Clochard: My mom meets some of the homeless people of Draguigan

booze, bottle, homeless, sdf, Paris, window sill, ledge, window bars (c) Kristin Espinasse,
                                                                                         Bottle on a window sill in Paris.

un clochard (klo shar) noun

    : homeless person

feminine: une clocharde

un mendiant (beggar), S.D.F., or "Sans Domicile Fixe" (homeless person)


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

Sometime in 2003... Mom and I are walking through the town of Draguignan when we catch sight of ourselves in a shop window.

"Look at you," Mom says."You look like a washerwoman!" I look down at my favorite shirt and notice how faded it has become. Mom may have a point. Beneath the shirt, my jeans are even more décoloré and fringed at the hemline. En effet! I really do look like a washerwoman! "But then so do you," I counter, and with that we dissolve into laughter.

Ever since Mom's accident, in which she slipped and broke her hip while washing the floor (back in her apartment in Mexico), her life went from bad to worse. Presently she was living with me in Les Arcs-sur-Argens, dependent on more than my help: she needed to borrow my clothes.... 

Because my own wardrobe was a bit classic (read unimaginitive) for her taste, she took to wearing an eclectic mix of "threads". A little bit from Jean-Marc's garde-robe, a little bit from mine. Even an item or two of Max's and Jackie's (such as a candy bracelet or a feather for her hat). But no matter what she wore, if it had a restrictive neckline, she simply tore out the collar. If there's one thing Mom hates, it is restrictions!

There in front of the reflective storefront window, we faced reality: me in my washed-out ensemble and Mom in baggy pantalons, a pair of beat-up hiking boots, and the torn sweatshirt. Her smart fedora and bronze lipstick added a certain je ne sais quoi to her patched-together outfit.

"Why don't you go and buy yourself a pretty new outfit?" Mom suggested. Unlike Mom, I had a credit card and unlike Mom I had a complex. The only thing we had in common on the clothes front was an aversion to shopping. That said, it didn't take too much convincing before I disappeared into the nearest shop. Looking back, I regret not sending my dear mom into the store for a new outfit of her own. It might have spared her the heckling that she received next....

While I was busy in the shop, rummaging through racks of overpriced clothes, Mom loitered in front of the boutique, where she eventually met a few locals.

"Why do you have that?" a man asked, pointing to Mom's cane. 
"Because I broke my hip," Mom explained. 
"You don't need that!" he insisted. "Just look at me. I don't need mine anymore!"

With that the man began kicking out his legs triumphantly. "Look at me! Look at me!" he sang. Next, he did a little dance, punctuated by more kicks and a few arm flaps for art's sake. The man wore a scraggly beard and mustache from which a line of smoke issued. On closer look, a hand-rolled cigarette rested in a corner of his mouth.

"You can do this! You don't have to be a cripple your whole life," he seemed to be saying.

Mom was amazed. "But how did you do this?"

"In France we take care of our people." 

And, fast as that, the man trotted off, up the street and across the way, leaving Mom bedazzled. Oh, the brave hearts she encountered! She loved each and every one with her own full heart.

With me still kicking around in the dress shop, Mom wandered off in search of Mr. Kicks. She hobbled up the road, where, quelle chance!, she found him roaring with laughter before a group of men and women. 

Mom's face lit up on recognizing her new friend; only, before she could advance one more step, another man in the group began shouting at her. Stunned, she froze in her tracks. She was now the object of a half-dozen glassy stares. That's when she heard her friend speak to his colleague in broken English.

"Stop!" he said, raising the palm of his hand dramatically. "She is a beautiful woman. She is very special!" But the other man only continued his protest, this time in broken English. The scene of two men arguing in broken English was so startling that Mom forgot her hurt feelings.

Mom watched as the group became more and more animated. She noticed that some were drinking from beer bottles while others were patiently waiting for the very same. The group was dressed in a pastiche of patterns, all faded and fringed. Mom looked down at her own person and remembered her reflection in the shop window. That is when it all began to make sense: The man who was yelling at her was only defending his own, albeit transient, turf, lest some eager arriviste from another curb threatens to upset his coins-collecting commerce! 

A little while later, I breezed out of the shop with a new pair of pants and a new top. I met Mom, who was returning from the other end of the street. She wore a smile on her face, the kind that is drawn there by angels.
"Did you find something nice, Honey?" Mom asked. I told her that I did, and assured her that I would no longer be looking like une clocharde!

A little while later I would realize the (unintentional) indelicateness of my words when Mom shared with me about her half-hour alone on the streets of Draguignan.



= faded, washed out

En effet! = as a matter of fact!

la garde-robe = wardrobe

le pantalon = pant

je ne sais quoi = (a certain) something


Bien dire magazineKeep up your French with Bien Dire (magazine subscription). A 52-page magazine to improve your French that you'll enjoy reading! Full of interesting articles on France and French culture, Bien-dire helps you understand what it is to be French order here

Video: Listen to Jean-Marc pronoune today's word "clochard". Can you understand what he is saying? Write your interpretation in the comments box.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety