I celebrated my 70th birthday last month. Seventy. Seven-zero. Who thinks about turning seventy, at least much before they are 69?
When she called on my birthday, my friend Becky asked if I was saying the number out loud. (She celebrates her 70th birthday this week.) Hmmmm. It did kind of stick in my throat temporarily. Like a new year or a new address, seventy takes getting used to.
I am trying to wrap my head around this number. Honestly, I find 70 to be something of a surprise. How did we get here, I asked Becky? I don’t feel much different from my 50’s. I suppose it’s another riff on “where did the years go?” (The week before my birthday, Steve and I celebrated our 45th anniversary and the week after our son celebrated his 40th birthday — talk about being gobsmacked by ridiculous numbers!)
In my family, we own our age. We celebrate with parties and cakes. Although since my birthday comes on the heels of the holidays and in the midst of what my mother used to refer to as the “January festival,” I am increasingly inclined to let it slip by. Not because I dislike birthdays (the other option is not at all appealing), but really because the month is just. too. crowded.
This year, however, the question of celebrating or not celebrating isn’t the issue, it’s the number. It’s potentially intimidating!
But, it turns out, seventy is sort of trendy.
“Inside the List” in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, makes the same point. Nancy Pelosi was just re-elected as Speaker of the House of Representative. She’s 78. In January Glenn Close won a Golden Globe for Best Actress. She’s 71. Jessica Benett’s essay in the January 8 Times, “I Am (an Older) Woman. Hear me Roar” ticks off the names of a number of women and even more statistics that support “our” growing power.
As Mary Pipher points out in “The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70’s“, “There is a sweetness to 50-year-old friendships and marriages that can’t be described in language. We know each other’s vulnerabilities, flaws and gifts.” That was the lesson of my 50th high school reunion, where one friend pointed out that it’s oddly comforting to be with these people who had shared so much of our daily lives, often from kindergarten or first grade all the way through high school graduation. We weren’t all best friends, or even friends for that matter, but we were classmates. In it together.
Pipher believes that some of the strength and resilience of our older selves is credited to “a shelterbelt of good friends and long-term partners.” I second that.
There are losses, some expected and some not. When I mentioned to my family doctor that I had suddenly and unexpectedly lost a dear friend, he gently pointed out that I was getting to an age when that would happen. When my friend Barb’s mom passed away a few months ago, I realized she was the last of “that generation” in my life. My parents and in-laws, along with the aunts and uncles and family friends that made up that generation that provided the buffer between us and mortality, have been slipping from lives for some years now. It is what it is.
But life goes on. I have been blessed with grown up children who are fun and interesting, a pair of grandsons to keep me on my toes, and a wide circle of interesting friends. Steve and I are planning some new travels once his chemo is in the rear view mirror. I have always been a glass-half-full kind of person.
We started planning our month-long trip to France somewhat whimsically, by listing all the things we wanted to see if and when we went back Giverny, home of artist Claude Monet and his famous garden, was close to the top of my list. Fast forward to our itinerary and Giverny was a logical first stop when we arrived in Paris last September. It’s a relatively short trip from the airport and a logical first stop as we moved toward the coast to Rouen and Normandy.
Most travelers arrive in Giverny by train from Paris. The guidebooks are full of tips on how to do this. Others take one of the many bus tours that originate in the city. But, since we were picking up a car at the Paris airport, we would be making the 70 km trip on our own. How hard could this be?
All roads do not lead to Giverny. In France, road signs point to the next town no matter how small it is, rather than the next landmark site. (This is an important lesson for drivers there.) Although everyone goes to Giverny, it’s not immediately a road-sign destination.
This did not matter (ha!) because we decided to let Google Maps lead the way. We also turned on the voice (a feature we had not used in the past) and away we went, figuring “she” would not lead us astray. (“She” because we used the default female voice, though after a while “she” acquired new, unflattering nicknames. Steve would have switched to the male voice, but wasn’t sure if someone at Google had a dark sense of humor and the male voice might decide “Hey, I’m a guy, you’re a guy, you don’t need directions.” )
Google Maps did exactly what we wanted: got us out of the Paris airport without accidentally circling around Paris, which is what happened last year. As an added bonus, Google Maps would continue to direct Steve even if his navigator (me) fell asleep, which also happened last year.
But on the way to Giverny, Google led us to a cow path between pastures.
There were a few things about Google that we didn’t realize. Google defaults to the fastest route, even if it is only a minute faster to exit the “A” route and travel down a one lane donkey path between farm fields. After getting us out of CDG, Google could have sent us down the A13 to Vernon, across the Seine and directly to the Monet Foundation. But she guided us west to a four lane route, then to a couple of 2 lane routes, before finally telling us to turn down what appeared to be a cart path between corn fields. Steve decided that wasn’t going to happen. Google re-directed us to the next turn, another cart path. We couldn’t do that either because there was already a car parked on it, the driver looking at his cell phone and scratching his head. Instead we drove on to Vernon, recalculated using the word “Monet” as the destination, and in 5 minutes we were there.
Another key lesson in Google directions: choose the most specific destination.
Monet lived here!
Monet lived in the house at Giverny from 1883 until his death in 1926. Located between Vernon and Gasny, the property included a barn that he used as a painting studio. As his prosperity increased, Monet acquired more land, including garden space, and built a greenhouse and another studio. Work on the lily ponds began in 1893 and he began painting them in 1899. The resulting large-scale paintings were his work for 20 years; the completed paintings hang in the galleries Monet designed for them in the Orangerie in Paris.
Most of the guidebooks are quick to point out that the gardens at Giverny are at their best in June and July. That may be true, but they are absolutely not the least bit disappointing in September. Look at these blooms — waves of blue, purple, yellow, red, and pink flowers, sometimes sorted by color and sometimes mixed together, dahlias as big as dinner plates, mums, lilies, and many others I cannot name.
And then there were the roses, so many roses, not just in “the gardens,” but lining the paths around the restaurants, lift shop, etc.
I was prepared for Monet’s gardens, but totally blown away by his home.
His study is papered in paintings, floor to ceiling, in a room with light and of course views of that garden. His collection of of Japanese prints lining the walls of the narrow hallway and stairs (these are not grand spaces).
Back to Google
After Giverny, we hit the road for our hotel in Rouen. Back to Google. Steve keyed in the destination using the hotel name in Rouen, about 60 km to the west. Google selected the same hotel name, but in a different city, about 50 km to the east. About 10 km later we turned around.
In the coming days we traveled to Arromanches and Bayeux without much trouble; Steve is sure we went through some narrow roads that were totally unnecessary, but the scenery was nice. On our way to Mont-Saint-Michel, Google had us turn onto another cart path. We were pretty sure the major road a few hundred meters ahead was what we wanted, but Google took us on a merry run through the cornfields before leading us to the correct.
This is when we began listing our “Google lessons.”
There is no option to tell Google to stay on the major highway when possible. Why, you might ask? Certainly we asked that a lot. We have no answer and doubt Google has one either. Interestingly, there is an option to tell her to avoid major highways. This is great if you want to wander the backroads and I understand doing so from time to time. It’s not so great if you want to find the town you are going to stay in before dark.
Sometimes Google has no clue where you told it to go, but will give directions to somewhere, regardless of whether it’s anywhere near your desired destination.
Sometimes Google was simply wrong; “take the fourth exit at the round-about” when there are only three exits. Or “take the second exit at the round-about, when the second exit goes into a shopping center or is simply the wrong road.
Google gives turn directions based on street names. This works well in U.S. cities, but not always in Europe. At roundabouts, the French list the exits in terms of the town you will be heading toward and/or the route number, not the street name. And Google sometimes goes completely astray pronouncing names. Since we almost never saw a street name, it didn’t really matter, but the pronunciation sometimes gave us a good laugh. Near Antibes, Google told us to take the exit to Nice (not “niece” the French city, but nīce, as in how nice is that) and to exit onto Rue-de-la-Europe (as in your-roup-pey).