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Entries from May 2012

a suivre

panneau de publicite (c) Kristin Espinasse
Panneau de publicité. An advertising signboard placed on an old cabanon. Click here to comment. To skip the debate, you might talk about the pretty flowers instead :-)

à suivre (ah swee-vrh)

                : to be continued

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Audio File
:  Listen to the following sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

La fin de cette histoire? C'est à suivre.... The end of this story? It's coming up next.... 


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

Over a week ago that I wrote about 17-year-old Max's stint in French basic military training. At the end of the story, I ventured to note that Part 2 and Part 3 would follow... Mon oeil! Mon oeil! they would!

I thought I had learned my lesson about announcing story follow-ups, having discovered how any number of calamities can pop up in between (namely, lack of steam!)—only to make a struggling writer regret her best intentions!

“No more ‘to be continueds’! And no more multi-part stories'!” I’ve cried on occasions in which inspiration deflated almost as soon as the story suites, or follow-ups, were promised! But this time it isn’t want of inspiration, but lack of permission that has foiled the delivery of Part 2 and Part 3 of the ambitious Military Trilogy!

It was while picking Max's brains for details in which to build “Part 2” that my son looked at me alarmedly: "Mom, those are French military secrets! You can't share them with anyone!"

Il va sans dire, or goes without saying, that this killed la suite--and maybe even Part 3 of the not yet celebrated Trilogie Militaire! (Might as well forget “The Laundry Scene”! Saperlipopette! I wouldn't want to spill the soap! I never realized that something as banal as sorting military T-shirts and briefs—and then innocently blogging about the chore—might compromise La France!)

“Mom,” Max explained, “ce n’est pas de la rigolade!

No, this was no laughing matter. A country’s security was at risk (I refrained from questioning Max about the likelihood of top military secrets being doled out to a troop of skinny 16-year-old volunteers. These kids were, after all, being wooed by the French government, they were not yet being entrusted with top secret info. But it would have made light of the sincere and hard work that my son had carried out, this far, had I poked fun at any part of what was, ultimately, a serious military formation. Max was right, ce n’était pas de la rigolade! What's more (should any powers that be be reading...) Max could certainly be trusted to zip his lip!)

“But what about the part about becoming invisible? Can I share that bit?” I persevered, hoping to write Part Deux.

“No! Mom, you can’t share that!”

“But you didn’t even tell me how you manage to disappear so it’s not like I’d be sharing step-by-step instructions or anything,” I argued. 

Max calmly shook his head.

“OK, well then can I tell them about the see in the dark stuff?—that’s so cool to be able to see when it’s pitch black out—never mind everything’s seen in green!”

"You can share that," Max agreed, after all most armies had night vision equipment, didn't they? or some version of it—even if that amounted to no more than the bright shining lune

So there is hope, yet, for Part 2 of the Fabulous Military Triliogy! Now to finish the laundry... housework always jogs my imagination, now if it would only jog my pen!

A suivre... (Oh, brother, there we go again. Promises, promises!) 


Comments Corner

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


Book Update: I hope to have another chapter for our red-penners, or voluntary readers, very soon! Thanks for sticking with me and for your patience and encouragements, which are always needed! (A little about these publishing projects here.)

French Vocabulary

mon oeil = yeah, right!

saperlipopette = don't miss this words meaning--as well as a story on French cuss words!--here.

ce n'est pas de la rigolade = it's no joke, no laughing matter

il va sans dire = it goes without saying

la formation = training program

la lune = the moon

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Training, training, training...

Smokey (background, to the right) says: Ce n'est pas de la rigolade! Serious stuff here! Now may I play?


Smokey: Ma, How do you say "blurry" in French.

Mama Braise: la langue* is a mystère. Now pull yours in!

*la langue = 1) language 2) tongue

Thanks for forwarding this post to a friend! 


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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journée du souvenir

Today's moving post is by guest blogger and author Nancy Rial (pictured here at the American Cemetery in Lorraine). Monday is Memorial Day in the US. The next post goes out Wednesday.

la journée du souvenir

    : memorial day

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Searching for Mon Oncle, Soldier Alan 
by Nancy Rial 

Years ago, we flew past the auto-route sortie to St. Avold, on a fast paced trip which encircled France and her bordering countries. I immediately thought of mon oncle who was buried there in the Lorraine Cimetière Américain but my companion could not be convinced to turn around, stop and investigate. It would have to wait for another trip.

Years later, I happened to be vacationing in Paris when the WWII 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of that city took place—with a parade beneath the open, elegant French windows of my borrowed apartment. My children were with me, and I was determined this time to take them to visit my uncle’s grave. The short visit en route to our next vacation “destination” was undeniably the most moving experience of the trip to Europe that summer.

