I’m a self-aware hypochondriac.
For example, my hand shakes (probably because I’ve been carrying a baby for half an hour and the muscles are tired) and this little part of my brain pipes up, that’ll be the first sign of parkinsons disease. The other parts of my brain scoff and roll their eyes. So it’s okay. I’m not completely mad. And I don’t have any serious illnesses; I just saw too much ER.
But I think I’m coming down with something…
I have a wandering mind and it keeps wandering across the oceans back to lovely New Zealand with all those beaches (which we rarely visited) and mountains (which we mostly looked at from a distance, pretty though they are) and top notch fish and chips for just a few dollars (of which we partook far too often).
On Saturday we drove to Luuk’s work to swap our tiny car for his new bigger one (both are company cars so this is exciting, but not that exciting). Much of this route is the path we drove that first morning when we’d just arrived in Paris. It all looks very different today – trees are green and there’s a notable lack of ice. I was thinking, as we drove along, about how overwhelmed we were then, and how ho-hum it is now, to drive the motorways and find a restaurant, to order lunch and juggle babies and pay the bill.
We are still often surprised at what we get, after ordering from foreign menus, but Cafe Gourmand is a familiar menu item and this is the best one I’ve seen so far: a chocolate macaron, creme brulee and something creamy (possibly fromage blanc) with berry coulis.
The mini-octopuses in my main course were a less pleasant surprise but yummier than I expected.
One of the main symptoms of homesickness is comparison. The comparisons, even if they favour the new place, become more and more regular.
And they come up in conversation all the time.
When I was twelve my family moved to Hong Kong. I remember, after having been there for just a few months, my friends complaining that I was always on about New Zealand. I even did a geography assignment about Mt Ngarahoe. Mt Ruapehu was erupting at the time but there was no article about that volcano in our copy of Encarta (a CD Rom Encyclopedia pre-wikipedia)… And it wasn’t as if there was a book about NZ geography in the school library. New Zealand really is tiny and easily ignored by the rest of the world.
Well, except at the olympics. And in rugby tournaments. And actually in lots of things, though we are perhaps over-represented in sports. But we’re still little and most people don’t know, or care, that we were the first entire country to give women the vote, and that the first person to top Everest was a kiwi.
One of the symptoms of homesickness is extreme patriotism and a desire to educate anyone and everyone about just how fabulous and unique a left-behind-home is.
Yesterday we went for a walk in a nearby forest. The forests here are different – for starters there are whole forests within the city. And of course the trees are very different.
Most of the differences are things I know are different but I don’t actually see or notice. Walking through the forest here is not so very different. The path we took was wide but many of the others were more narrow, like NZ bush paths usually are. I know NZ has unique flora and fauna, but I don’t know much more than that. Still, on Saturday evening, at the pub after writers’ group, I did end up talking to someone about why NZ birds are so brilliantly unique.
In case you can’t tell, I’m trying to focus on the perks of being here. We are learning french and can probably be near-fluent within a year or so, if we apply ourselves. The food, of course, is fantastic, and I walk a lot more than I used to which means I’m more fit, healthy and toned. I have committed myself to my writing in earnest and perhaps this might have happened in NZ, but my isolation here has been a great motivator. Paris is meant to be a key place for a writer to write… sentimental nonsense perhaps, but my romantic heart quickens…
Our options for places to go on holiday in Europe are rather legendary, but this is dangerous comparison territory because most of our holidays in NZ were visiting friends and family… who I now miss dreadfully.
One of the downsides of my creative wandering mind is that I play out these horrific worst-case-scenarios that usually involve serious illness, devastating accidents, betrayal, death… I don’t dwell on these things but the possibility of bad things happening often pops into my head.
One of the challenges of being here in France, is that dealing with disaster would be much more difficult. How would I, for instance, communicate to an official that my kid had wandered off? Panicking, as I surely would be, I don’t think I’d remember an ounce of French.
I shouldn’t think about those things, and yet, perhaps in the interest of being prepared, I should. Being careful isn’t always enough to prevent disaster.
Anyway, moving away from that dreary line of thought, I have realised that when we leave France we will miss our friends here just like we now miss those back in NZ. This is the pitfall, of course, of all this accessible international travel. All my closest friends and family will never all live in the same city. We are spread out across the globe. I will always be missing someone.
And yet life is so much richer for all this international-ness. Once again, a full, rich life is not necessarily easy. In many ways, I suspect, the things we could do to make life easier would also make life smaller and less vibrant. If we’d wanted easy we wouldn’t be in France at all, and that would be a great loss.
One of the things I can’t get my hands on easily in France is peanut butter. We have a small stash from the Netherlands. Tonight I’m going to use a large dollop of this making vegetarian satay for dinner. Back home I wouldn’t hold back on the peanut butter… ah, home.