parler en public: video of my talk + bribing Shakespeare and Company bookshop
Chapter 1: Positano, Italy - Summer 2002

mener a la baguette

New roommates in 1993. We are eating in Place Thiers, just off the Vieux Port, in Marseilles
Courtship at La Cloche à Fromages restaurant in Marseilles. The year was 1993 (the handwriting is my husband's). Little did I know the adoring Frenchman, was really the authoritaire Frenchman! But that is only my side of the story. According to him, I'm the bossy one. What's sure, is neither of us has a lot of patience. Read on.

mener à la baguette (meuh-nay-ah-lah-bah-get)

    : to boss somebody around

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the example sentence, below, in French: Download MP3 or Wav file

La femme qui porte la culotte mène sa famille à la baguette. 
The woman who wears the pants bosses her family around.

Improve your French pronunciation with Exercises in French Phonetics. Click here. 

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

The Taming of the Shrew

A nice, hot cup of tea was calling me Friday evening at the end of a busy week. I had just put the kettle on the burner when Jean-Marc rang, asking me to come film him at the newly-cleared terrain down the road, where he will plant his mourvedre vines next year.

Reluctantly, I switched off the gas burner and went searching for the caméscope my husband gave me for my 45th. Finding  it with Jean-Marc's affairs, I shook my head. Some birthday present!  Next I searched for my keys, the ones my husband is always displacing after borrowing my car. Having shot through the house, upturning every nook and cranny, I finally found the keys but was now boiling like the tea kettle should have been, the one that would not be filling my cup anytime soon!

Coming to a screeching stop at the foot of the future vineyard, I saw my husband through the cloud of dust I'd  just kicked up. He was at the end of the muddy field, sowing soil-amending cereal. It occurred to me that before I put on my galoches, and slopped all the way over there, I better double check the camcorder. 

Zut de zut! The memory chip was not in its place, just like my car keys weren't, earlier. The frustration of it all! It was enough to make a wife ... write!

"More grist for the writing mill," I grumbled, burning my tires on the way back out of the field. An attitude adjustment was on the horizon but, busy spinning my wheels, I just hadn't caught up to it yet. 

The next time I returned to the parcel, I had the caméscope, the inconvenient chip, and my daughter (who I collected in the interim, as school was letting out at the same time).

Jackie was now ducking in the passenger seat, horrified as busloads of her peers streamed past our roadside parcel, where a man and a women stood flapping their arms.

Jean-Marc (flap! flap!): No! You need to stand over there and aim at this way!
Me (flap! flap! flap!) : YOU are telling me how to take a picture? But I know how to make a video!

Our daughter wasn't embarrassed so much about her expressive parents as she was about word getting out that she lives on a farm. No matter how many times I tell her that people in Paris and London and New York--along with all the stylish kids at her school--dream of swapping fashion and design for mud and chickens, she won't believe it.

Looking around at the mud and the arm-flapper facing me, I'm beginning to wonder if I still believe it? 

"Stand over there!" Jean-Marc clucked out his orders.
"What? You want a busy street for the background of your video?" I huffed. "Well HAVE IT YOUR WAY! If it were me," I sniffed, "I'd MUCH rather see a field of ancient olive trees in the back ground!" 

As I stomped across the muddy field, following my husband instructions, Jackie shouted from the passenger seat, "Can we please go?! J'ai honte!

"Tais-toi!" Jean-Marc and I clucked, flapping our arms at each other, and now at our daughter, who ducked as yet another school bus passed. I was just as embarrassed as Jackie was, for aside from the buses, carloads of locals drove by, gawking as they got a closer look at the new, spirited landowners.

Back home, I put the tea kettle on the burner and was on my way to change into my pj's when the phone rang.

"Chérie..." Jean-Marc began, in his sweetest voice. "You are right, the video would be much nicer with the olive trees in the background... "

Back at the parcel, I waited for the wall of dust I'd once again kicked up to clear.... when it occurred to me that I ought to check my camcorder. Had I put the chip back in after uploading the previous video?

Zut de ZUT!!!! 


Comments Corner

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My It girl, 15-year-old Jackie, whose plan is to lose her French accent and sound more like a ricaine. Click here if you missed that story.

French Vocabulary:

le terrain = ground, field
le caméscope = camcorder
zut de zut = well if that doesn't beat all!
j'ai honte = I'll die of embarrassment! 
les galoches = mud boots
tais-toi! = shut up!
chérie = darling 


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Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation" 


The cherry or almond blossoms are budding here in Bandol... though this photo was taken back in Ste Cecile, some time ago...
In 1989 I quit selling girdles and came to France, mistakingly thinking I was at least as strong as the "drawers" i once sold. Click here to read the story (and to see the "before" picture of this kitchen!)

