It’s been said that not all who wander are lost. And then there was that thing about roads diverging in a wood. Despite the romanticized hubbub about the benefits of being lost, I’m not buying it. I like to know where I’m going and how long it’s going to take to get there. I take the most direct route from point A to B. I’m stressed when I know where I am, but can’t figure out how to get where I need to go. (Metaphor, anyone?) I tend to get the most frustrated about getting lost when I should be the least worried about it—when I’m on vacation.
Problem is, when I get lost, it’s rarely an idyllic setting. I’m never ambling along a pretty country road with a charming farmhouse on a hill in the distance. I’m not strolling beside a classic river waving at a boat captain as a gentle breeze kisses my cheeks. No. If I’m lost, it’s in an industrial wasteland where columns of black smoke are pouring into the sky covering everything for miles in ashy soot. And it’s probably raining.
But there was one time I got lost on purpose.
I was traveling solo in Florence, Italy. It was dark, but not too late. I’d stopped at the Piazza della Repubblica for the third day in a row to get my favorite apricot cookie from the pastry shop on the corner. This was before my phone was smarter than me; I had a map and my memory to find the way back to my pensione.
The streets running through Florence’s city center might have been planned by children playing a game of pick-up sticks. The narrow lanes run every which way and some didn’t even appear on my map. But now that I was a regular at this patisserie, I’d developed a sort of muscle memory with the route. It was a right at that handbag store, then a left, past the bank with the enormous wooden doors, then another right along the Vespa parking station, and a final left with my hotel on the corner. One wrong turn and it was all over for me. I’d be forever stuck in a cobblestone labyrinth filled with tourists wearing their backpacks on their fronts who would be of no assistance.
Then I heard the most wonderful chorus. I followed it like a hound on a scent. Down the smallest of side streets I went, trying to find the source, with no regard that I could end up roaming around Florence for eternity. Their voices echoed off the buildings making it difficult to find them, but I was determined. If Barbra Streisand, Audra McDonald, and Judy Garland had their own glee club, this is what it would have sounded like. For fifteen minutes, I must have walked up and down every street in the vicinity, worried the whole time that they would end their tour de force.
I made a left down a street I was sure I’d walked before, and there they were, standing in front of a shuttered shop. A small crowd had gathered in a semicircle. It was…heavenly. I found out later that the women were three American exchange students and preferred the acoustics of this street. They liked the idea that their voices floated up above the red-tiled roofs of Florence. They were sharing their art with the city.
Everyone can sing, but not everyone can sing well. I’m in the latter group. In fact, I’m a terrible singer. I only sing in the shower or on solo car rides so as not to inflict my Tiny Tim voice on others. Only my hairbrush knows the depths of my embarrassment. Well, my hairbrush and Reggie, who has arrived at resigned acceptance because I feed him.
Due to having a voice that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, I have a reverence for people who have this gift. It took me an hour to find my way back to my hotel that night in Florence, but I floated on their voices all the way there. Maybe I should allow myself to get sidetracked more often. Maybe I don’t always need to know where I’m going. Sometimes that’s the best way to be uniquely surprised and inspired. Sometimes it’s “not till we are lost…do we begin to find ourselves and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”
Come to think of it, now that I have a “smart” phone, I haven’t wandered in a while.
When was the last time you got lost? Have a great weekend, everyone!