I Get Around: The Art of Flanerie

This weekend alone, I walked 27,317 steps. That’s 7,317 over my goal of 10,000 steps a day. (I know these exact numbers because I don’t leave chez moi without my Nike Fuel Band, which keeps count.) In fact, since arriving in Paris, I’ve walked 204,218 steps—give or take a few. (That annoying 3a.m. half-sleep-walk to the bathroom should count for something!)

It doesn’t add up to much in mileage, so I doubt it’ll be enough to keep me from buying new jeans due to my expanding waistline now that pain au chocolate is for breakfast and Chevre is for dinner, but c’est magnifique, n’est pas?

Not only has it been an unintentional form of exercise and a means of transport from A to B, but it’s pretty much been the A to B. The journey itself has been the destination.

See, contrary to when I first moved to London, and during my former life as an editor who got invited to a lot of chic-chic events in New York, I don’t really have much on my agenda these days. Sure, part of it is the lack of a social life, which is likely due to my a) being a freelancer that works from home and b) there being a bit of a language barrier. But really, I think all this white space on my iCal comes from my not being in a rush, for once, specifically while in a newish place. My sojourn in London, had an end date. Not to mention that the Big Smoke itself, as a city, was more unfamiliar to me. (As was why they call it the Big Smoke.) I hadn’t spent much time there prior so I did all I could, in the time allotted, to capture its essence by seeing and doing and going 24/7. (Or, at least, on the weekends or after work.) But here in Paris, things are different. I am different. My circumstances are different. I’m in-betweening. Just being. Or, as the French call it: engaging in Flânerie.

Someone who participates in flânerie—walking, wandering, general moving about as a purpose as opposed to without one—is a flâneur.

Knowing that there’s an actual name for my seemingly mundane activity of choice has kept the FOMO at bay and makes me feel even more accomplished about my weekend itineraries (or lackthereof). Sure, I occasionally have a destination—be it yoga, the cinema, the supermarket, a concert or to see an apartment in another part of town, as was the case on Saturday—but it’s often pretty basic and quick. The walking, before and/or after, really completes the day.

What’s more, the French poet and writer Charles Baudelaire’s description of someone who participates in such “strolling” or “sauntering” sounds a lot like yours truly:

For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world…

How’s that for on-the-nose? Part of it deserves repeating.

To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home…

I mostly only embark on these weekend strolls during the daylight hours—not necessarily for safety reasons, but for practical reasons so that I can actually see (and remember) where I am. You know, just in case I should want to go there again. Or make it home alive. (Just kidding. I feel safe at all hours here in Pareee.)

While familiarizing myself with the city and its arrondissements, from the 11th near Bastille up through the 10th by the Canal Saint-Martin and then into the 2nd near Gare du Nord and eventually up to where I live in the 9th known as South Pigalle, I try my hardest not to consult Google Maps; but rather to let the sun’s location in the sky and my walked-here-before-seen-that-already knowledge guide me along a new rue or boulevard.

During these jaunts, I sometimes stop in a park to scroll through the New York Times on my phone while not letting the sounds of a loud French kid whizzing around and around and around on his scooter bother me.

Or maybe I’ll duck into a coffee shop to refuel and read one of the four books I’m currently bookmarking (Siddhartha, The Sweet Life in Paris, Station Eleven, How to be a Woman).

I see the natural light against a building or the gritty-chic street art decorating one.

I notice advertisements for upcoming shows or exhibits and smile to myself thinking, “Maybe I’ll do that.”

I happen upon kosher chocolate shops and stores dedicated to the King of Pop.

I count bagel shops. There’s a surprisingly insane number of them! (Haven’t dared tried one yet, though.)

I walk by nail salons and wonder if they call a French manicure a French manicure. Sometimes I even go in to check prices. And dang, it’s expensive! (Not sure how much longer I can hold out, though. Things are getting sharp and uneven up in here. I know, I know. God forbid I should DIMY. But I didn’t bring the necessary accoutrements.)

I look around and make the rare, underrated mental note of how pinch-me proud and lucky I feel to have embarked on this Parisian adventure.

These walks have been my raison d’etre, and while I occasionally add in an actual point of interest to saunter to or from, or even (gasp!) take the metro, I know I’ll forever remember these first few weeks of wandering around my adopted city. Of going nowhere to experience the everywhere. Of allowing myself to get lost to prove, maybe, that I do know where I’m going.

Here are a few snapshots I’ve taken while practicing the great art of flânerie.

2 thoughts on “I Get Around: The Art of Flanerie

  1. Pingback: Things that make me go…oh la la | From New York to London to Elsewhere and Back Again

  2. Pingback: Paris: This much I know (so far) | News Girl About Towns

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