The Secret Life of a Nerd Girl: Life is Just a Bag of Cherries
a blogumn by Gudrun Cram-Drach
I’ve been living in France a month now, riding a Six Flags-grade emotional roller coaster with extreme peaks and dips and all that good stuff that goes along with being in a brand new place where you don’t have a lot to hold on to.
The last two times I moved to big cities, I had the built-in support network of an academic program: instant community and friends. Here it will take more time to find my place and my people, time that I don’t always have. For instance, this week, because of deadlines, I’m not “getting out there” at all, but working at the house.
The house is in a sleepy but large suburb, a bit removed from the City of Lights. I can take a walk, pass a brasserie, and remember where I am, but alone in the house, discounting the French doors, tile floors, toilet in its own room, shower head on a hose, colossal heaps of cheese and yogurt in the fridge, and the lack of a clothes dryer, I have to turn on the radio or the télé to inject some French into my day, and our cable (or DSL, rather, that brings the fancy channels to the tube) has been out of commission for 3 weeks… leaving me with really bad French game shows (the worst is a French version of Family Feud — WHY?), and dubbed American TV shows I never, ever would have watched in English (i.e., Las Vegas, Walker Texas Ranger).
Luckily there is more to watch around here than the télé.
In explaining why there are so many French idioms involving livestock and food—for example, tomber dans les pommes, to faint, literally: “to fall in the apples”, or ça ne vaut pas un pêt de lapin, of no value, literally: “it’s not worth a rabbit’s fart”—my French teacher always explained that France is an agricultural society. I get it now, even in the suburbs, this place is bursting with life. Many households maintain vegetable gardens, and they sell roosters and hens at the pet store. The local pond is full of duck families (-lings included), and trees and grass are vibrantly green and floral in this well watered climate. A bit of a shock for me, after six years in Los Angeles and a winter in Maine.
M (I’ve decided to give my homme français, the real reason I am here, a Nerd Girl presence. Think of him as Monsieur, if you want, or just, M) keeps a large fish tank filled with exotic but not very flashy fish from Lake Tanganyika. There are occasional fish-pregnancies, and in order to prevent infanticide he set up a nursery tank in our shared office. This week, after being carried in the mouths of their mothers until they were big enough to survive on their own (Weird! You could see their little eyes looking out!), 13 baby fishlets were born. They swim around in a little, uh, nursery school and as the person who is around the most, my job is to feed them crumbled up Tetra Pro fish chow 6 times a day. I am so important. No really, I am.
On one of the first days I was here, we noticed a bird couple (maybe colombes) building a nest in the tree in front of the house. For three weeks a motionless bird sat on the eggs, and now it’s full of wiggly little gray things. I can’t wait until they start flying.
The most fun and most preoccupying thing growing around here is our veggie garden. I always thought I wanted a garden but never had the yard space for it, well, I’ve never had a yard. M started it before I came, and now I work in it while he’s in the salt mines. It’s addictive: pulling up weeds is like popping a never ending roll of bubble wrap, I just can’t stop (and neither will they). We harvested and devoured our first crop last Saturday night. Eight strawberries. Still to come: zucchini, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cauliflower, raspberries, rosemary, and mint (for mojitos of course).
To top off my agriculture/nature-place cornucopia, the neighbors just gave us a sack full of cherries from their house in the country. Fruit tastes better when you know who picked it. We will stock them in plums when our tree ripens up. Hopefully our garden will runneth over so much that we become the annoying neighbors everyone runs from because we’re always trying to give away zucchinis.
So as all these little things grow around me, I can easily believe in the process of life and change, and know that my world here in France will grow and ripen as well. Like the fish and the veggies, I’m but a baby here, a seedling taking root. I’ll get the language, I’ll find my people, I’ll settle in. If I can’t always get out and about, at least I can immerse myself in the non-verbal side of French life.