounge chairs, but this was an emergency! Designated chairs could be our ticket to more conventional digs in this unconventional cove.

"Yes," he smiled, pointing to the rental chair area. But none of the clients were dressed there either. Not a single thread anywhere to be seen.

"We'll take those two," I quickly decided, indicating the last two chairs nearest the restaurant. I dropped my bag on the sand and exhaled. I'd already decided I was not stripping down. I'd rather feel the embarrassment of being the only suit-wearing wuss at the beach (and what a suit--it was the same one I brought to Morocco, out of respect for the culture. It covered a lot of ground)!

Forming a human shield, Jean-Marc took the chair nearest the crowd and surprised me by keeping his swim trunks on. (In solidarity? I'll never know for sure.) Next, he grabbed his snorkel mask and confidently strode out to sea, disappearing into the water.

Alone, I fussed with our towels and pretended to be completely at ease as the odd one out. My eyes darted left, then right. Groups of unabashed senior citizens stood along the shoreline, casually chatting. I wanted to get into the water, too, but not if it meant The Walk of Humiliation. My paranoid side was certain the naturists were having a good laugh at my expense. Well then, let them. Qu'ils rigolent!

I shot up and walked with dignity across the shore, and fell quickly into the water. Swimming out far enough, I turned to look back at the beach and got quite an eyeful: sitting, lounging, reading, chatting, and strolling, there was the flock of nudes. And here, dans son maillot uni noir, ONE BLACK SHEEP. 

And what is a black sheep if not a rebel? The thought was amusing enough to carry me confidently through the awkward experience--in time to bare all in a lively story for you today. So hats off (and almost everything else) to the unintended adventures Life brings us.

Kristi and Jean-Marc in Lavandou beach

Post Note: What a relief to see everyone put on their clothes for lunch (up until the last minute I couldn't be sure about the restaurant's dress code). After lunch, one other bathing-suited couple showed up, thank God!, and quickly put down towels near ours. Finally, a family of four arrived, and they were quick to sit near us too. 

As for any naturistes who may be reading this now...I hope you are laughing along with me. I leave you with a good address—La Plage du Layet in Cavalaire—for the next time you visit the south of France. Allez-y! 

To leave a comment, click here. Thanks in advance for your comments or corrections. I appreciate it!

Le Lavendou
Loved visiting the town of Lavandou, and the message on the door "Soyons heureux"--Be Happy. Do you think this one would make a good postcard for the La Carte Postale collection?


Click here to listen to Jean-Marc and me pronounce the vocabulary
se rincer l'oeil =
to have an eyeful
la lune de miel = honeymoon
Bribri et Manu = Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron
le parasol = beach umbrella 
la serviette = towel
= must see
la peau = skin
à gogo = galore
le matelas = lounge chair on the beach
Qu'ils rigolent = they can go ahead and laugh
le maillot uni noir = black one-piece


Thanks in advance to readers considering sending in a blog donation for the first time. Your contribution will go a long way not only in backing this journal but also in encouraging me to keep writing. Your support means a lot, and I'm truly grateful. Amicalement, Kristi

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“Joyeux anniversaire de marriage! Love your mom’s comment.” Linda F.

"Merci beaucoup Kristi et Jean-Marc! I’ve been looking forward to reading this memoir for over a year and have finally made time." Jennie

Louis John Janet Kristi Jean-Marc Chateau Ferry Lacomb in Trets
Provence Wine Tour near Aix. The weather was spectacular for Jean-Marc's most recent vineyard visit to Chateau Ferry Lacomb in Trets-en-Provence. Many thanks, Louis, Janet, and John for reserving a specialized French wine tour with Jean-Marc. It was lovely to meet you! 

If you are still thinking of moving to France, click the book cover to read about an American family who moves to Nice.

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

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

A Little Tour of La Ciotat, France. Allez! On y va!

View of la ciotat port from below the lighthouse
"A Diamond in the Rough" that's the best way I can describe our coastal town. And while it may not be chichi like Cassis, Bandol, or Sanary… La Ciotat has more character in its little pinky than all three. Can you sense our salty sea breeze coming from the turquoise bay just below?

