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Accordian Artist (c) Kristin Espinasse
"The Life of Art." An accordion, a tattered chair, and the colors of a revolution. Will you celebrate Bastille Day? Where and how? Click here to share your plans. Photo taken last week in Burgundy.

Note: the next post goes out on Monday.


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tricoter (tree koh tay) verb

    : to knit

tricotée à la main = hand-knitted
tricoter des jambes = to run like mad
tricoteur (tricoteuse) = a knitter

Reverse dictionary 
to knit one's brows = froncer les sourcils
knit one purl two = une maille à l'endroit, deux mailles à l'envers
a close-knitted friendship = liés d'une étroite amitié 

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

A Newbie Knitter

On the way back from horse camp, where I left our daughter for the week, I drove through the town of Buis-les-Baronnies. It is one of those grips-you-as-you-go-through places, in which the art of French life reaches down from the open windows, with their flowering sills, and whispers: pull aside! 

I had not been out to take photos in ages and, though I was eager to get home and prepare for the student winetasting, I decided to go with the moment instead.

The village of Buis-les-Baronnies seems to attract hippies, or les baba cool. I noticed a lot of art, and there was a shop selling hookah pipes in which to smoke shisha, or flavored tobacco. I remembered a recent talk with my daughter:

Me: Please don't ever smoke, Jackie.
Jackie: OK. But I want to try shisha....
Me: What's shisha?
Jackie: (some sort of French explanation...)
Me: But that's smoking

I had never heard of the term "shisha" before, though it seemed to be a Moroccan thing. Apparently it was a baba cool thing, too. In addition to artists and baba cools, I added "shisha smokers" to my preliminary impressions list. 

At a quiet outdoor café, I sipped une noisette, enjoying the bucolic scene a few tables ahead of me: a mother bottle-feeding her baby, the family dog looking on in concern -- as if it were the family nurse. 

I asked the waiter for l'addition before setting off for my photo périple. Right away I experienced a few feel-good "photographer endorphins", which coursed through my body as my camera's shutter began to click.  

At the end of the main drag, I saw him. The last peasant, or le dernier paysan, as he would introduce himself when I walked up to ask for his photo. After taking a few shots of "Valentin", I sat down on the bench beside the man in the béret. It would have felt like thievery to rush off with his image in my camera. What about the soul behind this photo?

                   Read about Valentin and see a close-up photo, here.

Chatting with Valentin I noticed a shopkeeper, farther on, keeping her eye on me.... I decided hers was a protective glance. After all, what must it look like?: a stranger with a camera interrogating the elderly villager.  I said Au revoir and Merci to the last peasant (more about him later...) and walked over to the poterie-tissage shop.

"Bonjour," I said, introducing myself. I wanted the shopkeeper (Valentin's accidental guardian angel) to know that I was no threat. I was simply a homemaker with a hobby and... by chance... might I take a photo of her shopfront?

  Vanessa's shop (c) Kristin Espinasse

Permission granted, I snapped a picture. Next, I listened to Intuition, which whispered: You might return the favor... why don't you step into her shop and see what she is selling?

Wandering into the tiny boutique I saw poterie and many examples of handloom weaving. I thought about buying a small "tidy" tray, or un vide-poches... when it occurred to me to ask the shopkeeper-artisan whether she herself had made these things. That is when I learned that Vanessa, as she is called, is the weaver (her partner is the potter). My eyes travelled next to a wall of yarn.

"Vous tricotez?" I asked.  With Vanessa's positive response I knew what I had to buy: a pair of knitting needles--my first! But where to begin? There were so many different sizes!

Apparently yarn came in sizes, too! "Depending on the thickness of the yarn... we'll pick out a corresponding pair of aiguilles." As for color, we ruled out dark tones, especially le noir: "Difficult to learn to knit with black yarn... too hard to see the loops," Vanessa explained.

I decided to go for a bright color.... Turquoise? Lavender? Orange! I'd make something for Jean-Marc, who loves his orange T-shirts! Yes, Chief Grape seemed like a fair victim for a beginning knitter!

But what would I make him? Were socks the easiest project for a beginner? No, they were  not, Vanessa enlightened me. "Why not make a headband?" she suggested. Yes! I had seen Chief Grape wear a bandeau while working in the field--the headband helped to keep his hair out of his eyes. But would he wear a sloppily knitted version? We'd worry about that later....  

