Tagarchief: ageing

La Prozia

(the Great-aunt)

Mid july, on my last days in the Marche region in Italy, I found myself warmheartedly adopted by the family of Marcello. He and his parents, uncle, aunt and great-aunt live together in a large three level house on the outskirts of a small town near Ancona. With every family branch on a different storey, most of the living is done communally on the first floor. Eating, drinking home made wine, watching the news, chatting.

On many evenings his sister, her husband, different cousins, nieces and nephews join the table. Marcello’s family owns a vineyard where his uncle, aunt and parents spend a lot of their time taking care of the grapes and creating lovely wines and grappa. If, of course, his aunt and mother are not occupied in the kitchen creating the most delicious meals.

Marcello’s great-aunt, the mother of his aunt, needs some extra care. Her memory is not what it used to be. Fortunately, her children found a way of taking care of her together. During the summer time she stays with Marcello’s family. But when the busy harvest season starts, she moves to one of the other couples, nearby, into a different house. Somewhere during the year, she moves again. This way, as Marcello put it, every family takes its share in caring while it never gets too much.

My first thought, that it could be quite challenging for her to get used to a new house every trimester, faded immediately when I looked at her, sitting at the big dinner table, and thought about what she was part of: a close, loving family. And she could eat (at least 4 months a year, that I know of) the BEST food in Marche, with a dash of home made wine in her glass of water at every meal.

Italian family

(From l-r) Marcello’s Dad, Great Aunt, Mom, Sister, Brother in law, Uncle, Aunt, Niece, Me, Marcello

 

 

 

 

 

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Estonian encounters

Good afternoon and greetings frrrrooommmm Latvia!

Some lines about my encounters in Finland and Estonia – though possibly the best part of Estonia, my stay in Kilingi Nomme, I have yet to put in another blog. Also, some of the pictures (mainly from Jens) are still on my big camera, in my car, in a different part of Riga where I am writing today.

Finland had been an short but nice stay. I loved the weekend at Marja’s summer house (->last post), walking, talking and taking a Real Finnish Sauna. On top of that, I had the pleasure of meeting her old mother who asked me to put curlers in her hair to look beautiful the next day at the activity care. Also the city of Tampere, the glass factory in IIttala, the enchanting scenery of the hilly south and the pleasant hospitality of my friend Miia and her flatmates made my stay worth remembering.

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Sauna in Hummpila

I arrived in Estonia, Tallinn to be more exact, in the early evening on the 22nd of May, after a beautiful boat trip – eight hours shorter then the Stockhom-Turku line and free of the frightful army of drunken teenagers. I spent the day in Tallinn, strolling through the medieval streets where I bought some drawing material so I was more prepared to start talking to strangers. I met up with Marie, a young brave violinist and world cyclist from Tallinn, who was a bit sceptic about my ideas of talking to any strange Estonians (“Estonians are, well, quite afraid of people”). So we used my new pencils to draw our own ideas about growing older while listening to the medieval performance of her colleagues.

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Tallinn

On Saturday I took the car -unfortunately not my debit card- to a place called Padise. Only two characters away from Paradise, I was welcomed by a mixture of Russian and Estonian hospitality, consisting of many many sausages and some warm home made socks. And more sauna, of course, this time accompanied by some Lithuanian mud and a bunch of cosy mosquitos.

On Sunday I drove South. Well, from now on, I will mainly drive South until I hit Greece in… August? After some time of seeing nothing but unspoiled nature, I suddenly passed this sign.  There’s no smoke without a fire, so I turned right just to find a well hidden, beautiful old house with quite a lot of old and/or disabled people sitting on the veranda. After some time of enjoying our mutual communication difficulties, one of the fairly moving veranda sitters went inside to dig up Jens from Hamburg.

Jens was 64 year old and the only German speaking inhabitant of the house. Why a 64 year old Hamburger, who never lived in Estonia nor doesn’t speak Estonian is spending his days in a state owned elderly home in the middle of Estonia: god only knows. I think I was his first visitor in the home ever (“Mein Sohn und ich, wir leben auf unterschiedligen Wegen”) and sitting on that veranda we had a nice, sometimes a little confusing but warm conversation. The birds (“Meine gute Schwalbenfreunde”) were chirping while Jens told me about his life, how he travelled the world as a sailor and about his passion: collecting music records. He also told about how he lost everything, including his music, the connection with his son – and my guess, probably some clarity- when his wife died in 2000. How he was happy to be in such a calm and peaceful place in Estonia, although sometimes maybe a bit too silent.

Jens' house

Jens’ house

Jens showed me the house, an old place, with quite some people laying in their beds. Smelling, of course, of old life in an old building. Smiling and running nurses and well made tables with bread and milk, I could somehow understand that Jens didn’t mind spending his days in there. After all, it brings the certainty of a daily bread and a warm bed. With a smile on our faces, we said goodbye and with the promise of trying to send him a picture of himself with his friend Raúl, I left the premises.

Jens and Raúl

Jens (l) and Raúl

On my way to Kilingi Nomme, a small town in the South of Estonia and part of the Cultural Villages of Europe project. One thing I knew for sure: there were some extraordinary women waiting for my arrival. More about the Cultural Villages, Bert Kisjes, the two extraordinary women, Kilingi and Estonian hospitality in my next blog!

 

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Bus stop

“When older people start to lose some of their memory, they often get the feeling they want to go ‘back home’. You can see them sitting at a bus stop, waiting for a bus to bring them to that unknown but familiar place.

In the garden of my summer house, where no bus will ever pass by, I have my own bus stop. If I ever have the wish to go home, I can come and sit here. Waiting patiently, watching the sunset.”

– Marja ‘Haigru’

my host in Humppila, Finland

 

Going home

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How to talk to strangers

Today I decided I want to ask for your help. I really hope you’re in.

What’s the matter? I’ve travelled through 2,5 of the more or less 25 countries I plan to visit. I’ve had a few really nice conversations about ageing. I met some great people. I’m having a great time, really. But I’m not satisfied yet. I’m especially not satisfied with my own guts: I want to talk to people on the street but I don’t. Or I don’t know how.

Today I spent some time strolling through suburban Stockholm, known as Solna. Solna has some large parks, is home to the new Swedish national football arena and to the academic hospital Karolinska Institutet. It was a beautiful day and there were loads of people on the streets. Many young dads and moms pushing double prams, some students, quite a lot of drunk citizens too, and then, of course, a whole bunch of elderly.

Interesting artifact encountered in one of Solna's parks

Interesting artifact encountered in one of Solna’s parks

When I was walking the streets and parks, musing on how nice it would be if I would talk to people instead of just walking on my own, I thought of Janne. Janne travels the world to seize beautiful moments and she is the uncrowned queen of street conversations. She asks people in trains, ons squares, in bars, in fact anywhere, if they want to share their most beautiful moment of that week by drawing it. Simple as that! And very powerful.

Now, I could simply start doing what Janne does. But even though I’d love to see peoples most beautiful moment of that week, it is not really what I am looking for. I am interested in knowing what people think about ageing. I want to know how they see their future. What it is like to grow older in Estonia, or Poland, or Romania. And when I think of the things I want to know and of drawing and and I see one thing: COMPLEXITY.

 

Therefore I request for help on this matter. Would you know

– THE question to ask – I really like the drawing part!
– any other great ways to talk to (older) strangers on the street when you don’t speak eo’s language
– or any other thing that may help me on my quest?

Please share your thoughts!

And, however sometimes quite apt or at least well-meant, I am not looking for Just Do It advices – I am quite fainthearted on this matter so I want to start well prepared. Ha.

I hope to read your reactions in Turku, Finland, tomorrow night, after an 11+1 hour boat trip. Hej så länge!

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Do you feel rich?

This is a beginning of the story about the What of my travels.

I was on my way to Sweden, passing through Denmark where I met a few very nice, kind and warm hearted elderly. Well, errr, this were people of 65 and 67 and not not by the hair of my chinny chin chin would I ever (or at least not yet) dare to call them old. I met these cheerful people after I’d send them a request to surf their couch*. It was Birte from Sønderborg in South Denmark, and Maja and Erling who live at a very nice house near the village of Æskebjærg, on the Island Sjælland (ok to be honest, I think it is simply Eskjeberg).

[in this place I wished I could share their faces with you, but I decided not to because of of privacy matters]

Bij Maja en Erling

In Denmark at Maja and Erlings place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thought had occurred to me that I could interview people I would stay at. I had been preparing the stays by writing a list of topics and questions growing older that we could discuss. Maybe. If it wouldn’t seem to intrusive or unnatural in the talks we would have. I had quite a long list, with factual questions about family, mobility, spare time, work, politics, shopping, travelling, housing and food. Pretty practical questions, that turn out to be very obvious when you spend 3 days in someones house. No need to ask Birte -for instance- how she gets around, when she just showed me the surroundings in her car and talked proudly about her Couch Surfing Bikes, one for her, one for the surfers.

Then there are also questions that belong more to the personal sphere. Questions about life. About the future, the good things and the fears of growing older. About things that did and did not work out in life. Important decisions that have been made. The question “How old do you feel?” and my favorite up to now: “Do you feel rich?” (Well, what would you say?). On the list are also the more social questions, that require deeper thinking about how growing old is perceived by others in society. How old do you have to be, to be considered old? How old does society want you to become? And what practical changes would ageing mean for your life as you know it?

Pom pom pom pom (F G A Bb)

Until now, when visiting Birte, Maja and Erling, I didn’t do interviews in a strict sense. We walked, we talked, we ate, we talked, we drove through Denmark and we talked. I mostly asked questions, they talked, but not exclusively. Sometimes it felt a bit awkward asking a certain question, but since all three were prepared for an interview they were very happy to answer them.

Maja thanked me for asking these questions, for being interested, saying that the questions made them think and discuss the topic of growing older too. If this should be the outcome of my travels, that I’ve made people think and talk about it together, then I would be a happy camper. Err, surfer.

Some things I’ve learned:
– People generally like to share thoughts about their life. If you are respectful, there is no need for awkwardness.
– The age of 60-70 brings a lot of changes to life. I think I might stick to looking for these seniors throughout my travels.
– Mondays are for long travels or staying in
– Copenhagen is a great city to spend your birthday with friends (thanks for all the wishes through all communication systems imaginable!)

Oh! And then some friends told me about this nice TED blog by Elisabeth Jacobs: ‘What is is to grow old in different parts of the world‘, that I like to share with you. It covers some of the topics that I thought of, but also brings some new questions, i.e. “Do the elderly have special powers?” (haha! cool) and “What are traditions surrounding old age in your culture?”. Nice ones. I might adopt! Thank you, Marieke and Monqi : )

In 10 minutes I leave for a 10 days silence meditation course in Ödeshög, 1 hour north from where I am now. There will be no couches to surf, no questions to ask others but myself, no road to trip… I’ll be back in May.

Lake near Bashults

A small gift of silence from Sweden

 

Happy easter, fijn pasen, glad påsk!

*Couch Surfing is a world wide hospitality network where people offer their couch (or guest room, or even sometimes their garden or simply a nice meal). It is about meeting people from different cultures and sharing experiences.

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