Expat? Ready to file your tax return by June 15th? Don't sweat it! Get $20 off when you use Expatfile software and begin the simplified process.


    : wharf, pier

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

When our vineyard went under contract and my husband tossed La Ciotat into the pot of possible places to relocate, I flinched. Not because of any particular impression I ever got from visiting here, but because this town has (or had…) a reputation as a place that is mal fréquenté.

Bref, La Ciotat isn't one of those gems you hear about when discussing charming French destinations. But the tides are turning and the beaches here are blindé—so completely packed you cannot see the sand for les serviettes--that is, you can hardly find a spot to put down your beach towel. And while the beaches here have always attracted sunbathers (they come from Marseille and hang out all day), the city is now attracting an international crowd.

By the times you receive this letter, my sister, niece and nephew will be landing in Marseilles and I will be excited to show them our not-so-new digs (hard to believe we moved here 6 years ago). Here are some of the places we will see. Enjoy the pictures and related text and see you next week for an update!


Plage mugel
Mugel Beach. Our personal favorite, La Plage Mugel, is known for its clear turquoise waters and the shallow depth near the shore makes it safe for children to play and paddle. There is an authentic restaurant above the beach, but many locals enjoy picnicking, as we sometimes do, at the water's edge. (And do not miss my Dad's joie-de-vivre swim)

Les trois secs ilots in la ciotat
The big rock you see en face, is part of Les Trois Secs (The Three Drys)--three rocky islets located off the coast of our town. This beautiful calanque offers opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and exploring marine life in these crystal-clear waters.

The old port in La Ciotat France
(click the above link if the photo isn't appearing! I'm having technical issues with my blog...)

The Old Port with boats ranging in size (from these small wooden “pointus”) and price (to the new multi-million euro yachts). All around the port there are restaurants and even a few shops and art galleries. At one point this former industrial shipping town was known as a seedy place, but the locals might fiercely disagree. The new commercial centers look seedy to them, and who can argue with that? Meantime the heart of La Ciotat, which ripples out from this port, is colorful, lively, and full of soul, mirroring the locals.

Stele marines who died in service la ciotat
A la memoire--In memory. There are at least 2 stèles, or memorial stones in La Ciotat. This one, near the green lighthouse on the old port, is for the 74 submariners who disappeared at sea in 1943.

Stele honoring the  Lumiere brothers in la ciotat
This stèle commemorates the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, pioneers in the field of cinematography. La Ciotat is known as the birthplace of cinema, and the Lumière brothers played a significant role in its development. 
Eden Theatre oldest functioning cinema in the world
Eden Theater, overlooking the New Port, is the oldest operational movie theater in the world! Inside, enjoy cozy seating on red velvet chairs, surrounded by balconies above.



There are at least 5 beaches along the boardwalk and, unlike Paris (not that you can compare) there are plenty of clean public restrooms dotted along the boardwalk.

Dog on lumiere beach
Our town has beachy, doggy vibes—great for outdoor and dog lovers. That's Jean-Marc, right, in his towel and claquettes, or slides. To the left a very friendly beach bum we met last night. I hope you enjoyed today's photo blog. See you next week for more pictures and stories. A bientôt! Kristi

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Click here to listen to  the French and English terms below

le quai = the pier
= come on!
on y va
= let’s go
chichi = fussy
La Ciotat 
mal fréquenté
= of ill repute, seedy
bref =
in short
= full, jam-packed
la serviette
= beach towel 
les trois secs =
the three drys
La calanque
= rocky inlet
Les claquettes
= flip-flops, slides

To the following readers who this past week sent in a blog donation or purchased our online memoir, your contribution towards publishing this blog is the key to its longevity! I am sincerely grateful for your support. Merci beaucoup! --Kristi

Cheryl M. 
Laura S.
Marti H.
June R.

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

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

Join us here at home + A Santorini Caper


Join us tomorrow at 3:30 pm for a winetasting. Jean-Marc and I are happy to welcome you here (near Bandol). Confirm at [email protected]

More tasting dates: October 3rd and October 19. Email the address above, for more info.

