26 February 2017

Jet lag report: I tossed and turned for much of the night, but it could have been worse. I fell into a deep sleep around 5 a.m. and awoke with a start at 7:05. I've been so used to being up and active at 5:30 or 6:00 for so many months that sleeping so late is disorienting.



Here are a few more photos from and of my home town of Morehead City (pop. 8,000) in North Carolina (pop. 10 million), where I just spent 10 days visiting family and friends. Fishing is one of the main pillars of the economy there. It includes both sport fishing and commercial fishing. Finfish, shrimp, oysters, clams, scallops, and clue crabs are caught — though not in the quantities that characterized the period when I was growing up there in the 1950s and '60s. That's my impression, anyway.


Morehead City is home to the Big Rock Blue Marlin contest. Marlins weighing up to 700 and 800 lbs. are brought in from the Gulf Stream, which flows only 30 or so miles offshore.


When I was growing up, fishermen would land sharks weighing as much as 500 lbs. Some were caught off docks along the towns waterfront, in relatively shallow water. Jaws...


The local waters are also home to important populations of bottlenose dolphins, and whales migrate seasonally just offshore. There are alligators and many poisonous snakes in the local marshes and swamps, and wild ponies roam some of the uninhabited barrier islands that make up Cape Lookout National Seashore.

I like the house above, which is built out in the marsh on the edge of Calico Creek, on the "north shore" of Morehead City. It has been fixed up since I last saw it in 2016, with a fresh coat of paint and a new dock built on the water side. The people who bought it better hope there are no big storm surges in the future. Maybe they should install a trap door in the floor, as the local people used to do, so that they can open it and let the high waters come up into the interior of the house rather than see the house float away in a storm.


North Carolina has some 300 miles (500 km) of sandy beaches, and much of the coast is the area called the Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands pretty far offshore. The local waters are warm, and the predominant winds blow from the southwest, bringing warm air from Florida, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. There are a few fishing piers left along the coast, like the one above.


Shelling is a major leisure activity for locals and tourists alike on all these sandy beaches. There are especially large quantities of shells in and on the sand after a tropical hurricane or a big wintertime nor'easter storm has moved up the coast toward the north.


With so many storms affecting the area, it's amazing that hundreds of enormous live oak trees grow along the shore of Bogue Sound in Morehead City. I've posted photos of some of them in the past. The one above is just a few hundred yards from where I grew up, in Morehead's Promise Land neighborhood.

25 February 2017

Lagging

As usual, it's jet lag time. I left the U.sS. Thursday evening, and arrived back in France yesterday. I say that about being lagged, but I managed to stay awake (well, mostly) until 10 p.m. yesterday and sleep until 7 a.m. this morning. There's a pattern in all this. I was awake for 34 hours straight during the trip back to France. It will take my mind and body a week to recover and get back on schedule.

Morehead City is a deep-water port, and one of the deepest harbors on the U.S. East Coast.

The high-rise bridge that connects Morehead City to the barrier island called Bogue Banks was built nearly 50 years ago to replace an older drawbridge. Sailboats can pass under it and car traffic can flow unimpeded.

The white sand shore of Bogue Sound is lined with wooden docks and there's the bridge in the background.

Here's a sailboat that could easily pass under the high-rise bridge. It's in dry dock right now for maintenance.

Above is a monument to the "sounder" — a waterman (fisherman) who works on the protected waters of the North Carolina sounds, bodies of salty water named Bogue, Core, Pamlico, Albemarle, and Currituck.

Meanwhile, here are some fairly random photos of Morehead City, N.C., scenes. I know, my blog is supposed to be about Saint-Aignan in the Loire Valley, but a big part of my life here has to do with my trips back to my American home on the Carolina coast. It's a place where there is more water than land.

24 February 2017

Morehead City houses

I'm in the air this morning, getting ready to arrive at Paris CDG airport (if all has gone well). I'll have to let my eyes adjust to the architecture and landscapes of France today, as I take the train from Paris down to Tours and then a car journey to Saint-Aignan.


Meanwhile here are some photos of houses that I took in Morehead City, N.C., a couple of days ago. The one above is an especially pretty old-style house in the Promise Land section of the town. It's probably about 100 years old.


This second photo, above, is another place of about the same vintage as the first one, but slightly more modest. Actually, all these photos are ones that I took in the old Promise Land neighborhood, where fishermen and whalers and their families settled after a series of disastrous hurricanes between 1890 and 1905 rendered uninhabitable the coastal islands where they had lived for generation. Storm surges pushed waves of salt water over their land, killing their crops and gardens, making the land infertile, and spoiling their wells.


Nowadays, people are building houses like the one above in Morehead City. It's on stilts so that the living quarters won't be damaged if floods or storm surges roll over the area.


This last photo shows an old-style house with its wrap-around porch. It's seen better days. Behind it is one of the new houses on stilts. These are about 100 yards (meters) from the salty sound and its tides. You can see how low to the ground the old house is.

23 February 2017

Phare far away

Today is my last full day in North Carolina for now. I'll be driving 3½ hours back to the airport at Raleigh-Durham this morning and flying out late in the day.

That's Cape Lookout lighthouse on the right in the photo, taken with a very long zoom (30x). The lighthouse is 163 feet (50 meters) tall and 10 miles (16 km) from where I'm standing.

I'll arrive at Paris CDG airport early Friday morning French time (2 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time). Then I'll take the train back down to Touraine, with a 45 minute drive at the end — Walt's picking me up — to get to Saint-Aignan. I should be at home by about 1 p.m. after the 20-hour trip. I'll miss the nice weather here on the Carolina coast.

22 February 2017

Flight

This seabird is headed away from shore. Those are its tail feathers that you see, not its beak.


The weather here continues to be very pleasant — it's shirtsleeve weather. But the internet connection continues to be lousy. We had a repairman out from the phone company this morning, and he spent a good hour working on it out at the various switching boxes in the complex. Despite that, the connection is painfully slow... when it works at all.

21 February 2017

Surf and foam

I do miss living near the ocean. Growing up in coastal North Carolina instilled in me a love for and respect for the sea. Living in Saint-Aignan, however — far from the Atlantic — doesn't make me feel deprived. I've found a new environment that I love as much.






These are just a few more photos I took a few days ago. Surf, seabirds, seafoam. Beautiful.

20 February 2017

Shells

Here's my haul from our shelling trip to the beach on Saturday. The weather was breezy and warm. The sand at the Fort Macon State Park public beach was just full of tiny seashells.


On a PC or Mac, click on the image to enlarge it, and then click again when you see the little magnifying glass on the screen. You can also enlarge the image on your tablet but I'm not sure whether you lose sharpness or not.

19 February 2017

A sea bird

My internet connection is still unstable. Here's a bird I saw wading at the edge of the surf a couple of days ago. I'm posting it a few days before you'll actually see it.


Happy postcard day. Here the temperature is now definitely spring-like.

18 February 2017

A bad port causing packet loss — and a seascape

The DSL connection here in N.C. is plagued by "packet loss" and "a bad port" at the central switching station a few miles from where my mother lives. In other words, we are dead in the water, or nearly. I just managed, despite the slow, spotty connection, to upload four photos that I took yesterday afternoon. It took about 20 minutes.


"Dead in the water" is an appropriate metaphor because this is a water view that I took from the eastern end of the Bogue Banks barrier island. In it, on the horizon, you can see the lighthouse out at Cape Lookout, 10 miles distant. This photo and the ones I'll be posting over the next few days will give you a flavor of the environment here in the Morehead City, N.C., area.

I've prepared and will post a few more such blog "postcards", because the tech support rep at the phone company said not to expect the DSL line to be repaired before late Monday afternoon. By the way, today is my mother's birthday. I won't give away her age.

