Tomato Tart Recipe - La tarte à la tomate
bon à rien

ravissant

Bignonia (c) Kristin Espinasse
Bignonias always remind me of our home in Les Arcs, where the flowers clambored up and over the metal pergola beside our driveway, throwing shade onto the boules (or "pétanque" or "bocce ball") court just beyond. Our house in Les Arcs-sur-Argens was a 30-minute drive from Bagnols-en-Forêt, where my English friend, Michèle, had a "pied-à-terre", or second home....

 

ravissant

rah-vee-sahn

lovely


At Michèle's home in Bagnols, I am waiting patiently to meet an Englishwoman who has lived through two world wars. It is easy to pass the time, seated here on a lovely terrace beneath the blossoming cherry tree. The picnic table is gradually filling up as Michèle's golden-haired daughters, Violet and Natalie, bring out roasted chicken, a lovely green-bean salad, and baguettes fresh from the local bakery. 

As the girls disappear into the kitchen in search of les couverts, the guest of honor arrives.

"I'm so sorry for the delay," she apologizes. "The workmen are busy cleaning my terrace. The tiles are covered with mold! I told the men to scrub it down with vinegar. Vinegar works best!"

"Hello Bobby!" Michèle welcomes her neighbor, l'invitée d'honneur.  Bobby pauses to admire the cherry tree, which towers above her like a giant floral umbrella. I try to picture this delicate woman giving orders to a couple of burly ouvriers. In my mind's eye, I see the workmen reluctantly setting aside their industrial cleaners for the simple home remedy: le vinaigre—good ol' sour wine! 

As Bobby settles into her chair, Michèle and her belle-mère, Shirley, shake their heads in appreciation of their friend's latest adventure. 

"Oh, they must love you, Bobby!"

Bobby says that's possible, perhaps because of the beer she gives the men at the end of the workday!

The ladies at the table laugh as Bobby explains what happens when she runs out of Kronenbourg.

"I knock on the neighbor's door." We then learn about Bobby's 72-year-old friend. At 18 years her junior, le voisin wears a black toupee and a handlebar mustache, and provides back-up beer for the sour-scented workmen.


Listening to her colorful story, I notice Bobby's charm and how the flowering cerisier frames her beautifully. Its full, white blossoms muffle the rumbling of a thousand nectar-hungry bees. The buzzing causes us to look up through the trees, to the clear blue sky above. 

"When the Mistral wind blows through, it chases away the clouds," Bobby notes. We search the ciel bleu. Not a cloud in sight.

The sky invites our wondering eyes and questioning hearts. I pull my chair closer to Bobby's.

"What brought you to France?" I ask.

Bobby tells me that when her husband died 12 years ago, she decided to come to the South of France and build a summer nest. She was 78 at the time.

As she shares her story, I can't help but admire her. Her eyes are that pretty shade between "steel" and "powder" that some call robin's-egg blue. Her short hair has that quality of white that tips the edges of the blue sea. I notice how it falls back off her face in endless waves.

Bobby is now talking about her 35-year-old granddaughter, an art teacher in Texas. As she speaks, I try to pinpoint her British accent. Just what part of Angleterre has rubbed off on her voice?

I notice her earrings: large pearl-colored disks. I make a note to wear such earrings in 53 years' time, as if boucles d'oreille would render me as beautiful as she.

Bobby tells me that her 63-year-old daughter has a butterfly tattoo on her hand.

"She got it thirty years ago."

"Were you upset?"

"No. But I told her the butterfly might look different when her skin begins to wrinkle!" 

"Does it?" I am curious.

"It's looking fine," Bobby smiles. Her blue eyes deepen as she turns her attention to the saturated sky.

I look down at my hands as I search for words. I want to tell Bobby that she is like that butterfly.

.

Your edits here. Thanks for checking grammar and punctuation. Is the story clear enough? Good to go? Share your thoughts, here in the comments box . P.S. Thanks for checking the vocab section, too!

Did you enjoy this story? Check out Kristi's books, including Blossoming in Provence. They are a wonderful way to increase your French vocabulary and to support this blog. Merci beaucoup!
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French Vocabulary

Bagnols (Bagnols-en-Forêt)
a town in the Var, not far from the sea 

le couvert
place setting (fork, knive, spoon) 

l'invitée d'honneur
guest of honor

l'ouvrier (m)
worker

le vinaigre
vinegar 

la belle-mère
mother-in-law 

le voisin
neighbor

le cerisier
cherry tree 

le ciel bleu
blue sky 

 l'Angleterre (f)
England

une boucle d'oreille
earring

 

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Comments

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Michele Fraser

Hi Kristi, I can't NOT reply to this one - being part of it - what an honour!! My only comment is that Bobby is spelt with a y not ie. She and Shirley left for the UK yesterday and Bobby will celebrate her 98th birthday 3 weeks today!! She remains as beautiful and funny as ever but does complain that getting quite this old is "rather boring" as her body becomes more frail and she has to start relying on others - not easy after so many years and so many adventures! Gros bisous Michele x

William and Lee Mears

Hello Kristi, Just one spelling correction.
Under the photo "where the flowers clamoured", I think it should be clambered.
Clamor means noisy demand. Clamber means to climb clumsily. Of course, they do look like they are clamoring for attention! Gorgeous! Nice, gentle story. Lee Mears

Paul DeVries

Bignonia should be begonia.

Paul DeVries

I'm sorry. I just looked up bignonia and there is such a flower. I stand corrected!

Charity King

Bonjour Kristin!
This story was ravissant! I love meeting ladies like Bobbie!
My comments:
1) I was curious about the conclusion you made when you wondered "what part of Angleterre had rubbed off on her voice".
2) In the sentence, "Bobbie says that's possible", did you mean to write the French words for "that's possible"? Just wondering because usually when you use italics, the words are in French.
3) Dittos on the different spelling of Bobbie/Bobby and clamour/clambor from your other editors.

mhwebb in NM, USA

Pardon, Kristin, but in the 9th paragraph, you wrote, "Listening to colorful story,...". Shouldn't it read, "Listening to her colorful story..."?

Nick

Hi Kristin

A couple of small typos.

'The ladies at the table laugh as Bobblie.' Change Bobblie to Bobby

'I pull my chair closer Bobbie's.' Insert 'to' after 'closer.'

Sushil Dawka

Hello Kristin,
Your description of the clamouring bignonias reminded me of Rabindranath Tagore's haiku-inspired observation: "Leaves are silences around flowers which are their words."
Maybe you did mean to say 'clamber', but 'clamour' is so much more picturesque. If you keep it, you may want to change the British 'clamour' to the American 'clamor'.

julie camp

Regarding vocabulary, perhaps you want to include the following:
les couverts, ouvriers, belle-mère, ciel bleu.

And, you might use c'est possible for that's possible and papillon for butterfly. Since their use is common, they would not need to be listed in the vocabulary.

Wikipedia offers this etymology: "Vignette is a word that originally meant 'something that may be written on a vine-leaf.'" Do I remember that you considered using vignette in your title? This seems apropos since your vignettes (episodes, stories) start and stop, yet they were preceded and are followed, vine-like. This writing technique is captivating, and complementary to your lovely floral photos, and your nearness to wine.

Sushil Dawka

On reading again, I am struck with how beautiful this story is, not merely for the human element, but also for the sheer poetry of your descriptions. I can almost hear that cerisier!
Kindly consider including the following in the vocabulary section: ouvriers, les couverts, ciel bleu and belle-mere.
With regards.

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

small thing
les couverts is not in the vocabulary list.

Meeting women who are living so long and so well, that is time for a lesson as well as a good chat.

