etre dans la lune
How to Say Valentine in French?

a fond

When the last time you were "cat" off guard? What did you discover about yourself: pridefulness? greed? Read on in today's story....

à fond (ah fohn) prepositional phrase
    : deeply, thoroughly

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following quote: Download MP3 or Wav file

A mon avis, vous ne pouvez pas dire que vous avez vu quelque chose à fond si vous n'en avez pas pris une photographie. In my opinion, you cannot say you have thoroughly seen something if you haven't taken a photograph of it. —Emile Zola

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Booksales Report: only two days left to reach my goal of 1500 books sold in the first six weeks since publicationI have another 114 copies to go... Can you think of anyone who might enjoy a copy of Blossoming in Provence? Meantime, click here to check out the latest reader reviews!

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

On Consideration and Connecting (This story first appeared in January 2008)

Not far from some lazy lavender fields, gray now with the grogginess of winter, lives a picture perfect town. There, above a valley of grapevines, geraniums grow in wintertime, tempting French cats to pose prettily beside them (they'll even say "cheese", or ouistiti, if you ask them to, unlike those hurry purry Parisians).

I reach up to snap a photo of some small flower pots that are crowded together, as if for warmth, along a window sill. Beyond the fenêtre, I can just see into a private residence, where a porcelain lamp glows above a well-polished table. My eyes zoom out and refocus on the painted volets. As the shutters come into focus, the private study receeds into a cozy blur. Très bien... I take up my camera again.

I am pointing my lens to the lively window, when my walking companion remarks, "The pictures frame themselves." 

Click... Snap! 

Her breezy comment ruffles me. Pretty pictures might frame themselves, but you must first search out the frame-worthy subject! Then, there are a number of considerations—including, for one, consideration! (I think about the window that I have just captured, careful to blur the private interior, choosing to bring the shutters into focus instead).

If I am a little froissée, or feather-ruffled, it is less about my friend's innocent comment than about my fussy reaction to it. 

Thinking about the fuss, I recognize a familiar old character. L'Ego! Yes, here we have the ego talking, blathering on with its absurd sense of pride! C'est PATHETIQUE! It isn't as though I have ever taken a photography class or know anything about the rules of photo composition. The fact is I am an untrained photographer who is learning by doing, having had some lucky shots along the way—and some generous feedback. Perhaps the feedback has gone to my head?

Turning to my walking companon, I offer an awkwardly delayed reaction to her observation (I nod forcefully). When my head begins to shake, I recognize, once again, the inner wrestlings of that stubborn ego, which is still not willing to cough up a humble response, such as "So true! It is easy as pie to take a stunning picture in France! Anyone can do it!" (I am satisfied with this imagined response, especially since pie, to me, is rocket-science!)

Turns out there is no need to respond to the comment, and my mini identity crisis goes unnoticed. My friend is a million miles away, lost in the beauty of a Provencal village. Our photo périple rambles on, punctuated by her innocent commentary:

"Villedieu," she coos. "The name of the town says it all!" I relax back into the environment, as we stroll though the "Town of God," photographing the already "framed" pictures. Like a blessed writer—through whom words flow as if channeled—we point our cameras, letting the village compose itself. 

My roving eyes catch on The Sweeping Woman. Every town has one. She is the picture of domestic sagesse: broom in hand... and yet wearing a dainty dress! 

As I take up my camera, that itchy inner-dialogue starts up again. Now that the ego has fallen to sleep, Ms. Ethics has returned with a discours on dignity:

Madame—or "The Sweeping Woman", as you call her—is not behind bars in a zoo. She is not swallowing a blazing torch in one of three circus rings. She is not lounging in a window display, swathed in a beaded gown and feather boa—bringing fashion barracudas to halt along 5th Avenue, at Bergdorf Goodman's. She is, simply, being she. So let her be!

I consider Ms Ethics thoughts about dignity and manners. But might one try a direct approach, something like: "Bonjour, Madame, may I take your picture?" 

I imagine Madame's response. "What is it about me that you find so amusing? It is my white hair? My worn robe? Or is it my Frenchness that is on show?"

In an ethical instant I decide not to snap a picture of Madame and her balai. And yet...

I want Madame's picture because she reminds me of warmth and not steel, being and not doing, prayer and not pricing. She is authentic, real—unswayed by commercial sex appeal. It is what is missing—hairs in place, make-up on her face, a knotted shoe lace—that makes her mystical to me.

No. Not all pictures frame themselves. Some must remain uncontained—free to travel beyond the camera lens, beyond even the mind's eye... to expand and to swell like a giant-hearted universe.

I slip the camera into my coat pocket and take one last admirative gaze at Madame. Her broom comes to a halt as she fastens her eyes on mine. The universe that is my own heart skips a beat. Madame smiles.

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

French Vocabulary

ouistiti! (exclamation) = cheese! 

la fenêtre
 (f) = window

le volet = shutter

très bien = very good!

froissé(e) = offended

l'ego (m) = ego

c'est pathéthique = it's pathetic 

le périple = tour, journey

la sagesse (f) = wisdom

le balai (m) = broom

la robe (f) = dress

Cat on a leash (c) Kristin Espinasse

This man gave me permission to take his photo, but that didn't keep Ms. Ethics from mumbling "and did you ask the cats for their permission? To name this photo or to add a caption, click here.

Book Giveaway!
Enjoy Lynn's latest post over at Southern Fried French... and enter to win a copy of Blossoming in Provence. Check out the details here

And thank you, Vera Marie, for the "Blossoming" write up you did at Traveler's Library. Mom was so excited, too,  to see your review

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


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

Frances Ruth Harris

Mutual satisfaction on the stoop!

Helen  Sturgeon

I just pushed the button on my last order from my Christmas Amazon gift card.. Blossoming in France (yeahhh!), the NEW Michelin Green Guide to Provence (coming out in April) and Food and Wine's One Hundred and One Beautiful Villages in France (inspiration for travel, cooking and watercolors). I can hardly wait for delivery! Thank you so much for sharing!

Pat, Roanoke, Va

You have an eye, and you--certainment!--have a way with words, chere Ktistin. Mercis again for todays musings, a topic everyone can relate to...our incessant mind-chatter, ever buoyed by The Ego Desperado!

Karen Whitcome (Towson, MD. USA)

I know that the constraints made by the boundaries of your camera lens, Kristin, can't keep MY mind's eye from moving forward in anticipation of what's ahead. With every snap & click, your photographs keep me wandering ahead of you through many French towns, vineyards and homes. It's always an enjoyable journey.

Sarah LaBelle

What a great word, ouistiti. Better than the word cheese for a mouth to form into a smile.

Even funnier to me, it is the French name of a marmoset (sort of a monkey) from Brazil.

That was fun to learn.

I agree that good photos do not frame themselves. Your friend seemed to be pleased with all she saw, found it picture perfect. Which is a different notion, I think.

Sarah near Chicago

Ophelia in Nashville

Thoughtful and wise, comme toujours.

Love the photo, too.

Bonne journée.

Linda R.

Ne sois pas froissée : )

I am often envious of your and Corey Amaro's photo opportunities in France, just knowing that everything is right there in front of you. I also realize that it takes an artist's eye to find just the right opportunity - you are blessed with the best of both worlds.

"Ouistiti", what a fun word - thank you, Sarah, for the explanation; otherwise I almost would have thought it was made up on the spot.

Your connection with Madame was beautifully written, Kristin. And thank you for the connection with - I clicked onto it, and the review(s) just drew me in.


It doesn't matter if something is "easy"... the question is, do you do it? You brighten the days of countless others with your lovely photos and stories, but does your mate? Do others? No, probably not. They no doubt have other talents that come easily to them.

Pick something and do it well, right? Imagine the world if we all did that.

Johanna DeMay

Bonjour Kristin,

Insightful and beautifully written. A lovely start to my Monday morning! Merci!