The Lorraine Cimetière Américain, like the 10 other American military cemeteries of WWI or WWII, is well marked, and easy to locate. The reception room is comfortable and welcoming, the superintendents are bi-lingual, and one can find the location of a soldier’s grave. It is the visitors’ choice to be accompanied for a brief and moving ceremony, or be left to wander freely among the rows of often unvisited young soldiers.

It is an unforgettable experience searching for the soldier the first time. I searched for the familiar name until I recognized the letters on his croix, (there are many étoiles de David, also). Aha! There it is! Then the thought struck me that this is not the place one wants to find a name, for it means that the soldier resting there did not have the privilege of the long life that we live.

That first visit awakened more questions than it answered about this uncle I had never met. The kindly superintendent looked in his library for answers to some of my concerns. I wanted to know as many details as I could find about this young man’s life; just how much had he experienced? I have been investigating ever since.

The cemetery hosts an “Adopt a Grave” program, which is very important to the family of the soldiers buried across the seas from his homeland. No one in our family knows why my grandmother chose to leave Alan where he had fallen, but it is fitting that he is with his comrades, and that all these forever-young men should not be forgotten. The American cemeteries themselves are fitting reminders of the two countries’ entwined histories that started when France first helped the founding colonies of the New World to independence, and was later lent a helping hand in the 20th century.

For a truly moving experience, visit one of the World War II cemeteries on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day), or a quiet day of your next vacation. The rows of white marble crosses and Stars of David are inspiring and provide a good place to think about the value of life and what it means to be human. If you live in France, consider “Adopting” the grave of a soldier who gave everything so that we all have a good life. Then share the experience with the next


Le Coin Commentaires

To comment on Nancy's story, click here.  To share more information on American cemeteries in France, or to share your experience visiting one, thank you for using the comments box.

NRNancy Rial has a background in both the fine arts and library science. She is currently a library media specialist at the Cambridge Public Schools. She has been researching WWII for the past 10 years, and travels frequently between her home in Cambridge and France.

Read Nancy's book Alan's Letters 

"This is a personal chronicle of a teen soldier in WWII from basic training to his adventures across northern France on the front lines as a member of the Fifth Division, part of Patton's Third Army." Click here to order.

For more information on American WWII Military Cemeteries please visit here.

For more information about Nancy's uncle, Sgt. Alan Lowell, or how to get started researching your own soldat, please visit:



French Vocabulary

la sortie
= exit

mon oncle = my uncle

le cimetière américain = American cemetery

la croix = cross

l'étoile (f) de David = star of david

le soldat = soldier



Poppy (c) Kristin Espinasse

Learn the significance of poppies and soldiers remembrance: read this touching poem.

Poppies in Bollene (c) Kristin Espinasse

If reading this edition via email, you will need to click over the the blog to watch this touching "Day in the Life" of an American who lives in one of the soldiers cemeteries in France--in order to care for it. Don't miss the video, click here then scroll down to the video.

"Remembrance" by Smokey. Please forward this edition to a friend. Merci beaucoup!



Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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ceder le passage

Bull dog by the sea (c) Kristin Espinasse
Name this photo! Click here to add a picture title or a thought bubble. (Photo taken near St Cyr-sur-Mer).

céder le passage à quelqu’un

: to yield (when driving)

A Day in a French Life… by Kristin Espinasse

I woke up this morning with the nagging doubt that the kids might not make it to school today—worse, that we might be stranded on the side of the road, our thumbs awkwardly stuck out as we begged an early morning ride.

I should have filled the tank yesterday! And now, our car was almost out of gas. The nearest station is in Camaret, but that would mean backtracking. I could drive to Tulette, but was the pump open this early?

Just as I began calculating the distance from Sainte Cecile to Pierrelatte, Max offered  a solution. “There’s one near my collège. I’ll drive us there.”

Well, why not ? He has completed his cours de conduite, and the drive would count towards the 1000 hours kilometers of road time he would need to accumulate in order to get his license (but not before the age of 18).

Max, Jackie, and I buckle up and are soon on our way to Bollène, driving past fields of grapevines and little yawning villages, window shutters opening as we speed by. The morning sun feels good on our faces and the drive is relaxing, after all. As passenger, I feel pretty secure driving with our 17-year-old, who has completed an excellent driver’s training and knows the rules of the road by heart. He is probably a better driver than I am, but experience has merits of its own, namely precaution, which in my book trumps skill.

