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Entries from May 2009


Rue de la Paix (Peace Street) in Les Arcs-sur-Argens.  More about war and peace in today's story column.



noun, feminine

  war, warfare

At Cafe de la Tour I found a seat close to the porte-fenêtre for a nice view of the village square on market day. The serveuse cleared away the dirty ashtray and demitasses before I set down three baguettes, my purse and my keys, and nodded bonjour to the strangers on my left.

Jean-Claude, the former patron (his daughter Sophie now runs the place), was seated at the opposite table with two burly locals. The three retired men had their noses in a pile of black-and-white photos and that is when I noticed for the first time that Jean-Claude owned one, a nose, that is. He had shaved off his legendary mustache! Gone was the dramatic white flip which swooped up and out at either end. The once soft, uniform curl was like a giant eyelash that batted as he spoke. So long was that mustache that it curled right up over the tip of his nose and covered it.

"What? You didn't know?" Jean-Claude turned to greet me, and share about the little accident he had had along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, where he had had an inspiration while watching the young freestylers. That is when the idea struck him to borrow one of the boys' BMX bikes... only to quickly discover that he, Jean-Claude, had a fear of heights!

Dangling over the edge of a mini ramp, Jean-Claude's fall was imminent, and he landed smack on his shiny head. Thirty some odd stitches later, he still hasn't lost that radiant smile--although he did lose all of his front teeth—which explains the "bald spot" above his upper lip, one that now matches the smoothness of his head, the mustache having been shaved off when the dental work began.

"That must have been traumatizing!" I said of the well-known mustache, thinking about the loss of what could surely be considered a limb. Jean-Claude looked at me blankly before that beaming smile returned.

"Ce n'était rien," It was nothing, he said thoughtfully, his eyes returning to the pile of old war photos.

Changing the subject, Jean-Claude handed me the black-and-white images, explaining that the photos were of the Libération, taken when American solders arrived in Les Arcs-sur-Argens, freeing the village from German occupation. I recognized our town's square; only, instead of the realtor's office there was a little boutique with a wooden sign that read "Mode."

The men seated beside Jean-Claude were now recounting war stories. As Jean-Claude and I studied the photos, I heard bits and pieces of the burly men's conversation: "...the parachutists landed...the maquisards fought...a soldier fell right out front..."

"Look at the hats!" Jean-Claude cried out, loud enough to muffle the voices next to him. He began pointing to a photo in which a crowd of men stood in the village square, their heads kept warm with those stylish newsboy caps. While J.-C. and I looked at '40s fashions, the men seated next to us continued commenting and I picked up scraps of their grim dialogue—

"...the Americans captured the Germans...prisoner of war...chained to the soldier..." but Jean-Claude's well-timed exclamations drowned out most of the sad and violent images.

"Look at the children! So many children!" Jean-Claude piped back in, this time pointing to a photo in which some little kids were seated on the church steps, but I found it hard to concentrate on the image. Instead, my ears were trying to tune in to the table beside us, where the men continued their remembrances:

"...the prisoners were marched off... blood..."

"Ah, the platan tree is still there! Do you recognize it?" Jean-Claude enthused, but the men's bleak commentary continued: "...American soldier shot down by the train station, died right there...the American and German were hit, killed by the same blow!..."

"That's Pascal," Jean-Claude chimed in, his back now to the men seated at the table next to ours. I looked at the photo of a skinny, grimy-faced kid, shorts rolled up, socks falling down around his bony ankles.

"His family still owns the carrosserie down the street," he added, ignoring his tablemates. "Ah, wonderful man! He must've been 6 or 7 years old in this photo." Jean-Claude shook his head, but there was a gentle smile on his face, that is, until I voiced a lingering question:

"Can you tell me about the war?" I asked, trusting Jean-Claude to paint a sensitive portrait of life here in Les Arcs-sur-Argens during WWII.  Instead he threw me another one of those famous blank stares.

"C'est intéressant... la guerre," I said, saying anything to fill in the silence.
"No, war is not interesting!" Jean-Claude said, swatting me several times over the shoulder with the photos, in mock condemnation.

"Look at that gun!" I said.

"Ah, the chewing gum!" Jean-Claude replied, cleverly evading the subject, and ignoring the photo that the men beside us had just handed over. "The Americans and their chewing gum! The soldiers, who were often called 'Joe', loved their chewing gum!" he said with that contagious smile.

And like that, I sipped my café-au-lait and watched Jean-Claude point out rosy details in the old, dark photos. He was seeing the children's smiles, the fashions, the beautiful trees, as well as hearing the whir of wheels riding up the seaside ramp and his own freestyle foray into...well, never mind the crash. On he went, painting his own postwar portrait of Provence and, though not erasing the past, he expertly drew blanks over the pain.


French Vocabulary
la porte-fenêtre = French window
la serveuse = barmaid
le patron (la patronne) = business owner
la Libération = the freeing from foreign occupation
la mode = fashion
le maquisard = "man of the maquis" (wild Mediterranean scrubland) or French resistance fighter hidden in the forests and mountains during WWII
la carrosserie = automobile body shop

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Your Edits Here, Please

Thank you for alerting me to any typos or formatting problems, in this story! Click here to access the comments box. Note: the first 30 comments in the comments box are not edits; they appeared when this story was first posted. 

La Commémoration du 8 mai

Today, May 8th is a French National holiday:  Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation for Those Who Lost Their Lives during the Second World War. Do not miss the video at the end of this edition, in which students portent le flambeau, or "carry the torch" of remembrance via song. You'll hear excerpts of La Marseillaise and le Chant de Partisans (second video), and witness the touching and humble reconnaissance of France's youth. 

Note: if you are viewing this edition via email, you might need to click over to the blog (try clicking on the title at the top of this letter) to view the videos. Don't miss them!

PS: many thanks to readers for submitting these book recommendations:

1. Is Paris Burning?

2. Wine and War

3. And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resistance

4. Suite Francaise

End quote: La guerre, un massacre de gens qui ne se connaissent pas, au profit de gens qui se connaissent mais ne se massacrent pas. War, a massacre of people who do not know each other, to the profit of people who know each other but do not massacre each other. --Paul Valéry



:: Audio File :: Download guerre.wav
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce French words in the following Proverb:
Qui terre a guerre a. / He who has land, has war.


  la guerre classique = conventional warfare
  la guerre chaude, froide = hot, cold war
  la guerre sur terre = land warfare
  la guerre atomique = atomic warfare
  la guerre planétaire = global warfare
  la guerre de rues = street fighting
  ...more terms and expression at the end of this letter

Books & More:
Lonely Planet France : inspiration (and itineraries) for exploring France your own way.
Paris After the Liberation: 1944 - 1949

de bonne guerre = legitimately
un nom de guerre = a pseudonym
être sur le sentier de la guerre = to prepare for combat
faire la guerre à quelqu'un = to criticize someone
à la guerre comme à la guerre = to take the rough with the smooth
partir en guerre contre quelque chose = to go to war for something
s'en tirer avec les honneurs de la guerre = to receive an honorable discharge

Le Chant des Partisans
Ami, entends-tu le vol noir des corbeaux sur nos plaines ? Ami, entends-tu ces cris sourds du pays qu'on enchaîne ? Ohé partisans, ouvriers et paysans, c'est l'alarme ! Ce soir l'ennemi connaîtra le prix du sang et des larmes. Montez de la mine, descendez des collines, camarades, Sortez de la paille les fusils, la mitraille, les grenades ; Ohé les tueurs, à la balle ou au couteau tuez vite ! Ohé saboteur, attention à ton fardeau, dynamite ... C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux du lit font des rêves Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue, nous on crève. Ici chacun sait ce qu'il veut, ce qu'il fait, quand il passe ; Ami, si tu tombes, un ami sort de l'ombre à ta place. Demain du sang noir séchera au grand soleil sur les routes, Chantez, compagnons, dans la nuit la liberté nous écoute.

English translation, and history behind this song, here.

Three Random Words:
un casse-dalle (m) = (from the slang "dalle" = hunger) = snack
aneth (m) = dill
le caoutchouc (m) = rubber (caoutchoucs = galoshes)

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
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la grippe porcine

Sanglier wild boar France niche pyracanthis
One sassy sanglier says, "Swine Flu! What's to you?" Tell us your opinion in today's debate, below.

la grippe porcine (lah greep pohr-seen) noun, feminine
    : swine flu

AKA: la grippe Mexicaine

Audio File: listen to my daughter pronounce the French words la grippe porcine Download Wav File . or Download mp3

*     *     *

Swine Flu Debate
In today's debate: la grippe porcine. Please chime in and tell us how you feel the news coverage on this topic (Is it excessive?) and its effect on you. Are you nervous or fearful about the Swine Flu, or what the French call "la grippe Mexicaine"? Or do you think, as one French woman recently confided to me, that topics like this just drive our attention away from other hot-button issues, such as the economy, unemployment... war? Did you see the French comedian's skit "Une Petite Grippe de Tafiole"?* I look forward to reading your thoughts, in the comments box. Meantime, I'm off to help Mom pack for her return trip to Mexico...

