Aunt Marie-Françoise finishing up another lavender "bottle".

(tres-ay) verb
  1. to plait, to braid; to twist
  2. to weave, wreathe (basket, garland)

synonyms: natter (to plait, braid), entrelacer (to interlace, intertwine)

Tressons, tressons ces fleurs, hâtons-nous, jeune amie, Les songes et les fleurs demain ne seront plus! Let us weave, let us weave these flowers, let us hurry, young friend, for the dreams and the flowers will be gone tomorrow. --from the book "Irlande: Poésies des Bardes" by D. O'Sullivan

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

"The time to pick the lavender is now, while it is fresh," Marie-Françoise explains, as I follow her over to the scented allée* where purple flowers mingle with rosemary in one long row, like juilletistes* motoring toward the sea.

"We'll take a poignée* from the very bottom of the won't even know they're missing!" Following Marie-Françoise's example, I begin snapping up stems from the base of the lavender buissons* which line our driveway. Jean-Marc's aunt has a tour de main* for herb gathering and before long she has collected enough spiked flowers for my lavender braiding lesson. I hand over the half-dozen stems that I've collected and our bouquet is now 34 flowers strong. Marie-Françoise tosses one purple beauty out. "Eh, oui!* she says, noting my confusion. "We'll need an odd number!"

It will soon be no secret how the French tressent* lavender. First, we pluck off the excess foliage along the tiges.* Next, I watch as Marie-Françoise ties a satin ribbon around the neck of the bouquet, just beneath the flower base. Wondering how I might help out, I reach over and put my finger on the taut satin, just in time for Marie-Françoise to knot the ribbon there. Next, she turns the bouquet upside down....

I have only ever weaved beads through my hair, as a child in Arizona, in turquoise, coral, and silver -- colors that inspired the native Indians. I liked the coral red of Sedona, the blue of Navajo turquoise jewelry, and, of course, the silver in that lining along an eastern cloud that would lead me to France. I had
not yet considered lavender and the fields of Provence, didn't yet know that one flower's essence would match my very own. Meanwhile France was budding within me, there in a mobile home park along the edge of the Mojave.

Near the Drôme, far from the desert, Marie-Françoise tells me that what we have here is "lavandin". But lavandin smells just as good as lavender, so good that trapping its essence is our enterprise of the hour.

Marie-Françoise explains that she is about to create "une bouteille de lavande"*--which, mind you, isn't a bouteille at all, but bottle shaped. "More like a jug or 'amphore',*" my aunt-in-law admits.

She will make the "bottle" of lavender by weaving satin ribbon through the stem "bars" of the "cage" that she has formed from the lavender tiges (the stems having been bent, one by one, back over the bundle of flowers, interning the lavender like so many sweet-scented prisoners).

Lavender-bottle Fishing out the longest ribbon, pulling it to the top of the cage, Marie-Françoise begins to weave. As she passes the ribbon through the lavender bars or "spokes" she explains that hand-woven lavender bottles have been used from time immemorial to freshen drawers and armoires. Placing a bundle of lavender in a tiroir* or closet will keep hungry moths and insects at bay. The making of these Provençal pest busters is a tradition chez les soeurs* Espinasse who get together and weave up a lavender storm each summer. "They make great gifts!" my aunt suggests, adding that the woven "bottles" were traditionally given during les fiançailles.*

BouteilledelavandeI notice the relaxed expression on my aunt's face as she weaves. The line of her mouth reflects her smiling eyes: soft, content, free--unlike those sweet-scented prisoners behind the lavender bars.

*     *     *

How do you use lavender? Do you cook with it? Clean with it? Craft with it? Cure with it? Why not chat a bit more about lavender in the comments box, below?

References: une allée (f) = driveway; le (la) juilletiste (mf) = one who takes a vacation in July; une poignée (f) = handful; le buisson (m) = bush; le tour (m) de main = the knack for something; eh, oui = that's right; la belle-mère (f) = mother-in-law; une aubergine (f) = eggplant; la marmite (f) = cooking pot; la saveur (f) = flavor; tressent (tresser) = to weave; la tige (f) = stem; la bouteille (f) de lavande = lavender bottle; une amphore (f) = ancient jar used to store oil or wine; le tiroir (m) = drawer; chez les soeurs (f) Espinasse = with the Espinasse sisters; les fiançailles (fpl) = engagement, betrothal

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:: Audio File ::
French pronunciation: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and quote:
Tressons, tressons ces fleurs, hâtons-nous, jeune amie, Les songes et les fleurs demain ne seront plus!MP3 file: Download Tresser.mp3
Wave file: Download Tresser.wav

Lavender_crafts Lavender: Practical Inspirations for Natural Gifts, Country Crafts and Decorative Displays. "Lavender bottles" are mentioned in the index of this book...

Terms & Expressions:
  tresser des couronnes à quelqu'un = to praise, flatter someone
  tresser un panier = to weave a basket
  tressé = having interlaced fibers

More, in shopping:
Growing & Using Lavender: Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin
Method Hand Wash, French Lavender 
In French music: Bleu lavande by Line Renaud

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