As we drive, I offer an ongoing commentary. “Always anticipate an obstacle—a little kid that bolts from a side street… or a dog… or a grand-mère or…”

Max interrupts. ”Mom, je sais!”

“I’m sure you know, Max. In fact, I think you are a very good driver and I feel safe riding with you. But it isn’t you I am worried about so much as the other driver out there. You must be alert! Practice defensive driving!”

Here Max shares the story about his driving instructor who had an accident in the very spot over which we are now driving. It was a head-on collision. He was driving with a new student.

“Did she survive?”

“Yes, the car just spun off the road… ”

The next few kilometers are passed in thoughtful silence. When Max picks up speed, I perk up.

“You need to slow down!” I remind him again. Only, for each reminder, Max has an argument.

“But Mom, the car is registering kilometers-per-hour, not MPH.”

It is too early for me to calculate (or divide?) kilometers to miles and so know whether Max is going too fast or too slow for my comfort zone. I cut to the point. “Well, it feels fast to me—so slow down!”

Nearing the village of Rochegude I have to look over at the odometer again.

“Max, what is the speed limit here?” 


“Then why are you going 84?”

“Mom! Old cars show a higher speed. We are really only going 80.”

“This is not an old car. Slow down!”

As we approach the gas station, it occurs to me that I won’t have to do the messy chore this time!

“Your driving instructors have taught you to fill the tank, haven’t they?”

“Yes,  but I can’t do it this morning. It will make my hands reek and I’ve got to go to school afterwards!”

I shake my head. He sure has an excuse for everything from faulty odometers to smelly gas pumps—and it all seems to work in his favor!

After I fill the tank, Max fires up the engine attracting the attention of the student in the next car’s passenger seat. Subtle Max, you are subtle! Careful, now, not to kill the engine as you did on the way in! You won't look so cool putt-putting out of here, just as you putt-putted your way in!

At the industrial roundabout in Bollène Max slows, observing the yield sign.

I watch as cars speed around the busy circle, or camembert. Although a little nervous, I trust that Max will take his time. Only, when a lumber truck passes carrying a forest of giant logs, I notice Max does not stop!

I watch as the semi-truck’s wheels spin past our car, which is presently entering the roundabout , right on the heels of the giant truck!

Our car slips in so close behind the semi that I fear we will be sucked in beneath the truck’s back tires. Looking up from the passenger seat, I now see a tower of lumber above us. The ends of the neatly cut trunks are so near our faces I can count the many circles that represent the tree’s age. Will we live as long?


In the school parking lot I am lecturing Max, who, as expected, has an argument for every point I make. And when he doesn’t have a point, he simply replies, “Quit screaming!”

Finally, I make an ultimatum:

“Max, you are NOT going to explain things away and have the last word each time! Now, listen closely. I am going to say it one more time and this time you will not interrupt me—do so and you will lose driving rights for two weeks!"

I finally get the chance to make my point without being cut off. “What you did was dangerous and there is no justifying it!”

I wait, lest one more peep come out of the reckless driver. When not one peep is made, I am satisfied and have to turn my face away, lest the smirk upon it degrade its authority.

Despite the grave situation that was now past us, it feels so good to have the last word. Cathartic, even! I can now see the allure “le dernier mot” has for my ever righteous kids!

But that self-righteous feeling soon gives way to simple humility and gratitude. Thank God none of us had the very last word this time!


Le Coin Commentaires

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

French Vocabulary

le collège = junior high school

le cours de conduite = driver education

la grand-mère = grandmother

je sais = I know

le camembert = the popular round cheese is also a synonym for roundabout

le dernier mot = the last word




Max likes to lift things, just look at those arms!


Smokey likes to eat things. Just look at that tongue!


No matter what you like to do, it's nice to stop to rest and to look in a new direction. To comment on a photo, click here.


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              Click to enlarge this photo, taken in Villedieu (near Nyons). 

Thanks for forwarding this post to a friend! 


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Dog in Villedieu (c) Kristin Espinasse
Thanks, Marsha and Dad, for such a nice visit! I hope you will enjoy this story that I wrote about it... (and here is that photo taken during our stroll in Villedieu "Town of God").

"Meet Chief Grape in Copenhagen . He will be pouring his wines at Mansted Wine May 28th, from 5 to 7 PM"

cadre (kadr)

    : frame (of picture, door, etc)

Note: there are more meanings for the French word cadre. Sorry to not have the time to list them here. Dust off those dictionaries and see for yourselves... meantime, a little bit of dust in the following story...

