They don't have that in France! In Memory of my brother-in-law

My brother-in-law leaves us with countless memories of his generosity, big heart, and Tell It Like It Is character. In today's missive, a few French souvenirs, in memory of Doug.

Today's Word: inoubliable

1. unforgettable
2. never to be forgotten

Merci pour ces inoubliables moments en famille, Doug.
Thank you for these unforgettable family moments, Doug. Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the French

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

My brother-in-law passed away eleven days ago, Sunday. He was fifty-nine.

My sister is currently helping to write Doug's obituary. I wish I could be there with Heidi, in Denver, to help her find the words, to sit beside her as we rifled through old photos and said a lot of Remember That Time Whens....

One thing I'll always remember about my beau-frère was his no BS attitude. And when it came to his belle-soeur in France there was plenty of nonsense to call out! Take shower curtains for example. Years ago, when Doug and Heidi came to visit, Doug left a pool of water on our bathroom floor. It just wasn't like him - he was tidy, in an everything in its place way. And water’s place is in the tub. (An impossible feat to keep it there when your hostess has no shower curtain!)

As we mopped up the salle-de-bains, using thick square cloths (des serpillières gaufrées) and a broom, Doug offered to buy us a plastic curtain...and a decent mop, for crying out loud! I can still hear my brother-in-law's voice, a bit sarcastic, often blunt, it cut through the nonsense and revealed what it is we were hiding behind (certainly not drapes!).

“Kristi, why don’t you guys have a shower curtain?”
“Uh... they don’t have shower curtains in France.”
“What? You don't have shower curtains in France? Oh, come on!”

At that moment in time (newly arrived in France, living in the countryside of St. Maximin), I believed it was true. After all, there wasn’t un rideau de douche in any of the homes I'd visited so far. I never saw them for sale at our tiny quincaillerie, but you could find dainty curtains (les brise-bise) at the hardware store. And they were nowhere to be found at our supermarché, (which, incredibly, began selling Halloween costumes one year!). It seemed to be yet another commodité moderne the French hadn't yet discovered--such as tumble dryers or drive-thru banking or one-hour dry cleaning...remind me to tell you about my beau-frère’s run-in with the sassy lavandière who refused to press more than 3 of his shirts. Doug was perplexed: “I guess they don’t have a business mentality in France either!”

There began a decades-long joke between my beau-frère and me. The ribbing always ended with some encouragement: “Kristi, I am sure France has (such and such). Go find it!”

Apart from Doug’s skill at calling out people’s BS, my brother-in-law was an excellent chef. He went all out on Thanksgiving (best turkey and stuffing bar none!) and his Christmas dinner was Michelin-star superb. But the simple fare, eaten casually around the kitchen island, in our pajamas, made me feel truly home again! We Froggies (as Doug called us) relished these American brunches which Heidi and Doug prepared as a team, serving up sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, and waffles--and Mimosas and Bloody Marys too.

Doug's smoked ribs were another quelque chose you could not find in France! “You could make this, Kristi! Don’t give me that BS that you don’t have BBQs in France!”

“Well, we don’t have Green Eggs ® in France!”
“No, you probably don’t!” Doug smiled, proud of his new cooker.

The last time I saw my brother-in-law we were having breakfast together at Pancake House in Denver. This newly-forged tradition was a chance to reunite with The Froggies, Payne, Reagan (my niece and nephew), and Heidi (even after le divorce, the two were committed to family). Catching up over coffee and stacks of buttermilk pancakes, I told Doug about our recent predicament: "We keep getting locked out of Heidi's house," I laughed.

"You need an extra set of keys!" Doug said, offering to take we Froggies to the hardware store after breakfast. There at the quincaillerie, waiting for the key to be copied, my brother-in-law snickered. I'll bet they don't have Hide-A-Keys in France either!

I snickered back before a wave of nostalgia hit. Looking over at Doug, I saw his tired face, his baseball cap pulled low over his brow. He was not doing well. (In addition to sharing jokes about France, my brother-in-law and I shared the “Better Off Sober” etiquette…). Remembering all of my brother-in-law's caring gestures over the years, as well as his growing struggles, I didn't want our visit to end without due appreciation.

"That’s so like you to take care of these nagging details!" I blurted, waving the shiny new key in the air. "Thank you...for everything."

"Yah, well, if I didn’t do it you guys wouldn’t!" Doug laughed, before hugging us goodbye for the very last time....

* * *

Comfort Food. This morning I wanted to make meatloaf when I realized one ingredient was missing: Worcestershire sauce. In all the years I’ve been in France I have never bought a bottle. I am, finally, on my way out to search for it now. In a quincallerie? Beside the dainty curtains? Well, maybe not... I've gotta look harder!)

Thank you, Doug, for this and for your generous heart. PS, I know what you’re thinking: “Meatloaf? Oh, I get it: now you’re going to tell me they don’t have steak in France!”

Jean-marc heidi doug kristi
New York 2008 Jean-Marc, my sister Heidi, Doug, me.

At the Pancake House in 2018, with Reagan, Jackie, and Payne.

= unforgettable, never to be forgotten
le beau-frère
= brother-in-law
la belle soeur
= sister-in-law
la salle-de-bains= bathroom
les serpillières gaufrées
= waffled cloths for washing floors
le rideau de douche
= shower curtain
la quincaillerie
= hardware store
le brise-bise
= half curtains (pictured here)
le supermarché
= supermarket
la commodité moderne
= modern convenience
la lavandière
= washerwoman
quelque chose
= something

une étiquette = label

Years ago. I'll never forget Doug demonstrating how to open a bottle of champagne with a sword! "Sabrage is a technique for opening a champagne bottle with a saber, used for ceremonial occasions."--Wikipedia

Max doug jackie
Max and Jackie will miss their Uncle Doug, who took them to sports events and spoiled them with fun times--memories they will always have.

