Friday, August 28, 2009
Jean-Marc and the Croatian fishermen. Read on, in today's story column...
gracieux (grass-yeuh) adjective
: gracious, welcoming
...do you know of any terms or expressions that fit with today's word? Thanks for sharing them in the comments box -- for all to enjoy!
Audio File: Listen to my son Max pronounce these French words: Download Gracieux
A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse
Nearing the end of our Croatian vacation, we still hadn't realized a pre-set goal: to buy fish from the natives -- and not in the frozen-foods section of the discount supermarket! Our remote village was far from a fish market... but that didn't mean we were far from the local fishermen!
Jean-Marc and I left the kids in bed to faire la grasse matinée* and, following in the echo of the rooster's crow, we drove to the nearest port. If the little fishing village in question were sans tourists, it was thanks to the cement factory on the pier, which, to some, might be one giant eyesore. To others, the great usine* on the water's edge made an interesting contrast to the serene scene down below, where a Franco-American couple ventured over the rocky coastline, out to the water, to wait patiently for the bateau pointu* in the distance...
As the tiny boat approached, Jean-Marc and I could just barely make out a man and a woman. The man was seated, busy working with the fish net, and the woman, in a bright red pair of overalls, assisted. Soon, the boat reached the humble dock and Fisherman and Fisherwoman unloaded their catch, which they began to carry across the rocks. Jean-Marc offered to help, but the woman shook her head, offering a smile of thanks anyway. I noticed the woman looked a slightly older than the man... and I wondered about their relationship: mother and son... or cougar* and younger amour.
We followed les pêcheurs*up the lane, until we reached an apartment complex beside which a one-level garage doubled as fish market. The man opened the garage door and began cleaning and storing their equipment. The fish were laid out on the floor, their eyes clear as the water from which they were hunted.
"Can we buy some fish?" Jean-Marc inquired.
"Yes, of course," the young man replied in English.
My husband chose three of the dorade* look-alikes, before realizing he'd left his wallet back at the rental home. "I need to go and get some cash," he informed the fisherman, taking the sack of poissons.* My wife will stay with you until I return."
I stood next to the remaining fish, feeling as out of water as the shiny-eyed victims lying on the ground beside me, and I silently cursed my husband for volunteering me as collateral for only 5 euros worth of fish!
Soon, an old woman arrived and snatched up the remaining catch. "She uses the littlest ones for fish soup," the woman explained, as the neighbor walked away.
When the woman had finished her work she stood beside me as we waited for Jean-Marc to return. In the self-conscious silence, I thought to switch on my camera and show her the pictures I had taken from the dock.
When she saw her photo, she laughed, pointing to the large red overalls. Though we did not speak the same language, a woman's pride is universal. Only this woman, it seemed, had a sense of humor to match. I watched as she shook her head and laughed.
Next, she pointed to the man in the photo. "My son," she explained, unwittingly satifying my curiosity. So this was a family affair.
"Come inside?" she said, pointing to a second-story window, where a cat rested beneath a weeping willow. I felt embarrassed, wondering whether the woman felt obliged to entertain me during this wait (what was taking Jean-Marc so long?).
"Yes, yes, come inside," she repeated, sensing my hesitation.
I followed the fisherwoman upstairs, her son having disappeared into the recesses of the garage, and soon found myself at the polished dining room table of a home not much bigger than the "fish market" below. But oh, how it shined! There was a place for everything and everything had its place. I imagined the same was true on a houseboat: nothing in excess, only gleaming wood and a shipshape, orderly atmosphere. What knickknacks there were, were in harmony with the natural, the nautical. And there was that touch of humor that I had perceived earlier. (I stared at the no-nonsense, unframed computer print-out tacked to the dining-room wall. On closer look, I saw an older man showing off a great catch. Beside the photo, someone had drawn a cartoon-like cat. The animal was depicted licking its lips, eyeballs shooting out, in the direction of the fish.)
"My husband," the woman explained, pointing to the picture. With that, her son returned from the garage, Jean-Marc in tow.
The young man pulled the print-out off the wall and handed it to me for a closer look. "That's my father and his prize catch! He had to quit fishing when we could no longer make a living from it. He now works in Italy. My mother and I continue to fish, and sell what we can to the locals."
On this sad note, the woman disappeared into the kitchen. Looking around, from the shiny windows to the glimmering floor, I wondered if hard work helped soften the circumstances.
The woman was back, with a bright tray of cookies and coffee. Her son opened the glass armoir and pulled out a bottle of grappa. "No thank you," I said, noticing the hour: 7:30 a.m. "... but my husband would love some!" I said, getting him back after putting me up, earlier, for "collateral". Jean-Marc swallowed hard and politely accepted. Neither the woman nor the man joined him, but drank their strong coffee instead, leaving us the Italian wafer cookies to sweeten things.
Perhaps it was her lovely name, "Adriana," but the woman might have been a Sophia Loren look-alike -- only without the make-up and the decades that separated the two. I watched the relaxed way in which she sat back, took out a pack of tobacco, and offered us a smoke. As she took a long drag on her cigarette, I imagined it to be her one and only vice -- and how relaxing it must feel to her! I imagined, too, what it would be like to return from the tiring sea... only to entertain the curious tourists and their fish fancies.
And, I admit, I had to try hard to imagine having the same generosity and natural grace of these two fishermen, who had stopped in the course of their work-day to share themselves; theirs is a treasure greater than diamonds or gold... what's more, it is something they possess, deep inside, by the boat-load.
Post note: while paying the young lawyer and his accountant girlfriend for our rental home, I shared with them one of our favorite memories: meeting Adriana and son. "Oh, we know about your visit," the accountant pointed out. Though the young couple live in the city, almost a two-hour drive from the fishing village, word about the Franco-American tourists had reached them. I guess the messenger was the lawyer's grandmother, whose job it was to water our rental's garden each day. She must know the locals just as she knows her prized geraniums.
Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--are appreciated and enjoyed. Thanks for using the comments box to communicate. (I'm a little behind on email at the moment, but if you have written me an email that requires a response... I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks for your understanding.
Also, if you haven't yet... please pick up a copy of "Words in a French Life" for yourself... or for a friend. Merci d'avance!
la grasse matinée = "the fat morning" (the sleep-in); une usine (f) = factory; le bateau (m) pointu = classic, small wooden Mediterranean fishing boat; cougar = an older woman who "hunts" younger men; les pêcheurs (m) = fishermen; le dorade = see this glossary; le poisson (m) = fish
Cavallini Carte Postale * Vintage Paris * set of 12 cards Keepsake tin: Regular & Joyeux Noel
Oxford Take Off In French: (CD-ROM): Follow an integrating course including activities and dialogues with native speakers so you can feel confident in day-to-day conversation.
100% Natural, hand harvested French Sea Salt.
And check out this lovely French-themed pin cushion. The typography on the backside looks cool! At under $20 - it makes a perfect gift!
...sort of an out-dated picture. By now the puppies are twice as old and twice as big! I have not done a good job of recording this on "film", for the little pups are too delicate to disturb. Their eyes are beginning to open, temporarily ice blue behind furry lids. They make the funniest noises and look so comical as they roll over onto their backs, big bellies pulling them down for a full roll-around. From the front, they look like little lambs, from the side, little piglets. They will be two-weeks old on Sunday. We think there are 5 males and 1 female. A voir.... (Remains to be seen...) So far they are nestled together, with mama, under the stairwell. We'll need to expand their "stomping grounds" before long (the puppies don't walk yet... for now, they "swim" across the blanket, paddling their little arms and pushing their little hind legs toward the milk source.
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Thanks so much for the puppy pictures. They will be appreciated at home...
I think the actress's name is Sophia Loren - she's Italian, you know.
Posted by: Jens | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 01:17 PM
Good story and well-told, Kristen. I csn only imagine the same story from 'their' point of view!
Posted by: Annette Bush | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 01:21 PM
Annette and Jens: thanks for your note and help. Off to fix my mistake now...
Posted by: Kristin | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 01:26 PM
P.S.: Annette, I'd love to read their version of the story -- I think....
Posted by: Kristin | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 01:28 PM
Yes, great story, Kristen. The puppies are very cute, but I still remember house-breaking our Golden and I'm not yet ready to do it again. Besides, as I've said, we have grandchildren now and they take up much of our time. I think the plan now would be to get one of our children to get a dog then we'd have the best of both worlds: grandchildren and a dog to love and care for when needed but yet the freedom to travel when we wanted to.
Posted by: Bill in St. Paul | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 01:36 PM
The puppies are adorable - it takes me back to the litter (of 7) we had a few years back. I hope you are prepared for the stage when you have to feed them and they become mobile: the mess, the noise, the trying to contain them (continually doing a headcount!). I wasn't prepared for the noise - folk phoning us would ask what was happening in the background!
We would breathe a sigh of relief when they would all fall asleep in one big gently moving heap, after a period of activity - usually spent trying to escape from whatever we had tried to contain them in!
It was enjoyable mayhem, but thoroughly worthwhile - we kept one of the puppies which I think you mentioned you might do too.
Posted by: Fiona | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 02:04 PM
I have enjoyed your writing for several years now. We have traveled to France and Italy for the past 10 years and keep trying to make it to Croatia. We are now looking at May 2010. How did you get from Italy to Croatia. I believe you drove through Italy? Did you take a ferry? I would love more information if possible.
Posted by: Jane Robinson | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 02:55 PM
Bill: enjoy those grandchildren -- and eventually "the best of both worlds". Re the house-breaking, this brings me to Fiona's comment...
Fiona: oh, yes! I am aware of the upcoming mess and -- oh what's that word... *cacophony* that will echo from the stairwell throughout the house. And I'm already wondering how we will "contain" those puppies! We'll be out in the field, at some point (harvesting) so the saying "while the cats away the mice will play" comes to mind... and makes me a bit uneasy! How long did your puppies nurse?
Jane: merci! And we drove from the Vaucluse all the way to Croatia. We stopped overnight in Italy, followed by a 14-hour drive (traffic) the next day. I hear, as you say, that the ferry is an option (the train, too). We needed our car to continue our drive to Austria.
Posted by: Kristin | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 03:25 PM
On the topic of being welcoming, there is a nice little blog:
On that site was once a wonderful quote by John Muir:
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."
I think it's interesting that Adriana and her family work, live, play off of their natural environment much like the Espinasse family!!
and... speaking of blogs (kinda) - Have you seen Julie & Julia?
Posted by: karen | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 03:26 PM
Thank you so much for inviting us with you into the charming home of "Sophia" and son. How nice it was, albeit a half-world away, and days later, to share my morning coffee with them and you (while Jean-Marc knocked back the grappa -- revenge is divine). I wonder how the catch was today?
The puppies are precious -- hope there is no Cruella De Vil lurking nearby to sweep into your home with hopes of a new fur coat (although I have noticed there have been quite a few "Cruellas" who have sept onto your blog to steal your joy)! Pet and kiss each one for me, please? :-)
Posted by: Diane | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 03:34 PM
I so enjoyed your vignette on the fishermen(women). We should all be so lucky as to enjoy life simply and take pleasure in the unexpected, whether it shows up on our doorstep (or in this case, garage), in the market or walking along a country lane. Forget high blood pressure and stress....let's all sit down with a cuppa and really enjoy the world around us!
Posted by: Sandy | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 03:47 PM
You are too much, I now feel at peace, thank you for expressing my feelings in your great comment (Cruella's).
Posted by: Jules Greer | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 03:51 PM
Kristen, loved your story today.
I want to tell you how we dealt with 10 little chocolate labs. Initially we used a little plastic swimming pool. Then we converted a small "mud room" into the puppy home. We bought a piece of linoleum (scrap piece) to put on the floor first then did the traditional many many newspapers to soak up waste. After the pups started "exploring" we used a baby gate in the entry of the mud room. We would lead the little troop of chocolate mischief makers outside to play (placing a gate to prevent them from entering the rest of the house) in our big yard but oh my, how many times we counted to nine... or eight, or seven and had to go find the missing. Loud, exhausting but oh so much fun & laughter at their antics while we had them. Their mom has regular reunions with most of her children when the adopters come to visit. I hope you get to enjoy it too (wear earplugs)!
Posted by: Linda | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 04:36 PM
Karen: I enjoyed the quote and the link (but have not yet enjoyed Julie & Julia. Soon....)
Diane: I'll kiss those puppies for you tonight!
Sandy and Mom : so nice to see your notes -- wish we could all sit down for a cuppa
Linda : wish we had one of those mudrooms... and a newspaper subscription! Oh, we're going to have to get creative... what about burnt (hay-like) grass. We have plenty of *that* after the heatwave! I'll take heart knowing that you had *10* to look after (we only have the 6).
Posted by: Kristin | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 05:02 PM
You have the same generosity of spirit as the fisherwoman and her son -- you invite us into your home and life several times a week... you, too, are a treasure. Thanks for sharing with all of us!
Posted by: Gina Liuzza | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 05:45 PM
Thank you Kristin for the delightful story, and ooooh those puppies, not to forget the bright white kitty!
Posted by: Mona | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 06:03 PM
All I can say is that if I were in France, the female puppy would be marked for me! I lost my dog of 14 years about a month ago. She was a puppy to the last day, and I miss having her.....next spring will be a good time. After my hopefully 3 month soujourn to France and Switzerland.
Posted by: joie | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 07:44 PM
LOve the pictures of Braise and the puppies! Yea...so sweet, oh to cuddle those sweet plump bundles of fur. Are the children loving this experience? They can now learn how to raise puppies...you are delegating responsibilies, oui?
Your stories just keep getting better, Kristin...Cheers to the lovely people in Croatia
Posted by: Pat | Friday, August 28, 2009 at 09:06 PM
I can't believe I've just found your blog! I'm really looking forward to reading your upcoming posts. A bientot!
Posted by: Jade | Saturday, August 29, 2009 at 09:25 PM
I'm not a bit surprised that your visit reached the ears of your landlord. If I had been the fisherman and woman to receive the surprise visit from yourself and Jean-Marc, I know I would have told whoever crossed my path about this amazing and lovely Franco-American couple! What a blessing that must have been to their day. I do hope that Adriana's husband can return to them soon and someday make a living again at fishing in their village.
Posted by: Jennifer in OR | Monday, August 31, 2009 at 06:44 AM
Thank you for sharing such warm, loving pictures of your puppies!
Posted by: Carol Squires | Tuesday, September 01, 2009 at 10:10 PM
Apologies in advance to contact you with a correction, but here goes. "If the little fishing village in question was sans tourists, . . ."
I believe the subjunctive is needed here. Perhaps the correct sentence would be:
"If the little fishing village in question were sans tourists, . . ."
I never understood this in English, but when I studied French, it made sense.
Posted by: Susan Radatz | Wednesday, September 02, 2009 at 09:46 AM
In Dutch it's called a 'kapje' which literally means 'little hood' or 'hat', i.e. the top (whichever way you hold it). I suppose that makes sense as it 'tops' it all off!
By the way I can't believe all those people out there who throw away their "kapjes"
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