By Diana Hottell
When WestView Publisher George Capsis met my husband and me last year, while we were “awaying” on Thompson Street, he invited me to write a few articles from my slant. Now we’re back home, which is in a small town in the mountainous West. George gave me the okay to recap our celebratory peregrinations.
Bill and I used to be adventurous, when travel wasn’t packaged, tailored, and safe, when we’d be gone for months at a time, incommunicado. But when I got the idea to try something like that again for our 50th wedding anniversary, we caught fire. “Old couple, 77, 70, locks door and steals AWAY”—I could see the headline.
We chose three places for two to three months each, got apartments, and stayed put. For each place we visited (lived in)—New York’s Greenwich Village and Harlem; Western Samoa and Moorea (near Tahiti); southwest France (Sarlat)—we moved into a place with a kitchen, collected maps and transportation schedules, and delved into local newspapers. We stocked up on books, uncapped our ballpoint pens, and filled three fat journals each.
Bulletin boards alerted us to concerts or lectures or happenings. Knowing we had “X” number of weeks in a place allowed the days to unfold organically and without urgency.
In New York, we went to one Broadway play because theater, for us, was on the streets and in the subways. In Moorea, our room was an extension of the balcony overlooking a peak-surrounded bay, where we ate all meals (I cooked). We bought our daily baguette and hands of tiny sweet bananas across the road. In Sarlat, our apartment’s French (of course) windows let in the liquid tones of the language during market days.
Jean, our Tahitian landlord, told us we were his first “old” Americans to stay there. I got it: Young travelers just sleep there and then zip off! We, on the other hand, would sit on our deck eating breakfast, then spend a couple of hours on Jean’s patio reading and writing. We told each other about our lives. I went with his wife to yoga.
There were times when we were taken for venerable elders (no, really). Samoans were gratifyingly impressed that we’d gotten that old. Any number of times people on New York subways gave me their seat, which always stunned me since I forget—but thank you.
Not only was I NOT on display, I was free to be myself—and let me tell you, there’s more to me at 70 than there was at 26. There was no need to prove myself—to me or to others—any more. I was free to NOT frantically sightsee, or do things harder or cheaper than anyone else, which was a habit we fell into as world wanderers back in the 1960s.
The moments of stillness were often the most rewarding—those times when I breathed deeply and remembered my existence in this exquisite world. It could happen during the drying cycle in the laundromat, say, or standing in line at the post office, or caught in traffic on the 8th Avenue bus.
Staying in one place, one neighborhood, for several weeks at a time allowed us to get into a routine, and led me to coin the term “deep travel.” We got to know specific grocers, some of the homeless and their territories; we had favorite corners and favorite street performers.
We relied on local buses and trains. Most of our time in New York was spent on subways. In Moorea, we had to hitchhike, which revealed a world not in the guidebooks. It’s where we heard personal stories about the place, adding to its richness. In France, most of our time was spent walking the hills around the town.
When we got home after seven and a half months, I realized that something had shifted in me. The whole concept of “home” had expanded. I had brought back the eyes of an “outsider.” I noticed different aspects of the landscape, the houses, the people. I was suddenly happier in a new way to be back where I could once again be part of the fabric of one single, very special, place.