comme ci comme ca

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!

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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 KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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


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Jens from Copenhagen

Dear Kristi:

Happy to know that your little skin issue will soon be solved. Bonnes vendanges à tous au Domaine Roge-Bleu.

Jens from Copenhagen

Oops! I mean Rouge-Bleu, bien sûr!


Thanks for the update on the skin issue. Dutch uncle time: noticed in the Morrocan pictures you weren't wearing a hat. Tsk, tsk. That lovely face needs protection.
Hope your harvest is going well & your "pickers" don't have too much trouble adapting to reality. This aging body would only come if I could help in the kitchen. Prayers & good wishes surround you.


Bob Bashford's picture would lift anyone's spirit!

Bill in St. Paul

Twelve ten hour days!!?? Wow, that's got to be tough on the body. Who are these hardy souls, anyway? Good luck on Friday, we all hope it goes well!!

Debbie in Canada

Bonne chance on Friday! I would also love to be there for the harvest, but, like Betty, helping out in the kitchen, not in the fields. Malheursement, I have about five more years until I retire from teaching. Loved the photo of the dog with sunglasses!

gail bingenheimer

En quelques années, ils ont créé une vigne splendid à partir de rien du tout.
In a few years, they created a splendid vineyard out of nothing at all.

Herm in Phoenix, Az

Salut Kristin,

I’m happy you found a suitable doctor and it will soon be “au revoir” for your skin problem.

The harvest sounds like a grueling task for the harvest crew. Seeing the shredded tire on that wagon I’m thinking that “zut alors!” (darn! dang!) was not sufficient to express the emotions of the situation. Ha!

À bientôt


Also glad to hear you will be getting good treatment. Praying for you.

Wow! Your grape harvesting and all it entailed would make a great documentary. This includes your presentation to the harvesters about clothes and your gifts to them.

Love to read your writings in the morning.

Diane Kish

You are in my thoughts and prayers!You will do well!


I don't remember seeing whether or not you had a biopsy done on your "passager clandestin"? How will they know how deep it has meandered? All the best!!!


All the best luck to you on Friday, Kristin! And to Chief Grape and his hardy crew as well in the coming days of harvest.

Suzanne in Monroe Twp., NJ

Kristi, I know you will be fine on Friday and it will be good to have it over and done. Bonnes vendanges et pas plus "blast!" Trois bissous a vous et Jean-Marc. La Vendange en Bourgogne est finis!

Cheryl Alters Jamison

Kristin, Wishing you the best on Friday and with the vendange too. Regards to all the family. I know I've been AWOL from the conversation for a good while but all is well with us. We missed being in France this year. More another time. Bisous!!!!

John Ross

Kristin, I am pleased to see you have help from Tennessee. Paris is my mother's hometown and it is just up the road from mine, Savannah. Tell Earline hello.



Bon chance on the skin issue. I had the same thing (raised in San Diego) 10 years later all is well. Always wear hat & sunscreen!

I look forward to the "Word of the Day" Merci beaucoup!


Big, BIG hug to you for Friday and know my thoughts will be with you all day!
Jean-Marc sounds as though he has a merry, motley crew working for him this year! Boone chance with the harvest a lot of heart and soul will go into this vintage :-)



Oops...don't know what sort of accent I put into "boone chance" but sure "bonne" would work better ;-) !!


Bonne chance pour Friday!!! Bonne harvest a tout!!!

Jacqueline Brisbane

Hi Kristin, great, light-hearted présentation de la nouvelle équipe!.
Just some typos maybe?:
- burrs and stickers in tact!) should be intact
- plucking of a burr: plucking off
- on stepping foot. Could it be On setting foot?
Jacqueline (Brisbane 25 degrés centigrade)


Chers amis et amies, thank you for the caring and lovely messages! I am so touched and grateful for your support.

Maureen, during the proceedure, the doctor will send a sample to the lab (sur place) and he will then be able to tell if he has removed it all. It isn't Moh's surgery, but it is wonderful to have the chance to wait... while the testing is done.


Hi Kristin, good to hear that your doctor will get rid of that skin problem for you. Here's wishing you the very best!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
Great post and good luck with the harvest! I wonder what was done in 10 minutes! I love the picture of the dog with the glasses.


Bonnes vendanges à tous au Domaine Rouge-Bleu et bonne chance à vendredi avec ta chirurgie!

Charles Orr in Flat Rock, NC

Hi, Kristin...I'd like to join your many friends around the world in sending best wishes and positive energy your way for your procedure tomorrow. I'm glad you decided to get it taken care of promptly by a specialist. Also, you can tell Jean-Marc that the bottle of Lunatique that we bought from him when we visited in June was a featured guest at my birthday dinner on Tuesday. It was a worthy example of the vendange 2009, and we plan to pick up a new supply of Domaine R-B from Robert in Asheville tomorrow night. All of your hard work creates pleasure wherever it goes!

Madelyn E

Dear Kristin.

Hi. Joining everyone else to wish you Bonne Chance on Friday for your little surgery .

Thank you for letting us share the ups and downs in your French life .

Thinking of you . Wishing you a " Prompt retablissement ".

Madelyn E. (from Roslyn, NY )

Amy Kortuem

Oh yeah. When I was in high school, my family had huge rows of raspberries. I would pick the berries and sell them to grocery stores.

I had what I called my raspberry picking "outfit" - long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, long socks with my old shoes and a hat with pink netting over it so the gnats wouldn't eat me alive. All sprayed with bug spray. I didn't wash it for the entire picking time (why wash off all that good bug spray?). It practically stood up by itself in the corner at the end of the summer.

Those were the days! Hope grape picking goes well for you and that you're on your way to healing, soon.

Jean(ne) P in MN

Best wishes for the surgery and for the vendange. Treat yourself to a spiffy new sun hat when its all over.


Kristin, by now you've said adieu to your pesky friend. From someone (also blond, light complexion) whose first of many was discovered while we were living in Phoenix, please protect yourself from that strong soleil du Midi. Cover up and make sure Max and Jackie do the same! Sending good thoughts!

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

Another great story :) Thinking of you my lovely, dear friend and wishing you well! Love xoxo

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

Another great story :) Thinking of you my lovely, dear friend and wishing you well! Love xoxo

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