Marcia

Charmed by this...and my only suggestion would be to perhaps consider saying "here" instead of "there" when describing your pleasant wait under the flowering cherry tree. The original sentence reads: "It is easy to pass the time, seated there on a lovely terrace beneath the blossoming cherry tree." If you were to consider this: | It is easy to pass the time, seated *here* on a lovely terrace beneath the blossoming cherry tree. | it may bring the readers closer to your experience, and seems to work well with your own use of the verb "is" in the same sentence. Your writing is lovely, and I will be purchasing tout de suite!

Dennis LeFils

The couple of things I found have already been addressed. This is a sweet, evocative article--a very good example of how you capture the gentle thrill and beauty of connecting with another being.

Melissa

It should be clambered for sure.
"clam·ber·ing (kl m b r- ng, kl m r-). adj. Of or relating to a plant, often one without tendrils, that sprawls or climbs."

And I agree with Marcia about "here" versus there.

Lovely, lovely story!!! I am inspired by Bobbie, as I want to live in France but at age 50 I figured it was too late for me. ;-)

Melissa

Whoops! I mean Bobby...I saw it spelled in another post incorrectly.

This is picky, but I have worked in journalism for 25 years, and two paragraphs in a row start a sentence with "As she speaks..." Maybe change one?

Kristin Espinasse


Michèle, I am so happy to read your update on Bobby (thanks for the correct spelling of her name). Please say hello to both Bobby and Shirley--and the girls, too! Michèle, maybe you can help me answer Charitys question, below: what accent does Bobby have? From northern or southern England or the midlands? How would you classify it: a Yorkshire accent or a (name another accent). This way I might fill in some guesses, in that particular part of the story.


William and Lee, thanks for the correct spelling and for your positive words.


Charity, thanks for your edits and questions. Re the English words that are in italics, I meant for them to be in italics (and in English). The problem with scattering French words throughout the text is that when you get to an English word that you want to emphasize, you have no other way to do so but by using italics (bold would not work so well).


Paul, no worries. Those flowers have a more common name... cannot think of it at the moment :-)


Mary, thanks for seeing the missing word!


Hello Sushil, Alas, I did mean *clamber*. Thanks for 
Rabindranath Tagores observation: Leaves are silences around flowers which are their words.  I have to wonder what the hollyhocks, outside, are thinking. No flowers in sight, just giant--yes, clamoring!--leaves :-) P.S. thanks for your second comment and response to this story and for the vocabulary additions!

Nick, thanks for catching those!


Julie, thanks for the vocab additions and for papillon. I think about adding it. I enjoyed the background info on *vignette*!


Sarah, what a chance to listen to these women. I had the chance to visit, yesterday, with 92-year-young Charlotte (I wrote about her a few days ago). I thought of her while working on todays story. 

Marcia, excellent suggestion and thanks for your pre-order. So encouraging! 


Dennis, merci beaucoup for your feedback and thoughts!


Hello Melissa, just saw your comment. Will go and have a look and see what I can do about the similar paragraph beginnings.

Suzi Hodgson, Lima Mt

"I knock on the neighbors door"This paragraph, left me somewhat confused. It took several readings before I understood, that her neighbor was her go to guy for extra refreshment. It could just be my morning brain.
Maybe you could look at it and see if it could be smoothed out alittle?

JULES GREER - PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO

HI HONEY,

OF COURSE I WOULD PREFER THAT YOU NEVER CALL ANYONE 'HER.' I KNOW THAT I HAVE POUNDED THAT INTO YOUR HEAD FOR YEARS.

EVEN THOUGH I WAS EXPELLED FROM HIGH SCHOOL AT 16 YEARS - TO MY INNER-EAR THE PERSONS NAME ALWAYS TRUMPS.

XOXO

MOM

JULES GREER - PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO

HI HONEY,

I STAND CORRECTED - YOU ARE ALWAYS 10 STEPS AHEAD OF ME.

XOXO

MOM

Martine NYC

This is a really lovely story. I would leave the mystery of Bobby's accent. So much of the story is you not knowing her but being enthralled by her and wanting to know more. You convey all of that.
I think bignonias are trumpet vine.

