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.
Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi