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Entries from September 2011

comme ci comme ca

mercerie sew sewing shop
Whoops! That shop sign should read "MERCI"... please help me remove the "ER"... and accept my thanks for your patience as "word a day's" delivery schedule is temporarily interrupted! The next word will go out next week.  Meantime a message from one of our harvesters to Imogen in the UK: Happy Birthday!

comme si comme ça

    : so-so


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

One of the first phrases I remember learning in French was "comme ci comme ça", which describes a "so-so" feeling:


Comment allez-vous?
Comme ci comme ça....

Come to think of it, in the years I've lived in France I've never heard it spoken, that phrase. Perhaps they say it in Paris? or Lyon?

Here down south they say "ça peut aller" and, that's it, ça peut aller today...  as long as I focus on the healing following Friday's surgery for the removal of a lesion on my forehead. I'm not sure what to say about that, but if a picture paints a thousand words, then I'll let the post-op photo speak for me. (Note: I will spare you of the image here! You will need to voluntarily click on the following link to view the picture of my face; warning: faint hearts abstain! On the upside, I think I'd make a good postergirl or "posterhead" for sun block :-) Click here to view the photo--and don't forget to protect your skin and la peau of those you love!


Meantime, the harvest continues and the harvesters are double-loveliest ever. I leave you with a beautiful essay, on "respect", from our youngest harvester, Collin (pronounced "call in"). Click over to Collin's blog to read his missive about wine-making. I think he will go very far, given this philosophy.

  Kristin Espinasse

The bcc surgery on my forehead has been the best excuse to try on all kinds of hats (this photo was taken 5 years ago). I've kept the unsightly surgery wound covered all week, as a courtesy to harvesters! I've got this hat (an authentic GDF Gaz de France cap) in my closet.  What do you think?

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 (to this new address)
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

belles fringues

The first day of harvest (Part II) ended with a blast! And a down-on-his-luck Chief Grape drove, with a flat-tire, two hours beneath the darkening, cold sky. The harvesters waited for him, working late into the night to process the grapes, which made it back to the farm in the back of a crooked and wobbly wagon. So much for romancing the grapes.

belles fringues (bel frayng)

    : glad rags, one's best clothes


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

"Glad Rags"

Looking around our kitchen, at the bright smiling faces belonging to our harvest crew, I couldn't believe our luck: here were eight innocents who had volunteered to spend the next 12 days hunched over a leafy, catch-me-if-you-can grape plant. Between the whipping wind and the winding branches, the game of grapes-gathering is an exercise in patience, endurance, and pluck. The work is épuisant at best and this exhaustion, which begins deep within the muscles, works itself outward, to the very surface fibers of one's sweaty chemise.

Au fait... had my husband informed our newest équipe about the dress code? I set down my slice of pizza and looked around the room at a dashing group of would-be pickers, when a sneaking suspicion came over me, one I could not keep hidden and so shared it verbally:

"Just one more thing, everybody... Did Chief Grape warn you about wardrobe?"

Bright smiling faces froze in time for a look of confusion to spread like a run in one's stockings. Indeed, holey stockings were the order of the day!

"You have brought along your old chiffons, or rags, haven't you?"

(Confused looks turned to panic and I could very nearly see inside the minds of our équipage as they mentally riffled through the contents of their suitcases. Which threads would be the first to go?)

Picking up the thread of their thoughts, I added, "Your clothes or any items you choose to wear for the vendange, will be as good as gone when the harvest is over! T-shirts will be ripped, jeans, grape-stained, and socks, shredded -- from the stickers out there in the field!"

With that, I reached for two bags and dumped the contents onto the table. "Never fear! These," I explained, "...are gifts from our former harvesters!"

I reached down to the pile and, one by one, held up examples of time-tested-and-torn uniforms: there were Sandy's steel-threaded overalls (how else could they have survived so much pawing on the part of scratchy grape branches? ). And there were Charles's faded jeans (worn for Harvests I, II, and III!) and there were a dozen holey socks (washed, and with burrs and stickers intact!) ... and even a pair of Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear (???).... 

The panicked expressions on the newbie harvesters' faces turned to amusement when it was time to share the hand-me-down T-shirts, the advertisements on which garnered many an appreciative glance--especially one which read:

"Je l'ai fait en dix minutes!" ("I did it in 10 minutes").

While the harvesters snickered intuitively, my tendency was to question, or second-guess, such sartorial sagesse (Just what, exactly, had been done in ten minutes? And was this a prideful statement or a matter of fact?)

Never mind. The double-entendre T-shirt was just the ice-breaker and, one by one, the harvesters approached the pile of "glad rags" -- for they were very grateful to spare their own wardrobes!

Robert from the UK was first: "Pardon me. What size is that T-shirt?"

"I'll take the overalls!" Collin (Richmond, Virginia) ventured.

"That's a cool top!" Earlene (Tennessee/Paris) declared, holding up a soft gray demi T-shirt that reminded me of the fashion in Flashdance. It would certainly look good on her (Earlene teaches gyrotonics in Paris! Talk about abs!)

Earlene's harvest roommates, "Lulu"-Not-Her-Real-Name, and Caroline (Bostonians adoptées), would not need the hand-me-downs (This was Lulu's second harvest at Domaine Rouge-Bleu and she'd gone over wardrobe specifics with Mom Caroline). To be clear, this mother-daughter team probably wouldn't even need a bed or a sink or so much as a Band-Aid -- for their suitcases were filled with Self-Reliance and First Aid for All (Lulu even loaned me her mobile phone so that I would not have to drive to my doctor's appointment in Avignon "alone")!

Jamie (Taipei/London) wondered whether, by chance, there was another sweatshirt for loan... and Vince (New York/London) asked whether he might, after all, have a pair of holey socks with the built-in burrs and stickers. "Good idea!" I cheered, handing him a mismatched pair, and plucking off a burr or two in passing. Vince would quickly replace the scratchy impostors, on setting foot into the field the next morning.

That left Kevin, who was late to the show (his flight from California was delayed) and who would have to pick through the ripped and scratchy remains--which might just have to be sewn together to make a uniform large an tall enough to fit this young man.

As for the "I Did it in Ten Minutes" T-shirt, I'm not sure which chippie snapped it up. And regarding the obscure message, I know enough to inform you that the sartorial wisdom written there has nothing to do with picking time! Which reminds me, forget minutes!, did we break it to the harvesters that they're in for 10-hour days?

French Vocabulary

épuisant = tiring

la chemise = shirt

au fait = by the way

une équipe = team

le chiffon= rag

la vendange = wine harvest

un équipage = crew


Garde-manger (K) Kristin Espinasse

Meantime, I'm concentrating on getting salads and other savories on the harvest table. These garde-mangers (seen and photographed on our 2008 visit Basque country, would sure come in handy. Wish I'd snapped up a half a dozen!

Correct Your French Blunders

Correct Your French Blunders: How to Avoid 99% of the Common Mistakes Made by Learners of French. Speak and write French as if it were your native tongue! Order here.

 MY HABIT is Amazon's new private fashion sale site offering up to 60% off hand-picked styles from designer & boutique brands, featuring apparel, shoes, jewelry and accessories.


Professor Herkie enjoys a few cru carrots in his dinner each day ... Bob Bashford

Photo of "Hercule" taken by Bob Bashford. Bob notes (about his dog's name): Hercule of Walmart' ...  the 'Hercule' from Agatha Christie's French detective ... the 'Walmart' because I picked him out of a litter of puppies in a shopping cart in front of that store.  So it is doubly appropriate that he was in your newsletter!  He's very proud!


Thanks again for the good wishes and smiles you sent regarding my skin soucis. The appointment on Monday, chez le plasticien, went well and, on Tuesday, I returned to Avignon to meet with the anesthesiologist. On Friday it'll be bon débarras, bébé, for this little rodent tumor will be history!


In the Story Archives...
Girotonics were mentioned in today's story... but have you ever heard of "gyrophares"? Read about Chief Grapes solution to the approaching hunters, who sometimes make grapes-picking a little chilling!

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 (to this new address)
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


Lampadaires (c) Kristin Espinasse

At a souk in the Medina of Marrakesh. (Mom, I promise I did not see the "no photo" sign until much later! Not that this would have stopped you from taking a picture!)

Update: No newsletter or word-a-day, on Monday. I'll be in Avignon, chez le plasticien, or plastic surgeon. Wish me luck (it's only a consultation, following the skin scare). Also, wish Jean-Marc & our crew courage--for it's the first day of the red wine harvest!

vexer (vexay) verb

    : to upset, to morally injure

il m'a vexé = he upset me
elle est vexée = she is offended
se vexer = to be hurt (emotionally) 

A person who is vexé might also feel irked, miffed, or annoyed--or quite over and done with you! (as was the man in the following story... read on....


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Accidental Offender

While in Marrakech for un mariage, I joined a group of wedding guests for a visit to the souq--an outdoor market selling everything from oriental rugs to virility drugs (and in the "everything in between category", please know that for a certain number of dirham coins you can dance with a wide-headed, beady-eyed serpent, while the snake charmer holds your destiny in his flute filled hands!). 

I watched in amusement as we tourists let ourselves be lured into the crowded stalls of the bustling bazaar. "Come in, come in!" The stall owners beckoned, as we navigated the maze of shops. "It doesn't cost anything to look!" they called after the shy or suspicious shoppers. "And if you find it anywhere for less--I'll give it to you for free!" But I wasn't in the market for anything more than a treasured experience, and my fellow soukers--not to be confused with "suckers", for they were not at all falling prey to the peddlers--were helping to grant this wish. I watched as my friend Isa purchased, from the street chemist, Moroccan dye powder (for painting her kitchen) in canary yellow, Mediterranean blue, and brick red. As the shop-keeper transferred the colorful powder from large mason jars to tiny plastic baggies, he pointed to the opposite wall (covered from floor to ceiling with more mason jars, inside of which there were mangled roots and dried leaves and other mysterious things). "Can I interest you in some viagra pour femme?" My friend laughed at the shopkeeper's gumption. "Je n'ai vraiment pas besoin, Monsieur!" Isa's husband, Eric, who sat on a nearby bench, shrugged his shoulders but could not hide his pride. I was impressed with Isa's moxie, but I couldn't help but picture the locals, or the modest women in head-scarfs, and I wondered about the demand (a popular one?) for such a love potion. Out of respect, I quickly let the image (that of an eyelash-batting berber) dissipate in my mind's eye. Best to leave the shroud of mystery in its place, for such is the beauty of a foreign land.

Weaving in and out of the market stalls, our small group purchased Moroccan slippers, or les babouches, silver earrings, cendriers, tassels, and pottery. And when Temptation finally met me, she came swiftly calling from outside the ironmonger's. There, in a shopfront no wider than a minivan, I found my objet fétiche

It was an antique door-knocker (much like this one) shaped like a hand curled over a metal ball. The detail was such that the hand even had une bague on it! I had seen and photographed the hand-heurtoirs, but they were rarely found for purchase.

This one was unique in that it was a mini version of the others. The shopkeeper unhooked the iron knocker from the display and set it in my hand, where I cradled it, admiring its colorful facets, in faded blue and green and burgundy. The paint had been scrubbed off, leaving a fragmented patina which lended so much life to the object that, if it were mine, I wouldn't dream of tampering with it further. It couldn't be more accidentally perfect! 

The peddler told me a story about these iron hands, seen on doors throughout his country: "...placed at the entrance of one's home, they protect one from the evil eye!" His own eyes narrowed as he studied his potential buyer....

I nodded, further captured by the history, which I had never thought of or even wondered about before. "Combien?" I asked the skinny shopkeeper.

"500 dirham."

The antique piece was 50 euros. Too much for me--I had only 100 dirham--enough for lunch, but no where near enough to buy this unique, evil spirit repelling door piece (not that I had plans to put it on a door: It might be used on a wooden medicine cabinet, a desk, a beehive mailbox, an armoire--or used as a paper weight or an interesting bibelot--the possibilities were endless!)

Noticing my first attempt at negotiation, a member of our group wandered over.

"Combien?" Jean-Philippe asked, only to get the same answer from the owner ("500 dirham!").

"Too much!" my souk gardien informed the skinny adversaire. "Let's go!"

And with that, I let myself be led aside in what would be one of many moves in The Game of Negotiation. The stall keeper called us back, "450, then!"

"Non, mais, ce n'est même pas la peine!" "At this rate, it's not even worth negotiating," Jean-Philippe answered, brushing the man off, and I followed my friend to the next stall, as we carefully left our ears behind, at the thin man's shop--lest we miss the next offer!

"Take it for 250!" The man shouted.

Cupping one hand over his mouth, Jean-Philippe whispered to me: "How much do you have?" 
"Only a hundred," I admitted, feeling the first pangs of guilt--for I did not mean to take advantage of the thin man!--but before I could be completely overcome by my conscience, Jean-Philippe made the final offer: "100 dirham!" 

The thin man shook his head in aggravation. "Non! 120 dirham!"

I could not believe it -- the treasured object might be mine for 120 dirham--almost one-fifth of the price! Only, that is when I learned that the twenty dirham that were needed to seal the deal were nowhere to be found. My friend had spent all his money in the previous shops. The others in our group had disappeared and I stood there with my 100 dirham note, not daring ask the man to lower the price any further.

I rifled through my wallet, finding only a two-euro coin. But two euros did equal 20 dirham... if only the man would accept foreign currency--as the other shop owners had.

I had wandered away from the salesman in order to check my purse for any money that might have slipped into its very seams, and by the time returned to make a final offer, the shop owner ignored me! I showed him my 100 dirham bill and the two euro coin. He shook his head, angrily, and waved me away. "Je l'ai vendu!" he snapped, dismissing me. "It's been sold!" 

The thin man's reply came as swift as a slap in the face. More than the disappointment of losing the chance to buy the door-knocker, I felt a surge of shame. I knew the stall-owner had not sold the antique hand, or "chaser of evil eyes", as he had earlier taught me. He seemed to have yanked it from the display and hidden it away--after very nearly being thieved by an evil tourist! His message was clear: I would be the last person on earth to have the privilege of buying the door-knocker! All that was left to do now, was to SCAMPER back to the little hole from which I had crawled out of, while searching my purse seams for loose change.

"The shop owner is vexed," my friend Jean-Philippe, explained, feeling horrible that I'd missed the chance at buying the antique. Only what Jean-Philippe didn't realize is that he wasn't to blame. What's more, I'd taken away with me a priceless souvenir: one that would be a valuable lesson in respect: there is a limit to negotiation; in a healthy transaction there must be a positive balance... and that sometimes leaves a fine line between finding a good advantage for oneself... and taking advantage of another.


I never meant to vex or to take advantage of the thin man--and I yearned to turn back and let him know this truth... The idea came to me that I might even give him, flat out--for keeps!--the 100 dirham and the two euros, to boot--a steal, after all, for this lesson in humility! Only, out of respect for the one vexed, I did not turn back. In so preserving his self-righteousness, indeed--his very dignity--I dragged on.

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments and stories of your own are welcome, here, in the comments box. 


Selected French Vocabulary

un mariage = marriage

viagra pour femme = women's viagra

le cendrier = ashtray

combien? = how much?

le bibelot = knick-knack

adversaire = opponent

un objet fétiche = a favorite (collected) object

une bague = a ring

un heurtoir = (door) knocker


Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the five-star reviews, and order, here.


  Dragonflies (c) Kristin Espinasse

While walking along the ruisseau, Braise, Smokey, and I stopped in our tracks, and stood mesmerized by these dragonflies. Read a tender story about "The Lost Libellule," or dragonfly, here

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 (to this new address)
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


"Raw Paws" - or the Society for Mutts that Don't Do Meat or Cooked Veggies. The group is only a fictional one--for Mr Smokey R. Dokey (pictured) won't be giving up his viande vittles any time soon. But, being the gentle cohabitant that he is, he respects certain members of his family that are experimenting with a new way of eating... read on. 

cru (kroo) adjective

    : raw

 There are a few other definitions for "cru", most of which are not in theme with today's story. Help define the additional meanings, here in the comments box.

Example Sentence:

Manger cru, c'est manger un aliment vivant. To eat raw is to eat a living food.


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

I, Crudivore?

