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Entries from June 2008


Love the ones you're with. "Braise-The-Dog, pensive." I tried to capture Coco-The-Cat, too, but he flew out of Braise's lap so fast you'd think I was set to feed him a spoonful of cod liver oil. On second thought, what was he thinking? Certainly not "COD!"

Learn the language with Painless French: includes grammar, pronunciation, idioms, idiocies (culture) and more!

seuil (suhy) noun, masculine
  : threshold; doorstep; brink (of death)

franchir le seuil = to cross the threshold
le seuil de rentabilité = break-even point

 :: Audio File ::
(sound file follows... see story column below.)

One of the many gifts that Lily* left me was a lifetime membership to the cat and canine community. Now on "the other side" of the furry wall, a whole new world has opened up to me: a monde* filled with humanity, animalité*, and a slew of new vocabulary (words like "feral,"* expressions like "over the Rainbow Bridge"*).

Wearing my new membership badge, which hangs a little off-center, I feel something like a "straight-D" student who has been invited to a Mensa meet-up: I still don't understand how I got here or how I passed the test. And, to think: two years ago I was refusing for the quarante-troisième fois* (in twelve years of marriage) to adopt a dog or a cat into our home. The kids, Jean-Marc, and my breaks-for-abandoned-balls-of-fluff-or-feathers mom, had all but given up on me and my humanity. And now, I can't stop haunting the vacant fields and buildings that surround us, in search of homelessness.

In between time I read email, enjoying the photos and poems, and "listen" to both senior and newbie members of the Creatures Great and Small Community. I want to thank you for your empathy and for your straight-A altruism. Talk about brilliance.

The following is a moving éloge* that I received from Aunt Marie-Françoise. It concerns her beloved dog, Jaby, who made it over that Rainbow Bridge a few years ago, in time to welcome our Lily. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have. I will post the English translation ("My Life as a Dog") on Monday.

Ma Vie de Chien
by Marie-Françoise Vidal

J'ai domestiqué ma nature animale : instincts, besoins, rythmes et joie vitale pour vivre dans votre maison.

J'ai écouté et appris, oreilles levées, vos ordres, vos intonations, j'ai compris vos codes.

J'ai su me contraindre à faire doucement pour ne pas bousculer l'enfant, la grand-mère et le petit animal à moustaches.

J'ai su prendre ou réclamer de chacun de vous les flatteries et les jeux. J'ai aimé votre compagnie joyeuse ou calme.

J'étais fière de mon obligation à surveiller le portail, le seuil, toute la maisonnée en guettant les importuns.

J'ai quand même eu mon royaume secret au jardin ou en promenade pour faire vivre dans la nature la puissance originelle de mes sens.

Je suis entrée dans ce lien avec vous sans craindre la soumission puisque nous avons échangé du respect.

J'ai du ensuite mourir sans comprendre la maladie et la déchéance. Je suis partie digne et sans plaintes mais en comprenant vos larmes.

Dans nos échanges, je vous ai appris des émotions différentes et spécifiques : celles de l'animalité ; les codes de l'instinct que vous avez perdu. Je vous ai offert un autre rapport à la nature.

De tout cela, je suis fière et je sais que vous aurez d'autres chiens pour continuer ce partage.

                                      *     *     *
Listen to this story & mille mercis to my brother-in-law Jacques, for reading it aloud!

