The Stranger, Part 2 (+ The Word the French say When Smiling for a Photo)

Eglise cathedral church france la ciotat
A series of empêchements might have kept us from bumping into a stranger. Read on for part 2 of our story...

Today's Word: ouistiti!

    : Say cheese!

A ouistiti is also a small creature, this one.

A life of her own emilie carles
A book on my nightstand, and a memoir I've had for a very long time that is even more meaningful to me now. I hope you will enjoy Emilie Carles A Life of Her Own. Click here to order.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

After smiling ouistiti for the photo, we left our accidental amie there on the cobblestone path and headed inside the art supply store. Mom needed a special product for prepping her unusual canvases (that's a whole other story).

As Jules searched for supplies, I listened to the commerçant, who said he may have to close shop--having lost 17,000 euros since les gilets jaunes began protesting last November. Mon Dieu, this poor man needed customers! Just as that thought ran through my mind, I heard jingle bells. And there, in the shop's entrance, les cloches still swaying on the doorknob, stood our elegant new friend!

Ah, rebonjour, Madame said. I was thinking.... it would be nice to have the photo your mom just took of us, she said.

Mais bien sûr! I smiled, reaching for my phone. Madame, with a perfectly manicured thumbnail, in clear gloss, flipped open her own phone which had rhinestones on it and a tiny screen which caused her no end of frustrations. Voyons... Madame mumbled.

I began searching with Madame until she got sidetracked by a photo album and there began an impromptu vernissage (or art showing of her daughter's works). I like the coquelicot, Madame said. Ah, but I musn't go on. Say, could you send the picture here, she said, pointing to a message box. 

Equally challenged by technology, it took me a few moments to figure out how best to transfer the file, but we succeeded, managing, at the same time, to record each other's phone numbers. A round of Who's On First ensued as we looked for evidence that we had indeed called each other...and so registered our numbers.

Mindful of every delicious minute we were enjoying together in this serendipitous meeting, hélas, the time had come to say goodbye. Kisses on each cheek, and Madame disappeared beyond les cloches, the door chiming behind her.

Only to reopen 10 minutes later....

I have a little something for your Mom, Madame announced. Hanging from her wrist, there was a little lavender gift bag....

Jules thanked Madame for the kindness, and was visibly moved by the surprise. I noticed Mom did not open the gift, and guessed she was going to enjoy the suspense a little while longer....

In the car ride home, I relived the entire encounter. Can you believe it, Mom. It was so easy to talk to her about everything and nothing--and there was so much spontaneous affection. It is rare to speak to somebody this way. I can't explain it... I went on, Madame was... She was...

Mom gazed out the car window, her mind drifting out to sea as she searched for the words I had not yet found. Her thoughts returned in three giant waves, to describe Madame:

She. Was. Real.

*    *    *
(For Part 1 of this story, click here)

I've not asked Madame permission to post her photo. But there's a snapshot, below, and here is a sketch from my Instagram. I hope you will join me over there, where I post mini-updates and photos throughout the week. I'm sorry for not posting a picture of the gift Mom received. Every story needs an element of mystery, don't you agree? 


un empêchement = hitch, hindrance
ouistiti! = say cheese!
un/e ami/e = friend
17,000 euros = 19,340 US dollars
mon Dieu! = my God!
les gilets jaunes = the yellow vests, see yellow vests movement
rebonjour= hi again
la cloche
= bell
la poignée de port = door handle
voyons = lets's see
le vernissage = private viewing of art
le coquelicot = poppy
hélas = alas, sadly

Madame and me la ciotat backpack

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Haphazardly in French + Serendipitous Meeting with a Stranger, Part 1

Lavender and Vine painting tour provence
Experience a Lavender & Vine painting tour! Discover the magical light of Van Gogh this summer (lavender season) or fall (wine harvest). Join our small group with professional instruction to paint in Provence. Rates and tour info here.

Today's Phrase: au petit bonheur

    : haphazardly, randomly

Le bonheur, c'est de continuer à désirer ce qu'on possède. -Saint Augustin
Happiness is wanting what you already have.

