29 April 2013

Une cuisson bien arrosée...

Yesterday I did something I haven't been doing that much recently, because the weather has been so rainy. I went to the market. There is an open-air market on Saturday mornings in Saint-Aignan, and then there's another on Sunday mornings across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher.

The best vendor at the Noyers market is a volailler — a poultry merchant. There are always a lot of people standing in line there, waiting to be served, but yesterday it wasn't too crowded. The weather was nippy but sunny, so waiting outdoors was not unpleasant. And all the food in the display cases — all kinds of chicken, duck, and turkey sausages, and pâtés made from rabbit or duck, for example — was, as always, highly appetizing.

But I resisted all that. I was on a mission to bring home a nice farm-raised pintade — a guinea hen — or, at the very least, a plump chicken. I ended up with a 1.8 kg guinea hen, which the man behind the counter prepared for the oven by gutting it, cutting off the head and the feet, and burning off the last of the bird's pinfeathers with a blow torch.

When I got it home, all I had to do was tie the bird up and put it on the spit for roasting in the oven. After brushing it with olive oil, Walt and I sprinkled the pintade with smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. I set a pan of water in the oven under the bird to catch the drippings as it turned on the rotisserie to cook and turn golden brown.

At the market, the poultry man had instructed me to cook the pintade in the oven slowly for 90 to 120 minutes, basting it liberally. « Il faut une cuisson bien arrosée », the man told me with a big smile. « Et il faut en mettre sur la pintade aussi. » I'm not sure I can translate that joke.

28 April 2013

Some things grow, some don't

Some plants just won't grow, or won't grow very fast. Why is that? I guess it's a function of the ground they're planted in. Acid? Alkaline? Our soil is what they call terre à vignes in France. That means poor soil fit only for grape-growing. It's rocky, with a lot of clay in it.

Yesterday, CHM asked about my Aucuba japonica  or "gold dust" plants. Here are some photos. I'm having more luck with them than in past years. I've tried many times to get one going, without much success. I think the species needs richer soil. I guess I should have dug a deep hole and filled it with rich compost to plant them in. Maybe I can spread some compost on the ground under these three little survivors. It's worth a try.

Some plants you just can't kill. The one below is very old, I was told by the previous owner of our house. It keeps on growing and producing fruit. They say these particular trees can live to be very old. This one doesn't seem to get any bigger, but it shows no sign of slowing down either. Do you recognize it?

And here's another flower growing on a very old tree. It too just keeps on going. Big limbs have broken off under the weight of the fruit it produces. Mushrooms grow at the base of its trunk. Nothing seems to stop it.

And finally, here's another one I've been trying to get going. It grew a lot last year, as two really long branches. Then suddenly one branch died. To add insult to injury, some animal or bird ate all the fruit before I was ready to harvest it.

This spring the surviving branch has a lot of leaves on it. Maybe I'll get some fruit this summer. It doesn't matter much, because the few times I've picked some of it, it wasn't very sweet anyway.

27 April 2013

Cool temps but nice light

Walt turned the heat back on this morning. Oh well. The morning sky is clear, with just a thin layer of haze. As they say in France — I'm translating — "in April, even when the weather is dandy, keep your winter clothes handy... in May you can put them away."

It's apple blossom time in Saint-Aignan. The quality
of the light yesterday afternoon was especially nice.

Yesterday, I was lucky with the rain. We got nearly two-thirds of an inch over the morning and early afternoon hours. When I went out with the dog, however, it had stopped. Not long after I got back from the late afternoon walk with Callie, the rain started coming down again.

This is a lilac bush that we planted three or four years ago.

We are especially glad to have done the work we managed to do in the garden during our short spell of warm dry weather. You can see the result from the picture below. Gardening is more about waiting and finding the ideal time to do things than it is about actual physical labor, when you count the days and hours spent doing each.

There's only one garden plot left to till now, unless I decide to run the tiller through
all of them again before we put the garden in. Sure is green, isn't it?

We can't safely plant summer crops outdoors in this part of France until May 15, because of the risk of frost or even a freeze. Many years, we don't set plants out in the garden, or put seeds in the ground, until June 1. It would be too bad if we had a hard freeze at this point, because so many trees are covered in blossoms. It happened last year, however, and we get almost no apples at all.

26 April 2013

Field peas and chicken gizzards

Okay, it's over. Summer was short and hot. I'm only half joking. For the next week, we're going to have rain or, at best, showers, with high temperatures in the 50s and 60s F. That's the way it is in this part of France. When there's a pretty day, you'd better take advantage of it.

I haven't blogged much about food since I got back home just over a week ago. That isn't because I haven't been eating and enjoying good food. Actually, I brought back two pounds of N.C. barbecue (pulled pork), frozen solid when it left the U.S. in my suitcase. It was only partially thawed when I got it home. I wanted Walt to be able to taste it, since he hasn't been to North Carolina since 2006. But I had done enough blog posts about N.C. barbecue, so I spared you.

Field peas are smaller and redder than standard black-eyed peas.

What else have we eaten? Well, Walt made pizza last weekend, and it was delicious as usual. He's also been making very good coleslaw with shredded cabbage and grated carrot, mayonnaise, yogurt or cream, mustard, celery seeds, and a little vinegar. Speaking of cabbage, we also enjoyed fresh collards from the garden, and we put at least six servings into the freezer for later. We had steak a couple of times, because Walt bought a big boneless rib steak (entrecôte) from the drive-up butcher just before I got back home. And we made chicken wings with a dry rub of smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, thyme, and salt and pepper.

There's been a definite and clear North American bent to our cooking for the past week, I realize now.

These are field peas that I soaked overnight in cold water to prepare them for cooking.

Today I'm cooking field peas and chicken gizzards. Most people who read this won't know what field peas are, I imagine. They're a Southern specialty, and I brought back two bags of dried ones from N.C. Field "peas" are not peas but beans, just as black eyed peas are beans and not really peas. For us in N.C., "peas" was the word used for field or black-eyed (or crowder) "beans" — while green garden peas were called "English peas" for clarity's sake. All the pea beans — field, crowder, and black-eyes — are varieties of the beans called "cowpeas," and each has its own special flavor and texture. They were first domesticated in Africa, according to what I've read.

I found these in a Food Lion supermarket in North Carolina.

Black-eyed peas are called « cornilles » in France, but most people I talk too aren't really familiar with that term. I buy them imported from Portugal (but often labeled "Produce of the U.S.A). I have no idea what field peas or crowder peas would be called in France, because I've never seen them here. In the U.S., people usually buy them in cans, already cooked, the way we buy white or red beans in tins here in France. In fact, when I bought bags of dried field peas in a Food Lion store in Morehead City, N.C., my mother said she didn't think she'd ever seen them sold that way before.

Beans and peas are good all by themselves and they can make a full meal, of course. Cook them in unsalted water with an onion, a garlic clove, a bay leaf or two, some black peppercorns, and a couple of cloves (clous de girofle). Cook them over low heat for a while, until they are tender, and add salt at the end of the cooking time. They say beans with rice will give you a complete protein, but you know me: I like meat with my beans. Usually, pork is the best, either in the form of smoked or salt-cured cuts, or sausages.

Today, we're having field peas with chicken gizzards — that's gésiers de poulet and it's a French specialty, I guess, though people in the U.S. South obviously eat gizzards too. In France, we usually have duck gizzards, and the chicken gizzards I bought the other day at the supermarket are in fact slow-cooked in duck fat. They are confits — there's no good English word for that kind of preparation, as far as I can tell. All they need is reheating. Optionally, they can be sauteed until slightly browned in a frying pan. The duck fat will flavor and enrich the cooked beans.

Whatever kind of beans you use, this is good chilly-weather food, and chilly weather is what we are expecting for at least the weekend. Bon appétit...

25 April 2013

2003 —> 2013

Suddenly, yesterday, it was summer. We spent a good part of the day outside, working in the garden. The weather was summery for Saint-Aignan: a high temperature near 25ºC — 75ºF — and bright clear skies. I actually got a little bit sunburned. But don't worry, the fine weather is not supposed to last beyond today. Tomorrow, they're telling me on Télématin as I type, the high temperature will be much cooler. And rain is coming through.