That time Doug and Heidi brought Grandma Audrey to France! And treated us to dinner at Le Louis XV and a stay at l'Hôtel de Paris!
Doug heidi grandma kristi jimmy
Old photos, wonderful memories. We are still digging through pictures--bye for now....

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Le rivage: Mother-Daughter adventure in Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Tree in beaulieu-sur-mer market square
A giant arbre (a Banyan tree?) in the market square of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, near Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Today's Word: le rivage

    : shore, bank, coastline

Click to listen to Jean-Marc read the French example sentence:

Tu ne traversera jamais l'océan si tu as peur de perdre de vue le rivage.
You will never cross the ocean if you are afraid of losing sight of the shore.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
At a sandy cove in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, my daughter and I left our rented transats to wade out through the warm waters of La Baie des Fourmis. Noticing the sea was murky and the views (a thick curtain of yachts) were moyenne….I began to have doubts about our mother-daughter getaway.

We could have had this same beachy experience in our own seaside town--where the Mediterranean is clearer and there are fewer ships. This negative voice was quickly muffled by splashing. "So happy to be here with you," Jackie said, swimming beside me. "Now if only we could meet up with Crevette!"

"Petite Crevette" is Jackie's friend from fashion school. Incredibly, PC was here too, in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat! Only it would be a little tricky getting to her...given she was employed on a private yacht far out in the bay.

I admit I wanted my daughter (briefly with us in France from Florida) all to myself--and had gone to certain lengths (traveling two hours down the coast) to be alone with her, juste nous deux! But when I put myself into Jackie’s shoes, I knew we had to do whatever it took to reunite with her copine.

Scanning the horizon, we wondered which luxury craft PC worked on? And what were the various means we could employ to get there? Swimming? Paddleboard? Kayak? That Woman Over There's raft? Jackie became so desperate she was about to hitchhike a passing boat. The little garbage-collection vessel was currently navigating very close to the sandy rive. I feared my daughter would hop right on!

As the boat puttered past, a giant sign along the shore came into view: LOCATION DE JET SKI. Having lived in Miami for the past year, Jackie had a few opportunities to ride a scooter des mers and felt confident she could make it out to the yacht, reaching Petite Crevette in style!

(Ouf! What a relief when the rental guy said all the jet skis had been taken.) “That leaves paddle boats!” Jackie hinted…

Several concerns came to mind:
Cost (40 euros--you could fly Marseilles-Rome via a lowcost carrier!)
Sun (worst time of day for exposure)
Hydration (see note below…)
And just how far? Well, we’d soon find out!

Paddle boat with slide
I didn't get a photo of our pédalo, so here's a picture of a typical paddle boat on the river in Quinson.

“Mom, will you help me pedal the boat?” Hearing my daughter’s voice erased my fears, replacing them with a rare taste for adventure! Now was the chance to make this weekend stand out in our memories forever! To turn our trip around from its murky-watered beginnings to a dazzling ending. 

Yikes, I hoped this wouldn’t be the end! Securing our lifejackets we stepped onto the little two-seater boat. Next, we set our menthes à l'eau's (drinks ordered before our last-minute plan) in the drink holders, hoping they'd keep us hydrated for the two hour aller-retour.

Allez, full speed ahead! After 15 minutes pedaling the two-man pédalo we were soaked and exhausted. No wonder our own town doesn't rent out paddle boats--because they are not easy to pedal on the sea! 

Just as we began to slow down, another pédalo came into view when a couple of Italians started racing beside us…. Jackie sped up, accepting the challenge! Our smiling and laughing adversaires--a grandfather/grandson duo--distracted us from our pain and we advanced another ten minutes in time to wave ciao! to the winning team.

We were three-quarters of the way, now, and Jackie could just barely see her friend, Petite Crevette (who did indeed look like a tiny shrimp from this distance). Soon we recognized PC’s long, strawberry blond hair and heard her familiar voice cheering us on. It was just the push we needed to make it over the finish line!

On second thought, we weren’t fini yet, only half-way through our sea adventure. But for the time being, before pedaling all the way back to shore, we were having a very good rest--and one spectacular reunion (see video below)! Jackie and Petite Crevette, having jumped into the water to meet half-way and embrace, were now swimming beside the little paddle boat, chatting a million kilometers a minute.  

Where there's a will there's a way. Merci, ma fille. Thanks to you I lounged in our boat, sipping my menthe à l'eau, enjoying the scene that would forever be etched in our memories--all because we got up off those sunchairs and ventured out beyond murky waters.

P.S.: As for the 40 euros? Worth. Every. Centime. Mais bien sûr!


un arbre = tree
le rivage= shore
le transat = sunbed
La Baie des Fourmis = bay of ants
moyen = average
petite crevette = little shrimp
juste nous deux = just the two of us
un copain/une copine = friend, pal

la rive = shore
scooter des mers = personal watercraft, jetski
ouf! = phew!
aller-retour = roundtrip
menthe  l'eau = a drink made of water and mint syrup
le pédalo = paddle boat
Allez = let’s go
la ligne d'arrivée = the finish line

un centime = cent, penny

mais bien sûr = but of course

I leave you with a short clip of Jackie and Petite Crevette's reunion. (Warning: this is every day street French, somewhat colorful...) Can you hear what the girls are saying? Here are some of the phrases:

Oh! C'est énorme!
(Oh, This is incredible!)

