saboter (saah boh tay)
: to mess up
C'est 'l'autosabotage': elle fait de son mieux pour saboter ses efforts. It's 'self-sabotage': she does her best to mess up her own efforts.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Mom and I are sitting at the kitchen table, slicing kiwis and oranges, layering them into a pottery bowl. After each juicy couche we toss in a mixture of sliced, roasted almonds and some sucre vanillé.
I am still shaking my head. It is indulgent to wallow in self-pity for as long as I have this morning, but I go on stretching things... now that Mom is here to do the listening.
"I should have known better than to leave the quiches to cool outside overnight! I had a feeling that what I was doing was risky... but I did it anyway!" My mind replays the scene in which I walk out onto the patio, stretch before the morning sun, give thanks for the day ahead... when next my long, lifeless hair shoots up and stands on end! A loud cry escapes me as my eyes fix on two SHREDDED tarts--the savory mint and goat cheese pies in which we'd invested so much time last night.
I am shaking in anger from my high-ended hair all the way down to my twisted toes. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS? I cry out to the field ahead of me. The rabbits run off, the nightingale's song stops... In the silence, I look down at the pies, noticing the claw marks... c'était les chats sauvages!
An hour later and I've salvaged as much of the quiche as possible (the parts still hidden under the heavy covering that I'd rigged in hopes of avoiding such a calamity), cutting up the pie into little squares and presenting it on a pretty platter. After making sure that no part of the salvaged quiche had come into contact with those feral claws, I could only hope that what remained was enough to feed some thirty French relatives...I'd have to supplement things with several slices of toasts de tapenade. Thank goodness we were only in charge of a part of the apéritif and not le plat principal!
As Mom and I cut up the kiwis and oranges (we are also in charge of part of the dessert) I am once again obsessing over the details of this latest petite calamité. What would the talk show psychologists call it? That's it: sabotage or le sabotage de soi or l'autosabotage!
As I share my woes, I keep a swift eye on Jules, who is having difficulty peeling the oranges. "Mom, you need to get the white part off... don't leave it like that!"
After the sabotaged quiches, I don't want to end up with a sabotaged fruit salad or else we'll have nothing to bring to the annual family picnic!
I look up to make sure I haven't hurt Mom's feelings... I didn't mean to be disrespectful. Just because Mom no longer cooks doesn't mean that she doesn't know how to. She cooked for years--and sewed her girls dresses, and made us blankets, and the rest. Yes REST! These days, she is retired from all that.... Her days as a single mom rearing her children are over.
Mom continues to skin the oranges and I try to suppress the urge to control my sous-chef. Instead I indulge in another round of rumination.
"I can't believe those cats ate the quiches! Granted, I set them outside on the table to cool, but I had covered them with two oven-racks, one roasting pan, a flower pot (now in pieces, on the ground) and a Heavy casserole. Surely that was enough protection? GRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
As I obsess about the details, Mom studies me with sympathy, and so I indulge some more...
"Maybe I did it on purpose? Have you heard about those people that sabotage their own efforts? Yes! Why would I set myself up for failure?"
Jules is quick to dismiss any psychobabble: "Maybe it's not about you. Maybe its about the cats!"
With that, my storyteller Mom gives me one of her best:
"Just imagine Mama Cat out there on the eve of her day of honor (here, Jules lifts her knife and points out to the vines, to the wild Mediterranean forest just beyond)..."
"It's Mother's Day here in France and we're about to go to a family picnic and bust our guts. Meantime, there's a poor old Mama Cat out there... lying flat on her back, eight little 'kids' piled on top of her."
"Just look at all these brats sucking the life out of me!" Mama Cat agonizes.
Crouched behind a nearby bush, a couple of Mama Cat's "teenagers" hatch a plan to help out their distressed mother....
They might rob the poulailler, just around the bend... or check out Madame Canard's nest, along the ruisseau, and see whether she's had her babies yet...
Around about this time a savory ribbon of flavor sweeps into their domain... threading through the vines, over the sweet honeysuckle, and into the wild thyme and lavender den that the cats have taken over. The cheesy scent snakes around them, hugging their hunger pangs. The teenage cats look up and eye the farmhouse across the field of vines... There on a crooked iron table lie two pies! Only one obstacle is stacked up between them and the prize quiche... some sort of bizarre leaning tower of pots and pans and flower pots...
Mom didn't need to finish her story before the spirit of Mother's Day took hold... and soon I found myself cheering for the wild feral cats and for their poor mama lying lifeless beneath a heavy carpet of screaming brats.
And, just as I did as a child during storytelling hour, I'm now fancying myself the main character (one of the teenage hero cats), bringing home the bacon (or goat-cheese quiche), proud smile on my face....
Any frustration that I have felt over the sabotaged quiches (or, lately, in switching rôles with Mom, cooking all her meals), is replaced with a sense of satisfaction. Finally, it is an honor and a pleasure to care for our moms.
With a renewed attitude, I am no longer obsessing and I've cut out the psychobabble. I can even resist the temptation to scold my sous-chef for sneaking the odd bite of orange while slicing up the rest of the fruit, imperfectly, but in her very own mama cat way.
Photo taken in Nyons, France.
une couche = layer
le sucre vanille = vanilla-flavored sugar
c'était les chats sauvages = it was the feral, or wild, cats
toast de tapenade = toasted bread with crushed olive (and anchovy and caper and...) spread
l'apéritif(ive) = appetizer
le plat principal, or plat de résistance = main course
la petite calamité = little calamity
le poulailler = henhouse
le ruisseau = brook, stream
The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work. Order The Greater Journey here.
Has a friend forwarded you this post? Receive your own FREE subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here
Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue doing what I love most: sharing vocabulary and cultural insights via these personal stories from France. Your contribution makes a difference. A donation by check or via PayPal is vivement appréciée! Merci infiniment! Kristi
"Bonjour, Kristin, I have enjoyed your blog now for a great number of years, watching your children grow up, your moves from house to house, enjoying your stories and photos and your development as a writer. It's way past time for me to say MERCI with a donation to your blog...which I've done today. Bien amicalement!"--Gabrielle