30 November 2015

Collard green casserole topped with polenta

This getting out of bed and finding the house all warmed up is going to take some getting used to. That's the new boiler in action — the new thermostat, actually. It's a four-by-six-inch tabletop unit that you can use to program and adjust the boiler temperature. Over the years, I had gotten used to getting up to a house at 12 to 15 degrees Celsius (55 to 60ºF) on winter mornings, going down to switch on the boiler, and waiting an hour or so for the living room to warm up enough to feel comfortable.

This morning when I got up at 5:45, the living room was already at 19.2ºC. That's pretty much the temperature we want to maintain all day — about 67ºF — until evening, when we let the place gradually cool down. To be honest, it actually feels too warm when I first get out of bed. I guess, as I said, I'll get used to it. It's also abnormally warm outdoors this morning.

Collards cooked in tomato sauce with a mix of beans and some chunks of lamb

Meanwhile, I got sidetracked this morning by a comment from an anonymous reader who wanted to know where one might be able to buy fresh collard greens in Paris. I suggested the organic market on Boulevard Raspail on Sunday mornings, the Marché d'Aligre, and the Marché Richard-Lenoir at Bastille as possibilities. It would be worth shopping around at other outdoor markets in Paris too. If you have any tips for this reader, please leave a comment.

We had collard greens for lunch yesterday. A couple of days ago, I had thawed out some collards that I'd cooked with tomatoes, chickpeas, and lardons and put in the freezer. To those, I added the leftover French flageolet beans we had eaten with lamb on Friday, some cooked black-eyed peas I found in the fridge, and some chunks of rare lamb that I sliced off of what is left of the gigot d'agneau. (Thanks to Tim and Pauline for some of these ideas — see their comment on my first blog post about leg of lamb.)

My first idea was to make that into a kind of thick soup, but Walt suggested it might be a good casserole or gratin. I didn't want cheese with it, and we talked about putting a layer of breadcrumbs on top of the mixture and baking it in the oven.

Then it dawned on me that a layer of polenta spread over the collard-green mixture might be a better option. Bread crumbs could get soggy because of the moisture in the greens and beans, but the cooked creamy polenta would stand up to that kind of treatment. That's what I did and we liked it.

29 November 2015

Leg of lamb, day 2

When I lived in Paris all those years ago, gigot d'agneau was a more frequent dinnertime food for the people I spent time with. Maybe it was less expensive back then. In the early 1980s, I was lucky to get to know and spend time with two French women — it's a  long story — sisters who were then in their early 80s. They had been born in Auxerre, in northern Burgundy, but had spent most of their childhood and adult years in Paris.

One of them lived in Fontainebleau and I would go spend weekends there with her, her sister, and other family members. The woman who invited us would cook a leg of lamb the way I cooked one on Friday and posted about yesterday. We'd have it for dinner. That same day, for dinner, we'd have cold lamb slices with home-made mayonnaise as you see in the photo below. This was the finest kind of home cooking.

Home-made mayonnaise is so simple to make with a stick blender, un blendeur à main, that it's almost silly to buy mayonnaise in jars at the supermarket. The fresh stuff is so much better, and isn't so sweet (unless you want it to be). One whole egg, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of vinegar (or lemon juice), 1 cup of vegetable oil (8 fl. oz.), and some salt and pepper. Put everything into the bottom of a tall pitcher or other deep container, stick in the business end of the hand-held blender, and blitz away. It emulsifies almost instantaneously and makes a thick white mayonnaise. Thin and season it with a little more vinegar or lemon juice if you want to. Flavor it with herbs or garlic, or in different ways like the one in this post for different uses: rouille, tartar sauce, thousand-island dressing, and so on.

With our recent lamb lunches (and others), we've been enjying some 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau red wines. Friday's was the one shown above, marketed under the name Pisse-Dru. Dru means heavy and abundant, in describing rainfall, for example. La pluie tombe dru means it's raining hard and heavily. The word has Gallic (Celtic) origins. One explanation for the name of the wine is that it's made from ripe grapes that are so full of juice that it's just squirting out. We both enjoyed this Beaujolais Nouveau more than any of the three or four others we've tried over the past week.

Anyway, there's the lamb, cooked fairly rare and sliced thin. We steamed some little red potatoes to eat with the lamb and, especially, with the mayonnaise. And then we had a big salad of lettuce dressed with vinaigrette (a recipe for the dressing is in this post). Plain and simple food, with good bread and wine.

28 November 2015

Le gigot d'agneau annuel

Every year at Thanksgiving, and for 20 or 30 years now, we cook a nice leg of lamb. I'm not sure why we started having lamb in November, except that we got tired of cooking poultry twice in one month's time at the end of the year — for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We'll have turkey or a capon or a guinea fowl for the December holidays.

Thanksgiving is a good occasion for a special treat like lamb. We seldom cook a second leg of lamb during the year. A gigot is really too much for the two of us, so when we cook one we eat it for three or four days running (if not longer), serving it several different ways.

The first day, it's a leg of lamb the French way, served with little green flageolet beans. The lamb is cooked rare in a hot oven and seasoned with garlic and thyme. Some years we have a vinaigrette-dressed green salad as part of the lamb feast, and some years we have some other green. Haricots verts are good with the flageolets. Yesterday, giving thanks for the new boiler, we made our dinner with lamb, beans, and collard greens cooked with tomatoes.

Today, we'll have cold rare lamb with home-made mayonnaise. It's something I learned to make more than 30 years ago, when I lived in Paris. The flageolets can be served warm with some chopped garlic and parsley added to them, or cold with vinaigrette. Add a green salad, especially if you didn't have one the day before.

There will be much lamb left over still. The rarest part of the meat, close to the bone, can be chopped or diced and made into a hash with onions, diced carrots, mushrooms, and some flageolet beans if there are any left. Collard greens will go well with that. Another option is to use the hash to make a shepherd's pie with some creamy mashed potatoes.

And so on. There's always the option of freezing some of the meat for later. This year, we got the leg of lamb from David Audas, a butcher down in Saint-Aignan. He's good, and he's our normal supplier. 

The other day, I needed to go to the local Intermarché supermarket for some things. I checked the butcher counter there, which is also very good, and I saw gigot d'agneau from the United Kingdom for about 18 euros a kilo. Call me chauvin, but I'd rather have French lamb.

Then I went up to SuperU for some other things and checked out the butcher counter there. Leg of lamb, from where I don't know, was priced at 23 euros a kilo. I decided the trip to David's butcher shop would be worth it. There, I got a 2.2 kg gigot, beautifully trimmed (un gigot raccourci) and "dressed" for just 18.50 euros per kilo. It's French-raised lamb from the Limousin region south of us, and the leg cost me just over 40 euros. We'll get six, eight, or even 10 delicious servings out of that, as described above.

27 November 2015

Debugging, and chowder

Walt's been up since 4 a.m. figuring out how to get the new boiler's remote-control unit to work. At some point, he got an error message saying that the remote had lost its connection to the receiving unit on the boiler downstairs. He managed to get it to reconnect. Now we can't help but expect it to disconnect itself at any moment, for whatever reason.

The new boiler, a De Dietrich model, is about the same size of the old one. De Dietrich is a company headquartered not in Germany but in Alsace, which is a French province located along the border with Germany. I put a laundry basket in the frame for scale.

Typical debugging, I guess. Learning to live with it. At least we do have heat this morning. The thing came on too early. I'm sure Walt will explain a lot about it all in his blog post this morning. I'll be busy in the kitchen today, cooking a leg of lamb and some flageolet beans for our delayed Thanksgiving dinner.

Here's the boiler with our little chest freezer in the photo. The boiler is not a lot bigger than an American washing machine.

