Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Charms of Old Age

Conductor Lorin Maazel  when I first saw him in 1960. He is now 82 (from

There are many advantages in getting old: having more time, getting to see grown up kids and grands, having more freedom, getting a pension....
One advantage we often forget is that old people have witnessed important events There is value in that, if not always pleasure, because many events are unpleasant. I remember reading in the newspaper about the assassination of Gandhi: I had just learned to  read. From meeting victims of the Holocaust to seeing the towers fall, I have heard and seen plenty of evil.
But I also get pleasant memories, of people who met historical figures, and there is plenty of that too, because we live so much longer than in the past. So many of my "memories" go way back to 1900.

One of my grandfathers had seen Buffalo Bill.That was in France, probably in 1905.  My grandfather mimicked the whole show when I was a little girl, and he got just as excited as he had been 40 or 50 years before. Over the course of my life, I of course accumulated live memories of  many actors, singers, musicians who got very old or have now passed away and I wish I had been out more, because now these are very precious memories of pleasure to me.

I once knew an old man who was a little boy when Beatrix Potter was still writing the adventures of Peter Rabbit. He said she did not like children very much... She was a widow without children, and a business women at a time when they were rare, so I am not surprised that she was not very patient.

Of course in 1970, when I joined a science laboratory, there were still in France  scientists who had been students of Marie Curie, and even more who had been students of her daughter and her husband, Irene and Frederic Joliot-Curie.  One of my bosses had known the scientist Langevin, who was rumored in 1910 to have an affair with Marie Curie. He used to call him "poor Langevin," because his wife was, according to him, a harpy and a virago.
My neighbor in Chateaufort near Paris had seen Einstein and Richard Feynman many times, when she got married to a mathematician and lived in Princeton.  She filled me with her memories, not of equations, but of sweet small stories.
One of the favorite professors of my daughter had once helped Einstein change a tire. He said that for a whole week, he had felt brighter than Einstein himself.