Monday, April 30, 2007

Carteret, Le Port

The small town of Carteret is part of the larger Barneville-Carteret agglomeration. Larger is a loaded word ; the whole place has just over 2,400 permanent residents (les Carteretais and les Barnevillais). That population certainly increases in the summer months.

The town and port of Carteret, when the tide is in. When the tide is out, there's almost no water in the port, just mud.

Ken actually knows a woman who has a summer house in Carteret ; he worked with her in Washington, DC, back in the mid 1980's. I've since met her, and Ken visited her house a couple of years ago with mutual friends. The two of us took our dog Collette and went back to Carteret for an night in May of 2005. It was windy and cold, but the dog loved running on the beach, as she always had in San Francisco.

Hôtel le Carteret.

I took the above photo of the hotel back in 1992, for the novelty of the name (Ken's home county), and we stayed there in 2005. It was alright, but not great. I think we may have been the only guests that night. At least it seemed that way.

Collette on the windy beach at Carteret in 2005 (photo by Ken).

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Le Sémaphore De Carteret

The little town of Carteret is about a quarter of the way down the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula from Cap de la Hague. We wanted to stop there because Ken grew up in Carteret County, North Carolina, and we thought it would be cool to see the place. The English islands of Jersey and Guernsey are off the coast and ferries run to them from the port at Carteret.

Ruins of rock walls on the bluff near the Sémaphore de Carteret.

Before we got to the town, however, we stopped at le Sémaphore de Carteret on the cape just to the west of town. A sémaphore is like a lighthouse, but serves as a post of communication between shore and ship through the use of optical (lights/flags) signals. We use the same word in English.

Le Sémaphore de Carteret.

The sémaphore sits high up on a bluff, of course, and the views were pretty spectacular. The west coast of the peninsula is quite different from the northern coast of Normandy. The land no longer ends in abrupt cliffs but in undulating hills and headlands with great expanses of sandy beach. I didn't see the east coast of the peninsula until many years later.

A view toward the north from the headlands at the Cap de Carteret.

After a look and a few photos, we drove down into the town of Carteret itself.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Le Cotentin

We arrived at the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula near Barneville-Carteret and drove north to the end. There is a lighthouse there, on the Cap de la Hague, which I believe is the subject of some famous photographs. Since I don't have those, mine will have to do.

The lighthouse at Cap de la Hague in calm seas, looking across the channel toward Dorset, England.

As I said previously, we went on to Cherbourg where we found a hotel and a small restaurant on the old port. We were pretty much the only customers that night and I can't remember what we ate.

Land meets sea at the bay of Ecalgrain. Someone had painted skulls and crosses on the bollards.

The next morning we retraced our steps along the coast to the lighthouse and drove down the west coast of the peninsula all the way south to the Bay of Mont-St.-Michel, stopping to take in the views and snap pictures. The sky was overcast and the muted colors of the land and water made for some dark pictures.

A tiny fishing boat in the bay of Ecalgrain.

Every now and then the sky brightened up as the clouds thinned, but the sun never really came out that day.

A close-up of the fishing boat.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Omaha Beach

I'm not an aficionado of the Second World War, so the idea of "doing the beaches" was not the reason we were in this part of Normandy. Still, you can't help but see the monuments, cemeteries, and historical markers when you are there. And they make you think about what took place there only sixty-three years ago.

The Norman coast at Omaha Beach.

We stopped at Omaha Beach. The cold January wind whipped along the coast and being outside was not all that pleasant. Taking photos was difficult, but I got some. The gray-brown water in the channel hit the rocky coast pretty hard that day, but the huge scale of the place made it all seem pretty mild.

The monument commemorating the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

There were a few other people there, too. We climbed in and out of some of the concrete bunkers and gun emplacements and made our way to the stone monument commemorating the soldiers, the event, and the place. It was somber and moving.

An woman braves the wind atop a gun emplacement.

We got back in the car and headed across the Cotentin peninsula and up its west coast to Cap de la Hague and on to Cherbourg for dinner and the night.

The meeting of land and sea near Omaha Beach.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


The coast of Normandy is strikingly beautiful. I've seen it in all kinds of weather over the years and it's just as dramatic in lousy weather as it is on a bright sunny day. When you can look along the coast for any distance you are struck by the flat table of land that just ends in cliffs diving down into the channel. Every now and then, where a small river or stream drains the land, the coastline dips gently down to the water's edge . These are the places where the port towns are built.

The Norman coast near Port-en-Bessin.

From Trouville, we drove west along the coast to Cabourg, then dipped down to Caen. I don't remember what we did in Caen - probably just drove around a bit. Then it was back up to the coast at St.-Aubin and westward through Arromanches to one of the smaller port towns called Port-en-Bessin.

Port-en-Bessin is almost austere in its setting between land and sea.

I remember that it was very windy and cold - this was January after all. Somewhere along the way we picked up the fixin's for a picnic, but it was just too cold to eat outside. We parked on the quai next to the little port in town and ate our lunch in the car while watching the waves crash up and over the concrete breakwater.

Ken prefers the shelter of the little Fiat we rented while I take pictures in the wind.

And I took some photos. After a short time we headed to nearby Omaha Beach, one of the famous WWII invasion sites.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Word Of The Week


Now that the first round of voting is over and ten of the twelve candidates for president have been eliminated, the French news organizations are doing their thing. They're analyzing the merde out of everything. Of course, that's what news organizations do. Analysis begins with anal... but that's another language issue.

The news folks are also beginning to frame up the second round, talking about what each candidate will do to get votes from the losing candidates' supporters. The extremes on both the left and the right will likely support the logical left or right candidate, or not vote at all. The big question is what will happen with the voters who supported Bayrou, the self-proclaimed centrist.

Since Bayrou comes from the party of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, his political leanings have historically been to the right, albeit center-right. It follows that he was the alternative to Sarkozy for right-leaning voters. But it remains to be seen whether those right-leaning voters would actually vote against Sarkozy in favor of the socialist candidate. I bet not many of them will.

As for the lefties that voted Bayrou, they did so more than likely because they were not inspired by Ségolène Royal. But I simply can't imagine them casting a vote for Sarkozy in the second round.

So, what will the split be ? Right now it looks good for Sarkozy. But anything can happen, as it did in 1981 when Mitterrand took the big prize.

This is a very long-winded way of getting to this week's word. A lot of the news analysts are making references to each candidate's "base." Socle, from the latin socculus, is literally a base or pedestal, on which a column or statue rests. It's also used to refer to a politician's base : the group of voters whose allegiance to their chosen party or candidate is clear and unwavering.

Image from

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Kitchen Collection [19]

This is an absolutely new acquisition. Last summer we had made one of our runs to Paris for Asian food ingredients ; we've been shopping at Tang Frères in the 13th arrondissement. Tang is a small chain of Asian groceries in and around Paris with a pretty big store and several restaurants near the Place d'Italie.

While there last summer we saw a granite mortar and pestle, but decided not to buy it. I have a small lightweight m-and-p and I've learned that lightweight just doesn't do the trick. I end up not using it much. You need something a bit more substantial.

I regretted the decision to leave the granite mortar behind, so we decided over the winter to get it the next time we were in Paris with the car, which turned out to be this past weekend. I haven't used it yet, but I'm sure the occasion will present itself before too long.

Garlic paste, crushed herbs, seeds and spices that need to be ground ; there are many uses ahead for this baby.

Monday, April 23, 2007


The vieux bassin, or old port, in central Honfleur.

Honfleur is a small fishing town on the left bank of the Seine estuary very near where the river flows into the English Channel. Samuel de Champlain left from this small port to establish colonies in Canada, where he founded the city of Québec in 1608.

Another view of the narrow buildings that surround the old port.

The city's known history stretches back to the 11th century. Honfleur was a strategic port in trade and war with England. Today, there are a little over 8,000 Honfleurois living there, although in high tourist season, the place can seem overrun.

Fishing boats tied along the quais.

Since we were there in January, there were very few tourists out and about. And, there were still some fishing boats in the vieux bassin, or old port. I think that these days it's mostly pleasure boats docking there.

Nice parking spot !

There are many interesting and historic sights to see and we walked around a bit. But, as is the nature of road trips, we were back in the car after not too long and heading to our destination for the night : Trouville. By the time we arrived there, it was dark, cold, and raining. We found a hotel near the center of town with little problem and ducked into a small restaurant for a supper of hot moules à la marinière and frites. We finished with a calvados, or apple brandy, a Norman specialty. It was one of those meals that you remember for a long time.

A closer shot of the red boat.

Note : in case you're confused, this is one of many installments in the Road Trip series. This time, it's January 1992 and we're doing the Norman and Breton coasts.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Paris, Overnight

On Friday Ken and I drove up to Paris to see friends Chris and Tony who are visiting from the Bay Area. They rented a small apartment in the Marais and we met them in the afternoon for a walk, some shopping, and dinner that evening.

A view of the Tour Eiffel from the rue de Belleville, near the Pyrénées métro stop.

We had some errands, all of which were successful. They included a stop at the spice store, Izraël, for some smoked spanish paprika and a dash into the BHV for a broom/dustpan thing.

The sign at Métro Buttes Chaumont.

Before we got to Paris, we stopped at Ikea out in the 'burbs for a light fixture for the kitchen. We got to Paris at lunch time and drove in to the rue Lecourbe for sushi and sashimi at a Japanese restaurant near our friend CHM's apartment. He's not in town right now, so we didn't get to see him on this trip.

We also made a run over to the 13th arrondissement to Tang Frères for a granite mortar & pestle that we had seen last year. Dinner was in the 15th again at a couscous restaurant called Le Vent de Sable that we had been to with CHM. It was just as good as we remembered.

The view from the temple at the top of Buttes Chaumont, looking more or less north.

Saturday morning we got up and went for a nice walk in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont over near Belleville. I wanted to have lunch in a Thai place on the rue de Belleville that I had read about, and this was a park that Chris said she had never been to, so it was a great combination. The weather was spectacular and lunch was not disappointing - although I think Chris and Tony wouldn't have necessarily chosen an Asian place to eat given that they can get that back at home. They were kind to indulge us.

A more familiar sight seen from the temple at Buttes Chaumont.

Belleville as become more or less an Asian neighborhood, full of great shops and restaurants side-by-side with the more traditional Parisian kinds of places. Just walking around was a feast for the senses. Down the hill, the neighborhood around the Boulevard de la Villette is more North African. We stopped in a little store and Ken found a tajine (a traditional clay pot for cooking the dish of the same name) that he's wanted for a while.

Inside the church of St. Jean-Baptiste de Belleville at métro Jourdain, a gothic style church built in the late 19th century.

We walked some more and stopped at a café on the Place Colonel Fabien - near where I lived when I was a student back in the last century - before getting back in the car, dropping our friends off at the Palais de Tokyo modern art museum, and heading for home. It was all great fun and we enjoyed seeing C&T, eating exotic (for us country folk) food, and getting some good shopping done.

I'm certain that Ken will get it together to do a more detailed description in the next few days.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

No Post Today

Sorry - no post today. We just got back from Paris. See you again on Sunday !

Friday, April 20, 2007


Perhaps the most well known of French cheeses, le camembert was perfected by one Marie Harel in the 19th century in the Norman town of the same name. I didn't know this, but camembert is one of the few French cheeses without an A.O.C., meaning that the same type of cheese can be made anywhere and still be called camembert. And it is.

The Norman countryside near the village of Camembert.

So, at the beginning of our 1992 Normandy/Brittany road trip, we headed due west from Paris, through Dreux, and made for the town that one of Ken's favorite cheeses is named for : Camembert. The countryside is, of course, beautiful. The town was nothing to write home about (but something to blog about years later, it turns out).

Ken poses while I take his photo just outside the village of Camembert.

We stopped for a quick photo then went on our way through Livarot and Pont l'Evêque (both are cheeses as well as towns) and on to Honfleur, a picturesque port at the mouth of the Seine.

P.S. - Speaking of cheese, check out Chez Loulou on Tuesdays for a review of French cheeses !

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Another Road Trip !

I just couldn't resist getting out another tray of slides and looking at the pictures. So, naturally, I decided I should start scanning them. That means I'll be posting some of them here.

In January 1992, I had just finished my graduate work at Berkeley. At the time I was working as a research assistant on a project related to suburb-to-suburb commuting. My professor, an Englishman well known in the transportation field, decided that we should go to Paris and interview some of the transportation planners there about their solutions to the problem. How could I say no ?

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Nantes.

Off we went, in early January. Brrrrr. We were able to cope with the cold ; something about being in Paris makes everything ok. We had good meetings, including one little side trip to Nantes to talk to some planners there. That meeting was at the top of a high-rise building, and I was able to take some photos of Nantes from up there. These are a few of them.

A view of Nantes from a tall office building.

Nantes is the sixth largest city in France, home to over 280,000 Nantais, and over 700,000 in the metro area. It's location on the Loire river estuary makes it a seaport with a healthy industrial economy. Nantes is the capital of Brittany, and boasts a 15th century castle built by the famed Ducs de Bretagne. It is also the place where King Henry IV signed l'édit de Nantes (the Edict of Nantes) that granted protestants civil rights in French society and laid the foundation for secularism in France - of course, it was revoked by Louis XIV in the 17th century, but I digress. I didn't spend much time in Nantes and don't really know the place at all. But my overall impression was very positive.

Another church in Nantes. Which one ?

Needless to say, I had to practically beg Ken to come on this trip with me. Not. After the meetings were over, he and I rented a car and drove out to Normandy and up to the coast. We made our way along the Norman coast to Brittany and continued around the coast down to the island of Noirmoutier, then made our way up the Loire Valley and back to Paris.

I'll start posting some of the photos from that trip tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Word Of The Week


In case you don't know, I like tennis. I used to play a little, but I mostly watch. This week I'm watching the men play in Monte Carlo, which is the first of three Masters Series tournaments on clay and the traditional start of the European clay season. There are a few clay court tournaments in the US just prior : one men's clay event in Houston (it's moving next year) and two women's clay events in Florida and South Carolina.

So, this past Sunday was the day of the women's final at the Charleston (Family Circle Cup) clay court tournament between Jelena Jankovic and Darina Safina. Jankovic won, 62 62 ; she had just beaten Venus Williams in the semi-final on Saturday in a great three set match.

During the final's second set, each player lost her first two serves. The score was tied, two all, but neither player had won her serve. It's not that unusual a situation, but interesting nonetheless, especially in a final. This brings us to this week's word.

The announcer said to his partner, "C'est un deuxième set bien décousu." Hmmmm, I wondered, and I was off to the dictionary.

The root word is coudre, to sew. Literally then, décousu means unstitched. Figuratively, as in the announcer's observation, it means illogical, disjointed, or not following right. In a tennis final, you don't expect so many breaks of serve in a row. It just doesn't follow. C'est décousu.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Kitchen Collection [18]

The lowly trivet doesn't get much respect. It just sits around under stuff, out of view, taking a lot of heat, and not complaining a bit.

I haven't counted, but we have trivets all over the house. We use them in the kitchen, of course, but also under our houseplants. They're wooden, glass, plastic, and ceramic tile. We even have a cast iron trivet that Ken picked up last year in Collonges-la-Rouge.

The trivet pictured here was a gift from our friend Sue. She made it from corks that we gave her. She had asked us to save our used corks so she could have them for crafts - one year she made cork wreaths for the holidays. She kept out some of the corks with interesting things printed on them and put them into a wood frame that she also made. Sue's pretty talented !

This trivet hangs on the wall in our kitchen, right above the cutting board that she made for us.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tarte Aux Asperges

If you saw Ken's blog over the weekend you saw what we got at Saturday's market in town. We had seen a dish prepared on Cuisine TV that looked good : tarte aux asperges (asparagus tart). I downloaded the recipe from their web site. Of course, I modified it a bit - Carrine used green asparagus and I used white; she used Parma ham and I used French Savoie; she made small individual tarts and I made a larger one.

A blind-baked tart shell ready to receive the filling.

It's a very simple dish to prepare (although maybe not for Amy H.). First, make and blind bake a tart shell. I used a rectangular tart pan to better fit the asparagus. Next, trim the asparagus to fit the shell, then cook them in boiling salted water for about 15 minutes or until just tender. Don't overcook them because they're going into the oven later.

Above and below, cooked asparagus spears wrapped in jambon cru.
When the spears have cooled, wrap them two by two in a slice of jambon de savoie (or any other cured raw ham that you like). Next, make a custard with two eggs, 10 cl of milk, 10 cl of crème fraiche, and about 50 grams of finely grated parmesan cheese. Add pepper to taste, but don't add salt - the cured ham is quite salty already.

Lay the wrapped asparagus gently into the custard filling.

Pour the custard into the tart shell and arrange the wrapped asparagus on top. Bake in a pre-heated 220ºC oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool a bit and serve with a green salad. You can slice the tart any way you like depending on how many people you're serving.

Lunch is served - it was good, too !

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yellow Tulips

Just a few more signs of spring around the house.

Yellow tulips - not sure what variety - come up next to the well.

There is a fake well in our back yard. I call it le vrai faux puits (the genuine fake well). When we moved in, it was planted with something called saxifrage ; both inside the well and around its base were overgrown with the stuff. We took them out, and found a paved path around the well. The next spring, a single yellow tulip came up where the saxifrage was. Here's a post from last year showing the well.

The saxifrage puts up purple flowers on stalks in spring.

Muscari (grape hyacinth) also comes up around the well now, too. And we've planted black-eye susans there. Some of the saxifrage survived, but it adds to the mix, so we left it.

The star-shaped yellow tulip from above.

This year the yellow tulip has multiple flowers and is thriving. Inside the well, we planted lavender. It's doing ok, but there are some bare patches. So last fall, I dug up some bellflower (campanulus muralis) from out front, campanules in French, and planted it in the bare spots. It's doing fine and starting to put out its little purple flowers now. Over the next few years it should spill out over the side of the well and be quite nice.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Salt Point, California

Obviously not France. Back in 1996, when we lived in San Francisco, Ken, Collette, and I went camping with our friend Sue (the one who made the cutting board) up at Salt Point State Park on the northern California Coast. Those of you who know northern California know that it is often quite foggy along the coast, and the weather during our July camping trip was a bit damp.

Ken and Collette enjoy the view of the Pacific Ocean on the Sonoma coast. That's one happy dog ! Normally her ears pointed straight up - this is her famous Yoda pose. Bark at you, I will.

Still, we had a great time climbing around on the rocks along the coast. Salt Point is in northern Sonoma County. There are a few wineries just over the hills and many more in the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys, beyond the reach of the fog. There's a historic Russian settlement at Fort Ross. And there is an amazing little chapel on the side of the road near Sea Ranch.

The Sea Ranch Chapel.

We spent time visiting each of these sights and enjoying the contrast between the foggy coast and the hot, sunny inland weather. Cookouts were de rigueur at the campsite. We had plenty of wine and food and dry wood for campfires.

Seals relaxing on the rocks just off shore.

Sue had dyed her hair blue just for fun that week. Not little old lady blue. Blue as in blueberries. It's Sue's favorite color. When we arrived at the campground, we asked the park ranger if our friend had arrived yet. She had a little trouble finding Sue on the list, so we said, "She has blue hair." "Oh yeah," said the ranger, "she's here ! Site number 125 !"

A kind of lily grows among the rocks at the beach.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spring In The Vineyard

Since January I've been trying to get back into the habit of walking every day. Before Collette died, we walked just about every morning for 14 years. After, I took fewer and fewer walks, then stopped all together. And I gained a few pounds. So I started walking again in January and now the new dog will be here in three weeks, so I'm getting some good practice. This week, the waning moon is setting in the morning after sunrise.

The sun rises over our little hamlet.

My walk is pretty much the same every day : out into the vineyard on the dirt road to where it ends, then turn around and come back. It's a thirty minute walk when I walk briskly and a portion of it is at a slight incline. I don't go if it's raining. Thank goodness that it's warmed up since January. This is the first week that I didn't wear a scarf and gloves.

The wall of the maison du vigneron, a little stone hut in the vineyard used for storage.

I had forgotten that when I go every day, I can see the subtle changes that take place out there. The vines get pruned, then the buds form. The cuttings get all lined up between the vines, then they get ground up into mulch by a machine. Trees flower. Wildflowers come and go. The grass grows and leaves appear. Sometimes I see wild hare or even deer. More often I just see their tracks. And now the cuckoos are back.

Spring wildflowers.

The other day I took the camera out to capture some of it. It won't be long now until everything leafs out, including the vines. At that point the vineyard becomes a great sea of green. I can't wait.

The grassy vineyard at sunrise.

You may be wondering what varietals they grow out there. I can't tell them apart, but I know that there are at least five kinds of grapes out there : cabernet franc, gamay, côt, pineau d'aunis, and sauvignon blanc. We buy wine from the owners of most of the vines behind our house, so we've talked to them about what they grow. They told us that the vines just outside our back gate are 100-year old pineau d'aunis. They use that to make their rosé. I can tell where the sauvignon blanc is when the grapes appear - they're the white ones ! Otherwise, I can't tell.

Cab franc ? Sauvignon blanc ? Gamay ? Your guess is as good, if not better, than mine.