Oh, how did the French word chaudière become the English word chowder? Well, the old definition of chaudière, dating back to 1120, is « Récipient métallique où l'on fait chauffer, bouillir ou cuire qqch. [ou] contenu d'une chaudière. » That says "a metal receptacle in which one heats, boils, or cooks something [or] the contents of such a receptacle." In other words, it's a big pot. So chaudière, its pronunciation adapted to the English vowel system, became chowder, meaning the contents of a "chowder pot." Clam chowder, corn chowder, and so on.

26 November 2015

Bye-bye boiler, boiler goodbye

I don't know if I've ever before lived in a place that had a boiler — at least, not one that I had to fiddle with. A furnace, yes, but not a boiler. In France, it's called une chaudière (that's the word that we turned into "chowder" in English... but that's a different story). It's a big piece of equipment that heats water. The hot water or steam is then pumped through pipes to heat up wall-mounted radiators installed at strategic points around the house. A boiler and radiators produce a nice steady heat and no drafts. It's a quiet system.

In California, we always had what we called "forced air" heating systems. A furnace heated air which was forced through ducts and out through "registers" (wall vents) in each room of the house. The system was drafty and noisy.

The old Brötje boiler, manufactured and installed in 1992

Anyway, our old boiler is now history. It was a German device of the Brötje brand, and it seemed pretty fancy. It could be programmed to heat the house to different levels for different hours of the day — warmer during daylight hours, and less warm overnight, for example. That feature broke 6 or 7 years ago because of a loose connection in the control panel.

We've been controlling the boiler manually since then. That has meant running up and down the stairs several times a day to turn the thing up or down or on or off. A new control panel for the boiler would have cost about a thousand dollars, so we did without. We didn't think a boiler then approaching the ripe old age of 20 was worth spending so much money on.

Pipes, a pump, and a pressure gauge

In our California house, we had an even better kind of programmable, thermostatically controlled system for our forced air heating. We put the thermostat in ourselves, mounting it on a wall in the place of an older non-programmable thermostat. We had it set for the heat to come on in the morning at around 5 a.m. and warm up the house before we got out of bed.

At night, and in the daytime when we were both out working all day, the temperature was set to go down to just 60ºF or so (about 15ºC). The program turned the heat back up to 68ºF (20ºC) at 6 p.m. so we could enjoy a warm evening back at home. Then it cut the temperature back down to 55 for the nighttime hours.

Below is the programmable control panel for the old Brötje boiler. It was as complicated as it looks.

We actually figured out how to program this thing, before it broke.

We are hoping that we will have similar programming features on this new boiler. The man who sold it too us assures us we will, but we won't know for sure until later today when the installation is complete. At any rate, the one thing we will have that we haven't had since we moved into this house 12 years ago is an actual thermostat. Today, we and our heating plant are leaping feet-first into the 20th century. Imagine!

By the way, you in America might be surprised that our boiler work is being completed on Thanksgiving Day. Well, today is not a holiday in France. Today is just another Thursday like any other.

25 November 2015

Seen from a window

I think I want to call this « Bleu Blanc Beige ». Work on our neighbors' house continues. Render has been applied to the old stone walls, and now the stone trim and window surrounds are being refaced. Yesterday, these three guys were out working on all that as a cold, fine drizzle fell on the hamlet.

We knew the workers were there, because one of them came over early yesterday morning to get the neighbors' house keys from us. A little later, Walt had taken Callie over to the vet's office for her annual visit, and I was heating up some onion soup, toasting bread, and grating cheese in the kitchen when I noticed the crew working across the way. Les trois mousquetaires...

24 November 2015


That's the word that describes the state of my health for the time being. I feel like I'm running in place. That is, I'm out of breath and going nowhere. The cold, like last week's jet lag, has me in its tight grip.

The cold also has a tight grip on our weather. This morning is chillier than yesterday morning or the morning before. That's about to change — it's supposed to rain tomorrow, with snow flakes falling over in Champagne and Bourgogne. We're having soupe à l'oignon for lunch again today.

23 November 2015

My afternoon at the theater in Paris

It was Sunday, November 1 — three weeks ago yesterday and twelve days before the horrible events of Friday the 13th in Paris — that I arrived in the City of Light under sunny, warm skies. I had reserved a hotel room in the Latin Quarter and bought myself a ticket to go see a matinée on the Grands Boulevards late that afternoon. It was a play written by Isabelle Mergault and the star was the famous French singer and dancer Sylvie Vartan. The venue was a place called Le Théâtre des Variétés, not far from the old Chartier restaurant near the intersection of the boulevard Montrmartre and the rue Montmartre.

I had Air France airlines and France 2 television to thank for getting me to the theater in Paris for the first time in many years. Air France had cancelled my early morning flight and put me on a plane with a 1:30 p.m. takeoff on Monday, November 2. That made me decide to spend the night before the flight in a hotel in central Paris rather than at a boring airport hotel. I'd have plenty of time to get out to the airport the next day. Then Walt and I were watching the news one day and the final segment was an interview with Mergault and Vartan. They were hyping their upcoming play. We'd seen Isabelle Mergault in a one-woman comedy show in Paris many (maybe 20) years ago, and Vartan still has a kind of superstar status in France after her long singing career in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.
Rather than risk being a Sunday afternoon shut-in in Paris if the weather turned out to be lousy, which would be typical on November 1, I decided to buy a ticket to the show. It was called Ne Me Regardez Pas Comme Ça ! (Don't Look at Me Like That!) and was billed as a light-hearted comedy with Sylvie Vartan playing the role of a famous actress who has attained a certain âge and become a recluse. It wouldn't be much of a stretch for her — she left France years ago and has lived in L.A. and Las Vegas ever since. (I think she dreamed of a successful American career in show business.) If you remember her, you probably remember that she was once married to the iconic French rock and roll singer called Johnny Hallyday. Here's a link to an interview Vartan gave to France 2 television a couple of years ago.
When I got to the Théâtre des Variétés, there weren't very many people waiting to get in. Not many minutes later, however, Mergault and Vartan (with one other actor) played to a full house. I was seated in the very first row, looking not down on the cast but up at them. I could have reached out and touched them at some points in the performance. I felt like I was on stage with them.
The play was good-natured, light-hearted, and lively, as promised. (The word "cute" comes to mind.) Vartan held her own in a rare acting role. Mergault writes and acts with a lot of humor, and her dialogue is full of puns and word play. She makes me laugh — I've listened to her on French radio for a couple of decades — and it's as much the fact that I'm happy to be able even to understand her puns as the actual humor in them that makes me chuckle (and groan). I'd never seen Sylvie Vartan in a live performance before and it was fun to get an idea what she is like in person. She's now 71 years old.
I took a photo of the theater (two photos up) as a kind of salle-selfie, by the way. I was seated at least 15 minutes before the curtain went up, and I didn't know if it was okay to take photos. Then I saw other members of the audience taking out their cameras and phones to snap pictures. Rather than stand up and turn around, I lifted my camera up over my head and snapped a few "blind" photos of the room behind me, hoping one of them would turn out. One did, as you see. In it, the main thing missing is the chandelier to the left, which is one of the theater's most distinctive features. Paris « Ville-Lumière », après tout.

22 November 2015

Onion soup and the boiler situation

It's really cold this morning — just barely above freezing. Out the windows, I can already see some blue sky and the first pink light of sunrise, which means that for the first time in a few days the sky isn't overcast. Meanwhile, what I took for allergy symptoms yesterday — watery, itchy eyes, a runny nose, and a lot of sneezing — now feels like a deep chest cold. I'm coughing.

Onion soup with slices of bread floating on top, covered with grated cheese that goes under the broiler to melt, was the perfect lunch for yesterday. Well, I say perfect, but it didn't stop this cold from settling in. I guess travel fatigue left me vulnerable to some bug. In French this specialty is called soupe à l'oignon gratinée. Notice the nice heavy stoneware bowls we recently acquired for cooking two big servings of soup in the oven.

