Autobiography & Memoir
The Lady in Red
Last October I travelled from Thessaloniki where I had spent a fascinating month in what had once been the second city after Constantinople in the magnificent Ottoman Empire. I then took a short flight to my beloved Chania in Crete where I was volunteering at a five day Transpersonal Psychology Conference - Eurotas2014 at a deluxe resort further down the coast.
I had to get up to let a well groomed elderly lady pass by to get to her window seat. As she squeezed past with her 'excuse me', I detected her guttural German accent. But more than that, I was amazed that a woman so elderly was carrying a large bright leather red handbag. Red is a statement colour at any age but this was a very old lady. I complimented her on her posh designer bag. She seemed pleased I had noticed. I observed her more carefully. She was wearing an off white Victorian style cotton pleated blouse, high up to the neck with an original Victorian pearl and gold pin brooch. Pearl studded earrings, I should say from the 1950s when gold and pearls worn together were fashionable after the non glamorous war time. Over her blouse I noted a Chanelesque lemon boucle wool jacket. All in all she looked chic. She thanked me for the compliment, settling down in her seat fiddling with the security belt and smiled at me as if she wanted to start a conversation.
I jumped in wanting to know why she was travelling alone off season to Chania. She explained she had come from Munich and was meeting her daughter who had invited her to celebrate her 90th birthday walking in the Samaria Gorge. I knew walking was a German pastime as I have a German friend, Wolfgang, who lives in Chania and in the tourist season escorts German groups into the famous gorge. Also I had met a 70 year old German lady artist Helen Ida who lived in Palechora, Southern Crete. she told me that she was well known throughout Crete for having walked everywhere on her island.
I just could not believe this well coiffed lady was 90 and wondered if I would be wearing red mixed with purple at her age being a member of the eccentric Red Hat Society! She continued in her good broken English, which was improving with practice as it was evident she had not spoken English for decades. She informed me that she had been a GP back in The Black Forest as was her husband and that they had worked together as a team. She had been widowed for 20 years and I wondered how she had spent those years in retirement as a black widow.
I asked her what was her secret recipe for longevity and a flawless complexion. She told a good healthy diet and walking. She was a vegetarian but did eat grilled fish. She did not go to a gym or do exercise, yoga or meditation. Also she spoke of her daughter and her grandchildren as she had outlived her husband, colleagues and most of her friends.
We did not discuss the colour red. I only thought about that later as I too have always worn bright red lipstick and red accessories mainly with black clothing. More recently I have mixed white into the equation creating an excellent fashion combo. Today, a year later, I wear the Spanish colours of red and yellow. I am a Fashionista and want the 'I want to be noticed' look!
I questioned her about the war. I had never met a 90 year old who would openly talk about the war especially someone from Germany! She told me she had avoided being a member of the Nazi Party and had suffered hunger as there had been a shortage of good food in her area. We forget the German people suffered too.
I confessed to her that at the end of December I would be 70. She laughed as for her that age was nothing. We both agreed that today 70 is really more like 50 providing you are in good health. Then we stopped talking to concentrate on reading the highly sophisticated Aegean Airlines 'Blue' magazine with gorgeous travel photographs on high quality glossy paper. No wonder Greece is bankrupt!
The flight ended after an hour. I wished her Gut Reisen and off she went into oblivion. However we ran into each other at the passport control queue. She smiled at me knowingly with a twinkle in her eye and in passing told me that the best years of a woman's life are between 70 and 90! Then she was gone for ever!
Her words of wisdom stunned me! What did she mean? I really wanted to ask this seemingly conventional woman what she meant. Had she had a lover or companion at the age of 70 after a 50 year old marriage? My cousin Eileen in Vancouver, who had all her wits about her to the end, had a companion 20 years younger during the last years of her long life and even at 90 outlived him! I will never know the answer. Had the lady in red travelled? Had she got involved in charity work or even helped refugees having a medical background? What was her philosophy on life at this mature age? What had she learned in those interesting 20 years without her husband about Life? How had she benefited from her freedom after such a long marriage? I never even knew her name nor she mine. I can't even imagine what ordinary German name she might have. Marlene, Ursula, Christina or Gudren?
I will never know the answer to the riddle but a year later I have not forgotten the lady in red and have promised myself I am going to enjoy the next 20 years of my life finding out the answer. !n shaa Allah!
Jilliana Ranicar-Breese, October, 2015.
Written onboard the Easyjet flight from Seville back to London with a restless loud irritating child next to me breaking my concentration! How I longed for the lady in red to be next to me instead!