Do you have time enough alone? Is there time in your schedule to do nothing? Is it possible to walk away from the laundry, cooking, cleaning, picking up after small people to whom you gave birth or had a part in creating? Do you have the time to think about ideas to their natural evolution or even to completion?
As a mother and a wife, I am surrounded but happily so (most days). While my children are getting older and more independent, they still need parental assistance. I know that this will change over time. I can see it in the glimmerings of independence that both exhibit. Still there are the meals to cook, laundry, good examples to instil, homework and musical instrument practice to supervise.
My brother, who was born when I was fifteen, and I are both only children from the same family. Consequently for me, being alone is a natural state. I miss it from time to time despite being an extrovert, a wife, a mother. When I was in my twenties and in London, I often travelled alone. I would soon discover that I enjoyed my own company.
However, being a woman traveling alone means the possibility of male intrusion, often unwelcome and unsolicited. While many might argue that this is a blessing in disguise for a mid-forties mother of two, (You still got it going’ on girl! Gettin’ yo’ mojo back!), it’s annoying and undignified for everyone involved. Am I going to find the next love of my life on a street corner? Hardly.
Years ago before children, I was walking home from the local church where my husband and had been married. I was volunteering my time as I was yet unable to work in Australia. Liverpool Street in Darlinghurst had an active population of prostitutes then. A man sitting atop the bus stop bench called out, “How much?” My husband had all kinds of responses for him when I told him the story. My response was silence. I had no reason engage. Sadly, I have discovered that walking anywhere alone as a woman is fraught with indignities and potentially much worse.
After ten years away from Europe, I returned for a month of work in June. I was alone with several briefs to fulfil in several countries. How did I accomplish my goals? By bicycling to all of my meetings.
I knew from previous experience that French men try to pick up women quite aggressively. Despite this, I chose to start the month in Paris because of the success of the Velib, the bike-share program. And because it’s Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Jet lagged out of my mind on Day 1, I took the Velib to pick up a bicycle which Royal Dutch Gazelle Bicycles had kindly organised for me. Later, after adjusting to the traffic, I went to my meetings, dinners and lunches with ease.
Despite having been to Paris many times before, these six days in Paris were remarkable because I was above ground. Previously, I took the Metro which is efficient but hot and dirty in summer. I found above ground to be cool, leafy and beautiful. I was also fast enough to be left alone. I found the separated cycleways of the leafy boulevardes Rochechouart, Magenta and Batignolles, extremely useful. When I stopped moving, I was disturbed only once.
After lunch at the Louvre Museum, I was failing to take a selfie while on my bicycle. A security guard came to my assistance and after taking a few photos he exclaimed, “Vous etes tres belle! Je suis tombé en amoureux!” “You are so beautiful! I’ve fallen in love.” I thanked him and rode away with a smile. I heard none of the usual comments and I was never followed to my destination as I once was the very first time I was in Paris.
At the end of June, I would travel to Lyon to try the Velov’, one of the first successful bikeshare programmes in France. While I was unsuccessfully attempting to remove the bike from its stand, a mid-fifties year old man came by and asked me if I was ok. “Ca va?” He said. “Oui. Ca va. Merci.” I said as I approached the kiosk again to type in the code and attempt to remove the bike. He asked me where I was going. I said to dinner. He asked me to have a drink. “Non, merci.” I said. And with that, I was off.
The phenomena of the “pick up” is not new. I find it wonderful to subvert it while on the bicycle. I’m busy. I have places to go, people to see, meals to enjoy without external involvement. You see, I enjoy my time to myself. I choose to be alone when I can. It’s refreshing and engaging. Try it and see for yourself.