Fishing boats, or "pointus", at the end of Marseilles... These vessels have almost as much character as the man in today's story. Read on and enjoy.

une âme (am) noun, feminine

  1. soul; spirit; heart; essence

La patience est le sourire de l'âme.
Patience is the soul's smile.
--Philippe Obrecht

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

In the tiny fishing village of les Goudes, the second to last port along Marseilles' limestone coast, Jean-Marc admires the small Provençal fishing boats while I snap photos. The names of the wooden pointus have as much character as the boats themselves: the fun-loving "Fanny" has received a new coat of white paint and the thick green border around her "waist" has been filled in again; "Paulette's" sides are a bit chipped which suits her chipie personality; further down the dock, the boats "Saint Antoine" and "Saint Nicolas" rock in silent meditation.

Stepping off the docks on our way out of the port, we hear, "Do you want some wood?" Jean-Marc and I turn toward the voice. "Please, take some," the man in the salt and pepper beard continues. Jean-Marc stares down at a pile of driftwood, or bois flottant. As if reading his mind, the fisherman replies, "It's no good for burning." Before Jean-Marc can decline, the man adds, "but you can make art out of it!"

Jean-Marc and I look at each other quizzically. "I'll show you," the man offers, introducing himself as "Camille" (pronouncing it 'ka-me'). "Venez," Come. I look over to the boats: Fanny and Paulette seem to wink and so we enter the fisherman's cottage.

Inside Camille's cabanon the walls are whitewashed--except for one--which holds the cheminée and is painted azure-blue. To the right of the front door is a matchbox kitchen delineated by a U-shaped counter; the kitchen floor is slightly wider than the fisherman's belly. Knives line the wall below a few dented casseroles. There are two wooden tabourets on the opposite side of the concrete counter, which overlooks the small room with the azure colored wall.

"These chairs," Camille explains, "are called 'assis-debout.' Workers lean back on them, not quite seated (assis), not quite standing (debout)." Camille demonstrates, pretending to shuck oysters on the counter before him.

"Venez." We follow Camille's suggestion and take the stairs which lead to a bedroom just off the wooden mezzanine. We walk single file past the unmade bed to the terrace, which overlooks the tiny port. There, on the balcony, Camille has put more driftwood out to dry. Below, I see Fanny and Paulette who are bumping hips on the sparkling dance floor that covers the sea all the way to Africa; the wooden Saints, Antoine and Nicolas, bob up and down and seem to make the sign of the cross in response to the dancing she-boats.

We leave the terrace, pausing before a chest of drawers. Camille points to the unusual applique that camouflages a lightbulb on the wall above; it reminds me of a buffalo scull from my native Arizona, only this one is made of bois and not bone. "Voilà. You can create something like this," he says, reminding us of the woodpiles bleaching beneath the Mediterranean sun. I admire the applique, wondering how we could ever make something so clever as it.

We return to the room with the azure wall to stand in front of the windows which are level with the boats outside. Camille explains that each year he paints the shutters and each year the Mistral wind strips them all over again. Last year he solved the problem by painting them with a product used on boats like Fanny. I study the painted blue shutters until my eyes land on what looks to be a bookshelf below. "Do you know what that is?" Camille says, noticing my interest. "The lavandières used to wash clothes inside there. The linens were pushed against the accordion base in order to free the dirt from the cloth."

At the end of our visit Camille tells us that the fishing port of Les Goudes is where the soul of Marseilles lies. I wonder if Camille might be the âme of Marseilles incarnate, but I don't tell him this. Instead we thank him for the driftwood and promise to "make art out of it."


la chipie = little devil; le bois flottant = driftwood; le cabanon = cottage; la cheminée = fireplace; la casserole = saucepan; le tabouret = stool; une applique = appliqué (bulb/lamp cover); le bois = wood; la lavandière = woman who handwashes clothes, washerwoman; une âme = soul

       The Pudlo Paris guide--available in English for the first time in 17 years!
       Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French

:: Audio File ::
Hear my daughter, Jackie, pronounce the word âme and today's quote:
La patience est le sourire de l'âme.
MP3 file: Download ame1.mp3
Wave file: Download ame1.wav

Francophile Gifts and more...:
  In DVD: Visions of France
  In music... Provence: A Romantic Journey
  Gathered from the salt beds of Camargue: Fleur De Sel

French Expressions:
une âme soeur = a kindred soul
rendre l'âme = to give up the ghost
se donner corps et âme à quelqu'un = to give oneself body and soul to someone

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


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