Jean-Marc ("Chief Grape") and Kristi. My husband records the sound files for this journal (today's will be late), and I write the stories. Photo by Cynthia Gillespie-Smith
: puny, meagre; undersized, poor
un enfant chétif = a weak child
une récolte, une plante chétive = a meagre harvest, a puny plant
Nous n'avions pu voir qu'une vigne chétive, souffrante et d'une pousse peu égale.
We could only see a weak vine, suffering and from an uneven shoot
AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word in the following sentence
Download MP3 or Wav
Chetif. Les vignes qui sont plantées trop près des oliviers sont chétives.
Weak. The vines that are planted too close to the olive trees are weak.
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
Chétif: When I am weak I am strong
The other day my husband said a word and I heard it, really heard it, for the first time.
When he said it again, days later, "...chétive..." I realized it was a word I'd been hearing dozens of times since immigrating to France, only, strangely, the French word for "weak" never stuck. Instead, it passed on through my brain filter and disappeared into the netherland of my mind. It was there somewhere, like a memory that returns when you sniff an orange... and you are thrown back, by decades, into a citrus orchard behind your old neighborhood, in Phoenix. Your mom is calling you home and you grab the jam jar of guppies, just collected from the creek, and hightail it out of the orchard where you were snacking on some very sour fruit. If I think much more about it, that long-supressed sentiment will surface like a foreign word, as if for the first time.
Half a life later in France, there are some things you don't allow your mind to think about, like homesickness or a nagging decision: one for which your husband is asking your blessing--or at the very least your support.
"The vines that I have planted around the olive trees are dying," Jean-Marc is saying. "They are chétives, very very weak..."
Almost as soon as he's said it, he braces himself for my reaction to The Tree-felling Topic. But the current dilemma calls for a step back, and some reflection.
I think about the decision Jean-Marc made last spring, when planting his second field of grapevines. The lot in question is home to dozens of century-old olive trees. Any wine farmer with a thirst for mass production would have sold off the trees to maximize vine planting. Instead, Jean-Marc made the decision to save the old oliviers and to work around them.
Working around them has been hell. Broken tractor parts were nothing compared to a near-broken spirit, but this natural farmer carried on, going as far as to water each and every baby vine by hand. And now, a dry season later, he continues to hand-water his vines, waking himself before sunrise and carrying on until 10 or 11 am at which point he returns to do some paperwork before joining me at the table for lunch.
This week, while walking to the table, Jean-Marc fell against it, catching himself during a dizzy spell.
As I type this, I wonder if my story is getting off track, but thinking it out on paper, with you as my witness, I begin to see more clearly: No, he cannot go on this way. Jean-Marc needs to be able to farm under less stressful circumstances. So, if he needs to move the olive trees, in the next fields that he will be planting, so be it!
"They will circle the field," Jean-Marc explains, fully recovered from his scrape with dehydration.
Studying my husband, standing there with clumps of dirt on his pants and wearing my wide-rimmed straw hat to protect his skin (he's finally listening to reason!), some sage thoughts from our neighbor, Annie, return: "Never fight with your husband over a tree."
And to Annie's wisdom I will add: especially if the tree can be replanted....
* * *
The field above looks very different, now, from when Jean-Marc was seen watering all those baby vines (so small you cannot see them from the giant olive trees. These trees will stay, and Jean-Marc will carefully replant those baby vines that suffered at the foot of the great olive trunks. Then, next spring, he will plant another field - and those olive trees will be moved to the edges of the field. Read about our coming to live on this olive and wine farm, in the recent post "Risk in French."
Summer fun with Smokey and Mama Breizh. Found these at the dumpster--the old suitcases and not the unruly models--who were supposed to pose beside the bags like pretend travelers, not fugitives. See the latest photos at Instagram.
Some of you have misplaced the easy Provencal Tomato Tart recipe. Here it is, again, and another favorite:
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