January Book-A-Thon....
For two years now I have quietly read your blog, enjoying your triumphs and trials. Unable to sleep one night, I opened your email to find a request to buy your book. It was time for me to step out of the shadows and support your cause. What a delight! I have been unable to put it down. I wish you loads of success. --Jeanne
Blossoming cover
January book-a-thon: buy a book for a friend. Your purchase supports my writing and helps new readers find their way here. Merci! Available in ebook/Kindle or paperback.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

It was serendipity. How else to explain Saturday's meeting with un inconnu?...It was, as Madame said, not par hasard the way we ended up walking, one in front of the other on a cobblestone path at the same point in time....

Time! One minute more, one minute less and we'd never have met. Earlier at home, on our way to the car, Mom had said, Do you have any Kleenex? No? I'll go back and get some. Pockets stuffed with mouchoirs, and in town now, we were stalled another 5 minutes admiring the giant seed pods on a tree we could not name. Lolling about we approached le centre ville on our way to the art supply store, when a gothic church caught my eye. Let's go look! 
Church eglise la ciotat cathedral architecture gothic
To think all of these accidental adjustments in our schedule were not accidents, but were serving to line us up at an exact point on a geographical line of happenstance. There we were, meandering down a narrow street when Mom paused, colliding with the stranger behind her... 

Oh, pardon, Madame! Mom said. Apologizing, she motioned toward the historical buildings surrounding us. 

Ah, oui! C'est magnifique, Madame smiled. At this point she might have nodded and walked off. But she stayed...

Je suis
d'ici... she offered, her raspberry red lipstick drawing us in to such glamour: silver-white hair (I don't have a lot of it, she insisted) in a lovely twist, held up with a barrette. She wore wool pants, a jazzy, printed vest, black boots (they are hand-sewn, I got them at the farmers market!) a long foulard wrapped around her neck and big dark glasses.  She reminded me of one of those characters in Advanced Style.

Mom could not help herself: Look at you! You are so beautiful! The three of us huddled closer, and a conversation ranging from hair loss to the horrors of war ensued.  

(Stranger to Mom): Ah, you were born in '46, and I in '44--when bombs were falling over France! They placed my 4 siblings in various homes, but I was still nursing. The soldiers did not believe it so they squeezed my mother's enormous... (here Madame held out two widely cupped hands for effect...). To this day I am a skinny little thing, Madame concluded. When the Mistral blows through town it carries me away! But I'm out today... no wind! 

Mom was getting cold feet--not from the war story--no, it was the frozen cobblestones beneath her Converse hightops that were making her antsy. But before we moved on, Jules really wanted a photo of Madame ...
Je ne suis pas photogenic....Madame insisted--only to jump into my outstretched arm and smile ouistiti! Locking elbows, I marveled at the natural affection coursing through our hearts. Ce n'est pas par hasard...Madame repeated, as she looked up and flashed that heavenly smile.
*    *    *
Lavender and vine painting tour in provence villages art trip europe
The photo in the opening of this post, and this one, are from Beth. I have personally experienced her hospitality during one of her organized trips in Provence. Do check it out, it may be just the adventure you are looking for in 2019! 

le bonheur = happiness
un inconnu = stranger
par hasard = by accident
le mouchoir (en papier) = tissue, Kleenex
le centre ville = town center
le foulard = scarf, neckerchief
ouistiti! = cheese!

Kristi jules max in kitchen
Recent Instagram post: Three generations, with my Mom, Jules, and my son, Max.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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Tabouret, fouet, penderie, bonnes idées - and a glimpse into the writing life

Tabouret de bar bar stool
It is not enough to have good ideas, you have to act. If you need milk, do not sit on a stool in the middle of a field in the hope that a cow will pass by. -Curtis Grant (don't miss the French translation below)

Today's word: un tabouret

    : stool, footstool

un tabouret de bar = bar stool
un tabouret de cuisine = kitchen stool
un tabouret de piano = piano bench

Il ne suffit pas d'avoir de bonnes idées, il faut agir. Si vous avez besoin de lait, ne vous installez pas sur un tabouret au milieu d'un champs dans l'espoir qu'une vache y passe.

