To humble oneself + what to give someone you've unintentionally hurt
French? No, Jane Goodall speaks Chimpanzee!

faire amende honorable

1-grapevine trellis

Another leafy front porch, not far from the lieu du crime... read on in today's French-vocabulary infused story column. Thanks to French reader, Brigitte, who offered today's vocabulary word.

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faire amende honorable (fer-ah-mahnd-oh-no-rahbl)

    : to apologize, to make amends

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...le coupable doit donc faire amende honorable et dédommager les intéressés.
...the guilty party ought to make due apology and compensation to the victim. (

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

(Continued from Part 2. of Our Dogs Stole Neighbor's Chickens story)

As I stood on the unfamiliar doorstep, clutching a forgiveness plant--trying desperately to read my neighbor's lips--another woman sat beaming in a garden chair. Occasionally, I would look over at the platinum-haired angel, each time gaining the courage to deliver my apology or, as the French say, faire amende honorable.

Moments before, I had found the sprawling stone mas, which was visibly divided into two or three units, each in varying stages of renovation. As I walked hesitantly down the dirt path, sensing my way to the correct address, I was greeted by a friendly bulldog. Reaching down, ankle level, I petted him as I scanned the mysterious property. No worries, I breathed, I need only to continue in my furry greeter's tracks, to reach my destination.

As I and Mr Greet rounded the batisse, I saw a porch engulfed by bright green leaves, the screen gate open to the turquoise blue sea en face. No matter how nerve-racked I was, the scene tickled my senses. Approaching the entrance of the humble abode with the regal view, I glimpsed, beneath the green leafy rideau, warm terracotta tiles that beckoned, "approche, approche!" But it was the woman with the platinum hair and honey-kissed skin that drew me in.... 

(And this is where you found me, previous chapter, babbling my mea culpa to la maîtresse de la maison--who stood beside the woman in the chair.)

'The woman of the house' was just as my son described her: blond, younger than I. This is how I knew to direct my apology to her, and not the smiling woman in the chair, with the platinum hair (who I soon learned was the foreign aunt--who maybe didn't speak French? I wondered...).

If only circumstances were different! For a moment I imagined what it would be like to be on a completely different mission. I might be here to report on the tumbledown farmhouse overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I might have stumbled onto this bucolic spot to interview the charming characters who graced the sea-breezy terrace.... but no, hélas, there was nothing breezy about the reality of the situation. My dogs had stolen three of the neighbor's hens. The time had come to make amends!

The potted flowers (now limp in my hands) were never intended as payment for the chickens. A beloved animal is priceless! The blossoming comfrey was only a break-the-ice gesture; if all went according to plan, I would gain my neighbor's trust in time to convince her to come with me on an all-expenses-paid chicken spree. It was a delicate matter, I knew, and I could only imagine how hard it would be for my neighbor to consider new and different chickens. But what else could be done? I'd tied up my dogs (this, after building a dog pen last year) and I was now looking into an electric fence.  

Somewhere during my apology, the platinum-haired lady cheering me silently, I handed over the potted plant, taking care to pull out the note I'd written detailing my plan. 

That's when the young woman took a step, and then another, until she stood beside me. She looked over my shoulder, peacefully, as I read my apology:

I am sorry for the pain I have caused you... I know new chickens won't truly replace the ones taken from you... but I would like to drive you to the store of your choice, to pick out some more hens....

My written note was as fumbling as the voiced version, and no sooner had I finished reading than my neighbor looked at me squarely...

"Thank you. But I cannot have any more chickens..."

"Oh, I'm so sorry..." The thought that I may have snatched, along with the chickens, the will to continue raising chickens was too much to bear!

Seeing the color drain from my face, my neighbor explained. "I am not mad at you. I appreciate and am touched by your apology. I can see you are upset and I understand this was a terrible accident." Motioning to her yard, she offered, "I have no fences either--for my chickens or my dog. An accident was bound to happen."

I looked around the free-range yard as a few cars zoomed past, along the road above us. But maybe we could build a chicken hutch for their safety? Surely there were supplies, at the chicken store....

Before I could voice my thoughts, my neighbor said, "I can't take any more chickens as I am moving. I had promised the chickens to another neighbor...."

I noticed the hesitancy in her voice as she paused, studying me. Was she remembering my remark about wanting chickens of my own? Could it be that she was considering giving the last hen... to me?

The sea breeze circled us like a question mark. I still had no answers, only a feeling: that the one who'd incurred loss.... wanted to give!

How this memory continues to soothe me! By sharing my personal story of the chicken-heist, I'd invited in a host of critics who shared their outrage in the comments box. It all made me think... Were I a little more clever, I'd stick to happy-go-lucky stories! As it is, I'm tied to a leash, just like my dogs, as I follow my heart's lead. Ce coeur battant, this beating heart--it's the guide that tugs me forward as I drip ink across these pages, emptying a soul's well into a universal puit. Surely, deep down, our stories run together?

To respond to this story, click here

French Vocabulary
la bâtisse = building
en face = opposite (across the way)
le rideau = curtain
la maîtresse de maison = woman of the house
le puits = well

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