Comment ça va grosse folle?!
(How are you, you crazy girl!)

Putain! Ca fait combien de temps depuis qu'on s'est vu!
(&#%!@?! How long's it been since we've seen each other?)

I admit, the next words I have difficulty hearing/understanding, no matter how many times I liste to the clip. Here are some possibilities:

On se retrouve (or en se retrouvant) là..avec le pédalo le bateau...
We find ourselves here... with the paddle boat and the boat....

Help understanding French at - if you, like me, have any difficulty hearing/understanding spoken French, give David Tolman's French listening program a try. David has taught French online for 20 years, from his office here in France. Click here to access one of David's lessons and be sure to sign up for his helpful emails.
Mkt_FWaD_fleuriste02a (1)
Jackie in beaulieu sur mer
To read about a previous trip to Beaulieu--and learn the French word for dreamcatcher, click here.

Villa in beaulieu sur mer cap ferrat
Villa in Beaulieu sur Mer / St Jean Cap Ferrat area

Architecture along the sea in Beaulieu sur Mer
Baie des fourmis
Nightime in Beaulieu

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

A story lost (but not forgotten): In Memory of Harry Rabinowitz

Seaside in Bandol France pine treeYears ago I had dinner at a friend's in Bandol and wrote about the musical evening--but never posted the story (it needed work). I found the written draft this morning and reencountered one of the characters from that night: Harry Rabinowitz. Today's column is in memory of the endearing British composer and conductor who was born in South Africa and died in France.

Today's French word: savoir (verb)

    : to know, be aware of

Listen to Jean-Marc read the quote below in French/English:
Le Coeur, seul sait le Pourquoi. Only the Heart knows the Why. --Kâlî Ferry.

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

Sometimes I would have a glass of wine before going to a dinner party, but that was years ago. Last night I discovered an activity just as relaxing: picking an aromatic bouquet for my hosts. Gathering fragrant fenouil, blossoming purple basilic, flowering mint, leafy green l'estragon, and lavande--its blossoms only slightly fading, I stopped to inhale the floral medley. A nagging doubt coursed through my mind: Is this a weird gift? Is it appropriate? Is it enough? Honestly, I think Cynthia and Ian would appreciate the country bouquet. But what about the other guests? Maybe they would show up with designer bouquets?

And there went my familiar train of thought--one that always ended with the strong desire to cancel everything and camp out at home in my pajamas (this time with a wilting poignée des fleurs!).

The familiar bout of doubt quickly passed and soon I was chatting with "Didier," as Cynthia and Ian prepared smoked salmon canapés and served wine at their kitchen comptoir overlooking the sparkling Gulf of Bandol. As the sun disappeared beyond the Mediterranean, guests gathered to listen to the expressive oenophile tell the story of how he came to love wine. Didier said:
"I was eight years old. It was a typical Sunday lunch in France except that, this time, my father said to my mother, "Would you like me to go out and buy a bottle of wine?

My mother said, "Why not?" and when my father returned with a modest bottle of red I watched as their eyes lit up like fireworks. I said to myself then and there, I want to serve people wine and make them this happy!" 45 years later, Didier has a shop in Cotignac and continues his love of sharing wine with those who enjoy it. 

Cynthia and Ian's other guests were as warm and... familiar! Yes! We had met Mitzi and Harry before--at Diana and Neil's home in Portland and again in Provence, where I would never forget Harry's question: "Why do you write?"

Pourquoi j'écris? What an honor he would ask! I remember facing the South African conductor, and wanting to give the true answer. I can't remember ever answering, but the question has stayed with me ever since.

"Well, why do you compose?" Our host, Ian, started up, putting Harry on the spot this time. And I smiled, thinking, now that was the perfect answer! I turned to Harry, waiting to hear what might be instructions from a musical genius. 

Instead, Harry threw his head back and laughed, and the joy in his eyes spoke volumes. There at the dinner table, we finished the mouth-watering Osso-Bucco, cheese, and dessert and were treated to an impromptu concert by the famous conductor.

As Harry played The Man I Love, Mitzi sang the words to it and to the following classics: Someone To Watch Over Me, The Sunny Side of the Street, I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter and Ain't Misbehavin'.

The piano seat was still warm when Didier stole it, to play La Bohème. And surprise surprise, Jean-Marc began to sing....

Je vous parle d'un temps
Que les moins de vingt ans
Ne peuvent pas connaître Montmartre...

The evening was filled with such delights and unexpected moments, but the biggest surprise came the next morning, as I lie in bed savoring the evening. I couldn't resist googling Harry, and that is when I learned that the young-looking man sitting next to me at the dinner party will turn 100 years old in March....

Post note: My story left off right there, and Harry was never to read it. He passed away six months later. According to Wikipedia: Harry Rabinowitz reached 100 years of age on 26 March 2016. He died on 22 June 2016 at his home in Lacoste, Vaucluse, France. Rabinowitz continued to play the piano every day until his death.

I often think of Harry's meaningful question. Why do you write? I have never been able to answer this exactly. But, today, on reading the lyrics of the songs sung that night, I have felt moved by the lines, moved by the work of men and women who sat down and quieted themselves in time to find the words. A very good reason in and of itself to write!

I realize, too, that I write to remember. I'm glad I wrote down the story of Dinner at Cynthia and Ian's, or else I would have forgotten the details of that night. But Harry, if you are listening, somehow, somewhere, I would never have forgotten you! Thank you for your question.

