Author Archives: jessica

La Montagne et moi: Lève-tôt


‘C’est la rentrée’ (school has started again) here in the Alps and with it comes ‘un rude réveil’ (a harsh awakening / realisation). I am going to have to get up at 05:30 every ‘jour de semaine’ weekday for ‘l’année qui vient’ (the next year). I am not a ‘lève-tôt’ (early riser) by nature and ‘je me reveille de mauvais poil!’ (I wake up in a bad mood). ‘A moitié endormie encore’ (still half asleep) I get ready for the day with the help of ‘un café corsé’ (a strong coffee) and ‘les dernières infos’ (an update) on what’s going on in the world) ‘grâce à’ (thanks to) France Inter radio.


This morning ‘j’ai pour mission de maman de’ (my mummy-mission is to) locate a pair of ‘socquettes’ (invisible socks), ‘signer son carnet’ (sign her correspondence book) and ‘éplucher une pomme’ (peel an apple). I find one sock on the floor next to the washing machine and ‘je fouille dans’ (I rummage through) a bin bag of mismatched single socks to triumphantly create ‘une paire assortie’ a matching pair.


Mission accomplie’ (mission accomplished) we start the 5 mile drive to the school bus ‘aux premières lueurs de l’aube’ (at the first streak of dawn). ‘A mi-chemin’ (half way there) I check my ‘rétroviseur’ (rear-view mirror) and ‘je ralentis brusquement’ (I slow down sharply), then stop completely. ‘Des cerfs’ (deer) follow us on either side of the car. Knowing that they will often cross the road out of fear, ‘j’allume les feux de détresse’ (I switch on my hazard lights) and switch off my ‘phares’ (headlights) and the deer saunter off in to the mountains. In 2016, 60,000 accidents involving cars and ‘animaux sauvages’ (wild animals) occurred, ‘causant’ (resulting in) 20 deaths. Accidents increase in autumn as food ‘se fait rare’ (becomes scarce). Combined with the start of ‘la période de chasse’ (the hunting season) the warning ‘un sanglier peut en cacher un autre’ (one wild boar may hide another) rings scarily true. ‘Je dépose ma fille’ (I drop my daughter off) at 06:30 and drive back home.


Last week I started each day with a ‘une randonnée à pied’ (hike) up the mountain taking ‘un sentier’ (a path) ‘qui longe un ruisseau’ (that follows a stream). ‘Au sommet’ at the top I stopped for a while to witness the sun appearing over the ‘chaîne de montagnes’ (mountain range). When I told my neighbour how much I enjoyed my new routine she looked at me ‘inquiète’ (with concern). “Mais la chasse commence ce weekend!” (But the hunting season starts this weekend!). Indeed, the hunting season has started – and continues until the end of January!!!! About 12 people are killed and 20 injured in hunting accidents each year in France, where the hunter ‘règne sans partage’ (rules supreme) over the countryside for almost half the year. ‘Donc me voilà’ (so here I am) confined to ‘faire le tour du village’ (walk around the village) or risk being mistaken for a wild boar. ‘Vivement le mois de février!’ Roll on February!


‘La différence entre ‘peler’ et ‘éplucher’ est que le verbe peler s’applique lorsqu’on ne retire que la peau – donc on pèle une banane et on épluche une pomme’ (The difference between ‘peler’ and ‘éplucher’ is that the verb peler applies when you only take the skin off – so you pele a banana and épluche an apple.


La Confianza – part II

As I said in Part 1, ‘la confianza’ means both confidence and trust. The ‘trust’ issue on my last trip to Barcelona, came upon us unexpectedly.  Mi marido y yo (my husband and I) were leaving a bar, when the man sitting next to us spotted the logo on my husband’s work jacket. ‘Trabaja en Michelin?’ he asked.  A ‘larga conversación’ (long conversation) ensued – mostly about ‘ruedas, coches y el evento de coches de carreras’(tyres, cars and the racing car meet) that he organises on an annual basis in the middle of Barcelona.  Suddenly, the conversation ended with the question ‘¿Mañana al mediodía’? (Tomorrow at midday?).  My husband was excited – the chap had shown him a photo of ‘un coche caro y poco común’ (a rare and expensive car) and agreed to show it to him, so the following day we met ‘enfrente del restaurant a las doce’ (in front of the restaurant at midday).  The chap was ’bien vestido y amable’ (well-dressed and amiable enough), but as ‘le seguimos’ (we followed him) further and further away from the bar ’empecé a sentirme intranquila’  (I started to feel uneasy) and as he unlocked his garage door I suddenly realised that ‘nadie sabía dónde estábamos’(nobody knew where we were), who we were with or what we were doing – ¡ni nosotros tampoco!’  (not even us!).  As the fluorescent lights flickered on, I was initially reassured to see not just the prized Lotus, but a ‘verdadero museo de coches y motos’ (veritable museum of cars and motorbikes).  ‘Los hombres’ (the men) discussed each one in great detail and I tried to ask sensible questions and look interested, but my attention was drawn to ‘un agujero bastante grande en el medio del garaje’ (a rather large hole in the middle of the room).  ‘¿Qué es?’ I asked ¡Es un refugio!’ our host explained.  He handed us some miner’s torches to strap on to our heads and indicated the manhole and a rather rusty ladder that disappeared in to the darkness below.  So now, dear reader, ask yourself what you would have done?  I mean, ‘¿habéis visto la película Room?’  (have you seen the film ‘Room’?)  Quite right – I thanked the man politely, told him that I had just remembered an ‘cita urgente’ (urgent appointment) ‘ver a alguién sobre algo’ (to see a man about a dog) and left the building.