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


I was driving my dad and my belle-mère, Marsha, home to our vineyard when I realized that the room I had carefully prepared for their 4-day stay had something terribly, embarrassingly out of place! 

Despite the fastidious organizing that took place in the days leading up to Dad and Marsha's visit, I had forgotten all about the oil painting my belle-mère Marsha had presented us years ago. Currently it was missing its frame! More about that in a minute, meantime, there were other glaring oversights that were now coming to mind. For example,  I might have dusted Marsha's painting, as my own mom had, during her previous visit, when we wiped down all of Mom's paintings. I remember being astonished watching Mom wring out a dishcloth and set about scrubbing down all of her own oil paintings before placing them back on the counter tops.

Mom had overlooked the fact that her paintings were not hung properly, but there was one thing that bothered her. "They need frames. Promise me you will frame them!" I nodded my head as we stared back at the paintings, which gleamed. The colors were so deep and rich after the towel bath. I would have never thought to wash a work of art!

It was during that same visit that Mom discovered Marsha's painting.  Mom admired Marsha's rendition of a typical Provençal mas. The shutters and door were beautifully painted and the climbing roses that reached up to tickle the shutters made this an enchanting scene from any Francophile's dream.

Marsha had set the painting into a beautiful wooden frame before offering it to Jean-Marc and me. When Mom saw that frame her eyes began to shine and I sensed, even before the crime took place, what calculations were going on beyond that innocent face.

"No! The answer is NO!"

"But I just want to show you what my painting would look like if you ever got around to framing it!" Mom explained.

Fast forward to the drive home, where Marsha and Dad are chatting about the countryside as seen from the car window. Another conversation is going on in my own head:

I need to get to the room before Dad and Marsha do! But how to switch Mom's painting out of Marsha's frame?—when Mom's painting is in another room!  And what a dope you are to have placed Marsha's painting there—on the ledge of the heater of all places! This is really going to look bad!!!  

True! I should have given my belle-mère's painting a more prominent place than on the heater! But it wasn't the heat that threatened to damage the painting (we never use that heater, which serves more as a shelf for books and artwork).... it was the seeming carelessness that threatened to damage my carefully soigné appearance of a mature, has-it-all-together daughter. As it was the bed was impeccably made and the en suite bath shined, as did the floors. And then there was my belle-mère's painting—which sat there vulnerably, like a beautiful women whose summer hat had just been blown off by the Mistral... or pinched by a rascal! 

Meantime, Mom's painting of Le Quartier Juif à St. Maximin now boasted a beautiful frame! It would be one of the first things my Dad and Marsha would see when then walked in the front door.

As things threatened to quickly fall apart (we were nearing home now, just one or two blocks away from The Revealing Moment) I made a quick decision to come clean. Experience reminded me that skeletons always manage to work their way out of the closet, "Bonjour! Bonjour!", the moment the guests arrive. Besides, I have learned that the antics involved in covering up an embarrassing faux pas are often as ridiculous as the situation itself.  The skittish and bizarre behavior one exhibits while trying to mask the skeleton only makes the problem more obvious. There was no way to dart out of the car and into the house in time for a casual switcharoo without my behavior seeming weirder than usual.

Often the best course of action is to admit error and, if at all possible, to swiftly pass along the blame... 

"Marsha, there's something I need to explain... it has to do with that rascal mom of mine!"


Post note: my Mom and Marsha have an unusually peaceful relationship as wife and ex-wife of my dad, Kip.  You might say the women are as close as a painting and its frame!

Marsha was quick to forgive Mom and to assure me, "It's nothing to worry about! It's not at all important." Admiring Mom's painting, Marsha remarked, "It's just lovely." 

  Marsha_dad 007

No make-up (Marsha, left) and no breast (Mom, right). I hope my moms don't mind my posting their photo, taken in 2003 after mom Jules's mastectomy. Marsha offered a loving ear back then, and the two women continue to maintain a caring email correspondence. Mom always says, of her ex, that Marsha is the best thing that ever happened to my dad. I think he would agree.


I temporarily moved Marsha's painting to my desk, for inspiration while I typed today's story. Click on the picture to see a close up and to read the other inspiration (Flaubert's words) just above.

Here's Mom's rendition of Le Quartier Juif à St. Maximin. Mom can tell you stories about one of her favorite places. Maybe check the comments box later on.... Meantime, I need to learn how to drill a hole and hang some of these lovely paintings!

Comments Corner
Corrections and comments are welcome and appreciated. Click here to leave a message.  P.S. no vocab section today. Sorry about that!

