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Senior Living: Home is where the heart is

As you age it’s easier to be more comfortable where you live

Liane Faulder spent a week in Paris living in an apartment in the Montmartre district.
Liane Faulder spent a week in Paris living in an apartment in the Montmartre district. Photo by Liane Faulder

For decades, a signature fantasy accompanied most of my vacations. The fantasy was that I would buy a home in the place I was visiting.

Pushing a baby carriage up and down the streets of the hilly British Columbia resort community of Fairmont Hot Springs in the late 1980s, I pictured owning a home on a nearby golf course. I had no money. I didn’t play golf. Still, every cedar-shingled cabin with a view of the mountains was a siren call.

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In the 1990s, while staying at that three-star all-inclusive in Mexico and enjoying a cocktail at the swim-up bar, I wondered if a modest Mexican condo was an option — if not now (again with the money) then in retirement. At that point in my life, the perceived indolence of senior living shimmered like a mirage on the horizon, infused by a similarly fuzzy sense of hope.

Celebrating a girlfriend’s big birthday in Paris in the mid-aughts, I thought I could get by in something like the tiny flat on Rue Montorgueil that we rented if the trade-off was a fresh croissant with my coffee each morning. That my French was poor seemed but a trifling distraction.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about a home in a distant locale that appealed. Maybe it was just that the weather was better. Or perhaps it had something to do with wanting to be someone else, living someplace else.

One of the wonderful things about travel is the sense of possibility that opens up in a new time zone. Even shaking the wrinkles out of my clothes while unpacking on a holiday used to shake things up for me mentally. By the time I donned walking shoes and stepped outside to sniff the air of a different neighbourhood, my mind teemed with “what-ifs?” and “just maybes.”

Recently, however, something shifted. I felt it this fall, when my husband and I spent a few days in Rome. We stayed in a no-frills rental in Trastevere, a charming neighbourhood on the west bank of the Tibor that roils with humanity, day and night. Its byways are narrow and twisting, with restaurants and bars lining streets unevenly cobbled with inky black squares of stone. (Don’t even think about wearing heels.)

Spooled with strings of tiny white lights come night, parts of Trastevere are as touristy as an Aperol Spritz, and for the record, just as compelling. Our flat was a few hundred metres from the 12th century Basilica di Santa Maria. The church fronts a piazza with a fountain and layers of steps that invite lounging with a gelato in hand to just take it all in. One night, an excellent blues musician played a horn across the square from the church while a curly-haired woman danced exquisitely and with abandon all around him.

But even while revelling in the street life, or enjoying a creamy plate of the classic Roman cacio e pepe, I noticed something different on this holiday. There was no second-storey apartment window in Trastevere festooned with a line of drying laundry that beckoned to me. No tiny interior courtyard or neighbourhood café whispered my name. I passed leasing notices posted in storefront realty offices with a shrug. I did not want to buy a home there.

This made me a little sad and I wondered what it all meant. Perhaps it was merely that my home-purchase fantasies were always ridiculous, and that insight finally caught up with me. That happens a lot with age; possibilities abound with youth, and narrow as the decades pile up.

But it’s also that my viewpoint is changing in retirement. It’s as if the camera lens of my cellphone has flipped around from photo to selfie. No longer pining to capture that different, distant place, I find myself more comfortable where I already live, both metaphorically and literally.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve been decluttering my brain in retirement, trying to shed old expectations and constraints (more on that in another column). As a result, there’s more room for the mind to roam, more places for the imagination to happily frolic. It also seems as if there aren’t as many responsibilities or issues to run away from anymore.

That doesn’t mean I am not still excited by the possibilities that life offers; the tantalizing unknown is always out there. But it just no longer involves real estate.

— Liane Faulder writes the Life in the 60s column.

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