Category Archives: Travel

Lessons in Catalonia (aka Barcelona)

My Dear Friends and Family,

Do you remember back in September when I wrote that I was trying to learn my smother-mother lessons…?

“… I have three daughters.  My oldest daughter and her husband and their 16-year old daughter decided to move to Barcelona for a year…”

Don’t tell anyone, but I flew to Barcelona anyway….

This is what I did learn.

10 LESSONS IN CATALONIA (aka Barcelona)

1.  Eat Tapas 

2. Walk

3.  Eat Tapas 

4. Shop

5. Eat Tapas

6. View the artists from Picasso to Miro to Gaudi to Mercedes Pasquale

7. Eat Tapas

8. Pay for Tapas

Cash Machine

9. Important vocabulary: Hola, Gràcia, Mucho Gràcia, Te Quiero

10. Eat last tapas before leaving

Traveling to foreign cultures is a balm for the spirit.

No twitter. No tweet. HEAVEN!!

Travel offers perspective. Try this one for size…

Every country carries it’s own political baggage. At different times in history, some of that baggage is heavier that at other times. For me, the week away lightened my overloaded brainball.

I recommend trying it… and the tapas!

Love, Sally-Jane

P.S A little smother-mother goes a long way… like, over 3000 miles.

COME TRAVEL WITH ME…

ACROSS THE POND AND INTO THE WOODS OF THE GERS AND THE CITIES OF LONDON AND DUBLIN…

baggage

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.

FriendsThe 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?”

Seven

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.

Dublin shamrock

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 et Marc

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.

Hotel Past  hotel-suite.jpg

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!

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.

Tony

“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.

James Joyce Slept Here

James Joyce Slept Here!

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.

Pope's Arrival

(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???

You betcha! SJ Surprise

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.

SJ in pool

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!

SJ Dance

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!

BON VOYAGE.

Love, Sally-Jane

 

To Go or Not To Go?

I was afraid.

I am not embarrassed to admit it.  I wanted to make the trip, but I didn’t want to make the trip. How could I not want to travel? I have always wanted to travel and I always have. As often possible and to destinations around the world. I got so good at it that I could actually make a trip with just a carry-on.

What happened?

Why did this opportunity to travel to France and England feel like I was being asked to climb the Matterhorn in heels? I broke through an age barrier. I was over 80 and I was going off on my own. That’s what happened.

Oh, sure, I would be meeting with friends and family.  But basically, I was going on my own.  I would not have a group identification number. No one would be handling my baggage… and my friends, gone are the days when I could travel with just a carry-on. I have to make room for all possibilities and my exercising and stretching equipment.

Yes, age definitely demanded a different kind of attention to the details of travel. Is this what Bette Davis meant when she said, “Growing old is not for sissies”?

Let’s get one thing clear. I want to grow old. I want to grow very old.  I want to be the oldest old lady on the planet. But I  was having difficulty with that wish and desire coming together with the reality of what I could and couldn’t do.

Let me tell you what always got me into trouble.  For too long my bywords were, “I COULD DO THAT”.  And every time I did do that which I thought I could do and couldn’t, I paid the price.  Here’s how I think… there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences.  Well, my consequences forced me into a new set of bywords, “I USED TO DO THAT”.

If I took this trip, would I be able to “keep up” and not “try to keep up”, or pretend I was still 60 and could climb and leap over rivers and streams?  The fear and the challenge were palpable.

Well, my friends… I did it!

I left on August 17th, traveled with family to southern France, to see the most wonderful exhibit,  Annie Leibovitz: The Early Years: 1970-1983 at the Luma Arles.  It is a brilliant exhibit offering the early years of her work, once more proving she is the Cassandra of photography.

While there,  the sights and sounds of Provence and the Camargue and their crazy version of bull fights.  Here’s a fun video showing what the bulls think of all this…

It was in Arles as I was walking in the town that I realized how good I felt.  I wasn’t afraid of what might happen.  I was thrilled with what was happening.  I landed.  And I landed on both feet and they were carrying me to new places and new peoples. I was challenged each day by deciding what I could or couldn’t do… and after a very short while it became easier and easier to know, “I can do this” or “I cannot do that”.  Freedom, my friends. New found freedom. A different kind of freedom.  Hooray!

It was then onto my friends in Gascony, Mary and Barry, who bought a derelict chicken house 30 years ago and turned it into a provincial French/English country house and something I think Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II would approve (after all this is the part of France that did belong to England for many years).

From there I journeyed into the small medieval fortified village of Lectoure (this area is part of the 100 years war and so many other wars) where I met my new best friends, Thierry and Marc who own a fantastic hotel, L’Hôtel Particulier Guilhon,  in which my room belonged in two different centuries, one of the past…

Hotel Past

and one of the future…

Through them, I met another new best friend, Pascale, who gives new meaning to eclectic vintage clothing… no one does chic like the French.

Dans_Lectoure_cafe_des_sports

For me, the best reasons to travel belong to the cultures you breathe and the people you meet.  And once I decided that it was all right to not do it all… to do what I could do… it all fell into place.

I left France full of canard (duck), cream, butter, pate (we drank it all day), and of course, le pain (bread)… not to say my insides didn’t beg for relief but once I arrived in London and could eat a simple sandwich and some unadorned meats and chicken, all was well.

In London, I met up with friends, whom I had met when my over 50-year-old daughters were 7, 9, and 11.

BlumenfeldatCanaryWharfLondon

And the coup de grace was visiting my gifted friend Helaine Blumenfeld and her husband Yorick (doesn’t look anything like Hamlet’s friend) at their home in Grantchester (love the series), en route stopping to see her brilliant sculpture in Canary Wharf in London.

I must say by the time I came to London just knowing I was 3 days away from flying home, I was ready.

Yes, growing old may not be for sissies… but growing old has its advantages… list your own… because believe me, those advantages are to be celebrated.

And with all that I have enumerated in this testament of aging travel… I leave you with the best advantage of the whole trip.

ORDER A WHEELCHAIR… and if the pusher is cute… ENJOY!!!!!