Thanks for forwarding today's story to an artist, a stepmother, a daughter-in-law, or to someone you secretly admire! C'est l'amour qui fait tourner la terre (is that how to say "Love makes the world go round?")

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

apocope + favorite blogs on France

A child care center in Flayosc. Seems like yesterday that my son went to the crèche... read on in today's story column. 

une apocope (ah-poh-cowp)

    : the dropping of one or more syllables (or letters) at the end of a word

Ado, MacDo, frigo, véto, resto... the French seem to love abbreviation. This is not to say that others of us are not guilty of truncating terms: in English, for example, we say fridge... Can you help list more wee words or apocopic terms in French or in English? Click here.

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

Note: the following story was written in 2008, when Max was 13 years old. Our son turned 17 yesterday...
There is something in the air around here and it smells like Adieu, like goodbye to a time and a place; fleeting and fading... like freckles on a child's face.

It has me dragging my legs to bed while the sun is still shining or putting too much symbolism into the shape of the odd cloud that floats by my bedroom window. The angst, though passagère, is palpable, present as a foreign fragrance in the air.

"Do you smell something rotting here?" I ask the boys while rooting around for the culprit, who I suspect is hiding in these kitchen drawers. I wonder about the strange scent: is it a rat's adieu that I am sensing? And yet...the mouse traps are empty....

Max and his friend, Jack, shake their heads, a bit disappointed to have missed a rotting-rodent sighting.

"No, there's nothing there, Mom." Max confirms. "No mice," Jack seconds.
"Are you sure?" I question, giving the kitchen drawers a good tug while searching for the source of the odor.

The boys insist that they can't smell a thing, and I notice how they slip out of the kitchen lest they catch the foul fever that has seized me.

Surely the smell of something "turning" pervades the air? Oh well. I shut the drawers with a heavy sigh and return to the heap of children's clothing that needs sorting. As the giveaway pile grows, that palpable, perfumed something returns....

I pull one of the little t-shirts close and breathe in the scent of Nine-Years-Old. How long has he had this t-shirt? Four years? It was oversized to begin with and now it is easily too small for my son. Why haven't I given it away yet?


I set the shirt aside and curl up into a chair. Staring out the window, I notice the clouds pass even faster than the years have. I get up, turn my back on the clouds, and search the drawers again; this time for sweets. I am going to make a cake and quit staring at Time.

Later that night, my ears perk up when my son calls for me. "Give me a kiss goodnight, Mom?"

"You bet!" I say, wondering whether this might be the next-to-last time he asks.

"You know," I remind my son, pushing a lock of hair out of his face. "You are still a kid."

"Yes, mom... I am still twelve."

Suddenly, the air seems a little lighter, sweeter....
"And you will still be a kid when you turn thirteen...." I remind him. 
Max offers a doubtful look.
"No, Mom," Max argues. "I'll be a teenager."

That sweetness lingers for a moment before the scent molecules rearrange themselves once again, putting a bit of spice into their chemical makeup. I now understand what I have been sensing all along, and while I may have mixed feelings about it, one thing's sure: It smells like teen spirit.*

                                *     *     *

:: Le Coin Commentaires & Favorite Blogs on France ::
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box. Tip: no need to include a Web Site URL in the sign-up box (only if you would like to share your blog or website).

Speaking of websites, now's the time to share a favorite French-themed blog or website. Lynn at Southern Fried French tells me that  the blog A Small Village in France is hysterical and a favorite read. Check it out and share your favorites here!
Test your French comprehension with this bilingual story by our daughter Jackie. Have you read her essay on makeup?  You can read it here in French or in English! 

French Vocabulary

adieu = goodbye

passagère = brief, passing;

Smells Like Teen Spirit = song by Nirvana

Smokey says: it's hard to pose when looking sunward.

By the way, the shutters need painting... or is that a lizard that you are noticing, dear Smokey?

Thanks for forwarding this post to a friend! 

Still reading? Check out our Best Tips for Learning French! and while you are there, be sure to share a tip of your own.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

formation (warning: faux amis!)

Le Point Rouge, in Marseilles. Nothing to do with today's story, these are photos I took in '92, when I moved to Marseilles to live with this young accountant. Turns out Jean-Marc wasn't cut out for office work (an outdoors type, he is). Today, a story about our son, Max. Just what is he cut out for? P.S. Max turns 17 on May 17th. The next post will go out on Friday. See you then! 

la formation (for-maah-syon)

    : training, education

Example Sentence (audio file will return later...)

