Out of the rubble a wine is born! Jean-Marc gave more than heart and soul when he made his first wine: he gave his blood, his tears, and an alarming number of kilos. I talk about this, and more, in an interview about the organic winemaker on a French TV.
il paraît (eel-pah-ray)
: it seems, it appears
synonyms: on dit (they say) or le bruit court (rumor has it)
Example from today's video:
"Alors, son vin?" So how's the wine? "Il paraît que c'est bon!" I hear it's good! (or Rumor has it it's pretty good!)
One of the dumbest things about moving to France is leaving your sister behind. Today, mine celebrates a birthday and I won't be there to take her picture as she blows out her candles. But with any luck she'll have received the funny post card I sent which brings me to the theme of today's missive: mailboxes!
Mas la Monaque - Rent this beautifully restored 17-century farmhouse. Click on the picture for photos & info.
Today is my sister's anniversaire de naissance and I'm looking for a way to surprise her. I went through my photo archives, searching for a picture of Heidi, when another idea came to mind: put today's letter in theme with all those beloved mailboxes that I have captured over the years.
For the care packages and heartwarming letters found inside, the mailbox is the perfect symbol of thoughtfulness, which is just one of my sister's many qualities—for more, read on....
When I moved to France I was lazy about keeping up with the holidays we loved to celebrate as kids. I didn't realize how meaningful some of them were to me until a package would arrive in the mail bursting with colorful heart candy and "Be My Valentine" cards—the ones we used to swap as kids after Mom bought them at Bashas or Walgreens or at Metrocenter mall.
For Easter, Heidi would send packages full of jellybeans, the bright colors and original flavors (peanut butter!) sent me right back to my American childhood, where my sister and I built forts and tree houses and castles in the sky... or at least imagined them from the top of the old shed where we ate our jellybeans while gazing at the clouds above us, dreaming about our enchanted futures.
(Jean-Marc made our beehive mailbox when he tended bees back at our vineyard)
When I finally made it to college (on probation) I began to have doubts as graduation approached. What could I do with a degree in French besides go on to grad school? Yes! I would go on to grad school, then to super grad school. A masters then a Ph.D!
On learning about my plans, my down-to-earth sister had a memorable pep talk with me: You can't make a career out of school!
Without Heidi's encouragement, I might still be writing my thesis instead of this "thrice-weekly" column from France, where I moved instead of into a graduate dorm (at Thunderbird School of Global Management... Not that I would have ever passed the entrance exam!)
Look at the French handwriting on the "no more bread today sign" in the baker's window. The pretty cursive reminds me of Heidi's neat penmanship, which is as unchanging she is. (You know what they say about lovely people: don't ever change!)
I once had the surreal experience of judging my own penmanship. When I say surreal, this is because I was in the unusual position of objectively seeing the writing. It happened one day when I noticed a card on my mom's nightstand and, reaching over to read it, I was struck by the untamed handwriting. The cursive leaned forward or backward--sometimes the letters were straight up and down. No two "e" were the same. The Y's had curly tails on one line, on the next they were uncurled.
"Whoever wrote this is a little flaky!" I remember thinking, dubious about Mom's latest admirer... when next my eyes fell on the signature. It was my own.
(I'm against handwriting analysis, as you can sympathize. Though I do believe my sister's handwriting--flowing, elegant, structured--happens to hint at her personality.)
Continuing on with the bits and pieces about our sistership, I will never forget our New York trip, around 2006. I was excited to meet with my first editor, at Simon and Schuster! My sister and a group of ladies met up with me to celebrate. I wanted to blog about our girls getaway, but I worried about privacy. Heidi is a private person, I told myself. She will not want me to post her photo or talk about her.
So I made up my mind to post about other parts of that NYC trip... and to this day my sister teases me: "Remember that time you went to NYC all by yourself? she snickers, referring to the fact that I did not post one photo of our girls group (and there were some FUN pics to be sure!)
Her light-hearted comment made me realize how I tend to assume that people are one way... when really they might be completely different! I thought I knew my sister through and through; instead, I continue to learn about her each time we spend time together.
What else did I want to tell you about my sister (no, that's not her there on the right), now that I know I can dish out the goods? Just kidding, Heidi! Your secret's safe with me. Not that you have many. If you did would you tell me? Of course you would! I'm your sister! (a blabbermouth no more. That was then. This is maintenant!)
...That brings me to French. Heidi spoke it first. (She took writing first, too.) That makes me a copycat, which is a little sister's birthright!
If mailboxes were people this one would be me. I think Heidi would agree. I may live in France and my life may seem glamorous but inside I'm still that potato-bellied little kid. I ate all the Dolly Madison's. I ate all the bologney sandwiches. I ate all the Pop Rocks. You did all the dishes after preparing the sandwiches and letting me have the last Hostess Cupcake. You still make sure everyone's got something to eat.
Second-to-last mailbox photo... time to bring this birthday tribute to a close...
Here is one of your biggest fans. Jean-Marc is always asking, "Have you talked to Heidi? How is Heidi? What's new with Heidi?" It's true. We all are fascinated by your life. That makes you a rock star (and we, the groupies).
... I was going to say "guppies" instead of groupies and I'm smiling now, thinking again about the good old days when I would catch guppies and you were the groupie (Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin). Remember when Mom burned your Stairway to Heaven album? Afraid we'd receive subliminal messages!
Sacré Mom. She did the best she could. Looking at you, I'd say she did an amazing job.
With lots of love, and wishes for a Happy Birthday. I love you, Heidi!
The faded painted sign above reads "Cafe de la Mairie". (photo taken in Visan) I am pairing today's story--which takes place at fashion school--with window fashion. Enjoy the colorful scenes that decorate this edition and please consider forwarding it to a friend.
un en-cas (or encas, pronounced "on-kah")
French definition: Repas léger en cas de besoin. Light meal in case of need.
Other ways to say snack in French: un goûter, un casse-croûte, une collation, and "quatre-heures" (for the four o'clock snack kids eat, often after school)
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
Jackie and I arrived half an hour early for her second stage of the year, in the town of Six-Fours-les-Plages. Her first internship (in St Cyr, last fall) was at an optical shop, but this second experience is more in line with her career goals: she hopes to work in the fashion industry. Specifically, she dreams of being a styliste personnelle for the stars.
Standing in the hall at the lycée professionnel, I keep my 15-year-old company as we wait for class to begin. To pass the time we study our surroundings. Near the entrance there is a bald mannequin dressed in a red and black flamenco skirt. On the walls pictures of runway shows feature futuristic outfits the students have created. In another frame, outside the secretaries' office, there is a delicately beaded handkerchief, something my grandmother might have made.
Like fallen beads, a nostalgic instant is dispersed when a teacher in horn-rimmed glasses bustles by us. Her arms are hugging a collection of dummy heads. It is amusing to watch as the collective heads of hair are further dishevelled by the purposeful gait of the hurried teacher, who disappears into a room full of hairdryers and sinks.
Returning my gaze to our immediate surroundings, I wonder if one of those wild-haired wigs is destined for the flamenco dancer? Qui sait? My attention turns now to all the French teenagers huddled in groups, waiting for the class bell to ring. They are wearing tight or flouncy skirts, leggings or baggy pants, inch-thick eyeliner or none at all, leaving me as much in the fashion dust today as I was at their age.
Curious, I look to see what Jackie is wearing. She has on her favorite T-shirt: all white with a large impression of the rapper Eminem. Over this, she's wearing a classic button-down jean shirt she's swiped from my closet. Wrapped around her neck there is a thick crocheted scarf in army green. She's got on her low-riding jeans and red Keds (or the French equivalent of red Keds, whatever that is). Overall, Jackie's outfit is a study in contrasts and it would take confidence to mix so many different styles.
Speaking of self-assurance, how would my daughter do during lunch hour? I remember how uncomfortable I felt as the new kid at school during lunchtime, when I would buy a sandwich in the cafeteria only to steal outside to hide on the outer limits of the dining hall, opposite the parking lot, where all the freaks hung out (the jocks were congregating with the cheerleaders at the picnic tables, and the artsy types seemed to go home for lunch to restyle themselves).
In case Jackie couldn't find a friend to eat with, I packed her a trusty en-cas, something she could quickly consume in between classes. By the way, I hoped she would last until lunch... and not get hungry during the long morning session.... I remember suffering humiliation when my stomach cried out during quiz time. At a time when only scratching pencils could be heard, there would be those condemning gargouillements coming from beneath my desk!
In a room full of French language majors this was embarrassing enough, but for my daughter, who would spend the morning in a room full of fashionistas, a squawking stomach could really cramp her style!