Except I didn’t.  I put the searchlight on and clambered down after him, all the time thinking ‘How can he afford all of these ‘coches caros’ (expensive cars) if not by ‘atrayendo a turistas’ (luring tourists down) to his ‘refugio antiaéreo’ (air raid shelter), stealing their ‘tarjetas de crédito’ (credit cards) and jewellery ‘y entonces…’ (and then …?)  I counted 87 steps down, then to the right ‘para reducir el impacto de una explosión’ (to lessen the effect of an explosion) then down again until ‘de repente paramos’ (we stopped suddenly) ‘al final’ (at the end of) the tunnel and my headlight came to rest – ‘no es broma’ (I kid you not) – on a pick-axe and a shovel.  At this point, I must confess, I tried to work out if I would rather die first, or watch someone kill my husband and have to dig ‘su tumba’ (his grave).  Trust, ‘amigos míos’ (my friends) was in short supply.  By the time I had turned and made a rather hasty retreat back up to the ladder, ‘me estaban temblando las piernas’ (my legs had turned to jelly) and I scrambled out of the hole ‘de una forma indigna’ (in a most undignified manner).  It was with great relief that I heard our host declare that ‘era la hora del vermouth y berberechos’ (it was time for ‘Vermouth & cockles’) in a local café where he explained why so many citizens of Barcelona built air raid shelters during the ‘la Guerra Civil Española’ (Spanish civil war).  I do hope that our host will forgive my suspicions of his serial killer tendencies as he is ‘un señor encantador’ (a really lovely guy) whom we hope will become a friend – particularly if he ¡viene a visitarnos en su Lotus!’ The ladder is in the first clip and the famous pick-axe in the second! (comes to visit us in his Lotus)!

By coincidence, Trinxeres TV3 filmed here as part of their series. The videos are in Catalan rather than Castillan Spanish (which we use in our classes) but you can see the tunnel – and see if you can make out any words. Catalan is spoken by more than half of the people in Barcelona – so worth a listen!

La Confianza (Confidence & trust)

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‘La confianza’ means both ‘confidence’ and ‘trust’ in Spanish – both of which I found myself in great need of on my ‘viaje reciente’ (recent trip) to Barcelona.  It isn’t easy running a language business and finding out ‘soy un desastre para aprender’ (I am rubbish at learning) a new ‘idioma’ (language).   ‘Mi problema’ (my problem) is partly that I expect it to be ‘fácil’ (easy) and partly that there are no Spanish for Fun classes in my ’pueblo pequeño en las colinas’ (tiny village in the foothills) of the French Alps.  But armed with the ‘curso para principiantes’ (Beginner’s course) that I did ‘hace tres años’ (3 years ago) and a quick look at the revision videos, I was determined to ‘intentar hablar cuanto más español mejor’ (try to speak as much Spanish as I could) ‘para salirme con la mía’ (to get away with).

My interesting ‘combinación’ (mixture) of sheer bravado, ‘una noción superficial’ (a smattering of) several European languages and the odd glass of rioja, enabled me to get by in most situations without ‘ofender a’ (offending) too many people – although there was an incident with a chicken which is far too rude for me to explain here – but if you are not good at remembering the gender of nouns, I would advise you to order ‘el pollo’ (the chicken) in English or you could get more than you bargained for.

I learned two really useful things on this trip about being a beginner in a foreign language.  The first is to start every conversation with ‘¿Hablas inglés?’ (Do you speak English?).  If they answer ’No hablo inglés, lo siento!’ (I don’t speak English, sorry) you can get away with Tarzan Spanish, miming skills and even whipping out ‘el traductor de Google’ (google translate), safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to sneer at you and may even ‘disfrutar del espectáculo’ (enjoy the performance).  If they answer ‘un poco’ (a little), the best tactic is to say ‘¡Voy a intentar hablar español, aunque no es fácil!’ which normally results in them making the odd sugerencia útil (helpful suggestion) but generally showing respect to the ‘fenómeno raro’ (rare phenomenon) of a British person making funny noises.  If they answer ‘Sure – how can I help?’ a menudo con el fastidioso  acento americano (often in an annoying American accent) I suggest that you allow them to show off and just relax and ‘disfruta del paisaje’ (enjoy the scenery).