With my cold and cough, besides walking the dog, it's a regime of rest, liquids, and hot, comforting foods for the next few days. Luckily, I don't have anything I really need to do this coming week. Right now, the heat is going full blast and the radiators are rapidly warming up the house.

I can't wait to get the new boiler, scheduled for installation on Wednesday and Thursday, so that we don't have to let the house get so cold overnight. This morning it was 12ºC (mid-50s in ºF) upstairs when I woke up. That's too cold, but if we leave the old boiler going all night the house gets way too hot. A new thermostat should help with that problem.

21 November 2015


Yesterday when the bread lady came by at about 10:30, I went downstairs to buy our usual baguette de tradition. She asked me how I was doing, and I told her I had just spent a sleepless night because of le décalage horaire. I don't know if she's someone who has traveled long distances or who has any experience of jet lag.

The vegetable garden in mid-November

"My sleepless night was night before last," she told me. She said it was because of the recent violent events in Paris and their aftermath. She couldn't get all that out of her head and she couldn't fall asleep. "One thing about it, though," she continued, "is that after one nuit blanche (sleepless night), you usually sleep really well the following night. Your body just requires it."

Oignons jaunes...

Well, she's right. I just woke up after eight hours of a sound, peaceful sleep. Sur les deux oreilles. Comme un plomb. Le sommeil des justes. J'ai dormi comme un bébé. And all those expressions. Getting over jet lag is kind of like breaking a fever. It happens just when you start despairing and thinking it will never end. One really bad night, whether sweating or tossing and turning, and it's done. Catharsis. Relief.

...and Comté cheese

We had a lot of wind and a good amount of rain yesterday. The weekend is supposed to be calmer, the weather less extreme showery and still windy, with a risk of thunder, sleet, and even snow (I just saw the morning's first weather report). Temperatures are falling. It's good soup weather, and today I'm going to make soupe à l'oignon gratinéeFrench onion soup — using the broth from the coq au vin that Walt made for my return to France on Tuesday, plus some toasted bread and good French "Swiss cheese" — du Comté.

20 November 2015

Sleepless in Saint-Aignan

Okay, I got two nights of good sleep. Night number 1, Tuesday —> Wednesday, I slept from 8:30 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. Good deep sleep, too. Night number 2, Wednesday —> Thursday, I went to bed at 10:00 p.m. and got up at 7:15 a.m. I was happy and optimistic. No complaints.

Night number 3, which is just ending, was a disaster. I went to bed at 10:00 p.m. as usual, but I woke up at 12:30. I stayed awake until about 6:00 a.m., tossing and turning, grunting and groaning, despairing. I fell asleep for about half an hour just before I woke up and got up at 6:30 a.m. Here I am, even more bleary-eyed than before.

Wednesday morning in the vineyard

It's raining off and on outside, and very windy. It's not cold yet, but that's the next phase, predicted for Saturday and Sunday.

Oh, I went out shopping yesterday. I just felt the need to shake off my claustophobia, after spending most of Monday and Tuesday in planes and trains, and Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday in the house. I drove the Peugeot to Montrichard to go to the Netto supermarket over there (a 20-mile round trip). I got some yogurt, cream, lardons, ham, lettuce, carrots, pasta, and eggs. The countryside and villages are pretty.

When I got to the checkout stand at Netto, I searched my wallet in vain for my Crédit Agricole debit card (MasterCard). It was not to be found. Thinking about it, I realized I must have left it in a pay phone at the airport. When I arrived on Tuesday morning and had collected my suitcase, I looked all over for a pay phone so that I could call and tell Walt that I would be on the TGV scheduled to arrive at Tours (St-Pierre-des-Corps) at noon. (In such situations, a cell phone would be very handy, but I don't have one.)

Wednesday morning was nice. Yesterday was pretty dismal. Today is worse still.