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


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Such a timely vocabulary piece since my in-laws just told my husband they think I'm too assertive "elle porte la culotte mais bon... un peu trop"!

Love this story! I hope your daughter doesn't give up her accent - the ability to switch seamlessly between French and English is a gift, she should embrace her dualities!


You can mener any poor man a baguette when you look like that photo. Poor Jean Marc clearly smitten. haha/euh euh.

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

Great story.

It never occurred to me your daughter could be embarrassed that she lives on a farm with ancient olive trees and a kitchen garden. Your place sounds perfect to me -- values are so different.

It does not seem to impede either you or her looking fashionalbe and lovely all the time.

Julie Farrar

Your daughter is lucky to have two parents passionate about what they do. But it doesn't matter how well-known you are around this globe, your daughter will still think (as long as she is in high school) that you are an embarrassment. However, when she goes off to university and students start talking about their parents, she'll proudly turn on her computer to show them what you've accomplished.

Diane Heinecke

What a great Valentine! I can see the electricity in the photo. Note JM's outstretched leg, too.Hmmm... Love to hear about your everyday challenges. I may not live on a farm, but I can relate to the vicissitudes of life. Jackie is beautiful, just like her maman. And her accent while speaking English will be just charming. I hope she enjoys her American experience without fretting too much on how she comes across.

ann ceraldi

The trials and tribulations of marriage! You both look adorable in the photo. I'd love to see more photos of your current house and farm.

Eileen - Charlottesville, VA

Hi Kristin,
I love the first photo of you and Jean-Marc and the look on his face. He is so in love!!!

When I first read the French phrase today I could see an image in my head of a woman with a baguette pointing and yelling!

Great photo of Jackie too!

Deb & Gary

I love this picture from your early dates with Jean-Marc! Thanks so much for sharing--and for your wonderful story of your dispute in the fields. Your ability to laugh at yourself and share with the rest of us will lend perspective and warmth, I hope, to the next spousal conflict here at home! (presently an RV resort in Breckenridge, Colorado...)

Kathleen from Connecticut

I can totally relate to the the interchange with Jean-Marc. It sounds like my husband and me. We each have our way of doing things, bur when it comes to photography, I'm the one in charge. Although when we were in Coullioure a few years ago, he took a wonderful picture of the fishing boats, which at first, I thought was my photo.
I'm glad that he finally realized that having the olive trees in the background rather than the road, looked better.
I can understand how Jackie felt. Teens are usually embarrassed by their parents in one way or another, but as stated by Julie, she will change her mind and be very proud of the parents as she gets older.


Bill in St. Paul

What a great picture of you two, back in your 20s! My wife is always after me to take pictures of the grandchildren, but if all I do is take pictures then I miss out on the fun, so she often takes the pictures (actualyy "often" should be "usually"). However, she tends to have a heavy finger on the shutter button so we get a lot of pictures of peoples feet or "cute" out-of-focus pictures because the camera wasn't allowed to focus quickly enough.


I love this post. It really made me laugh, probably because it hit at the very heart of married people everywhere. Isn't it nice to know you are normal?


P.S. Tell Jackie not to worry about her accent. People here will love it, especially the boys!!! AND, friends at school will find her more interesting as the daughter of a farmer, as someone whose life is different and has different challenges. It is her attitude about it that will matter most to them. If she is embarrassed, they will tease.

Kristin Espinasse

Lindsey, I will bet they are saying this in a positive light :-) If in doubt, remember the saying about it being none of our business what others think!

Winn, Sarah, Julie, Merci beaucoup!!

Diane, I had to go back and have another look at the photo. Why, the little devil!

Ann, I will post more photos soon, glad you mentionned it!

Eileen, next time I will try the woman-with-baguette-pointing-and-yelling -- to illustrate the point!

Deb and Gary, so good to hear from you two!

Kathleen, Like you, with Dean, lately I am noticing how good JMs photos are getting. I have borrowed several (the sheep! )

Bill, how sweet. I can just picture Anne taking all those pictures of her loved ones.

Sharon, I will defiinitely tell Jackie that. (And yes, feels great to know everyone with a partner can relate to what JM and I go through and hopefully, vice-versa).

Pat Cargill

Smoky napping midst the tulips-sweet. Reminds me that in the hurly burly of life, it is good to have a special place to take solace, rest, recharge. With a cup of steaming tea, in your jammies!