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

I am happy to see Mom ironing her pink poncho.
"You going to get dressed up?" I ask Jules.
"Oh... Well, would you like to wear these sandals?" I offer.
"No. I'm going to wear my tennis shoes."
"Ah... Did you need to use my hairdryer?" I question.
"No," Mom answers. "I'm just going to throw a blanket over my head!"

Obviously Mom is in some kind of mood and I intend to shake her out of it.

"Mom! You never know who you might meet on the plane!" I point out, trying to cheer her up before she leaves for the airport.  Jules is returning home, after a two-month absence. Though this should be an exciting time for her (reuniting with Breezy The Dog, her cats, and husband, John...), I notice that she is dragging. She wore house slippers to town the other day, and she's not putting on her make-up, as she does.

Her before-departure blues have nothing to do with the news (where Swine Flu in the City is a sexy media topic), and it isn't that she is sad to leave France... No, Mom's lethargy is the result of feeling paralyzed by fearful thoughts.

To be clear, it isn't the swine flu that scares Mom, it is the Mexican economy and how this will affect her adored amigos, her beloved Mexico. The restaurants have closed, as have many of the shops, and her husband has been sent home from work.

"I told him to stock up on rice and beans..." Mom mumbles and I can just see her train of tick-tick-ticking thinking. I tell Mom that I can relate to her obsessive, fearful thoughts. I, too, tend to latch on to a train of fearful, negative thinking, and don't know how or when to just let go. Besides, even when I let go, a different, equally defeating thought rushes in, only to replace the former one.

Mom and I sit there, each consumed with concern, until the quiet in the room attracts our attention. That's when Mom looks over at me and her face brightens until she's got that pull-herself-up-by-her bootstraps look in her eyes. Speaking of boots, Mom no longer wears spurs on hers, but gets by these days with a spike in her spirit.  That spirit is now shining through her pupils and I can sense a lesson coming on.

"Do you know the story about the farmer?" Mom begins.
"Which one's that?" I ask, glad for the distraction.
"The farmer who is sitting quietly in his kitchen, when a dozen pigs rush in, through the open door, creating mayhem. The china cabinets shake, the jam jars come crashing down, the wife screams, and the mug of coffee that the farmer had been enjoying falls off the table, scatters. The room is full of chaos!

(It takes me a moment to realize that Mom's story is a parable: the pigs represent thoughts, whether fearful, angry, or unruly.)

"When the pigs begin to overwhelm him," Mom continues, "the farmer gets up and chases them out of the kitchen, latches the door. Only, now, he is sitting in an empty room."

Sitting in an empty room seems fine to me, I reason... but before I can argue with that, Mom sums up her story:

"It is not enough to chase the pigs out. You have to fill that empty (vulnerable) space, replace the pigs with something else!"

Mom's story ends here, and she looks over at me with a knowing glance--only, I don't know what she's talking about. I begin to wonder whether Mom's forgotten something, left a certain point principal out of this parable. I mean, replace the unruly pigs with what? Flowers? Chickens, maybe? Cancan dancers (a nice distraction if not a change from that nagging wife)?

"I can't wait to get home!" Mom announces, and she's already off, to put that parable-lesson into practice.

"Do you have any shampoo?" Mom inquires. "Oh, and where's that hairdryer? I've got so many people to see when I get home!" I guess Jules is not going to wear that blanket on her head after all... Looks as though she has replaced those fearful "pig" thoughts with positive ones.

*    *    *

In Roussillon


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

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A breakthrough in the garden in today's story column.

creuser (kreuh-zay) verb

    : to dig; to hollow out, to make a hole in; to sink, bore, cut, plow, drill

Audio file: listen to Jean-Marc conjugated the verb creuser:  
Download Wave
. Download MP3

je creuse, tu creuses, il creuse, nous creusons, vous creusez, ils creusent (pp: creusé)

creuser sa propre tombe = to dig one's own grave
une idée à creuser = something worth pursuing

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

I am a slow learner, in many respects, and this may be why it took me so long to begin to know how to garden: truth is, it wasn't until my forty-first year that I learned how to make a dent in the earth.