TODAY'S WORD: la câpre

    : caper

le câprier = caper plant

Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words:
Download MP3 or Wav

Il y a longtemps on trouvait des capres dans les restanques de Provence, mais aujourd'hui ils ne sont plus cultivées, car ils ne sont plus rentables. A long time ago you could find capers among the rock wall terraces of Provence, but today they are no longer cultivated, as they are no longer profitable.


by Kristin Espinasse

I first discovered caper leaves while eating lunch at Sigalas vineyard in Santorini. Having crashed my sister's Greek vacation, I was now calculating how many pieces of charcuterie I could slide onto my plate without seeming greedy. I noticed how Heidi and her friends enjoyed ordering many dishes and sharing them--an amicable practice to be sure--but for those who are impatient and food obsessed, it is torture to hold back in the name of good manners when your eyes are begging to try two of everything!


When a plate of appetizers was passed to me, I chose one slice of pastourma, a match stick of goat's cheese and a sliver of roasted red pepper--regretfully leaving the salami that shouted "take me! take me!" Somebody else would appreciate it getting it. And sure enough, my husband snapped it up as soon as the plate circled back to him, adding it to the unrestricted choices he had made earlier and washing it all down with white wine!

Grrh! I sipped on my fizzy water, and ate slowly while keeping an eye on the next platter. "I think those are caper leaves!" my friend Kim said, passing me a plate of pureed fava beans (really split peas--but that's another story!). "Try them!"

I scooped up a (small) serving of puree, adding one--oh heck, three!--dark green marinated leaves to my plate. The pureed beans being garnished with chopped red onion, I grabbed those too.

One of the mysteries of life is this: you never know where or when a new passion will hit. And just like that you hunger to discover all you can about something to which you once gave short shrift. Chewing on those tender round leaves set the mechanics of my mind in motion: capers! I must know more about capers! And isn't it funny how the moment you become aware of something it appears around every corner?

Walking back to our rented apartment, looking out over the volcanic cliff to the turquoise sea, I noticed a magnificent specimen jutting from the rocky falaise. There it was! The caper plant! So that is what it looked like? Beautiful!

After the first sighting, I accompanied Jean-Marc to another vineyard. As a colleague at Hatzidakis Winery presented the organic domain, I looked around and noted many signs of permaculture - from the composting banana peels and withering zucchini tossed into the vines at the entrance--to the office trailer which sported a second roof (a thick layer of grape stems! Instead of tossing them, the stems were used to insulate the building) this winery was obviously sensitive to nature, and here was someone who could surely tell me more about capers! A plant that will take on more and more importance in the coming years of climate change (capers like arid soil and can grow out of a rock!).

As my husband drank in every word about his new favorite Santori wine, I dared cut into the conversation. "Excuse me, but could you please tell me something about capers?" Eyeing Jean-Marc, I said my mea culpas - pleading with him to be patient. He'd had his wine, now let me have my capers!

The vineyard man smiled. "Nobody has succeeded in cultivating capers on the island. You won't find caper farms here. The plants are wild!"

"I've managed to find some seeds," I explained, telling about the pod I'd harvested from a plant outside a tourist town.

"Good luck planting them in France," he said. "If they grow here, it is the local ants that help them along."

I imagined the ants consuming the seeds and leaving the droppings deep in the crevaces of the rock walls where these plants (weeds, really) grow. "Well, we have plenty of ants! I announced. Argentinian ants!" If an argentinian ant can conquer France, it will surely know what to do with these historic seeds.

"Illustration Capparis spinosa0" by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1840-1925) - Flora von Deutschland Österreich und der Schweiz, via Wikipedia

That night in bed I began a google frenzy and learned even more about capers, notably their medicinal value. Those who suffer from arthritis (rheumatism) and gout would do well to increase their consumption of capers! I would be adding the berries and leaves to my husband's meals very soon!

I returned home with several bottles of pickled capers and caper leaves - and those precious seeds! No sooner had we touched down in Marseilles, but I was in our back yard making mud balls.

