Friday, May 2, 2014

Let's get lost

At the Luxembourg Gardens. It was beautiful that day. I meant to walk in the opposite direction, but once here, I was glad I'd gotten turned around.

One of my shamanic practices has to do with sensing the energy of landscapes, then dancing with the energy. I've practiced this for many years. I'm not great at it, but a lot better than I used to be, and devoted to the practice. I believe this is why I was so off balance when I lived in San Francisco. The Franciscan melange underfoot is a crazy-making jumble. John McPhee describes it this way: "The far out stuff was in the far west of the country--wild, weirdsma, a leather jacket geology in mirrored shades, with its welded tufts and Franciscan melange (internally deformed, complex beyond analysis), its strike-slip faults and falling buildings, its boiling springs and fresh volcanics, its extensional disassembling of the earth."

Seriously, is it any wonder that San Francisco is known as a center of weirdness? I wasn't the first, nor will I be the last person to dance that crazy dance on that crazy land, no way.

I remember when I first moved to the DC area, I got lost a lot. It was probably two years before I could reliably get from Point A to Point B without checking a map. During those first years here, I dived into a study of the human history of this place. I read extensively about the Civil War and the American Revolution, I read fabulous biographies of the founding fathers. I sat on the old tomb of George Washington at Mt. Vernon, at the top of the hill at Arlington. I walked through Civil War battlefields. I sat with the monuments, strolled along the river. I listened and watched as the seasons changed. It was at least five years before I became part of the landscape here. I wrote a flowery post when I at last felt rooted, about how my blood was more Potomac River than San Francisco Bay, my bones more Rock Creek than the Marin headlands. It was a very dramatic post as I remember it.

How in the world could I have expected to feel oriented in the sandy basin of Paris in only one week? Oh my.

This morning the Voice in the Shower said, The sandy basin is a vortex. Well, it certainly is, which helps explain why I got so turned around there, over and over. The city grew from its central core, Ile de la cite. But it didn't expand in all directions at once, no. It wound outwards. The energy of the city is a slowly turning spiral.

Hee hee

The energy of the turning, ironically, felt most potent at the center. The day I tried to go see Notre Dame it was not only raining, but the wind was blowing hard. I felt like I was in the center of a tornado. Millions of tourists, the wind, the rain and the dark energy around the cathedral spooked me. I staggered away, thinking I was heading for the Marais on the right bank. I crossed the bridge to find myself on Saint-Germaine, which is on the left bank. I stopped. I consulted the map. I set out again, determined to walk to the Marais, but about 20 minutes later, after the wind had turned my umbrella inside out and I was soaked from the knees down, I again found myself on the left bank. It was crazy.

In a way I was dancing in perfect shamanic alignment with the spinning spiral of the city. I guess!

I had hoped that over the span of a few days I would get at least slightly oriented. By the end of the week I was able to get to the Saint-Germaine de Pres Metro stop from my hotel a block and a half away. I could locate the river, though sometimes circuitously. Beyond that I was out of my element. I had a fantastic offline map app without which I would no doubt still be wandering around, trying to figure out where I was and how to get to the next location.

I love this picture of my DC friends with whom I coincided there, as baffled as I was about where we were and how to proceed.

This morning I was thinking about the hundreds of years it took to build Notre Dame. I was thinking about the Pont Neuf. The first bridge there was built in the 17th century. I was thinking about the Petit Pont. There has been a bridge of one kind or another there for 2,000 years! One human lifespan - even a really long one - is not sufficient to, in any way, comprehend the city and its long history. How do the Parisians do it? Every day they contend with the vortex of energy, the layers of history, the intensity of their culture - and with all of us visitors, every one of us wanting to extract a piece of the magic there, a talisman to show our friends when we get home. Wow. Or should I say whoa? Parisians are tougher than I am!


  1. That's why the Parisians have a reputation for being so ornery. It's hard to share your city with millions of lost tourists! (Especially when they don't speak French!) Then again, I've personally never found Parisians to be anything but hospitable, so that might be a myth.

  2. I would call them polite, not exactly hospitable!

    I love the word "ornery" - especially as an adjective to describe the Parisians. Awesome use of the word.

  3. Living in the land of weirdness, I would say climate plays a role as large as landscape. Our climate is usually out of sync with the rest of the country. We had three days of blazing heat and are now back to fog and 50s. There is much that I like about DC, but I could never survive the long, muggy summers.

  4. I love having four seasons. The muggy summer is horrid, but actually only for about a month during most summers. A few hot days will make us miserable, but then a storm system will roll through with lightning and thunder and wind like a broom that sweeps everything clean. Then the air is fresh and clean for a few days. Except for the swampy month of August, I love the weather here.