le mot juste

sauve qui peut

Charming Couple (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Giggly & Pensive" in the town of Ovada, Italy. After a "game" of charades, this couple understood my request and graciously offered to pose for this photo. Don't miss another dozen photos of Italy, coming up in a future edition of my photo blog, "Cinéma Vérité.

sauve qui peut (sohv kee peuh) expression

    :  a general panic; stampede; chaotic disorder
    : "Every man for himself" : to bail out of a place or run for one's life

Audio File & Example sentence:

Listen to my eleven-year-old (who struggled with the long and complicated excerpt) pronounce these French words: Download MP3 file

Le sauve-qui-peut des investisseurs mettait fin à une longue période de hausse des cours boursiers qui avait notamment porté le Cac40 de 2.500 à 6.000... -Boursorama.

Help translate the above quote... or share any additional notes for today's expression "sauve qui peut" (literally "save who can"). Click here to access the comments box.


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

On our way to Croatia, we stopped in the town of Ovada, Italy, to rest for the night.  The kids were exhausted from our latest amusing halt (the water park near Antibes), and opted to stay in and watch T.V. while Jean-Marc and I had a quick tour of the city at night.

On our way out of the hotel, the young man behind the desk tried to alert us to some sort of event going on in town... but Jean-Marc and I could not understand what he was saying. So we shrugged our shoulders, smiled politely, and headed towards the centre ville.*

The town of Ovada was a lucky choice. Though we had randomly chosen the site (for its convenience along our route to Croatia), Ovada clearly was a tourist destination. The ancient cobbled streets were packed, as were the bars. Jean-Marc found a seat at a terrace café and ordered a glass of the local wine. Quant à moi*... I didn't want to miss any photo opportunities... so I left my husband at the watering hole and set out to discover the stamp-size inner city.

I soon began to notice all the barricades, beginning at the café and strategically set up at the various wide-open places*. Though most of the people stood behind the protective barriers, I noticed the barricades didn't stop others from continuing on their way. And so I followed suit, so as to continue on my photo journey.

Peek-a-boo (c) Kristin Espinasse

Busy snapping shots of the ancient façades, occasionally I would see the locals peering out from behind shuttered windows. Having secured their permission (via a begging--if not charming--smile... and a jiggling of my camera), the locals or "Ovadesi" were gracious, letting me snap a few close-ups). I couldn't believe my luck.

As I made my way down an increasingly dark and desolate street, paved by cobblestones and flanked by tall private dwellings, I heard the sound of a motor approaching along this pedestrian path... Turning, I saw the first vehicle. A Vespa! Unfortunately, it passed by too quickly for me to snap a photo -- though I did have time to notice the rider, who seemed to be waving his arm....

Soon enough, another Vespa passed and I realized it was the police who were speeding by. This policeman was also waving, just like the first one.... only, on closer look I realized it wasn't a friendly wave of the hand... It seemed more of a cautionary wave of the arm.

Back Away!? Was that what the policeman was trying to say? When a third policeman whizzed past, his face stone serious, there was no mistaking the warning signals. His waving arm seemed to shout and the message was universal: MOVE IT!

But where to move it? The road before me was long and its sides (centuries-old walls behind which residents were safely tucked in for the night) rose up to the sky....

Suddenly I remembered all those barriers that I had ventured past... and the increasingly empty streets... and the people watching from the.... safety... of their second-story windows.

OhMonDieuOhMonDieuOhMonDieu!!!*..... In a split second I guessed that this was the "special event" that the hotel clerk had been trying to tell us about: The running of the bulls!

WHaaaaah SAUVE QUI PEUT! In a panic, I realized there was no place to go. Looking up to the windows high above, not one Italian offered to throw me a rope--not even a knotted sheet--and so I had no other option but to fling myself into the closest recess -- a shallow door-well.  Next, I watched, heart beating like a hummingbird's, as a giant golden beast barreled towards me.

Without my glasses on, I could just make out the crowd that was running alongside the golden giant. Incredibly, the non-sauveteurs* in the windows above were cheering as the beast approached.

Though the scene was blurry, IMPENDING DOOM was clear to see. I raised my camera for the last time, and snapped a photo. In doing so, I was able to use the camera's lens for a closer look--after  my own eyes had failed me. This is when I heard the laughter of the approaching stampede and, seeing the "bull" up close, my own laughter soon mixed with that of the Italians. Turns out the golden beast was no other than a giant, rounded, botte de foin.*


Post note: back at the café Jean-Marc reported that he'd just witnessed an exciting local tradition: something about transporting the hay bales through town, as locals did in ancient times.

"Oh, the hay run? Yeah, I saw it too..." I remarked, still shivering from the false alarm, and all those imaginary golden bulls.

Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--are always welcome and enjoyed in the comments box. Thank you for your responses to these words and stories.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le centre ville (m) =
town center; quant à moi = as for me; la place (f) = (esplanade) square; OhMonDieuOhMonDieuOhMonDieu = OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod; le sauveteur (m) = savior, rescuer; la botte (f) de foin = bale of hay


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The hay run in Ovada, Italy:

Max-biento14 054

 Sorry about the blurry photo, but I was a little shakey behind the lens...

Max-biento14 055

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Great story, Kristin!

If you want to experience the running of real bulls, you have to go to Pamplona in the beginning of July...

BTW, Rohan, our son, is anticipating more puppy-pictures.


I think this is the translation:
The stampede of investors put an end to a long period of growth in the stock market which had, in particular, taken the Cac 40 (French version of the S & P 500) from 2,500 to 6,000.


Thanks, Jens! Please tell Rohan that I will see what I can do about those puppy pictures (my camera battery is busy charging just now.)

Gail: mille mercis for translating that one. Sure glad I didn't have to do it :-)

Evelyn Jackson

Love the faces in the windows! I think Europeans must have a whole lot more fun than Americans...they can make a festival out of almost any event.

Laura Blewett

Ahhh, as only the Italians can celebrate life's small amusements! Gives us another meaning of the old "a roll in the hay!"



Hi Kristin,

I loved the suspense building up -deserted street, 3 policemen trying to warn you of "something"... I felt part of the short-lived chaos sensation of the "Sauve qui peut" ... and I quickly joined in and laughed with you and the crowd when the 'golden bull' was rolling past.

I then became quite interested in the curious local tradition (origins?... meaning?...). I started to visually imagined the hay bale running along the cobbled streets in "ancient times" when (handmade)bales, were not so tightly packed. Probably more fun now, in "modern times" ?... don't know.

By the way, what happened at the end of the run? ... musical finale for the celebration, perhaps?

I love both photos of the hayrun and, looking at the blurry one, I thought you were ever so lucky to be on the other side of the pavement. 1) you saved your skin! (see how close to the wall the bale is) and 2) we got "une photo vérité" full of emotion and action.

Sauve qui peut? What a good title! It fits the story so well in the panicky moment of it. It bounces back with a smile, as you were able to 'save' yourself from the imaginary beast, from the fear of a bull... and you 'saved' two really good photos for everyone... plus a good story!


Laura: love your "roll in the hay". Wished I'd thought of that one!

Newforest: glad to have your thoughtful response and to read of your curiosity for the ending. To answer your question about what awaited the "hay runners": a large turnout of locals were waiting for them, cheering in a lovely sing-song way (no need for tamberines), as only Italians can; above, there was a large banner for the finish line. I had taken a picture... but eventually deleted it in order to make room for more photos.


"Giggly" and "Pensive" - your caption is perfect! What a sweet photo. Thanks for sharing this story!


Kristin, What a hilarious story!
I'm sorry you had to go through such terrifying moments but that was a classic story that you'll be telling your grandchildren. Thank you!
Helen Miller, Philadelphia, PA

Betty Wasser

Thank God for camera lenses! What a fun experience. I was in Italy 4 years ago and love the little towns and their traditions. How lucky your were to have happened to be in the right place at the right time. Enjoy the rest of your trip! I am glad some body is getting a vacation this year. Thanks for your story. Betty in PA

Eileen deCamp

I loved your story!


This definitely goes into my "favorites" list of your MOTS DU JOUR!!! The best part was the way you told the "story" - bravo!! C'est super amusant!

Marti Schmidt

HAHHHHHAaaaa, j'ai ri vraiment à ceci l'un. ..vous est très drôle, Kristen.

Robert McGowan

For "sauve qui peut," you might consider "bail out."

Lee Ann

I enjoyed the story and photos. What was your camera set on to take such wonderful night shots without the flash?


What a great story...I was thinking to myself that I did not realize Italians had bull runs, I thought that was spanish. Speaking of hay, I always visualize the scene from the Young Frankenstein where Madeline Kahn sings with a German accent, ' A roll in the hay, roll in the hay'...totally unrelated but that is all I can think of when I hear 'hay'. What a charming town and what charming people. I am so glad you ventured out for photos.

Happy Monday.

Merci Kristin.

PS- the sentence with sauve qui peut is difficult!


sauve qui peut! (=run for your life!) according to Harper Collins Robert French Unabridged Dictionary (6th Edition).


Great story and wonderfully written! I totally believed that you were about to encounter a real big bull! Uuuufffff! Relief!

On a personal note for you, your dear mom and also the readers of FWAD:
I have GREAT NEWS... remember my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, now on the lung, on March 2009 and the prognosis was devastating?
Well, her past PET SCAN showed that the TWO TUMORS ARE GONE and she is healing! She is still on treatment but we are hoping for her full recovery.

I just want to specially thank you and Jules for all the prayers, support and kind words.
I really believe this is a MIRACLE!!!



Thank you for the positive feedback!

Robert and Robin : thanks so much for the definitions -- they're great!

Andrea: Give your mom a big hug from us. We are SUPER HAPPY too !

Lee Ann: I can't remember what my camera was set on (I've been trying out all the settings... learning as I go), but I would guess that I chose a "night" option (if it was available, on the menu). I've been more careful, lately, about using these options and taking the time to scroll down the camera menu -- something that's hard to do when you have a timely photo op before you!

On the other hand, I might have simply turned off the flash... so as to "passer inaperçue" while taking the street photos :-)


I agree with Gail's translation. In addition, I think the author, M. Didier, has done some lateral thinking - he really means the 'stampede to the exit' of investors....
Some background: a certain American financial organization discovered a loophole in US regulations that allowed them to 'over-lever' their business in Europe. In one case, they were borrowing $40 for every $1 of collateral, and then lending the $40 to unsuspecting clients. When that house of cards started to collapse, investors became suspicious of anything and everything, and they started redeeming their investments (chiefly for US treasury notes) - they stampeded to the exit (panicked). Since that article was written, confidence has returned (somewhat) to the market, and investors who bought at the bottom (around March 9, 2009) have made up to 40% on their money.
How appropriate a bale of rolling hay. Wonderful Kristin.

JacquelineBrisbane (Oz)

Just a little ell-check:
panic, no panick
shaky, not shakey
Avec beaucoup de sourires!


Hi Kristin.

Your photos have beautiful light to them!
This was a very funny story. I really had a hard laugh. And then to return to J.M. with such a casual demeanor (avoiding the blonde jokes, i'd imagine) ;-)
It's good to have you back from vacation.


Jennifer in OR

I love the photo of the sweet Mrs. upstairs in that first shot. How precious!!

Christine Dashper

Hi Kristin,

This is a great story, thank you. I guess that was what the hotel clerk was trying to tell you...

I just love Giggly & Pensive.

Happy days!


JacquelineBrisbane (Oz) - The letter k is indeed added to panic to make panicked. I thought about that before posting, and I just checked to confirm.
BTW, I was in Brisbane in August 1982. What a lovely city. I remember the tropical plants at the train station and the yachts on the river. I also visited the botanical gardens.


What an amusing histoire....and that's no bull!! To be caught up in a terrifying situation, not knowing what to expect and not understanding the language.....guess your heart skipped a few beats! Your descriptions conjured up so many was the next best thing to being there.


Loved only the Italians can do! I do love it how in the summer everyone is out in the evening for the walks down the main street. Try Orvieto sometime. Very few tourists stay in the village, so you turn into a local in the evening.


I enjoyed your story all the way to the bullish end. What a surprise! Mon Dieu! You take such wonderful pictures that complement your beautiful words.

geoff king

Yes, but panicking. Trafficking. etc.

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