I’m the type to get lost in my own neighborhood. I’ve reached a point where I’ve gotten lost so many times that I believe my disregard of direction is a personality trait. I allow others, when traveling, to assume the role as mapper, that is the safest plan. But when I’m going places alone, it is an orchestration. A deep breath or two, put the address in, and make my best attempt to not walk in the wrong direction. What I’ve realized, and New York certainly taught me this, is that my complete inability to sense direction or read a map is a blessing of sorts.
This past weekend, I went to Venice for a day, which is a city that seems to completely disregard Google Maps. We would attempt to follow arrows and dotted blue lines, but ended up leading a pack of tourists to a dead end. And oh, the dead ends in Venice are just the canal, no barrier to keep you from falling straight in, no signage to let you know you screwed up. A professor of mine suggested a paper map, but I was not about to seem even more of a tourist than I already am. But in getting lost at every turn, we discovered the “local” Venice. We came across a small Italian restaurant, super clean, wonderful food, and great service. The waitress went out with my friend for a smoke break and told her there are very few locals in Venice. As we moved closer and closer into the tourist part of the city, we noticed the quiet, abandoned houses. I realized so much of Italy is commercialized, “local” may have a new definition.
After our lunch, we began our journey to the center, in which we entered this piazza. I saw one little boy on a small bike, then another little girl riding a scooter dragged by her mom. As we talked and walked, I realized we were at a playground, the piazza had become one with the children. And for once, it seemed like a joyous occasion for all parties, the children and parents were all smiling in the sun, enjoying Venice not for its water and gondolas, but instead for its family, its small community. I know that’s not what most are looking for when they visit Venice, but
Traveling allows you to full open your eyes. Something about the process of it, the fumbling and overwhelming of the senses to your body, that reinvigorates and challenges the brain, the reaction to too many stimuli. In that, you are forced to look inward, to find yourself in the heat of it. It is when I get lost, I learn the most about the place around me, about the alleys and dark corners, about which stoop locals prefer to smoke on, about who wears what in what district.
I’ve always been fascinated by transit. Perhaps that is because I am undeniably, anxiously impatient … and a late sleeper. But the routine of our daily commute is something I’ve always found value in, whether that’s out of choice or to survive what is the wonderful fright of NJ Transit. Here, my walk to the bus stop, Piazza di San Marco, is my gauge of my day. The number of tourists in front of the Duomo, of where I know I must walk towards Eataly, decides what kind of interaction I will have with the city at night – Will everyone be out drinking or will the streets be quiet? It’s funny how Florence mimics my hometown, my school and my city, and something foreign all at once. It is when I pass the Duomo I remember I am in Florence, the quiet and commercialism of my hometown paired the movement of the city I love.