The nice thing is that my allergy symptoms went away at just the right time. As I suspected, when that low pressure spinning over Corsica moved off to the east, the wind direction changed here and we got air with much less noxious pollen in it — at least for me. Maybe that will turn out to be the extent of my springtime allergies in 2013.

Nice shadows yesterday. Under the blue tarp is one of the piles of debris that we burned.

Speaking of 2013, yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of our ownership of this house outside Saint-Aignan. On April 24, 2003, the closing (les signatures) took place. We were in California, and we had sent money and given power of attorney to our notaire (a government-licensed contracts lawyer) in Montrichard to sign for us. We didn't actually arrive in Saint-Aignan until early June. That was the summer of the great heat wave — la grande canicule.

The yard is in better shape than it was 10 years ago. Now apples trees are starting to flower.

And what a mess the place was then! Well, we knew the house was a mess and needed a thorough cleaning, not to mention a lot of painting. But we had neglected to think about the yard and how much all the grass and weeds would grow up between the middle of April, when the previous owner let her gardner go, and the beginning of June. Everything was at least knee-high — mostly higher.

Conditions yesterday were perfect for a feu de jardin. We burned up three piles of clippings and trimmings.

Callie, like her guardians, is really happy to be able to spend time outside again. We threw the tennis ball some and she chased it, but mostly we worked, at least in the morning. In the afternoon, we finally had the bonfire that we had bee planning for more than 6 months. We burned up three piles of branches, twigs, and leaves. Conditions were perfect, with a light wind blowing mostly from the south. That wind carried the smoke north, where there are no houses close to us, only woods, vineyards, and fields. That way, the smoke didn't bother our neighbors.

Callie with a mouthful of tennis ball

Speaking of neighbors, we learned from one of them that two others had passed away while I was in North Carolina. The 92-year-old woman across the street died, as did the man who owned the house next to hers, which his family had been cleaning up and remodeling for about a year. The man was in his 60s, I believe, but he had had two bouts of cancer. We saw him last year, and it was obvious that he wasn't doing well. I don't know what will happen to the house now. (By the way, the man next door, who has MS, has never returned home since he had to be hospitalized in March.)

Chard that survived the winter

Out in the garden, Walt planted radishes and lettuces while I worked to disentangle a short row of Swiss chard plants from a mat of weeds that had nearly taken over the plot they grow in. This was chard that we planted last fall for springtime harvest. There had been a row of collard plants next to the chard, but I pulled all that up last week and cooked the greens. The chard will continue growing for a while. It survived the wet winter, but now I want the leaves to get bigger before I start picking and cooking them.

24 April 2013

French Mariage pour Tous moves forward

Yesterday afternoon, the French parliament voted to send the law known as « Le Mariage pour Tous » to the President of the Republic for his signature. The vote wasn't close: 331 députés voted for the law, and 225 voted against it. Le Mariage pour Tous — "marriage for all," or marriage equality — is a reform that Socialist François Hollande campaigned on in 2012, when he won the presidency.

The new marriage-equality proposal faces one more hurdle before it can be signed into law ("promulgated") by the French president. Opponents have filed a challenge with the Consitutional Council, a body that can overturn proposed laws on constitutional grounds. Most people think the marriage-equality law will pass muster, because the chairman of the council has already said that it is the French parliament's role to define the country's marriage laws.

Opponents of the new law have turned the months-long debate over same-sex marriage into a real circus. The "establishment" right wing has been put in the uncomfortable position of appearing arm in arm with members of the extreme Front National party in recent demonstrations. Coverage on French television has shown demonstrators who look a lot like thugs and vandals throwing rocks and bottles at police, and chanting slogans saying police should be out patrolling immigrant neighborhoods in the Paris suburbs rather than deployed to put down legitimate demonstrations.

The leader of the anti-Mariage-pour-Tous movement is a woman whose pseudonym, Frigide Barjot, couldn't have been better chosen by a political satirist. The meaning of Frigide is pretty clear, and Barjot is a slang word meaning "reckless to the point of nuttiness." The term « barjot » [bar-ZHO] is an example of  "syllable-inversion" (verlan) slang and is based on the older term « jobard » [zho-BAR], meaning "gullible, easily duped, a sucker." The whole name is a kind of pun on the name of another famous and possibly nutty Frenchwoman, Brigitte Bardot.

