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


Maison rose, bike, fleur de lis, mailbox, stone façade, Valréas, Vaucluse, France, village, no. 5, porch light (c) Kristin Espinasse
Just a very fun word to say today: exquis (ex kee): it also describes the endearing woman in today's story....

 exquis (ex kee) adjective

    : exquisite

synonyms: avenant (pleasant), doux (sweet), fin (delicate)
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A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

It must be getting close to lunchtime. My head is light and my fingers are numb from the cold. I have been taking photos for hours now, weaving in and out of the village of Valréas on market day.

The greasy aroma of rotisserie chicken is pulling me by the nose, back to the rond-point, where I have parked my car opposite the old imprimerie, which is now a fitness studio. Exercise is something I am getting so little of lately. I hope my two-hour leisure walk counts for something (20-minutes on the treadmill?).

Though tempted to see what's cooking at the farmer's market, I am held into place by an invisible tie, mesmerized by this pretty placette before me, where a tall treille of vines makes for a charming front-step awning, or marquise. I am studying the canopy of grapes when a white-haired woman stops beside me and follows my regard to the top of the leafy lattice. She nods her head, which is crowned by soft, shoulder-length curls.

"Il y a de belles photos à avoir par là," she hints, turning her gaze to the passage just below, à gauche.

"Ah bon?" I turn to greet my informant with a bonjour followed by a merci for stopping like that, just to help me, the stranger in jeans and a jean jacket, or modern-day camouflage.

"Attendez une minute," the woman suggests, walking a few more feet to the next doorsill, where she sets down her market panier which is brimming with chrisanthemums. I notice the large antique key that she uses to open the 18th century porte.

I am waiting beside a window with white hearts sprayed onto the glass and realize this must be her kitchen fenêtre.
"J'aime bien ces coeurs," I offer to the silence in between us. 

The woman sets her panier on the other side of the door-well, shuts and locks the door before joining me beneath the treille with grapes that now dangle above our heads like fancy ornaments. She pulls her coat close and I notice the homemade scarf made of loose strings. I have one similar to it, somewhere... I wonder if hers was a gift, too?

The white-haired woman with the homemade scarf points to the end of the impasse on which she lives. Next, she looks down past her feet....
"Below these cobblestones... ça communique...." she confides. I understand that she is referring to an underground passageway. I remember all of the memorial signs I had stopped to read, about all the martyrs that were fusillé by firing squads during the second world war. I imagine a basement cellar inside her village home, with a one-time access to the network of underground alleyways. I wonder if Madame was here during the war? 

Another woman, trailing a cart-on-wheels, walks slowly past the other end of the portico, beneath which we had passed minutes before. "Salut Marie-Jo!" Madame calls out.

"Now there's a relic!" Madame confides, loud enough for her friend to hear.

"What's that?" Mary-Jo replies.

Madame turns to me, answering her friend, indirectly. "This is a visitor who finds our village beautiful!"

Mary-Jo nods, looking a scad confused.

"A relic that one!" Madame giggles.

"Comment?" the relic wants to know. 

"I said 'cover up', Mary Jo. It's cold out!" Having dismissed her friend, Madame returns her full attention to me. "Now, for some good photos, you just follow this path...." and with that Madame offers instructions on where to find a series of magnificient "fronts", or "faces" that were fashioned into a wall. "You must see them! Magnifique!" 

But I am not sold on the idea, and feel reluctant to leave. I don't want pictures of the sculpted faces. I want her face!

"But can't I take your picture?" I ask.

Madame's hand flies up like a bird and lands in her white hair. "It's a nest! A veritable nest!" she declaires, adding, apologetically, that a photo will not be possible.

I do not know what to say next. After all, she is not the disheveled one that she makes herself out to be. No! She is endearing, exquise! Her hair, is winter white and bouclé, and her face is a tableau of soft impressions. I am certainly impressionnée.

Hesitant, I follow her instructions and walk on, regretfully. I could have argued with her. I might have pointed out that that is no bird's nest on her pretty head: the soft, pearly curls, they are her crowning glory.

Le Coin Commentaires: Corrections and feedback welcome here.