After failing the first time around, le jardinage, like math, put me off for some time. That's because I had not made a simple, first-things-first connection: behind every juicy tomato, behind every towering tournesol,* is a gardener who knows how to haul!

Haul dirt, that is, out of the ground. I'd quickly given up on digging once I discovered that our front yard was made of concrete.
"Ceci n'est pas du béton," this is not concrete, my husband pointed out as I stabbed at the ground, trying to turn it over in time to tuck in a tulip bulb. 
"La terre est sèche," the ground, there, is dry, Jean-Marc explained offering what would be the golden gardening rule:

Ajouter de l'eau. (Just add water.)

I guess I'd rather do things my own, more scientific, way.  My husband's way, with his elementary water puddles that preceded those dug holes, seemed slapjack, slapstick, or simply slapped together -- as if he were making up the rules along the way. Besides, what a mess!  All that sloshing and slopping around. Leave it to him to make mud pies, not me, I would make artifacts out of my carefully "creused" corner: I'd dig like a pro.

Off I'd trot  to creuser* a calculated hole somewhere else, away from all that splashing, all that muddiness.  And dig I did -- as one chisels stone, or drills pavement.

"I hate this! I hate gardening! I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! " I'd end up lamenting. Stupid, dumb, idiotic tulips! Only, I hadn't yet figured out that none of this was the fault of the flower bulbs.

* * *

I am a slow learner and so it is no surprise that it took two years for the golden gardening rule to sink in.

"Ajouter de l'eau. Just add water".

A couple of seed packets in my hand, I stared at the ground below: parched, unpoundable. A certain concept returned to me, along with the image of my husband and his mud pie maneuvering. Only those weren't pies he was pushing around. With basic common sense (just add water... let the earth rest, then dig in!), the "concrete" earth was putty in his hands: now tame, now tender, soft enough to shovel. 

* * *

It is the first week of May and I've dug enough holes to host a colorful cast of characters out in my potager.* There are over a dozen tournesols (I've since learned to dig a trench!), seven tomato plants, four pepper plants, two aubergines,* two courgettes,* verbena for tea, and strawberries.  

I have learned that planting is easy, it is reckoning with a rock-hard patch of earth (whether on the ground... or in one's stubborn spirit) that's tricky. Thankfully, I've begun to grasp a few astuces* along the way: to dig when the earth is soft, for example, after a rainstorm, and to profiter* from a light pluie.* More importantly, I no longer need to dig like a doctorate (no more calculating, no more "scientific" shoveling), though I do enjoy making a mud pie or two, and find it softens the heart just as water softens soil.

*     *     *
Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are always helpful and appreciated. Thank you for reading my stories. Please know that I enjoy reading yours, too, in the comments box.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le jardinage (m)
= gardening; le tournesol (m) = sunflower; creuser = to dig; le potager (m) = kitchen or vegetable garden; une aubergine (f) = eggplant; la courgette (f) = zucchini; une astuce (f) = trick (tip); profiter = to take advantage of (opportunity); la pluie (f) = rain

You know you've caught the gardening bug when your upended front gate begins to look like a good place to tie up tomatoes! (Do you see the shadow of my son's basketball hoop, just above my head? Maybe I can tie a string to that, too, and send sweet peas climbing sky high!) Photo by Jules Greer.

Listen to French!
I leave you with a "creuser" video. (I have reserved another fun find for you in this Saturday's Cinéma Vérité. Don't miss it, along with the latest batch of photos taken in Visan!)

Three Random Words:
le quatre-épices = allspice
râlant,e = infuriating
la variole (f) = smallpox

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Mailbox in a medieval Knights Templar village... (c) Kristin Espinasse
Flower face-off: a tin fleur de lis and a living lilac tree.

lilas (lee-lah) noun, masculine

    : lilac (syringa)

Also "Jardin aux Lilas" : Ballet in one act with choreography and libretto by Tudor, music by Ernest Chausson, and designs by Hugh Stevenso. --Dictionary of Dance definition from

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Five good reasons to become a Cinéma Vérité member today

1. Film: you will enjoy one of my favorite animated movies, based on a book by a cherished French author

2. You will hear a catchy tune (that goes with the lilacs in today's photo)! It is a traditional French song that you'll sing while driving (as Jean-Marc and I sang it with our kids...) and you'll want to share it with a child or a classroom full of kids!