Next, I stood before a small display of bamboo aiguilles, each with a colorful balled tip. Here again, color was a priority (anything to arouse the sensual pleasure of a newbie knitter--brightness counted!) ... I chose the bamboo needles with the bright turquoise-blue tips.

Bon, alright now, all that was left to do was to learn how to knit (!!!). Given that the shop was empty, Vanessa offered a lesson....

Holding those ultra-thin needles felt as awkward as writing with the opposite hand (by the way, was there a left-handed method for knitting? I would need one! Never mind, I would learn whichever way that Vanessa was prepared to teach!).

My fingers curled clumsily around the thin bamboo "needles", which looked more like "sticks" to me. Perhaps I needed a thicker pair? No, Vanessa assured, and I realized I was only putting off the next step. 

"Je vais monter les mailles,"my teacher explained, taking the needles from me. Monter les mailles? Knitting vocabulary was as foreign as the practice itself, I thought, watching as Vanessa "casted on". But wait -- I hadn't seen how she did that? How did she get those first few "mailles" to line up along the needle?

Vanessa explained that she preferred I didn't mimick her cast-on method -- a technique she learned from her Russian grandmother. There were, apparently, many techniques for tying on the first knot -- meantime, we needed to get going with the first row so that I could practice with the second.

I took the noodle-like needles (as slippery as angel hair!), inserting one of them beneath a loop at the end of the row that Vanessa had just made. But which way to poke the needle: from behind the loop... or just before it? Vanessa pointed to the starting place and, just like threading a needle, I watched as the bamboo stick hit... and missed its target. I tried again... and again. By the time I got the slippery needle through the catchy yarn I had a new dilemma: the needle tips being side by side, which direction to cross the second needle (in front or in back of the first)?

I crossed the needles according to Vanessa's gesturing and faced the next conundrum: looping the ball end of the string around the needle (but which way: across the front or the back?...). In trying to lasso the yarn around the needle I must have loosened my grip. I watched as the aiguilles and the carefully cast first row tumbled to the ground--along with a fountain of orange yarn. "I'm so sorry!" I said, quickly stooping to pick-up the needles and yarn. Maybe I was not cut-out to be a tricoteuse?

Vanessa helped me to find my place and I managed to lasso that needle. It was now necessary to tuck one of the needles through the loop -- so as to pull off the first stitch! With that, I felt a little giddy... until a customer strode in and stole my teacher's attention.

I stood, needles in midair, fingers cramped, waiting for instructions, when it eventually dawned on me that I might repeat the process on my own! ...I managed another stitch... carefully clamping down on the row lest I lose it!

When another customer filed into the shop I picked up the ball of yarn, carefully wrapping the loose end around it. I pushed the needles, along with the stitches, back into the needle case... and went to pay.

"Will you be able to continue on your own?" Vanessa was concerned. I assured her that I'd find a how-to video on YouTube. With that, she smiled with assurance. 

I told Vanessa that I would just take a few more photos of her town, before heading home.
"Be careful," she said, looking at my spur-of-the-moment purchase. This could get expensive!  

I did not immediately understand her comment, until I remembered the guardian angel, Vanessa, the one whose store I had wandered into earlier (and in which I was currently shopping!) hoping to return a favor. If I returned the favor, buying something from each shopkeeper each time I photographed a shopfront, then, yes indeed, my photo stops could get pricey! ...Then again, perhaps she meant that my new knitting hobby could get pricey? Either way, I had just had a priceless experience!


Le Coin Commentaires
Talk about the shopkeeper characters that you have met, or tell us about your own knitting adventures! Any knitting terms you would like to share here? Which is the best knitting project to begin with: a scarf, mittens? Feel free to share your favorite knitting blogs... Click here to leave a comment.

Related Stories: "The Last Peasant" (read more about Valentin, the Frenchman sitting on the bench...). Click here.

French Vocabulary

une noisette = espresso with a drop or "tear" of milk
un paysan (une paysanne) = peasant
l'addition (f) = bill, check
les aiguilles (f) = knitting needles
le vide-poches = a tidy: a shallow bowl or vase designed to receive the contents of one's poche, or pocket

Things I Learned From Knitting

Things I Learned from Knitting Whether I Wanted to Or Not: order the book here.




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