Bignonia (c) Kristin Espinasse
Bignonias always remind me of our home in Les Arcs, where the flowers clambored up and over the metal pergola beside our driveway, throwing shade onto the boules (or "pétanque" or "bocce ball") court just beyond. Our house in Les Arcs-sur-Argens was a 30-minute drive from Bagnols-en-Forêt, where my English friend, Michèle, had a "pied-à-terre", or second home....





At Michèle's home in Bagnols, I am waiting patiently to meet an Englishwoman who has lived through two world wars. It is easy to pass the time, seated here on a lovely terrace beneath the blossoming cherry tree. The picnic table is gradually filling up as Michèle's golden-haired daughters, Violet and Natalie, bring out roasted chicken, a lovely green-bean salad, and baguettes fresh from the local bakery. 

As the girls disappear into the kitchen in search of les couverts, the guest of honor arrives.

"I'm so sorry for the delay," she apologizes. "The workmen are busy cleaning my terrace. The tiles are covered with mold! I told the men to scrub it down with vinegar. Vinegar works best!"

"Hello Bobby!" Michèle welcomes her neighbor, l'invitée d'honneur.  Bobby pauses to admire the cherry tree, which towers above her like a giant floral umbrella. I try to picture this delicate woman giving orders to a couple of burly ouvriers. In my mind's eye, I see the workmen reluctantly setting aside their industrial cleaners for the simple home remedy: le vinaigre—good ol' sour wine! 

As Bobby settles into her chair, Michèle and her belle-mère, Shirley, shake their heads in appreciation of their friend's latest adventure. 

"Oh, they must love you, Bobby!"

Bobby says that's possible, perhaps because of the beer she gives the men at the end of the workday!

The ladies at the table laugh as Bobby explains what happens when she runs out of Kronenbourg.

"I knock on the neighbor's door." We then learn about Bobby's 72-year-old friend. At 18 years her junior, le voisin wears a black toupee and a handlebar mustache, and provides back-up beer for the sour-scented workmen.

Listening to her colorful story, I notice Bobby's charm and how the flowering cerisier frames her beautifully. Its full, white blossoms muffle the rumbling of a thousand nectar-hungry bees. The buzzing causes us to look up through the trees, to the clear blue sky above. 

"When the Mistral wind blows through, it chases away the clouds," Bobby notes. We search the ciel bleu. Not a cloud in sight.

The sky invites our wondering eyes and questioning hearts. I pull my chair closer to Bobby's.

"What brought you to France?" I ask.

Bobby tells me that when her husband died 12 years ago, she decided to come to the South of France and build a summer nest. She was 78 at the time.

As she shares her story, I can't help but admire her. Her eyes are that pretty shade between "steel" and "powder" that some call robin's-egg blue. Her short hair has that quality of white that tips the edges of the blue sea. I notice how it falls back off her face in endless waves.

Bobby is now talking about her 35-year-old granddaughter, an art teacher in Texas. As she speaks, I try to pinpoint her British accent. Just what part of Angleterre has rubbed off on her voice?

I notice her earrings: large pearl-colored disks. I make a note to wear such earrings in 53 years' time, as if boucles d'oreille would render me as beautiful as she.

Bobby tells me that her 63-year-old daughter has a butterfly tattoo on her hand.

"She got it thirty years ago."

"Were you upset?"

"No. But I told her the butterfly might look different when her skin begins to wrinkle!" 

"Does it?" I am curious.

"It's looking fine," Bobby smiles. Her blue eyes deepen as she turns her attention to the saturated sky.

I look down at my hands as I search for words. I want to tell Bobby that she is like that butterfly.


Your edits here. Thanks for checking grammar and punctuation. Is the story clear enough? Good to go? Share your thoughts, here in the comments box . P.S. Thanks for checking the vocab section, too!

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French Vocabulary

Bagnols (Bagnols-en-Forêt)
a town in the Var, not far from the sea 

le couvert
place setting (fork, knive, spoon) 

l'invitée d'honneur
guest of honor

l'ouvrier (m)

le vinaigre

la belle-mère

le voisin

le cerisier
cherry tree 

le ciel bleu
blue sky 

 l'Angleterre (f)

une boucle d'oreille


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Jean-Marc arranges rose on a bed of oursins / sea urchins (c) Kristin Espinasse Jean-Marc busy with the 'mise en scène' for his next wine article. (The bottle is lying on a bed of sea urchins.)

une épine (ay-peen) noun, feminine
1. thorn, prickle, spine

Also: épine dorsale = backbone

Hear the word "épine" pronounced: Download epine.wav

être sur des épines = to be on pins and needles
tirer à quelqu'un une épine du pied = to relieve someone's mind or to get someone out of a mess

Citation du Jour:
La vie est une rose dont chaque pétale est une illusion et chaque épine une réalité. / Life is a rose whose every petal is an illusion and each thorn a reality. --Alfred de Musset

A Day in a French Life...

At a sandy Mediterranean crique* near the seaside town of Les Issambres, separated from St. Raphaël by a deep blue gulf, we closed our weekend on a rich, sea-salty note. If you factored out the cloudless sky, you'd see how the reddish blur of the Esterel mountains capped the busy French city en face* like an Arizona sunset.

During the half-hour drive from our village to the plage,* I quizzed Jean-Marc on his favorite appetizer.
"Do you know the other French term for oursin?"*
To my surprise, he didn't.

"Une châtaigne de mer!" I said, pleased to know something French that he didn't. When Jean-Marc found the term 'sea chestnut' endearing, I offered him the English (un)equivalent which is 'sea hedgehog.'

As my masked Frenchman headed out to sea, I wished him "Bon oursinade!"
"That will come later," he reminded me.
True, an oursinade is the "feasting on sea urchin soup" and not the hunting of sea urchins.
"Then... bonne pêche!" Happy fishing! I called out.

Apart from the mask, Jean-Marc wore thick rubber sandals and carried his formidable mop-spear (half mop, half fork, a do-it yourself tool he'd rigged together on a previous sea urchin outing). Back at home, he'd swiped my laundry basket and was dragging that out to sea as well...

Eventually, Max and Jackie swam out to the tiny rock island, and helped their father collect the 'sea chestnuts'.  Jean-Marc returned to shore first, barefoot, followed by the kids who'd tucked a half-dozen oursins into their father's size 12 plastic shoes before floating their catch back.

The four of us sat on our beach towels, the laundry basket full of sea urchins at our feet, admiring the colorful spiny creatures. Beneath the setting sun the urchins showed their brilliant colors in copper, violet and khaki.

Jean-Marc used shearing scissors (another object lifted from our bathroom, along with the panier à linge*) to open the prickly spears, revealing a star pattern inside consisting of sea urchin eggs.

"Bon appétit!" one passerby called out.

We didn't have spoons and were obliged to lick the strips of orange roe from the shell, taking care not to get stabbed by an épine* in the process.

I watched my husband savor the delicate orange 'fruits of the sea,' washing the roe down with a splash of rosé wine.

"Rien de plus simple," he said.  "Rien de plus bon."*

*References: la crique (f) = cove, inlet; en face = facing; la plage (f) = beach; un oursin (m) = sea urchin; le panier à linge = clothes hamper; l'épine (f) = spine; Rien de plus simple. Rien de plus bon. = Nothing simpler. Nothing better.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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