"Seed bombs," I noted, posting the pictures on my Instagram, where I like to record the progress of our garden. Seed bombs are used by guerrilla gardeners:

The first seed grenades were made from balloons filled with tomato seeds, and fertilizer. They were tossed over fences onto empty lots in New York City in order to make the neighborhoods look better. It was the start of the guerrilla gardeningmovement. (Wikipedia)



Pictured: The first caper plant spotted outside our hotel and the seedpod I harvested from another plant. And there are the seedbombs I made with some green clay from my medicine cabinet, two parts soil from our vineyard and a sprinkling of seeds (the rest of the seeds were saved for another try at planting, this fall and next spring!)

It felt so good to have mud on my hands and to breathe in the scent of childhood, when passions came so quickly and when we followed them anywhere, without fear!  

So much more to say about capers, we have only scratched the surface. But I am out of breath now, having blurted out all I've learned so far.  Once I settle down, I will send more updates on Facebook or Instagram, if you would like to join me there, and please do!

I leave you with our anniversary picture and the message I left Jean-Marc, on returning from Greece. And yesterday, I got the perfect anniversary gift: three caper plants from our local nursery. Sure, I had already planted seeds, but, as the French say:

Il faut  mettre toutes les chances de notre côté! One must put all luck on our side! How true this is for plants and even for a marriage. (No! More than luck, marriage is patience and tolerance and love and forgiveness. The same ingredients I will use to tend my baby capriers!)


Happy anniversary, Jean-Marc. I remember walking down the street with you, in my neighborhood in The Valley of the Sun, and seeing that the brightest light was walking right beside me! Looking up at you, I recognized a dazzling star and I wondered if I could ever reach it (that is, did you like me too?). I am still amazed, 23 years later, that you continue to hold out your hand for me, so that I may join you on the all mountain tops toward which you climb. Sometimes I've gone kicking and screaming, but, more and more I go with steps of gratitude. And I wake up each day wondering what I would ever do without you.

When you shop at Amazon you help to support this free word journal at no extra cost to you.  Order anything from caper leaves to French CDs. Simply click on my book page link, here, and then type what you are looking for in the Amazon search box. Thank you for keeping this in mind, next time you shop, and thanks for your support. Click here to shop.

Smelling the scent of capers and caper bush on santorini island Greece leather sandals

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

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

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

c’est le monde à l’envers + Malta!

St Juliens bay in Malta

An unexpected twist on our romantic Valentine's getaway... to Malta. Read on in today's story column.

c’est le monde à l’envers

   :  the world's gone crazy (or: it's an upside-down world)

Audio File: click the following links to hear today's word and definition Download MP3 or Wav

L'expression "c'est le monde à l'envers" c'est quand les choses sont dans le contraire de ce qu’on attend.
(from Wikipedia) The expression c'est le monde à l'envers means that things are different than expected.

Mas la Monaque: rent this beautiful French home

Mas la Monaque - Rent this beautifully restored 17-century farmhouse. Click here for more pictures.


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

One of the pluses of living near Marseilles is the city's proximity to so many lively destinations. My husband is the travel bug in our family and he can't help but be tempted by the discount air carriers and their latest offres. When Jean-Marc noticed a round-trip ticket to Malta for only 70 euros--he quickly located a room at 60 euros per night and a car at 100 euros for 3 days.... and so found the perfect Valentines surprise for his chérie!

In the blink of an eye we had touched down at Malta international airport on La Fête des Amoureux. I didn't realize we would be arriving after midnight, but then there were a lot of things I was unprepared for--like the fact that the Maltese drive on the opposite side of the road!!

Jean-Marc and I were standing in the dimly lit rental car lot when this disturbing detail revealed itself to us:

"The key doesn't work!" my valentine said, trying in vain to locate the lock.

"Here. Give that to me," I said, reaching for la clé. It was four hours past my bed time and I was anxious to get out of this dark and vacant car lot and get to our hotel. Grabbing the key, I began to thumb-punch it, trying to automatically unlock the car. Meantime, Jean-Marc had walked around to the other side, looking for a keyhole.

"Ha! The driving wheel is on the right!" Jean-Marc announced, more amused than concerned.

Well that's odd, I thought. Why would they give us a car like that?