17 February 2017

On the beach

We — my sister and I — ended up on the beach yesterday afternoon. A cold wind was blowing from the northwest. We didn't stay long.


Despite the cold wind, we enjoyed the beach, and we picked up some nice seashells. On Sunday, if the weather is better — at least less windy — we plan to go back with a friend and look for more shells. In my photo, you see the beach along Fort Macon State Park in North Carolina, looking toward Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout.

16 February 2017

Toujours rien

No time to blog. That's the real issue. It's too busy here. Even if it hadn't poured rain almost all day, I wouldn't have had time yesterday to take photos. Or otherwise to focus on blogging tasks and subjects. Tomorrow might be the same. I'll check in anyway. Had dinner yesterday evening my sister and some old friends last night. I'm enjoying it all thoroughly but am unable to describe it. Bear with me...

P.S. I'm also having a lot of trouble with the ADSL internet connection here, and with the Blogger sottware. This post was supposed to be published overnight but for some reason it didn't go out. Don't know why. Sigh...

15 February 2017

Empty-handed

That's me today — les mains vides. I have nothing to blog about. You might tell me that's true most days, but never mind. Maybe tomorrow I'll take some photos, but then I think it's supposed to rain nearly all day. Today, par contre, was gorgeous. We sat outdoors for an hour or two, chatting and enjoying warm sunshine. That's the Carolina coast in February... or at least in some Februaries.


Here's a gratuitous photo of the Ibis hotel where I stayed at CDG airport outside Paris Sunday night. It looks like a big renovation project is under way there. The first time I ever stayed in a room in this hotel was in 1997. So 20 years ago now.

14 February 2017

Arrivé

The flight from CDG was smooth and pleasant, and the plane was not nearly full, so it was comfortable. We landed at Raleigh-Durham airport an hour and 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

I had an easy 3½-hour drive down to the coast, but I didn't stop to take any photos. I just wanted to get home as fast as I could.

13 February 2017

The 84th crossing

Today will be my 84th crossing... over the Atlantic Ocean by airplane, I mean. This time, my U.S. point of entry will be Raleigh-Durham airport in North Carolina. By around 7 p.m. US Eastern time, I'll be arriving at my mother's place on the Carolina coast after a 3- or 4-hour drive in a rented car.

As I said in comments on yesterday's post, the trip on Sunday from Saint-Aignan to Tours and on to Paris CDG airport by TGV went smoothly, despite iffy weather. I hope the rest does. I'll be in the air for about 9 hours today — non-stop to RDU.

Yesterday I spent most of the afternoon in my hotel room. Late in the day I went out for an hour-long walk through CDG airport terminals 1 and 3, just for the exercise. The Ibis hotel where I spent the night is at the center of the airport, right on the CDGVAL (people-mover) line, with little subway trains that whisk you to whichever terminal you need or want to be in.

I'll try to post something tomorrow too, even if it's just to complain about jet lag.

12 February 2017

Winter travel

This is not a message I wanted to read this morning. The temperature outside is right at 0ºC, which is the freezing point. And it's raining. Or sleeting. Walt is supposed to drive me over to the TGV train station in Tours in a few hours. This e-mail came in last night:
Chère cliente, cher client,

Vous avez prévu de voyager avec SNCF le 12/02/2017 sur le train 5264 au départ de ST PIERRE DES CORPS et à destination de AEROPORT CDG2 TGV.

Nous vous informons qu'en raison de pluies verglaçantes sur les régions Ile de France, Centre, Pays de la Loire et Poitou Charentes, la circulation de votre train 5264 est susceptible d'être perturbée.

Nous vous invitons à consulter régulièrement le site horaires.sncf.com ou l'application mobile SNCF afin de connaître les conditions de circulation de votre train.
It's from the French national railways. "You are scheduled to take the train from Tours to Paris CDG airport tomorrow," it says. "We want to inform you that because freezing rain is predicted to fall in the Paris region and the Centre [where I live], etc., train schedules might well be disrupted ("perturbed"). Please consult our web site for the latest information."

