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Nice Places to Visit, But ...

by on June 10, 2015 6:15 AM

VOLOS, GREECE - In the bus station of this small port city in northern Greece I met an American woman who has spent the last two years looking for a place to retire.

As I'm not far from retirement age myself I'm interested in such quests.

Not long ago, my own version would have taken me on a tour of the world's seaport towns until I found one where I could walk from my house to the waterfront every day, stopping at a cafe for a coffee in the morning and a beer at night.

I still like the idea of living in such a place, but now I see that what I would really like is to have already lived in such a place long enough to have a life there so I wouldn't have to start a new one.

Part of what's appealing to Americans about European life is its conviviality. Walking the streets of Thessaloniki a few days ago I saw cafe after cafe filled with friends and family eating, drinking, talking and laughing.

It's a pleasure to see other people enjoy each other's company, but if you're alone it can also be painful.

These days, when I picture the good life the first image that comes to mind isn't a beautiful beach, but a long table where all my favorite people are gathered.

I didn't know this about myself when I was younger. I saw myself writing in solitude and taking solitary walks. Now I crave community and good company.

I came to this realization during my season in Ukraine a couple of years ago. I was fascinated by the place, so much so that I'm going back in a couple of weeks, but I felt like a total outsider there. Of course I did. I was there by myself and I didn't speak Ukrainian.

We English speakers have begun to assume that everybody everywhere speaks our native tongue. Lucky for us, that is true to a remarkable degree, but it isn't entirely true and it certainly wasn't true in the lovely city of Lviv, where I spent a semester teaching journalism -- in English.

Speaking Ukrainian would have helped (believe me, I tried), but speaking the language would not have turned young Ukrainian adults into my children or turned new friends into old ones.

Such reflections have me thinking the formerly unthinkable: staying in State College after I retire from teaching at Penn State or moving back to the little town in California where I lived before I moved to Pennsylvania.

Sitting in a taverna by the Aegean Sea can make living so far from the sea seem crazy. But staying by the Aegean or the Caribbean or anyplace else with lovely beaches and seaside restaurants when all the people I love are thousands of miles away now seems even crazier.

I used to admire people like the woman in the Volos bus station who was looking to start a new life. Now I feel a little bit sorry for her. I can't help thinking that only a person who had lost or become estranged from everyone who was dear to her could consider moving someplace simply because she liked the climate or the landscape or the architecture or the lifestyle.

Getting away to rest, read, write and ramble makes sense to me. Staying away doesn't.

Still, I would feel much better about retiring to State College if it had tavernas by the sea like the one I'm sitting in as I write this column.


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A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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