French Vocabulary

le rond-point = roundabout

une imprimerie = printing shop

la placette = little (village) square, place

la treille = climbing vine, trellis

une marquise = canopy of shelter, awning 

Il y a de belles photos à avoir par là = there are pretty photos to be had this way

à gauche = to the left

ah, bon? = oh, really?

bonjour = hello

merci = thank you

attendez une minute = wait a minute

le panier = basket used to carry "les denrées" (f) or foodstuffs

la porte = door

la fenêtre = window

J'aime bien ces coeurs = I like these hearts

ça communique = this communicates, or joins

fusillé = shot down by a firing squad

salut = hi

comment = what did you say?

magnifique = magnificent

exquise = exquisite

bouclé(e) = curly


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Sion @ paris (im)perfect

Aw, cute story!

Bill in St. Paul

That's what I like about the French countryside: the people are friendly and nice, and willing to help a stranger. Plus these small villages are so much fun to visit, especially on market day when everybody is out shopping.


Lovely writing too!

Linda R.

You find beauty everywhere, Kristin. Today's story reminds me of Picasso's, "Je ne chereche pas, je trouve."


You paint a beautiful impressionist tableau!

Pat Cargill

Your photo of the blue/pink facacde is as pretty, soft, and full of character as I imagine this lovely woman was. It is a pity that beauty is so often equated with youth and just-so hair, make-up,wrintkle-free skin, etc. Women notoriously do not want themselves photographed, but you have provided a clear image of her with your words. Merci, Kristin, from a rainy Roanoke.

gail bingenheimer

S'agir de may take a noun, pronoun, or infinitive complement.
Pour certains, le devoir civique était bien simple; il s'agissait d'être prèt a mourir pour la patrie.
(For some people, a citizen's duty was very simple; it was a matter of being ready to die for one's country.

Suzanne, Monroe Township, NJ

A touching story ... both beautiful for the images and poignant because of the history. It reminds me that when we are traveling through a new place we often don't know the history, the hidden tragic moments that have occurred where we are standing. This happened to me this summer when entering a door from a busy street in Bruges that led onto a passageway planted with flowers which was the route to an apartment we had rented. As it turns out, it was also a passageway for residents who fled during the Reformation and again when flying the Nazis in WWII. Thanks to our landlord we learned this history of that passageway and that Brugges is filled with them.

And just recently when staying in Vaison, we spent an afternoon in Nyons where we discovered streets dedicated to resistance fighters on our way to the Roman Bridge and a part of village where Jews were rounded up and deported during WWII. When we take the time to look around we not only see the beauty of a place but also learn its history.

L. M. Davies

I salute your talent ...with words, with a camera and with people. And, as I wistfully contemplate the photo that 'got away', I applaud the ones you do take. I have a professional photographer friend who somehow charms people all over the world to let him take their picture. If I ever find out how he manages to capture such relaxed portraits - of children, old people and even busy shopkeepers, I will pass his secret along!

Marianne Rankin

I would never take someone's picture without asking (which Kristin did), and have honored the request of people NOT to take a photo of them. On the other hand, I've offered to take pictures of people when I had a camera and they didn't: a family at Disney World, a fisherman with a large catch, etc. I get their address and mail them the photo when it's developed. I don't usually ever see them again, but I think it's a nice thing to do.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
I loved your story today! It reminds me of the time my husband and I went to visit the village where his family is from...Camps-en-Aminois near Abbeville. We were wandering around and wanted to see inside the village church but it was locked. A nice gentleman on a bicycle went to his house and got the key and let us go inside and then he invited us back to his house for some breakfast. I always have fond memories of that day! He allowed me to take a photo of him on his bicycle.

Sandy Maberly

Alot of your mom has definitely "rubbed off on you". You are just as sympa as she is with your ability to make friends wherever you go. Wish I'd been there with you on this adventure. Thanks for sharing the little things that most people take for granted!


Eileen, What a lovely man you happened upon. Thank you for sharing him with us.

Suzanne, Valréas was full of very sad and shocking reminders. The memorial plaques recorded the hard-to-stomach facts which became very visual in the reading of them.

Marianne, that's a great idea and very nice thing to do!

L.M., I would welcome any tips :-)

Sandy, la prochaine fois. It's a date!

Thank you for taking the time to send feedback and for such positive words.

ann ceraldi

C'est dommage! I want to see this exquis! I loved this vignette as well as the one about your mom and the men "sans domicile fixe". My own mom had a ball reading your story about the Twilight Zone. Merci pour the entertainment!
from rainy south carolina

Julie F

What a veritable feast of new vocabulary today, Kristin. I'll add many of them to my vocabulary notebook. And your story also encourages me to work harder at my French so I can have more personal encounters with the people I meet. I try, but I miss so much with, at best, only a tourist's level of the language.