We may never know the exact or true answer as to why we do what we aspire to do...but the many possibilities--the Whys--are enough to keep our dreams alive.

savoir = to know
le fenouil = fennel
le basilic = basil
l'estragon (m) = tarragon
la lavande = lavender
une poignée = handful, fistful
une fleur = flower
le comptoir = counter, bar
Pourquoi j'écris? = why do I write?

Strangers in bandol france palm trees beach sea mediterranean french
A quiet scene along a cove in Bandol, west of Marseilles, Cassis, La Ciotat....

Merci beaucoup to my friend, Cynthia and Ian, for the memories of that special night with Harry and friends. Thanks also for your help, recently, in voting as an expat and this reminder to American citizens who live outside the US to vote

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

A Marriage Secret? + A Tribute to Mon Epoux

Ecrins national park alps
For this special edition, all the French vocabulary is featured in the story (the sound file returns next week). Picture taken last month at Ecrins National Park in the Alps.

Today Jean-Marc and I celebrate 26 years of marriage. I had not planned to write un hommage (and was due to update you on a mother-daughter périple)... when I realized il ne faut pas manquer cette chance!

I would have liked to have composed a list of 26 Things (God knows that would be a colorful one!)… but I think I just need to start from here, and work with what I have--and that would be this growing appreciation. I may not always feel that or realize that (or even want to admit that)... but the truth is:

That my life is better because of him
That my heart is larger from loving him
That my soul is stretched forgiving him
That my mind is calmed in union with him

We may not always be better, loving, forgiving, or united with one another--but our hearts have somehow kept us on track. On second thought, The Grace of God has kept us on track. (I can’t speak for Jean-Marc here. But he might agree that une force mystérieuse has kept us together. Qu’est-ce que t’en dis, Chéri?)

My favorite question for married couples is, “C’est quoi votre secret?” More than the answer, I love how this question causes two people to look into each other’s eyes and suddenly light up. There is that unmistakable smile of appreciation. And it is better late than never. Mieux vaut tard que jamais.

I think if somebody were to ask me our secret I finally have the answer: During difficult times, just hold on. And, as often as possible, se regarder dans les souriez.

K and jm marriage
Hands squeezed tightly 26 years ago, and still holding on today. To follow our intimate story of love on two vineyards, read along as we write our memoir, The Lost Gardens.

un hommage = a tribute
un périple = journey
il ne faut pas manquer cette chance! = mustn't miss this chance
mon époux = my husband
une force mystérieuse = a mysterious force
qu’est-ce que t’en dis? = what do you have to say about that
mieux vaut tard que jamais = better late than never
se regarder dans les yeux = look each other in the eyes
et souriez = and smile

Park ecrins alps
Ecrins National Park, in the Alps, one of the many French destinations I have had the pleasure to visit. Thank you, Jean-Marc! Happy Anniversary, Chéri!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

An update from Kristi + Bienvenue, Sourire, Faire La Gueule

Jackie party le vin sobre
Our daughter, Jackie (center, at her father's wine shop) reunited with her closest friends during her recent visit. 

to those who have just signed on to this French word journal. And a warm welcome back to longtime readers. Heureuse de vous retrouver! To get the most out of this language blog, be sure to read beyond the featured word--to the personal column about our life in France. Most of the useful vocabulary happens there!

A link to a delicious tomato tart recipe follows when you read to the end of this post. Speaking of French food, check out The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux Samantha Vérant's delicious novel! Order it here.

Today's word: sourire

   : to smile

Click here to listen to the French Example Sentence

Sourire mobilise 15 muscles, mais faire la gueule en sollicite 40. Reposez-vous : souriez !
Smiling mobilizes 15 muscles, but frowning requires 40. Rest: smile!

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Coucou! It's so good to be back after un petit congé sabbatique. I'm not quite sure it is over yet, this personal break, but I am cracking the whip this morning, trying to get back in the saddle of reporting to you weekly from France. Stick with me in the coming months and we are going to collect hundreds more words and phrases and so challenge our brains. Couldn't we all use a new challenge ces temps-ci ?

Tomorrow is my daughter's 23rd anniversaire and she will celebrate in Miami, Florida--having flown home yesterday, landing safely after flying near l'ouragan. Ouf! I am grateful for the 4 weeks we spent together, and I thank you, dear reader, for having patienté, having waited patiently for this blog to resume.

Jackie and I made the most of our time together and I'll soon share one of our memorable périples with you (hint: c'est un truc de ouf!). For now, I am easing back into a work schedule: writing once per week for this blog, twice a month for our wine life memoir, The Lost Gardens (the next chapter goes out tomorrow), and brainstorming most of the time. It is this last bit that wears me down--this think-think-thinking all the time. I now understand that an overactive mind is not a bad thing: not if you regularly do a vidange, an emptying. (Like emptying some of it on paper!)

Almost two decades ago I said adieu to a non-valorisant job at a vineyard and began working independently as a writer. To all who follow this journal, actively or passively, whether to learn French or to learn about life in France, thank you for reading and for le boulot you have given me these past 18 years. I appreciate it more than ever.



bienvenue = welcome
heureuse de vous retrouver = welcome back (happy to see you again)
coucou = hello
un congé sabbatique = a sabbatical
ces temps-ci = these days
un anniversaire = birthday
un ouragan = hurricane
ouf! = whew!
patienter = to wait patiently
un périple = journey, excursion
un truc de ouf = a crazy thing
le carnet = notebook
une vidange = an emptying, draining, an oil change
le boulot = job
amicalement = yours (see other ways to sign-off a letter or email)
Tomato in paris cavist
Strange to see tomatoes for sale at a Paris wine shop! Photo taken in 2015, when visiting Jackie in Paris, where she was an intern for an haute couture designer.