The first pay phone I found refused my bank card and then swallowed a total of €1.70 without ever letting me place the call. In no uncertain terms, I told that phone what I thought of its uncooperative behavior and headed off to find another one.

Before long, I was trying again to place the call. I put my bank card in the slot but again got a message that the card was refused. Then I put 70 cents in coins in the coin slot and lo and behold I heard ringing at the other end of the line. Walt answered. I conveyed my news and then walked away from the phone without, in all probability, retrieving my MasterCard. Jet lag...

Since I was in Montrichard yesterday — a stroke of luck — and our bank is over there, I stopped in and reported the lost card. Now I have to wait about a week for a new one. I don't know how much the bank's fee for the replacement card might be.

19 November 2015

In the grip of lag

Groggy. Cotton-brained. Off-kilter. Bleary-eyed. Only more time will set things straight. It's all systems normal, actually. Je souffre du décalage horaire. Jet lag has me by the throat. And it's not unexpected.

And here's what they're saying on the TV news about the whole situation here after the terrorist attacks last Friday night: La France est en guerre, et la guerre est en France. France is in a war, and the war is in France. But you'd never know it in Saint-Aignan if you didn't watch TV or listen to the radio.

The weather is not helping my jet lag. It was gray most of the day yesterday. And today Météo France is predicting even grayer skies with a chilly rain. The dark days are upon us. Lag needs sun to heal it, but I can't count on that.

As you can see, skies over the hamlet were pretty yesterday morning. Sort of impressionistic, if I can use that term. It's not cold out, but by Saturday it's supposed to be much colder. It really is time to bring the last of the cold-sensitive potted plants indoors.

Callie is still enjoying her promenades, and I am too. I'll go out, maybe in the rain, this afternoon. I bought myself a new rain jacket in North Carolina. I had foreseen the need. I've already worn it once — day before yesterday. It's broken in and good to go.

18 November 2015

Slow trains and a big stand-off

This morning in Paris and in Saint-Denis, just on the northern edge of the city and not far from CDG airport, some kind of stand-off between French police anti-terrorism forces and suspected members of the terrorist group that struck last week is under way. That's what I'm seeing on TV after turning it on to catch the weather and news at 7:00 a.m. The scene is one of dozens of red fire department vehicles with lights flashing, white SAMU ambulances, police cars, and riot police in black uniforms crowded into narrow streets before sunrise this morning, near the big Saint-Denis church where so many French kings are buried.

I made it back to France just fine. In fact, it was one of the easiest trips ever. My short flight from New Bern NC to Atlanta arrived on time. I rode the people-mover train at the Atlanta airport over to the international terminal to find the gate for my Air France flight to Paris, arriving an hour before the scheduled departure. Boarding was already under way, which surprised me. I got in line and was soon seated on the plane, a big Boeing 777.

We pulled away from the gate on time at 6:15 p.m. and we were quickly in the air. Less than eight hours later, we had landed at Roissy-CDG airport, in the rain. When we disembarked, we found ourselves outdoors, where a fleet of buses waited to drive us around for several miles around the airport on our way into Terminal 2E. There, the lines at passport control were relatively short, and very quickly I found myself in the baggage claim area. After some searching, I finally found the right conveyor belt and suitcases from the Atlanta flight started coming out. Mine was among the first ten to appear.

The TGV (high-speed train) station is close to Terminal 2E where Air France flights from North America arrive, so it was a quick walk. I looked for a pay phone along the way, and I found one, but it swallowed a couple of euros in change that I stuck into it but never allowed me to dial our home number so that I could talk to Walt and tell him I had arrived in plenty of time to catch my train down to Tours. I pushed my baggage cart onto an elevator and descended the two floors down to the TGV station to see if I could find a working phone down there. No luck.