Hemingway paris writer write
Hemingway's Paris: A Writer's City in Words and Images. Order it here.

My backpack sac a dosA DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE
by Kristi Espinasse

The following paragraph was posted with the picture above at  Instagram....

A bar stool with a lot of memories and, sur son dos, a backpack with a lot of souvenirs. It is comforting to have familiar things out. I wore that sac à dos on the plane, in '92, when I moved to France. It somehow got shoved in the back of the closet. Lately, now that I keep it on the chair by the kitchen, I've been taking it out with me, using it for shopping. Today it brought good luck via a touching and meaningful encounter with a stranger. I think that meeting must've swept all the energy out of me (in a good way) and I'm afraid I'll be lazy and not sit down and write about it all. At times like this is good to rest, let the doubts pass, and then exercise a bit of violence with yourself (French for "give yourself a kick in the butt"!). We all need a handy whip when it comes to realizing our dreams....


sur son dos = on it's back
le sac à dos = backpack
un souvenir = memory

closet = la penderie
to go shopping = faire les courses
lazy = parasseux (euse)
stranger = un inconnu
whip = un fouet

My writing space
This is my writing desk. My computer and paperwork is hidden under that scarf--because this is also my bedroom and in order to sleep I don't want to be thinking about work. Yet, I think about work all the time. Because writing this blog is my life.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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Cussing, swear word: You've heard of gros mot, but what's a juron?

Park in la ciotat provence France
Today's crime story (or tale of your choice...) takes place here, at our local park in La Ciotat....

French Word of the Day: un juron

    : swearword, curse word, cuss

lâcher des jurons = to use strong language
un chapelet de jurons = a string of expletives

U.S. taxes for worldly americans living working staying tax compliant abroad
U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans--A fascinating topic if you're an expat or wish to become one. Click here for additional info i.e. ever heard about the unlucky Accidental American? Find out more in the book!)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Often, all it takes to come up with a story is one good line. Take, for example, the following snippet overheard at the park earlier today: 

Allez les enfants. Plus de gros mots. Je filme pour votre maman.

Let me translate that one for you: Come on, kids, no more cussing. I'm filming for your mom! With a gem like this--spoken by a camera-wielding grand-mère to two little tikes on bikes--you could pen an essay about public vs. private personas. But who wants to get all philosophical at this time of the day (it's evening now, and I've got to put my hens to bed).

Then again, with a bit of one-sided dialogue like the above, a short piece could be written about cussing in France, specifically, all the little gosses who do it. You do hear the terms merde and putain issuing right out of the mouths of babes! If you don't believe me, spend a day at the beach, sit beside some stressed-out sand-castle engineers. Or go to the city park, right before l'heure de goûter when everyone's as edgy as a Parisian waiter. But back to badmouthed kids...

Allez les enfants. Plus de gros mots. Je filme pour votre maman...

Squeezing that line like an orange
, you could eke out an article on grandparents who care for their grandchildren (I see so many at the park on Wednesdays). But this is a French word journal, not a bilingual abstract in Droit et Société. Besides, it would require research and, well, it's time to think about dinner.

One thing's sure, in literature...the need for a jumping off point! The aforementioned snippet, or bribe, could serve in an argumentative piece about how the French are more sloppy than you think they are (conversely we get etiquette from them... From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

etiquette (n.) 1750, from French étiquette "prescribed behavior," from Old French estiquette "label, ticket"

Oh well, we don't want to label anybody (least of which a let-rules-slide septuagénaire!). All we want to do today is marvel, for a moment, at so many possibilities in writing and in life and, especially, to take note of one grandmother's gusto as she lovingly, creatively goes with the flow....

l'enfant = child
le gros mot = swear word
la maman = mom, mommy
la grand-mère = grandmother
la/la gosse =kid
merde = sh....
putain = f...
bribe = snippet
l'heure de goûter = snack time
septuagénaire = person in their seventies, septuagenarian
Locals say la Ciotat is where petanque or boules began
You're likely to hear some colorful jurons at a pétanque tournament...and they're not saying saperlipopette!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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Compunction and cacahuètes + a handful of vocabulary...

Lychees peanuts in shell and salad
See those cacahuètes above the mushrooms and beside the lychees? More in the following story and lunch with Max and friends.

Today's Word: la cacahuète

    :  peanut

Peanuts also go by the name arachide, though Jean-Marc tells me cacahuètes (also spelled cacahouètes, which means cacao de terre) are the more popular term.

Simple French Food Richard Olney France cooking Mark Bittman
This cookbook, on my wishlist, is available in hardcover or on ebook or Kindle

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE, by Kristi Espinasse

The upside of three generations living under one toit is that when one family member is sore with you another is completely ignorant of your sins and is still your friend....

As I mope around the house this morning, doing chores to cleanse my soul, I've become aware of this lump in my throat. One thing that works it out (anxiety or unexpressed tears) is sitting down to write even if I'm not gonna tell you who I've unintentionally hurt! What matters is I'm compuncting, which is neither a word in French nor English, but it means you are feeling angoisse from guilt and mistakes you've made. 

If mistakes aren't humbling enough, I was moved when my son and his friends wanted me to join them in the garden for lunch (I believe they invited Jules, too, but she's disappeared into her room...). Max went as far as to find me in my room, where I was shelling a factory's worth of peanuts and grinding them between my teeth (there is no greater anxiety relief than this peanut processing activity).

Come on, Mom! Everyone is asking for you! Max said. Hesitant (yet honored a group of young people wanted me at their table), I picked up my jar of nuts and extended it....before yanking it back.

Cacahuètes! Max shouted. Give them to me! The laughter and the tackling (Max pried them away, like a football) put a halt on my compuncting.

Smokey jumping beside pepper tree poivrier
Le faux-poivrier or false peppercorn tree...and our Smokey

I wish I had taken a picture of the garden setting, notre basse-cour as Jean-Marc calls it (for the chickens running around)--a bucolic setting for this le déjeuner beneath the Mediterranean blue sky, full sun and warmth (en janvier!), the weeping pepper tree--and Max, Antoine, Zoé, Yann, and Mommy, as they now (jokingly) call me, having learned the story of an adolescent Max, who'd missed the cultural clue about teens calling their mom Mom in the States. How could he have known? Raised in France by an American maman who didn't let him in on the term. Ah well, he eventually figured it out. 
And I will eventually figure it out too: what is said and what is not said. If only it were as simple as "Mommy"....

I have no idea how this story is coming across. I hope at the least you have learned a few more French words and, in so doing, we can all better express ourselves, in French, in English, whichever, whenever, pour le mieux.

le toit = roof
l'angoisse = anxiety
la cacahuète= peanut
la basse-cour = farmyard
le déjeuner = lunch
en janvier = in January
la maman = mom
pour le mieux = for the best (possible outcome)

Recently Featured books:
French Country Diary
Demystifying the French
Lulu's Provencal Table

Park in la ciotat
A park here in La Ciotat--and a beautiful place to walk, think, and pray for serenity.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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Amour-Propre: Breakfast, Boundaries & A Blow to the Ego

Little cakes or patisseries
Félicitations to our son Max! After working in Reims he will continue his internship with Lanson (champagne) in Paris, as part of his work-study year with Montpellier Business School. Before heading to the capital, he's having a big barbeque today with his friends. I'm in charge of salad and homemade oven fries... so, here's a story from a few years ago....  

amour-propre (ah-more-prohpr)

    : self-esteem, self-love, self-worth; pride

blesser quelqu'un dans son amour-propre = to be a blow to one's ego

Demystifying the French by Janet Hulstrand
Janet Hulstrand's book is now available for pre-order. Click here and read it very soon!

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

I am getting a kick out of the French definition for the verb vexer: être offensé dans son amour-propre or "to have one's pride offended". I don't know, French definitions always sound so dramatic to me and this is only one of the reasons I love foreign language.

But vexer, that may explain my response this morning as I stood in the kitchen in my purple PJs tucked into orange ski socks chanting positive affirmations for the beginning of the work week.  (This was after I realized I was incontinent and before I discovered my computer had crashed, and the reason for which I am typing this post on my son's keyboard. I have to crane my neck to look up to the screen, which is placed on a shelf next to a bong. A BONG?!...)