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Bonjour Kristin,

I love this story ---- it is very sweet. Bobby is a role model --- when I grow up I want to be just like her :).

Be well!

Kristin Espinasse

Mom, you are most often right! :-) Before introducing Bobby for the first time, I do refer to her as *she*. Soonafter, Michèle introduces her guest and we now understand who is the special invitée.


Suzi, I see what you mean. That does sound confusing. What if I move up the following line *I knock on the neighbors door* (up to the preceding paragraph?


Thanks, Martine, and I think you are right about leaving the accent out (it solves the problem, anyway!)


Faye, merci beaucoup!

Karen from Phoenix

Wonderful story. I hope to be as witty as Bobby when I am her age!

xoxo

Martine NYC

I meant you could leave the part where you WONDER what part of England she is from, rather than find out and say that you loved her Surrey(or other) accent. I didn't mean you should take out that section or change it. It's part of the piece, the not knowing.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks Martine. I understood your comment and am leaving in the wonderment :-)


Karen, I know from experience that you will be--indeed you are!

Diane Young

Even though it may be a direct quote, I would change Bobby's comment to "that's possible, perhaps because of the beer..." Love the image of Bobby. Reminds me of the elderly French lady you met while working in a dept. store in Arizona,n'est-ce Pas?

Rebecca Q. T. in Baltimore

Well done and not a mistake in sight, at least not one that my eyes managed to catch. Brava!

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Diane. Your suggestion clears things up. I will update the post tonight or tomorrow. (The French presidential election debate will start soon. Dinner first... :-)


Rebecca, so good to get your all clear message. Ill check back later and see if there are any more corrections that come in, though seems that this story is ready to go. 

Natalia

Hi dear Kristin,
This story is an absolute delight!
(What a pleasure to meet such inspirational characters!)
I loved it and think it is excellent!!
Love, Natalia XO

Peggy

Kristin, as a retired tech writer/editor, I enjoyed the chance to help edit today's story. I hope I'm not repeating anyone else's comments, but I guess if I am, you can just consider it a second vote, with the final vote always being yours, of course! And thank you for such a lovely story! (I had to work hard to find anything to comment on...)

1) In "...setting aside their industrial cleaners, for the simple home remedy..." I would leave out the comma after "cleaners." Think of it as similar to a phrase like this: "...replacing sugar with honey..."
2) In "Bobby says that's possible, possibly due to the beer she gives the men..." it might be better to change the "possibly due to the beer" to "perhaps because of the beer..." or something similar, for two reasons: to avoid something that's close to repetition (possible/possibly) and to do away with "due to," which most style guides steer you away from.
3 "back up" beer should be either "backup" beer or "back-up" beer. It's written as two words only when used as a verb (as in "back up the car").

Thanks again, and best of luck on your book!

Sharon Marchisello

Is Bignonias correct? I thought it was spelled Begonias (same in French as in English, except with an accent over the e). (Sorry, I just read another reader's comment that bignonias is a different flower.)

back-up beer (back up needs a hyphen when used as an adjective).

Also, please check the spelling of Kronenbourg; it might be Kronenborg?

In the vocabulary under Le Couvert, the singular is knife, not knive.

Kristin Espinasse

Natalia, Your comments are full of sunshine. Merci!


Peggy and Sharon, Ive just incorporated your latest edits. Sharon, thanks for double-checking. Kronenbourg, should be spelled correctly (it is spelled this way at their site): 
http://kronenbourg1664.com/ 

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Diane, and for remembering Mme Richard (my customer at the department store in AZ :-). 

Susan Carter, Westminster, CA

I'm getting to this late as I didn't have time to read it until now and have nothing to proof that someone hasn't already taken care of, but wanted to tell you that this is a marvelous story. It consistently conjures up pictures in the mind and I would so like to meet Bobbie after reading it.

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