ACROSS THE POND AND INTO THE WOODS OF THE GERS AND THE CITIES OF LONDON AND DUBLIN…
Alright already, so what is this 85 year old woman, who on too many occasions still thinks she is 55, trying to prove???
For indeed, mid-journey, as I packed and unpacked on yet another leg of the trip, and stretched my back hoping to remove the cricks and creaks from my spine, ordered yet another wake-up call and taxi to the airport, that question was a constant.
I dared not look in the mirror for the answer. I was sure to discover I had morphed into a female facsimile of The Ancient Mariner.
How did what was supposed to be two weeks and a couple days turn into almost a month? Well, I am glad you asked. I’d like to know how that happened, too.
The first invitation came from my good friends in the Gers (an area between Bordeaux and Toulouse), an area of ducks, foi gras, armanac, truffles, and brilliant wines.
The original plan was for me to stay 2 weeks and then go onto London to see some other friends and then home. It would have been 2 weeks and 3 days in London. Doable!
The plot thickens. I have three daughters. My oldest daughter and her husband and 16-year-old daughter decided to move to Barcelona for a year. They were going to be in Barcelona when I was in London. I thought how wonderful. I shall fly from London to Barcelona and help them shop and move in and do all the mother things I am trained to do. “Here! Let me do that for you.” “You really don’t want to do that, do you.?” “I think this is a better idea, don’t you?”
Well, thank goodness I have another daughter who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. She called me after she learned I was going to fly to Barcelona. It went something like this…
“Mom, what planet are you on. You do not want to do this. She is just getting to Barcelona and she doesn’t need you to show her the way… YOUR WAY! She needs to make her own way. This is not about love mother, this is about her choices not yours.”
My reply: “Well, she didn’t say anything.”
Other daughter: “Did you give her a chance to?”
All right already. I got it. I called and told her I wasn’t going to Barcelona. Her sigh was heard around the world. There was only one problem. I had already changed my flight to fly to Barcelona and then home from Barcelona. My agent informed me to change it back again would cost me another ticket plus she couldn’t get me out of London except for another week in London, unless…unless…
Yes???? Unless what. If I flew from Dublin she could save me some money…
Dublin??? I’ve never been to Dublin. I always wanted to go to Dublin… see the Abbey Theatre… pretend to be Irish for a couple of days.
Yes! Let’s go to Dublin.
So a two-week trip suddenly got to be 3 weeks and a couple of days.
Now, I finally healed a fractured third lumbar of my spine. I knew extending my trip would give me some bumps. I thought if I was careful, I could do it. So I went for it.
I flew to Paris and then from Paris to Toulouse and my adorable friend Mary picked me up. My friends have a beautiful house but wherever I travel if I can I make it a policy to stay at a hotel… I live alone and over the oh, so many years, I have, what shall I say,… developed, alone habits and eccentricities. Just very personal preferences nothing illegal… although these days, that might be hard to prove.
So I had previously stayed in the Hotel Guilhon in this medieval walled village of Lectoure.
Thierry and Marc, the owners and dear friends from a previous stay, who greeted and treated me like their long lost Brooklyn relative. Oh, yes, born and bred in Brooklyn, and even in the Gers they heard of the place.
Their hotel is a 17th century ancient that has been brilliantly restored… only 5 rooms but each room is a decorator slice of heaven.
They serve a lovely continental breakfast with fresh fruits and croissants and brioches, boiled eggs if chosen… and for special guests from Brooklyn, Thierry would make dinner. Simple, elegant French cooking at its best. And last year I was introduced to the beautiful, inside and out, person, Pascale, who drove me everywhere and introduced me to second hand and antique shopping. Nothing like being in a place that goes back a few thousand years to discover the culture of the place you are visiting. And since Pascale had her own shop she really knew what she was talking about. Pascale, Thierry, Marc and moi… The Four Musketeers! Or, as I called them my very special French Mafia!
So what could be wrong?? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
Except in the middle of the second week, my aching back got a little more aching… too long away from the body workers that guard my spine.
Grid your loins… that’s easy for you to say! However, at the appointed time, I flew to London… and of course, the new way for me is the wheelchair. Oh, my friends, I shall never understand anyone who can choose a wheelchair not choosing one. Afraid to admit how the apparatus ages you…. not on your life… literally as well as figuratively. Think of what you would look like after rolling your luggage through a terminal that makes a football stadium look like a puddle. No! Thank you. Give me my wheelchair and let the vanities be damned.
London was great… back to the Royal Automobile Club around the corner from Buckingham Palace. (I was terribly sorry to miss tea with the Queen, but I only had 4 days) The club is convenient and the concierges Geoffrey and Martin, extraordinary helpers, especially my Irish friend Martin with his beautiful brogue who outlined my entire program for Dublin.
But while in London, it was the meeting up with friends… you know the kind of friends I am talking about, the friends that belong to a very special club… THE WE’RE STILL HERE CLUB!
As I look through my little phone book…the crossing out of names is on every page. Of course, I don’t need a reminder of my mortality… truly at this age it circles my head like a flea or fly or on certain days a buzzing mosquito or bee. Shoo it away, my friends, just shoo those suckers away!!!!
There was a very special event with one of my friends. Sculptor extraordinaire, Helaine Blumenfeld, had a special exhibit at the Ely Cathedral, outside Cambridge …oh, the joy of ongoing creative excellence that Helaine gifts to the world! For me her work is a constant reminder of how to pursue the artistic passion of our gifs. Bravo, Helaine!
And then, it is off to Dublin. I don’t know anyone in the city… I know some of its history and its poetry and plays and novels… and that could be said to give me a sense of its people and it gives my journey an excitement for the new and unexplored of all the places I have thus far been to.
When I go to a city I have not been to before, my plan is to find a driver and car to acquaint me with the particulars of the city. I checked into my lovely hotel and requested said driver and car. And then made a quick addition to my request.
I have a hearing problem… I have great what I call “vanity hearing aids” You cannot see them… but I know about accents… and I know about the Irish accent having tried it in a couple of O’Casey plays. It’s difficult and understanding it is more difficult. So I requested someone who doesn’t have a thick brogue.
The next morning I came down to the desk and explained I was waiting for a driver to pick me up.
“He’s here.” And up came Tony…with his lovely Irish lilt… totally understandable, “Sally! I’m Tony. Welcome to Dublin.” He plunks my cheeks with a kiss on each and I knew I would have a wonderful time with Tony in Dublin!
And I did.
There are so many wonderful aspects to Dublin and of the Irish.
Having traveled a bit, I want to say that the Irish are communicators. With or without a pint in their hand they want to talk. They want to know who you are. Where you come from. Who you voted for… Oh, yes, big topic was our political situation. (TRUE EVERYWHERE I WENT!!)
For me, their political situation was a big topic. They were one of two countries that stayed neutral during World War II. That for me, considering they made nice with the Nazis, was something I wanted to know about. And a very simplistic answer was that’s how much they disliked the British. And if you know the history, even a little bit, it could explain it, but does it justify it? The jury is still out on that.
As the days dwindled down to a precious few, I was ready to go home.
(Even the Pope’s arrival in Dublin didn’t delay my departure. I tried to explain to him that next time he should have his secretary check with my secretary.)
HOME… and the extra special benefit of flying from Dublin is that it is one of the few places that has American custom agents in Dublin so that when you check through customs in Dublin you are finished. Arrival at JFK meant just getting into my wheelchair and being rolled to a waiting car to take me home.
I DID IT!
Sooo, even with the gathering fatigue and aching joints and back, was it worth it???
New faces, old faces, new countries, old countries… wonderful.
My friends, no matter what we say or do the years keep climbing… and our mission if we choose to accept it, is to learn to accommodate, adapt, and yes, slow down.
It is difficult for me because somehow I equate slow down with death.
There, I said it.
The question somewhere inside not hidden too far away from my consciousness, WHAT IF…???
After a bad bout of the flu, a fractured spine, fear of flying became fear of dying. Little did I know how important planning and traveling was going to be to my ongoing life. And that’s the thing isn’t it? Until it isn’t … it is ongoing.
Listen loud and clear… all you control freaks (even those who don’t think they are control freaks)… your due date is out of your control. And this is a good thing.
I still have some shelf life left. Hooray!
Try this to test for your own ability to plot and plan… put your right hand onto the inside wrist of your left hand. Can you feel it? You can??? Brilliant!