My teenagers and I stand transfixed before the food processor. Smokey and Braise join our huddle which forms a demi-circle around the encased liquid: a mysterious green-flecked food source. Max's eyebrows lift in amusement, while his sister, Jackie, backs cautiously away from the counter. As for the dogs, they're just giddily grateful to be included in a food-related activity. But was this food? After all, it sort of looked like swamp matter, which, arguably, is food to some... slimy creatures and mythic beings, for example. 

"Qu'est-ce que c'est exactement?" Max questions.
"What is it? Why, it's a lettuce-banana smoothie!" I dare say.

"Un smoo-sie laitue-banane?" Jackie wants to be sure she has heard correctly.

"Un milkshake... avec de la salade?" Max repeats, unbelievingly.

"Yes, it's 'un smoothie vert'... and there is no milk in here!" I correct my son. "...and you won't even taste the greens--that's the magic of it!" (I had read that one way to get your kids interested in 'drinking green' was to get them to participate in such an experiment as this, after all, what kid isn't fascinated with weird science?

I searched the kitchen armoire for three of our most attractive glasses (having read that presentation was key) and filled three tumblers--the only glasses that were uniform in size... and not chipped... or misted with calcaire. Pouring out the smoothie, we watched, eyes agog, as the pulpy liquid slid out (our food processor did not succeed in rendering the vegetables and ice in a velvety "smoothie" state - as I had seen on Youtube, where I'd gotten the inspiration for this raw food breakfast for amphibians, or, rather, champions).

As the glasses filled, large blobs of thick green runoff slid menacingly down the side of the glass, to the horror of the voluntary tasting crew. It was all the kids could do to not pinch their noses as they took up the goblets and tilted them at the edge of their mouths....

"Et alors?" It is good?"

Max licked his green lips and Jackie wiped her own lèvres vertes with the back of her hand....

"C'est pas mal," came the non-damning consensus.

"Vraiment?! Really?!" with that I upended my own goblet in time to feel the fragments of lettuce streaming between my teeth. Surprisingly, and, as promised, the vitamin-rich greens were tasteless, and only the sweet flavor of banana prevailed. I crunched down on the unprocessed ice. "Next time I'll freeze the bananas," I promised, "...and we'll forego the ice!"

The kids set down their goblets and ran back upstairs to carry on with more conventional activities, such as playing with new hairstyles (Jackie) or resuming un jeux d'ordi (Max), activities that were sacrificed for The Green Smoothie Experiment.

Meantime, I sat down at the kitchen table and sipped the rest of my "live" drink. The watery bits (melting ice) were a little disappointing, but I reminded myself of all the vitamins that I was drinking in!

While a daily green smoothie may not cure my skin problem, it is a step in a positive direction. And it is empowering to know that, while some things are out of our bodies' control, we still have a big say in what we "feed" our living cellules


 Le Coin Commentaires
Has anyone here tried to incorporate more raw foods into their diet? What about juicing? Can you recommend a good green juicer? What equipment to you have in your healthy kitchen? Do you turn to medication--or to mangoes--at the first sign of illness? Any warnings you might like to add? Thanks for sharing your thoughts, here in the comments box.


Two books I plan on buying (add your recommendations to the comments box):

Raw Food Made Easy, by Jennifer Cornbleet

Live Raw: Raw food recipes for Good Health... by Mimi Kirk

Selected French Vocabulary

la viande = meat

calcaire = chalky

et alors? = well then?

c'est pas mal = it's not bad

vraiment = really?

un jeu d'ordi (ordinateur) = a computer game


Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the five-star reviews, and order, here.




 Exercise, or healthy Alpine living, near the town of Serre Chevalier. 

  ce qui compte cest l amour

 One final health tip for you--not that I am in a position to hand out health tips!--but the French words on this sign seem a good remedy for many of the body's ills; the sign reads: Ce qui compte... c'est l'amour. ("What counts... is love"). Photo taken last month, in the town of Monetier (near Briançon).

Speaking of love, do you have a minute to read a story about my French mother-in-law? Click here to read "Elvis in Ancient France"

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 (to this new address)
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

Trajet: Drivers, travelling in Morocco, and the road to Marrakesh

Moroccan Woman (c) Kristin Espinasse
In contrast to the chaos in today's story, we'll begin with a peaceful glimpse of Morocco. Read on, now, for another 'picture'! (Photo taken two years ago, on a family trip.)

le trajet (trah jay)

    : trip, journey

In books: French Demystified...simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student. Order your copy here.

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav file

Le trajet à Marrakesh était un veritable parcours du combattant!
The ride to Marrakesh was a real obstacle course!


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

The Motorway to Marrakesh

When Jean-Marc was asked to be témoin, or best man, in the marriage of a childhood friend, he could not refuse the honor--never mind the delicate timing (during our busy wine harvest!) or the not-so-convenient location: Afrique

No sooner had our plane arrived in Morocco's "Red City" than I began to suspect that the town's colorful synonym had something to do with blood, for the ride from the airport to the hotel was nothing short of a death march.

I stared out the shuttle window at fellow travelers along a chaotic chemin (was it a highway or an expressway?). It couldn't be an autoroute... or why would 5 lanes of traffic include both man and animal? By 'man', I mean homo pedestrian, and, by animal... well, there were camels and donkeys and dogs... and monkeys walking along the expressway, too!

There on the outskirts of the airport, we were one great procession, weaving, wobbling, crawling (were those toddlers teetering on the curb of the express way? Mon Dieu!) ...zipping, shrieking, and honking our way forward, toward the setting sun.

As the sky darkened, the fragile human and animal pèlerinage began to fade into the background, where streetlights ...when alight... cast a faint lumière on the surreal atmosphere.

Our bus lurched forward, yanked to and fro by the whim of its heavy-handed operator, who seemed faintly amused by his passengers' terror.

Between gasps, puffs, and more sharp intakes of air, I evacuated my fear, to the amusement of those more experienced passengers. The man in the front seat, on hearing me, began a game with the driver, so that each time a member of pedestrian traffic was spared, he shouted: râté! ("damn, missed that one!"). His macabre sense of humor only goaded the driver, who homed in a little closer, each time, to the living, breathing "obstacles".

From my unsecured seat (no ceintures, or seat belts!) facing the menacing windshield, I watched as entire families were transported on a single moped: father (in a protective helmet) at the helm of the rickety scooter, followed by baby, then wife. (The babies--for this wasn't the first family aboard a moped!--were sandwiched in between the driver and the veiled mother--neither of which wore safety headgear!) 

Criss-crossing the swaying flow of traffic, were the elderly and the disabled... who seemed to have wandered onto the highway from a hospital bed somewhere.... I watched a blind man (he would have had to have been aveugle to have ventured into this death trap) navigate across the traffic lanes, with the help of his cane! 

Arriving at a roundabout the traffic lanes narrowed and I heard scraping... I turned to see the metal bite of a donkey rubbing against our bus's window as the fellow travelers (our bus and the donkey) squeezed together when the lanes merged, or bottle-necked.  

Wait! No! But! Ahhhh! Gosh! Eek! Oh!.... I gasped.

"Raté!" the sadistic copilot shouted, in mock disappointment, and I saw that the donkey's hooves were spared from the bus tires. But I could take no more. I closed my eyes and thought about my childhood in Arizona, where drivers stayed to the very center of the wide traffic lanes. If a driver needed to change lanes, he first made his intentions known by deploying what, in America, we call a "turn signal" or "blinker" (a bright light that flashes a clear-as-day warning to surrounding motorists). As for fellow motorists ("motor" being key), in America we classify as "traffic" the collective presence of vehicles (mobile machines with four--or sometimes two--wheels and an engine) on a given road. And people are not normally considered vehicles, indeed, walking anywhere near a motorway meant that you would be committing a crime punishable by law (JAYWALKING!).

Speaking of crime, where were the traffic police? Who were the powers that be that were supposed to be watching over this swaying, scraping, uncontained menagerie? What about safety?

I leaned forward to inquire about traffic statistics, specifically incidents of death: "Just how many accidents mortels happen each year?" I asked the driver.

"No accidents!" he insisted. 

"No accidents?" Just then I watched another near-miss, when a scooter slipped sideways between a donkey-drawn carriage and a truck... were those feathers flying out of the truck bed? Was that a squawk? And what about the poor souls hidden from view--the casualties who were on their way to becoming casualties (or the chickens on their way to the slaughterhouse?) Didn't they count, too?!

"No accidents!" the driver insisted, and I noticed his conviction, which was backed up by his own testimony. Looking out over the streaming sea of innocents, some old, some young, some furry, some bent, he announced.

"God is protecting us."



Well, I couldn't argue with that. Whispering "amen", I stared, with awe, out the window, at the fragile-yet-confident travelers, who advanced toward the hazy horizon, beyond which the mysterious universe traveled on and on.  


French Vocabulary

le témoin = best man, witness

Afrique = Africa

le chemin = road

l'autoroute (f) = motorway, expressway

le pèlerinage = pilgrimmage

râté! = missed (target)

la ceinture = seat belt

aveugle = blind

accident mortel = deadly accident

Exercises in French Phonics is... " a great book for learning French pronunciation" Order your copy here

Sara midda's South of France: a sketchbook Sara Midda's South of France is a place of ripening lemons and worn espadrilles, ochre walls and olive groves, and everything born of the sun. It lies between the Mediterranean and the Maritime Alps, and most of all in the artist's eye and passion. Read the glowing reviews, click here.

In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.

Eiffel Tower Cookie Cutter -  handcrafted by artisans to last for generations. Order here.


auto ecole drivers school in France lamp post shutter hanging laundry
The shop sign reads "drivers school". Do you have a minute to read another story... about learning to drive in France? I'll never forget the smug feeling of driving to my driving school class... only to feel humbled, when I had to sit beside the 17-year-old students (at 38, I had been driving for almost 20 years! Yet... it was necessary to pass the French driver's exam. Read the story "Conduire" here


THANKS, to those of you who wrote in, in response to my story about the search for a good "skin doctor"! I am moved by your caring words, as former patients and as friends and family of those who have had an experience with skin carcinoma. Thanks also to the doctors who took the time to write in with encouragement and helpful information. Update: this picture was taken 6 months after my surgery. More about that scar on my forehead, here.

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 (to this new address)
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

couper la parole

Door Knocker blue door france (c) Kristin Espinasse
In case you were wondering, this photo has nothing to do with anything. I was just scrambling to find a picture, in my photo archives, for today's post! (This door-knocker picture was taken in Orange, where today's story takes place...) Note: the next edition will go out on Monday.... 

couper la parole (koo pay lah pah rhohl)

    : to interrupt a person who is speaking

 Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read these words:
Download MP3 or Wav file

Excusez-moi, je vous ai coupé la parole.
Excuse me, I interrupted you. 

A Day in a French Life... Kristin Espinasse

Guts, Madame!

I left the surgeon's office feeling more uncertain than ever. Perhaps this doubt had to do with a certain certainty: I had gone into the consultation with a plan of my own and, almost as soon as the doctor began talking, I cut him off. How stupid: je lui ai coupé la parole!

And we had been off to such a good start! I had nodded bonjour as I watched the white-smocked chirurgien walk across the office, dossier en main, and take his place behind a massive bureau. True, I was a little surprised by his youth--and it brought me back to the realization that middle age has indeed hit when doctors and surgeons begin looking younger than you! (and when, in fact, they are younger than you!)

"Bonjour, Madame. Que puis-je faire pour vous?" the doctor greeted me. I noticed his smooth skin--it had that "healthy glow".

In answer to the doctor's question, I pointed to the growth on my forehead and tried to remember the translation for the diagnosis given by my dermatologist: "J'ai un basil.. baso... basilo.... Uh, c'est un carcinome."

"How long have you had this?" he questioned, his eyes crossing as they narrowed onto the bump in the center of my forehead.
"About a year... I think."

"...And there's another on my nose..." I pointed to the second growth, the one my dermato said we'd keep our eyes on--for its location made it a little more complicated to remove. 

"I see..." the doctor nodded his head.

"How will you remove these?" I asked, filling in the silence that followed. "That is, do you think the second one should be taken out?"  

The doctor began to explain that he would remove the first one by excision.

"Oui, oui..." I chimed in, remembering my crash course on basal cell carcinoma (I'd surfed the net, in a frenzy). Positively brimming with knowledge I informed the doctor: "You'll take out a bit of skin... examine it... and take out some more--until all the bad cells are removed. C'est ça?"



When I learned that the growth would be removed all in one go, I became suspicious. Wasn't there a better, less intrusive, way? "Have you heard of Mohs?" I questioned. "You know, la chirurgie de Mohs?"

The doctor confirmed that he was familiar with it, had even used it in the past, but that he no longer practiced the "little by little" method; instead, a large section of skin would be excised. To illustrate this, he took out a piece of paper and drew an imperfect circle (representing the growth). Next, he drew an imperfect rectangle around that... and filled in the area between the circle and rectangle with dots. The dots represented traces of bad cells, or how far the carcinoma might have traveled.

I thought about the size of the excision. "But what about scars?"

"There will be scars, Madame!" the doctor's response was abrupt, and I sensed that my tendency to worry-obsess was beginning to show. For a moment, I regretted the formal atmosphere... how much more at ease I might be, if we were, say, at a dinner party. I might be seated next to the surgeon, who would have had, ideally, "one too many" or "un de trop". Formalities aside, I might then pour out my obsessional heart: asking, with abandon, every absurd question currently plaguing me. What's more, the surgeon, instead of responding so abruptly, might loosen his tie and answer along these lines: "Don't worry about the scars, babe, I'll take care of them!" On second thought, this scenario was even less comforting than the first...

"But can you make little scars?" I repeated, returning to the present moment.

With this, the doctor became vague, answering my question with a fact: "I do not usually operate for skin cancer on people your age. My patients are much older." (I gathered that older people did not mind the scars?...) I remembered all of the elderly patients whom I sat next to in the salle d'attente (I had passed the time trying to guess their ailments, deciding that the fair-skinned woman across from me might have a carcinoma, that the full-bellied man beside me was there for a digestive difficulty, and the little ladies with the plastered hair to my right... well I hadn't gotten yet to their diagnosis... when the doctor called on me. But the truth was the truth: none of them had put on mascara that morning, which led me to suspect that a scar on the forehead wouldn't upset their aesthetic universe.)

Speaking of the universe of aesthetics, my next question centered on the growth on the side of my nose. 

The doctor's eyes began to cross, once again, as they narrowed in on my nose. He nodded his conclusion: it was a delicate area and there would be risks. The doctor illustrated this by placing his finger at the tip of his nose... and pushing it up. I sat staring into his nasal passage. 

"Stitches might pull at the skin, causing the tip of the nose to lift--like this!" he warned. "I would have to leave part of the wound open (to heal on its own), to prevent this."

I studied the doctor's momentarily disfigured nose. Mine might be more permanent! That is when the words "plastic surgeon" appeared in my mind's eye. This brought me to my next question, more of a confirmation:

"But you are a "chirurgien digestif", n'est-ce pas? What exactly is a digestif surgeon?"

With that, the young doctor patted his stomach, and spoke, for the first time, in English: "Guts, Madame!"

So "guts", or the digestive tract, was his specialty...

"Oui, je vois..." And I did understand, clearly--though I was more disillusioned than ever. Why would a guts surgeon work on my gueule, or face?

I regretted the direction in which my thoughts were headed. And I wished I hadn't talked so much (I'm afraid all that "education" I got on the internet was no help with the current consultation). And, though the doctor's words did not inspire confidence--due, in part, to my own fixed mindset!--I did take away some very good advice... even if I've taken it out of context... yes, in the murky months to come, in which I'll need to decide on a course of treatment, I would do well to listen to the doctor's words: Guts, Madame! 

Courage, indeed.


Post Note: last night I went back to my internet searching and learned that the doctors proposed method ("standard surgical excision") is, in fact, the "preferred method" (before Moh's). I felt a little better, and will now think about going back for surgery. Meantime, it won't hurt to have another consultation with another doctor. En avant! Onward march!

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

Related story: "Peau": about my visit to the French dermatologist.


Selected French Vocabulary

je lui ai coupé la parole = I cut him off (in speech)

bonjour = hello

le chirurgien, la chirurgienne = surgeon

le dossier en main = file in hand

que puisse-je faire pour vous? = how can I help you?

dermato (dermatologue) = dermatologist

la salle d'attente = the waiting room

Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the five-star reviews, and order, here.


A scene from the town of Faucon, not far from Vaison la Romaine. Photo taken two years ago... during a photo périple. Read about another photo journey here, in an inspiring stroll I took through the town of Rochegude. Click here to read the post "SAISIR".

