Get lost

Paris directional signsMy phone died today. That is, it ran out of juice. Hardly surprising as it’s an iPhone – you know, the really expensive ones with the crap batteries? Cursing Steve Jobs’ name, I left it behind as I set out to run my errands across the border in Geneva. Flying without a net, as it were. Turned out it was the best thing that could’ve happened.

Traffic in town can be difficult so I decided to park the car by the lake and walk.

At first I felt lost without my usual electronic crutches: Google maps, email, contacts and various other apps. Then I noticed how much lighter I felt. I took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of wet trees in the park. Enjoyed the view of the sailboats bobbing on the lake without worrying about taking a picture.

First stop: dentist appointment. It was just a checkup so I was actually hurrying to get there rather than dragging my feet. I have a tendency to over-optimize my time management, i.e. arrive late. Assuming I knew where it was I had plenty of time, but my memory of the exact location proved, well, inexact. Probably because the last time I went there I had my nose stuck to my iPhone for directions.

There’s nothing like getting lost to help you get to know a place. I’ve lived in this area for a few years now but never seem to be able to map anything. Geneva is not big, but like many cities in these mountainous parts it’s built on multiple levels. Also, there are no right-degree angles. Each intersection has multiple roads shooting off in various directions.

I took a couple of wrong turns and became increasingly disoriented. The two streets that I thought should intersect didn’t seem to, so I had to make an executive decision. Left or right? Always follow your instincts, I thought, and headed left. A few minutes later I had massive doubts, so I did something unprecedented. I asked a nice looking fellow for directions.

Excusez-moi? Do you happen to know how to get to Rue de la Terrassière?

That way, he said, pointing in the opposite direction. Sometimes my instincts kind of suck.

I got there just a few minutes late. My dentist was waiting for me. “Just a checkup?” she asked, sounding disappointed. The last time I’d seen her she’d shot me so full of Novocain I’d looked like a stroke victim the entire day.

The experience made me wonder: How did we manage before? Or were we perhaps smarter without our ‘smart’ phones?

When I first came to France back in the pre-internet days, there was nothing for it but to get out there and get lost. I became quite good at it. Even though I always carried a map, it was so much work stopping, unfolding it and trying to figure out where exactly I was, I usually just kept walking. It was trial and error, and a lot of wear on the feet, but you always reached your destination sooner or later.

After the dentist, I had an hour free so I wandered down to the main shopping area and stopped for a coffee. As I didn’t have my phone, I wasn’t tempted to check for messages. Instead, I sipped my latté by the window and watched the people going by on the street. Came up with the idea for this post and scribbled down a few thoughts.

Then I stopped at the optical store to get my sunglasses adjusted, picked up some things at the pharmacy and went to meet my lunch date. My friend was waiting for me at a café in Eaux-Vives, and we spent a pleasant hour or so catching up over moules-frites.

All in all, I was without my phone for about three hours. Nothing earth shattering happened. No urgent emails or phone calls came in that couldn’t wait until I got home.

I did get lost but I found my way. And I’m pretty sure I’ll remember it next time.

What about you? When was the last time you got lost?