Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Face in the Window

There is an apartment building across the road from our house. Every time I go out or in the house I see an old woman standing by the window on the second floor. She looks thin and fragile, her grey hair cut in the twenties bob and curl up below her ears, she usually wears a pink sweater, her hands clasps under her chin. She used to stand more openly but once she noticed that I saw her she tries to hide behind the window frame. I feel like smile and wave at her but don’t want to scare her away, she seems shy. What do older people do here? Looking after their grandchildren, going to the store, it is a given but what else?

In Moscow when I was growing up older women spent their time sitting on the benches near the entrances to the apartment buildings, exchanging news, gossiping. They often wore coats even in the middle of summer; their hair usually covered with kerchief .They knew everybody and everything, and nothing could have escaped their eyes. It was intimidating to pass them especially if you were with a date but they did acted as a neighborhood watch and you could rest assure if your kids did something wrong, you would know it by the same evening. Older men preferred to congregate around the tables playing domino, cards and drinking beer. Female or male you didn’t see them much out of their neighborhoods.

In Zagreb it was a different picture. Old people were more active, more visible on the streets, more vibrant. You could often see them strolling in the parks, going through the museums, sitting in the cafes. They even dressed differently: there were gents in casual suits with bow ties, dames in fitted cardigans, grey hair neatly coiffed; there was an atmosphere of elegancy about them. On Saturday and Sundays mornings they gathered in the cafes in groups, laughing, lively conversation flowing, but it wasn’t an exception to see an old lady sitting in the cafĂ© all by herself, enjoying a cup of coffee and her morning paper. (That would have been unthinkable in Moscow. Well, we didn’t have a lot of cafes there either.)

Beijing. Definitely parks, morning or afternoon - you will see the older people there. There is a believe that the morning air is most densely charged with vital energy “chi”, so people start their day by gathering at parks for exercises. You will see one group practicing slow motions of tai chi, the second – some kind of dancing routing, the third will be standing in circle and kicking a feathered ball around, the rest will be using weird looking exercising machines that imitate walking motions. Some old men will come to the park carrying bird. They will carefully put a cage on the tree branch and join in one of the activities.
Later in the day parks will be filled with older people playing mahjong, singing in chorus, flying the kites or playing badminton. Peaceful, that is the word that comes to mind, they all seem peaceful, content.

I wonder where we will meet our old age. Not that I am in a rush, but it would be nice to know.

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