But back to my story, lest I lose the courage to work in these unusual surroundings. Back to hurt or offended pride... yes, I was standing there in the kitchen, tissues stuffed in more places than my pockets, psyching myself up for another Monday, when my son stumbled into the room.

"There is nothing to eat in this house!" Max lamented.

I begged his pardon, for there was always something to eat in this house. When was the last time he skipped a meal? Besides, I said, reaching for the bread bag, there was brioche! (I quickly peered into the bag to verify the brioche was not growing green fuzz on its back. And even if it were (which, ouf!, it wasn't) would I be the first parent in the history of the world to have plucked off a spot or two of green fuzz before thrusting the miserable bread back at her child?).

Pourquoi je ne peux pas manger le petit déjeuner comme tout le monde?" Max complained.

"So you want to follow the sheep?" I countered. "And do like everybody else does? Be numb to your own decision making? Well, a good box of GMO flakes will help you with that! And you can buy it with your own money!"

Meantime, I pointed out, there is brioche or oatmeal or yogurt or oranges or bananas for breakfast. With that, I grabbed my tea and tore out of the kitchen.

To the young man left holding the bag of brioche it must have been quite a sight, that of a pride-hurt mama stomping off in big orange ski socks over sagging purple PJs and a faux fur vest (snapped up from my daughter's giveaway pile—the extra layer almost keeps me warm). 

I am nothing if not a mix—of new and used, thoughts and things, stuffed tissues. I do the best I can. At times I make do. And sometimes, just sometimes, I wish others would too.


Re that bong I mentioned (you were wondering, weren't you?). Find out what it really was in the first few paragraphs of this story, click here to read it.

French Vocabulary

amour-propre = self-love
vexer = to hurt, offend
la brioche = sweet bun, sweet loaf of bread
ouf = phew

Pourquoi je ne peux pas manger le petit déjeuner comme tout le monde? = why can't I eat (a normal) breakfast like everybody else 

Our golden retriever Smokey beneath the old shutters and a selection of french pastries
Thanks Mom (pictured below) for the dessert. See the video (and hear Mom speak French... when you slide this picture left over at Instagram)

My mom Jules in a field of phacelia flowers planted in our old vineyard
Photo of my Mom taken when we lived at the vineyard near Bandol. That's a field of phacelia flowers. Jean-Marc sowed them to enrich the ground (and attract bees) before planting his vines. 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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Marquer le coup (A hike, swim at Parc du Mugel) + Do what you want to do


A favorite day planner. Get a copy of French Country Diary and fill it with all the meaningful and exciting things you will do this year.

Today's phrase: marquer le coup

    : to mark the occasion, to celebrate

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

New Year's Day began with blue skies, birdsong (les gazouillis, as JM calls it), and an urge to get outside. There were some things I wanted to do before le premier janvier slipped by, and with Mom's suggestion still strumming in my mind I set out to marquer le coup.

It took a while to get around to what I wanted to do, what with so much chicken poop, but after cleaning le poulailler (carefully transferring the fumier, or black gold, to the base of our plum tree...) I ran to my seed baskets in search of more fava beans. Les fèves are the easiest things to grow. You could probably drop one on the ground and it would spring up a few weeks later! Plus, fava leaves make nutritious salad greens...while you are waiting for the haricots to develop.

While sowing these giant seeds (which also serve as the trinket in this season's Gâteau des Rois), I bumped into Jean-Marc, returning from his morning run. Do you want to pack a lunch and we can go for a swim? I said, vocalizing my 2019 goals: more picnics! more hikes! more swims!

I packed a salad of pois chiches, red onion, diced fava leaves, chopped turmeric, and a few other ingredients Dr. Greger recommends (and some he might resent: fromage and foie gras...) and off we went to Parc du Mugel--the most glorious spot in La Ciotat. 

Mugel walk
Wearing our bathing suits under our winter clothes and doudounes, we hiked up to the botanical park, past the flowering Bird of Paradise, some bright red bougainvillea, and down into a swimming hole my father discovered a few years ago. On seeing two couples of a certain age swimming in the turquoise water, Dad exclaimed, I'm going to return here and swim. (And he did! Only it wasn't the first of January....).