Tomato tart recipe
La tarte tomate. One request my daughter had while home in France was to enjoy my homemade tomato tart. I made several for her! She ate the last one at the airport in Amsterdam, packed with love for her long journey home to Miami. For the recipe, click here and scroll down the page.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Exciting News! An update from my Staycation

Painting watercolor artist tours vacations in south of France Tessa Baker
Bonjour from La Ciotat where I am checking in from my staycation to share the good news of Jackie's arrival tomorrow, Wednesday. We are thrilled to see our daughter who we have not hugged since before this pandemic began. We thank you for keeping Jackie in your thoughts and prayers as she navigates 3 airports, traveling from Florida to Paris and onto Marseilles.

Also, I'd like to highly recommend my friend Tessa's painting excursions in Provence. Many readers here have enjoyed these relaxing and creative getaways and have returned several times. 

Today's Word: le maraîcher (la maraichère)

    : one who sells produce at a farmers' market

Audio File Listen to our daughter, Jackie, read this Wikipedia entry: Download MP3 file or Wave file

Le maraîchage... est la culture de légumes, de certains fruits, de certaines fines herbes et fleurs à usage alimentaire, de manière professionnelle, c'est-à-dire dans le but d'en faire un profit ou simplement d'en vivre, ce qui le distingue du jardinage.

Le maraîchage... is the cultivation of vegetables, of certain fruits, of certain herbs and flowers destined for alimentary uses, in a professional manner, that is to say, with the goal of making a profit or of simply making a living, which distinguishes it from gardening.

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

(story written in 2012)

If I was flirting with the maraîcher I did not realize it. True, I had experienced that pang of annoyance when another customer arrived, at which point politesse required that I hurry and finish my business. No more lingering about! 

"Well, thanks," I said to the produce guy. "Oh, and I'll be by with that compost!"

Earlier I had struck up a conversation with the maraîcher, after spotting his "Stanford" T-shirt. It was an unusual sight on the small French Island where we were vacationing.  

"Are you American?" I had said pausing at his small vegetable stand.

"No," he smiled. "I am half Irish, half French."

The maraîcher seemed pleased to speak English. "My Dad is from Cognac, " he offered. "Mom's from Dublin." I noticed his accent was more on the Anglophone side.

"Summer job?"  

The maraîcher nodded, smiling into the tomatoes. I was struck by his charm. How to describe it? There was that noticeably timid temperament coupled with a studious-slash-athletic exterior. Superman comes to mind. Indeed, le maraîcher's slightly nerdy façade was quickly giving way to the muscular building blocks beneath it.

"My son is in the same boat," I blurted out, coming to my senses. "His father speaks French and I speak English." It occurred to me that by my mentioning "his father" one might assume I was a divorced woman! I quickly cleared up the misunderstanding, babbling, "My husband speaks French and his mother speaks English. Max's mother that is. Max is my son... He's 17."

The maraîcher laughed, listening to me as he rearranged the organic lettuce. I watched as he tore off some shriveled leaves and tossed them into a compost bucket behind the counter. A lock of sandy-blond hair fell over his eyes. He lifted his giant hand, pushing the lock aside and adjusting his glasses in the process.

Returning my attention to the compost bin, I shook off any errant thoughts. "Oh, that reminds me... I have been wondering where to put our vegetable scraps. I don't want to toss them in a pile in the yard, as we are staying on a rental property. And, I can't bear to throw all this black gold into the garbage!"

"We give ours to the ducks at the farm," le maraîcher laughed.

"Would your ducks like seconds?"


The only thing more awkward than my conversation with le maraîcher (compost? Really! What a bizarre proposition that was!), were my attempts to avoid him throughout the remainder of our family vacation.... 

You see, as soon as I left the produce stand, I ran smack into my husband, outside the Tourist office. I must have been blushing. That's when Jean-Marc snickered, "Ça va le maraîcher?"

That was it. There was no way I could face the produce guy ever again—not after it dawned on me that I might have been smitten!

And so the dodging began. Each morning when Jean-Marc and I drank our coffee at the quaint farmers' market, I hid behind the hollyhocks or sat with my back to the onions and cantaloupe or dove for cover behind the giant pots and pans man. Instead of delivering the compost that I had promised, I avoided the produce guy. 

But I caught glimpses of the maraîcher, who continued to wear his Stanford T-shirt (I couldn't help but wonder, as I had back in 7th grade when my crush, Doug Pearson, wore that T-shirt that brought out the green in his eyes... I couldn't help wonder whether he had taken care to wear the special T-shirt for a reason (that same shirt that had drawn me in for the first conversation). The thought was as preposterous as it was inappropriate!)

One morning, four days into our vacation, I noticed the maraîcher had changed his shirt (he was now wearing Tintin, after the comic book hero). He was sporting a new haircut, too. My mind equated the change of T-shirt to a change of heart. He had finally given up on waiting for the Compost Lady, who had disappeared along with her kitchen scraps.

Yet, on the last day of our vacation, it didn't seem right to leave without saying goodbye to le maraîcher and offering an explanation for my disappearance. 

Waiting for the other middle-aged ladies to collect their lettuce and skedaddle, I hurried up to the vegetable stand.

"It's me, the Compost Lady!" I said, breathless. "I met you last week. Sorry I never made it back, but it occurred to me later that that must have been a slightly bizarre proposition--er, offer--to drop off compost."

Le maraîcher laughed. 

"We leave today," I explained. "Enjoy the rest of your summer," I said, bidding him farewell. "By the way, what are you studying this fall?" 

