How I like being “lost”

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 3. Getting oriented, Paris by Howard1 Comment

Paris is a perfect place to get lost. Unlike New York, where the streets are all organized in easy recognizable grids, Paris has clusters of puzzles in it. When I was in New York, it was always easy for me to find directions. Empire state building guides the north, and World Trade Center leads the south. Here in Paris, Paris (Like NY, NY), there is no skyscraper within the sights. Only when I walked to the Arc de Trimophe, I can barely see the financial district outside the Paris through the gate.

When I said “Paris is a perfect place to get lost”, I did not mean what Lynch called “overtones of utter disaster”. By “getting lost”, I was as if a wanderer without any anticipation nor destination in the city, that only waited for things to hit me in a sense of serendipity. The streets here are well organized in a way that you never know which way is north. However, Paris is perfect that it did not get you that lost. There are always maps in the streets pointing out your current location. Even without planning my destination, I always know where I am actually going. So the randomness I expected was added a spoon of deliberation too.

I spent lots of spare time here walking around the city, as far as possible. It was hard at first, when I had completely no idea of the places surrounding me, but then gradually I earned the gift of “getting lost”. I am actually learning Paris with my own eyes witnessing: Different arrondissements have totally recognizably distinguishable construction and building style; restaurants around residential areas are closed on Sunday/Monday; Price of restaurants generally is more expensive in west than that of in the east.

I was eager to find out even more and enjoyed myself being part of the city. Then all of a sudden, it started to rain. A lot. Paris thus became a different city from my conceptual maps of it. Under the rain, it is not the city as it in the sunny days. It becomes cold; homeless people longer sits under the trees; tables are drawn into the restaurants; the traffic lights beaming down in a blurry manner. Just as if Lynch further puts it, “a distinctive and legible environment not only offers security but also heightens the potential depth and intensity of human experience”. I was surprised to find that I feel secure under the rain, unlike any of my other experiences. But then I realized, every day’s a new chance to embrace the new experience within the same city. It is the same as in the way its organized, the recognizable streets and roads. It also provides very different experiences because every step I take in here is a completely new one to me; I do not know where exactly they will lead me to; I walk past new things and people each day.

All of these things suggest that I am as lost as I am not.


  1. Hi Howard,

    I found it fascinating that you chose to discuss weather as an important factor of orientation (and disorientation, for that matter). It is a part of our daily routine that we often associate with changes in our mood and our outfits, but rarely do we correlate it with a change in the city itself.

    Since rain is often something that tears pages and smudges ink, it is interesting that you discovered legibility and security within the rain. This optimism will surely allow you to embrace the “newness” that comes with even the most uncomfortable circumstances, not to mention the foreboding transition from Summer into Autumn, and later from Autumn into Winter.

    Keep your observant eye, and keep developing new versions of your conceptual map.


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