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 (to this new address)
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


I like to run this photo (taken in the summer of 07', in Italy) every now and then. The words painted on the fence are inspiring: "To live well: love well and let others say what they will". ("Pour bien vivre, bien aimer et laisser dire.") 

le sanglier (sahn glee ay)

    : boar, wild pig

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in the story below: Download MP3 or Wav file

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

Those Swigging Swines!

I was surfing online, looking for information on how to discourage wild boars from gobbling up our grapes, when I stumbled into a forum wherein a poor soul, one with the same dilemma as my winemaking husband's, wrote:

Ici les sangliers font de véritables carnages dans les vignes : ils reconnaissent les meilleures grappes et nous les dévorent juste avant qu'on les vendange (d'ailleurs, ils ont même la délicatesse de ne manger que les grains puisqu'on retrouve les rafles de la grappe encore accrochées à la vigne) !*

Here, wild boars make a veritable carnage in the vines: they recognize the best grapes and devour them right before the harvest (what's more, they have the finicky tendency to eat only the fruit, given that we find only the grape stems left on the vine)! 

Jean-Marc would sympathize with this downhearted farmer, or vice versa, given that we spent a part of Saturday morning out in the field, among the vine rows of ripe grapes, testing a solution to The Gobbling Boar problem.

"Mais, regarde ça!" Jean-Marc pointed to the grape clusters, which were still intact--yet missing several bites full of fruit. Putain de merde! Ils mangent que les meilleurs!

Seeing the butchered fruit, Chief Grape was hopping mad, and his vengeance would come soon enough, only, in an animal friendly way....

ACME Transitor Radio Repellant
(would Wile E. Coyote approve?)

Jean-Marc reaches into a bag that he's been carrying and produces what looks to be like talkie-walkies, but, to my dismay (for it might have been fun to shout "Over and out!" in French--not that I know the translation) turn out to be transistor radios.

"Marche par là," my husband instructs, and I walk south, passing one, two, three... seven, eight, nine vine rows. My job is to march until I can no longer hear the sounds issuing from the transistor radio that Jean-Marc is holding.

As I advance, I occasionally become distracted--for the nearby garrigue (from which all the wild pigs issue) is draped in bright red berries! There are little white flowers which set off the tiny crimson balls and I'm about to reach for a bouquet of flower-berries when my husband shouts:

"Tu entends toujours?"

"Oui, oui.... j'entends! Oui, oui, je t'assure!"

As I walk on, I fall into further distractions, wondering, this time, which radio station we are listening to? What if the current program (some sort of noisy political debate) ends... and the next program contains classical music? Wouldn't, then, Jean-Marc's experiment backfire? I pictured the wild boars arriving en masse, lulled forward by Mozart and the inspiring symphony in the some sort of sanglier Shangri-la, where they would "find the light"... and a bounty of grapes to boot!

Never mind. It isn't my job to question Chief Grape; my duty is to go along with his latest inspiration or invention: this one being The Wild Boar Buster (after the Dust Buster, which was invented by some other lucky duck, else why would we be trying to scrape together a living on a boar friendly fruit farm?!)

When I can no longer hear the static voices on the radio, I stop in my tracks, turn back, and flap my arms suggestively, or in a way that suggests that even a boar could hear no more. I watch as Chief Grape sets down one of the cheap transistor radios--just beside the gnarled and woody base of a very old grenache vine. Voilà, repellent number 1 is en place. Our mission continues in much the same way, I, advancing in spite of distractions (this time I just had to reach for une poignée of romarin... and it was too tempting not to bend down and study an impressive ant colony).... each time Chief calling me back to the present étude with "T'entends? Est-ce que t'entends?"

"Oui, oui... je t'assure. J'entends!"

As I walk on I wonder about rain, about wind, about any number of kill joys--make that kill ploys--that might carry off or damage the repellent radios that Jean-Marc is leaving throughout the parcelle. But these concerns are nothing compared to my next souci. It occurs to me that hunting season begins next week and that this field will be soon be alight with chasseurs! These hunters/locals might have snickered when learning about the music played in Chief Grape's cellar (a comforting concerto with a positive influence on the wine that rests there), but what will they think this time--when they discover that the renegade winemaker is planting radios in his vineyard?

It's no use fretting about my husband's reputation. Besides, I know what he would say: "Laisse les parler!" Let 'em talk! 

Meantime, between the cheap radios and the chasseurs, I'm done worrying: up to the poor wild pigs to fret this time--though I secretly hope, next time I look out the kitchen window, to find them dancing a jig, or swaying a slow waltz.

Selected French Vocabulary and citations

mais regarde ça = look at that!

putain de merde = @$!#

ils mangent que les meilleurs! = they're eating only the best!

le talkie-walkie = walkie-talkie

marche par là = walk that way

la garrigue = wild mediterranean scrubland

tu entends toujours? = do you still hear?

une poignée = a handful

le romarin = rosemary

le souci = worry

French quote, from "fanfan", in the forum at

Exercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation" Order your copy here.


Vendange2004 024
In theme with the first photo, here's another picture taken in Italy, years ago, in a hilltop town not far from Ventimiglia.

DSC_0069 Since we're in a traveling mode, why not travel back in the archives, and read a lovely story written by my mom, Jules?


The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris

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.