In St. Tropez. Look closely at the sagging object my husband is carrying. Meet Mr Sacks, Jean-Marc's lovable sidekick, in today's story column. Note: the pictures of Jean-Marc in this post span over a decade.
la sacoche (sah-kohsh)
: handbag, saddlebag, purse, bag
from the Italian saccoccia, or "little pocket"
la sacoche en cuir = leather bag la sacoche d'écolier = school bag la sacoche à outils = tool bag
Expression: une soirée de sacoches (Canadian expression) = girls' night out, evening with girlfriends
French Definition: Sorte de grosse bourse de cuir ordinairement retenue par une courroie et qui se porte au côté ou dans le dos. A kind of big leather purse usually held by a strap and worn on the side or on the back. --Wiktionnaire
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
Ode to Mr. Sacks
I couldn't believe my ears when Jean-Marc, packing for his business trip, mentioned: "I'm not taking my sacoche with me."
Vraiment? My husband might as well have decided to leave an appendage behind--son bras droit, for example, the one he uses to lift his wine glass. That is how vital his trusty, takes-with-him everywhere sacoche is to him.
What with increasing restrictions for carry-on and check-in, Jean-Marc's dear sidekick, Mr Sacks, is the latest victime of airline cutbacks!
Poor Mr Sacks! I've never felt sorry for the old bag before. Mostly, I've felt envious. Mr. Sacks is the one who goes on all the business trips with my husband. Mr. Sacks goes to all the local wine tastings while I sit at home guzzling tap water.
Mr Sacks in Paris... the one on the left. (Make no mistake, the other bags mean nothing to Jean-Marc!)
Mr Sacks inVentimille, Italy, watching locals play boules, or pétanque.
I do pity Mr. Sacks now that his saggy little body is pouting in the corner of my husband's office. This is the first time in his 12-year-old life that he's collected dust. Normally he's on the go....
Mr. Sacks in Sicily... can't you see him sniffing the pretty flowers?
Mr. Sacks cruising the island of Cres. Just kidding, Jean-Marc would never put Mr. Sacks in this predicament (water, not vacationing in Croatia). This brings me to the next point...
Regularly I am asked to hold on to Mr. Sacks while my husband sprints off to use a public restroom or when (as pictured above) he is practicing a sport. "Tu peux prendre ma sacoche?" He asks. And I always grumble, not wanting to hold the heavy "third wheel". Apart from tractor wrenches, he even keeps wine bottles (for his tastings) in there...
Mr Sacks (on the floor, next to the bucket spittoon)
Some refer to Mr Sacks as a "man purse". That always makes me snicker. Hahahahahaha! Man Bag!!! Sac Homme! I point at Mr. Sacks. But Mr. Sacks isn't laughing...
What do you think: man purse? Jean-Marc purchased it in une maroquinerie in Draguignan, years and years ago. It was love at first sight.
Jean-Marc's got that guilty look on his face. He's always holding hands with Mr. Sacks instead of with me--and he knows it! While others worry about the other woman, I have to worry about the old bag!
But old Mr. Sacks, as you can see, is beginning to sag. I worry that items inside him will begin to fly out of his slouching pockets. I especially worry that money will fall out. For this reason, I sometimes follow close in Jean-Marc's wake as he goes about his errands. I am stumbling along behind him swatting my arms back and forth prepared to catch those banknotes that might come flying out of that sagging bag.
Mr Sacks is coming apart at the seams, which just goes to show even sacks have middle-age crisis.
Over the years I've tried to get Jean-Marc to consider buying a new bag. Nothin' doin'! "But it's a hazard," I argue (a financial hazard at that! Just think if money really were flying out of that bag).
"I'm keeping my bag!" he always argues back.
A couple of weeks ago Jean-Marc announced with an ear-to-ear grin: Je l'ai fait réparer, mon sac. He had brought Mr. Sacks to the leather mender's, in town. The guy did a wonderful job, Jean-Marc told me, adding that the man was nearly 90 years old.
Any ill will or harsh feelings I may have felt regarding Mr. Sacks flew out of the picture (as those bank notes might have...). My heart smiled thinking of the wrinkled man sewing the wrinkled bag, one soul giving life back to the other, each content to be of service for as long as they were needed or wanted.
"A path of one's own." Our daughter Jackie in 2005, in Queyras. Keep marching toward your dream, My Girl, and don't forget to enjoy the sights along the way! More about our recent pep talk in today's story column. Forward it to a struggling student. (Note: the sign reads "block party".)
A word and an expression for you today, as I couldn't choose between the two:
c'est déjà pas mal
: not bad at all, nothing to sneeze at; it's a good start
The second entry, the term pep talk, goes with today's story. Only I couldn't find a good French equivalent so I'm including these examples found on line (I ran out of time to translate them. If you'd like to help, you can share your translation in the comments box, for all to enjoy).
Mon quart de travail a débuté par un pep talk, discours de motivation du superviseur à son équipe. --L'Actualité, Volume 25
La crise est trop profonde pour qu'un pep talk, un discours « motivateur » ou un cri de ralliement puisse agir efficacement. --Renaitre a la Spiritualite: Essai By Richard Bergeron
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
"You were laughing in your sleep last night!" I said to my daughter, who is sharing my room while her father is away.
"I love it," I assured her. "Always laugh! Laugh and be positive as much as you can in life."
My suggestion wasn't fazing Jackie, who stared out the window wishing to skip school. "Can't I have just one day off?"
The kids always try to work me when their dad is out of town. Usually they succeed in getting one ditch day each, but as school gets more and more demanding I can't in good conscience give in. Besides, I promised Jean-Marc to keep both slackers on track.
As we drove the country road to school, passing the newly pruned olive trees, I noticed how the ground was covered here and there with pink blossoms. The almond trees were dropping their dainty coats. A new stage was unfolding.
I looked over at my daughter, "Just think. Your career is about to begin! This fall you will be enrolled in fashion studies. You are on your way!" I reached over and patted Jackie's leg.
"Ouai," her deadbeat response was one interminable sigh. I knew what was bothering my girl. She's told me many times before: "Et si je ne réussis pas?"
"Of course you will succeed!" I smiled at my passenger.
There she sat, in her army combat pants and bad girl sweatshirt (no words on the black shirt, just three hand gestures. I couldn't make out their meaning, but the symbols--including a fist--seemed to say Don't mess with me!). On the outside she looked tough but inside she was sucking her thumb. The insecure future loomed ahead of her.
Entering the school parking lot I recognized one of the pions whose job it is to welcome students.
"Je peux me baisser? Can I duck down?" Jackie pleaded to return home to bed.
I knew my daughter was tired, but I did not realize the extent of her spring fever. Now was a good time for a pep talk!
"Look, you need to get to class today. Listen to the lecture and that's half the work! Be kind to your future self--don't make her have to struggle tonight by trying to learn the material all on her own.
Jackie seemed to awaken to the suggestion. Maybe she was finally able to make the listen in class less work at home connection.
"I could go to permanances and get my homework done..." she considered.
"Study hall... Great idea! You're future self will love you when she is relaxing in front of her favorite program tonight instead of falling to sleep on her math book!"
"But I'm too tired to go to school today!" Jackie said, falling back into her rut.
"Look, Choucou. It may not be obvious to you what all these classes are adding up to. But they are all paving the way to your future freedom! One day soon you will be exercising your dream job--if you will just keep showing up and opening your mind to the... possibilities." (I betted "possibilities" sounded better than "lessons", so I used it trusting Jackie's subconscious to make the switch!)
"Look at me," I chimed on, "I may not feel like working today, but I will go home now and write my column--never mind my lack of energy. This is how I practice my dream of writing for a living. Once I sit down to type the first few lines of my story, I'll get in the groove--and so will you. What's important is to begin!"
I continued with my pep talk, tossing in several points on the power of positive thinking, something, I admit to my daughter, that I still struggle with. "But we have to continually keep our thoughts up!" I cheered.
Kissing Jackie goodbye I quizzed her. "Do you understand what I am saying?" I smiled.
"I'm getting half of it," she admitted." Je retiens la moitié de ce que tu dis."
"Oh..." I said, feeling my spirits sink... until I remembered to take my own advice.
"Mais c'est déjà pas mal!" Yes, that's not bad at all!
French Vocabulary: ouai = yah le pion (la pionne) = monitor la permanence = study hall chouchou = sweetie
Yay! Just received an update from Valencia Siff (pictured left) who tells me that Chief Grape's winetasting in Virginia was a success. I'm teary-eyed seeing Valencia's touching message (thank you, V.! P.S. You are beautiful!). A few seats remain for the D.C. tasting. Please check this page with a link to reserve your seat.
From the photo archives: Colorado in Provence! This site in Rustrel, France, is known as Le Colorado Provençal. Posting it for all our Colorado friends. Naner naner!
Around Rustrel, another lazy French village with crawling roses and sleepy benches.
Only scarecrows are immune to canker sores. The rest of us are sitting ducks! (photo taken in the Queyras Valley, in the French Hautes-Alpes)
If you are new to this word journal, I hope not to scare you away with an ugly first word. (You could always skip to the story column and learn sores--I mean scores--of flowery vocabulary...)
