Why you should care
Because in Europe, old people have more fun.
Margarita Gokun Silver is a writer living in Madrid.
I want to grow old in Spain.
I decided that soon after arriving in Madrid three years ago for my husband’s job. Everywhere I looked, women the age of my mother — and my grandmother — drank coffee, window-shopped and strolled the cobblestoned streets with friends or elderly companions. They wore heels, accessorized with bijous, carried Tous purses and claimed the streets with just as much ownership as their younger counterparts.
They weren’t living in retirement communities, driving Cadillacs to Winn-Dixie and interacting only with people whose birth certificates were issued within the same decade. They were integrated.
And nowhere was this as evident as in a water aerobics class.
Aquawellness — as they call it here — is the sole exercise apart from yoga that I can tolerate without excessive eye rolling. In the U.S., bouncing in water while attempting to reproduce a routine designed for terra firma is the domain of those who remember D-Day. In one-piece Chico’s swimsuits and anti-slip pool shoes, their hair put up in rollers right before they get in the water, American aquawellness junkies — and their instructors — could easily be my grandmother. The one time I summoned the courage to join them was also my last. Although my thighs looked amazing in their company, I couldn’t help feeling that I was three decades too early.
Young women who in the U.S. would be doing SoulCycle bob next to señoras thrice their age and think nothing of it.
In Madrid, though, I am right on time. At my all-women gym, I tread water, lift weights and work on my core next to millennials, their mothers, grandmothers and even great-grandmothers. Wearing compulsory swim caps, we flaunt sporty Speedos and gyrate enthusiastically to the sounds of Adele cranked up loud enough for the neighbors to soundproof their windows. Our numbers vary from class to class, but our ranks always include a demographic as varied as that on the streets of Madrid. Young women who in the U.S. would be doing SoulCycle bob next to señoras thrice their age and think nothing of it.
Our instructors are overwhelmingly young men clad in tight capri leggings. When not teaching, they work as personal trainers, and they have the physique to prove it. They stand outside the pool, smile seductively and call us chicas. Sometimes they swing their hips in salsa moves. And although dancing salsa while submerged in water looks more like battling a swarm of bees while balancing on a tightrope, we follow. Later, we jump high — as instructed — for our obligo to show, flock to the sides of the pool to hold pullups and kick our legs with enough force to burn the calories we have yet to ingest during the upcoming fin de semana.
“¡Vamos, equipo, vamos!” Our instructors refer to us a team even though our multiage cohort is as far removed from the meaning of that word as their abs and biceps are from ours.
Yet, I think, we are a team. When at the end of the class I get out of the pool, my hair emulating that of a sphynx cat’s caught in the rain, I high-five the instructor right after an 80-year-old with no visible cellulite and right before a 20-year-old with braces.
“Hasta pronto,” says the instructor. Indeed.