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La Grande Dame

The thing I savor most about travel is those unexpected, serendipitous experiences. And the people I meet. Like the priest Mom and I met in Ireland. What a character! More than the food I eat, the sights I see, it’s the people I meet that enrich my experience in a place.

Tirrell and I had a similar interaction yesterday with a woman I’ll call Helene. She reminds me of my adopted grandmother, Helen, back in San Diego, primarily because she, too, is in her 90s and is a bon vivant.

We were strolling down one of the 7 streets in Pignans, France when an elderly woman beckoned us from her doorway. Her hair was down, and she had about 1.5 teeth in her mouth. She asked (in French) if I could help her. I asked what she needed. She explained that she had recently fallen, and her shoulder hurt, so she was unable to pull her hair back with a clip. Could I put it back for her? I was happy to help.

She went on to tell us she was ninetysomething, and had fallen a few times in the past several years. She complained good-naturedly about how hard it was living alone, but fortunately she had her dog companion. She then proceeded to call said dog, who turned out to be the typical French poodle (oui! oui!). I asked the dog’s name several times, but I guess her hearing wasn’t so good, because she never answered.

Never did she ask about us, clearly strangers in the town. She just wanted someone to chat with, and we were happy to oblige.

She probably hasn’t thought back to that blip of an interaction, but I think of it frequently. It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re passing through a place, so it’s experiences like this that help anchor me and give me a sense of place.

UPDATE: a week after I wrote this post, my husband’s family came to town. When they explored the town without us, guess who they met? Here’s my niece helping her with her hair.

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