Johanna DeMay
Albuquerque, NM


On a trip to Italy a number of years ago, I must have taken a 1000 photos. But the two that forever remain vivid in my mind's eye are two photos of people that I did not take, for some reasons similar to yours.

And for those of you who might believe that taking photos in France is as easy as pie, be inspired to take your camera out in your own neck of the woods to take what I call Kristin-like photos of details and smiles.

Diane (Brunswick, GA)

Kristin, I love your musings. I can relate so well, especially to the self-talk. Sometimes I egg myself on to do something, chew myself out, then try to smooth my ego--all in a nanosecond. As for your photography, I admire its naturalness and penchant for the overlooked and unposed. Keep up the good work! I look forward to every posting. Ouistiti was the frosting on the cake. I've been trying to remember what the French say for "cheese." Love it! I know you don't want to dwell on your medical challenges, but where are you in the process of tissue removal and restoration? I think of you soooo often.


Once again your words bring pictures to my mind. I so enjoy that about these visits to your blog!
It is interesting when out and about with a camera isn't it? there are indeed some "photo's" that you glimps, tuck away in your mind and pull out to view once in a while. Two of my favorites are very different from each other. One a big red long horn steer laying on the new bright green grass of spring, surrounded by trees and framed by an open gate. The other is a woman exiting a local floral store, she paused to look about for her companion, or car, and there she was, her dress was such a carefree style that seemed to fit her personality so well, she was not young, nor was she old, and there she was framed by an open gate, surrounded by flowers...
I am not always brave enough to ask strangers if I might photograph them...but I am working on that :)


Yes! Yes! This dilemma is such a frustrating one. Your thoughts right on and always met with varying degrees of receptivity. I 'had' a conversation with a VERY interesting looking fellow I met on a bus here in Hawaii. He acknowledged my 'trying to be discreet' looks his way, with such warm compliment it immediately warmed my heart. But as our acquaintedness grew over several coincidental bus rides I learned the truth of photo taking from his eyes. He conveyed to me the disgust of people wanting to take his photo, the impersonal nature of their meetings and that they didn't know him at all, why would they want his photo? He valued himself as a person with an identity that afforded some consideration and connection never wanting to give himself away to a lens that took his image away never to be heard from again. It really bothered him that people could just take and not ever see or know him. I still yearned for a photo of him, undisclosed to him and embarrassed by my secret - just like everyone else who wanted to capture this light of a being.


Thank you so much for these wonderful words and stories. I look forward to reading French-Word-A-Day I find it a fun and interesting way to learn French.

Vicki, San Francisco Bay area

Kristin, I began subscribing to your emails because of my love of the French language and desire to grasp an opportunity for learning new words and phrases. But I have gained so much more. I am always impressed by your natural talent for photography (without the need of a formal photography class) and your talent with words. You can look at the things that make up everyday life and compose them into pictures and stories with insight and lessons learned. You inspire me to look at my daily life with new eyes. When I travel, I take lots of pictures, but today I am inspired to go out and take some of my own region. I may discover sights I have never seen before.
Good luck with your surgery tomorrow. Sending prayers and good thoughts your way.

Robyn Daniels

Hi Kristin
Another lovely posey of words and pictures. I agree that although there may be beguiling beauty all around us with apparently every scene a picture waiting to be taken (as here in Fethiye Turkey too) I applaud your ethics in resisting taking a photo sometimes. Surely just to appreciate the 'being' of a thing is enough - and sometimes it seems we are doomed to fail in capturing the beauty our eyes see. Our photo doesn't do justice - but the internal image or memory that is imbued with thought, feelings, colour, smell and touch is intact and perfectly recorded. I recall as a small child wanting to capture the beauty of a small blue butterfly that hovered amid violets in a woodland glade - and I wanted to possess it so badly I scooped it up and enclosed it in my clasped hands. It fluttered against my palms and then when all the panic seemed over I peeped at it through a spyhole in my thumbs and to my dismay found the lovely creature lying lifeless in the cupola of my innocent prison. I learnt a lesson then that we should not try to possess beautiful things in nature that are born free. Now I just enjoy watching. As an ailurophile by the way, I love the pictures of cats - I shouldn't worry about'permission' for taking pictures of cats - they know they are all photogenic and always 'Ready for my close-up Mr De Mille!' - they are vain-glorious creatures - and besides a cat is always watching you! They find us humans just as fascinating as we find them.xx Robyn xx PS My best wishes for your surgery too - sending healing angels xx

