Most travelers have it some time or another. You’re watching the passing show, enchanted, transported, when you suddenly realize you’re not in it. That’s just what it is, a subtle feeling of not belonging. Here is this exotic world but you’re passing through. It’s someone else’s, and not your own.
I’ve been walking for hours, up and down the crazed labyrinth of the Old Quarter with it’s innumerable craft stores, diligently building a map in my head to keep myself oriented and able to make it back to the hotel in time for dinner.
Along the way I’ve literally lost myself in the river of intense color that drenches this culture, shimmering and glimmering on every sidewalk display in silks of every kind imaginable. I’ve lost my self control, all inhibition and a reasonable amount of my austere budget as I have repeatedly failed to resist fabric that is more ethereal than material, a kind of poetry, haunting and musical. You just want to touch it, feel it on your skin.
Where I come from color is simply not that brazenly emotional. Here it is paramount. In neighboring China color is bright red and gold but traditional and somehow restrained. Here color bows to no-one, it runs the show.
So, three euphoric hours later, I’m back at the lake. It’s still too early to sequester myself in the quiet luxury of the Metropole Hotel. I linger here at the inky evening water. I sit on a stone abutment and rest my elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands.
Next to me is a bag of rustling silk that promises to transform me. I have two dresses of the finest silk. One is the color of the Aegean at it’s deepest, the other a dried antique rose. Nestled around them are four twirly silk skirts in colors that you only see in the most flamboyant of sunsets: saffron, gold, russet.
The lake seems quiet, as though everyone has someone to go home too. I am alone. I begin to think flat thoughts like maybe the silk dresses will look silly on a woman of my mature age. How can you dress up a frump in something as exuberant and lavish as these silly confections I have in my bag.
Someone slips by me, a shadow, followed by another. In the dim evening light they peal off their thin jackets and pile them on a stone bench to the right of me, closer to the dark water of the lake.
The two women stand without talking, waiting. Soon two more women arrive. They do the same and join the group. No-one speaks. Before I can imagine what they’re waiting for women are coming from everywhere. They’re forming a line. Now there is some quiet murmuring, the sound of companionship.
The moon is up high and I am transfixed because this line is now moving in a slow, languid dance as though it was one and not many. The women, all rather dowdy and clearly middle-aged, have all begun to touch the backs of the woman in front of them. Their hands move in concentrated strokes and circles round the shoulders, down the spine across the small of the back.
I’ve never seen anything quite so dear and so beautiful. I am sitting here next to them, invisible and beaming uncontrollably. So this is what the women do. This is how they care for each other. This is how they bring each other to life.
They are the anti-glamour set, beyond silk and color they’re decked out in basic sneakers, sweatpants, Tshirts but, tonight beside the lake in the moonlight, they are radiant.
I dance my way back to the hotel, no longer a lone middle-aged woman with an inappropriate silk purchase, no longer not belonging. I am part of this community, this touching, caring, magnificent tribe. I am human. Watch me roar.