On the outskirts of Camaret: Gallic Graffiti

façonner (faah-so-nay) verb

    : to work, shape (metal); to fashion, mold (clay)

Listen to the verb conjugation of the French word façonner:
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je façonne, tu façonnes, il façonne, nous façonnons, vous façonnez, ils façonnent =>past participle: façonné

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!"

DSC_0040 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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(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 KnitsFrench 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.

Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to improve your spoken French
Chestnut spread imported from France

From the French Word-A-Day archives

Care to read another story? How about this one, concerning a certain Frenchwoman's practical joke. (Looking back, I can now laugh at it!)

"Modern" roof tiles in the town of Visan.

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Perhaps Aunt Marie-Francoise would be willing to share her chestnut cake recipe?

Love the sophisticated new look of the newsletter!

Moira McKeever

I love the new look of the newsletter with all the beautiful photos and what an excellent use for the roof tile! Great to actually see the various formats of the verb, but where are the translations for all of the words marked with an *?

Keep up the superb work, it really is a treat to read.

Moira x

Linda R.

I'll second the request for the chestnut cake recipe.

Today's story is delightful ... somehow I knew about the tile-making ... travels through Italy perhaps. I find it quite ingenious.

Connie G

Ditto on the gateau de marron recette! J'adore la creme des marrons.

The newsletter keeps getting better and better. Thank you for your commitment to your fellow francophiles.

Charlene W.

La recette pour le gâteau au marrons, s'il vous plais?
Merci beaucoup.


How can you use a tile for a vase? isn't it just a half circle? Or are those simply dried flowers?
Great way to get a nice curve!!


Am I not looking hard enough? I can't find the translations for today's french words, though I know most alread. I'm getting better!

Julie Schmidt

I will be looking for the recipe too. I'm relieved that you have found a way to keep "Word-a-Day" alive. For my part, I will actively investigate links to support the new effort. I was formerly a selfish, passive devourer (is there a French word for that?)of your words. I want to be sure they continue.


"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.)"

Okay, I'll bite. (How do you say that in French?)

Dimanche dernier = last Sunday
gâteau de marron = chestnut cake
campagne = countryside
C'est très ancien = it's very ancient
toit = roof
tuile = tile
par les femmes = by women
façonnage = fabrication, shaping, rolling


Thanks for your enthusiasm for the new newsletter format. Ouf! What a relief that is.

I am looking for the chestnut cake recipe... it's around here somewhere. I'll be sure to post it. We had it with a side of orange slices, sugared with "sucre vanillé" and topped with almond slices.

Jeanne : to make the vase (or half-vase) I stuck a pickle jar (cornichon, if you like...) behind the tile. This last bouquet (with the red berries -- are they "houx" or "holly"?), which I found next to the river, is simply stuck back there, sans eau!

RE the vocabulary section (translations for those asterisked word) I am asking readers for help in defining the French words. Just pick a word, and translate it here in the comments box. Merci d'avance!


Hello Kristin!

Ah! here is the wonderful old tile you first showed us with your gateau & pine cones!

Yes, I thought it was a certain André... or Alexandre who made it. I still hope you'll find another one of the same period that could give you a clue about the year!

So, your very old curved roof tile can be used as a really gorgeous vase, hiding the real vase or jar in which you put your flowers. Lovely!!!

You could also put a plant between the tile and the wall and it would become “un cache-pot” exceptionnel!
“un cache-pot” = 'a flower pot holder'/ 'a planter'

In the figurative sense, the verb 'façonner' = to shape, to mould (somebody's character/personality)

->La pauvreté dans sa jeunesse a façonné son caractère.
->Poverty in his youth shaped his character.

Thank you Aunt Marie-Françoise for your brilliant explanation. I wonder whether the Romans started to "façonner les tuiles" that way!


Okay, you two slinky-dinks . . . that tile looks like a perfect fit for my thigh! Three cheers for Peter Paul Rubens!!! (And, yes, I did read Mireille Guiliano's "French Women Don't Get Fat," but I am only one-quarter French; it doesn't work for me.) *SIGH* Where's that cake recipe?

