en berne

rendre service

Life in Colmar (c) Kristin Espinasse

Whatever you do today, venture out just a bit... un tout petit peu... from your comfort zone. If you're not up to venturing out, then cuddle up with this book (I'm in love with it!... but I fear being let down by the ending... zut! that's the last time I'll read book reviews.) Order "The Summer of Katya" here.

rendre service (rahndr sair veese)

    : to help out

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc (check back to the blog...):

Je travaille encore pour leur rendre service. I continue to work in order to help them out. 


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

One cannot organize an adventure any more than one can rehearse spontaneity. 

I am hopping up and down beside a pile of clothes, hurrying to get into a pair of faded jeans. I have removed my gypsy skirt and my camisole (hand-me-overs from the Dirt Divas), never mind how exotic or "novel" they make me feel; I will not be writing this morning....

....I'm heading out to a nearby field to photograph a venerable vigneron! Now to build up some courage. The flouncy skirt and sleeveless top suddenly make me feel more bare than bold. Besides, alone out there on a country road I wouldn't want to be taken for a promiscuous poule (though it wouldn't be the first time.... In all fairness, it isn't difficult to be taken for a loosey-goosey here, in the land of love, home of Pépé Le Pew. Frenchmen! Better stop here... or the lead in to this story will mislead the reader from the wholesome histoire that follows). 

Poule or no poule, floozy or no floozy, I won't be found loitering beyond our front gate without a little maquillage. Quickly, I cover my blotchy cheeks with fond de teint and put on some rimmel.

Even with the wardrobe pause (strategically designed to buy time... for I am still doubtful about my mission) it takes no more than ten minutes from the moment my husband calls to alert me to the photo opportunity--for me to seize the occasion. En verité, my first reaction was to reject Jean-Marc's suggestion ("You know I'm very uncomfortable taking photos of people!" I objected. "Alors, tant pis. It would have been a great picture!" My husband was disappointed).

(And isn't that just his way: to pressure his wife into doing what is best for her! It works everytime and, illico presto!, I find myself grabbing my keys, my pocket camera, and hurrying out to the car before I can talk myself out of the adventure.)

I am now motoring up the country road flanked by vines and roof-bare stone cabanons. When the leafy field begins to rise up into the horizon, I begin searching for the elderly farmer. I make a concentrated effort to quit drawing up in my mind the scene that I will soon wander into. Besides, I always get it wrong and things are never as I imagine them to be (in this case, a crew of farmers pointing fingers, laughing).

When I see an old remorque parked alongside a ditch, I feel a slight soulagement. He must have driven off, leaving the equipment behind for his afternoon round. I'll catch up with him another time, I lie to myself.

Just as I am about to turn around, I glimpse a tractor heading down the leafy path to my left. Squinting my eyes I can't make out if it is the man that Jean-Marc saw earlier. Does he look ancient? No, he is younger than my husband made him out to be!

I get out of my car and cross the road beside the flower-lined ditch. Inside, the wild teasel, or cardère, is turning whisper purple this time of year. Standing there admiring the elegant flowers, I become aware of my own appearance: in jeans and a sweatshirt, my hair is tied back. I am wearing my new glasses, the ones I picked out last week, not minding the salesgirl who warned I had selected frames from the menswear display. I saw myself as the unsuspecting farmer might: and I could no longer be confused with a poule, or hussy, though I might now be mistaken for male farmhand.

Too late now the farmer has seen me and I sense that I am not unwelcome. I decide to walk up the vine row. I begin with a timid coucou/wave of the hand. I'll ask his permission for a picture and then have time to run to the end of the row and take an action photo....

Halfway up the rangée I greet the vigneron who stops his tractor, leaving the motor running. I approach, so close now that I can put my hand on the machine for balance (I am standing in the newly turned ground, the uneven earth beneath my feet).

I smile. "Je vous embête? I'm bugging you?," I question, having heard it said before by the French.
He smiles warmly, shakes his head, "Non".

"Je voulais savoir... Would you mind if I take your photo?" One hesitation of mine had been the risk of mocking the farmer. After all, what sort of novel attraction had drawn out this curious tourist to his field? He must wonder just what it is about him that makes him prey to my camera. Could it be his age? I did not want him to feel old. I decided to cut to the point.

"How old are you?"

"Quatre-Vingt cinq ans," he smiled.

"Eighty five... Shouldn't you be retired?" I smiled back, resting my arm on the tractor.

"But then what would I do? I don't play boules or cartes." The farmer's eyes became half-moons, so great was his grin.

"Do you enjoy your work?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "It's all I know...."


"What is the hardest part about farming. Is it the Mistral?"

"Without the Mistral there would be no vines. Without the wind, there would be no way to dry the grapes and keep them from becoming diseased." Monsieur, who went by André, punctuated every thought with a smile.

I learned that the hardest part about farming is driving a tractor with limited vision (André has sight in only one eye). 

"I am very fortunate to have the other eye," he added, with another of his punctuated sourires.

"Vous êtes très positif, vous savez?" I informed him, "You are so positive, you know?"



And when I feared I was taking up too much of his time, I listened as the motor went silent. André had shut it off, and in so doing, made it clear that I was no bother.

Without all the engine racket I was free to listen to the lovely accent of the Provençal who sat in his tractor politely answering my questions. "I'm so sorry," I said, more than once, "I'm not the best interviewer! Thank you for the practice!"

I learned that the venerable vigneron quit school at 14 to work in the fields. Work at that time consisted of the same job, plowing the earth -- only back then it was horses and not tractors that were steered down the leafy vine paths.

"With the horses, it took eight passages," André explained, his hands waving up and down the vinerows. With the tractor, he only makes one run to upend the weeds.

                      All photos taken with this handy pocket camera.

As André spoke I relished his rich Provençal accent. I had to lend my oreille on more than one occasion, signaling with my hand behind my ear, inviting him to repeat a word each time I did not grasp it. I noticed André spoke with a slight bégaiement, or stutter. And I had remarked his resemblance to another villager... That's when it hit me:

"You are not, by chance, the brother of..."

Yes, indeed, he was le frère of The Plant Whisperer! I looked back to the ditch full of wild teasel. It was thanks to the plant man that I could identify the prickly cardère. 

André shared with me that his brother was suffering in his legs, but that did not keep the younger man (at 83, he was two years André's junior) from riding that rickety old bicycle to town each day. I told him that I enjoyed a recent article in the local paper written by the unofficial doctor of plants. "Yes, he still writes on the subject," he said, championing his younger brother, who might have helped with the family vineyard--but chose to follow his own passion of botany, instead.

Each moment that passed I was aware of the risk of holding up the busy grape farmer until finally, despite his inviting nature, I let him get back to his field work.  

He was such a dear, unassuming man. I found myself inching closer and closer to the light of his pure presence. If only I had wings, I might have flown up and landed on the hub of the tractor to be nearer....

Poule indeed! It's no wonder, now, how we wandering women are sometimes mistaken by as "hens"!



André says he continues to work to rendre service or "help out" his daughter and son-in-law, who now run the farm).

Le Coin Commentaires/Comments Corner

Share a story of your own, or leave a message here, in the comments box.

And check out Les Grands Bois - André's family vineyard, here in our village


 Related Stories

"Love in a Cage" - a special friendship with The Plant Whisperer

"The Last Peasant": about asking permission to photograph another French native -- and getting much more than a picture in return.


 Close-up of André. Forever young at 85. Is it his positive attitude? or his humble gratitude? Comment on what keeps a person young at heart.

French Vocabulary

un vigneron = wine farmer

une poule = hen (synonym, in French, for prostitute)

une histoire = story

le fond de teint = base makeup

le rimmel = mascara

alors, tant pis = well then, too bad

illico presto = right away

la remorque = trailor (to tow a tractor)

le soulagement = relief

cardère sauvage = wild teasel (see it here!)

Je vous embete! = I'm bugging you, perhaps?

le sourire = smile

une oreille = ear


Those seductive French plants! Oh so coquette in their polka-dotted casseroles!

French shopping bag I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.

Easy French Reader: A fun and easy new way to quickly acquire or enhance basic reading skills


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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Maureen Walsh

I love the quote, "One cannot organize an adventure any more than one can rehearse spontaneity." You've reminded me what it's all about! Thank you encore et encore!!


Thank you for having the courage to take these photos. What a delightful post! It brought a little provincial sunshine into my gloomy London day.


Jens, Copenhagen, Denmark

Bonjour Kristin:

What a handsome and healthy-looking gentleman! Shows the positive effects of daily consumption - 'avec modération' - of the products your husband makes to please us (+ an active life-style).

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

You're becoming more and more the journalist. Yes, we must all be willing to be mistaken for une poule in order to grab a great opportunity. Thanks for introducing us to another fascinating character.


What a great post! Living in the town, I don't get out much into the countryside around, but you have inspired me to go and do so, avec les chiens!

Audrey Wilson

A lovely story Kristin . It reminds me of a happening we had when restoring our barn. Peter was pulling nails out of the old shutters so that we could use them as firewood, when Monsieur Garel happened by . As was his wont he stopped for a chat. Having seen what Peter was doing he said ' Un moment' and disappeared up the road ,returning a short while later with a claw hammer. He proceeded to help pull out the ancient nails . Oh! and did I mention he was 93 at the time !! Sadly no longer with us.

Bill in St. Paul

Great story about how life goes on in the French countryside, unlike the city where he would have been retired for 30 years. My wife and I had an "encounter" with a French countryman several years ago when we took the train out to Veron and decided to walk the 4km to Giverny. As we were walking along a car pulled in front of us and the driver (the French countryman) got out and motioned for us to get in the car. Relunctantly, we did, not sure what was going on since I could not understand a word of his French (not that I can normally understand much spoken French). As he drove down the road, he pointed to a house and said "Ma maison" which I did understand. He drove us up to the path that led to Giverny and was not on the main road, and wished us "Bon voyage!" - he was just trying to get us onto an easier walk than we had chosen.

Kathy Groves

Your photos of this vigneron, so handsome at eighty-five remind me of one of my favorite quotes "You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen. But if you are beautiful at sixty, it will be your soul's own doing". credit Marie Stopes. Your charming interview reveals a beautiful soul as well.

Carmen Clarke

Great story, Kristin. Bang on. Perfect entry. You are getting so good at this.

Freda Cameron


I love this story and photos!

Hope you're doing well. Richard and I still think about our lovely time at your home.



This wonderful man and his positive, joyful and accepting spirit--what a wonderful gift. I will treasure the image of his smile. thanks. Mary

Shannon, Alexandria, VA

Kristin, I'm so glad you worked up the courage to stop and talk to this man!! Your pictures capture someone who seems so kind and hard working; I absolutely loved them!!! Thank you for encouraging us all to stop and take in what is around us!!


The pictures and the stories could be one of the Impressionist paintings. So many depict farm fields and farmers. Very enjoyable story and glad you did not miss it.


Another very interesting article, Kristen. The vigneron reminds us that although he is old in years he is young at heart. He is also able to be of use to his family rather than, as so often nowadays, being consigned to an old folks home. He is also, I'm sure, 'chuffed' at being chatted-up by an attractive Américaine!

There is another important player in this story. What an amazing tractor! I'd love to hear its story.

Eileen deCamp

What a great post Kristin! He has such a beautiful, welcoming face! I love the first photo of the bikes and flowers. Mas la Monaque looks like a beautiful place to spend a vacation. I loved The Summer of Katya and enjoyed the beautiful writing of Trevanian.


Merci! Now I understand the meaning of the name of Rimmel cosmetics from London. You teach me so much!

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut Kristin,

Le vigneron and le paysan of a previous post are excellent stories and great testimonials of life in the senior years. At 81, I can relate to André and his active life. He sure looks healthy and happy! Plenty of time to vegetate and be cranky when we get old.

Candy (soon to be back in CO!)

Following our heart and our passions will always keep us young! I'm glad you listened to J-M and took your camera out there to capture the truth of that statement. And congrats on your ever growing journalism skills! Bien fait, mon amie! Merci!


Your story is what I needed this am after having to deal with a hateful neighbor last night. The kids had been having to deal with her, and I was given proof of her meanness when I had to deal with it myself. People are not very nice in our area...maybe from the stress of living in a fast pace area, I don't know. I have become cynical of people, but would never be mean to them. It is so wonderful to hear how people are so nice to you, letting you share in their lives for a moment. I too agree with you becoming a journalist out in the countryside. Keep it up...love it!


After you mentioned The Summer of Katya in the last post, I immediately ordered it. It arrived yesterday, and I've hardly been able to put it down. I love it. We can both hope the book review is not correct! Thank you for this recommendation, but more for the "voice" with which you share your experiences. You are able to capture the essence of the person with your words, and your "new-found" courage inspires me. In another book I've been reading, the husband tells the wife that she is one of the bravest people he knows. When she asked him why, he said it was because she was a complete coward, but goes ahead and does things anyway. Thank you, especially as you reveal your vulnerability, you are one of the bravest people I "know."


another of those contented and proud artisans who abound in Provence.

Julie S. from San Diego

I enjoyed reading about another unforgettable monsieur. I love listening to the wisdom of those who have worked and loved the land all their lives. I never considered how the Mistral might actually help the vines. I thought of the high winds as rather destructive when I lived in Aix-en-Provence. Here in San Diego we sometimes deal with the Santa Ana winds which are very similar. What an incredible surprise to discover he is the brother of the "Plant whisperer"!! Thank you for such an uplifting story to begin the day.

edith schmidt


I confess that I too am not comfortable photographing people tho' I love to take pictures. I've been taking my camera to the mini farm market in the park. It's only open on Saturdays. I've also got a "stealth" camera:a Canon Powershot Elph 100HS. Thank heavens for the stabilizer function! Anyway my photos of the lovely produce often come out much better than my attempts to unobtrusively photograph people buying it!
Your famer has a great face and I love the orange tractor.

Edie from Savannah

Jules Greer

I love your post today Kristi. I don''t think you realize the value of the tractor you have recorded for all of us who are crazy about historic vehicles (sp?). I do hope that you will make a color copy for this beautiful man. His vineyard will have to have a place on our map.



Travel Wade

I am so glad you took that chance. Keep taking them and inspiring us to do the same!! Today I will remember once again to be thankful and to smile.

Travelwade--Niceville Florida


Just note, I believe a remorque is a trailer, not a trailor (perhaps a trailor is that end of a film?)

Good story and good photos....


Great post, great blog. You are keeping Old France alive. You blog is so well done in so many ways, it's a real inspiration to me.


Salut Kristin, I love your humor and your writing always gets me engrossed. T'ai-je dit que j'ai déjà acheté ton livre? I enjoyed reading it so much that I grumbled when I was interrupted.
Your interview with this paysan was equally interesting to read. What a handsome man at 85 ans, so strong and fit looking. C'est très gentil de sa part de travailler, à son âge, simplement pour rendre service à sa fille et à son beau-fils. And I certainly could relate to your story about "poule". When I was a teenager, I was constantly reminded by my mother not to use makeups for fear of being mistaken for a "poule" :( That notion was also instilled in other household, for my classmates would label other girls with makeups..."comme une pute".


Kristin, excellent story. Your site is aiding in my French language education greatly (hopefully, my MP3 purchase of a different Charles Trenet album hit your counter at Amazon the other day) and this story is definitely close to my heart, as my wife and I have developed our love of France because of our love of wines. Vignerons are such wonderful, down-to-earth people and there is nothing like being in the French countryside.


