Author Archives: jessica

La Montagne et Moi: La Vedette


C’est la fête au village’ (it’s party time in the village). The Auberge has organized a public theatre & music festival to ‘fêter la trentaine’ (celebrate the 30th birthday) of one of their friends. Our modest population ‘a explosé de 50 à 500’ (has exploded from 50 to 500) for the weekend. My daughter and I have offered to ‘prêter main forte’ (muck in) and together with about 20 other ‘bénévoles’ (volunteers), we will be responsible for ‘accueillir, nourrir, informer et héberger’ (welcoming, feeding, informing and sheltering) people ‘au cours du’ (over the) weekend.

Artists have come ‘d’ici et d’ailleurs’ (from near and far) to show off their ‘marionnettes’ (puppets), ‘chansons’ (songs) and ‘pièces de théâtre’ plays. When I’m on the ‘accueil’ (welcome desk) I manage to see some of the ‘représentations’ (performances) ‘du coin de l’oeil’ (out of the corner of my eye). On the first afternoon, the audience is hushed and attentive, then suddenly they ‘s’explosent de rires’ (burst out laughing). ‘Je me tords le cou’ (I crane my neck) to see what’s happening and realise that ‘notre chat’ (our cat) has decided to sit on ‘la scène’ (the stage), ‘aux pieds nus du marionnettiste’ (at the puppeteer’s bare feet) and she’s patting lazily at his toes and at one of the many ‘ficelles de marionette’ (puppet-strings). ‘Que faire?’ (What to do?) Should I interrupt the performance and retrieve ‘la vedette surprise’ (the surprise star of the show)? ‘Le marrionnettiste fait tourner sa marionette vers le chat et lui penche la tête avec adresse’ (The puppeteer skilfully turns his puppet towards the cat and cocks its head). ‘Dorenévant’ (from now on), the cat ‘fait partie de’ (has become part of) the performance!

My Englishness only gets in the way once or twice. I hear that we are to have an ‘autowash’ and I ‘pense tout haut’ (wonder out loud) if I will have time to ‘filer’ (nip off) to get my car spruced up. “I don’t think that the car will ‘rentrer dans la bassine’ (fit in the washing-up bowl) sniggers the person next to me, ‘montrant du doigt’ (pointing to) the self-service washing-up bowl. Another time, I try to queue for a ‘sandwich-merguez’ (spicy sausage sandwich). After half an hour of other people getting served I get fed up and shout out ‘Oh! Par ici! ‘Hey – over here!’ which miraculously results in immediate sandwich service.

Our mystery ‘invité’ (guest) turns out to be a ‘poet-rapper’ called Archibald. I understand about ‘un mot sur trois’ (every third word) that he sings but I get ‘l’essentiel’ (the gist). Despite his rather furious ‘paroles’ (lyrics), he is extremely polite & tidy and ‘on ne le remarque guère’ (we hardly notice that he’s there). He leaves us a CD ‘pour nous remercier’ (to say thank you) before heading off to another ‘résidence’ which I at first think is his second home (which would clash somewhat with his ‘rhetorique’ (rhetoric) until he explains that he is ‘artiste resident’ (an artist-in-residence) and ‘je rougis’ (I blush).

By the end of the weekend we have re-washed ‘un tas de vaisselle’ (loads of crockery) – the autowash being ‘pas très efficace’ (not terribly efficient) and welcomed countless visitors to ‘our’ village. ‘Je me suis enrhumée’ (I have caught cold) but the way that my daughter and I have been accepted in to the village community (warms my heart).

¡La caza empieza este fin de semana!

Our Spanish learners asked for my French blog to be translated in to Spanish.  Have a go at translating it back in to English and then check your answers on the French blog: La Montagne et Moi: Lève-tôt

Es el momento de la vuelta al cole aquí en los Pirineos, y con ello llega el despertador terrible. Voy a tener que levantarme a las 5h30 todos los días entre semana para todo el año escolar. No soy muy de mañanas, no es algo natural para mi, y me despierto de mal humor. Todavía un poco dormida, me preparo para el día con el ayuda de un café solo, y escucho la Radio 5 del RTVE para enterarme de las últimas noticias.

Hoy en la mañana mi misión de mamá va a ser de encontrar unos mini calcetines invisibles, firmar el librito para el colegio, y pelar una manzana para la merienda de mi hija. Encuentro un calcetín al suelo al lado de la lavadora, y después busco en una bolsa de calcetines variados para encontrar (¡un triunfo!) un par que hace juego con la ropa de mi hija.

Misión cumplida, al romper el alba cogemos el coche para recorrer los 8 kilómetros hasta la parada del autobús del colegio. A mitad de camino miro en el retrovisor y paro con un golpe – hay ciervos a cada lado del coche. Dado que yo sé que suelen cruzar la carretera por miedo, enciendo las luces intermitentes y apago lo demás. Los ciervos van a su aire, subiendo la montaña. En el 2016 hubo más de 60.000 accidentes con animales salvajes y coches; resultaron 20 muertos. Hay más accidentes en el otoño porque no hay tanta comida para los animales. Este hecho, junto con que es el principio de la temporada de la caza, significa que el dicho “un jabalí puede esconder otro” es aún más verdadero.

La semana pasada he empezado todos los días con una caminata por las montañas, siguiendo un camino al lado de un riachuelo. Al llegar arriba de todo, paro un momento para ver el sol aparecer desde detrás de la cordillera. Cuando le conté a mi vecina cuanto me encantaba mi nueva rutina, me miraba con inquietud. Pero, ¡la caza empieza este fin de semana! Es así – la caza ha empezado y continuará hasta finales de enero. El año pasado unas 20 personas murieron por causa de accidentes relacionados con cazar. Es porque el cazador es el matador, es él que manda en las montañas durante estos meses – casi la mitad del año. Entonces aquí estoy, sólo puedo dar la vuelta al pueblo, si no hay un riesgo de que me vean y piensan que soy jabalí. ¡Espero con impaciencia que llegue febrero!

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.