Personally, I've been really surprised (not to say disappointed) at how polarized France has turned out to be on the question of same-sex marriage. Belgium adopted its marriage-equality law about 15 years ago, without much controversy. Reputedly conservative countries like Spain and Portugal have also instituted marriage equality — not to mention the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. Or New York, Maryland, Maine, Washington, and other U.S. states. Despite its reputation as a secular and enlightened champion of human-rights, France has not led the way on marriage equality, that's for sure. (Nor has my native North Carolina, by the way, but no one would have expected it to.)

23 April 2013

Le rhume des foins

That's hay fever, or a "hay cold." In my case, I don't think it has much to do with hay. Hay fever is a also called la rhinite allergique — allergic rhinitis — or pollinose. The main symptoms are inflammation of the mucous membranes (the runny nose) and conjunctivitis (the watery eyes). In France, according to Wikipedia, 30% of adults suffer from hay fever. I'm one of those.

In my case, the rhinitis/conjunctivitis is caused mainly by cypress tree pollen. That's what tests in California showed to be the source of my seasonal misery. I believe I'm also allergic to pollen from the plant called "broom" — known as Scotch Broom in the U.S. and genêt in France — which is currently invading our environment. More and more of it grows around the vineyard (though I haven't noticed any of its yellow flowers yet). I may be allergic to the pollen of other plants too.

Pollen from springtime flowers doesn't seem to cause my allergic reactions.

There aren't many cypress trees here in the Loire Valley. They grow in the south of France and in Italy, for example — the cyprès commun (Cupressuus sempervirens) is a Mediterranean tree, and in English it's called the Mediterranean, Tuscan, Italian, or Graveyard Cypress. In California, the pollen that caused my springtime affliction was the Monterey Cypress (Cupressus marcrocarpa), according to the allergist I consulted. It grows up and down the California coast, as well as in smaller numbers along the coasts of Great Britain and France, where it has been planted as an ornamental tree.

Bertie doesn't have allergies, but he brings pollen with him when he comes into the house.

So why have I been suffering from hay fever since I got off the train in Vierzon last Thursday morning? I think it's because a big low pressure system has been churning across the Mediterranean off the southern French coast and over Corsica. It's been sending pollen-laden wind toward the north across Italy and the Alps and on eastward toward central France. It's been blocking the flow of "cleaner" air off the Atlantic Ocean.

I like the way these willow whips are tied into bundles around the vineyard.

The low pressure system is now moving toward the east, and a front is coming in from the northwest, off the Atlantic. It's already raining (lightly) in Brittany and Normandy. I think I'll start feeling better  once the front passes through the Loire Valley. That's my theory, anyway. Back in San Francisco, the allergist told me it might be a good idea to relocate to northern France, but not to the south, because there are so many cypress trees along the Mediterranean coast.

22 April 2013

LIttle orchids

The pollen is bad, and my allergy symptoms are not diminishing. This is the first time in 10 years of living here that one of my spells of severe hay fever has lasted more than 48 hours. I'm on day 4 now. I talked to a neighbor yesterday and she said she also is suffering from the pollen. The good news she reported: a change in the wind direction and general weather conditions tomorrow or Wednesday.

Meanwhile, spring does seem to be very late to arrive in Saint-Aignan this year. Our little pear tree is in full flower, but the apple tree blossoms are just barely starting to appear. Meanwhile, I'm seeing a few wild orchids around the vineyard. They are tiny plants with tiny flowers, so I've taken macro shots and posted very close views of them for you to enjoy.

You certainly couldn't say the ground is a carpet of orchids. I went to spots where there are usually a lot of them and found only one or two. Maybe the weather will warm up soon and we'll start to see more abundant growth. As Walt has said, this is probably a normal year for the Saint-Aignan region. But it's so different from the warm springtime weather we had gotten used to since at least 2007 that we are finding it hard to cope.

21 April 2013

And on the third night...

...I slept. I slept all through the night, I mean. The jet lag has been bad this time, coming this way. I had hardly any jet lag traveling to North Carolina. That's a pattern for me. Jet lag has always been worse coming to France than it is going to America.

