When you are spending time with Artie, you notice uneven ground more. I didn’t even notice this before. The first place it became apparent was in Europe this summer. My family had already been there for a week when I joined them in Prague. I couldn’t get the 3 1/2 weeks that they were spending on the trip. I barely put 2 1/2 weeks together. But, there I was finally in Prague. The first thing we decided to do was walk to a beer garden on a hill over the Vltava river. When we started to walk, I immediately noticed that the street was cobblestone. The twisting and turning of my feet on those stones was excruciating. I walked several blocks and then started to cry.
When we first started talking about going to Europe the Christmas before, I had asked my son if he thought I could make it. He assured me that we would all sit down and decide on what we would do each day, and if I thought it was too much, I could stay near our hotel, or sit and drink wine and nibble cheese and somebody, or several somebodies would stay with me. Here I was, on the first day of the trip, and I couldn’t make it to the top of the hill. They finally called a cab and a couple of us rode up the hill, while the others walked.
It was wonderful on top of the hill…the first of our amazing public spaces in Europe (something you don’t see much of in the U.S.). There were tables near the edge of the hill, overlooking the river. People go up there in the evening to talk to their neighbors, enjoy a glass of beer or wine, and watch the sunset over the city. There is no technology, no media, and it costs no money. The only music is an occasional street performer. There are so many wonderful domed churches and government buildings, and they glow in the setting sun. So tranquil, and joyful! We thought that this was unique to Prague, but we began to see it over and over again in European countries. The parks have beautiful monuments and statues, celebrating the brave, or the talented sons and daughters of the country. There are snackbars with sausages and popcorn, and there is a lovely outdoor restaurant with much fancier fare. People of many backgrounds and means wander throughout. When we were in the nicer restaurant area, people with babies and dogs were summoned by customers into the restaurant area for people to coo over. No one seemed to notice what kind of clothes each were wearing, or how much was being spent on dinner. Uneven ground.
The cobblestones were not the only challenging things underfoot. There are many steps in Europe, and steep alleyways. In Paris, the Metro train is underground and one must navigate steps downward, only to go back upward and then down again to get to a train. The Catacombs under the street of Paris are a popular site to see, but 200 steps descend into the Catacombs, and then crawl 100 steps back up to the city. This is not a place for Artie, with tourists eagerly ascending behind a slow climber in pain. Likewise, the Metro stops are few and far between, and distances to the Louvre, the Arch de Triumph, Monmarte, and Notre Dame must be covered on foot. The path through the Coliseum and the Forum in Rome is steep in places, and is also accomplished by scaling steps and dodging through tunnels. Uneven ground.
And so there we are, seeing the wonders we have heard about all of our lives. Some of us in wheelchairs, some of us with canes, some of us holding onto the arm of loved ones. You will see us sitting on benches or standing for a moment in the shade. Some of us barely leave our rooms because the uneven ground is too challenging and painful. One is struck by the overwhelming numbers of older people on tours, trying to act and look youthful. But Artie is often with these groups, making the walk along the Seine a short one, or cutting the shopping trips to the local outdoor markets to one or two shops at best. The dreams of a lifetime are taken when the money and time are there, but the youth is not. Artie is the villain in this story, and one has to try hard to overcome the uneven ground of cobblestones, wealth, steps, age and infirmities.