"It's a nest! A veritable nest!"

C'est un nid. Un nid sout véritable!


Thank you for the beautiful story. What a lovely lady.


Wonderful story. What luck to have so many little villages to ramble through and have the language ability to engage with people you come across.

I wonder... Should J'aime ses coeurs be, rather, J'aime ces coeurs? (My college French is calling me!) Or is that some idiom I don't know about?


Obviously you touched many people with your story. I think it is a story many travelers can relate to. Meeting a special kind person who reaches out and touches you in a very human way. Reminds us of the good in human kind.
I love how you interject the French with the English.
Thanks for taking me a little journey with you today. Merci et au voir.

walt from Kentucky

Kristin - thanks, I added two new words to my vocab today - exquis and denrées!

Your pics are truly exquis; however I would have l;iked to see the tall treille avec la marquise; ou the pannier de crysanthèmes.
I agree with you - tant pis that the woman would not let you take her picture - yopur description made her sound très belle.


Just pointing out a mistake in today's story.

"J'aime bien ses coeurs" does not mean "I like these hearts." Rather it means "I like *its* hearts."

If you want to say you like *these hearts,* you use *ces.* So, "J'aime bien ces coeurs." It sounds the same (ces and ses), but the meaning is quite different.


Hi Walt, I did get a picture of the grape treille and the placette... and then my computer (on which I'd uploaded the photos) went down. Everything should be okay... just need to take it in (!!!)

Cyndy, Canadienne, and Newforest, thank you for the correction for "ses" (to "ces"). Other "fix its" included "marquise" (which needed an "e" in the vocab section. Also: "... des belles photos "à" (accent) avoir..." Still waiting for the English corrections which should be in soon :-)

Ann: "bonjour" à votre maman.

Colette Copeland

Une note tout à fait exquise!


Dear Kristen, today's story is another one of your gems!Exquise! With your wonderfully descriptive words you have painted a perfect picture of Madame,and her pal Mary-Jo... we don't need a photograph to imagine what these two charming characters look like ! Or,for that matter,such a perfect setting for everything to unfold!
THANK YOU for such enjoyment!
Bon journee!!!!

Jennifer in OR

♥ this story. I continue to be so drawn to French Resistance stories. I too wonder if Madame had been there and experienced the WWII underground movement that took place literally under her nose? What a picture you created in my mind!


Kristin, Thank you for taking us on your walk through Valreas. I must put this village on my "to do" list. There is something special about wandering with a photographers eye and also being alone. Provence is such a wonderful place for these adventures. There is something quite remarkable about the gems hidden by the centuries old fortifications that still protect the secret life beyond the walls - a life of color and surprise. Your story was a delight to read and reminded me of encounters I have had. Long ago I was kneeling down to photograph a lone flower coming through a crack in the sidewalk. When I stood up, there stood a woman who patiently waited for me. I thought her concern was to not walk into the picture. In fact, she was waiting to guide me around the corner to view a lovely garden hidden from the street. I stopped and took a deep breath. When I looked back, she had slipped through the door of the house that belonged to the garden. I never had the chance to thank her for sharing her secret. More recently, we had wonderful encounters in Faucon and Puymeras. I thank Jean Marc for recommending that we visit these villages. In Faucon, I looked up from my camera and spotted a women at the window of her kitchen two or three floors about the street. For some reason, I decided to wave to her. She returned the greeting with an enthusiastic wave as though I were a friend who had returned after a long absence. It made me feel very welcome. Our next stop was Puymeras. I was busy photographing the vistas while Suzanne followed the winding road to the church. I rounded the bend in the road to the church and spotted Suzanne talking to a woman who was leaning out the window and giving Suzanne a key to the church. Gems around every corner. Margaret


Thanks for the story. Our imaginations are all picturing a lovely white-haired woman.


If I had my "druthers" my eye would be a camera to take the beautiful lady's photo. Then I'd go home and paint her picture in watercolor.
You've done it in words -- a wonderful portrait.

Jane G.

It was with interest reading your blog re: preparation for entertaining friends at meals. First remember they are friends and they are there to be with you! I have always entertained friends at meals. Now at age 73, I have learned to do the prep one or 2 days ahead. Using the crock pot is a bonus. America's test kitchen The Slow Cooker revolution is a wonderful resorurce for delicious fail proof recipes. In my youth, this was more effortless.
Congratulations, for 13 years of sobriety! Taste each day clearly and in touch with life. Enjoy your surroundings,family and puppy. Be in the moment.

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