I went shopping for pistachios, olives and coconut ice cream– what I thought might be on the list for a housewife in Beirut.

Today I did an ordinary housewifey task– going to the market.There were quite a few people stopping to pick up food for dinner.  What was most interesting for me was that I was no longer ‘invisible’ in the way my mother promised I would be be invisible, like all women over 50: “You just disappear.” It was a curiously middle-march down the aisle of an illusory awareness of the self.

First, the town where I went to shop is very liberal and extremely politically correct, so I was sure no one would gawk. In fact the folks here blissfuly forged a just-right non-asteroid field around me so that my cart and I a could pass. The gesture created a perceived comfort zone that I do not ordinarily experience when I go to market in my usual garments. The space was not inordinately wide, since the aisles could not accommodate extreme wideness, but certainly impacted my proprioception.

Women tended to look laterally as they passed.

Second, back to my my mother, being a woman, and being invisible. People looked–maybe because I was a tall woman and a blonde woman in an abaya, or maybe just because I was wearing an abaya? I don’t know. The fishmonger and the male customer he was waiting on did the longest stare. Certainly it was asexual, which suggests that the male gaze they gave did not deny me my human identity since  it was not riddled with sexual desire and fantasy.  My other experience from inside the abaya on Day 2 was that the women who did look (except for the woman in the parking lot*) looked laterally at me as they passed, if they looked at all.

Third, most people just didn’t see me because they were involved with their iPhones.

Lastly, the man who checked me out was so very PC.  He was careful not to touch me and politely put the change on the counter. He handed the receipt to me by pushing it toward my hand, holding it lightly pinched with his fingertips so he could let go of it as soon as the paper made contact with my skin.

* The parking lot woman scowled at my husband and shook her head.