Judi (Lake Balboa, CA)

Kristin - I've been there so many times! "To snap or not to snap" = often a challenge, and one that turns up at times when we most want to carry that physical image home with us, thinking our mind's eye won't be able to keep it in tact! It's so arrestingly beautiful, a woman sweeping her front step, a boy playing soccer with his dad, a grandmother sharing her ice cream cone with her grandson (or her dog!).. Mr. Ethics gets me too. I resist and I still want. It is a dilemma. But, I feel better when the Angel on my shoulder wins over the Devil on the other shoulder who begs me to secretly snap 'just a quick one.'

Best of luck with your surgery, pre- & post-anxieties today & tomorrow. It will be so good to get past it! Meanwhile, one breath at a time! XXOO Judi

P.S. Robyn - what a wonderful 'life lesson.' Thank you for sharing!

Debbie Ambrous

Such a beautiful story! I could feel every part of it since I'm an amateur photographer also who has received some praise from others. Thank you for sharing the enjoyment of lovely lady in the village.


Excellent post today, Kristin. Je l'ai lu et relu pour tout comprendre à fond. :-)
Froissé also means wrinkled as in "la robe froissée", or crumpled as in "du papier froissé".

Cynthia Lewis

Mille mercis, Kristen, for sharing your thoughts and photography with all of us. And thanks,too, Jean-Marc for reading an entire sentence; it gives us the lovely rhythm of spoken French. Best wishes your way... especially tomorrow....from Eastern Shore of Maryland


Each post is a treasure of insight into humanness. Crafted like a master, no waste, only the beauty of your words and your insights.

You obviously make some things like photography look easy, but we all know it is another art form.

Merci pour chaque pensee!

mhwebb in NM, USA

Love the piercing stare of the cat with the white chest!


Ouistiti... I love the way it sounds! And the smile that it brings to one's face :).

Karen Stoeckley

Kristin, I was waiting for Blossoming to appear on the Kindle list, as that is how I do the majority of my reading about France and Provence, specifically. Most every morning my husband John and I meet in our sitting room and I read to him some book regarding Provence. We have do this for over 14 years, always delighting in finding towns and restaurants we have visited or stayed in, mentioned by the authors. But reading you only had 2 days to meet your goal I went ahead and got a copy from Amazon in paperback this morning. Now you need only sell 113 copies by tomorrow! Best Wishes. If we get together in April I'll bring it along so you might sign it for me. I also read your columns to John in the mornings as our primer to learning to speak French for our eventual relocation to Provence. Thanks for your good work. Karen in Missouri

Eileen deCamp in Charlottesville, VA

Bonjour Kristin,
I love this post! Good luck with the book! I just picked up my second copy yesterday to give to a friend who is learning French!

Audrey Wilson

Bonjour Kristin,
I alwauys admire your photos . Like you I enjoy photography & like you the villages around our home are full of opportunities .
You are probably too busy with French Word A Day, but I belong to a site for photographers -"www.Flickr. com". From being a member I have honed my skills & have learnt much from ,the various groups within the site & from contacts (it is similar to facebook in this )There are some superb photographers who post on this site .
Many of your shots of villages would be great in a group which I administer within Flicr ,called " Viilages and Small Towns"
Anyway, I look forward to your next French Word A Day & the great shots you take.









Sarah LaBelle

Hope that all went well on the surgery, and it heals up quickly.

Sarah near Chicago

weekend getaway Philippines

I hope all is okey now. get well soon.



Bird friendly cats, greatM

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