And if you go searchin’
For rhyme or for reason
Then you won’t have the time
That it take just for talkin’
About the places you’ve been, babe
About the places you’ve seen, babe
And how soft the time flies
Past your window at night
Townes Van Zandt, verse from “Don’t you take it too bad”
It has been some time since my last post. As always, work is busy and my travel schedule has been quite heavy. I haven’t been in my leather shop for over a month now. I leave again tomorrow for D.C. followed by London, so my glue pots must be getting pretty dried out by now…
My last trip took me to France for a conference in Montpellier. It was lovely, and my wife was able to join me, so we spent a short time in Paris and Nice besides the 3 days in Montpelier. Before cell phones and GPS, the detailed map of the city that is often provided by the hotel is a necessity. With these maps, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out major street intersections and patterns. Your eyes go back and forth between the map (usually quite worn after 2-3 days) and the surrounding city. Sympathetic locals also regularly stop to ask if you need any help, and that can result some nice interactions if you are open to them.
Now that I have my handy iPhone, all of this happens on my Google maps app. Sounds great! It works almost anywhere, and you just stare at your screen and walk one direction or another until you tell which way the GPS marker moves. Fantastic! To hell with those old fashioned paper maps and receiving help from locals who probably don’t even speak English!
My meeting in Montpelier was about 1.23 miles (24.5 minute walk) from our hotel. All the streets were curvy, and signs were all in French. But never fear, my iPhone equipped with Google maps could get me there! If I was just slightly less self conscious, I could even had the nice Google lady speak the directions to me as I walked. Then I’d even have company who speaks English, or any other language I request from her.
I got to the meeting without a wrong turn a few days in a row, and then I realized that I had no idea what the city and streets and shops and cars and people looked like. I had spent much of my walking time–which is normally my favorite activity–staring at my phone. Then I decided to go rogue and try it without my phone. I had the opening talk of the conference, so that was done and I didn’t need to worry much about being a bit late. I made several wrong turns and needed to use my phone a few times to reorient me. But I got there! Then I walked back to the hotel and only made one wrong turn but didn’t even need my phone to right myself. The next (and last) trip was perfect without the phone ever coming out of my pocket.
The city is beautiful! I saw for the first time the nice old walls, cobble stones, and small shops along my route to the meeting. I smiled at other peds and cyclists and noticed people carrying baguettes and flowers, and I could hear and smell more things too.
We went to Nice after Montpellier and had a great time. The phone was out some (ok, too much) of the time, but mostly we walked and looked and took in the sights. A few of the highlights were the Chagall and Matisse museums. They are definitely worth your time (but put your phone down and just look and enjoy!).
Besides travel and work, there is another thing taking me away from my leather shop: I’m learning to play guitar. I’ve always loved music and played trumpet for many years. I also sang in a wonderful acapella group called Audacity in Gainesville, FL. I listen to a lot of music, but I always have an urge to make music, and that urge has been growing recently. It isn’t a perfect analogy, but in many ways listening to music in the background while we go about our lives is a lot like walking around Montpellier glued to an iPhone. In both cases, you miss the subtleties and beauty, because your mind is somewhere else.
One of the reasons I took up guitar was Townes Van Zandt. His songs tug at my heart, and hearing him play his acoustic guitar and sing his songs is about as good as life gets. One of my favorites is “Don’t you take it too bad“. The middle verse has a few lines that get me every time and remind me to put my stupid devices down: “And if you go searchin’, For rhyme or for reason, Then you won’t have the time, That it take just for talkin'”.