Jules Greer

Kristi - this is the greatest newsletter for a dopey like me - you know I never pay any attention to the French words, I am just reading to see what is going on in your life. Well, I went back up to the story and actually tried to figure out what those strange words were. You put so much time and energy into your post just to entertain and stretch my mind. There has got to be some way that you could make money with all of this work...why don't you have Jean-Marc video you working and creating these stories and then sell memberships to the video club at ten euros a year. It would be better than t.v. and then everyone would see that you are just like a 2009 version of 'I LOVE LUCY'. Please know that my comments are from my heart my Darling Kristi, I just want you to know how proud I am for all of the work you do and how wonderful, fun and interesting you have turned out for your proud mom.

P.S. when I arrive in March I will produce a video of you - a'la Lucy.


Gallic? naw... It is the shaddow of the two letters D and S.


Despite the nudge-nudge, wink-wink of the innuendo, Cuban cigarmaking is a fascinating process to watch...lightning-fast, with the heady scent of the leaves, and the smiles and laughter of the tabaquero (or tabaquera!) as he or she fashions the leathery leaves into a tight roll on the rolling tables (all in full view, no less!), before packing them into the wooden mold that will compress them even tighter after they are pressed in the enormous presses.

My hometown of Tampa, Florida was built on this industry, and there are still tabaqueros an tabaqueras to be found, making handrolled cigars.

Vivienne Mackie

I love the way you pick a (mostly) simple experience or object and use it for a thought-provoking, mind-stretching read. The multi-cultural elements are really good too---a way to show how people are different in many ways, but so similar in more ways.
Vivienne (Viv)


Here is what I missed in my first post:

→ “C'est très ancien” = It is very old
→ “le toit” = the roof
→ “la tuile” = the (roof) tile
→ “le façonnage” = the shaping
with clothes = the tailoring
with stone = the cutting

→ a chesnut cake = un gâteau aux marrons
made of/with (food) is usually translated by:
“au”, “à la”, “aux” -but not “de”...-
→ a smile on her face = le sourire au visage
→ a stroll = un petit tour, une promenade
→ through the countryside = à travers la campagne
→ Jean-Claude shrugged his shoulders = Jean-Claude haussa les épaules
to shrug one's shoulders = hausser les épaules
→ thighs = les cuisses


Merci encore, to you all, for the information, ideas, and helpful terms -- in this, and past posts! I have learned so much and shared with my kids because of you!

Newforest: I love how you break down these words, build up, and add the vocabulary & terms. We are so lucky to have you! I've never forgot your "marbré" (to my mistaken "marblé") and I am ever searching for the opportunity to say "would you like a gâteau marbré?" Perhaps that's why we eat so much cake these days? Marbré, marbré, marbré. I can now say marbré!


Kristi, capture more French culture tid bits from Jean-Claude and Marie Francoise to share in future posts. The roof tile made for an interesting read!

Fred Caswell

Newforest24, your crisp details of correct French are helpful and appreciated. Can't help wondering if you are a member of France's honorable, official linguists appointed to defend the purity of their language, the best of linguists who are allowed uniforms and swords -- just in case.... I have commented in jest. Do you know their official name?

No disrespect intended; your knowledge is very helpful. Merci beaucoup!

And to Kristi, as always you have my gratitude and affection.


What a great story, and a great way to use a piece of history - as a flower vase or a light fixture!

Despite all my efforts to read slowly, I finished your book last week and got very sad, Kristin. I enjoyed it very much, and am looking forward to more!

Now to click on some of these links to the right and find some more to read until then.


"SOYEZ" -- the subjonctif present of "ETRE"
My daughter, who seeks asylum from college life each day by hiding out in my office just down the road between classes, burst through the door and shouted "Soyez!" I said, "Excuse me?" And she pointed to your picture of the "Gallic graffiti" on my computer and said, again "Soyez -- [you] be." Can it be that some wayfarer/philosopher perceived a special message in all those random cracks and filled in the blanks for the rest of us with his trusty can of spray paint?


