façonner (faah-so-nay) verb
: to work, shape (metal); to fashion, mold (clay)
I love it when my French aunt comes over on a Sunday, with her chestnut cake, a smile on her face, and stories of Provence which she'll often illustrate. I learn even more when Uncle Jean-Claude tags along to assist in the story telling with his musical accent--a mixture of Africa, Toulouse, and Provençal sing-song.
Dimanche dernier,* we were contemplating dessert (should we go for a walk first... or dive right into the gâteau de marron*?). That's when Aunt Marie-Françoise noticed the roof tile set on the kitchen counter.
I answered her questioning gaze. "I plan to use it... for a light fixture!"
In its current incarnation, the old tile is a vase--perfect for holding colorful branches and flowers plucked up during a stroll through the campagne.*
"C'est très ancien,"* Jean-Marc added, before offering a brief a history of the roof tile, an artifact that Michel, our builder, had uncovered while renovating le toit.*
With that, Uncle Jean-Claude picked up the tuile* and set it before the light. He began reading the cursive etched into the surface. "... à fait...30 juin..." It looks like a name, he noted, offering: "André à fait (le) 30 juin."
"Too bad the year wasn't noted." With that Uncle Jean-Claude shrugged his shoulders, passed the tile to his wife.
"Say..." my aunt began, "Did you know the history behind these tiles? They were handmade here in Provence... par les femmes!* And here's where my aunt's French factoids never cease to amaze me:
"The tiles were shaped with the help of a woman's thighs!" Aunt Marie-Françoise pointed out the tile's pretty curve.
"Thighs?" I questioned. Cigar façonnage* immediately came to mind... somehow lending credibility to this amazing story.
We took turns placing the long, wide tile over our own thighs, impressed by the Rubenesque dimension of the artifact, which slipped off our legs. This got me thinking about thigh surface, and "working space"--how Cuban women had a certain advantage over the French, cigars being that much smaller, lighter.
Imagination kicked in and I pictured a cigar production line, Cuban skirts hiked up, Prudery pitched out the door, cigar smoke following in her wake.
Next, I pictured a roof tile production line: heavy clay slabs awaiting "fashioning," French skirts hiked up even higher, prudery pitched out the door... together with those hampersome skirts.
Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box.
(Your turn to help out: select and define some of the French words in today's story. Share your translations in the comments box, for all to see and enjoy.)
French Girl Knits: Innovative Techniques, Romantic Details, and Feminine Designs by Kristeen Griffin-Grimes: Superbly fitted and fashioned in luxurious yarns, these imaginative patterns follow four thematic vignettes inspired by French daily life, film, and history.
From the French Word-A-Day archives