la SPA


The sky above Mont Ventoux.

 s'éteindre (seh-tehndre)

    : to go out (flame), to die

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

Une jolie lumière s'est éteinte. A lovely light has gone out.

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

A lovely light goes out...

Gus and Paulette wrote to tell me the sad news. Jeanne (aka "Charlotte") passed away on Friday, June 15th. Elle s'est éteinte à l'âge de 92 ans.  

"The captivating lady has passed on..." Gus wrote. "She was a remarkable woman, so full of life and a wealth of knowledge about France and the United States."


The last time I saw Jeanne, she looked so stylish in her slacks and avant-garde sweater.

"I love what you're wearing!" I whispered.

Jeanne looked down at her outfit, admitting: "I heard that you admired the jacket I wore last time I visited. I didn't want to let you down—so I was careful to dress up again!"

For a moment, I remembered what I had written about Jeanne, in a recent post. I had meant to write a colorful tribute to her (in honor of her colorful personality), but ended up hastily posting a photo, at the end of the edition, quickly noting our first encounter. Here's that photo and that hastily written caption:


Jeanne moved to the States in 1946. Though she visited France over the years, she only moved back recently, to be near her son. 

...Jeanne's mother spent the last 19 years of her life with Jeanne in the US... During a cross-country road trip, in which wizened mother and daughter discovered the States, Jeanne explained, "Mom never needed to stop to eat or to go to the bathroom! She just wanted to get back into the car and take off!" 

Jeanne's mom, who lived her life in France (minus the last nineteen years in the States, with Jeanne), answered her daughter's telephone with a polite, but question-stopping greeting: "I do not speak English," she said noncommitally.

Jeanne's mom wanted to join the French army... but just shy of 1 meter 50, she was not tall enough. In the picture, above, you can just spy Jeanne's lovely turquoise blue, brocaded jacket. Don't let her elegance intimidate you--she has a sense of humor that could relax a panel of politicians (which, by the way, is as much as I know to say about the current elections. I VOTE JEANNE!!!) Jeanne, come back and visit sometime!

Despite my pasted-together "tribute," Jeanne did return, soon after, to join us for another wine tasting. As we giggled beside the picnic table, Jean-Marc stood at the other end, giving his Domaine Rouge-Bleu presentation. We had a full group at the May 1st meet-up. All eyes were on the speaker, except when the giggles began again, at which point some of that attention may have dispersed.... 

 "I'd better quit talking," Jeanne said, and I quickly made the same vow: no more asking Jeanne questions until after the wine presentation!

We sat like that in silence, one of us now focusing on the speaker, the other still focusing on Jeanne. I noticed the classic accessories she wore: the gold stud earrings and matching necklace, un collier boules Marseilles. Unmistakably French! No matter how many years Jeanne lived in the States (over 50—ever since an American soldier fell in love with her in WWII Avignon...), she carried her Frenchness with her, via these golden touches and a very thick and charming accent.

That charming accent directed itself toward me, once again, as Jeanne asked, in whispered tones about my writing. I tried to explain the kind of stories I share—snippets of life in France. Jeanne chimed in that she loved writing too—letter-writing! But correspondence was becoming a lost art, Jeanne explained, adding, "and when people do write back, the letters are so boring! They lack imagination!" More chuckles erupted as we commiserated about the writing life. 

There were so many more questions I had for Jeanne, who encouraged me to stay in contact. 

"Come and see me in Avignon," she offered. "I would love to show you around!" Her French-American son, Richard—who had brought her to the wine-tasting—seconded the offer. "Come when you like," Richard said, in an American accent so different from his mother's. "We'd be happy to see you any time."

That was May 1st. I planned to visit Jeanne in the coming weeks, perhaps by the end of May? before the busy summer picked up.... I would wait no later than June. I would at least call! We might go to lunch and then go and see Jeanne's childhood home, at the Chartreuse, a former cloister. Yes, that would be a good plan! 

May flew by and mid-June came soon enough, along with the news of Jeanne's passing.


Like the clumsy letter-writers that Jeanne affectionately "complained" about, I have struggled here to find the words to honor my newest friend, who passed away unexpectedly—before I could know her better. As Gus noted, above, Jeanne had so much more to share with all of us. She told me that she might like to write her memoirs, via a series of letters. I secretly hoped she would send them to me. Jeanne's life was so much more interesting than any of the biographies or novels I'd read. More than a character, Jeanne a.k.a. "Charlotte" is a legend.

It is the French translation to this well-known song that speaks to me most. I hope it is a fitting closing to this tribute.

Ta chandelle s'est éteinte bien trop tôt. Mais ta légende restera à jamais. Your candle's burned out long before your legend ever will.


 This story is dedicated to Jeanne's son, Richard, and to Jeanne's friends Gus and Paulette—and to all those whom Jeanne has touched


Post note: It is thanks to Gus (pictured above) that I met Jeanne. Gus won the key that I wrote about here. It was thanks to Mom, who picked Gus--after reading his comment.

With special thanks to Gus's Paulette, who met Jeanne decades ago, in America, when both French women joined a group of French women expats. Paulette, thank you for sharing your Jeanne with us!



Jeanne, standing beside Maxine, who visited us for the May 1st tasting. Photo by Steve Tomashefsky. I regret missing the chance to have my own photo taken with Jeanne. Thankfully Steve got this beautiful photo of Jeanne and one of her admirers.

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