While I partially covered this topic last month in my column about an impending Metro strike (which lasted all of one day), in spending more time focusing on it, I’ve discovered its applicability not only in Paris, but in any city — including Boulder.
“Flâneur” is a French word that loses its wonderfulness in translation. In the simplest of terms, it means someone who strolls.
But it’s so much more than that. A flâneur takes time out of the day to walk around without any specific direction in mind, with no goal other than to “experience” the city. A flâneur is someone who regards their surroundings with interest and with passion while also being a part of those same surroundings. They feed off the energy of a bustling boulevard at rush hour and find solace in the calm of an empty evening street.
I first learned the term last year, while reading a list of “untranslatable words.” Flâneur is so particularly French — so Parisian, in fact — that I was immediately consumed by the thought of becoming one myself. So, the last few months, I have been trying to discover the best way to master the art of being a flâneur — or, in my case, flâneuse.
While I still have a long way to go before reaching true flâneuse-ness (and only five more weeks to achieve it — please don’t make me leave!), I feel like I’ve gotten a slight handle on what it takes to really “flâner:”
Start in your ‘hood
Taking time to explore the nooks and crannies of your neighborhood is the first step to becoming a part of a city. Spend the time required to really see your neighborhood, to observe how neighbors interact with each other, and with the area itself. Try not to think about where you’re going, and you’ll find things you’ve been passing by on your way to your regular hangouts.
When I’m commuting, whether I’m walking across campus or taking the Metro across Paris, I disconnect myself from everything around me. I grab my iPod, fix my direction, and go. While it’s sometimes convenient to block out the rest of the world when you’ve got places to be, it is absolutely counteractive to becoming a flâneur. If you try to flâner with your earbuds in — as the gym teacher from “Mean Girls” would say — “You will get pregnant… and die. Just… don’t do it, okay?”
Since you don’t have anywhere to go or any time to be where you’re not going, you can walk as slow as you’d like and look at what surrounds you. Unlike during finals, this is a time where you can pay attention while letting your mind wander at the same time — allow yourself to be distracted from any specific scene; allow yourself to experience life with multiple senses. Try to sense the rhythm of the streets, and sync your pace with it.
These tips will hopefully get you started on the road to becoming a flâneur(euse) — the rest is up to you! For the rest of my time here, I plan to wander about Paris as much as I can, to really soak up the city, and to become a true flâneuse. Hopefully by the time I get back to Boulder, some of you will have gotten the hang of it as well, and we can experience the city together!
Jessica Ryan is a junior media studies major at CU-Boulder. She writes about study abroad experiences once a week for the Colorado Daily. On Twitter: @JessicaLRyan.