"You need to go back to the rental desk and get another version," I told my husband, trying to decide if I should go with him or wait alone in this spooky car park.

"Chérie, there won't be another 'version.' Visiblement, the Maltese drive like the English--on the left side of the road!"

Reality hit me like an arrow in the gut. Cupid's aim was waaaay off, and with it all the kissy-kissy-goo-goo feelings my husband had bargained for along with this bargain vacation! But bargaining with our lives was NOT sexy. 

"We can't drive like this!" I stamped my foot. 

"Well, we don't have the choice!" Jean-Marc's tone was firm. The amusement my husband experienced a moment ago had waned. Sensing I was going to dig my feet in, Jean-Marc told me to get in the car. "Everything's going to be okay. I'll drive!"

My heart seized up as Jean-Marc grinded the gears into first. He was completely disoriented and we hadn't even left the parking lot. Oh God, we were doomed! My mind began jumping to its colorful conclusions and I could queerly appreciate the romantic ending our couple had come to... as we RIP'd together on the Mediterranean island of Malta. It sure beat a collision on the 1-10 in Apache Junction or Phoenix!

"Good thing the accelerator and the brakes aren't reversed!" Jean-Marc chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. But his joke only caused me more distress. At this point that wasn't so hard to imagine! 

"Stay on the left! ON THE LEFT!" I screeched as we entered the first roundabout. Just as expected, I watched my husband's reflexes kick in. He had wanted to go right! Yes, however slightly, he had edged over to right! No matter how he denied it. I saw it with my own bulging eyes!

Jean-Marc tried distraction. "Look for the signs to Mellieha," he said. But all I could see were cars racing past us in the roundabout. How strange to see cars going clockwise! The trick would be to fight our reflexes--and remember to do everything opposite! But it was so easy to get confused--especially in a foreign land, after 1 a.m. in the morning!

I couldn't help but evacuate the stress at every frightening turn--ever struggling to remember whether to first look left or right for oncoming traffic. I found it helpful to remember the giant lettering written across the streets of London. "LOOK LEFT". The avertissements are designed to prevent visitors (from countries that drive on the right) from being crushed by oncoming vehicles!

"Left! Stay left!" My orders were punctuated by a series of short breaths, the kind the nurses demanded when I went through labor for each of my children. 

Worried I might hyperventilate, Jean-Marc put me to work. "Here! Read these notes!" he ordered, handing over the map to our hotel.

"Keep your eyes on the road," I scolded. "If you need to reach for a paper--ask me. I'll do it!"

"We should be there in twenty minutes. Don't worry!" Jean-Marc said, trying to calmer le jeu, or ease tensions. 

Worrisome now were the directions. The names of the Maltese roads were obviously foreign--with a lot of tricks--or "Triqs" thrown in. 

Triq, it seemed, was the name for street--the word being mention over and over again.

"Read me the name of the street," Jean-Marc said, swerving to avoid a car that had just entered our roundabout from the left. Whoa! 

"I can't (puff! puff! puff!)." How could I read him the name of the streets, when I could hardly breathe?

What's more, the streets had funny foreign characters (an "H" was double barred through the center). It wasn't pronunciation that concerned me, it was the way all the lines began to run together: I could not keep my eyes on both the directions and the road at the same time.

Jean-Marc tried in vain to remind me that HE was the driver and I could keep my eyes on the directions (and off the road) but this was an impossibility. The only way to feel safe was by exercising the small amount of control still in my power: by keeping an extra set of eyes on the road we would reduce our chances of collision!

 Jean-Marc gave up and reached for his Smartphone. 

"You mean you had a GPS this whole time and didn't want to use it!!!" I guessed connection fees went contrary to our budget vacation!

Speaking of contrary, we were now back on track even if that track was still reversed. Now with the GPS, I could concentrate on hyperventilating and all the intermittant screeching. "I can't help it!" I said to Jean-Marc, who--guided by my OHMYGOD gurglings--managed to veer away once again from oncoming traffic. (Adding to stress were all those SPEED KILLS signs, which dotted the road before many a hairpin turn. That's when an additional threat came to mind: we were driving in party hour traffic, after midnight! Hopefully the Maltese would remember which side of the road they usually drove on!)

