To the delight of her faithful fans, Kristin Espinasse—the creator of the popular French-Word-A-Day blog and a columnist for France Today—has recently published a new book. First French Essais is a collection of stories that radiates warmth like the Provençal sunshine.
Originally from Arizona, Espinasse lives with her husband (Jean-Marc, the wine-maker), two kids, and two golden retrievers (Braise and Smokey) in the south of France. Her essays invite us into her world as an expat, to share her challenges and triumphs in navigating cultural differences. Threaded with humor and joie de vivre, these vignettes remind us of the beauty in the quotidien.
Montaigne first coined the term “essai” in the 16th century as he “attempted” to share thoughts on life and learning in written form. Here the French word is an apt descriptor for Espinasse’s word portraits, which show our protagonist’s immersion in a French life that is not always “la vie en rose.” Making clever use of French words, these essays also shed light on diction and idioms for those keen to learn the language. Here, an excerpt from one of our favorite chapters.
Pinceau (noun, masculine, “Paintbrush”)
Breezing past our living room, Jean-Marc is wearing a long African robe and a five o’clock shadow. In his left hand he is holding a small can of touch-up paint and in his right, a wet paintbrush.
I have grown to accept my husband’s taste in lounge wear and the fact the he sees no reason to change into work clothes for his latest DIY project.
For a nostalgic moment I remember back to when he bought that robe, or boubou. In was in ’92, during one of his missions d’audit in Africa. Though he did not like his short stint as an accountant, he loved Djibouti. When he wasn’t stuck in an office verifying spreadsheets as a local petroleum company, Jean-Marc enjoyed fishing with the locals in a deep, blue bay along the sea.
“Ça va, Mr. Touch-up?” I tease, following my husband through the house. I can’t help but want to put in my two cents’ worth. “You missed a spot! T’as oublié celle-là!”
The man in the robe responds by playfully poking me in the nose with the wet end of the pinceau. When I complain, he counters, “C’est lavable à l’eau.”
Moving quickly through our little house, Jean-Marc brushes paint over child-size fingerprints and across chipped baseboards in a quest to cover up grease marks, scruffs, and smudges.
“Grab a paintbrush!” he calls, when passing the kids’ rooms. “Allez, on y va!”
Because Mr. Touch-up forgets to mention where he’s been, the kids and I are never sure which surfaces are wet and when to watch out. It is the cream-colored streak across the seat of my pants (where I’ve backed into a wet wall) or beneath Max’s palm or on Jackie’s fingertip that reminds us that the touch-up artist has struck again. Touché!