Looking around the otherworldly coastline (the smooth falaise across the bay looks like something out of Planet of the Apes--or the part of the surface of the moon) the land meets the turquoise waters below, which lap over a rock island in the center of the inlet, before rising up to the east with hills of green as in a dream.

Rocky calanque at  parc du mugel la ciotat
picture, showing the rocky terrain, taken on a previous hike

Settling down on a rocky perch, we sat beside our backpacks and Jean-Marc put his head in my lap. As he napped I debated whether or not to brave the icy waters when I noticed un plongeur wearing a thick, full-length wetsuit!

Fait ce que tu as envie de faire, my husband said after lunch, as we packed up our picnic and hiked to another beach, But I am going to swim!! 

Fine, you swim, but I'm not putting any pressure on myself, I said, looking across the beach to where a crowd of New Year's Day swimmers stood beside a line of drying wetsuits.... As we got closer to the others, music filled our ears. I looked up to a quartet of jazz musicians--a talented family ranging in age. The wonderful sound carried us across the pebble beach where we set out our towels. 

Jean-Marc was the first in! And no sooner did he disappear under the glittering surface than a taste for the same experience tickled my senses. I began peeling off my clothes and, as discreetly as possible--not wanting to make a spectacle of myself...I walked over to the shore. Hard to do on those big, slippery pebbles!

Like a newbie on a trapeze, arms flailing for balance, I fell into the water. One more new year's goal bubbled up through my mind: Keep on trying new things, regardless! Better a plunge into exhilarating waters, than a staying put on a bed of rocks.

He looks cold!
Jean-Marc navigating over the slippery rocks. The water was cold but very enjoyable (at about 15C or 60F)

les gazouillis = chirps
le premier janvier = January 1st
marquer le coup = mark the occasion
le fumier = manure
poulailler = henhouse
la fève = fava bean, broad bean
un haricot = bean
le gâteau des rois = King's Cake
le pois chiche = chickpea, garbanzo bean
le fromage = cheese
la doudoune = feather, down jacket
la falaise = cliff
un plongeur = snorkeler
fais ce que tu as envie de faire = do what you want to do
  =>Try Mastering French Vocabulary

Yogurt cake kings cake gateau des rois hack
Here's another cake hack for you: If you cannot find a gâteau des rois in your area, why not make a traditional yogurt cake (easy recipe here) and stick a magical fava bean inside (magical because I have actually planted the bean after plucking it out** of a cooked cake. The seed grew!).

From Wikipedia: À l'intérieur de celui-ci, était introduite une fève ; celui qui avait la chance de la trouver dans la part qu'il recevait était nommé roi. Inside (the cake) a bean was inserted; the one who had the chance of finding it in his slice was named king.

Happy New Year! May it be filled with peaceful moments and inspiration to follow your dreams.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
♥ Contribute $10    
♥ Contribute $25    
♥ Contribute the amount of your choice

Bon bout d'an! + What is an adult? (Surprising answer by one of France's most famous philosophers)

Sunrise in la ciotat (2)
For this last post of the year, my mind is a scramble--une bousculade. As with the beginning of any essay, there are so many possible directions in which to set out. This is when a writer must hone in on a subject or, at the very least, un thème.

Because everything is bubbling up inside of me in a good and sunny way, it can't help but overflow onto this page. Whether this positive energy will last until lunchtime--or carry on through the end of the year--peu importe. What's essential is to go with it. If I had to sum up 2018, I would say flow of life is where it is (or was). This past year (the tears come as I type this) I have, once and for all, not fought the changes. Come what may are the words on my lips this morning, and these 3 words offer a willing and ready nod to the future.

QUOI QU'IL ARRIVE. Come what may, I will (live, advance, deal, love, hurt, heal). Come what may I will try hard to swallow my pride, forgive myself for missteps, hug the one who's rattling me. Sometimes I need rattling. I thank God those that rattle me also love me, forgive me, and practice short-term memory when it comes to offenses. I'm thinking of my Mom and my husband, two very strong characters whom I have struggled to live with in 2018. But if I have had a revelation in the past décennie, it is this: others struggle to live with me too!

So if you are like me, don't feel too bad about your idiosyncrasies. Continue to smooth them out in the coming year and, in the meantime, take heart in a famous writer's words: Qu'est-ce qu'un adulte? Un enfant gonflé d'âge.*

(An adult is only a child blown up by age!)

We still have our meltdowns, we still, as a little girl screamed in the park the other day (MAMAN! LES BRAS! LES BRAAAAS!), want to be carried when we can no longer soldier on. We are still goofy, awkward and inadequate--creative, silly, and sweet. We are snotty nosed brats and innocent as newborns (we don't know what is coming next and we are at the mercy of it).   

All we need to do from here on out is to be considerate of others and gentle to ourselves. I wish you, Dear Reader, un bon bout d'an and  I will see you here in the new year quoi qu'il arrive.... 

With lots and lots of love (oh, les larmes sont revenues!),


Smokey and Kristi Christmas tree

gonfler = to bore, exasperate, get on somebody's nerves
une bousculade = rush, scramble
un thème = theme
peu importe = whatever, it doesn't matter
quoi qu'il arrive = come what may, whatever happens
la décennie = decade
maman = mommy
les bras! = your arms (I want you to hold me!)
bon bout d'an! = Happy end of the year!
les larmes sont revenues = the tears have come back
*Simone de Beauvoir

Doves by the sea in la ciotat

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51 ans comme le pastis! + Come paint in Provence!

Paint provence with Tess

The flyer above is for my dear friend Tess's art getaways here in France. Click on the banner above and put this experience on your bucket list for 2019!

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Eh bien, I didn't mean to take a week off of writing this journal. I had planned to touch base with you on Christmas Eve, with a meaningful story, when the word intrusive popped into my mind. Call it intuition...or maturing in age...but the fact is je ne voulais pas vous gonfler avec trop de choses.

And maybe I didn't want to exasperate myself either? Whether one more letter in your inbox would have sent you (or me) into a tailspin, or chute libre, is only an assumption--something I make too many of, which brings me to New Year's goals. What are yours?

As you take a moment to think about that, let me veer off track and say: on Dec 22nd I turned 51 comme le pastis. The kids were away, Mom was recuperating, and Jean-Marc had to work. So after moping around the house all morning, I took Jules's advice to mark the occasion. I did this by kicking around my garden until I bumped into a better occupation by way of an 8ft-tall scraggly stalk. The Jerusalem artichoke plant never did produce the bright sunflower-like blossoms I had hoped for, back when I buried it, but might there be the promised sunchokes below ground? The thought perked me up until I had both hands in the cool dirt, the lushness and scent of the earth awakening sense and curiosity.

That is how I dug up an unexpected treasure on my birthday. A harvest of topinabours. How thrilling it is to discover abundance in an outwardly barren environment! What else is out there hidden, yet-to-be-discovered? Like gifts that remain to be opened, such are the days et les découvertes ahead.

*    *    *

Lulus provencale kitchen richard olney
The delicious book Jean-Marc gave me for my birthday. I believe it is out of print. Used copies are available here.

eh bien = well
gonfler = bore, exasperate
chute libre = tailspin
51 comme le pastis = 51 like the (famous) pastis
le topinambour = Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke
une découverte = discovery

A little red vespa, right, parasol pines and the rocky coastline here in La Ciotat. 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
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Entertain friends with this delicious French synonym + Mieux vaut tard que jamais!

The crust or trottoir on my favorite pizza at Chez Henri

TODAY'S WORD: le trottoir

    : sidewalk, pavement, curb
    : slang for the outer crust (or le rebord) on a pizza, tart, or quiche

Listen to Jean-Marc
 Download Trottoir

En France et en Suisse, par métaphore, le trottoir est aussi le nom communément donné au bord d'une tarte ou d'une pizza.
In France and Switzerland, as a metaphor, the sidewalk is also the name given for the crust of a tart or a pizza.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
"Mieux Vaut Tard Que Jamais"

Yesterday--24 years after moving to France--I got the chance to thank Marianne. Marianne is the mother of Fred, who is the godfather of our son, Max. It was Fred who picked me up at the Marignane airport in the fall of 1992, after a 24-hour voyage from Arizona. I'll never forget him glancing down at my cowboy boots as he stood beside the baggage carousel, wearing a crisp Façonnable chemise and Italian loafers--at least I think that is what he was wearing--and if I retell this same story in 10 years, don't be surprised if Fred is sporting an Izod sweater and wingtips. While my memory may be foggy for details, it is crystal clear when it comes to kindnesses, as we will see in the following remembrance.

Fred drove me to his family's home in Marseilles, where we unloaded my U-Haul moving boxes and mes valises and waited for my then-boyfriend, Jean-Marc, to get off work. Fred lived with his parents, Marianne and Michel, and his 17-year-old frère cadet, Antoine. Over the next 10-months, I had the chance to eat many a Tuesday night dinner at Marianne's table, where I sat absorbing every detail. From pre-dinner ritual of apértifs (I loved Porto!) to the post-dinner digestif (le marc!), I drank it all in. Looking back, I wished I had put down my wine glass and helped Marianne carry all those heavy gratin dishes!

Yesterday was my chance to thank her. Michel and Marianne had come to see our vineyard and they were here, as well, to visit Château de Pibarnon, where they're considering celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. After touring the Bandol winery, we headed to the charming port of La Madrague, to eat at our local pizzeria, Chez Henri.

Port of la madrague boats pointu filet fishnet

Almost as soon as we were seated, I blurted out a decades-late remerciement: "Marianne. You may not know what an impression you made on me all those years ago!"

Thinking about it, Marianne would have been the age I am now: 48.** She would have been serving dinner in high heels and a slim, above-the-knee skirt. It may have been leather. With her shoulder-length wavy black hair parted in the center and her big green eyes, she looked as beautiful as when she left for work that morning at her law firm. And here she was, late at night, serving 8 of us homemade gratin de courgette and steak--followed by a cheese platter, salad, dessert, and coffee (and perhaps a limoncello maison...). 

Over the years I thought a lot about Marianne as I tried to cook and to entertain--all the while balancing kids, casseroles, and my own burgeoning career as a learn-as-you-go écrivain.

As I considered all I wanted to convey to Marianne, the waiter at Chez Henri appeared... and the focus was about to go to the savory pies he set down in front of us. It was time to hurry and sum up what it was I wanted to say to Fred's mom all these years later....

"I wish I had helped you clear the table!!"

Looking at me with those beautiful green eyes, which now sparkled and smiled, Marianne said: "I have no memory of you not helping."

As everyone dug into their pizza, I savored Marianne's words until Michel piped up with some perfectly-timed comic relief. Pointing to the crust on our pizzas, he offered: Do you know what we call this in French? 

(Two of us shook our heads.)

"Le trottoir. The sidewalk."

The sidewalk indeed! This concluded our meaningful stroll down Memory Lane--Life's gentle path where we overlook shortcomings and recall only the best in others.

                        *   *    *     

**This story was written three years ago.

Marianne (second on the left, with her son Fred--Michel to the right--and their grandchildren and extended family)

Zucchini gratin casserole
Marianne's Easy Lasagna & A Favorite Word
Marianne's Zucchini Casserole

Related Serre Chevalier Stories
A Kiss by a Stranger (or Une Biz in Le Bez)
These boots are made for walking (overcoming fears)


mieux vaut tard que jamais = better late than never
la chemise = shirt
la valise = suitcase
le frère cadet = younger brother, little brother
un apéritif = drink before lunch or dinner
digestif = after-dinner liqueur
le marc =
a digestif made of grapes or apples
le remerciement = thanks
gratin de courgette = zucchini casserole
limoncello maison = homemade limoncello
un écrivain
= writer
le trottoir
= sidewalk, pavement

The view from Chateau de Pibarnon, where we visited with Marianne and Michel.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy and look forward to these posts and want to give something back, please know your contribution makes a difference! A donation by check or via PayPal is greatly appreciated.
♥ Contribute $10    
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