La Formation Militaire Initiale du Réserviste (ou FMIR) est une formation permettant à de jeunes Français volontaires d'acquérir les bases du savoir militaire. Initial military training of the reservist is a training program that permits young French volunteers to acquire basic military know-how.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE.. by Kristin Espinasse

We Want You!: The French air force woos our 16-year-old

(Part 1)

Week before last I picked up our son from military-training camp. Parked at the local base aérienne, I got out of my car to wait with the other families who were standing around the entrance. I was hoping to strike up a conversation with another mom or dad to learn how their son or daughter came to sign up for the FMIR, or la formation militaire initiale de réserviste. Were some of the parents as reluctant as I had been to allow their child's participation?

...and whose idea had it been to sign up for the reserves—the child's or the parent's? Chez nous it was 16-year-old Max's idea. As required by law, he had signed up for his recensement militaire (story & pictures here), or military registration. At that time he was given the information, I believe, for the FMIR training. He was told he could earn 1500 euros this summer should he be strong enough, physically and emotionally, to complete the 4-week training course. Such a challenge was just too tempting for Max, who showed unprecedented patience in putting together his dossier d'inscription: he scheduled his visite médicale, completed all the bureaucratic paperwork and noted in his calendar the various rendez-vous, including the two-week training camp that would take place during vacances de Pâques. 

Still, I had my doubts. And besides, if he wanted to earn cash, surely we could arrange that here at home, where there were vines to care for, a wine cellar to keep clean and orderly, cars to wash, and a lawn that needed mowing. But the truth was, Max wasn't motivated by money, but by a desire to defend his countrymen. Though his impulse was selfless, I thought about his lacking of a larger awareness. He was only 16, what did he know about life and liberty? To be fair, I can't say I know any more than he does, no matter how much more life experience I have had. In fact, the older I get, the less I seem to understand. 

The small crowd outside the air force base seemed relaxed, so I casually walked by with a nod and a smile, wondering where to park myself. I heard singing in the distance and decided to followed the melody.

When a barbed-wire fence prevented my wandering any farther, I settled beside the unfriendly divider. On the other side there were several giant avions de chasse. I recognized them from the affiches in Max's room—the air force, or ALA posters that had recently replaced the skateboard posters, which had, the year before, replaced the basketball posters.  So many passing themes, would this be just another phase, too? Dare one hope? or was such hope anti-patriotic or, worse, would my hoping that Max lose interest in the military be akin to not showing support or confidence in him for having made a first of many big life decisions? It was time to let him spread his wings... in the air force!  Comme c'est ironique!

The singing grew louder and I noticed a bit of movement in the greenery beyond. On closer look, it was a troop dressed in camouflage.  

My heart began to flutter as the realization set in: one of those marchers was my son! I watched neat, orderly rows advancing. I tried to understand the French lyrics to the military cadence they were chanting. Was it the equivalent to Sound Off? How little I know about customs or protocol, how little I know about the military in general!

The would-be airmen marched toward the gate, beyond which we parents waited. The marchers' eyes remained glued to the drill sergeant. Not one neck craned, not one mouth cracked a smile. Did our camouflaged kids see us on the other side of the fence?

There was Max! His face was set like stone but it was hard to miss the confidence which emanated from him. His pride reached right through the barbed-wire fence, embracing me. 

My eyes began to sting. But there was no reason to be emotional! The tears began to rise. But these were not soldiers returning from war! When the larmes threatened to tumble out, I hurried over to my car for a kleenex and dark glasses.

Why get all choked up? The other parents were holding it together just fine! They were confident and knew the obvious: that these were not, after all, young men returning from a battle! 

No, I reasoned, they were not! ...But did they realize they were preparing to go into one? 


(Parts 2 and 3 next week)

Comments Corner

Corrections, comments, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comment box. Thanks, in advance, for your response to this story and for sharing your experiences. Click here to comment.


A note to our voluntary proofreaders: the next story in the collection is "Pêche" about a couple of peach thieves. Keep this story, improve it, or scrap it? You decide! Click here to begin proofreading.

French Vocabulary

la base aérienne = air force base

FMIR = la formation militaire initiale de réserviste = initial military training for the reservist

chez nous = for us, in our case (literally "at our house")

recensement militaire  = military registration

le dossier d'inscription = registration file

une visite médicale = a medical visit, a physical

 les vacances (f) de Pâques = Easter break

un avion de chasse = fighter plane

une affiche = poster

ALA (l'Armée de l'Air [ALA]) = the French Air Force

comme c'est ironique = how ironic!

une larme = tear


Mama Braise (upper left) helps me to demonstrate motherhood and the hard-to-face decisions that our children make for themselves. Pictured are Smokey and his 5 sisters. "Mom, I want to live in America!" "Mom, I want to join the army!" "Mom... mom... mom!!!"

