The One With A Cappella

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.

A Cappella

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.

Please, I beg you, make her stop.

Please, I beg you, make her stop.

 

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! 

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30 comments

  1. This was delightful. I’ve never been to Florence, but now want to go… it’s the kind of place I’d love to get lost. I know exactly what you mean about wanting to know where you’re going and how long it will take. Me too. The thing is I want to be one of those people who just enjoy the journey no matter what, but it goes against my nature. Sometimes–like last summer on my cross-country road trip–there were a few days when I didn’t care where I was or when I would get to the next place, and it was really really fun. I was on my own with truly only the open road to answer to and that was pretty cool. (p.s. It also gave me a chance to sing… loud…something no one else should ever have to hear!)

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    1. I was thinking about your road trip from last summer. Amazing that was a whole year ago! What an adventure.

      I realized that the idea of being “lost” applies tomy writing. Sometimes I get to a certain point in my WIP and I’m just not sure where to go from there. It makes me anxious and uncomfortable! I wonder if other writers feel that way too.

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  2. Ooooh, I hate being lost… stresses me out like nothing else. Except, perhaps, for IT related problems.

    I can’t sing either. While I was a student, I had a summer job chaperoning North American choirs around Europe. At every venue, the organisers asked me if I was part of the choir. “No, I’m the one who makes the phone calls, translates, deals with sore throats and blistered toes,” would be my grumpy answer. Oh, the glamour…

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  3. I could identify with the “pick up stick” reference to the streets in Florence! We got lost there and ending up backing our rental car down a one one street—the wrong way! :-) The singing would have definitely pulled me in and your description was lovely. I could almost hear them singing their lovely songs and it was well worth the diversion, wasn’t it? I don’t like to be lost and the most horrifying feeling is when I am driving in a very busy place and the gps tells me 3 seconds too late that I missed that turn that I really needed to take. Maybe I need to chill out a bit more and go with the flow? Lovely post today. Thanks.

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  4. Loved this, Jackie. In fact, a few weeks ago, I had a similar conversation with my husband about GPS systems and the way they have made it literally unnecessary for us to know north from south, or to use our minds (or as you said, muscle memory) to find our way around. And I agree — something is seriously lost when the ability to BE lost is taken away. Not to mention the various parts of the brain that are used in reading and interpreting a map. I know, myself, I will never learn my way around nearby Tucson b/c I use GPS each time. As a result, it doesn’t sink into my memory at all and I learn nothing. Sad, really.

    I loved that the music drew you down those unfamiliar streets. We all need to do more of that for sure!

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    1. Great point, Melissa. All of our devices, GPS and Google Maps included, are wonderful tools, but they definitely reduce our independence in a way. We’ve become beholden to them.
      I think this is one reason I like historical fiction. No devices! :)

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  5. You had me at Barbra, Audra and Judy. What a great tale (and great tail shot of the Reginator). Several years ago when I was walking in Riverside Park, due to the scent of hamburgers, I found the 79th Street Boat Basin, one of my favorite summertime hangouts. But I wasn’t lost. That park is practically in my back yard. I have a somewhat defective internal GPS, so it doesn’t take much for me to not know where I am, but I have a likable enough innocuous face that someone somewhere usually comes to my rescue with directions.

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    1. The Reginator was desperate for his lost ball which had rolled beyond his reach. So he stuck his head under the sofa and barked at it for a while.

      It’s a good thing Manhattan is a grid system. :)

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  6. Great story! I could “see” the streets and shops and felt like I was walking right along with you.

    As for being lost, I have an uncanny ability to get completely turned around in my own hometown on streets I’ve driven on for years.

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  7. I loved the way you described the streets as pick up sticks – that put the picture in my mind in a brief, condensed image, Jackie.
    I don’t miss the days before GPS, having early on earned the moniker Wrong Way Robertson in our family. But I hear you (and agree!) about wandering being something we should allow ourselves to indulge in, on occasion. One never knows where a good wander can take you. :)

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  8. Italy does have good back streets for getting lost in, doesn’t it? I’m happy to be lost as long as I don’t have any pressing engagements, then it’s just incredibly stressful!

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  9. Being lost totally terrifies me! It IS scary how out of sorts I feel without a GPS. But even before that I would always write out directions very carefully before driving anywhere new. I like how this detour went though . . . and as always a good story came out of it! (I also have THE WORST voice ever.)

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  10. I love those “lost and found” journeys- finding something memorable whilst roaming around. You describe it so well! And I can so identify with not being able to sing well yet doing so (in private) nonetheless…. That photo of Reggie is so funny!

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  11. I have zero sense of direction, which means I’m usually lost. The Better Half loves to test my skills to prove that I’m not always right. I still insist that I am right and that I am going the right way. At least in London there’s tons of pubs so when I get really frustrated I can just have a drink. I’ve found many a good pubs while lost.

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