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 (to this new address)
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

How to say "skin" in French + visit to the dermatologist

les betises sign signage typeography balcony French
We'll go ahead and use this photo (for its calligraphie) to illustrate today's story, which might as well be titled "Les Bêtises de La Peau" or "Skin Stupidity". Read on... and cover up with sun screen!

la peau (poh)

    : skin

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav

Protégez votre peau du soleil. Mettez un écran solaire.
Protect your skin. Apply sun screen.

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

Skin Sins

It looked like a blemish... only it didn't go away. On studying the spot on my forehead, I wondered whether it was a scar--one I had somehow overlooked? Only, I couldn't remember running head first into anything recently.... Besides, I would have remembered the bleeding, the bandaging, and the scabbing (not to mention the embarrassment).

After prodding and poking at the bump, to no avail (I guessed it wasn't acne...), I decided it must be an age spot--a pearly one at that. At the age of 43, I seem to be manufacturing them! There is one above my right eyebrow... and another is coming into view over my left sourcil. Only those spots are the color of age-spots: brown. Did age spots come in other colors and thicknesses?

When the flesh-tone spot in the center of my forehead began to grow (it was growing, wasn't it?) I began to have doubts and, one weekend last month, I threw all of my worry energies together in time to make an appointment chez le dermatologue.

Only problem was: in August, in the South of France, all dermatologists are on the sunny beaches of Costa Brava (just kidding--in truth, I do not know where skin doctors vacation in summertime, but they do vacation, and, therefore, it was difficult finding someone to diagnose the worrisome growth).

I would have to wait three weeks to see a skin specialist in Orange. On my way to his office, I kept forgetting things: where I put my wallet, especially. I managed to misplace it three times that week, whereas I'd never before lost my porte-monnaie. If I am absent-minded by nature, this head-in-the-clouds tendance became epidemic the week of my appointment.

The dermatologist's office is located in an historical hôtel particulier. Stepping past the sky-high iron gate, I peered around the cobbled courtyard. It looked bleak (no swayback benches, no giant pots with trailing flowers), but then it occurred to me: what busy dermatologue had time to sit or to water plants? I decided this was a good sign and stepped over the threshold.

Inside, the only other patient in the sterile waiting room sat reading Voici (France's version of People Magazine). The woman had a big bandage on her ankle. I wondered what skin-related malady had befallen her? 

After checking in, I waited beside the woman with the ankle bandage, and as I read the cover of her magazine, I overheard voices in the next room:

"Je vous ai fait un rendez-vous chez le chirurgien plasticien. I've made an appointment for you at the plastic surgeon's...the secretary was saying to the young woman who had just seen the doctor.

When it was my turn to be examined, the diagnoses came almost as soon as I arrived at the examination table. No magnifying glass was needed, no special flashlight. The only instrument the doctor used was a great blue magic marker. 

Doc used the thick blueberry-colored marker to draw a circle around the mysterious growth, highlighting the area that would need to be excised. Next, he handed me a mirror.

I stared at the spot on my forehead, which appeared even bigger than before. "C'est un carcinome baso-cellulaire." "It's basal cell carcinoma," the doctor explained.

Still starring into the hand mirror, I saw my glassy eyes flanked by mascarad wings, which blinked. 

The doctor assured me: "It is the most common type of skin cancer: nonmelanoma. I diagnose at least one case per week. A lot of farmers around here get it. (I thought of my husband, Chief Grape, who had already had an 8-inch chunk of flesh taken out of his back, some 15-years-ago. He would need to be reexamined!) 

If left untreated, the doctor explained, the cells would keep on growing. But I would probably die of old age, he assured me, before I would die of this type of skin cancer. "That said, basal cell carcinoma is malignant and can spread to the bone, in which case it is best to remove the growth."

The doctor washed off the blue mark from my forehead and scribbled a note to a colleague, a visceral and digestive surgeon, just up the street at the Clinique de Provence.

I wondered whether I shouldn't travel farther, to have some sort of specialist remove the facial growth?But when I voiced my concern, the doctor chuckled: "No need to send you to China to have some cells removed!"

 I laughed, too. True, it was no use complicating the matter. First things first, get the growth removed! And no time to dally, for a second growth appeared last month, piggy-backing the first.


Post note: I was uneasy about the idea of a visceral-digestive surgeon cutting and sewing my forehead! Wouldn't a plastic surgeon be a better choice? For days I debated the doctor's recommendation. And then I said a prayer and asked for peace of mind about my decision... and that is when the answer came to me, clear as day: "visceral" means "organ" -- and isn't skin the biggest organ we have? Therefore an organ and digestive doctor would seem to be the right match! I'll see the doctor this Tuesday, which is also la rentrée, or back-to-school for our kids.

 Le Coin Commentaires
Statistics show that 3 out of 10 light-skinned persons may develop basal cell carcinoma in their lifetime. It is the most common form of skin cancer. Share your "sun sins"--experiences, stories, and knowledge-- here, in the comments box--and help spread awareness of this preventable disease. 

 Update: Read about my visit to the surgeon's... where I learn that a gut doctor has been recommended to remove the facial growths... Click here

A picture of the spot:
You can see the spot on my forehead in a picture I posted last month. Click on the following link and look for the first picture (with the pink scarf) in this story column (then click on the picture to enlarge it). The pea-size, flesh-tone spot is in the center of my forehead, one or so inches below my hairline:


French Vocabulary

le sourcil = eyebrow

la tendance = tendency

le porte-monnaie = wallet

un hôtel particulier = private mansion

Capture plein écran 16052011 092531

The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the five-star reviews, and order, here.



trompe l oeil wall painting france

This Frenchman has the right idea: wear a hat! Photo of the trompe-l'oeil taken in 2009, in Pourrières.

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 (to this new address)
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