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!

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