In last week’s post I wrote, “Age alone does not make you irrelevant.” Apparently the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration doesn’t agree. In January, it declared that travelers older than 75 no longer have to take off their shoes to pass through airport security. In its infinite wisdom, our government has decided that after our 74th year, we are officially no longer capable of doing serious harm in the world.
“Don’t deny it,” wrote humorist Calvin Trillin (77) in the New York Times. “That’s exactly what the T.S.A. was thinking: We don’t have to worry about this codger. Let the old guy right through. He can keep on those orthopedic clodhoppers he moseys around in. Why, a bomb would probably slip out of his hands anyway, what with all that arthritis…Also, the way his memory’s been lately, he’s likely to forget about the bomb until he’s standing at the luggage carousel, watching the bags go around and wondering if he’d just gotten off the Greyhound to Des Moines.”
Calvin Trillin hasn’t lost his bite, and neither have a lot of other people who can now breeze through American airport security. Take 89-year-old Zimbabwe dictator and strongman Robert Mugabe, for example. He's been accused of gutting his nation's economy for personal gain, imprisoning and/or murdering political opponents and their families, and unleashing a rein of terror throughout the land. I'm not saying he's admirable, I'm just saying age has not withered him. If I were the T.S.A., I'd want to take a good, long look at his shoes before I let him board one of my planes.
Although I've got a long way to go before I reach the you-can-keep-your-shoes-on age myself, it seems pretty clear to me that lots of septuagenarians and octogenarians are keeping busy without mall walking or Sudoku. Take actor Sir Anthony Hopkins; he's featured in eight movies since 2012, including starring roles in major films about Hitchcock and Hemingway. But of course, he’s most famous for his character Hannibal Lecter, often rated as the number one movie villain of all time.
Hopkins turned 75 on December 31. Go ahead. Call him harmless. I dare you.
Lately, in Seville, I’ve noticed a lot of people wandering the streets in pajamas. Well, not all that many, really, just three in as many weeks, which I suppose is a pretty small percentage of the city’s 703,000 residents. I went up to one particularly befuddled octogenarian and asked if he needed help. He looked at me strangely, like I was the weirdo, and I said, “Because you’re wearing pajamas in the street...?” He laughed. “Necessity. I didn’t have any clothes, and the kids weren’t around so…” He shrugged. Oh well, in that case, I guess it could happen to anyone.
In fact, it happens fairly often in San Anselmo, California, where Rich and I live when we’re in the US. Hanging around the local coffee house, we often see people in pajama bottoms and, say, an inside-out T-shirt, sweatpants and bedroom slippers, a fleece top that looks suspiciously like a bathrobe, or, on one occasion, wheeled in on a hospital gurney wearing full PJs, apparently in urgent need of a cuppa java to jumpstart his recovery. I once remarked to a neighbor a little younger than myself, “Well, it’s nice to know that when I’m an eccentric old lady wandering the streets in my bathrobe, nobody will mind.” “But Karen,” she replied, “I do that now!” Good point. Why wait?
A Californian I know recently remarked, “When you get to a certain age, there are really only two options. Either you stay in the general population and everybody looks down on you and ignores you, or you move to a gated retirement community so you can be with others like yourself.” Really? Those are the only options? I thought about all the people I know in their eighties who are living in the world and busy writing books, leading spirituality groups, driving RVs to Alaska, and, like my late grandmother the silent film actress Ramona Langley, easily holding center stage in any group in which they find themselves. Age alone does not make you irrelevant.
It seems to me that people have some pretty odd ideas about what the Spanish call “the third age.” I once read a blog post called “A Fantasy About Retiring Abroad,” in which a financial planner weighed the pros and cons of retiring in a foreign country. Her conclusion was that it would be utterly impossible for her (and, she implied, anyone with any sense) to live in Europe because the Europeans do not have a “can-do” attitude and frequently fail to meet American efficiency standards. Oh honey, I wanted to tell her, that’s the best reason I can think of for living in Europe. It’s such a relief to live among people who value other things — such as family, friends, slow-cooked meals, witty and intimate conversation — above optimizing time management. It says a lot about our culture that this financial planner couldn’t even have a fantasy that failed to achieve productivity benchmarks.
The great thing about arriving at the third age is that it gives you the freedom to make impractical choices, such as unconventional street attire or spending a weekday afternoon sitting over a long, lazy, wine-drenched lunch with friends. Rich and I once met my Sevillano painting group at a sidewalk café, where we lingered over roast pork and fried fish, sipping wine and beer, singing along with a street musician’s rendering of Bésame Mucho and dancing on the sidewalk to the Anniversary Waltz. As we settled back down in our chairs, we heard cheers and laugher in the street, and looked up to see a bachelor party coming our way. The groom was dressed as a bullfighter, standing on the back footrests of a friend’s motor scooter, waving his hat to the crowd. As he swept past us, we realized his costume was nothing more than a printed apron, and he was stark naked from behind. The crowd roared its approval.
I told Rich this was good news for him, because when he becomes an eccentric old man, wandering the streets without his pants, the Sevillanos and the San Anselmans will take it in stride.
I have so much to look forward to.
There are rare, sublime moments when city planners bring together the perfect combination of vaulting ambition, wasteful spending and designed-by-committee bad taste to produce an architectural landmark so stunningly wrong that it will give everybody something to gossip about for generations. In Seville, ours can be found in the Plaza de la Encarnación.
Photo of Seville's Metropol Parasol Building, popularly known as the Setas, by Rainerkruckenberg via Wikimedia Commons
Picture six randomly spaced towers a hundred feet high and topped with amoeba-shaped, open-weave waffles that provide little protection from sun or rain. The impression is enough like gigantic, interlocking toadstools that they inevitably became known as the Setas (mushrooms). The styling is pure 1960s, so much like the overblown set of some pseudo-hip sex comedy from that era that I keep expecting to see Peter Sellers and David Niven grooving under the magic mushrooms in Nehru jackets.
But as soon as the Setas opened in 2011, even their most outspoken detractors flocked to them. The structure is a perfect rendezvous point, being centrally located and impossible to miss. And it does have some cool features, such as the subterranean Antiquarium — or ANTIQVARIVM, as the sign puts it, to emphasize the fact that there are ROMAN RVINS down there. A skywalk provides sweeping vistas of the city’s rooftops, church towers and the private lives of residents who have neglected to close their curtains. At ground level there are several bars, a farmer’s market and a scattering of shops, including one called Mr. Shoe.
When Mr. Shoe first opened, Rich and I used to stand at the window display and mock their goofy footwear, the kind with rounded, Frankenstein-thick soles that claim to be great for your knees, posture, circulation – and probably your IQ as well, if I ever read all the way down to the fine print. The flagship brand is MBT, which stands for Masai Barefoot Technology, although anything less like naked feet would be hard to imagine. “But then again,” I said to Rich, “you wouldn’t have to worry about…you know…”
Rich has had a singularly unfortunate history with certain shoes. There was the time in the Amazon jungle, when he left his mud-caked hiking boots outside our tiny tent. During the night, a passing local spotted them and decided to upgrade, taking the boots and leaving Rich a pair of ancient sneakers with threadbare canvas tops and no soles whatsoever. Just a year and a half ago, on the way to a restaurant where we were hosting a party, Rich began complaining that his newish and not inexpensive dress shoes felt funny. Since I was hobbling along in high heels, I have to confess he got little sympathy from me. As the night wore on, the soles of his shoes began to crack and crumble, scattering black scraps around the dance floor. By the time we were walking home at four in the morning, the last shreds of the soles had disintegrated, the insoles had dropped out onto the pavement, and Rich was rambling through the streets of Seville in his socks.
“That would never happen with Mr. Shoe’s shoes,” I pointed out. We decided – just for the hell of it – to go in and try some on. Stepping across the threshold, my feet suddenly felt soft and springy and supple. What wizardry was this? Glancing down I saw that I was standing on a mat that proclaimed, “This is what Joya shoes feel like!” And just like that, I was hooked. We tried on various brands, but the extra bounce in the Joyas made me feel as if I could walk from Seville to Bulgaria and back again, then go out dancing afterwards. When we discovered them online for less than half Mr. Shoe’s price (sale models start at $99 as compared to the store’s 169€/$225), we knew they were meant to be ours.
Thanks to his new footwear, no one will ever call Rich soleless again.
For more of Rich’s shoe adventures, see my very first post on this blog, How to Lose a Bet in 10 Seconds.
This post was written in response to questions I've been asked about packing for long and varied trips. Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I haven't obtained any free or discounted gear or supplies in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know what products Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel. Watch for future posts about the garments, gear, gadgets and supplies that find their way into our suitcases and on our feet.
Many years ago, Rich and I were in northern India near the Pakistan border and wanted to take an overnight train that would get us to New Delhi at 7:00 in the morning.
We managed to get a private compartment; there was no bedding, of course, but we made ourselves reasonably comfortable during the chilly night by wrapping up in various sweaters and extra socks from our knapsacks. The bumpy ride was punctuated by many brief stops, and then, at 5:30 in the morning, the train lurched to a halt and stood still. Eventually, Rich rolled out of his bunk and wandered into the corridor to see what was happening. Two minutes later he came tearing back into the compartment shouting, “There’s a guy out here who says this is Delhi! Quick, grab our stuff!” We flung the extra sweaters and socks back into the bags, shoved our feet into shoes, tore down the corridor and jumped out onto the platform.
It was at that point that I began to wonder if we had been a trifle hasty. For one thing, there was no signage of any kind. Wouldn’t the train station of the nation’s capital be marked? We could be anywhere from Saharanpur to Gwalior for all we knew. Had some puckish wag in the train’s corridor decided to play a prank on us? Then there was the station itself. A single dim, fluorescent bulb cast a ghastly pallor over the platform without providing much illumination. Peering about in the gloom, I noticed what appeared to be dozens of sacks of potatoes scattered across the concrete, except that I could see the nearest one was breathing; this clued me in that they were actually people curled up sleeping under scraps of burlap. On the outer edges of the platform, a few men leaned against grimy walls, arms folded, scowling suspiciously. I knew just how they felt.
“You think this is really Delhi?” I said dubiously. But Rich had other things on his mind. “Did we get everything out of the compartment?” he asked. I was pretty sure we had, but he said, “I’d better go check.” Dropping his knapsack at my feet, he sprang back onto the train, striding off down the corridor and out of my sight.
That’s when the train began pulling out of the station.
I hate days that start like that. I never like being stranded in the dark, in an unknown city, surrounded by luggage and hostile-looking locals, before I’ve had coffee. As I was attempting to formulate a plan of action, Rich made a flying leap off the retreating train and landed on the platform beside me. “Nope, we got it all.” “Oh good,” I said. “For a moment there I was worried…”
I love wandering off into life’s little byways and detours, but there are times – such as 5:30 in the morning – when it is a comfort to know where you are. But that’s not always easy, even in these modern times. Seville, for instance, is famous for printing maps that are technically incorrect. Local cartographers take pride in giving you a more nuanced understanding of the city, so they’ll make a useful little alley appear three times its actual size to be sure you don’t overlook it, and leave off streets you’re unlikely to need. I’m forever seeing tourists huddled on street corners, clutching their maps, and wailing, “But it says right here…!” The information fed to your GPS is equally inaccurate, as the city has been reconfiguring traffic patterns at a rate that is apparently too rapid for satellite uploads to track. One friend of mine is always hotly berating her navigation system for leading her down one-way streets the wrong way. I can almost hear her long-suffering GPS wailing, “But it says right here…!”
Track My Tour lets you flag each major stop on your route, then add photos and comments.
So I was naturally skeptical at first when Rich told me about Track My Tour, a free app that uses GPS to create a real-time diary of your trip, complete with a map on which you can mark your progress and add your own comments and photos. But I soon became intrigued by the possibilities, and we decided to track our recent journey from Seville to London to San Francisco.
Luckily, you have complete discretion about who can see your site and what information you upload. If you don’t want the folks back home to know you took an overnight detour to Vegas or that you got off the train at the wrong station, you simply don’t enter that information. And not to keep you in suspense any longer, that creepy train station did turn out to be New Delhi. I’m only sorry we don’t have any Track My Tour uploads that would let you see it for yourself. But maybe some things are still best left to the imagination…
This post was written in response to questions I've been asked about packing for long and varied trips. Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I haven't obtained free or discounted gear or supplies in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know what products Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel. Watch for future posts about the garments, gear, gadgets and supplies that find their way into our suitcases.
This blog is a promotion-free zone!
As my regular readers know, I never get free or discounted goods or services for mentioning anything on this blog (or anywhere else). I only write about things that interest me and that I believe might prove useful for you all to know about. Whew! I wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Thanks for listening.
I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and currently visiting my home state of California.
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