Springtime blossoms around Saint-Aignan

They say it's easier to travel with the sun rather than against the sun. I guess that's what it's all about. On the way from Europe to North America, you spend an extra-long day on a plane, but when you arrive it's pretty much nighttime and time to sleep. When you come back to Europe, you spend a sleepless night (at least I do) on a plane, and when you arrive a new day is just beginning. If you give in to the urge to sleep before a normal bedtime, you're done for.

I don't think I'm allergic to the pollen from these fruit-tree blossoms...

So Thursday night and Friday night, I was up and wide awake at about one a.m., which is seven p.m. on the U.S. East Coast. It was like I'd had an afternoon nap and my body and mind were ready to be active again.

Last night, I went to bed at 10 and this morning I woke up at six. I slept straight through.

Yesterday morning, I went out and harvested my spring crop of collard greens.
I cooked them along with a pan-roasted duck breast filet for lunch.

Maybe now the allergy symptoms will go away. As soon as I got off the train in Vierzon, my nose started running and my eyes started burning. I had been worried about having allergy symptoms in North Carolina, but I had none. My sister and a friend of hers both had allergy attacks while I was there, but not me.

I wasn't worried about coming back to Saint-Aignan. I should have been. So far, the sneezing hasn't been too bad. Maybe the wind will change direction today or tomorrow and I'll begin to feel better.

20 April 2013

« C'est dingue, non? »

Thursday morning, I arrived so much earlier than expected at the Gare d'Austerlitz in Paris that I had to modify all my carefully made plans for getting back to Saint-Aignan by train. The plane had landed early, and it took me less than 30 minutes to get through passport control, pick up my suitcase, and waltz through customs. The RER into Paris ride was fast, and it was only eight o'clock when I walked into the train station. I had planned take a 9:30 train to Blois.

Looking at the Départs board, I saw that there was an 8:42 train to Vierzon. I called Walt and told him. I tried to buy a ticket from a vending machine, but I couldn't find one at the reduced price we over-sixty voyageurs are generally accorded. So I decided to go stand in line and buy my ticket from a person rather than from a machine. Luckily, the line was very short.

That's when I saw the old man that I ended up sitting across from and talking (or listening) to on the train. He was buying his ticket, and he seemed to be taking a long time to complete the transaction. The clerk waiting on him had that "okay, let's stop talking and get moving" expression on her face. The man continued chatting — he obviously wasn't in a hurry.

I got my ticket — there was no over-sixty reduction for the train to Vierzon; who knows why? I called Walt again to confirm my 10:15 arrival at Vierzon instead of the planned noon arrival at Blois, and I headed for the train. I threw my carry-on bag up into the wagon, and then managed to climb up the two steps onto the train with my big, heavy suitcase. Problem is, I proceeded to trip over my carry-on fall onto all fours as I got in. People rushed to help me, but I didn't need help. "I just got off an overnight flight and I'm exhausted and jet-lagged," I told them. It was embarrassing but no harm was done.

I went to my assigned seat and found it occupied by the old man I'd noticed in the ticket office. I asked him if he'd been assigned seat number 32 (côté fenêtre, sens de la marche) and he said no, he had no. 33. Oh well, I told him, I'll just take no. 33 and you can stay where you are. But he wouldn't have it. He made a big production of getting up and moving to the other seat. As he sat down, he complained about having to ride facing backwards, but never mind.

"I hardly ever take the train any more," the man started telling me. "And everything in the train station has been moved around. I had a hard time finding the ticket office." I didn't really feel like chatting, but he gave no sign of stopping.

"I'm 82 years old now, and I have to go back to Guéret by train," he continued. "Did you know that Guéret is the only ville préfectorale in France that doesn't have a train station?" No, I didn't. The man said he had to take a train to the nearby town called La Souterraine, then catch a bus to Guéret, and finally get a taxi to his house. I was glad I didn't have to do all that.

The story continued. The man had driven to Paris the day before — did you know that it's 540 kilometers from Guéret to Paris? (actually it's not that far...) — to receive a decoration from the Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls. He had just bought a new Renault Clio for the drive. He had applied for the decoration for 17 years in a row and the new Interior minister had finally said yes. The man said he had a placard that he carried in his car allowing him to park in the courtyard of any Paris ministry where he had business.

