Recently I accompanied my partner to a work conference in Milan.
I visited Milan 30 years ago and found it less than compelling at the time. As I am not in the fashion industry, Milan is somewhat wasted on me.
I traveled anyway with an open mind, hoping I would feel differently all these years later. Sadly, I did not. It’s definitely a bit too industrial and spread out for my tastes.
My partner took some time at the end of his work-week to hang out and explore some options outside the metro area. I thought a trip north to the upscale resort area of Lake Como, movie star George Clooney’s much-talked-about adopted home, would be fun. Given our time constraints, I opted for an organized tour to travel the hour-plus to this region.
“I wish I could report that I always score well in this endeavor.”
Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at finding tour operators that cater to smaller groups. Never having been a fan of traveling with an organized tour group in a gargantuan bus filled with a hundred of my closest strangers, I’ve gotten pretty good at finding tour operators that cater to smaller groups. I wish I could report that I always score well in this endeavor. “Always” should just be eliminated from the English vocabulary, if you ask me.
When we arrived at our pick-up location it looked promising. With only two other couples waiting alongside, we got excited about the potential for the day. It wasn’t until we peeked around the corner and noticed a mile-long tour bus already stuffed with riders that we realized what we had actually signed up for.
Timing Is Everything:
Late to board, my partner David and I found aisle seats across from one another. All couple options taken, I sat next to a quiet woman and gave it no more thought. My partner’s seat companion was an elderly, frail-looking man. When David approached the open seat, it was already half-filled with the man’s spread-out leg positioning (we all know what that looks like). To boot, his stuff spilled ever-so-slightly over onto the adjacent seat. Enough to make the available seat not so available — and definitely not comfortable.
The older gentleman, missing all the visual and social cues to move over, left my partner with no other choice but to verbally request this individual to self-contain a bit, allowing for a regular-sized human to actually fit in the seat. Of course, this exchange was irritating to us both. But we were also sympathetic to the man’s apparent advanced years and maybe, just maybe, not running at full mental capacity.
A Cautionary Tale:
“I communicated to my partner, in our own couple shorthand, why I will no longer wait to explore the world.”
During the ride, I seriously found myself concerned about this passenger’s ability to navigate what lay ahead on our long day. I glanced around to see who, if anyone, was in charge of this older gentleman.
I communicated to my partner, in our own couple shorthand, why I will no longer wait to explore the world. Suffice it to say, I am not taking any chances with my aging process. With no guarantees for my mental and physical capacity 10, 20, even 30 years down the road, I am seizing the moments now. To me this elderly tourist provided a cautionary tale. The hour-plus bus ride was punctuated with several moments of him nodding off and unwittingly re-taking some of the previously negotiated personal space boundaries. My partner and I felt badly for his predicament. We, also, congratulated him in our own heads for continuing to live life and take risks.
Our first stop of the day was the tiny, walled town of Como. After a 15 minute over-explanation of the layout of this approximately 14-square-mile town and about 100 reminders of our meet-up time and locale, we were finally left to our own devices. Once alone we promptly forgot the elderly gentleman. Outside of deciding to be early to board for the drive back to Milan to ensure we could sit together, we dropped the matter.
“this individual morphed from a semi-inspiring example of elderly determination into a creepy, lecherous, self-entitled metaphor of white male privilege”
As the day unfolded and our large group loosely interacted with each other in casual recognitions during our comings and goings about town, the frail old man transitioned. At first, we were happy to see that he was not so frail. He was able to navigate the many stairs around the hillside town, all the while clutching a Nikon DSLR camera.
But over time we began to notice more of his behaviors. Right before my eyes this individual morphed from a semi-inspiring example of elderly determination into a creepy, lecherous, self-entitled metaphor of white male privilege. All the while triggering a PTSD in midlife I didn’t even realize I had.
My Lifetime Experiences Flooded In:
At the risk of angering a whole slew of boomer white men, my boyfriend included, I must say that this was my experience and my perspective – alone. It is built upon a lifetime of being the target of such individuals. I know there is an even bigger slew of that demographic who don’t behave that way, but sadly it was all those moments of being bullied, or imposed upon, or targeted by old men that generated PTSD and triggered me as I watched, peripherally, how this man targeted a pretty young woman. With long, beautiful black hair, perfect skin, and a welcoming smile, this young lady was hard to miss. Apparently, even by Mr. Not-So-Frail.
While I hate sometimes the invisibility cloak issued to me by society somewhere in my early 50s, at times like this I am grateful to fly under the radar. And even though what I witnessed was not happening to me, my body’s reaction was visceral. I was repulsed. Watching and overhearing snippets of conversation, I deliberated getting involved. I played out conversations and actions in my head. My thoughts ran from pulling the young woman aside and offering help to shaming the perpetrator in public. In the end I said nothing, wondering if maybe the young lady was enjoying the attention. The young woman didn’t appear to be overly bothered and seemed plenty capable of handling the situation herself.
From sympathy-engendering feebleness to #metoo in the span of a few hours. I know the world is changing. And, I already see in my son’s generation a self-awareness about appropriate versus inappropriate advances. That brings me some peace, alleviating a bit of the need to intervene in the goings-on of what is hopefully a dying breed.
PTSD In Midlife Triggered:
“from a collective energy, it had EVERYTHING to do with me”
What surprised me about, well, ME… was just how triggered I was by events that had literally nothing to do with me. Literally not, but from a collective energy, it had EVERYTHING to do with me and all the countless other women who have spent an inordinate amount of their energy fielding cat calls, receiving unwanted drinks at a bar (as a gift — with expectations, of course), and shrugging off undesired hands from the smalls of our backs in public arenas — all while listening to that idiotic internal voice telling us to rebuff the men politely, because scene-making is oh so unladylike.
While I don’t regret my decision to stay in my own lane that particular day, I did walk away feeling the need to share the experience with women of my generation, in a cathartic effort to purge the lifetime-brewing fury that I felt that day. I’m hoping I read that young woman’s casual air correctly. And I’m hoping that decades from now, if she witnesses a similar transgression, she’ll be able to just laugh it off and think, “Wow, I thought men stopped doing that shit back in the 20th century.”