Blathering on, I noticed I was spitting as I spoke. Quelle horreur! I had just sprayed the tomatoes with my own bave!

"Engineering," the maraîcher answered, overlooking the tomatoes.

"Now there's a future!"

"I've dropped out." The maraicher smiled devilishly. 

"Oh... Well there's a good idea!" I said. "I took a year off, myself. Where are you headed?"

"Hong Kong...."

How interesting. For love? For a job? I wondered. But it did not seem right to gather any more information from this charming soul, neither did it occur to me to introduce myself (beyond "Compost Lady on Vacation").

"Enjoy every minute." I cheered, waving peacefully as I walked away. 


Back once again at the tourist office, my husband smiled sweetly. "Ça va ton cheri?"

"Ça va," I answered, eyes still twinkling.


French Vocabulary

le maraîcher = produce guy

la politesse
= good manners

quelle horreur! = how embarrasing!

la bave = spit

ça va = all is well

Hats (c) Kristin Espinasse
Hats and lopsided benches add charm on the île de Ré. 


Vespa (c) Kristin Espinasse
Whimsical windows and a cool Vespa on l'île de Ré.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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L'Oisiveté: Thoughts on Work, Love, and Writing

Eight Months in Provence
If you've ever dreamed of living in France, it is not too late! Diane Covington-Carter proved that in her delightful memoir, "Eight Months in Provence, A Junior Year Abroad, 30 Years Late." Covington-Carter headed off to Provence at age fifty and discovered that wisdom and maturity made her "Junior Year Abroad" not, after all, thirty years late. But rather, right on time. A great summer read! Order here.

Today's Word: l'oisivité

L'oisiveté rend à la fin le travail difficile
Idleness makes work difficult in the end.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

The only thing harder than not writing. Now there is a thought that has been on my mind all summer, as I try to decide just when to take a break from this 18-year-old blog--this ongoing chronicle of our life in France.

What will happen if I don't write for a fortnight? A month? A year? At worst I would implode. At best I would lose the hang of things, lose ground, making this colossal effort of expression even harder. And we all know:  

The only thing harder than NOT working, or, as the French saying goes: L'oisiveté rend à la fin le travail difficile. Idleness makes work difficult in the end.

Difficile...this brings me to a few lines that poured out of somewhere and into my thoughts while out on a walk this morning. I hope they make sense to you, as they made sense to me at the time (oftentimes what makes crystal clear, lightening bright sense to me while out on a walk--after two cups of coffee--makes no sense to me later on). Here are those initial thoughts, and the ideas that followed:

The only thing harder than NOT writing.
The only thing harder than NOT running.

For just as the runner begins to get agitated/disturbed because he has not run, the writer suffers the words he has not expressed. This last thought brought me beyond writing:

The only thing harder than NOT loving.
The only thing harder than NOT the truth (untruth).
The only thing harder than NOT listening.
The only thing harder than NOT giving.
The only thing harder than NOT caring.

...because these NOTS will eventually form KNOTS, stemming the flow of life and love....

I leave you now and invite you to share a few "The only thing harder than.... is NOT...." in the comments. I look forward to reading your words and will be back sometime in the next month...I just have to decide when!

(The only thing harder than NOT deciding.) 

Wherever you are on your path, I hope these words help.



Kristi Annie
Relaxing with family. Thank you, Cousin Sabine, for the photo at Cousin Audrey's. 

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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Gaga for Galets! Rock collecting: caillou, roche, gravier, pierre and other stones in French

Gravel petanque
Gravel is handy for a lot of things--including pétanque (boules)! Read on to learn about another benefit of rocks. (Pictured: family members, including André, who is measuring, at a picnic in Fuveau).

Today's Word: ramasser

    : to pick up, gather

Audio file: Click to hear Jean-Marc read the following French sentence:
Rockhounding, ou géologie amateur, est l'étude récréative et la collecte de roches, de pierres précieuses, de minéraux ou de fossiles de leurs environnements naturels. Les Rockhounds sont ceux qui ne peuvent pas passer devant un joli rocher sans le ramasser pour le regarder de plus près.

Rockhounding, or amateur geology, is the recreational study and collection of rocks, gems, minerals, or fossils from their natural environments. Rockhounds are the people who cannot pass by a pretty rock without picking it up for a closer look. -Rockhound Times

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Dropping another caillou into the palm of my hand, I think I can carry a few more stones if I balance things just so.... I reach to pick up another when our 11-year-old golden retriever lies down in the very spot where I'm collecting, rolls over, and wags his tail.

Really, Smokey? Are you a rock, too? Or maybe a rockhound?!

I give in to scratch his furry tummy. The pause gives me time to consider this new obsession with the stones, rocks, and minerals found in our front yard. There is even a word for it--rockhounding! Mom and I are currently gaga over galets! But it crosses my mind, as I deposit a palm-full of rocks to the bare landing near the kitchen door (a project Jules is working on), that I may be stealing Mom's joy?

Mais non! Mom's joy is contagious and she's always believed there is enough to go around, whether that is money or passion or rocks. She'll share it if she has it (just don't ask her to share her cookie. Everyone has their limits!)

Meantime, there are plenty of rocks in this yard for both of us, but, just in case, why not collect another color and work on another area of the yard? I notice a charcoal gray stone and begin to ramasser a neat little collection when, Aha! I think of my caper plant…This deep gray would really show it off! Feeling like a real nerd as I swap out beige rocks (leave those to Mom) and replace them with the gray ones, I remember back to when this folly began....