Your heart is in the right place. Whatever you do, my son, I will support you! Love, Mom.

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les chiens ne font pas des chats

Hollyhock and Wet Dog. Smokey volunteers his mug to illustrate today's expression "les chiens ne font pas des chats". Does he look disappointed by the news? No worries, Smokelicot, you can still do most anything you set your sweet mind to! Since your ordeal, two years ago, you are a true survivor!


les chiens ne font pas des chats*

    : the apple doesn't fall far from the tree

*literally "dogs don't make cats". Both the French and the English expression are used to indicate that certain family members look very much alike. See a very personal example at the end of this post!

 Audio File: Listen to today's expression: Download MP3 or Wav file

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

It's a little frustrant to want to chronicle the present... while trying to edit the past! As I watch the would-be stories slip away (I haven't told you about Max's two-week stint at French bootcamp or Jackie's early Mother's Day present or yesterday's visit avec mon papa!... and there's the nest of chirpy baby birds inside the mulberry's trunk...); no time to share these when trying to focus on a current project: the story collection Vignettes from the Var.

To proofread the next chapter, titled "Tiède", click this link:

Thanks in advance for your understanding and encouragement!



Comments Corner

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Le chat or Cat in Provence (c) Kristin Espinasse

Do you have a caption for this photo or the one below? Share it here.

                Photo of le chat blanc taken at le Girocèdre.

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Sylvia, Jean-Marc, and Mary (who saluts friend Penny Leady. Penny, you were missed!)

Mon papa et moi.  Do you think Dad and I look alike? Would you say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, or les chiens ne font pas des chats? Click here to comment.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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The old mulberry tree and a mis-mash pistache of chairs beneath. Big, small, creaky and tall--unstable as the weather!

Jean-Marc was right -- everything would work out fine. So when the rain drops began to fall, I carried on, setting up for our 30 guests comme si de rien n'était, as if nothing was amiss.

24, 25, 26... After several aller-retours to the house and back, there were almost enough chairs... Jackie's nightstand was dragged out... It would hold two more people, just throw a couple coussins on top!  I looked down at the cushions which were spotting—plop-plop-plop—with raindrops!

In the end, the chairs remained empty as our guests filed inside. Our kitchen was bigger than it seemed, and our 30 guests were cozy as wet sardines. 

(Note: the pictures and the rest of the text from this story were lost in one catastrophic instant (oh, technology!!!) Read Jean-Marc's note, just below--in the "audio section"--and Smokey's response at the end of this quickly-patched-back-together edition).

pleuvoir (pleuh-vwar)

    : to rain 

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc (who explains what I am too upset to even talk about!) : Download MP3 or Wav file

Et bien, j'allais juste finir une édition complète avec le verbe pleuvoir quand, pour quelques raisons, j'ai fait une fausse manoeuvre et j'ai perdu la totalité du travail que j'ai fait ce matin.

Well, I was just about to finish a full edition with the verb "pleuvoir" when, for some reason, I made a false operation and I lost all the work that I have done this morning.

Maintenant, je pleure mon édition... Now I'm mourning my post...


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

(No updates here today... I am working on the story collection. For those who would like to proofread this next chapter, click here and merci d'avance!)

Le Coin Commentaires

To comment on any item in this edition, thanks for using this link.



Smokey says, "Mama said there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this my momma said! "

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That nightstand I told you about. We wouldn't need the improvised seat after all... There's Max, bringing it back inside. P.S. Ever notice how the clouds disappear when the party is over? Have you ever had a surprising change of weather, and had to change your plans? I'd love to read your story, here in the comments box!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Bike in Puymeras (c) Kristin Espinasse

France is on the road again, with a new Président de la République française, though some wonder where we are headed. Photo taken at le Girocèdre restaurant, in Puyméras

mésaventure (mayz-avohn-tewhr)

    : mishap, mischance, misadventure

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

Almost as soon as our new "France United" president was elected, things fell apart here at home. The painful mésaventure happened last night, here in our kitchen. As certain accidents go, it was both bizarre and comical (with all due respect to the injured one).

Jean-Marc had opened the kitchen cupboard to check on the new mousetrap he had set, using a big hunk of Munster* for the tempting appât. I don't like cruel mousetraps or the fact that I—having unwittingly shopped for the cheese—have contributed to a souris's demise , so it should have come as a relief to learn that the mouse got away. As it was, I was unaware of the mouse's luck or that Jean-Marc had set another trap (the details of the accident would soon be revealed as we sped to the emergency room...).