Freezing rain! It's an hour's drive over to the TGV station in Tours. And then two hours or so on the train to get to the airport north of Paris. If I can get there at all. Sigh...

11 February 2017

Le Riz de Camargue

We've found a new French product that is very good. New to us, that is, but not new to France. People have been growing rice in the Camargue area of southern France for a thousand years. For generations the rice was fed mainly to livestock, it seems, and it only took off as a product for human consumption after World War II. The Camargue is the delta of the Rhône River, west of Marseille and southwest of Provence, on the French Mediterranean coast.


There are at least two varieties of Camargue rice. This one is the red variety, and there's also a brown Camargue rice. (I think there's a black rice variety too.) We've tried both brown and red, and we like both. Now I read in an article from last year that the production of Camargue rice has dropped from 120,000 tons per year to only 70,000 tons over the last few years, partly because of competition from Asian rice producers and importers, and because of reduced French government subsidies for rice growers.


The red Camargue rice takes 25 to 30 minutes to cook. Soaking it for an hour before cooking it seems to shorten the time required. The cooked rice has a pleasantly crunchy texture and a nice taste. We enjoyed eating some with the leftover stew of beef, carrots, onions, and red wine we had for lunch a couple of days ago. The label above says the rice is especially good served with duck (canard) and with game (gibier), seasoned with garlic and aromatic herbs.


Camargue rice was granted an IGP — Indication Géographique Protégée — by European authorities in the year 2000, and French consumers re-discovered it. It's ironic that production has gone into such a steep decline now. One of the advantages of rice production in the Camargue, which basically a coastal salt marsh, is that the rice plants actually desalinate the ground they grow in and can turn it into a fertile agricultural land.

10 February 2017

Puppy eyes

I'm going to miss Callie's 10 birthday party, because I'll be in the U.S. that day. It's less than two weeks from now, and Callie will (already) be 10 years old. That makes her 70 in "dog years" — older than I am now. Some days you can tell she has slowed down, but other days she runs and romps around like a puppy. Her appetite is good, as are her teeth.


It seems like yesterday that we went and picked her up from the farm where she was born, three hours southwest of Saint-Aignan, near Vichy. That was in May of 2007, when she was 10 or 12 weeks old. We're seriously thinking about bringing another puppy into the household this spring, as company for Callie and us in her senior years.

09 February 2017

Bœuf braisé au vin rouge...

...avec carottes, échalotes, et champignons. That's what we're having for lunch today. I made it two days ago, and this will be our second meal out of it. Since I used red wine, you might call it bœuf bourguignon, or estouffade de bœuf. Beef stew with red wine, in other words. Usually, beef stewed with carrots (bœuf aux carottes) is made with white wine in France.




Anyway, I won't call it « bourguignon » because I didn't make it with burgundy wine. Instead, I used a bottle of Côtes du Rhône red. I bought a case (12 bottles) of the wine a couple of months ago, and then I immediately went back to the supermarket and bought another case because it was so good. It was on a special sale and I'm almost ashamed to tell you how little I paid for it.


I'll tell you anyway — less than $3.00 a bottle in U.S. terms. And it had won a gold medal at some wine show in Lyon in 2016.

Off subject: I was just listening to a report about "veggie burgers" on Télématin. It's something new here, I guess. I've made veggie burgers a few times, myself. The report says that French people are gradually diminishing their consumption of meat products. In 1998 per capita meat consumption was at 94 kilograms annually. Now it's down to 86 kilos a year. I haven't looked up the statistics for the U.S.... but with all those hamburgers and bacon that Americans eat... At least one Wikipedia page shows that Americans eat more meat than French people do (though the figures don't match the ones given on TV).