When he drove into the courtyard at the Ministère de l'Intérieur, he was informed by an attendant that he couldn't park his car there. "But I have this placard," the man said. That might have been valid in days past, but no longer, he was told. He'd have to go park elsewhere.

The man drove around looking for a parking place but couldn't find one. It was getting late and he was going to miss the ceremony if he didn't park somewhere soon. So he left his car parked illegally at a taxi stand, with the emergency flashers on, and he walked more than a kilometer back to the ministry. He got his decoration from the minister, and headed back to his car for the return trip to Guéret. But the car was gone. He figured it had been towed, so he set out to find a hotel room for the night. He walked for two hours all around the neighborhood, from hotel to hotel, but in vain. All the hotels were complets.

He ended up in a commissariat de police, where he learned that there was no record of his car having been towed to an impoundment lot. It had probably been stolen. At that point, he told the police that he hadn't been able to find a hotel room. They told him they had a room where he could spend the night. He didn't get any sleep, though, because he had left his sleeping pills in the car, and they too had been stolen. Stolen along with a nice new set of tools in a toolbox that he had left in the trunk of the car. Now he'd have to go back to Guéret and buy a new car.

As he recounted this tale of woe, he kept interjecting « C'est dingue, non? » — it's crazy, don't you agree? All I could do was nod. The man wasn't really interested in anything I might have to say. He was talking, not listening. Earlier that morning, the police had arranged to have him driven to the train station in a police car, blue lights flashing, so that he wouldn't miss the 8:42 train. They probably couldn't wait to get him out of the commissariat and send him on his way.

The Renault Clio had cost him 8,500 euros. It only had 41,000 kilometers on it. And on and on. Why had he needed to buy a car? Well, his Mercedes had been totaled when a big Jeep Cherokee driven by a Manouche — a gypsy — had crashed into him in Guéret. The other driver had no insurance and no driver's license. Besides, the Jeep had been reported stolen. The old man had no recourse but to sue, without much hope of success. Now the Clio had been stolen, and he wasn't insured against theft.

Les Manouches... it was all ex-President Sarkozy's fault. He had given them welfare and arranged for them to get a retirement pension. We all have to work for a living, and those people get a free ride, the man said. This was turning into a rant. Other passengers were looking the other away, trying to pretend they weren't listening. I hadn't said more than five words, but the man didn't seem to notice.

Soon we were approaching Vierzon. I got up out of my seat and went to get my bags ready for the descent from the train. The man had fallen silent by then. I told him I hoped he had a better afternoon than on the day before.

19 April 2013

The 6:30 a.m. arrival

My flight landed at Roissy yesterday morning at 6:30 a.m. That's a great time of day to be at Roissy and to travel into Paris by RER train.

There was no line at all at passport control — I breezed right through. At baggage claim, my bag was the third one to come down the chute and fall onto the conveyor belt. I grabbed it and headed for customs. Again, there was nobody home. I waltzed through the customs hallway and was outside of the secure area, a free man again, before 7:00 a.m.

Through a blur of jet lag, I enjoyed seeing a lot of flowers on my walk with Callie yesterday afternoon.

By 8:00, I was at the Gare d'Austerlitz. The RER train hadn't been crowded at all, and I was able to handle my heavy suitcase (51 lbs.) and my two carry-on bags pretty easily. I didn't have to walk up any stairs in RER stations, and I only had to haul my bags down one short staircase at Austerlitz. That was the right direction — down. Everywhere else, I found working escalators and elevators.

Callie was happy to see me. She sang and howled at me in greeting when I came through the front door.

There was a train from Austerlitz to Vierzon (instead of Blois) at 8:42 a.m., and it was direct and non-stop. Great! The train to Blois was scheduled to leave an hour later, and I would have had a one-hour layover in Orléans. So Vierzon was the best choice, and it is only 35 miles east of Saint-Aignan on the Cher River. I called Walt and he was there at Vierzon to meet me at 10:15. He drove me home.

Everything burst into blossom during my two-week absence.

