The Six Stages of Being Lost in a Foreign City

Today, I went out to run a quick errand. I spent the next two-and-a-half hours being lost. First, I was joyfully lost. Then I was hopelessly lost. I think I experienced at least a dozen human emotions today before 2pm. The arc pretty much followed this, the Six Stages of Being Lost in a Foreign City.

Stage 1: Realizing You Are Lost. This is the disorientating moment when you look around and realize that you recognize nary a landmark, store, or street. You have no idea which direction to walk toward. A teeny bit of panic flickers, but this only lasts for a second, because Stage 1 is quickly replaced by…

Stage 2: Accepting That You Are Lost. Isn’t there some saying about how the things worth finding appear when you’re lost? Or about how it’s only when one is lost that one can truly find oneself? And travel books are always recommending “getting lost on the winding streets” of a city as a legitimate activity. Stage 2 is the moment when you realize that you can either panic or you can embrace the situation. And once you accept that you may be walking in the totally wrong direction for an hour and that that’s okay, because really what’s the worst that can happen, you do begin to see some cool things, like an advertisement for Brokeback Mountain the opera, which you make a mental note to see the following week, and begin to think of what you’ll tell your husband you’re actually seeing so he’ll come with you. You decide on Matrix the Musical. You also see a vegetarian restaurant, a gourmet market with truffle oil in the window, and like 15 museums that appear to be worth checking out. You make mental notes to visit all of these places once you regain your bearings. This will never happen because you don’t know where the fuck you are.

Stage 3: Realizing That You May Be Lost Forever. What if you just walked and walked and walked and walked and that was your life forever? That seems like an increasingly real possibility at this point, after you’ve been walking a route that feels shaped roughly like a cinnamon bun. And you want to eat a cinnamon bun. It’s been so many hours since breakfast. You’d stop and eat somewhere but surely you must be, like, two blocks from home, right? Scenes from the movie “127 Hours” flash through your head. This is just as bad as being stuck in a canyon for a week. You wonder if you could bring yourself to cut off your arm like that guy did. You realize no one is going to help you and you must be your own salvation. Just like the guy in 127 Hours. This is the exact same thing.

Stage 4: Asking Every Other Stranger For Directions: You can hardly pronounce the name of the street for which you’re looking, but you begin asking lots of strangers if they know where that street is. But about two seconds into each stranger’s rapid response, you realize that while you totally nailed asking for directions parts of your language lessons, you did not totally nail how comprehend said directions. You wonder if there’s an app that can record foreign dialogue and instantly translate it into English. You should invent that. You marvel at the genius of a much simpler invention: A map. You idiot. Why do you not have a map?!

Stage 5: Realizing You Could Just Take a Cab and End This Whole Ordeal: But really, after two hours of walking, what’s a little more? Surely you must be close. Unless it’s another two hours of walking. That would be unbearable. Plus, there’s the possibility of getting the cab, telling the cabbie your address, and him driving you six seconds down the road and then him motioning that you’ve arrived to your destination. That would be embarrassing. And you’ve already been so beaten down by your nonexistent lack of direction and your inability to speak the language that you’re just not sure you’re strong enough to handle that kind of humiliation.

Stage 6: Finally Recognizing Something and Realizing You Won’t Have to Live Your Life as a Wandering Street Person: This is that moment when you recognize something you know you’ve seen before. Like how if two letters traded places on the sign for Popo’s Wine, it would spell Poop’s Wine, and you just happened to have that same juvenile thought three hours earlier when you walked by the SAME EXACT SIGN. But it is even funnier now because you haven’t had water in five hours and you’re just so tired and hungry and going a little crazy.. But whatever, you recognize something, which means you are no longer lost. Shortly after, you finally sit down and take a breath and reflect on all the things you found while being lost today. And then you go buy yourself a damn map.

To finding direction,

The Dame in Spain

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