I've been nursing a burning and painful aphte for a few days now. Is it all those oranges I've been eating? Or a food allergy or hidden stress? Or maybe an acidic mouth? Jean-Marc tells me to sprinkle baking soda on it and there he goes again, citing yet another "remède de grand-mère". His grandma must have been a wizard... or une sorcière...
un aphte (pronounced "unnaft")
: a canker sore, a mouth ulcer or lesion
Terms and phrases found in an internet search:
soigner un aphte = take care of a canker sore soulager un aphte = to find relief from a canker sore traiter les aphtes récividants = to treat recurring canker sores guérir des aphtes = to heal canker sores un aphte sous la langue = a canker sore beneath / under the tongue
Un aphte est une ulcération douloureuse... A canker sore is a painful ulcer. --French Wikipedia Le mot aphte vient du mot grec "aptein" qui signifie brûlure. The word aphte comes from the Greek word aptein which means "burn". --capitaldents.com
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
Lackadaisy is not a flower
I woke up Sunday morning in an empty bed. Jean-Marc had left in the night to make it to the Nice airport by 5 a.m. and so begin his USA wine tour.
Beyond the bedroom window the skies were gray and the forest was capped in black clouds. On closer look there was a steady stream of rain, just as my husband had predicted. The cold, wet weather led to a guilty inclination to linger in bed. But if Jean-Marc were here, I thought, he wouldn't be indulging in la grasse matinée or so called "fat morning"—no! he'd be kicking around in the utilities room or the cellar or in his maritime shipping container which doubles as our extra-storage room (I think it is his French equivalent of The Sunday Garage, where husbands tinker and putter on weekends).
Wherever, he'd be getting stuff done! And so would I... with him by my side. But without him would I turn into a couch potato? I found myself seriously considering this fate on Sunday morning while languishing in a half-empty bed. I reached for my IPad, thinking to share my potato-metamorphosis on Facebook... but then—quelle horreur!—if I went over to FB I might lie in bed all morning until I began to sprout little green shoots!
I sprang out of bed and ended up in the covered carport, that mythic hangout of weekend industrialists. Looking around at the piles of wood and the piles of stuff that needed a home, I heard myself nagging my invisible family, "Ceci ce n'est pas un débarras! This is not a junk room!" How many times had I said it in the months since moving to our new old home?
I noticed an old shop table belonging to Jean-Marc's grandfather.... I could use it to set out rows of plastic garden pots and begin filling them with compost and vegetable seeds—lettuce, tomato, cucumber, peas!
Only, returning inside to get the seed packets, another inspiration hit when I remembered Mom's suggestion that I not hoard flower seeds. "Use them!" She recently urged me. Mom is right: why not gather all the soon-to-expire seeds and toss them around the perimeter of the house? A rainy day was a perfect day to sow wildflowers!
There began an exhilarating back-n-forth sprint beneath the gentle rain. As my rubber-soled slippers collected mud and my pajamas grew soaked, I perfected a system whereby I would fill a pouch (whatever could be found in my flower seed box—an envelope, a coffee filter, the rest of a seed packet) with a mix of semences... next, I dashed through the kitchen, out the carport and beneath the wet sky, scattering seeds all the way!
I haven't a clue what many of the flowers were called or what they looked like (some seeds were taken from mixed wildflower packets) but I had fun imagining which ones I was haphazardly tossing....
And so I scattered "pennycress" and "love in a mist" (I guessed) along the path beneath the front porch...
Then up the stone stairs leading to the back yard, I tossed the orange Mexican poppies (in honor of the lovely stranger on crutches) and purple "Granny's bonnet".
I lined the pétanque court with "starflowers" and "physalis" (aka amour en cage) careful that not one seed should hit the special yard (real French men do not like "love in a cage" encroaching on their playing field).
I scattered Cosmos and Bachelor's Button in the dog yard... until it occurred to me that all the tall flowers might attract ticks. Zut, trop tard...
I knelt beside the sweet stone cabanon and covered the floor before it with "pinkfairies" and "roses of heaven", as well as baby's breath and pieds d'alouette, or larkspur. I tucked in several mammoth sunflowers that would tower over the little hut, come late summer. I also planted some artichoke seeds for the vibrant purple contrast beneath the sunny yellow flowers.
As I rested on the ground I could smell the freshly turned earth which woke up all of my hibernating senses. I felt my heart beating and my skin was tingling from the fresh air and the rain. I thought about my bed, the place I secretly wanted to spend my morning. How dead it seemed compared to this!
I don't ever want to be a lazybones, I admitted to the little flowers, still in seed form scattered all around me. And I'm not sure if it was the "baby's breath" or the "love in a mist" or which flowers whispered back first, but I took the hint: Keep coming back... they suggested, one after the other. With water!
