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.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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