Avoid the crowds and the lines — arrive early. If you can get a flight that puts you at Roissy before 7:00 a.m., you'll find it easy to make your way into Paris by train or taxi. Paris doesn't get up and busy very early in the morning. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the 82-year-old man who told me his life story (a tale of woe) on the train from Paris to Vierzon.

18 April 2013

Leaving the Promise Land

Two weeks ago I was bound for the Promise Land, and now I'm leaving it. There's a linguistic controversy embedded in that sentence, at least here in Morehead City. Some residents swear that their neighborhood has always been called the Promise Land, without a D. Others say the real name must be the Promised Land, as in the Bible. Still others seek compromise, writing Promise’ Land, the apostrophe noting that a letter has been dropped in the local pronunciation.

Houses on Evans Street in Morehead City's Promise Land

What is the Promise Land? It's the area south of Arendell Street (Morehead City's main thoroughfare) bounded by 10th and 15th streets in Morehead City. There are three east-west streets: Evans, Shepard, and Shackleford. The southern boundary of the Promise Land is the shore of Bogue Sound. I grew up in the Promise Land, or on the edge of it, in the 1950s and 1960s. Why was it called that?

A historical marker at 10th and Shackleford streets in Morehead City

In the 19th century, there was a whaling village near Cape Lookout, which is the southern end of  the North Carolina Outer Banks. The Banks are a chain of sandy barrier islands that separate the Atlantic Ocean from Albemarle, Currituck, Pamilico, Core, and other sounds — étangs in French, or lagoons. A series of destructive hurricanes at the end of the 1800s made life on the sandy islands near Cape Lookout impossible. Many of the residents of the whaling village, called Diamond City, took their little wooden houses apart board by board, floated the boards on sailboats and barges to Morehead City, and rebuilt their houses in the neighborhood known now as the Promise Land.

Tools of the trades that supported the Promise Land economy

Back then, well-to-do people didn't want to live on the shore. It was windy, and it was vulnerable to storm surges and flooding when hurricanes came in from the tropics. People didn't have insurance against such disasters the way they do today. The people of the Promise Land in Morehead were commercial fisherman, living off small-scale fishing, shrimping, clamming, oystering, and crabbing.. For many, it was a subsistence economy. The people were poor, but they were all poor so they didn't notice much.

The Promise Land Society is in the process of designing a logo for the community.

Nowadays, people "from off"  — outsiders — see no better location for a summer or retirement house than a neighborhood like the Promise Land by the shore. They want water views and boating opportunities. They also want mega-houses that are totally out of scale with the old neighborhood. They are willing to pay hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars for a small clapboard house with a little plot of land around it. Often they "scrape"  the house off the land and rebuild in a grander style.

The typical Promise Land house is pretty small. Newer residents like to build much grander homes.

The Promise Landers are trying to preserve the nature of their neighborhood. They are tired of being looked down on and treated like a historical oddity by wealthy outsiders. They've formed an association to protect themselves and make sure the history of the area is not forgotten. They are going to publish a book of old photographs from past decades, reminiscences of a simpler way of life, and historical and linguistic information. They are organizing a festival to celebrate their local culture, to be held in October.

Looking to the west from the Promise Landthere's a whole new world out there.

More power to them. I hope they can succeed and turn the tide. The Promise Land was a great place to grow up. We young'uns were free to roam the streets on foot or on bicycles, to play unsupervised with the neighbor children (who were often our cousins), and to fish and crab off docks and piers along the sound. Everybody knew everybody, so we kids were safe.

The Promise Land diet was based on local shrimp, fish, clams, crabs, and oysters, simply prepared.

There were corner shops sprinkled around the area — Lindsay and Maybelle's grocery, Kib Guthrie's general store, and others. Some of my ancestors operated grocery stores and butcher shops in the neighborhood back in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. Downtown, with its two movie theaters, dime store, two bigger grocery stores (we didn't say "supermarket" back then), and two drug stores with soda fountains, was within walking distance. So was Morehead School (grades 1 through 12).

Our local scavengers, the laughing gulls, helped keep the environment neat and clean.
Just don't stand or sit directly under one!

A lot of that is gone now, but I think some hope it might return if they can preserve what's left of the Promise Land. Hope springs eternal, they say.

The next blog post I write will be written in Saint-Aignan. I'll be glad to return to that home after leaving this home.