After a video report showing how veggie burgers, called « steaks végétaux », are made and what they contain, the discussion turned to the term « steak » in this context. It's not a steak, the people on the show agreed, because a steak is meat. It's a galette. That's an all-purpose term for cookies (galettes bretonnes), puff-pastry cakes savory (galette de pommes de terre) or sweet (galette des Rois), pan cakes (galettes de sarrasin) , or even Mexican tortillas (galettes de maïs). It will be interesting to see what term for "veggie burger" might catch on in France. The concept is not yet clear, so neither is the terminology.




Okay. What I made included vegetables but it also contained a lot of meat. Both beef and pork, because I cut up a chunk of what we might call "slab bacon" and added it for flavor. In French that's called lard or poitrine, and it is fumé(e), or smoked. And I put in a whole bottle of red wine for about 1.5 kg of meat, plus the carrots, onions, shallots, and mushrooms. It was right good and I'm looking forward to lunch. Often these kinds of  "simmered dishes" or plats mijotés are better re-heated and served the second time.

08 February 2017

Cameras, keyboards, and sunsets

I'll be leaving for a short trip to the U.S. in just a few days. I'm trying to convince myself that it will be a good idea to take my newest digital camera on the trip. It's a camera I've used very little since I bought it 18 months ago. It's a Panasonic Lumix TZ60 compact, long-zoom model that's called the ZS 40 in the U.S. I'm trying to figure out the camera's settings and taking some photos with it to see if I can succeed as well with it as with my 5-year-old Lumix TZ18/ZS8.


We had a pretty afternoon yesterday, and a nice sunset.


The sunset lasted only about five minutes. I rushed to get the camera and tried taking shots using different settings.


I've adjusted these in Photoshop, as usual, but I wish the images right out of the camera required less tweaking.


While I'm in the U.S., I'll be getting a new laptop computer. My current one is already 7 years old. I want to buy a new one in the U.S. because... well, it'll be less expensive than in France... and it will have an American keyboard.

The French computer keyboard has a different layout, with very commonly used keys like the M, the comma, the period, the A, the Q, the W, and the Z in different locations compared to the U.S. keyboard. It also requires you to hold down the shift key to type numbers.

It's just too confusing for an old blogger and typist like me. When I was younger and lived in Paris for three years, I learned and became comfortable with the French keyboard layout (on a tiny manual typewriter) and then had to relearn the U.S. keyboard when I returned to the states in 1982. But not now...

07 February 2017

Three houses in the hamlet

The "hamlet" or neighborhood we live in is made up of nine houses and a few outbuildings. Four of the nine houses are occupied only seasonally or sporadically. I wish I knew more about the history of the hamlet, but nobody around here seems to be able to enlighten me.

This house is a small longère, or long house, that was built, I imagine, in the 19th century. It's just one room deep. When the people who own it bought it back around 1970, half the house had a dirt floor, and half the roof tiles were missing. I think there were just two rooms — what is now a living/dining room and a big kitchen. The old barn space was converted into a bedroom suite. There is also a large finished space upstairs, under the roof, with eight or ten single beds for visiting family members or other guests.

Our house was built in a "modern" style in the late 1960s. It originally had two bedrooms, a decent-size kitchen, and a large living room with a fireplace. The windows are large and let in a lot of light. The main living area is one floor above ground level, with a garage, utility room, cold pantry, and entry hall downstairs. Since we've lived here, we've had all new windows put in, including sliding glass doors in the living room and across the small front porch, and we've had the attic space finished as a big bedroom/family room.

This house is mostly a mystery to me. I don't have any idea when it was built or who now owns it. All I know is that it is occupied only occasionally, in summertime, by young people who must all be the grandchildren of the owner(s). I've never been inside. There's something forbidding about the battleship-gray, heavy metal shutters on the windows and doorway. I imagine it is sparsely furnished, and I'm pretty sure it has a basement or cave, because there's an exterior stairway on one end of the building that leads down to it. It looks like the kitchen, on the left, was added on after the main part of the house was built.