I smiled down on the cheering chorus of seeds. Yes, that ought to keep these lazybones out of bed! That plus I can't wait to see what the little cheerleaders will grow up to be, whether Poppies or Soapworts or Busy Lizzies.
quelle horreur! = Awful thought! une semence = seed la pétanque = game of petanque or boules zut, trop tard = shoot, too late
"Flowerboy" Among the seeds tossed out on Sunday were camomile, the actual plants were gifts from the Dirt Divas. I had save the flower heads (unsure of where exactly the seeds were...) I tore up the flower tops and threw them round... hoping they'll turn into what you see in the photo above (our garden back in Sainte Cécile).
Brother-in-law Jacques and I, weaving lavender wands or les bouteilles de lavande. Have you planted lavender in your garden or in pots on your window sill? You, too, could make a lavender wand this summer! Watch Marie-Françoise make one here. Photo taken in 2008.
Space-saver gardening, for when you don't have a field to scatter seeds--this is just as sweet!
Elle marche avec des béquilles. She walks with crutches. mettre une moto, un vélo sur sa béquille = to put a motorbike or bike on its stand. se déplacer avec des béquilles = to get around on crutches
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
I was staring up at a flower seed display with packet after packet of possibilities when I heard a tap tap tap coming up from behind me. Turning, I saw a woman on crutches who was now looking up at the same rack of flower packets.
"Bonjour," I smiled, quickly turning back around in discretion. A moment passed before I thought to scoot over so that the newcomer could see the entire display.
"Ne bougez pas. Vous ne me gênez pas du tout," she assured me. Her hair, gathered up in a large twist, was the color of Mexican poppies ...or maybe honey-colored nasturtiums? ...the ones I was debating whether or not to buy. I liked the idea they were edible plus pretty to look at. I had recently bought a pack of blue starflowers, or bourrache, for that very reason. Come to think of it I had recently bought quite a few packets of flowers, so maybe I'd better head off now, and meet-up with Jean-Marc, who was two aisles over, in the "automatic watering systems" section of the store.
But before leaving I felt the urge to say something to the middle-aged lady with the béquilles. During the handful of minutes that we had stood staring up at the flower seed présentoir, I sensed her endearing presence. We had only exchanged a brief greeting and that is when I saw what my dear aunt Charmly would refer to as stardust. It's that heavenly sweetness that emanates from a kindred spirit.
"Wouldn't it be lovely to have them all!" I said to the stranger, betting on the possibility that she, too, was overwhelmed by what the French call l'embarass de choix. There were so many flowers to choose from. I went to put back the seed packet I had been holding when the lady with crutches responded to me.
"Which one is that?" she asked. "Oh... cosmos," I offered.
"Cosmos?" She had never heard of the flower before.
"Ah," I said, smiling. "They grow this high..." I motioned with my hands," and are covered with fuchsia flowers. (I was thinking of the cosmos that my mom had so loved, back at our farm in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes. The thought of Mom fawning over those flowers threw me back in time.)
Perhaps emotion had cast a fragile shadow over me, for next the stranger offered an affectionate compliment.
"Hold on," the woman said, as I returned the seeds to the display. "I will plant them and they will remind me of you."
It was such an intimate and generous thought that it caught me completely off-guard. I thanked the woman with the Mexican poppy-colored hair and quickly hurried off.
It was a strange reaction and, even as I was walking away, I wanted to turn back... to say something back to her just as nice! But what?
Two rows over, in the watering section of the store, I stood there debating. I should go back and get the seeds that she had been looking at (morning glories, I think they were...) and tell her I'll plant them and think of her, too! But as the seconds turned to minutes I convinced myself that the window of opportunity had passed. At this point it would be too awkward to return.
Hélas this touching encounter will be filed under Missed Opportunities. Meantime somewhere in France dozens of cosmos will bloom this summer. I see the woman with the Mexican poppy color hair hobbling up to admire them. She's finished with her crutches by now, and a part of her is even jogging down memory lane.
*** Post note: Recently, I discovered in my seed collection a packet of Mexican poppies (a gift from Malou a few years ago). I will scatter them and think of the golden-haired stranger. She won't have the joy of knowing my gesture (as I had knowing of her plan) but that brings me back to stardust, which must--like the emanating and far-reaching light from which it is born--illuminate kindred spirits the world over. Somehow she will know.
To comment, click here. Share your remarkable experiences with strangers or talk about another theme in today's edition. Thanks.
French Vocabulary le présentoir = display rack
ne bougez pas vous ne me gênez pas du tout = don't move. You're not bothering me a bit
l'embarras de (or du) choix = embarrassing variety of choice, multiple possibilites
Au présentoir des fleurs je suis resté bête devant l'embarras de choix. At the flower display I was stumped before all the choices.
avoir l'embarras du choix = to have too many solutions
Months before we moved to our first vineyard, in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes, we would visit it. Here is a picture of Jean-Marc beneath a rainbow... and on the verge of a colorful future in winemaking. You can also see the kids and our dog Braise.
A blessing in disguise is what Jean-Marc calls my latest computer crash... for when my PC was repaired, we recuperated all the pictures that were lost during the first computer crash! It is fun to see the kids, in 2007. That's Braise they are washing... in an old grape bucket from Uncle Jean-Claude's vineyard.
My computer is still in the fix-it shop. Sorry to not be able to add the usual audio/sound feature. It'll be back soon -- in time to bring you more authentic pronunciations from Jean-Marc. Don't you love his voice? (photo of lighthouses in Brittany. A little tiny more about Brittany--or the Breton language--in today's column, where we talk about the name "Tanguy" and much much more...)
vouloir dire (voo-lwar-deer)
: to mean, to signify : to want to say
Qu'est-ce que je voulais dire? Je ne sais plus. J'ai un blanc de mémoire. What was it I meant to say? I can't remember. I've drawn a blank.
Qu'est-ce que cela veut dire? = What does that mean? Que veut dire ce mot? = What does this word mean?
French Expression: savoir ce que parler veut dire = to be able to take a hint
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
Were you a Twixter or a Kidult?
In the car on our way back to Castorama (this time for garden supplies--yeah!) I listened to a telephone conversation between Jean-Marc and the ferronnier. The men were talking about a large glass fenêtre we hope to incorporate into the front of our house.
After Jean-Marc described the squares-and-iron type of window, the ferronnier said he understood the style we were after: atelier d'artiste he called it. That should be possible to do, he assured us, only he had another question. Unable to remember what it was he searched his mind:
"Qu'est-ce que je voulais dire? Ah oui!..."
As Jean-Marc continued driving and chatting with the artisan, I made a mental note to share the qu'est-ce que je voulais dire expression with you as it is something I hear so often. Perhaps it is not so much an expression as it is a very common conjugation of the verb vouloir dire which means "to want to say" among other things. The French say this at the end of a back and forth conversation when getting distracted from a follow-up point (or, I have sometimes noted, to soften the blow--as when my son says: "...qu'est-ce que je voulais dire? Oh yes, can you give me 10 euros please?)
Moochers aside--and changing subjects completely now--there was indeed something I wanted to tell you today. It was about another expression I learned....
After Monday's story about the pirates who moved onto our olive farm, Alyssa wrote in wanting to know the meaning of the French name "Tanguy". Did it mean "tan guy"? (I had to chuckle, having never made the obvious connection). Alyssa, I've just looked up "Tanguy" and learned it is of Celtic origin, from the Breton tan (fire) and ki (dog). Tanguy signifies a chien ardent or dog warrior. Wikipedia goes on to say that, since 1940, 14,617 Frenchman have been baptised by this name.
Next I saw Sarah's note in the comments box. Sarah wondered whether Tanguy was pronounced tanh-ghee . (Yes Sarah--tahn, like tonsil and ghee, like geek: tahn-ghee. Note: our Tanguy is far from one of those!)
All this to say that from that discussion I googled the name and learned a funny and popular modern expression. Urban Dictionary gives this definition:
Tanguy syndrome is an emerging phenomenon across the world that started in Canada.... It takes its name from a French-speaking film's young male character who spends his days at his parents' tanning, not working at the ripe old age of 28!
(Hmmm, maybe Alyssa has a point? meantime Wikipedia seconds the definition in its entry Le Phénomène Tanguy):
Une nouvelle expression est ainsi apparue pour désigner la classe d'âge de ces jeunes gens : la génération Tanguy. And so a new expression has appeared to designate the age group corresponding to these young people: The Tanguy Generation.
"Waithood" Surfing the net for Tanguy, I also learned some funny vocabulary like les célebataires parasites, a term coined by Masahiro Yamada to describe a recent trend in Japonese society wherein twenty-somethings (25 and older) are not marrying--prefering to live with their parents and enjoy a worry-free and comfortable life.
And I learned we have a similar expression in English: boomerang generation, used to describe young people who leave the nest... only to return soonafter! These "rejeuveniles" or "twixters" or "kidults" or even "kippers" (kids in parents' pockets eroding retirement savings) as they are called may repeat the process a few times. (I admit I'm one of those having returned to both my mom's house once and my dad's house twice! And does moving in with one's sister count too? Yikes! I was one of those "parasite singles"!)
