Have you ever wandered aimlessly while on vacation somewhere? How about in your own city? Personally, I love the idea of being an adventurer right where I live, exploring hidden crevices, squeezing out sweetness from every corner of life. We all have an accessible playground calling to us in our own backyards. Flâneurs understand this.
American writer Edmund White describes the flâneur as “a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles through a city without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in covert search of adventure, aesthetic or erotic.”
But why keep our inquisitive natures a secret? Curiosity about our very own dwelling spaces ought to be openly cultivated and celebrated! We can all be urban explorers, our home cities seen newly as fragrant forests beckoning our curiosities and observations both intellectual and primal. Imagine yourself the captain of your very own local safari, no itinerary required!
Human brains are stimulated when we take alternate routes to and from familiar destinations. Our creativity gets a jump-start when we mix things up sensorily and experientially. Fortunately, it doesn’t require abundant resources (time, money, etc.) to do so when we keep it close to home.
French poet Charles Baudelaire developed a derived meaning of flâneur — that of “a person who walks the city in order to experience it.” Because of the term’s usage and theorization by Baudelaire and numerous thinkers in economic, cultural, literary and historical fields, the idea of the flâneur has accumulated significant meaning as a referent for understanding urban phenomena and modernity.
[Baudelaire] settled on a word to capture the attitude he felt one should adopt when walking along the streets. One should become, he suggested, a flâneur…The defining characteristic of those flâneurs is that they don’t have any practical goals in mind. They aren’ t walking to get something, or to go somewhere, they aren’t even shopping… Flâneurs are standing in deliberate opposition to capitalist society, with its two great imperatives: to be in a hurry and to buy things…What the flâneurs are doing is looking. — Alain de Botton, Swiss writer and philosopher
For me personally, intentionally putting on my flâneur hat now and then makes me feel alive. It rejuvenates my community connections while soothing my restless nature with enticing novelty and nuance awaiting my delighted discovery in both expected and unexpected places. This mindful — certainly not mindless! — journeying also reminds me of the powerful force of gratitude.
I love where I live and challenge you to see your own community with new eyes. Feed yourself a fresh and colorful sensory diet that’s healthy for both body and spirit. New images and experiences are there just waiting to be discovered! Make a commitment to take a new path now and then and see where it takes you.
For your listening enjoyment: https://soundcloud.com/david-coonan/flaneur: Flâneur was composed in February 2011, and is scored for flute (doubling piccolo), b-flat clarinet, vibraphone, harp, and piano. The first performance was given by the Manson Ensemble with conductor Benedikt Hayoz, at the David Josefowitz Hall, London, in March 2011. The performers were Lu Du (flute), Jamie Elston (clarinet), Philip Welder (vibraphone), Jimin Lee (harp), and Philip Howard (piano).