The Joys of Being Lost

I love getting lost in a foreign city with a good map.

Or any new city, really–foreign cities are just more difficult and thus more rewarding. It’s like a game, proving to myself that I can navigate. I try to memorize as much of the map ahead of time as possible, so that I’m not consulting it on the street (thus obviously being a tourist, which 1) ruins the game and 2) makes me panicky, thinking i will be the target of a scam or pickpocketing or some such).

Getting lost is part of the game. You’ve got to ride it out, not panic, just appear calm and walk in a likely direction until you either come to a street you recognize, or risk going so far you can’t retrace your steps, in which case it’s time to either 1) retrace or 2) consult the map (hopefully in an out-of-the way shop instead of the middle of the sidewalk).

This morning in Hania, Crete, I had to take an unexpected alley route, thanks to a garbage truck being in the way of my usual route from my hotel to the conference bus stop. I simply darted down a street name I didn’t remember on the map, but I knew the general direction of all the streets in the area, so I knew if I went far enough I’d hit the Venetian fortress walls, then could turn east and find the road I needed. It was great–didn’t have to consult the map once, and walked through an awesome little alley with bougainvillea blooms fallen on the cobblestones–gorgeous! Also saw a little old Greek lady lighting a candle outside, for what purpose I don’t know. (If could have remembered how to pronounce “good morning” in Greek I would have tried it, but that would have required consulting my guidebook, alas.)

Being able to navigate Hania is a bit more rewarding than DC or NYC, not only because the street names are only partially in English, but also because the streets aren’t perpendicular for the most part.

Some of my favorite memories are of being lost. Being in Venice with Kathryn, not sure where we were other than on “the other side” of the Grand Canal, stumbling across the most amazing little mask shop with a full-body unicorn costume outside it… Finding a part of the woods behind the Walker kids’ house that we’d never seen and were’t quite sure how to get back from. There’s the delight of finding something unexpected, and the thrill of the slight fear that you won’t be able to get back. And then when you do get back, the satisfaction of having done so–and the relief!

What’s most magical is when that lost place won’t show up again, like the mask shop. Try as we might, Kathryn and I couldn’t find our way back, half-convincing me that it was a fairy shop that disappeared when we left. Fleeting pleasures are particularly poignant.

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