Bon, between artist's windows and parasitic bachelors today's essay got all off topic! I'll sign off with a question, as I'm curious to know about how YOU left the family nest:
How old were you when you left home?
What was your first pad / apartment / home like?
Did you have a roomate?
How much was your rent? (if you feel like sharing...)
Any other memories about your first chez soi or home of your own?
Still pinching images from Google image search (I promise I took these!) after my computer crashed one week ago (typing this post on my son's PC).... This photo was snapped in St. Tropez. Its artist theme fits with today's story of the "tree artists" (or pirates, rather...). Read on, in today's column.
to pinch, to lift, to steal
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
Pirates of the Olive Plantation
For the next week or two there will be a modest camping-car parked in the driveway below our house. This is part of Jean-Marc's solution to our tree-pruning dilemma: hire a specialized team to tackle the project in one intensive fortnight!
Like this we have insta-neighbors—though we don't see them or hear them very much. Tanguy* and Thomas, who arrived Friday from the Gard region, will spend their days cutting back the enormous oliviers that have graced this land for centuries.
It would be fun to imagine the two tree-trimmers as Edward Scissorhand's distant French cousins, but the truth is they look more like pirates than gothic gardeners. (There's a definite Johnny Depp connection. It must be the rock ‘n’ roll demeanor they share. It's that giant silver hoop, or créole, that Tanguy sports or that bad boy air that surrounds Thomas, who, with une clope dangling from his lazy smile, easily perpetuates the myth that cigarettes are seductive.)
I knew a little bit about Tanguy before he came to live here for this short séjour. His partner, Aurélie, has helped at all our grape harvests. I had a hunch that Tanguy might know a lot about how to forage wild plants, as Aurélie does, so I asked him to help me identify some pissenlit (or confirm it was indeed dandelion) that I was hoping to use in the kitchen. That is when I learned that Thomas, Tanguy's friend and co-pirate, knew a thing or two about les plantes sauvages. At the picnic table, yesterday, a sleeveless Thomas reached down and snapped up an herb with lance-shaped leaves, declaring it plantain.
Thomas handed me the wild specimen, which I could use to compare against other wild plants—eventually adding it to my knowledge base. I am hoping to have a certain understanding of the comestible plants on our property ("certain" being the key word. I want to be sure the plants I am picking are mangeable and not poisonous as they are destined for soups, salads, and juices).
Changing the subject, so as not to take up Tanguy and Thomas's lunch break, I said:
"By the way, that would have been a great photo of you two in the olive trees this morning!" I was remembering the image of Tanguy and Thomas, each on a different branch high above the ground which is graced here and there by wild orchids this time of year.
Tanguy laughed. "You aren't the only one to think so!" he admitted, telling me how he and Thomas seemed to be stopping the traffic that normally cruised by the great olive field.
More than a sight to behold, the tree-trimmers were surrounded by some very attractive commodities: the centuries-old branches that were piling up on the ground beneath them.
"One grand-mère pulled over, hiked up her skirt, and climbed onto the olive grove," Tanguy explained. "She plucked up a couple of olive branches, saying they'd make great gifts (an olive branch symbolizes peace—what better offering than this?).
"Another guy pulled over and snapped up an armful of leafy cuttings. 'For my sheep,' he explained." (I wondered if the punk rock sheepherder was back? Was this whom Tanguy saw stealing away with the olive branches?)
Tanguy shook his head, smiling. "I let him take what he wanted. Sheep love to eat olive branches!"
(Come to think of it, that was true! I remembered the transhumance that took place on our land last month—and how the sheep stood on hind legs to reach the olive branches!)
I listened to stories of the other motorists-turned-thieves. What funny images it all painted in my mind. It was amusing, too, to think that Tanguy and Thomas weren't the only ones to share a pirate's likeness—apparently half our neighborhood did too!
I pictured Tanguy and Thomas dangling high up in the olive tree (or ship mast...) as a host of unlikely pirates landed on the orchid spotted deck below, before disappearing with the leafy loot.
Here I have to smile at the colorful French definition of today's word:
chaparder: dérober de modestes objets (to steal objects of modest value). True, the branches weren't worth much, but many an unsuspecting thief found value in those discarded tree limbs, and yo-ho-ho! away they rode.
Always leave on a sunny note--something I sometimes forget, especially when taking for granted the daily comings and goings of family. Speaking of sunny, have you planted sunflowers seeds yet? If you don't have a big yard, where else could you plant one? Ever seen one of those cool sunflower houses--where you dig a square trench and plant seeds all around - leaving space for the "front door" door? When they are grown you can connect the tops! To comment on any item in this post, click here, and thank you for forwarding this letter to a friend.