I was having breakfast, espresso with a cookie, Italian-style, when my mother emerged from the kitchen waving a small book in her hands. “Look what I found!” While I am an equal opportunity junk disposer, throwing out everything and anything that I feel has no longer a purpose, my mother keeps the strangest things, like a diary from 1984 that, apparently, I took it upon myself to fill every single day of the year.
It’s a tiny thing, with the dates of the passing days embossed in gold at the top of each page, in which I annotated briefly events of note and random thoughts, with a constancy I was not aware of possessing yet. Reading it didn’t make me feel sad or regretful: rather, it immersed me in the woman I was 30 years ago, affording me a glimpse of those traits that haven’t changed a single bit. Amid scribbles on how my final thesis was proceeding, the death of two friends (one suicide and one overdose) and my parents’s slow progression towards divorce, I looked straight in the face at the fierce and protective love towards my sister; my loyalty for and pleasure in the company of my friends, some of whom are still in my life; my fluttering about from boy to boy – Andrea, Douglas, Nicky, some of them barely remembered; my vanity. None of this has changed much, aside from the fluttering about. Above all, one sentence struck out: as I was nearing the end of college, there must have been a battle brewing between my parents and me. I wrote: “they want me to find a good job in some big and stable company. Being ambitious is hard work.” Not only does it transpire that I already knew that a carbon copy of their bourgeois and solid life was not for me, the seeds of my stubborn nature were already growing into a healthy plant. I was going to do what I was going to do.
While I enjoyed whole-heartedly the privileges of their bourgeois life, as I was fond of calling it with scorn in my voice – those pages are a cavalcade through Christmas vacations in the Alps, trips to Florence, Milan and Rome to visit friends, a whole Summer spent in London (albeit working) – I was happy to leave it all behind.
I grew up and I grew older on my own terms. And am I glad I did. And there is no reason I cannot keep on doing so. Serendipity was at work – I am not a big believer in fate but I like the concept of serendipity – that very same evening when my childhood friend (and dance muse) Silvia took me to see a contemporary dance show shrouded in mystery. “You will like it” she said “and it’s up Campari and Sofa’s alley”. She was right on both counts.
The show, “Journey”, is the brainchild of Belgian dancer and choreographer Koen de Preter, 33: only two performers inhabit the bare stage, de Preter himself and 89-year-old Alphea Pouget, a former ballerina and dance educator.
Conceived as a piece that would bridge the gap between young and old, in a society that worships youth, it’s also a lyrical exploration of what links two people several generations apart, in their case, a love for dancing.
But de Preter must have known the stage would belong to Ms Pouget, whose body is indeed diminished by age and no longer capable of the agility that characterizes corporeal self-expression but still able to sustain a full hour of steps and gyrations; still full of curiosity and self-awareness and, above all, still relevant.
The show ends with the two protagonists shedding their clothes, side by side, to reveal not so much the ravages of time but how much strength can still be there. It was moving and inspiring.
As we age, we tend to feel a loss of relevance: no longer able to navigate a technology that changes more rapidly than we do; no longer employed; no longer able to elicit desire. No longer. But what if this was just our mental doing and society’s fallacy?
In his latest monologue at the end of his weekly tv show, Bill Maher argues that wisdom, and not youth, is what our society needs, especially when governing is at stake. He takes the examples of California’s governor Jerry Brown who, at 76, took a state that was bankrupt and with some of the highest levels of unemployment in the country and, in just over three years, turned it around to the point that our coffers are flush and our people are working again. He did it by using his experience and his wisdom – he had seen it all in his nearly eight decades on earth and knew how to react.
What reading my 30-year-old diary showed me was that I am still me, the core traits of who I am haven’t changed; in fact, they have been honed, and I am wiser, more patient, with others, with life and with myself. I might turn fewer heads but I have a lot more to give than just my prettiness and my enthusiasm for life. Given the right circumstances, I am more relevant. We all are. And we do ourselves, and society, a disservice by fading away willingly.
89 years old and still dancing: a graceful woman. And a stubborn one. Worth remembering next time I whine about getting older.
It looks like the show has exhausted its European run but for more information, please check here.