By then it was about 9:30 and I had 45 minutes before my train was to leave the station. I went back upstairs in the airport level and looked again for a phone. Finally, I found one and was able to connect with Walt. Back downstairs — thank goodness that those elevators were working and would accommodate me and my luggage cart — I stood around for another 30 minutes waiting for my train to be announced. It eventually was, and at 10:16 a.m. I and my bags were on a train that wasn't at all crowded.

Everything was going smoothly, and I couldn't quite believe it. The train runs on tracks outside the city around the east and south sides, and and it goes fairly slowly through built-up areas. The first stop is at Marne-la-Vallée, outside the Euro-Disney theme park. The train came to a halt on the tracks before we got there. We sat for a few minutes, and then a woman's voice came on the intercom to tell us that a suspicious package that might contain explosives had been found inside the Marne-la-Vallée train station. We'd have to wait until the police bomb squad could get there to defuse it if necessary or declare it not a danger. Trains were creeping by in the opposite direction from ours.

Fifteen minutes later came an announcement that our train wouldn't stop at Euro-Disney after all, but ride quickly through the station and continue on to Tours and Bordeaux. People headed to Marne-la-Vallée would have to ride on to the next station and then get a train back to their destination later. We rolled on slowly toward the Gare de Massy, but then the train stopped again before we got there. A passenger speculated that maybe there was also a suspicious package in the Massy station. A train rolled by on its way east, and a different passenger said that maybe it was people on the trains going by in the opposite direction who were leaving the suspicious packages in the stations along the way. There was much laughter.

The train finally started moving slowing again, stopped at the Gare de Massy. A third passenger made some wisecrack about having to ride on a TGL — a Train à Grande Lenteur — all the way to Bordeaux. But after Massy, our TGV built up speed and we cruised at high speed through the emerald green countryside between Paris and Tours. We were 30 minutes late arriving, and Walt was waiting on the platform. He and I had an uneventful drive home under rainy skies, arriving about 20 hours after I left Morehead City. I hadn't slept at all. Walt had a pot of coq au vin waiting on the stove. All I had to do was start unpacking my cases and then sit down at the table and enjoy a warm, delicious lunch.

I took Callie out for a walk in the rain at about 5:00 p.m. Then I slept like a lead weight (comme un plomb) from 8:30 p.m. until 7:00 this morning. It's time to go walk the dog again right now. Whatever is happening up at Saint-Denis this morning seems very far away from Saint-Aignan

16 November 2015

Crossing over

Today will be the 81st time in my life that I've flown across the Atlantic Ocean. In other words, 40 round trips + one one-way crossing. My first transatlantic flights date back to 1970 — 45 years ago. I don't know why I fell in love with France back then, but I did. I loved the language and had a knack for it. I had already studied French for six years before I went over there at the age of 20. I turned 21 in France that year.

I've lived in Aix-en-Provence for six months, Grenoble for six weeks, Rouen in Normandy for a year, Paris for five years, and now Saint-Aignan for 12 years. In between those years in France, I lived in Illinois, Washington DC, and San Francisco. That said, the two poles of my existence, the ones that tug at my heart, are France and my birthplace, coastal North Carolina.

Today I leave the N.C. coast one more time to return to my second home. Leaving home to go home — that's the story of my life.

I'll be back in touch when I get to Saint-Aignan. Tomorrow morning I'll be waiting in lines at the airport north of Paris, waiting to have my passport stamped one more time, collecting my heavy suitcase, and running to get on a train back to the the Loire Valley. There, I'll be able to relax again, enjoy being back at home with Walt, and go for daily walks in the vineyard with Callie. North Carolina will be a kind of dream.

I hope my arrival in Paris this time will be better than my arrival in 2014. International travel is always an adventure. Oh, the photo on the left shows the Tour Saint-Jacques in central Paris.

I climbed to the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques on a little spiral stairway a couple of years ago to enjoy the views from up there.

