Quick announcement: After the piece below, I’ve got an announcement about some cool new changes coming soon to this newsletter. Keep reading.
My wife and I watched the French movie Cléo from 5 to 7 this week. There’s a moment late in the film when Cléo, a young singer in Paris, gets lost in the Parc Montsouris, a park in the bottom of the 14th arrondisement, and my wife said, watching the screen, “Do you remember before you had a phone, what it was like to get lost? To be somewhere and not know where you were, how to get home, how to call for help. I miss those days.”
In college, I spent a semester in South Africa. On the third day, our director dropped each of us off in a different neighborhood around Cape Town and gave us a hundred rand, about twenty U.S. dollars, and told us to get home, whatever it took; the one thing we couldn’t do, he said, was hire a private taxi. None of us had a phone. No one had a map. I was dropped on a busy road in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township. I walked into a shop with a sheet metal roof, bought a ginger beer, and asked for directions. One of the customers showed me how to catch the train to the city-center. Once I got there, a man told me how to catch a minibus – a minivan overflowing with a dozen-plus passengers, Tupac blaring on the stereo – back to our hostel.
One winter, when we lived in France, my wife took me to Morocco for my birthday. Plane tickets were seventy-five bucks total. The accommodations were even cheaper, a beautiful room in Marrakech in a riad, a small hotel, located in the heart of the medina, the old city, a dusty maze of tea stalls and date vendors. Merchants everywhere sold rugs and DVD players. Men in white cotton coats sold nuts and fruit from large wagons. It felt like an endless whorl of unmarked paths, alleyways and dead ends, walled in by fortifications and sun-baked plaster, shaded by a latticework of small wooden planks. Every building spiking with antennae. Everywhere, mopeds, donkey carts, container trucks. We got lost in the morning. We got lost at night. Every couple hours, the call to prayer would blast from minarets, and boys constantly stopped me, asking questions in French, Arabic, grabbing my hand, encouraging us to follow them wherever. One afternoon, after a day of exploring, when I thought we were well and truly gone, we turned a corner, semi-despairing, and there we were: at the front door to our riad.
More recently, we spent a long day in the desert. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Joshua Tree, and the owners drew us a map on a piece of paper for an easy walk off-grid. For the first two hours, I knew where we were going. By hour three, I wasn’t really sure. Everything looked the same. I’d forgotten to download a map and couldn’t find reception. I felt positive that the turn we needed, the one that would lead us back to our car, was coming up soon, but nothing was marked. I tried to hide my discomfort. We talked about other stuff. If everything went bad, I knew there was a road six or seven miles north, and we still had two bottles of water – but you read news reports of people getting lost in the desert, discovered by rangers weeks later, and the headlines come rushing back, hovering in the wavy air. Then what seemed like a path – a set of boot prints, a parting of vegetation – appeared in the dust of a dry wash. We hooked left, our eyes trained for more tracks. Slowly they began to appear. Our pace quickened. My confidence recovered. Half an hour later, we climbed over a hill, and there was our car.
I’ve had bad moments being lost. And getting lost isn’t always physical. But when it is, and when it works out, the world acquires a sense of order out of nowhere, a sudden rightness, a grip on the present moment. You wonder if some things are meant to be.
Newsletter announcement: The Sunday Supplement.
I’ve been writing these essays since April, and it’s really enjoyable. I like speaking to people directly. I like writing in a style both tight and loose. Something about the simplicity of the medium both lowers and raises expectations. It’s fun.
But writing is also how I make my bread and butter – or, I guess, how I pay for bread and butter. Substack, the platform that publishes these newsletters for me, makes it easy for me to charge for subscriptions. And unfortunately bread and butter are always in demand.
(I realize that some of you are familiar with Substack, how this all works, and this will come as no surprise. I realize that some of you, like my dad, perhaps, who refers to these newsletters as “your blog or whatever,” may find this surprising. I’ll explain. Hi, dad.)
Beginning next week, I’m going to start publishing a Sunday edition called The Sunday Supplement, for paying subscribers. And I’m offering a 30% discount this week.
Here’s why. As an author and magazine writer, part of my job is to consume a lot (a lot) of media. Books, movies, magazines. Poems, articles, podcasts. Gallery shows, TV shows, foreign radio shows.
In addition, my roles at The Morning News and The Tournament of Books, the ‘zine and publishing event I started with my friend Andrew Womack, mean I’m constantly finding all kinds of weird stuff bubbling up on the web.
Don’t worry: these Saturday morning essays will stay free!
But for a little money each month, you can support my career and receive, in turn, an email each Sunday morning with four recommendations: a mini-essay about something I’m currently loving, plus three things I strongly recommend. There will also be a comments section for subscribers, where we can discuss the media in question late into the night!
And I’m offering a 30% discount to anybody who signs up by this Friday, September 24. Which comes out to less than $5/month or $50/year.
Finally, there’s an additional tier. A couple generous people reached out this summer offering to pay to subscribe to this newsletter. (Thank you.) And they offered much more money than I would have expected. If you’re one of those people, there’s a Patron tier for $250. Which includes:
An inscribed copy of (2) of my books of your choosing, mailed to whomever or wherever you’d like
My great gratitude, plus enormous karma points, as much as I can grant them
So! If you’d like to support me and keep these newsletters humming, plus discover four things a week you might just love, you can:
With my enormous thanks.
What the what? A weekly newsletter by novelist Rosecrans Baldwin of very short essays about things he finds beautiful, plus “The Sunday Supplement” (coming soon) for paying subscribers, a weekly recommendation of four great things.
Rosecrans’s new book, Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles, is available from Bookshop, Amazon, or your local shop. Any other books mentioned in this newsletter are featured on a list at Bookshop.