The other night I saw Quartet. Dustin Hoffman directed this pitch-perfect film about a home for retired musicians. It’s a lovely piece, full of music, comedy, a little tragedy and an intriguing narrative.
The musicians, pros all, are crammed into a lovely English manor and they pass their golden years in relatively sumptuous wealth. They recall past times, play or sing, get into trouble, gossip and so forth.
The heart of the film is about the annual concert, which is also a major fundraiser for the home. Three of the musicians who’d previously performed together are thrown into turmoil when the fourth arrives (Maggie Smith) and are asked to set aside personal difficulties to perform a famous quartet piece for which they are all known.
I urge you see this film. It’s well-written, extremely well acted, and fantastically directed.
Fine, you say. But what does it have to do with running?
Well, just this: I began to fantasize about a retirement home for runners.
I can see it now: It would be in California, an estate of a former wine baron. Like Quartet, the runners would have their own rooms, a communal dining room where they eat terrific and healthy catered meals (kale salad and quinoa anyone?), and of course a complete gym, and 400 metre outdoor track.
Say, isn’t that Ryan Hall? Wow. He used to be fast once.
Oh look: Hasn’t Kara Goucher aged beautifully?
Such a shame about Meb’s bum hip.
Yes. Runners age.
We all do.
We all want to be as fast as we once were. Just like in Quartet: all the musicians still felt the same. But they couldn’t hit the high notes, lacked the breath to make their bassoon sing, or just strayed in one way or another.
In Quartet, the musicians had their disagreements. Some were vain; others controlling. But by and large the home worked.
I doubt a home for runners would be so sanguine.
In Quartet, some of the musicians are competitive – but not like runners. I envisioned bitter old men and women sitting around in the lounge, hobbled from poor knees and bad hips, unable to run, but carping and sniping at each other.
“Sure, in 1999, you nipped me at the line, but in 2006, ’07 and ’08, I clocked your ass.”
And at the home the outdoor track would mock all the incapacitated runners. They’d teeter on their canes and look longingly and then, depressed, return to their rooms and pore over their clippings.
Quartet is so graceful: everyone works out their problems in the end.
Runners are not musicians. Runners are a different breed. You won’t see them lumped together in a retirement home. They’d never tolerate that.
No wonder they talk of the loneliness of the long distance runner. No easy, posh British estate for them. True to form, they’ll probably opt for some austere, cold-water flat somewhere. After all, as much as they might protest, someone who runs 20 miles week in and week out, isn’t really, sincerely all that slavish about comfort.
Runners are individualists too. They like other runners…to a point.
The ideal retirement home for runners? Well, that’s going to vary from person to person. See the last paragraph before this.
Myself? I’d like to be moderately comfortable, surrounded with family and friends I love, someplace relatively warm with lots of different routes, and independent, feisty and, well, strong, strong enough to keep banging out the miles.
So long as I could run over hills, down streets, past water, and on and on and on into the distance, I would be content. My idea of retirement is dipping down a big hill into the giant glowing ball of a sunset.