All the shrieks and heavy breathing didn't make my driver's job any easier, but, little did he know, Jean-Marc was quickly racking up romantic points. For as much as I fault him for his impatience, my husband can swiftly shift into calm mode when the tables (or roads) are turned and I'm the one flipping out. I deeply appreciated his soft and encouraging words during our harried drive (and the few times he snapped he was quickly forgiven!).

Jean-Marc even managed, here and there, to maintain his sense of humor. Arriving to our hotel, he pulled the keys out of the ignition and, handed them to me, he chuckled. "Demain, c'est toi qui conduis!"


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French Vocabulary

une offre = special deal
chéri, chérie = darling
la fête des amoureux = Valentine's Day
la clé = key
visiblement = evidently
un avertissement = warning
calmer le jeu = calm things down
demain c'est toi qui conduit! = tomorrow you're the driver!

Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for photos.

Paris Metro Apron - a fun and whimsical tablier to wear


In Mdina, the old capital of Malta, the English influence can be missed... In  1964 Malta achieved its independance from the UK.


My favorite visit while on the island: the Argotti Botanical Gardens. Visits are by appointment only, but we were lucky to wander in and pay for our visitor pass (3 euros per person). We spoke to the curator who told us about all the Somalian students, currently working on site. "They are all exiled." I looked at the teenage boys, many of whom had lost their families. "They have only two choices back home: go to war or be killed," the curator explained. Cheers to Argotti Botanical Garden for creating this insertion program where they are teaching refugees skills to carry with them to their next destination (Matla beind a temporary landing for many of the unfortunates).

Other gardens on Malta: the San Anton Botanical gardens, where the president lives at the palace. See the impressive kitchen garden and the exotic birds. 


Malta is a plant lovers paradise! Whether tumbling from balconies or carpeting the vineyards, flowers are blooming everywhere in February! I loved the roadside fennel with its giant round pom-pom flowers (so different from our Provence fenouil), and Jean-Marc helped me collect pocketfuls of snapdragon seeds! Some say the name "Malta" comes from the Greek "meli" (honey). And some call Malta "the land of honey." 


Remember those tricks or "Triqs" I talked about in today's story. Here's a road sign.


Guess who we took with us on our romantic getaway? Mr. Sacks, bien sûr! Jean-Marc's ancient sacoche sat with us at outdoor cafes, on rocky piers, and sandy beaches. Here are more things we all enjoyed:

Mellieha Bay - where we found lounge chairs to rent (3 euros for the day) and ordered a hot lunch for under 10.

Golden Bay - beautiful hike down to the water (the path is flanked by purple and yellow wildflowers this time of year). Have a coffee at the bar overlooking the Mediterranean.

St. Paul's Bay - colorful fishing boats and a stroll along the boardwalk

Spinola Bay – St. Julians. Go to Gululu's -- a restaurant for traditional Maltese food. I loved the octopus stew with capers, olives, raisin, walnuts and vegetables.

Also loved the restaurant Two and a half Lemons, in the Vittoriosa Marina--for the fresh tuna and for our wonderful waiter. Sitting outside, facing the boats, the sounds of the clanking masts is relaxing.



The island of Gozo is something we didn't get to see. It's going on our bucket list for next time! Have you ever been to Malta? Will you share some "must see" places there? Click here to comment.

Further Reading

Jed Christensen's article "Five Fine Days on Italy's Toe" includes an excellent and historical review of Malta.

I missed the chance to photograph all the beautiful stone walls, restanques, and cabanons on Malta. Thankfully Janet recorded some at her blog Malta Meanderings.

Googling "botanical gardens malta", I found Jess's blog--and great photos of San Anton Gardens (which I then visited).

The Kappillan of Malta - this book came highly recommended from one of our readers (Thanks, FM).

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Grignan Roses (c) Kristin Espinasse
A rose-lover's Shangri-la: the village of Grignan. (Just don't steal the flowers... or the sweetness.... read on in today's story column. 

choper (sho-pay) verb

    : to steal, to nib; to catch

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words (Download MP3 or Wav file)

Il a chopé un rhume / He caught a cold.
Elles ont chopé le sucre du bistro. / They nabbed the sugar.