Jules. I'm glad you spotted the beautiful tractor too. I thought I was the only one. This vehicle has such character, just like its driver!

Kay Cotner

Qu'est qu'il est beau! Super blog!


Dear Kristin,
I love everything you write as well as the gorgeous photos you take...but I was particularly moved by this story...

You have such grace and talent to see the things you do and share it so beautifully.


xx Liz

Rosa's Picks

I just popped over from Barbara Andolsek's blog. I think this a great idea for a blog and I'm subscribing! I took many years of French in school, but have not had occasion to use it for so long! This will help to keep it in the front of my mind... Thanks, Rosa

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

I absolutely loved this story and what a treasure these photos are! Reminds me so much of one of my favorite people I’ve met since moving here. He is a master at excavation work and learned to drive a crawler on my farm at the tender age of four or five. His first drunken fall was off my front porch at the age of three. He goes by “Tuffy” (that’s another story or two…), was born at the farm which neighbors my farm 75 years ago and is still actively working in the valley. His eyes sparkle and he always has a smile on his face and a good word to say. I believe attitude and doing what he loves has a lot to do with his staying young. He shared with me how lucky he and I are as we get to do what we love each day. As I type, Tuffy’s youngest brother, age 65, is working in the midday heat on my irrigation ditch. His sister still lives on the farm next door and I’m sure she can out-work me any day. She looks more like a 60 year old than 74. The stories go on and on and I am grateful to know these special individuals. I love these salt of the earth people who were raised in this quaint valley and live close to the land...a dying breed it seems which saddens me.

On another note, I have ventured completely out of my comfort zone this week. My family is here visiting for my nephew’s fifth birthday. My usually quiet farm has been transformed into a playground for kids of all ages complete with a jump house and water slide. I had imagined myself in the shade with a book and time to relax, but have just now found time to check in with your blog and soak up a few moments of silence. Thank you for sharing; it was a delight to read your story today and be introduced to such an inspiring character.


And did you notice how young he looked when doing something he loved. Perhaps Jean-Marc will look the same in another 40 years! And what a gentlelman to take the time and tell you a bit of himself. I love the personal touch you bring.

Lisa A., CA

Thank you Kristin for the stories and beautiful photos again this week.

It has helped reading your stories this week...a dear "French man" (the great grandfather of my niece) has died this past Friday. I was honored to have met him and to have the opportunity to listen to his story. Robert and his friends were responsible for bringing the "Lycée Français" schools to southern California. He was a beautiful man and will be forever missed! Hugs to you and your family!

june furey

Kristin,Once again I have so enjoyed your story and pictures of the Plant Whisperer Andre. I am now in Amsterdam waiting to fly back to Australia after my stay in France, and if ever I needed encouragement to return,which I always hope I will, your story captures all the feelings of why at 82 I still travel, paint, and enjoy the counryside. I do appreciate your talent in providing your word pictures as even if you haven't provided photos, I believe I can see, smell and yes hear the counryside I so love.
Au revoir June F. Gold Coast Ausralia

P J Luckey

Kristin, I loved the stories of the two elderly men. They each had so much character, but you are very skilled at coaxing them to come out of the shell. How do you say that in French?
I am a poet as well as a photographer, and when you have the time, ask me to e-mail you a copy of a poem I wrote about what we are actually doing when we "take" someone's picture. You will instantly understand.
Warm regards,


Lovely. Just lovely. Thank you, Kristin.


Thank-you kris pour lovely posts...i'm lucky to have viewed this site Franchement I dont browse so regularly mais maintenant je suis sur que i'll be visiting this site vvery often..
Pls. Add un peu the grammaire aussi avec les vocab:) as and when possible..
Merci beacoup

Diane Young

Tres bon de parler avec quelquun si gentile, je pense. L'homme donne a vous une coeur tres heureuse, n'est-ce pas?

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