Moms rocks
Mom's rock stash from this morning...notice the birdfeed, too. Mom's always feeding the doves!

Two years ago after Mom moved to France we began working on this garden together. Jules suggested we upgrade the gravel (which was super sparse) with a nicer, smoother, rounded type of pebble ground covering. We never got around to it (laziness has its advantages). Entre temps, we began noticing the many different types of stones in our yard... especially when the spring flowers and weeds died back, revealing a bare floor. Though the floor was covered with pea gravel, another type of ground covering revealed itself via those larger, butterscotch-colored rocks Mom kept finding here and there. This home having been built in 1960, it's possible those were here before the pea gravel.

Thanks, Mom, for the back stairs project. We were tracking in a lot of dirt, before Jules began covering the ground with her butterscotch rocks! It's taken months, which makes it all the more a treasure to have. Cécile repaired some of the broken tiles on the last step.

As we pick up stones and sort them, there are the occasional little découvertes that make this pastime so fun and satisfying: from the discovery of objects (lots of shells) to the discovery of the benefits. Rock collecting is:

--an activity we can practice with family
--gets us outdoors, in the fresh air
--good exercise (Mom would add it is great for stretching!)
...keeps us in contact with nature and la terre
--gives us something to look for and bring back from vacation, besides tourist trap items

And I might add one more to this list--our recent interest in rocks has given me a topic to research and to write about today--and for that I am most grateful. Off now to find my Mom and our lovable rockhound....

ROCK ON! I leave you with a few photos of rocks, and thank you for any edits for today's story. So helpful.

le caillou = stone
le galet = pebble
ramasser = pick, gather
entre temps = in the meantime
les découvertes (f) = discoveries
gratuit = free, free of charge
la terre = earth

A stone restanque (rock wall) at our vineyard crumbled. We had it rebuilt before we sold and moved on.

Our new town, La Ciotat, became our rock! 

Kristi beach in italy
Vacation last year in Sicily, and a beach of smooth galets. It's a good thing rock-collecting hadn't yet become an obsession!

Serre Chevalier rocks
Boulders in Serre Chevalier.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

The French words are in the story (Some Assembly Required!)

Diy bricolage kristi
Putting the finishing touches on our new spinning composter...My excuse for not putting the finishing touches on today's post. But if you read through to the end you will pick up a lot of French vocabulary! Edits are always welcome in the comments section. Merci! 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Our new composteur rotatif arrived! It's a spinning contraption that'll transform kitchen scraps into garden compost within weeks...4? 6? 12?--on verra! I was surprised by the size of the package (picture a slim rectangular box), étonnant, given I'd ordered large barrel on a frame. Perhaps this delivery was for Jean-Marc? Had he ordered flat-screen TV?

Opening the cardboard colis I saw two stacks of long plastic panels and, beneath them, three large discs. D'accord! J'ai compris. The spinning tonneau and its frame were to be assembled entièrement! This flat puzzle was supposed to turn into a 3D moving entity! Looking at all the pieces--including a ton of nuts and bolts, I thought, Jean-Marc can put this thing together! He actually enjoys bricolage and is creative with it: witness his impressive sea urchin mop-spear--slapped together using my kitchen mop and stolen pieces from the silverware drawer, ie missing forks...).

On second thought, I'd better assemble it myself--or suffer a contraption-jalopy-of-sorts that might very well spit out screws and few prickly urchins (which reminds me: once this monster is built, I'd better let my husband know the compost rules: no animal proteins)!

Naivité and ignorance are necessary when diving into a DIY project or no one would persevere to the end. I opened the flimsy instructions pamphlet--more like a comic book comprised of squares: each square had an illustration of the next step. Only a handful of words involved. One of those words read "mark." I was to search for the panel with "the mark". Examining all the panels I may as well have been looking for The Mark of The Beast: hidden, elusive, deceptive.... 

Aha! Found it--an evil triangle no less! Why didn't the instructions indicate an "arrow," which is what this "mark" turned out to be? Ah well, no use arguing with a cartoon book! Onward!

The first step was awkward: balance (somehow!) the two giant disks three feet apart while attaching the panel (horizontally) to connect them. The rest of the assembly was straight forward: attach the remaining 6 panels in the same way. This would require a tournevis and some sort of outil to hold the bolts...

As for gathering the necessary tools: pas de problème! Gone were the days where I had to search in a messy, chaotic, storeroom. Last spring, during lockdown, my sister-in-law organized our cafoutche! Currently, I breezed in, selected a screwdriver and a wrench from the Wall of Tools, and whispered Merci, Merci, Cécile! once again on the way out of my She Cave. Admittedly, this composting tumbler is the first project I have gotten to.... (Though the She Cave is visited daily, as our dog food and chicken feed are now stored there.) 

Bon, back at the table on our front porch, it was hot and there was a ways to go... I grabbed the first screw and struggled to secure the bolt on the other side. 48 screws later my mind said SCREW IT! I'm done! My thumbs and my fingers were sore and I regretted working in the pretty top Mom had given me, when I should've worn an old T-shirt. But when my son suddenly arrived home from work, I had to keep going, if only to show off! Only, instead of noticing me, Max hurried in and out of the house, "I'm on my way to tennis! Love you, Mom!"

Mom? Don't you mean Brico-Mama? Queen of DIY? Did he even see my turning barrel contraption? It was almost done. But the mosquitos were now eating me alive, no thanks to all the sweat. 