Les Synonyms: dérober = to purloin chiper = to swipe, filch piquer = to pinch, to nick

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

When your aunt and your uncle are in town for under a week... you've got to be picky and choosy about just which postcard pretty places you'll take them to see.

Grignan was a must! Its chateau, overlooking the vine-flanked valley, and its perched, rose-petaled village, were once the residence and the stomping grounds of Madame de Sévigné, who wrote prolifically to her fille. Picture so many words showering down from the chateau, falling like tears of joy, watering all those heirloom roses, from "Autumn Sunset" to "Gipsy Boy".

The flowers steal one's attention making it is easy to be attracted to this rose-rampant "rise" in the French sky. Their colorful petals pull your eyes up the narrow paths or calades, past the boutiques and the art galleries until you are overlooking the patchwork paysage of Provence. After your eyes expand over the valley, they are drawn back in to the skirt of the citadel, which bustles with café life.

There, at the Brasserie Le Sévigné my aunt, my uncle, and I sipped caffeine from colorful tasses de café. Feeling that after-lunch slump, we were content to let our ears do the walking and we listened as they bent here and there capturing the various conversations, most in French, though some were accented in English "city" or "country." I wondered if the two ladies at the next table were from London? Then again, what do I know about the topography of talk or "accentry"?

Finishing our cafe crèmes, we stood up to leave.  I called over to my aunt, motionning to the sugar packets before her (we were each served two packets with our cup. Having only used one-half of a sugar envelop I was slipping the rest into my purse. I had seen my aunt do the same at the previous café.... "Waste not, want not," she had explained, offering another of her affectionate winks. I figured I could give my aunt the extra sachets de sucre for her train trip to Paris the next day. (It is always good to have a little blood sugar boosting sucrose on hand when traveling.)

"And take that one, too!" I encouraged, pointing to the unused sugar packet in front of her. 
Just then, I caught sight of the English women at the next table. They were watching wide-eyed.

Caught red-handed, I had no choice but to finish shoving the second packet into my purse and I cringed when I realized the sugar envelope was open and showering down granulated sweetness, mixing with the contents of my purse.

My dear Aunt, her back to the would-be whistle-blowers, was unaware of our unseemly circumstance. "Here," she said, handing me her unused packet of sugar. Meantime my uncle voiced our actions, as my uncle is wont to do: "Oh, what's that? You are taking some sugar? I see."

The problem was, others were seeing too! And, what with my uncle's commentary, we were a terribly conspicuous trio.

"Put. It. In. Your. Pocket!" I snapped at my fellow sugar-snatcher. But my aunt stood there, her arm extended like a red flag, sugar packet waving like the drapeau of death. It seemed to take hours for that sugar packet to reroute itself into my aunt's pocket and I stood startled-eyed until the lightweight loot disappeared.

As we turned our backs on the café, my aunt overheard the condemning comment at the next table as one woman spoke in a disapproving tone, pointing out our petty theft to her table-mate. "They've taken the sugar," she reported.

Half-way to the getaway car and my aunt and I were giggling, "They've taken the sugar!" we laughed, lacing our voices with disappoving English accents. My uncle got into the back of the car, scratching his head in confusion, having missed the episode completely. Meantime, I started the engine and my aunt hopped into the passenger's seat and when she did she winked at me:

"I've got the sugar," she confirmed. "Hit it!"

With that, we peeled out of the pretty postcard town, bidding goodbye to a proper Madame de Sévigné and leaving, in the sugar dust, the would-be whistle blowers with their cups of unsweetened tea.

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::

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A Day in a Dog's Life... by Smokey "R" Dokey

A wooden deck under construction... and two pooped contractors.

Smokey says: you haven't heard much about us lately, but that doesn't mean we haven't been busy... in a bucolic, sleepaholic way.

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

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


Boats (c) Kristin Espinasse)
Marseilles is the setting for today's story. (Photo taken in the fishing village of Callelongue).