Lily = a feral kitten now "over the rainbow bridge"; le monde (m) = world; l'animalité (f) = an animal's characteristics; feral = sauvage (in French); "over the rainbow bridge" = where animals go when they die ; quarante-troisième fois = forty-third time; éloge (m) = eulogy

~~~~~~~~~~~In Film, Music, & More~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(Film) For earthbound humans, Winged Migration is as close as any of us will get to sharing the sky with our fine feathered friends. It's as if French director Jacques Perrin and his international crew of dedicated filmmakers had been given a full-access pass by Mother Nature herself, with the complete "cooperation" of countless species of migrating birds, all answering to eons of migratory instinct. -Jeff Shannon

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

Songs in French for Children: includes "Mon Père Avait 500 Moutons", "Prom'nons Nous Dans Les Bois", "Dansons la Capucine", "Picotin Musicien"...

More, in music: Faure / Durufle Requiem

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Church (c) Kristin Espinasse
Church in Gigondas, in the Vaucluse region of France.
deuil (duhy - silent "h") noun, masculine

   : mourning, sorrow

porter le deuil = to be in mourning

Listen to my daughter, Jackie, pronounce today's word and expression: Download deuil.mp3 . Download deuil.wav

At the risk of being maladroit, I offer the following, albeit unusual, tribute to our Lily, the rescued kitten we took in last Friday night. She passed away Tuesday morning. Some say that humor influences damaged cells. I hope the same is true for a broken heart.

                                      How to Mourn a Cat

Obsessively replay in your mind all of the things you might have done wrong, to foul up the recovery of a feral, five-week-old kitten: you did not buy a heating pad and so keep her warm enough, you did not sprinkle her with holy water from Lourdes...*

Ask yourself if it is okay to be angry with Le Bon Dieu.* Allow yourself to doubt (DOUBT, damn it!), for how can faith exist without DOUBT?

Hold your stomach and feel the nausea of "No Going Back".

Mutter incessantly, "If only... If only..."

Stick your head out the window and shout "have a nice day... I love you!" to the kids--again and again-as they leave for school.

Regret having asked yourself, when all was fine and furry with the world not 24 hours ago, if you were prepared to spend the next 19 years with a cat, if indeed you were prepared to share your 60th birthday with said cat....

Convince yourself that what you take for granted is taken away from you.

Listen to your husband when he says "It's not your fault".

Park yourself like Lethargy on a big rock out in the potager* and watch how life goes on: the zucchini flowers have grown squash tails, the tomatoes are green, the corn is pushing up, blade by blade. The poppies happen to be withering.

Sit down in the swing chair and taste salty tears. Blow your nose in your shirt.

Look over at Braise-The-Dog and babble to her in choked-up tones.

Feel the urge to turn back time. Listen to Regret's mean militant: Shoulda Coulda Woulda.

Wash the soles of your son's flip-flops after scraping garden mud from them. Forget to set them out to dry; instead put them back on and tread water throughout the empty house.

Refrain from crawling into bed and pulling the covers over your head. Be industrious. Serve the Lord your sorrows by serving others.

Stare into the fridge at remaining baby food that you bought for weak kitten. Resent that the jars are sold in units of two. Know that you won't throw the second jar out anytime soon... but you might give it away?

Decide, once and for all, to get a grip on the depressed feelings; embrace the mystery about how three days with an ailing kitten can feel like a lifetime with a loved one.

Get up off the couch, where you had settled in for a good mope... only to see Kingdom Come in the cloud formations outside the window. You are certain that the sunlight playing off the clouds hints at golden gates. You know she's up there. She'd BETTER be up there!

Practice putting on a happy voice for a telephone call that you have to return.

Stupidly, google "how to mourn a kitten".

Chastise your childish, spoiled self for concentrating all of your sympathy on one little being weighing no more than a wet sock--this, when natural disaster floods the globe with tears.

Remember searching Wet Sock's eyes and reconsidering reincarnation.

Choose a burial cloth among your finest linen (napkins).  Feel pathetic and ashamed that, in the name of being practical, you chose the one that needed mending.

Get angry with your husband (as you stand in the garden before the freshly-turned earth) for tearing up and sniffing in response to your tearing up and sniffing. Set things straight: for proper comforting--damn it!--there must be ONE giver and ONE receiver of empathy.

Grab the shovel, convinced that YOU and only YOU know how to bury a cat with délicatesse. Watch as your husband signals you to halt, reaches down to thoughtfully break up the dirt clumps, and gently sprinkles the earth, and the earth's own, handful by handful. Add your own gentle handfuls in between
hiccups of grief. Gather fallen limbs from the chestnut tree. Form an imperfect cross.

Break all the rules of proper comforting: throw out your arms and embrace your teary-eyed husband.

Make bread, make cake, make soup, make anything bucolic, warm, homey, and loving.

Listen to your husband when he thanks you for lunch, adding, "You do these things with love." (Know that it is the Lily in you that does these things that way.)

Wash your peed-on sheets, poopy robe, and burping blankets - after one little struggling "stink pot" rubbed off on you in more ways than one. Bless her helpless heart.

Hang out to dry a record three-loads-of-laundry-in-one-day. Hold your head high when Husband walks by. When coast is clear, cry your eyes out.

Wash parts of the fridge that only mice can see.

Don't think about mice.

Try to believe your brother-in-law when he says "It's not your fault."

When Braise-the-Dog or Coco-the-Cat complain about this and that and kibbles and bits, refrain from shouting reminders at them about how fortunate they are!

Allow your sister-in-law to assure you that "tu n'y es pour rien".*

Crack open that bottle of holy healing water of Lourdes and sprinkle it over your bleeding heart.

Notice how you are cuddling Braise-The-Dog and Coco-The-Cat once again, after all but ignoring them.

Take comfort, finally, in this:  that a renewed and loving attention to life all around us is Lily's lovely legacy.

Adieu,* Lily, and thank you.

Read the tender story of finding Lily, here:

Lourdes = famous pilgrimage destination, known for its "healing" spring waters from its grotto ; Le Bon Dieu = a.k.a. God; le potager (m) = vegetable garden; tu n'y es pour rien = it's not your fault; Adieu = until we meet again (in Heaven)

