Saturday, November 04, 2006

Last full day in the U.S.

If you are reading this blog for the first time, you might be surprised to find yourself reading not about France but about the United States. I've been on an East Coast tour for a month now, traveling from Upstate New York down to North Carolina and Alabama, and ending up in Illinois. I fly back to Paris from Chicago tomorrow, and I plan to resume posting topics about life in France's Loire Valley later in the week.

Meanwhile, I've been in the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, area for a couple of days, staying with friends. I spent five years here in the 1970s, when I was in graduate school. I have a lot of nostalgia for the University of Illinois, but it certainly has changed. I hardly recognize the campus, with the exception of its old core, the main quadrangle.

The old Greyhound bus station in Evansville, Indiana

I'm thinking about transit these days, in anticipation of our flight back to France. On the way from Kentucky to Illinois, I drove through Evansville, Indiana, just because I had never been there before. The old Greyhound bus station was the most interesting thing I saw there.

I crossed into Illinois at Mount Carmel, where an old friend grew up. She lived in Paris back in the 1970s, when I did. Then I took a detour off the main highway, just to see the sights. I ended up on very narrow roads and got stuck behind a school bus that was dropping off children in the Illinois equivalent of a village.

Stuck behind a school bus in southern Illinois

The bus stopped in front of at least 5 houses — trailers, actually — and at each one or more kids got off. The houses were just a few hundred feet apart, but rather than let them all off at a single stop and leave them to walk to their respective houses, the bus made all those stops. I was stuck, because it is against the law to pass a stopped school bus in the U.S.

The shadow of our Chevy Impala on an Illinois field

Later, Walt snapped a picture of the shadow of our car against a typical Illinois landscape as we drove north. The sun was going down.

The quadrangle at the University of Illinois on a nice fall day

Yesterday, we walked around the Illinois campus. The sun was out and the weather had warmed up enough to make walking outside pleasant.

The College of Agriculture building on the quad at Champaign-Urbana

Today, we had lunch in an old student hangout on campus called the White Horse Inn. As we left the place after enjoying a nostalgic hamburger with cole slaw and fries, we noticed some students on the 5th-floor balcony of their apartment across the street. Today the Illinois-Ohio State football game was being played on campus, and a lot of students were partying (evidently). These particular guys were rowdy. When they saw us, one of them yelled: "You guys are too old. Get the f*** out of here!"

I guess my University of Illinois days really are over. I might as well go on back to France.

Friday, November 03, 2006


First of all, let me say Kentucky was really pretty. The drive from Dale Hollow State Park, near Albany and Burkesville, over to Glasgow KY took us along a hilly two-lane road through many small towns and settlements. A lot of the houses along that road (route 90, which runs along just north of the Tennesse border) are neat little brick bungalows. There are many red-brick churches. The fall colors were beautiful on November 2.

I saw this sign half a dozen times along route 90.

There are also many picturesque ruins. Old falling-down houses with porches stacked high with junk are a common sight. Old general stores, closed up and in various states of decay, give you a flavor of what local life in this area must have been like before everybody had a car to drive. In a lot of ways, it made me think of the Loire Valley, where still today fewer people drive cars and where small villages are spaced out along narrow roads at regular intervals.

The "village" closest to the Dale Hollow resort is called Frogue.
I don't know how to pronounce it.

The lodge (or motel) at Dale Hollow is completely modern. You couldn't find a nicer place (considering the $55-a-night rate we paid) anywhere in Florida or California. But you know you are in Kentucky as soon as you get three miles up the road.

Back in the early 1980s, I knew a Frenchman who lived near Versailles and who thought Kentucky was one of the best American words he had ever heard. He would joke about one day going there on a vacation. I think he was half serious about such a trip, but I'm not sure he really believed such a place really existed. I wish he could have been with us yesterday.

You still see houses like this one, but many of the houses along the road
were neat and clean little brick bungalows.

Kentucky reminds me very much of North Carolina as well. Back in olden days, Daniel Boone forged the trail over the Appalachians at the Cumberland Pass, and many Carolinians and Virginians followed him west into Kentucky. The big difference right now between KY and NC is that rampant development and sprawl haven't yet hit Kentucky. That's a good thing for KY.

A "trailer home" that we passed along the way. Notice the Confederate flag
used as a curtain in the center window. (Click the picture to enlarge it.)

Farther north, up on the Ohio River at Owensboro, the barbecue restaurant called the Moonlite Inn was full of suprises. First of all, it seats 300 customers in a series of spacious dining rooms. And it was packed at 12:15 on a Thursday afternoon. I enjoyed listening to conversations all around, and especially to the wait staff. The people of Owensboro seem to have a strong Southern accent, despite being so far from the Old South.

The mutton barbecue was excellent. The meat was succulent and smoky. It had been shredded and coarsely chopped after long slow cooking. I wasn't crazy about what they called the "dipping sauce," however. It was a brown, watery liquid that didn't add much flavor. The bottles of dipping sauce on sale in the restaurant store listed the ingredients as, first, water, then Worcestershire powder (what is that?), vinegar, and sugar. The barbecued mutton would be much better with some good Eastern North Carolina hot-pepper vinegar on it. Nothing is better on barbecued meat than Wilber's vinegar sauce from Goldsboro, North Carolina.

The separate entrance for people who want to take their barbecued meat home.
These are American icons: an ice machine and newpaper vending machines.

We drove out of Kentucky into SW Indiana after lunch and drove up small roads along the Wabash River all afternoon, on our way to Champaign-Urbana. Just a few miles north of the Ohio River, in Mount Carmel, Illinois, the accents were no longer southern. Neither was the landscape.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Barbecue across the South

I'm excited today because we are going to try a new kind of barbecue (or Bar-B-Q, as they seem to spell it here in Kentucky. It's one of the fun things to do when you travel around the south, if you eat meat.

In North Carolina, this time, we got to go to the two best-known barbecue joints in the state. One was Smiley's Barbecue in the town of Lexington, near Greensboro and Winston-Salem, N.C. Lexington-style barbecue is hickory-smoked pork shoulder served with a slightly tomato-y, slightly vinegary sauce. At Smiley's, I ordered coarsely chopped barbecue, and the meat was tender, juicy, and flavorful.

But to my eastern North Carolina palate, Smiley's cooked pork wasn't really barbecue. The meat was bathed in liquid, and it wasn't spicy enough. Real barbecue is exemplified, for my, by the hickory-smoked, vinegar-sauced, whole-hog meat cooked up and served at Wilber's Barbecue Restaurant in Goldsboro, N.C. The meat is not floating in sauce, and there are flecks of hot red pepper in the vinegar sauce and through the shredded or chopped meat.

I've been going to Wilber's since the mid-1960s. It's on the main road, U.S. Highway 70, between my home town, Morehead City, and the Raleigh-Durham area, where I went to college. Wilber's barbecue never disappoints.

We visited friends in Anniston, Alabama, on this trip. They are people I met on an Internet forum. In Anniston, we had lunch on Tuesday at Daddy's Barbecue. The meat was shredded, hickory-smoked pork, and it was delicious. My only criticism of it was the way it was served. They put a pile of barbecued pork on the plate and them dumped on a generous quantity of a sweet dark-red sauce that wasn't bad but wasn't necessary. The pork would have been better without it.

We also had barbecue in Atlanta. We bought it from a chain restaurant called Sonny's. It was surprisingly good, especially the shredded pork, which was seasoned with a hot-pepper-vinegar sauce. We also tasted the beef barbecue at Sonny's, but I found the sauce too ketchup-y and sweet.

Three years ago Walt and I tried barbecue in Georgia and in South Carolina. The Georgia version was ketchup-y sweet. The S.C. version was bathed in a mustard sauce that was also very sweet. I don't like my barbecue sweet.

In Owensboro, Kentucky, today, we are going to have lunch at the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn. The specialty there is Kentucky mutton barbecue. Wow, barbecued lamb. It should be interesting, and it might be delicious. I'll report on it later.

Alabama to Kentucky

We had a really nice stay with our friends E. and L. in Anniston, Alabama, from Sunday evening until Wednesday morning. We drove up to Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama, where the trees were showing off their yellow, orange, and red foliage. We also went to a nearby winery and tasted some muscadine, villard blanc, and chardonnel wines. Not to mention a peach wine and a blueberry wine. They were interesting, and a couple were good. Yes, chardonnel, not chardonnay. It's a hybrid.

Near Cheaha (TCHEE-uh-HA), the highest point in Alabama at about 2300 feet

This morning, before our departure on our trip to Kentucky, I told E. and L. that I wanted to have donuts for breakfast. They don't usually eat donuts but they were good sports. L. and I drove over to LaMar's Donut Shop in Anniston and bought a dozen glazed donut holes, one plain old-fashioned donut, one glazed old-fashioned, two regular glazed, and two maple-glazed. We all ate some, and E. then packed up the leftovers for us to take on our trip to Kentucky.

Needless to say, we don't eat many donuts in France.

We left Alabama in sunshine and cut through a little corner of northwest Georgia. It clouded over. A few minutes later we were in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it started raining. It rained hard all afternoon as we drove up through the eastern Tennessee mountains and the towns of Spencer, Sparta, Cookeville, Livingston, and Byrdstown.

We arrived at Albany, Kentucky, at about 3:00 p.m. It was pouring rain. We just drove through, which was a disappointment. We wanted to see it better. The population of Albany KY is 2200, which makes it smaller than Saint-Aignan. We couldn't take any pictures. It was raining too hard.

Tonight we are staying near Albany at the Dale Hollow State Park Resort hotel. It's a modern place on a big artificial lake, and it has wireless Internet access. A minute ago, Walt opened the dorr and went out onto the patio of our ground-floor room. "Uh-oh, a skunk," he said. I had to take a picture.

This skunk came close but did not spray us.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Signs of the times

One of the pleasures we had during our time in North Carolina was a visit to the laundromat. The attendant was very helpful. Instead of making us buy a card to pay for the washers and dryers,which would have required a long-term investment we didn't need to make, she used her card to run the machines and we just gave her cash.

After we put our clothes in the washer, she said: "Now the good news for you, which is the bad news for me, is that I am required to stay right here on the premises. That means that you are not!" So we could go for a walk while the wash cycle completed.

I liked the sign on the washer that said it was forbidden to put human beings in the machine. Why in the world do they need to put up such a warning?

No people washing here

Monday, October 30, 2006

Changes in the weather

During our time on the N.C. coast, we had nearly every type of weather you can imagine. At the beginning, it was so muggy that we couldn't believe it. It wasn't particularly hot, except at night. But you felt like you were swimming through the atmosphere.

The second week, the weather turned chilly and clear. That was during the "mullet blow." Since the beach runs east-west in Carteret County, a north wind flattens out the water and there's almost no surf. The water is a deep blue, reflecting the color of the clear sky.

Last Friday morning, storm clouds rolled in from the southwest. When we woke up at about 7:00 a.m., we could hear the surf for the first time all week. We decided to walk down to the beach to see what the water looked like.

Well, there was a magnificent sunrise under way. I could see the lighthouse in silhouette on the horizon. Within 10 minutes, the clouds had moved east and the sun had risen just a little more, so the show was over.

Sunrise near Fort Macon in North Carolina, 27 October 2006

By noon, it started to rain. The wind got stronger and stronger as the day progressed. The storm turned into a real sou'wester (as opposed to a nor'easter). In a sou'wester, the wind is warm and it churns up the ocean, making the water rough and the surf impressive.

The N.C. beach during a good sou'wester storm

Looking southwest over the beach just as the storm moved in

In the picture above, you can see that the prevailing wind on the Carteret County coast is from the southwest, because the sand fences are set up to catch sand blowing from that direction.

Looking southeast toward Cape Lookout and the lighthouse

Contrast the picture above with the ones I took a day or two earlier from the same spot — especially this one.

A view back toward the mainland showing the Morehead City waterfront

We are in Alabama today, visiting good friends. By the end of the week we'll be in Illinois, and we will fly back to France from Chicago next Sunday.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Pictures for yesterday's post

Here are three photos I took yesterday and that I wanted to post with yesterday's text about eating jumping mullets. Google wouldn't cooperate but has changed its ways today.

On the horizon you can see the lighthouse at Cape Lookout, NC

Cape Lookout lighthouse redux, with people walking on the beach

Looking southwest along the beach from our condo at Southwinds

Cape Lookout is about 12 miles from where our condo is located. You can get there only by boat or helicopter.

The weather has turned cloudy and rain is supposed to begin falling by late afternoon. We are going to have strong winds, heavy rains, and thunderstorms tomorrow morning, according to the people who do weather forecasts.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Jumpin' mullets for dinner

Our old friend Peter arrived yesterday from Washington DC to spend a couple of days with us here. We've known each other since 1981, when we all lived in Paris.

Last night we went out to dinner at Morehead City's largest, oldest, and best-known restaurant, the Sanitary Fish Market & Restaurant. One of the daily specials was jumping mullet, fried or broiled. That's what I had, fried, and it was delicious. It seemed like an appropriate choice.

This morning I walked out to the beach again. The trucks and fishermen were there, and the tractors. I talked to a fisherman. He told me they had just finished hauling in the net and then putting it back out. He said they netted a truckload of speckled trout, which was unexpected. I asked if they weren't really fishing for jumping mullets, and he said yes, they were. But you take what you get.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More about mullets and mullet blows

A pretty prickly pear cactus growing on the grounds of our N.C. condo complex

The wind came out of the north for a second day yesterday, and it felt cold. We didn't go out until afternoon, when the sun had had a chance to warm things up a little. But it was definitely chilly as we tromped around in my boyhood neighborhood at 5:00 p.m., and we soon got back in the car to warm up.

The view from the deck of our apartment at the Southwinds complex

We had had bright sun and a brisk breeze in the morning, which made for beautiful views of the ocean. The temperature was in the high 30s fahrenheit — moins de 5º C.

Fishermen's trucks on the beaches of Bogue Banks

When we got back to the condo late yesterday afternoon, some downstairs neighbors were just coming out of their apartment. They had been keeping an eye on the fishermen down at the beach, they said. "Did they haul that net in yet?" I asked them. No, they said, but they hauled one in a little farther down the beach. They ended up netting 18,000 pounds of jumping mullets. That filled up the beds of four big pickup trucks.

Fishermen rocking the tractor — don't ask me why. Just for fun, probably.
More fun than just standing around on the beach.

What are jumping mullets? Here's one:
The jumping mullet, or striped mullet, Mugil cephalus

The jumping mullet is definitely not what is called a rouget or a rouget barbet in France — those are red fish. Maybe it's the grey mullet, but I don't really know.

The one thing I know about jumpings is that the only way to catch them is in a net. They won't take bait, so you can't catch them on a hook.

A Carteret County skiff towed to the beach by tractor

There's another fish in N.C. waters that we call a sea mullet and that can be caught by hook and line. It's scientific name is Menticirrhus americanus, according to this good site showing the fish that live in North Carolina waters. I wonder if the fish called sea mullet here is not the same as the one called merlan in France? Here's what it looks like:

The sea mullet, or whiting, or southern kingfish

The same fish can have many different local names from region to region. From country to country and language to language, it's even harder to sort it all out.

I won't even try to speculate on the origin of certain terms applied to hairstyles.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

October on North Carolina's beaches

Thanks to an unsuspecting neighbor in the Southwinds Condominiums complex here on the North Carolina coast, I am able to connect to a wireless network and blog this evening.

The North Carolina coast is where I grew up. In October, when the wind turns to the north and the first cool days of the fall make themselves felt, the people here in Carteret County, NC, describe the weather as a "mullet blow." The jumping mullets begin their coastal migration, and the local fisherman put out their nets to catch as many as they can.

Tractors left to spend the night alone on the beach

They use tractors to haul in the nets, and they use shovels to throw as many mullet as they can from the nets into the beds of their pickup trucks or trailers. The nets were out today, and there were two tractors and seven or eight trucks out on the beach in front of the Southwinds complex.

Walt taking pictures on the beach in North Carolina, 23 October 2006

Besides the trucks and tractors and their drivers, the only other people on the beach were a few late-season stragglers looking for seashells. And me and Walt, taking pictures.

A couple of hours after our mid-afternoon beach stroll, I walked back over to the shore to see if the nets had been hauled in. They hadn't. Maybe tomorrow. There was a beautiful sunset. It reminded me of Saint-Aignan sunsets, which I am eager to see again.

Sunset on Bogue Banks, NC — 23 October 2006

A closeup of the same sunset

I wonder what the sunset at La Renaudière looked like today. We will return there two weeks from tomorrow...

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Walt has posted a topic about our visit to Atlanta and the new aquarium there. Here are a couple of my pictures:

Alaskan king crabs

A jellyfish

We spent two nights in a condominium owned by friends who visited us in Saint-Aignan back in December 2004. We are very grateful to them. Here are a couple of pictures of the condo complex:

Condominiums in a nice wooded neighborhood in central Atlanta.

After spending a couple of hours walking through the aquarium, we drove over to the Westin Hotel, parked, and took the elevator and a set of stairs up to the bar on the 73rd floor. This is a view from there:

Part of downtown Atlanta, looking north.
Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Now in North Carolina

We left Albany NY last Friday and drove to Washington DC to spend the weekend seeing old friends there. The weather cooperated perfectly.

Face on the barrel of a cannon at Fort Ticonderoga, NY

Since Sunday evening, we have been in North Carolina. The trip has been very busy and we are trying to rest up before our next leg, which is a trip to Atlanta starting Thursday morning.

Walt and our rental car in front of a barbecue restaurant in Lake George, NY

Internet acces is not easy right now. We are sitting in an Internet café in Morehead City. The connection is wireless and works well, but we have just one computer so as I type Walt is just waiting. Not ideal.

I'll write more when I can. At least we haven't had any more encounters with the police. But my pollen allergies have flared up and I am congested and coughing.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


What do the houses in an "affluent" American suburb — in this case, near Albany, NY — look like? Here are some examples. The second two are very grand, aren't they?

Here's a picture of a house out in the country in upstate New York, north of Albany. I think it is very austere and puritan in appearance.

And here is a suburban Albany house where the homeowners are expressing their political opinions.

Finally, a sign I noticed in a window in downtown Albany.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Arriving in New York City

When we arrived at JFK airport last Thursday, we got through immigration really fast. The immigration officer wished me a big smiling "Welcome home!" Our bags came right out. The customs officer asked no question.

We rode the Airtrain around the airport to the rental car center and picked up our Chevy Impala from Budget. We hadn't asked for a full-size car, but that was the car they wanted us to drive to Chicago for them. It has Illinois license plates on it.

To get out of New York City, we needed to drive up an expressway through the borough of Queens and cross a toll bridge before we could head north to Albany. All we had was a $50 bill, and we figured we would need some smaller bills for the toll. We also needed a phone card so that we could easily make calls within the U.S. The best idea seemed to be to get off the expressway, go into a neighborhood, and buy a phone card, just to break the $50 bill.

We decided to take Liberty Avenue east into Queens. We drove along for two or three miles. There were gas stations, car repair shops, and other businesses, but no drug stores or convenience shops like 7-11 that would be likely to sell phone cards.

We turned left at some point — 160th Avenue, maybe? — and drove north a mile or so. We ended up in the center of Jamaica, Queens, on Jamaica Avenue. It's a big commercial area, and there was a Walgreens drugstore. We found a place to park and this church was about the first thing I saw.

French-language church in Jamaica, Queens, New York City

It's a typical American church in many ways: it occupies a building that probably wasn't built to be a church. Then again, maybe it was. But it doesn't look like a traditional European church, that's for sure.

Bethany Baptist Church, Jamaica, Queens

Click on the picture, as usual, if you want to see an enlargement and read the text on the sign.

Somehow seeing a French-language church right away made me feel welcome in New York City.

In Hudson, NY, nearly three hours north of New York City, we took a long walk along the main street on Sunday afternoon. We stopped in a church to see the inside, and we were surprised to hear a service going on. It was about 2:00 p.m. The pastor or priest was speaking French. He was black, and the 30 or 40 people attending the service were also black. The priest read scripture in French and the congregation answered back in French.

They must be from Haiti, I told Walt. The service ended, and I listened to the adults talking among themselves. They were speaking Creole, which is based on French, Spanish, and English.

Meanwhile, Walt talked to a couple of teenage girls who were in attendance. They confirmed that their parent were Haitians. The girls spoke perfect American English. I walked up and said in French: "Alors tout le monde parle français ici?" — So everybody here speaks French? — and the girls eyes got wide. She stared at me for a second, and then beat a hasty retreat to rejoin her family. I guess she was shy — or shocked to hear somebody outside her community speaking French. It was cute.

The church in Hudson, NY, is more traditional

We are hitting the road again this morning and we don't know whether we will be able to post blog entries tomorrow. We're headed up to Lake George and Fort Ticonderoga, a hour or two north of Albany, and will spend the night up there before returning to Albany tomorrow afternoon.