Le Dernier Mot: Hidden in Plain Sight

Le Dernier Mot: Hidden in Plain Sight

A search for the right wedding anniversary gift ends in an adventure at sea for Kristin.

The morning of our wedding anniversary had me desperately searching Amazon for a manly gift. Apparently, 27 years of marriage corresponds to les noces d’acajou. Mahogany – according to the commercial gods – symbolises the strength of our union. Now to find a present made of wood…

Typing “bois” into the online search box, a few suggestions appeared: a bracelet made of wooden beads (too hippy?); a wooden picture frame (superfluous?); a wooden toilet seat? Wait! Better refine my search. Did I indicate this was a present? Abasourdie from scrolling dozens more pages, I nearly ordered a kalimba when I pictured my husband trying to play music on the miniature “thumb piano” (but made of wood! And that was key.)

Oh, the heck with it! I’m not going to cave in to some fast purchase, or to the commercialism that would have me buying a rubbish cadeau! Besides, Jean-Marc and I quit exchanging gifts years ago: “experiences, not things” is our unspoken motto. In fact, my husband was due home any moment to take me on a little adventure on the only wooded island in the Bouches-du-Rhône. How (accidentally) meaningful!


Soon we were in our little pointu, heading to nearby L’Île Verte for a sun, salt and sea celebration. After a 15-minute trajet, Jean-Marc navigated into a picturesque calanque, getting as close as possible to the shoreline before we hopped into the water, wading the rest of the way to dry ground. My skipper dropped off our picnic basket before returning to anchor his boat out in the little harbour. “Merci, T’es gallant!” I cheered as he went to moor the wooden craft.

There beneath the midday sun, I took in the magnificent view of the coastline of La Ciotat. But the pleasure wore off when, 30 minutes later, I noticed my mate still fussing over the placement of his boat. “Just pitch the anchor!” I began to grumble, before catching myself (was that my stomach talking? Low blood sugar?). If we’ve learned anything in 27 years, it’s patience – and to let the other be, in all their idiosyncrasies! I smoothed out our towels at the water’s edge and unpacked lunch: des poutargues, des œufs durs, a selection of smoked cheeses, and two slices of homemade chocolate cake. ‘Un festin’, as my husband would say. And there he was now, swimming back to shore.

Tchin-tchin!” We smiled, clinking our metal gourdes. After a few more dips in the sea, swimming among silver daurades and bright orange starfish, it was time for une petite sieste. When I awoke, I noticed our boat drifting closer and closer to shore. I went to alert my husband but he was gone.

Ha! That was Mr. Gallant swimming behind it. The scene made me giggle and laughter has a way of freshening the mind. That’s when I saw it. Le bois. Our little boat was made of it! The wooden symbol I had been searching for was there all along, hidden in plain sight. If not the actual gift, it was le véhicle to it: une expérience inoubliable.


LE BOIS = wood
LES NOCES D’ACAJOU = mahogany anniversary
LE CADEAU = gift
LE POINTU = traditional wooden fishing boat
L’ÎLE VERT = an island off La Ciotat, literally the Green Island
LE TRAJET = crossing
UN FESTIN = a feast
LE CALANQUE = creek, sea inlet
MERCI! T’ES GALLANT! = thanks! You’re a gentleman!
LE POUTARGUE = salted, cured fish roe
UN ŒUF DUR = hard-boiled egg
TCHIN-TCHIN! = here’s to you, here’s to us!
LA DAURADE = sea bream
INOUBLIABLE = unforgettable

Read more of Kristin’s popular columns here.

From France Today magazine

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The American-born author and photographer lives with her French husband, Jean-Marc, and their two children on a vineyard and olive farm near Bandol in Provence. She's the author of "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France" and runs the French Word-a-Day blog and newsletter.

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