3. You will see 15 photos from my recent visit to a nearby Knights Templar village!

4. You will enjoy access to the Cinéma Vérité archives, with over a hundred photos taken in the neighboring villages.

5. You will learn many more words and expressions, thanks to the Cinéma Vérité members who write in and comment about the photos. (I have learned a handful or more in the past few weeks -- like the English word for "pintade", the French word for "wallflower"... and I can now identify a "Dogue de Bordeux" -- no problemo!

A comment, by Betty, from last week's photo gallery:  I love these photos but if choosing a favorite it would be the one with Jules walking... and here's a comment from Pat: Swan Juan is soo gorgeous--I suppose when you're THAT beautiful, you can chew on shoes if you get the chance!

Which reminds me of one more sign-up incentive: you'll meet Swan Juan the French cygne... who has a thing for shoes!

Click here to learn more about Cinéma Vérité and to begin viewing today's French film and photos!

Note to CM members: To access today's photo/film edition: you will need to click on the link in the "Merci Beaucoup!" email that I sent you -- or visit your bookmarks! 

Three Random Words:
la voirie (f) = refuse, garbage
zozoter = to lisp
le bouche-à-bouche = mouth-to-mouth, kiss of life

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Le Bateau Ivre (c) Kristin Espinasse
A little bar/restaurant in the bay of Locmaria, on the island of Groix.



noun, masculine


Just off the coast of Brittany, on a small island habitée by Groisillons and teeming with French tourists on wobbly bicyclettes, there is a quaint port called Locmaria, where The Drunk Boat overlooks the bay at high tide (and low, for that matter, but for the purpose of this conte the marée shall be high, high as the curious individual bathing in its shallow waters)....

"Ah, nature fresh and free. Yes, freeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

I can just hear his French words echoing across the sandy beach, translating themselves in midair before reaching The Drunk Boat bar on the boardwalk above, near to which a red-faced tourist stands hesitant. Red-faced, not because she is a native of the desert, which she is, but because her Frenchman (he who bathes in shallow waters) has been caught, once again, en flagrant délit with Dame Nature. Yes, caught red-handed (and mud-in-the-hand) as you will soon discover.

It isn't the first time he has been found courting La Dame; take him to the powdery depths of the canyon at Roussillon, and he'll brush red and yellow ochre across his stubbled face. "A tradition," he explains (the earth-smearing, not the stubble). Bring him to a crowded beach in his beloved Marseilles, and he will inhale the salty waters beyond (via a noisy nose gargle). "Good for the sinuses," he exclaims. Cart him off to the wild garrigue and he will begin chewing on the local herbs (good for the gums, I wonder?). Go where he may, and he will find a way to press the earth unto himself. He's Monsieur Nature.

Back at the bay in Locmaria, it is another day in Paradise for Monsieur Nature, who can be found applying mud—sloshing it on from neck to knee—only, he calls it vase (pronouncing it "vaz," as if a neat word would render his act less, well, filthy).

Standing knee-deep in the ocean, he scoops up the smelly vase, slops it on his arms and across his chest before a vigorous scrub-down, oblivious to the audience now gathering before him: there are the seagulls, beady eyes bulging, and the little crabs looking on, astonished, and even the mussels—clinging to a nearby rock—have opened their shells for a look-see. "Get a load of this," they clatter, their long, salmon-colored tongues wagging.

This, dear reader, is my mud-faced conjoint and that curious behavior of his, in a clamshell, is the difference between him and me; the difference, I now realize, between really living life and poetically lusting after it from the boardwalk above.

*     *     *
 EDITS HERE PLEASE. Click the previous link to point out any typos or obvious ambiguities in this story. Thanks!

French Vocabulary

habitée (habiter) = inhabited
les Groisillons = inhabitants of the Island of Groix
la bicyclette = bicycle
The Drunk Boat (Le Bateau Ivre) = the name of a bar along the boardwalk
le conte = tale, story
la marée = tide
pris en flagrant délit = caught in the act
la Dame Nature = Mother Nature
la garrigue = wild Mediterranean scrubland
la vase = slime, mud, mire
le conjoint, la conjointe = spouse

French Pronunciation:
Listen to the word "conjoint" in the following sentence: Je vous presente mon conjoint. Please meet my wife (or husband). Download conjoint.wav.

Missing a little French in your weekend? Love photos of France? Check out Cinéma Vérité.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.