To Asparagus, With Love

As anyone reading this blog can tell, I am sometimes conflicted about being an International Mama. On the one hand, I love that my kids will (hold thumbs, touch wood) be trilingual and have a broad view of life and the world. On the other hand, I am afraid that they may feel rootless and on the periphery of all cultures, as I often do.

This weekend, though, I felt a renewed joy at being an International Mama. All because of a bunch of asparagus.

When I first arrived in Paris from NYC in May 2001, I dropped off my bags at the apartment my law firm had rented for me and then jetted off to work on a case in Frankfurt, Germany, where I would remain for the next two weeks. I remember those two weeks in Frankfurt as being cold and gray, but I was enchanted anyway. I was in Europe! I was going to live in Paris! Everything was delightful and strange –the way people actually sat down and had lunch together (instead of eating alone at your desk as we did in NYC), the heavy, old-fashioned room key that opened the door to my hotel room, the excessively long, impossible to pronounce street names. But the weirdest, most wonderful thing I recall about these first two weeks in Europe was that I happened to arrive in the thick of asparagus season.

Before that time, I don’t think I ever gave a thought to asparagus having a season. Hell, before that, I didn’t give a thought to any food having a season, except for maybe cantaloupe and watermelon. But if you ever spend time in Germany in late April and May, you’ll not soon forget spargel season. It seemed like a festival. Asparagus was everywhere, on every menu, overflowing on every market stand. Mostly the thick white variety, but also slim green stalks too. I ate it with pasta, on pizza, and drizzled with butter. At the end of my first week, my new boss took me to a restaurant that offered a spargel special, where your appetizer, main course, and dessert all featured asparagus. Out of curiosity (mainly about the dessert), I ordered it. It was asparagus cream soup, asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, and asparagus sorbet. It was all fairly tasty but that was it for me and spargel. I did not eat another stalk of asparagus for the rest of the season.

Anyway, last Saturday, I was grocery shopping with my kids on the fabulous rue Montorgueil (another reason I’m happy to be an International Mama), when I saw the market shelves loaded with asparagus. I felt a burst of happiness. Instantly they transported me back to those days when Europe was so new to me, like a gift I had just unwrapped. They reminded me of how (before culture-shock set in) I was eager to immerse myself in new cultures and new languages. They reminded me that I chose this confusing, exhausting and exhilarating expat life. Most of all, they reminded me that I’m not just standing on the periphery of someone else's culture, looking in from the outside. So many aspects of German and French culture - like looking forward to eating asparagus in the spring -have seeped into my life and become a treasured part of it. I may not be fully integrated into French or German culture (or American culture for that matter) – but I am creating a family culture that draws from all three of the countries that influences our lives. This gives me hope that my kids will be the global citizens that everyone insists that they will be, finding strong roots in their hodgepodge family culture.

I bought three bunches of asparagus that day. Later, when my husband saw them in the refrigerator, he shouted joyfully “Spargel!” like a little kid who wakes up remembering that it’s his favorite holiday. I cooked them that night (steamed with olive oil, parsley and a chopped hard-boiled egg) and together, my family and I savored the taste of spring.


Anonymous said…
Lovely post, Barb! So well written. And makes me want to get some asparagus, too :)
Laura said…
What a lovely post! Spargel! Oh, the white delicious Spargel! Remembered it by reading your post and now my mouth waters and I'd just run out and get some Spargel if it weren't for the fact that there is no white Spargel to be had in this area - unless imported from Greece - and it just is not the same. One can get very good green asparagus though and sometimes wild one, as well. In our family, one has special Spargel recipes. Did you know one has to add a pinch of sugar to the water when boiling the Spargel? Do you have a Spargel pot and if not, do you know the trick how to boil the stems and steam the tops?
I lived in Spargel country in Germany and now I live in France. Used to live in the UK and US too. So like you I have many homes and none at the same time, the nucleus is the family. A traveling mental home, so to speak! Don't worry about people staring at you or your husband. I was a "foreigner" for all my life. Like Vladimir Nabokov said: "Once an emigrant, always an immigrant." If it weren't for you the world would be less rich in people who dare break the mould.
Bonjour, guten Tag and hello from the southwest of France, near Toulouse.
Barb said…
Sion & Laura - Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

Sion - definitely run out and get some asparagus right now. So yummy.

Laura - We do have a spargel pot! (My husband loves stuff like that)Didn't know about adding the pinch of sugar, though. What's it supposed to do?? Thanks for your encouraging words on our multicultural lifestyle! I love hearing from others who have similar experiences.
Jamie said…
I saw the comment you left on my Daily Tiffin post and was intrigued so I popped over here for a visit. Lovely lovely post and you may have just reignited the spark buried inside of me - I'm at the tale end of 23 years of expat life and am very tired. Your blog may just open my eyes and see the new again.
Barb said…
Hi Jamie - thanks for reading and commenting. Aw, that's great that my post helped to refresh you. Kudos to you for surviving 23-years abroad! I can only imagine how tired you must be....

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