15 November 2015

Still here

I'm wrapping things up here in N.C. and preparing to return to France. I'm scheduled to fly to Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport tomorrow and then take the train from there directly down to Tours on Tuesday. I won't be going into Paris itself, unless something changes. I'll have two hours from the time my Air France plane lands until my train leaves the airport. I hope that will be enough. If I miss the train, I have a fall-back plan that involves the RER. I haven't told Walt about this yet.

What I'm worried about is the extra time it might take to get through passport control and customs at CDG airport because of the dastardly terrorist attacks Friday night. I will be patient. If I miss my train, it won't be the end of the world. Maybe all will go as planned. Cross your fingers...

14 November 2015

Gone fishin’

Some people fish from the shore, in the sound or in the inlet. They don't have to worry about big waves washing their chairs and tackle away, unless an ocean-going ship glides by and throws up a big wake. The bluefish might be running right now — I think it's their season.

Others fish on the ocean side of the barrier island. On this particular day, there weren't many big waves for the surf-casters to worry about. At this particular point on the beach strand, there is access for drivers of four-wheel drive vehicles, letting them go right down to the water's edge.

Birds fish too. Below you see some pelicans, which have made a big come-back on the North Carolina coast since the days when DDT was widely used as a pesticide. Back when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, we didn't see pelicans around here. They look kind of prehistoric, don't they?

Other people just gather on the beach to enjoy the sand, sun, and surf. Some of them feed the seagulls — probably not a good idea, but you can't really stop people from doing it. In the background, you see one of the two remaining fishing piers on Bogue Banks.

Back in the 1960s, there were 8 or 10 piers along the 25-mile beach strand — Triple-S, Oeanana, Sportsman's, The Iron Steamer, Thompson's Steel Pier, The Bogue Inlet Pier, and more. When I was in college at Duke, I would come home in June and spend the summer working at Sportsman's Pier. The summer after my first stay in France (1970), I worked there as a short-order cook on the night shift, 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., making hamburgers, hot dogs, and egg sandwiches for sleepy fishermen and other night owls. The sunrises over the ocean were spectacular, and huge schools of fish — albacore, mullets — and porpoises (bottlenose dolphins) would swim by at dawn.

13 November 2015

Views from Fort Macon, N.C.

Fort Macon is a local landmark and North Carolina State Park that is visited by more people than a million people annually (according to what I've read). The current brick and stone fort was built in the early 1800s, replacing an earlier wooden fortification, to protect the port of Beaufort from the marauding British (remember the War of 1812?) Anyway, the fort is at the eastern end of Bogue Banks, overlooking Beaufort Inlet, the shipping channel, and the harbor and port terminal at Morehead City.

One of the most recognizable landmarks in Carteret County, N.C., is Cape Lookout lighthouse. It's a brick structure that is 163 feet (50 meters) tall, located on a spit of sand that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean where the Gulf Stream flows. My photo above was taken some 10 miles from the cape and the lighthouse. Remember you can click or tap on the images to enlarge them on your screen.

The town and port of Morehead City were developed in the 1850s by a former governor of the state, John Motley Morehead, and a group of investors. They built a rail line from the state capital, Raleigh, down to the coast, 140 miles distant, to take freight to the deep-water port and bring other freight back. The neighboring town of Beaufort [BOH-furt] had been in existence since the early 1700s.

The port at Morehead has just nine berths for ocean-going ships, but it is deep — 45 feet (nearly 14 meters). Tugboats are a common sight, and fog horns lull you into sleep on foggy nights (or wake you up on foggy mornings). Our house, which my mother sold in 2005, was about a mile from the port and less than 2 miles from the ocean. On stormy night, we could hear the surf pounding the beach.

As we stood on the shore and looked out toward the port and across the inlet toward Shackleford Banks, I noticed a big old jet airliner flying overhead. It looks like a passenger jet, anyway, with the stripes painted on its tail fin. I recognize them but can't think what airline uses that design.

P.S. After doing some searching, I've determined that the plane in the photo above is an Air France jet. I should have recognized it. Now what an Air France jet is doing flying over Morehead City, I'll never know.