The Struggling Flaneuse

“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—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.”

― Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays

The flâneur is a shameless wanderer. A person who is comfortable passing through a cityscape at their own pace, with no need to hurry in accordance with the wills of others. To explore without purpose. Paris is a city built on flânerie, on chance encounters and unexpected moments. With so many treasures in such a compact space, you can’t help but be pulled into the folds of the city’s streets.

When I first heard of the flâneur, I thought (in that special way only teenagers can think): “Finally! A word that describes me!” And that was the case for a very long time. Trips to London, Cambridge, my move to Canterbury, were all full of aimless wandering, happening upon hidden treasures and new favourites by chance.

However, since moving to Paris, the home of the flâneur, I find myself less and less able to wander in that same way. Maybe I’m intimidated by the huge, tall buildings, begging you to discover their secrets, the plaques and clues to the history within. This is the city where the flâneur was born, and I can’t quite live up to that legacy.

Another factor is the fear. Or, if I was being supremely existential, the Fear. I have a place to live in Paris (thank God) but I don’t have a home. Not yet. I don’t know these streets, and if I suddenly had to break flâneuse character to escape a difficult situation, I wouldn’t know how to.

I’ve found the key to successful wandering for me is a structure. To know the places where I should ‘check in’: a shop, a statue, a restaurant. Then the spaces in between are open for flânerie!

Maybe some day I will be able to be a true flâneuse, wandering freely with no need to stop and check the street name every few metres. But I doubt I will ever go without my trusty map book (you know, just in case).

What’s your favourite way to explore Paris? Do you plan it all out, or just go where the city takes you? Let me know in the comments!

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