Friday, July 25, 2014

Get Lost!

My husband and daughter are on a long-planned road trip.  They are going to run in the Nova Scotia marathon in Barrington, Nova Scotia.  They are driving up the coast to Maine, then on to New Brunswick, taking the bridge across to NS.  Yesterday late in the day I received this first text from my daughter on the road.  "We"ve already lost something."  I envisioned credit cards, running shoes, a wheel off the car, something essential to their endeavor, but when I ask what she wrote back.  "The map flew out the window."

I was fairly certain which map that was.  The carefully annotated one of New England that we'd had in the car for about ten years.  I'm not sure if we ever really used it, but I know that Larry who was somewhat apprehensive about this trip (long drive, grown-up daughter, 26 mile race, etc) told me he'd marked their route.  He had it all planned.  He'd showed me the four pages of mapquest directions (drive .05 miles, make sharp left on to the ramp, drive .03, etc).  Of course I probably would have done the same thing, but I teased him a bit. I told him then to just throw it away.  Just drive northeast, I said.

When I heard that it was the map that they lost, I was, of course, relieved, but also I felt oddly happy with this news.  I wrote back to Larry.  Here is the message of the map.  Get lost!
Getting lost in this day and age isn't that easy to do.  In fact it requires some reverse skills.  No GPS for instance.  No smartphone Google maps. In Morocco in the Sahara we used a GPS for the first time.  It kept saying, "Wrong road; turn around" until I unplugged it.

Matt Gross who was once the frugal traveler for the New York Times and now has gone out on his own wrote a series for the Times about just this theme.  He began in Tangiers.  He traversed the city with no map, no guidebook, no guide.  Just following his nose.  Matt wrote about doing the two things that he loved most:  sitting in one place for a long time and doing nothing; ambling without destination.

There's a word for this in French.  You call someone a "flanner."  He walks without purpose or plan; he has no where specific to go and nothing to do.  You walk for the sake of walking.  And in the process you can get lost.

I've never been one for itineraries.  Once we were planning a trip with dear friends and as we were planning it it was becoming clearer and clearer that they were people who had plans and we weren't. There's a famous saying by the founder of the Dada movement - I think it was Tristan Tzara - who said that not having a plan is a plan.  I like that notion.  It is my plan not to have a plan.  In the end we do best traveling alone.

God's curse to Adam was "You will be a restless wanderer."  The words "travel" and "trip" in fact come from the term Latin term tripalium which was a form of Roman torture similar to impalement.  Nobody knows how tripalium morphed into travail in French and travel in English.  How impalement transformed itself into a Eurail pass.  One other interesting detail.  If you Google tripalium, trip advisor and trip planner come up right after it.  I'm not sure what this means.  Though I would say that for me any plan is a form of torture.

For me the pleasure is in the wandering.  It is in the moment when, as E.M. Forester wrote so beautiuflly in "Room With A View" you are visiting Florence without your Baedecker.  It is when you cancel the guide. Or when your map flies out the window.

I believe that for Larry and Kate the fun has just begun.  It is the difference between taking a trip and traveling.  And once you allow that the journey is the destination, and the map is not the real way, then there's no telling what you'll find.