Who hasn't had the fantasy of leaving his or her old life behind to start over? What would happen if you gave up your job, city, state, and routine to move to another part of the world? Critically acclaimed writer and aspiring painter James Morgan does just that. Risking everything, he and his wife shed their old, settled life in a lovingly restored house in Little Rock, Arkansas, to travel in the footsteps of Morgan's hero, the painter Henri Matisse, and to find inspiration in Matisse's fierce struggle to live the life he knew he had to live. Part memoir, part travelogue, and part biography of Matisse, Chasing Matisse proves that you don't have to be wealthy to live the life you want; you just have to want it enough. Order "Chasing Matisse", here:

gober (go-bay) verb
  : to swallow, to scarf, to gulp down

se gober: to think a lot of oneself, to fancy oneself
un gobeur, une gobeuse = one who is gullible

And... ever heard of the word "gobe-mouche"? It means, literally, "fly-gobbler" and it is another word for someone who believes everything he hears. Can't you just picture those flies heading, one by one, into the mouth of the astonished (jaws dropped) listener of fantastic stories?

:: Audio File ::
Listen to my daughter, Jackie, pronounce "gober un oeuf" (gobble an egg): Download gober.mp3 .Download gober.wav


Hallelujah and Dieu merci* that I don't have to translate for a living. After re-writing my brother-in-law's story (originally penned in French), and sweating over certain words, I can certainly sympathize with any interpreters who have ever hiccupped before an unfriendly English equivalent....

The "Gober"* story held a wee dilemma or deux* in the translation department... c'est-à-dire*: what might sound all right in French, can sound altogether awkward in English. For this reason, I admit to having experienced a bout of creative amnesia (particularly near the last paragraph) while transcribing today's story. The convoluted truth is: I "forgot" the English equivalents to all of the doubtful words... and that is how they got dumped.

That said, you can see most of the story here now (in English)... or read the entire story (in French) here.

                         "Gober Un Oeuf" by Jacques Espinasse

Back in the beginning of the eighties, already 28 years ago, the southern quarters of Marseilles stretched out into the magnificent neighborhoods of "Mazargues", "Bonneveine", "La Vieille Chapelle", and "La Pointe Rouge"... not to mention "Le Parc du Roy d'Espagne" located near the hills of "Marseilleveyre" beyond which the famous calanques* of Sormiou, Morgiou, and Sugiton bring great joy to the Marseillais.

The neighborhoods, back then, were not yet exploited by those rich, unscrupulous property developers. Over time, though, the builders eventually bought up the great family farms where "natural" vegetables and fruits grew, and where chickens laid their eggs each day, eggs that delighted me twice each week.

My mother, between two piqûres* (she was a district nurse who made house calls) would stop by one of these farms to buy lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, artichokes... and seasonal fruit: strawberries, cherries, peaches, apricots... but what I looked forward to the most, each time she went to the farms, were those fresh eggs--laid that very day. In fact, when I was little, my greatest delight was to "gober un oeuf"!*

That might seem strange, but I did this with the help of a sewing needle, punching a little hole at each end of the egg, then sucking down the precious contents. It is really a very good treat and, what's more, it's all year long--as chickens don't have seasons!

These days, unfortunately, not one of the farms that my mother visited can be found... as apartment buildings have "grown" in the place of vegetables and fruit trees. Once in a while, though, I still have the chance to "gober un oeuf". Fortunately, in the arrière-pays* of Marseilles, one can still find a few of these fermes,* the owners of which knew how to resist the land developers who do not know the pleasure of eating a farm fresh egg.

                                          *     *     *
Pssst: If you liked Jacques' story, why not drop him a line and let him know? Email him at Jacques.Espinasse [AT] gmail.com  (replace [AT] with @).

Dieu merci = thank God; gober = to gobble; deux = two; c'est-à-dire = that is to say; la calanque (f) = rocky inlet (from the sea); une piqûre (f) = injection; gober un oeuf = to gobble an egg; l'arrière-pays (m) = hinterland; la ferme = farm

Painless French: grammar, pronunciation, idioms, idiocies (culture) and more!

Songs in French for Children

Lego Make & Create Café Corner:

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

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

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