Last night on the way home from evening services, my husband and I began a discussion of building a covered pen adjacent to our chicken coop. I mentioned my desires for symmetry and eye appeal, and before you know it he was angry. After several chilly minutes, it dawned on my that I had inadvertently challenged his masculinity ... "What? You don't think I'm capable of building a chicken coop?" Once I realized the source of his anger, I quickly apologized, reinforced my belief that he has the ability to build anything he wants to build, and apologized again -- most sincerely. A few minutes later, a warm kiss assured me that all anger had dissipated. We're in our mid 60's, and I don't know if we'll ever be so mature that we will avoid such silly problems.

Love you,

Jeanne in Oregon

Shirley from Houston, Texas

I just can't get enough of your blog Kristen!! I love it and all your stories!

Diane Young

When people would express admiration or awe at the 53 years my late husband and I were married, we always told them the first 25 were the hardest. (We were both only children and nobody thought we'd last long.) Trust me, it does get more mellow. And you are partners, so kiss and make up always. Jackie is the quintessential teenager who will grow out of the "honte" eventually. Love Smokey in the flowers.

Kristin Espinasse

Jeanne and Diane, Your stories are so encouraging! JM and I celebrate 20 years, next year, and I notice how argument clear up much faster, and tenderness and compassions grows.

Shirley, your comment is delightful. Thank you so much!


Ah oui !!!
First the adoring infatuation...
Then the ensuing power struggle...
Finally peaceful reconciliation.

Oui a la paix !!!


Bill Facker

After the first extended "stay away" from home, I can imagine daughter Jackie returning to the warmth of her family "out on the farm"...standing in her favorite place of solitude with poignant thoughts of her parents and childhood. However, be aware Mom, there may be that 20 something young man who beckons her to occupy her own "France"...just as the Mother was called. And all those from whom she hides in the field? They will have new meaning and "appearance" in her heart as she strolls the vines her Father planted...her Mother filmed. Aloha, Bill


Our dear Kristi,
Oh! These pictures are absolutely wonderful!
You and JM,young(er),SO in love(!!)(STILL are! ALWAYS will be) and(!) your absolutely beautiful Jackie!!!
As always, your gifted writing wrapped my heart in smiles.
What a fantastic way to start the week!
Love, Natalia XO


Well, first your daughter sounds just like me when young. I'm sorry, Jackie. Just hope it takes doesn't take you as long as it did me to realize things that seem so important now are very unimportant later on. Secondly, Kristen, my husband was born here but parents were Sicilian. I read a passage in National Geographic about Sicily many years ago and copied it down. Was pleasantly surprised to see the same repeated in a book authored by Frances Mayes which states;" Sicilians never want to improve for the simple reason that they think themselves perfect: their vanity is stronger than their misery." Could be all Europeans are the same.

Olga Brown

The picture of you and Jean-Marc is absolutely wonderful. The way he looks at you... That look speaks for itself! I also read the story "Bon a rien". Jean-Marc's note was so touching! That's what everything is about: love!
Jackie is a beautiful girl!


This picture should be "The Manual for Unconditional Love" which makes any marriage strong and lasting. For less than that (look) it is not even worth trying!

:-) Kristi, thank you for sharing this picture with us. That is Pure Love is looking at you in the picture! And you know that. I enjoyed the picture immensely! :-) Divine Love. Thank you.

Chris M

Are you sure that is not a picture of Mireille and Robert from the French in Action series? At least Robert? ; >))

joie in carmel

So Jacquie is concerned about living on a farm. Remind her how helpful it will be when she comes here this summer. As I remember she is going to Idaho? Most of Idaho as beautiful as it is is not France, or even a small farm in Bandol. And those young cowboys will adore that French accent. She may not want to come home.
And how does one say "flap, flap" in French. There must be some expression that is used. I am beginning to think the French have more unconventional expressions than Americans. Although, I can remember trying to explain "stop on a dime" and a few others to my Swiss friends.
You must have a little satisfaction that in the end you were right about the direction the camera should have been facing. "Flap,Flap"

Fred Caswell

Chere Kristi,

To me this one is another of your very best! I believe most of your readers agree!!!

Many years ago one of my 2 boys gave me a soldering iron for a birthday gift adding "You can use it, too, Dad."

Progressing slowly, still weak, tire easily, appetite and taste not back yet, but a bit better each day.

You have greatly enriched my life by being you and accepting me.

Love to all -- Fred



I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could e-mail me?


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