Friday, April 25, 2014

Je Suis Une Flâneuse

As I was exploring Northern France, my friend Patty taught me the most delightful word in French, flâner - which means to roam, stroll or wander about aimlessly.

Valenciennes, France

Upon further research I discovered that flâner directly translated means "to stroll, saunter or lounge" in a relative context of idleness or laziness. However, Baudelaire defined flâner as something more poetic, in which the word implies that strolling through a city is the best way to understand and experience it.

This word really stuck with me, because it describes my ideal way of traveling: getting to know a new place by exploring it without a specific destination in mind. Aimlessly wandering through a city is my favorite thing to do while traveling, because it allows you to truly discover the personality of the place you're visiting. You experience it in a completely different way than you otherwise would as a hurried tourist, hastily bouncing from one attraction to the next.

My favorite place to flâner will always be Paris

In the 19th century, the flâneur was a literary archetype often found on the streets of Paris. Such men of leisure were initially looked down upon as idlers, but soon their persona became associated with curiosity, investigation and urban exploration. The notion of flânerie was accompanied by the idea of experiencing a city through detached observation.

In "The Painter of Modern Life", Charles Baudelaire describes the art of the flâneur as such,

"The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. 
His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. 
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
impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define."


If I had to choose one word to describe myself here in Europe, it would be flâneuse. My goal as a traveler is to discover the heart and soul of the places I visit. Whether it be at home in Madrid or while traveling to a new city, for me this is attained through people watching, photography, journaling, and simply wandering through the city. Even my growing passion for photography can be explained by the ways of the flâneur. Balzac described flânerie as "the gastronomy of the eye", while Susan Sontag exclaims,

"The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world 'picturesque'."

I'm delighted to have finally discovered this word, for it explains so much about me. A wanderer, an observer, and an urban explorer; through and through, I'm a flâneuse at heart. 

10 comments:

  1. So excited to learn this word!!!! Totally how I feel about traveling too, I'm an eternal wanderer.

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    1. It's the best way to be! But maybe I'm a little bit biased :)

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  2. That looks absolutely stunning!

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  3. What a perfect word! What better way to get to know a place but to wander and take in all the details?

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    1. No better way in my opinion :) It makes traveling that much more enriching.

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  4. Love everything about this! Can't believe I didn't learn that word in my french classes :)

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    1. Thank you! I've only ever taken one French class, but I feel like this word should be mandatory in all of them!

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  5. I really, really love this post and the whole concept of "flaner." It's my favorite way to travel, and I'm glad to have a name to put to the concept now :)

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  6. Je suis une flâneuse aussi! I travel the way you do, I like to wander around and 'feel' a city :)

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