From my vantage point, I saw a man opening a cupboard door, as if to toss something into the recycle bin beyond. Nothing unusual apart from the high-pitched scream that followed:


My first thought was that Jean-Marc had pinched his finger while shutting the cabinet door (happens to me from time to time only I never scream like that!) 

"Est-ce que ça-va, Cheri?" I asked, feeling somewhat smug about my own ability to tolerate pain. 

AÏE AÏE AÏE! "C'est pas vrai!" Jean-Marc cried. "I've dislocated my shoulder again!" 

The freak accident happened when Jean-Marc went to reach for the cheeseless trap. The mouse had succeeded in getting l'appât, leaving the trap springily intact. As Jean-Marc reached for it it snapped. Startled from the snapping he jumped, yanking his arm back before his finger got caught in the apparatus. It was the unusual jerking movement that caused his already troubled shoulder to dislocate.

After three hours at les urgences in Orange, Jean-Marc woke from his morphine-induced sleep. Like the previous visit, it took four assistants to put his shoulder back into place.

At two-thirty a.m. we pulled into our driveway. The crickets were singing beneath the bright moon which lighted the path to our front door. As we walked, I looked over at my one-armed man, whose upper body was wrapped in a tight elastic bandage. 

In contrast to the peaceful night, my mind raced. I felt that familiar tightening sensation in my throat. The alarm would sound in three hours' time and the race would begin again: this time without a second driver (to chauffeur the kids back and forth), without a bottler (we have 8,000 units of wine to bottle this week) and without an expressive speaker (Tuesday's wine-tasting has grown to 30 guests!).

On second thought, knowing my husband he will be just as eloquent, even with only one arm to wave around while talking wine. Up to me to refill glasses 120 times—should he decide to serve 4 wines!

"Tout se passera bien. Ne t'inquiète pas," Jean-Marc offered, as I shared my soucis. To eloquence I think we can add that he's got terrific reassurance!

Bon rétablissement, Chief Grape!


Comments Corner

To respond to this story or to any item in this letter, thanks for using the comments box.

If you like, you can read about the previous shoulder dislocation... and the one before that, too! 

French Vocabulary

la mésaventure = mishap

l'appât (m) = bait

la souris = mouse

aïe!  = ouch! ow!

est-ce que ça-va cheri? = are you okay, dear?

c'est pas vrai! (ce n'est pas vrai) = it can't be true!

 les urgences = the emergency room

les soucis = worries

Tout se passera bien. Ne t'inquiète pas = Everything will work out fine. Don't worry.

bon rétablissement! = get well soon!


*Did you know?

*The name "Munster" comes from the word "monastère" (monastery), the peasants having taken the habit of paying part of their taxes to the Ducs of Lorraine, by giving up some of their cheese.

Le nom de « Munster » vient du mot « monastère », les paysans ayant pris l'habitude de régler une partie de leurs impôts aux ducs de Lorraine en livrant ce fromage. --from French Wikipedia


  Wash-n-Dry (c) Kristin Espinasse

"The wash and dry cycles in Provence". Photo taken in Puyméras.

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Happy Window (c) Kristin Espinasse

A creative "lid" mask and a cheerful fenêtre in Richerenches, town of truffles, where the local church holds une messe aux truffesDuring this unique mass, donations are given in... truffles. See another window in Richerenches here.

le couvercle (koo-verkl)

    : lid

Reverse Dictionary
I found no "lid" expressions in French, so here are a few in English! Enjoy the French equivalents.

  • to keep the lid on something (scandal) = étouffer quelque chose
  • put a lid on it! (quit complaining) = arrête de te plaindre!  
  • an eyelid = une paupière 
  • a lid is also slang for une casquette, or cap


Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Sur le volet de la fenêtre, on aperçoit un couvercle. On the window's shutter, we see a lid. 


 Meredith maxine nina emma jackie

Left to right: Jackie, Kristin, Maxine, Meredith, Nina, and Emma. You will love Meredith's blog about France. Meredith also wrote about her visit to see us in her post "May Day Wine Tasting". Maxine, wearing the pretty scarf, visited with her husband, Steve (who took this photo and who edits Maxine's stories). Enjoy Maxine's words at Success to the Max and don't miss her post on meeting up with Jean-Marc.

Cheerful Dog & Les Fleurs de Lin (Flax). Smokey loves to play "Smokey on a big blue cloud".  A dog's imagination knows no limits!

P.S. Smokey would like to know: Qu'elle est votre fleur ou plante préférée? What's your favorite flower or plant? Click here to let Smokey know your answer.

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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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