When Kristin sent an email directly to my inbox and few weeks ago, it felt as if a breathe of France had arrived. Now it's as if a page from a beautiful coffee table book arrives every few days. Superb Kristin!


I gasped!!
When I opened your post this morning it was not your words that will play on my imagination today but the gorgeous, shimmering, glowing blue of the peeling paint streaking down the closed window shutters nestled in amongst the soft warm earthy tones and textures of tiles and walls! Tres, tres belle!!


What a great factoid. A relative by marriage works here in the US for a company that sells these tiles (it is either a French company or just that the owner is French). I'll have to pass this along to see if he ever heard this.


The plant in the roof tile vase is Ruscus aculeatus, or butcher's broom. It is not a holly at all. It is a tough plant that grows in dry shade, and it is native to the Mediterranean.


A spelling correction: "it's" means "it is." You should use the spelling "its" without an apostrophe if you mean the possessive, as when you were talking about the tile on your counter and described "its" use. I sometimes think you are losing some of your English as you improve your French. Keep up the good work, of course, but stay bi-lingual, please.

David Gr

One has often heard of, or even referred to "legs like a tree trunk" or even "thunder thighs." But a new simile has suddenly appeared in our vocabularies, "thighs like a Provençal tile maker." This, courtesy of my friend Rita, who like me is an avid reader of your newsletter and your website. Thanks for all of your efforts with both, and, we both like the new format of your newsletter.

Best wishes to you and the family and to all your readers.



Rhonda: I woke up this morning wondering, "Just what *is* the name of that plant". Then I checked my email and found your "butcher's broom". Merci. Happy to know it.

Mboerner: I promise it was a typo (this time...); now for the truth: I learned the difference between "it's and it is" from a reader (make that readers, for I didn't learn the first time around!) of this blog around 5 years ago. I continue to learn grammar thanks to readers (other examples are split infinitives (I'm so bad at that!) and "wont" instead of "want" ("I'm wont to say"), "though" and "while". There are dozens of examples and I often catch myself, falling back into my bad grammar ways, in time to remember a reader's email & grammar help. Keep the corrections coming. They are always appreciated.

While I'm here, "encore merci" to Chris & George Christian, Kathy Tinoco, and William Myers, for consistent grammar help (and patience).

Your comments and encouragements are greatly appreciated!


Hello Fred,

Thank you very much for your appreciation.
Sorry, I am going to disappoint you now. I am NOT one of the 40 members of the Académie française elected for life and known as “les immortels”! I do not have the honour to wear “l'habit vert”, this remarkable green, gold-braided uniform. No cocked hat and no ceremonial sword either. Only a biro, or best, a keyboard.


OH! sorry Fred, my last sentence seems to have gone, so here it is again:
"Je vous souhaite une excellente journée!"


Kristin, MILLE MERCIS for completing the friendly and useful display on each side of your newsletter. What a treat!
The little Box with most recent posts has come back. Very nice to have the links concerning Jean-Marc's journal, wine tour... and ... thank you so much to put the archives at our disposal.

Jules Greer

Hi Honey - Thank God you filled in the other side of your newsletter, it was driving me nuts. You know how I like balance. Love what you have done, thanks to NEWFOREST'S proding. Now I can say -

Jules Greer



Mom: re categories: Good point! I'll fix that :-)

Gordon R. Vaughan

The link to resubscribe brought me here, and I must say your blog really has become a work of art! So refreshing.

BTW, my wife loves to knit, so I sent her (and our daughters) a link to the French Girl Knits book. I thought it might be a good source of new ideas and styles.


My friend's father came over from Mexico to LA in the 40's when he was a poor boy and he had the perfect shaped thighs to make the red tiles for the roofs! He is long gone but that story lives on, Otto and his perfect thighs!

Sandy Maberly

Maybe I'll forget reattaching that fallen roof tile from our house and send it to you instead.......a little reminder from your home state of Arizona! Great story, Kristi!


After I saw this blog I have begun to want to go to france..

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