A couple years ago, I didn’t even know what the word Flâneur meant. Over the last couple years though, I’ve purposely tried to take time to be a Flâneur. A Flâneur is a stroller, a lounger, a saunterer, or loafer, an archetypal urban explorer. The word is quintessentially French and carries deep associations with the boulevards of Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world in which to stroll. I happened to be in Paris in October of 2004 for the “festival of the night” and I can tell you without a doubt that strolling the streets of Paris that night was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Have you ever noticed how on a day to day basis, we tend to zone out? I will never forget exactly where I was on 9/11, but moments like that of great remembrance are few and far between. In some ways that’s a good thing but I think most of the time we’re in too big of a hurry. Other scenes like this come to mind. What rings a bell for you? What experiences have you had where the world seemed to come alive, if only for a few moments? The birth of a child? Graduation from HS? Winning a competition? A big speech?
I’ve never done hallucinogens but from what I’ve been told that’s part of the draw. The simplest things become incredibly beautiful, strange, and awe-inspiring in a state of hallucination. This is not necessary, the side effects are too high, and plus hallucinogens are illegal. Why can’t every day life be this way? We don’t need to go all the way to Disney World, and spend all that money to have feelings of wonderment. Everyday life can be incredibly beautiful and meaningful and fun.
When was the last time you turned off all the electronics, and took a day off, with no plans? Try it some time. There are serious health benefits to becoming an occasional Flâneur. The brain craves novelty. Actually the brain needs novelty because this is how we learn. When we open our minds and our hearts and our schedules, life can become an ongoing learning experience. There’s no telling what might happen when you go for a walk. Seriously.
Everyone knows walking is good for us: only 2 miles a day and you will live 10 years longer and have much less chance of having a stroke or dementia. What makes being a Flâneur a little different is its emphasis on freedom and randomness. You can go where ever you want to go, do whatever you want to do. There is no goal. There is no time limit. There is no objective. All you’re doing is getting out and seeing what the world has to offer. We don't always need a goal. Being healthy and fit is an art and a science.
Hit the road, and see what happens. Stop and talk to someone. Take a break and have a coffee. Look at the animals. Enjoy the view or walk down a street you’ve never been on. Sit in a swing or lay on the grass and look at the clouds. Stop and read the postings on the store windows. Browse through the shops or the markets. I’m dead serious. Turn off your mind and your thoughts and just enjoy the gift of being alive. Or if you need to think through a serious problem, walk and think.
One of the unfortunate aspects of the way we’ve built America is that there seems to be few places to do this sort of thing. We retreated to the suburbs where everything is the same, so it’s not that interesting to walk, or in some cases as a walker you’re treated with hostility by drivers- yes, it happens. In the city, it’s sometimes dangerous to walk. It’s almost like we’ve ingrained ourselves to think we need to drive to a park or some other place to enjoy being outside.
That being said, there are places to go. Be creative. I actually take the Marta bus from my house in Chamblee, Ga sometimes. Yes, it’s a little scary (there were two unconscious people on there the last time I rode it) but I don’t ride it that long. And most cities now are starting to get the picture and are putting in bike lanes and walking paths. The Beltline project in Atlanta is a fine example of this. New Orleans, LA, San Francisco, CA, Santa Fe, NM, and Charleston, SC are 4 of the finest cities in the world to be a Flâneur in. Close to home, Chattanooga is good too.
I just got back from Australia where for 3.5 weeks I walked, and walked, and walked. I went in mind-boggling museums in sleepy small towns, I climbed jagged dry mountains, I watched strange birds and jaw-dropping sunsets, I went in quiet neat parks, leafy neighborhoods, and dramatic harbors, over antique bridges, onto trains, and I chatted with locals. I stopped to read newspapers and drink coffee. When I got back, I missed it. Australia? Well yes, but what I really missed the most was walking, with no particular goal in mind.
If you want to relieve stress, and enjoy life, boost your brainpower, and become healthier in the process, then take a hint from the Parisians and become a Flâneur. Come alive and enjoy the moment. Wake up and feel the joy of life. We are blessed. The options are plentiful. And who knows what might happen?