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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Maxine Tomashefsky

Kristin, I just finished writing My Blog article about our visit with you and the wine tasting afternoon that we spent with Charlotte and the group of new friends that you introduced us to. Then two minutes later I got a call from my husband Steve telling me that you emailed him the sad news about Charlotte's passing. I just sat here silent for a moment. I do not know if it is an American or European belief that deaths happen in three's, but we just got news of two friends in California passing away last week and today Charlotte is the third...
We feel so lucky and privileged to have met Charlotte even for just the one afternoon.
I had also hoped to visit with her again and hear more of her stories about her amazing life. I will treasure that afternoon with Charlotte and the whole group of our wonderful new friends. People come into our lives and many touch them in a special way. How wonderful that you have come into our lives and for introducing us to Charlotte. Thank You, Maxine & Steve

Karen Whitcome  (Towson, Md)

This is a beautiful tribute. She sounds enchanting. Maybe you will be able to write a memoir for her based on those letters and stories. Those are my favorite stories to read and that generation has some captivating stories to tell.

Frances Ruth Harris

Thank you for sharing such a stellar life with us!



I am so sorry for your loss - I know you felt a deep connection with Charlotte, I remember you calling me immediately after you met her when she arrived with Gus and Paulette. When I come to France we will shop for a special frame for Charlotte's photo. She is locked in your heart forever. How interesting the power of your 'key' - how it has opened so many hearts to love and connection.

I am always so proud of you and the woman you have become.



Par Roanoke, VA

So sorry to hear the sad news. A beautiful life, beloved by many, certainly the most meaingful legacy one can leave. Her inspiration remains.

Suzanne Codi, Washington, DC

Hi Kristi, and thank you for sharing Charlotte with us. She sounds like a wonderful person, and you are very fortunate to have met her and heard some of her stories. I agree with Karen, maybe you can write a story in your next book about her.
Time has a way of sneaking up on us, life and our obligations prevent us from doing things we would love to do, but cannot fit in despite our best intentions.This amazing woman seems to have lived every moment to the max, like you do! AND you take the time to record many of those memorable moments. That you didn't get to visit her one more time is too bad, but writing about her more than makes up for it!

Cynthia Baita

Dear Kristi,
Thank you for posting these sweet pictures of Charlotte. I do remember the picture of her and Guss with the key they won. I am so glad they won! I'm sure it meant allot to her.
Cynthia from Florida

Linda Williams Rorem

When elderly people die, others often ask, "How old was he/she?" as if a certain age makes death acceptable. Seems to me that in Jeanne's case, 92 was far too young. Thanks for this beautiful post and tribute to what must have been an exceptional lady. I would have read her memoirs, too.


Mes condolences, chere Kristi.....

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
What a nice tribute to Jeanne! I love the beautiful photo of the sky above Mont Ventoux! Jeanne is looking down with a smile!

Julie S.

Wonderful, lovely story today. I feel like I have been touch by Jeanne as well. The picture today is beautiful as well. This was a wonderful tribute to Jeanne and her family and I am sure they will treasure this post about her today.


Thank you. A life beautifully lived. I did not even meet her until today and I feel her absence. Be well. Mary

Bill Facker

Thank you, Kristin. I am reminded by this post to communicate and share my feelings with those I love. Giving our love and affection for others may be the most important act we perform. Aloha, Bill

Judy W.

Thank you, Kristin, for introducing us to such a grande dame and for your very touching tribute. It's a reminder to all of us to stop and listen, especially to our elders. The art of oral storytelling has become overshadowed by modern communication techniques. (Hard to imagine Jeanne's interesting life reduced to twitter feeds.) A few years ago, I spent a wonderful evening with my Uncle Joe who had fought in France in WWII. He told us hours of stories of his interactions with the French people, especially the farmers who helped him. It was an evening I will never forget.

Lisa A.,Los Angeles, CA

I too remember reading this story. So sorry to hear of her passing and of your loss. My heart goes out to you and her family. This was a beautiful tribute to her.
Thank you for sharing her with all of us. Hugs!


Après Ginny, encore une autre personne qui a quitté ce monde. C'est la vie...
Je me souviens encore de Jeanne dont tu as parlé avec beaucoup d'affection récemment, lors de la visite de Gus chez toi. J'ai même commenté que c'était une femme élégante.
Mes condoléances à Richard, que votre mère repose en paix!


Our dear Kristin,
Jean was so blessed to have you as her friend (as are we!)
This is such a beautiful tribute!
Your words bring us into your life,and share your adventures-- even when death touches the FWAD family,you soften the sadness.
Love, Natalia XO

richard pendell

Thank you all so much for the wonderful show of affection for my mother,Krisin,she was attached to you and Jean-Marc,as so many were attached to her,tomorrow is going to be very difficult,her friends and our family are coming from all over Europe,to honor her,I am very touched, but not at all surprised,whe was very special,and will be missed...
Again,thanks to all,Richard
P.S the invitation stands

Paulette Gripp

dear Kristin, thank you for the beautiful tribute to Jeanne, she was a very dear friend and an inspiration to me for so many years. I do feel the world is a bit poorer and sadder because of her passing. She will always remain in my heart.

Suzanne de Cornelia

I just love and gravitate to women like Jeanne.

My grandmother, her French friend Miss Colburn (who spat on a Nazi officer during WWII in occupied Brittany and was thrown in prison till her American diplomat husband got her out!)

What a charming lady, and lovely tribute. Thank you!

May beautiful Jeanne be among the angels most divine!

Diane Rincones Hess

Ahh, such a loving and beautiful tribute. I too have the loss of dear and beloved friends in the last few months...We must all live each day as if it were the last, with no regrets...I am grateful for you sharing this touching article.




Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

This was a joy to read and brought a tear knowing, through your words and sharing, a very special and spirited lady has left our presence. I am delighted you were given the chance to know Jeanne and share her style and sparkle with us. I smile to picture the two of you giggling like school girls during Jean-Marc’s presentation. I send out a wish on the wind to all those who Jeanne has left behind, feeling the sadness of this loss.

Becky Farley

Dear Kristin,
I'm so sorry to read of Charlotte's passing.
My husband Frank and I had the privilege to attend your wine tasting on April 26th. It was at this wine tasting when we were able to meet Charlotte, Gus and Paulette (and you and Jean Marc of course). Frank and I love telling the story of the key and how Paulette and Gus started dating. We also love telling all the stories that were shared that day. Charlotte was such a delight. Someone who just naturally touched your heart with her radiant warmth. I feel so blessed that I was able to meet her.

Susan Carter

A beautiful tribute to a lady who has now touched so many through your words. Thank you Kristin.


What a lovely tribute. I would love to have heard her stories. The love story, the life lived, the return to her home country. My heart goes out to her family.

Edie Kilgour

How warm and loving a remembrance for such a lovely lady. Thank you for letting us know her vicariously. I hope you can take great comfort in all of your memories of the time spent with her.
Edie in Brunswick, Maine


Dear Kristin, I was so happy to have had the joy of meeting Jeanne, (aka Charlotte) along with Gus, Paulette, Becky and Frank at your wine tasting on April 26. Hers is a memory I will treasure always, and I have passed it on to my own granddaughter Charlotte who is another vivacious personality. My condolences to her family and many many friends and admirers, one of whom I count myself.
I am so glad that you had another chance to meet her and add to your memories of a wonderful woman.


So much character in her face. Easy to see an interesting and well lived life. l

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