As your confidence improves, another ‘frase importante’ (important phrase) to master is ‘Lo siento, no entiendo, sólo hablo un poco de español’ (Sorry, I don’t understand, I only speak a little Spanish) which will generally guarantee you ‘elogios’ (compliments) on your amazing ‘acento español’ (Spanish accent) which is nice and stops them from speaking real Spanish back to you, none of which you understand.

I am pleased to report that I managed to ‘pedir algo para comer’ (order food), ‘comprar entradas para un museo’ (buy museum tickets), ‘encontrar un aseo’ (find the toilets), ‘comprar un billete de tren de ida y vuelta’ (buy a return train ticket), ‘pedir algo para beber’ (order a drink), and generally be a convincing Spanish speaking British tourist.  However, I also noticed that there are several shortcomings to the course – the most important being how to order an ice-cream, to differentiate between dry and medium white wine and how to identify ‘callos’ (tripe) so as not to order it by accident again.

Find out why I needed ‘la confianza’ (trust) in my next blog.  The photo is a hint.

Année sabbatique

La Montagne et moi; Année sabbatique


‘Un parfait inconnu’ (a perfect stranger) has just ‘porté plainte’ (filed a complaint) regarding my blog. The essence of their ‘mécontentement’ (dissatisfaction) is that there hasn’t been one for ‘un peu plus d’un an’ (just over a year). Je suis autant flattée qu’énervée (I am equally flattered and annoyed). It can’t possibly ‘faire un an’ (be a year) since I last ‘posté sur mon blog’ (posted to my blog) I mutter as I ‘consulte mon site web’ (visit my website). ‘ Mais c’est juste!’ (But it’s true!) I appear to have taken an ‘année sabbatique’ (sabbatical year) from my sabbatical.

‘Depuis quand’ (since when) did my ‘vie de nomade’ (nomadic life) spent half in France, half in the UK, become so ‘chargée’ (busy) that I stopped ‘mettre par écrit’ (committing to paper) the ‘temps forts’ (highlights)? And was it just due to ‘me surmener’ (running myself ragged) back and forth across the channel that my monologues ‘s’épuisaient’ (dried up)? I used to post ‘tous les mois’ (every month). My last post was due in November 2015 ‘à peu près au moment des’ (at around the time of) the Paris attacks. ‘D’un coup’ (suddenly) je ne trouvais plus mes mots (I couldn’t find anything to say). At the same time, my involvement with teaching French to the ‘chercheurs d’asile’ (asylum seekers) in the next village became more ‘prenant’ (time-consuming), my daughter’s Baccalaureat became ‘un défi de taille’ (a serious challenge) and my business ‘a doublé de taille’ (doubled in size). ‘Bref,’ (to cut a long story short) I had neither the time nor the heart to ‘me moquer de’ (mock) my week. But now it’s time to ‘reprendre le collier’ (get back in the saddle).

I don’t like ‘parler aux professeurs de ma fille’ (talking to my daughter’s teachers) in French : I still can’t express myself as fluently as in my ‘langue maternelle’ (mother tongue) and I want so much to ‘faire bonne impression’ (make a good impression) that I quickly become ‘muette’ (tongue-tied) and ‘maladroite’ (clumsy). ‘De plus’ (what’s more) this teacher had gone dangerously ‘hors-piste’ (off track) and was talking to me about the challenges of parenting in general and the fact that French children have ‘le mercredi après-midi’ (Wednesday afternoons) off school. ‘Mon nounou (rhymes with shoe) va chercher les enfants à l’école le mercredi’ (my Nanny picks the children up from school on Wednesdays) she explained. I tried to muster up an intelligent response “Which days of the week does your ‘nounours’ (rhymes with course and means teddy-bear!) pick up the children. She looked at me ‘d’un air perplexe’ then we both ‘éclations de rire’ (burst out laughing).

‘Il fait un froid de canard’ (It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey – or more politely – It’s freezing!). My night time routine consists of making ‘une tisane’ (herbal tea), ‘deux bouillottes’ (two hot water bottles), one for my feet and one to ‘serrer dans mes bras’ (cuddle), and ‘un pyjama thermolactyle’ (thermal pyjamas). This routine has been working ‘à merveille’ (wonderfully well) until I was woken up at 4 am the other day, my pyjama top (TOP!!!) ‘trempé’ (drenched) by a slow ‘fuite’ (leak) from the ‘bouillotte’. The morning’s antics are just as precisely planned – ‘J’allume’ (I switch on) the ‘lampe-torche’ (torch) on my mobile phone to find my slippers and avoid the ‘sol glacé’ (freezing-cold floor), switch on the ‘grille-pain’ (toaster) we call a radiator and slip back in to bed for a 20-minute ’somme’ (snooze) before it’s safe to ‘braver le froid’ (face the cold) and start the day.