The Journey is the Destination

Freedom is often achieved by ignorance: So, get lost! Who knows where you’ll find yourself?

On The Town | Kirstie McCallum | June 2012

A good sense of orientation is helpful, but in a strange city, even the best map can be useless! (Photo: Flickr)

I love old maps. I love old maps of Vienna. And thank goodness I also love psychogeography: the situationist’s deliberate art of getting lost as a way of opening your creative intuition – because in just one month, I have been lost in Vienna more times than I can count. Well, actually, four or seven times. It depends on how you define each "episode," because on one occasion I got lost three more times while trying to correct a wrong turn. Thus it took me two hours to go from MuseumsQuartier to Margaretengürtel. And though the bike route is scenic, I can now tell you that Schwedenplatz and the main Channel are most certainly not along the way.

During one of my by-now-familiar moments of disorientation, while trying to navigate the octopus of departure points from Karlsplatz in the deepening dusk, I screwed up enough courage to ask a passing woman for help.

"Do you speak English? I am so lost!" She smiled and admonished me to calm down: It would be OK, these things happen – just that weekend, her friend had experienced a panic attack upon getting lost in Paris and had thrown herself desperately into a taxi, still weeping!

An hour later, having traversed an underpass and several under-construction subway stations (carrying the bike because elevators seem hard to come by at certain points), I emerged at Pilgramgasse, only to lose myself again by overshooting my street in the dark. Carried into an unfamiliar park, I was stopped by the vision of a woman spinning fire in the night, her flaming staff illuminating the newly blossoming cherry trees beneath which she stood.

On another recent occasion near MuseumsQuartier, it took four (differently scaled and poorly notated) maps, the aid of several passers-by (one with an iPhone) and two staffers at the Expat Center, before I was able to determine that Museumstraße is actually two short parallel streets – one immediately before and one behind the Volkstheater. I ended that day in the nearby Architekturzentrum Wien pondering the twists and turns of "New Vienna" and Otto Wagner’s once "bold and modern" transit upgrades, and feeling a strange affection for the serpentine twists on the display maps.

Getting lost with grace is an art. Like learning how to surf, it’s all about staying balanced and letting yourself get carried to the endpoint, wherever that happens to be. Each time I go out now, I pack for an adventure – multiple maps, my phone, and a snack – just in case my inner compass lets me disappear down another winding street, not knowing when or where I will emerge.

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