I quickly assembled the frame and decided to leave the last screws (the ones I'd failed to put in first and now it was impossible to place them down deep in the barrel. Jean-Marc could help tomorrow....). I put down my tools and headed around the house to Mom's studio. I was going to say a grumpy goodnight and was in no mood to chat, so when Jules said she'd love to see my new composter, I explained:

"All that's left to do is lift the barrel and put screw it onto the frame. But I'm not going to do it now. I'm done! Too tired!"  

Mom was already following me back around the house, to the front porch. "Wow! I am so impressed!" she praised. "I am really proud of you! Look what you have done! You are a Marcus!" Mom said, referring to her family of beer-drinking builders and rebels.

I could almost taste a cold pression about now! Hélas, my beer drinking days are over. As for rebellion. Yes! This DIY project might be about that: a rebellion against the hamster wheel (even in France you can find yourself on one of those--always functioning in the same way, doing the same thing, day after day, year after year. Never testing the well of skills inside of you. Leaving others to do certain things for you. This composting tumbler project was a way to spin things around!

Mom, ever-willing to go for a spin, was already holding one end of the rotating barrel and I the other as we lifted it onto the frame in time for me to screw it into place. Those last two screws were almost impossible to tighten but Mom held on and as long as she did I didn't give up. 

Holy moly! The barrel was in place! It was revolving! But as it spun I saw a few holes here and there.... Oh no! Those last 8 screws were not extras after all.... I was ready to throw in the towel. Screw those screws! 

"I remember when your Dad built the storage shed..." Mom began.

"Really? Dad built those sheds?" How could I forget them, on either side of our trailer. They held whatever would not fit into a single-wide home--including, eventually, Dad. (Mom admits her own rebellion led to that. But we can't go back! We can only share our lessons with our children, helping them to persevere through the ups and downs of life.)

"And your rocking horse, do you remember?" 

"You built that?"

"Well, I had help," Mom said. "You always need a partner, a helper..." I looked up and saw Mom, tightening the last of those screws. It was finished! We stepped back to admire the amazing composting tumbler. "I'd leave it right there," Mom suggested.

On our outdoor dining table? Well, why not? At least until a few more family members could see it. Which reminds me, I now had a true appreciation for my husband's DIY projects. They may not be parfait, but the patience and perseverance involved--now that is perfection!

Thanks, Mom, for snapping the photo above, and for all the talents and wisdom you share. xoxo 


composteur rotatif = composting tumbler
on verra = we will see
étonnant = surprising
le colis = parcel, package
d'accord = OK
j'ai compris = I understand
le tonneau = barrel
le bricolage = DIY, home-improvement
le tournevis = screwdriver
l'outil (m) = tool
hélas = alas
la pression = beer-on-tap, draught beer
parfait = perfect

Help understanding French at - if you, like me, have any difficulty hearing/understanding spoken French, give David Tolman's French listening program a try. David has taught French online for 20 years, from his office here in France. Click on the words, below, to access one of David's lessons, and be sure to sign up for his helpful emails.


Mille mercis, Cécile, for cleaning up our cafoutche and creating these tool walls and more!

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

A bilingual message from Jean-Marc + Un Petit Accident while preaching


This morning while out on a walk I took a tumble and slammed into the ground of uneven wooden planks. I gashed my knee (le genou), elbow (le coude), knuckles (les articulations des doigts), and the palm (la paume) of the opposite hand. Jean-Marc reached down to help and, after I recovered, I laughed and said, Pride comes before the fall! That'll teach me to walk and preach to my husband about why we have two ears to listen! 

Pride and falling are themes of The Lost Gardens--the memoir we are writing about our years on 2 vineyards in France. While Jean-Marc opens up and tells the story of what led up to his falling apart, my chapters focus on our relationship and the promise we made that would see us through those rollercoaster years. The most recent installment in our online memoir, Chapter 16, talks about a therapy we stumbled on in the garden. I leave you with a quote that will help any relationship, friendly or intimate, followed by a bilingual message from Jean-Marc. 


The chemist who can extract from his heart's elements, compassion, respect, longing, patience, regret, surprise, and forgiveness and compound them into one can create that atom which is called love. --Khalil Gibran

Audio File: Listen to the French translation, click here

Celui, par quelque alchimie sait extraire de son coeur, pour les refondre ensemble, compassion, respect, besoin, patience, regret, surprise et pardon crée cet atome qu'on appelle l'amour. 

A Bilingual Message from Jean-Marc:

At a time when I am about to reveal what was the most intense moment at the Mas des Brun, I wanted to say how much this effort of writing our memoir helps me to consolidate the delicate scar of the loss of this promised land.

It also allowed me to talk about taboo subjects such as my father's suicide or my bipolar tendencies which I now accept and control much better.

I am aware that the progress of our book is slow but it is a new exercise for us.

I wish you a great summer.

Take care of yourself.

Jean Marc

À l'heure où je suis sur le point de dévoiler ce qui a été le moment le plus intense au Mas des Brun, je voulais dire combien cet effort de mémoire m'aide à consolider la délicate cicatrice de la perte de cette terre promise.

Cela m'aura également permis de parler de sujets tabous tels que le suicide de mon père ou de mes tendances bipolaires que j'accepte et maîtrise maintenant bien mieux.

Je suis conscient que l'avancement de notre livre est lent mais c'est un exercice nouveau pour nous.

Je vous souhaite un bel été.

Prenez soin de vous.


Jean-marc kristi smokey mas des brun
Kristi writes: I'll never forget the day this picture was taken, at the lowest point in Jean-Marc's depression, 2016. You wouldn't know it from the photo, and neither did our overnight guests, who asked for a picture. Everyone smiled for the camera. 

To purchase The Lost Gardens and begin reading right away, click the link below:

Vines mas des brun

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.