Monday, May 9, 2011


Since I got to Glasgow, I’ve been stopped at least twice a day by people needing directions. I barely know this city, so only once or twice have I been able to help at all. I just smile and say sorry, I’m new here, too. They smile and go on their uncertain way. I don’t mind these little encounters, but I am always tempted to return their question with mine: Why, on a busy street with scores of people passing by, did you decide to stop me?

As long as I’ve been old enough to wander around the world by myself, I’ve been a magnet for people who have lost their way. It doesn’t matter if I’m rambling around my home turf or thousands of miles away in a completely unfamiliar city – I’ll be the person who’s asked for help. I’ve always found this baffling, since I don’t exactly stand out in a crowd. I’m an average-sized, quietly dressed woman. I’d like to think it has something to do with looking exceptionally intelligent, but I suspect it has more to do with looking exceptionally harmless; also, aimless. I am an ambler by nature. Even when I have destination and an arrival time in mind, I tend to walk pretty slowly and let the things around me catch my eye. No doubt that makes me seem more approachable than the majority of people, charging along as if they were off to battle.

Ironically, I don’t often ask for directions myself. Unless I’m late for a job interview or some other important rendezvous, I actually like getting lost. There’s a wonderful little thrill in the moment when I realize that I don’t know where I am, and have no idea how to make my way back to familiar ground. It’s liberating, and creates a feeling of being wide-awake to the environment. Suddenly, I have to pay attention instead of cruising around on autopilot. Sometimes I deliberately seek the experience, in the spirit of the dérive – a concept that, if anything, has become even more subversive in our increasingly virtual world.

A strong song tows
us, long earsick.
Blind, we follow
rain slant, spray flick
to fields we do not know.

From "Coda" by Basil Bunting

Wikipedia on the dérive

A Parisian Street Scene with Sacre Coeur in the distance, Luigi Loir (1845-1916)

No comments: