The delicate art of not getting effed-up lost

I used to think that I was pretty damn amazing with my skills at direction and orientation. I always knew precisely where I was and the absolute best way to get to where I was going. Of course, this was because I lived in South Minneapolis, an Eden of grid-pattered, consecutively numbered streets where the university gave out masters degrees in navigation if you could pass the following test:

1) Simon says raise your right hand
2) Simon says raise your left hand.
3) Quick! Raise your right hand again!

You needed at least 66.61% to pass. Needless to say, most people get it in less than three tries. And yet, even with this abundance of exquisitely oriented people, there’s never a taxi around when you really need it. Strange place.

Anyhoo, I’ve been ensconced at the other end of the spectrum for the past five days, trying not to get effed-up lost in London and Venice.

Let’s start with London. London’s streets were surveyed based on the wanderings of a drunken ox. Swear to god. There isn’t a single straight street in the entire bloody city nor do any of them follow any kind of naming model so if you’re on Lion Avenue and you wanna get to Nutmeg Lane, you have no way of knowing if you’re two blocks away or 10 miles away. Or which direction. Or what jackhole decided to name the lane “Nutmeg”, cause we pants people for less than that in South Minneapolis.

Then there’s all the naming extensions: Street, Road, Lane, Mews, Rise, Walk, Way, Alley, Hill, Friars, Place, Drive, Row and who knows what else. More often than not, they reuse names, giving different extensions. There could be a Jackhole Road, Jackhole Avenue, Jackhole Way, Jackhole Alley, Jackhole Drive and Jackhole Lane. And just to fuck with us, they usually make two or more of those Jackholes intersect and maybe have them run parallel for a bit then split off again at which stage you don’t know remember which one it was that you were supposed to be following.

And it’s not just me the idiot tourist who can’t find his way. Taxi drivers have to take two years of classes to get themselves suitably oriented to London’s streets before they’re even allowed to touch a steering wheel. And even after all of that, they’ve got some of the most thumbed through A to Zs in the city.

Furthermore, London’s streets don’t always follow a little something the rest of the universe calls the Space Time Continuum. Take last Tuesday. I was walking down a street trying to find a shoe store when the street forked. There were no signs indicating the names of either of these streets (natch), so I just chose the left fork and kept going. At the next corner the city of London was kind enough to put up a street sign which alerted me to the fact that I’d chosen the wrong fork. Fine. I’d just turn the corner and cut over to the other fork. Seems like something that might plausibly happen in our beloved Space Time Continuum, no? Not so fast! I cut over to where the other street should have been, it looked odd, so I consulted a map posted at a bus stop only to find I had traveled approximately three miles (give or take three miles) from the fork point and wasn’t anywhere near the streets I had been on just moments earlier. Furthermore, it was 1972. I bet that was exactly how Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin came up with “Time Bandits”.

So that’s London. Venice is a whole other story.

To call Venice’s streets a maze is a gross understatement. I noted this during my previous trip three years ago. Encapsulating the state of Venice’s streets was so far beyond any words currently available in the English language that I was forced to start a now well-worn habit of inventing a new word in order to express myself completely. That word was “Extreme-giga-maze-hard-core-to-the-max-Gomer”. It still hasn’t caught on like I imagined it would, but working new words into the popular lexicon is more difficult than opening a bottle of wine with another bottle of wine (that was a sucky night).

If you haven’t had the pleasure, Venice’s streets are little more than jagged corridors, occupied by tens of thousands of the least prepared and staying-out-of-my-way-challenged tourists in the world. The streets are so tiny and there’s so damn many of them that even the most detailed map becomes a useless blur of disarray after you move away from Saint Mark’s Square or the Rialto Bridge. The upshot is that in the three years since my last visit, Venice has made astonishing progress in marking its streets. They’ve painted large and easily discernable signs for every little alley, tunnel and crevasse. Still, you’re never 100% sure whether or not you’re on the right track until your feet get wet or you’re being pooped on by a Saint Mark’s pigeon.

That’s pretty much all I have to say this week. I know some of you were waiting for some juicy LP gossip from the London workshop last week, but there’s really nothing to tell. We had a great time, I learned a lot and my pants stayed around my waist in all public areas.

Besides, I’m a bit preoccupied with two magazine assignments, fighting off a cold and figuring out if it’s humanly possible to update two LP books for Tuscany in the time that’s been allotted to me. Good times.