06 February 2017

Felling the fallen tree

I went out into the vineyard yesterday morning after the windstorms we had over the past few days. I didn't really see anything to report out there. The weather was just slightly gusty and the ground was pretty wet. Otherwise, everything looked fine.


An hour or so after I got back to the house, Walt yelled up the stairs to tell me he was going to walk down the road with our neighbor J-M. "A tree has fallen and is threatening to pull down the telephone line," he said. J-M was holding a little hand saw. We should try to get the tree off the wires, J-M said, because who knows how long it might take the phone company to send a repair crew out.



A few minutes later Walt came back up the road and said that the tree trunk was too thick and the wood too hard to be cut with the little hand saw. J-M was going to get his chainsaw. I got my shoes on and walked down the road to take a couple of photos.


That's when I noticed that an old apple tree in our other neighbors' yard was down too. The trunk was broken like a matchstick and the top of the tree, full of mistletoe, was lying on the ground. Fortunately, it hadn't done any damage as it fell.


Another apple tree neary was and is clearly leaning, but I'm not sure it wasn't already leaning that way before the storm. The property owner will have to come assess the situation this week, I imagine. Another tall tree is down on the opposite end of his property.


As for the tall, dead tree trunk that had fallen on the phone wire, J-M sawed through it at ground level. Then we were able to pull the bottom of the trunk around in a direction that made it fall to the side and off the wires, which stayed in place. J-M then sawed up the trunk. We carried large pieces of it home and we'll eventually burn it in the fireplace. « C'est ça, la vie à la campagne » was the way J-M summed up the morning's excitement.

05 February 2017

Limbs and branches

I don't yet know if the trees around the vineyard suffered in the windstorms we had over the past 48 hours. It was especially gusty yesterday morning and into the afternoon. We got less than an inch of rain in all. I woke up at 5 this morning and, from the sound of it, it was pouring outside. I just rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour.


These are photos I took last week, before the storms. They show what the landscape around the hamlet looks like now.


It's pretty stark, don't you think? A few trees blown over every winter. When the day dawns in an hour or so, I'll go out there and assess the situation. I don't have to go out as early now that the hunting season is over. Hunters normally arrive at 9 a.m. sharp.


It's not as cold now as the photos make it look. As you can see, the grass is green even in the dead of winter. The round balls of growth among the tree branches are clumps of mistletoe.


This last photo shows the little road that leads down the hill to the highway and connects us to Saint-Aignan, which is two miles away. We have to be careful when we drive down because you can't see around that curve. If another car is coming up the hill, both cars have to drive on the shoulder to pass each other. So far since we've lived here — nearly 14 years now — the road has never been blocked by a fallen tree. And no falling branch has pulled down the phone line and interrupted our internet service.

04 February 2017

Winter sunrise

Yesterday we seemed to be on the southeastern edge of the stormy weather that's moving through France right now. Today, we seem to be on the northeastern edge of a new storm center moving in. There's something climatically significant about the wide, long Loire River Valley that makes heavy weather track either north or south of it, often protecting us from the extremes.


Yesterday morning was beautiful. I took my camera out at sunrise when I went walking with the dog. Sunrise is still late here — between 8 and 8:30. There was basically no wind at that point. And it was pretty. The rain moved through starting around noontime.


It's a lot windier right now, but the worst part of the new storm is on the southwest coast, around Bordeaux. MétéoFrance has that area under a red alert for violent winds and heavy rains. The areas immediately south of us — the Indre and Indre-et-Loire départements — as well as the southern part of the Loir-et-Cher where we live, are experiencing fairly strong winds too. As I type this, I can hear gusts whooshing through the trees in our yard.


It looks like the strong wind and heavy rain will move off by this afternoon. I'm just glad it hasn't been any worse here in Saint-Aignan. We actually needed the rain.