Episode 28: Pure Flaneur
Today’s episode is part of a series called “Lessons from Paris.” In this series I’ve chosen essays from my book A Writer’s Paris that I’m betting will help you deepen your connection to your creative life and motivate you to create every day. Today’s show, the first in the series, is called “Pure Flaneur.”
The episode begins this way:
“Paris is a physically small city comprised of twenty arrondissements laid out like a pinwheel. The inner arrondissements contain most of the tourist attractions—the Louvre, Notre Dame, the D’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower—and the outer arrondissements sport features like the Bois de Boulogne to the west, the Bois de Vincennes to the east, Montmartre to the north, and the Parc Montsouris to the south. Most tourists skip the outer arrondissements and experience Paris as a very tidy, handy place. Even those tourists who venture further afield discover that they can get anywhere by métro in no time at all.”
Tune in to hear more!
Eric Maisel: Hello everybody. Welcome to today’s episode of “The Joy of Living Creatively.” Before we begin, I have a little request. I’m taking an anonymous survey of my listeners. And I hope that you’ll participate as your participation helps get me sponsors. Just drop over to personallifemedia.com and click on the Listener Survey ad on my show page. Thanks so much for supporting “The Joy of Living Creatively.”
Today’s show is another episode in the “Lessons from Paris” series based on my book, “The Writer’s Paris.” In each episode we examine an important aspect of the creative life and set our examination against the backdrop of Paris. I hope that you enjoy today’s show and will want to follow the whole series.
Eric Maisel: Today’s show is called, “Pure Flaneur.” Let’s begin. Paris is a physically small city comprised of twenty arondes monts laid out like a pinwheel. The inner arondes monts contain tourist attractions like the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Dorset, and the Eiffel Tower. While the outer arondes monts include such features as the Uots de Bologne to the west, the Boues de Vincent to the east, La Madre to the North, and the Parc Mont Sueras to the south.
Most tourists skip the outer arondes monts and experience Paris as a very tidy, handy place. But even if you venture further a field, you can get anywhere by Metro in no time at all. Carved out of France with a round cookie cutter, contained by its peripheral road, Paris is intentionally made to feel small so that its citizens can enjoy it.
It is a protected zone with the tenements that house new residents rising beyond the city limits making Parisian schools better than their suburban counterparts. This reversal takes an American a few seconds to process. Because of planned city management, even the poorest Parisian neighborhoods feel eminently more livable than the poor parts of American cities.
I walked every Paris arondes mont and never felt unsafe. Statistics indicate that there is as much crime, and even as much violent crime in Paris as in any American city. But it doesn’t feel that way. This feeling of safety, which may reflect reality or may amount to some romantic mirage, is an important part of why you feel like strolling in Paris. Not like scurrying along as if late for an appointment.
You feel secure sitting in a park even if you’re the only person there. You feel relaxed rather than vigilant as you amble. Perhaps you shouldn’t feel this safe, but you do, hence, my recommendation, stroll everywhere. This strolling is an integral part of your time in Paris. You can only write so many hours a day. Even for the most productive, published authors, three or four hours of writing is often the maximum.
The rest of the day is yours which makes the devil’s ears perk right up. If you like, you can shop, socialize, catch up on your proofs, or jog in the Boues de Vincent. But a superb alternative to succumbing to the dangers of having time on your hands is the practice of flaneury, the French invention of strolling as art form. The flâneur is an observer who wanders the streets of a great city on a mission to notice with child-like enjoyment the smallest events and the obscurest sights he encounters.
Beau de Leyre, a resident 19th century flâneur, observed, “For the flâneur, it’s an immense pleasure to take up residence in multiplicity in whatever is seething, moving, evanescent and infinite. You’re not at home but you feel at home everywhere. You see everyone. You’re at the center of everything. Yet, you remain hidden from everybody.”
This is one astute definition of the writer “an observer who ventures everywhere while remaining invisible.” You can stroll in New York but the Tao in New York demands double-time. You can stroll in Los Angeles but the Zen of Los Angeles requires four wheels. You can stroll in your hometown but you will run out of sights and strolling room in three minutes flat.
Most places are not designed or equipped to support two or three hours of ambling. It is in Paris that the delicious, dreamy strolling of the flâneur can be perfected. Indeed, you may never become the poet of your dreams until you become a poet of flaneury. It is the exercise regimen of the artist.
The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Stanley Curnow, arrived in Paris in the early 1950s. He recalls, “Whipping through Notre Dame, the Sans Chapelle, the Treleurise, the Palais Royale, the Pastillons Concorde, the Seanseleysez, the Arc de Triomphe, and all of the other mandatory sights.” Then he saw the light.
“Presently, realizing that I could not appreciate Paris unless I curbed my frenetic pace, I became a flâneur, an aimless stroller in a town ideal for aimless strolling. I would wander along the Siennes pausing to browse for old prints in the Que side bookstalls, or watch the barges as they cruised up and down the river, their decks festooned with laundry, their sterns flying French, Dutch, British and other European flags.”
Flaneury fills up idle time beautifully and promotes that meditative state that leads to artistry. Vary your strolling by taking the Metro each day to a new neighborhood even in auspiciously bourgeoise ones like the fifteenth and the sixteenth. And begin your wandering. Stroll. Stop for a snack. Venture into a museum like the Aaron Space Museum or the Buddhist museum or the Baccarat Crystal museum. Smile and pause to write. Wander on. Punctuate your stroll with cafes and churches. At the end of such a day, you will sleep very well.
Even if your hometown isn’t an auspicious place to practice flaneury, practice it anyway. This will hone your observation skills, model the writing life for young poets peeking out from behind their curtains as you pass, and prepare you for Paris. It will get you sunlight and exercise and put a smile on your face. Best of all, it will spark your writing. The walking meditation known as flaneury is a key that unlocks your creativity.
That ends today’s show. I hope that you enjoyed it and I hope that you’ll tune in next week for another episode of “The Joy of Living Creatively.” If you subscribe, you won’t miss a single episode. To subscribe, please visit personallifemedia.com or look for “The Joy of Living Creatively” in I-Tunes. You also might want to visit my blog which is available at the personallifemedia.com website. And if you’d like to drop me an email, I’d love to hear from you. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And do visit my website to learn more about my books and services. To visit, just head over to ericmaisell.com, that’s e-r-i-c-m-a-i-s-e-l dot com. Oh and the last reminder about the anonymous survey I’m taking of my listeners. I hope you’ll participate. Just go to personallifemedia.com and click on the Listeners’ Survey ad on my show page. Thanks so much for supporting “The Joy of Living Creatively.”