~~~~~~~~~~~~In Reading, Film, & More~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Family Under the Bridge: The story of a Parisian tramp, Armand, who finds a ready-made family to live with him under the bridge, was a Newbery Honor book when it was first published more than 30 years ago. Ages 7-11. -Publishers Weekly

Silence of the Sea / Le Silence de la Mer :
This first bilingual edition of France's most enduring wartime novel introduces Vercors's famous tale to a generation without personal experience of World War II who may not be able to read it in its original language. Readers are assisted with a historical and literary introduction, explanatory notes, a glossary of
French terms and a select bibliography.

Learn in Your Car French Complete

Extraordinary Rendition
(Music) Rupa & the April Fishes (Artist) "If Rupa were a movie she would be Amélie meets Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown meets Latcho Drom meets Do the Right Thing. She is an instant cult classic" -San Francisco Weekly

In French Film: King of Hearts: A Scottish soldier is sent to disarm a bomb in a French village that has been evacuated except for the inmates of an insane asylum. He doesn't realize that all his new friends are mentally unstable until he is crowned King.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Pipette + Homeless cats and feral felines in France

Lily (c) Kristin Espinasse
Meet the newest member of our family: Lily (lee-lee). She's a one month old "tortiecat" or tortoiseshell cat (just a fancy name and I learned it from my brother-in-law, Jacques)... though the neighbors might call her "un chat de gouttière" or alley cat. Read on in today's story).

pipette (pee-pet) noun, feminine
   : dropper (measuring instrument)

French definition from Le Petit Larousse: un petit tube pour prélever un liquide. (A small tube for drawing liquid.)

:: Audio File ::
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and its French definition: Download pipette.wav .Download pipette.mp3

Sure, you know the English meaning of pipette, but do you know the French expression: "ne pas valoir pipette"? (ne pas valoir pipette = "to not be worth a thing")


The last fifty hours may as well have been a lifetime. As I type this dispatch, not far from the dreary Drôme,* a little, furry, life draws one more breath, reassuring the worried giant that sits beside her. Perched over the sleeping chaton,* I wonder whether our little "tiger", Lily, will pull through.

"She will be okay. She is just faible,"* Jean-Marc reassures me. She was faible when I found her, on Friday night. After a family van sped by, nearly crushing her, she continued on her uncertain path, staggering all the way.

She might've been a rat, because of her size (five weeks old?) and to her dark, wet fur, which was carrying more than a dozen blood-sucking opponents. She must be one in a litter... I thought.  With all of the rainfall that we have had, she has surely lost her mother's scent and wandered off.

I steered the car toward the little creature and threw open the door before dropping my arm to the pavement, as one drops a safety ladder. And that is how Mademoiselle Lily (lee-lee) crawled up... and into our life. No more than a bag of bones held together by a mean shell of stickers (and how they were knotted into her fur!), she crawled and crawled until she reached my heart whereupon she settled unquestioningly.

With the unexpected passenger curled into my hand (this, over my heart) and a new destination on my itinerary (the town of Suze-la-Rousse, where the nearest veterinarian could be found), the kids and I continued on our way.

The veterinary assistant quickly went to work, plucking off ticks (that had been feeding off an already-famished feline) and pulling out the stickers. Based on the kitten's dark, calico coloring--what the French call "écaille de tortue"*--the assistant said we had a female. She gave Lily one last pulverization of tick repellant, fluffed up her fur, and wished her "bonne rehabilitation"* ... adding that Lily's chances for recovery were "pas certain".*

The kids and I left the clinic with a free tin of fortifying cat paté, and a hopeful outlook all-the-same. Over the weekend, with the help of a pipette, we fed Lily paté shake and cleaned up her messes which followed the feedings. We guessed she was the most beautiful kitten we'd ever laid eyes on, never mind her scrapes, scratches, and bent whiskers, and we wondered about her story (just how did she manage to get her right set of whiskers seared, as if by fire?).

At night Lily slept just above my heart, until I turned out the lights, at which point I set her safely beside my pillow within a walled island of her own. This morning, however, she took another turn on that uncertain path of hers. Lethargic and unresponsive, she seems a thousand miles from here. And while she breathes steadily, it is I whose heart is staggering, just as Lily's traveling paws once did.

It is challenging to speak of a "lifetime" in under a dozen paragraphs and, like that, I will close this story, not having told you much about the sweet, spotted pattern on Lily's fleshy "toes", or the madder-than-mirth miaulement* that one little minou* directed my way, each time I removed her from my person (she is
happiest when held close to the heart). Though, because there is still room to, I'll mention how her sharp claws, cushioned by those fleshy paws, lightly patted my face awake that second morning together, making me wonder how a one-month-old soul could comprehend tenderness.

I hope to have the chance to tell you more about this kitten and those toes and that voice that she can "throw" -- the little tortiecat* that, though on a path of her own when I met her, was, I believe, heaven sent.

                                                                  *     *     *
Update: Lily came out of her "coma" (I failed to mention that detail, not wanting to paint a totally bleak story) just as soon as the kids returned from school. While she still has trouble walking (she regularly falls over) and holding her head up, she did eat and even "complain" a bit. I was never so happy to hear a "family member" nag.

(A sad follow up to this story was posted, here.)

Read about CHATS SOLIDARITE --  a small association in Provence, France.  
"We are dedicated to the care and feeding of the homeless cats 
occupying the ancient Roman ruins in Vaison la Romaine 
& surrounding areas. Our goal is to provide for the welfare of these cats
throughout their lifetimes. We monitor them daily 
to provide food and veterinary services, including spaying and neutering when possible."
Click here to support Chats Solidarité.
= a department in the Rhône-Alps region of France; le chaton (m) = kitten; faible = weak; une écaille (f) de tortue = tortoiseshell (see ); bonne rehabilitation = get well soon; pas certain = not certain; le miaulement (m) = meowing; le minou
(m) = cat; tortiecat = tortoiseshell cat

In books:
Picasso and Minou (children's book with wonderful illustration of Paris and
Montmartre):  From Booklist: "Minou, a robust Siamese cat, lives with young Pablo Picasso in a tiny Montmartre studio. He's not fond of Picasso's latest work--the bleak, sorrowful paintings from the Blue Period that won't sell. When the money runs out, Picasso sends Minou into the streets to find his own food, and the resourceful cat trots home with sausages donated by a boisterous crowd of circus performers."

The Cat Who Walked Across France
"An unforgettable tour of FranceThe cat and the old woman have lived happily together for many years in the stone house by the sea. But when the old woman dies, the cat is packed up with her belongings and sent north to the village where she was born. Soon he is forgotten. He walks the streets aimlessly until, spurred by memories and a longing to return to the place he knows and loves, the cat embarks on a journey to find the home he was taken away from.In lyrical prose and breathtaking images, Kate Banks and Georg Hallensleben take the reader on a journey across the Norman countryside, past ancient ruins, through bustling cities, to the sparkling ports of the Mediterranean Sea and a place the cat can call home."

In Music: French Playground, a musical rendez-vous of fun French and French Creole songs that will delight children of all ages.

Printed in French, Cuisine Et Vins De France features dozens of recipes in each issue along with articles on wine, cheese, appetizers, table decorations, and more.

Normandy Salted Butter Caramels

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety