Leaning in over the chair, his right arm held up and out in classic ballroom dance form — elbow high, left hand centered, body balanced — he cuts hair. Elegant, poised, and the center of his world. No orchestra, just the sound of the scissors. Snip, snip, snip, snip. The customer sinks lower into the chair. Relaxed. Snip, snip, snip, snip. The sound of an old sprinkler turning back and forth on a warm summer day, comfortably marking time.
“When I was young and an intern, I turned a famous Dutch singer’s hair green.” Willem Arnoldus twinkles over the tops of his glasses. “She was crying one minute, and angry the next. She came in with long blond hair, I added a chemical to her curls — she forgot to tell us she had added metal to her hair in England — and her hair turned green. So she went home with short and brown hair.” Willem laughs softly at this long ago silliness.
So, your advice for women as they age?
“You must accept growing old. It is really important. If you just want long hair to stay young, that’s wrong. You don’t have to cut it short. You do have to look after the color. And look after who you are. You will wear it different when you’re older. If it is grey, you can make it classic and put it up. To make it blond with stripes is wrong.” “Be close to yourself. Behave like your age. Because then you are beautiful. Don’t put Botox on your face. Older women can be beautiful. I see them every day.”
And what about for you as you age?
Willem laughs. “When I get older I want to cut only men — then we can talk about women and talk about football. No more talking about trouble with the children anymore or husband’s going with other married women.” He laughs and goes back to cutting. Arm raised. Elbow high. Snip, snip, snip, snip.
THE NEWSPAPER EDITOR
A former professional bodybuilder was my first guess, as she prowled the gym floor. Even the heavily-muscled men stayed clear of her intensity. I was just a smidgeon off — a big-city editor of a big-city newspaper in The Hague. Focused. No nonsense. Attractive. Tough.
“I think it’s a gift to be 52 years old. The way you look at life is shifting as you age. I could never understand it at 17, 20, or whatever. When you are young, you do not realize the ups and downs need each other. When you realize that they go together, you will flow. You will have trust in yourself. Balance. That is growing older.” Thessa Slootmaker wipes the sweat from under her hair.
The squat rack is abandoned for the moment, and off she goes to the shoulder press.
“The gym and the spiritual element together is important. I don’t think it will really help you if you only exercise the body, or if you only exercise the mind. I really truly believe it is a unit.”
The dumbbells are raised above her head with a familiarity, an intimate ease. Triceps bulge.
Exercise the mind?
“Meditation in all its forms. A lot of people think meditation is sitting down. That’s not what meditation is all about. For some people it works. But meditation can be during the workout, or when you walk or sit on your bicycle in the dunes. Meditation is really being in the moment. To be always in the moment.”
Thessa’s upper lip is now glistening with sweat.
“I think you have to try to keep your body moving. You have to find a way that is suitable for you. For me it’s the gym. Someone else wants to jog, walk around, whatever. You have to find something you like to do. Because otherwise you won’t do it.”
The bar is lifted up by Thessa, and the bar is slowly lowered. Lifted again with a push, lowered again back to the start. Lifted, lowered. Lowered, lifted. Hypnotic.
“As for your mind, you must explore things, have curiosity. Life must be able to surprise you again. Every time again.”
Thessa pauses, gives me one of her treasured smiles. “Life is a wonder.”
THE WOMAN FROM IOWA
The elegant lady from Des Moines, Iowa, came to see Europe. Walking between five and ten miles a day over two weeks, she explored the blue pottery of Delft, the old church and markets of Leiden, the almond blossoms of Van Gogh, the canals of Amsterdam, and the harsh winds off the North Sea.
What else do you want to see, Peg?
“I want to see it all.”
Here’s Peg O’Connell, at 80 years old, standing in a narrow alley in the Red Light District of Amsterdam. Seeing the good and seeing the bad. Eyes open.
Aging in wonder.