By Alice Herb
A month ago I wrote a blog post about my upcoming trip to France to visit a long-lost friend. I can now report that yes, it is possible to travel at age 90 and have a great time. I took the advice of my travel agent and a good friend by asking for wheelchair assistance from sidewalk to sidewalk. The one hiccup in the trip occurred at the very start when the private car service I had arranged for the airport canceled my reservation less than a half hour before I was to leave. Fortunately, my doorman managed to hail a yellow cab and the driver was exceptional, so there was no downside.
A friend of mine urged me to take a wad of $10 bills to tip each wheelchair attendant. That was excellent advice as I later learned when I returned to New York, this time with a $20 bill to give thanks for the help I would receive. I sailed through Immigration and Customs (I did have a Global Entry card) in record time. Indeed, it was my very experienced wheelchair attendant who identified my checked luggage and took me to the front of the yellow cab line, and I was home within an hour of landing. Extraordinary!
Transportation was my primary worry about the trip as I came closer to leaving. The details were daunting. I had to get from check-in to the gate. In Paris I had to transfer to the lounge to await the connecting flight, then from the lounge to the gate. In Marseille, I was anxious because my friend, Michele, had engaged a driver to take me to her home in Hyeres. But when I arrived I was introduced to a beautiful young woman- the driver- and her sparkling new car – and we were off. As a bonus, the Air France flights were excellent and I even enjoyed the Edith Piaf biopic on the way over.
Michele met me at her apartment complex and the visit was on. We were friendly at first but a bit distant. After all, it had been almost a half-century since we had seen each other. Her apartment was very inviting, with a front and back terrace and a bedroom and bathroom of my own. I was immediately comfortable there. In all the time that had passed since we last saw each other she had changed very little. It was the same Michele. As the visit went on, I think we became more and more connected. At first, she did not let me do a thing, but by the time I left, I was allowed to make my own coffee and help her in the kitchen. She insisted on preparing virtually all of our meals but I did lure her out for a couple of meals at restaurants.
Those are just mundane details of the trip compared to what, for me, contributed to the great success of our reunion. It was catching up with each other, asking questions, and debating issues. There was never a harsh word passed between us, despite the fact that we lived together for two weeks!
I told her that I would interview her, knowing what an enormously interesting and unusual life she had lived. She has lived in France for the better part of 50 years. During that time she was a foreign correspondent, editor, and writer for Agence France Presse. She moved seamlessly, as a woman, through the ranks to become a successful, serious senior journalist. She lived at different times in Singapore and Bangkok, spending long periods of time in Asia, (having visited all but two Asian countries) and also Africa. She formed many lasting relationships both professional and personal in Asia, particularly in Singapore and Malaysia. Though I always knew her as a very bright, talented person, she remained the same unassuming, modest person I had remembered. We talked a lot about the people we knew in common and agreed about most of them. We had a lot in common and, given our age difference, that was quite surprising. Our backgrounds are also very different. She was born, raised, and educated in the Midwest but always had a yearning for travel. Journalism came to her rather than the other way around when she was hired by ABC Sports as a translator during the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. She had lived in France long enough to become fluent in French. The rest became history as she concentrated on what became her very successful and happy career.
Besides talking and catching up, we did do sightseeing, shopping, street markets, and supermarkets. I had been dropped into local French life and loved it. No one other than Michele spoke English so I was able to see the beautiful south of France as a native and that was a real treat for me. We visited Callas, a small town, where she had lived for 18 years. By chance, she met her doctor at the market there, and we visited her baker and pastry chef plus others. We had a great meal at a local restaurant and visited and shopped at a local olive oil retail shop that also sold gorgeous Provencal fabrics, accessories, and tableware.
We followed the news and discussed it, but also watched light TV fare, which made us both laugh. In all, it was a wonderful, rewarding experience. It made me remember who I had been and maybe am still today. That was great. I thought I knew what I could expect. Much did not surprise me but it was so much more. I think we forged a strong renewed friendship and I hope she will visit me next Spring here in New York City and on Fire Island.
My pre-trip anxieties were uncalled for. Careful planning can avoid most issues. And there is no downside. Only a new experience that I thought I would never have again! Bon Voyage to all my readers – you should plan a trip immediately!
Alice Herb is a retired attorney, journalist, and bioethics consultant. Having reached the age of 90+, she’s more than ready to share her experiences and opinions with agebuzz readers. Want to comment on something she’s said? She welcomes your feedback at email@example.com
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