This is a wonderful French word. And it’s very Parisienne in nature. Flanerie: to take a wander around a city just to look and smell and absorb.

Photo via Vogue Japan

I’ve JUST today settled on my first apartment. The keys are sitting here on my table. It’s big. For me. The purchase is part of my latest experiment: getting anchored…so that I have a sturdier base from which to flit and fly. Which is what I like doing best.

You might find this odd. My apartment – in stark contrast to where I’ve been the past two years – is in the middle of the most densely populated suburb in Sydney (and, for that matter, Australia). It ain’t no tin shed in the forest!

I’m nervous about being around so much humanity and humming and freneticness and smell. But I feel it’s time for me to get cool with humanity and to be truly in and amongst it. Can’t go over it, can’t go around it, must go through it.

Which brings me to the beauty of flanerie. The French do this on a Saturday afternoon in Paris. They don’t wander around shops and buy shit they don’t need. The French have simple tastes. Excess is deemed vulgar. Instead, they wander the streets, dropping in for a coffee or an aperitif at cafes. Cafes, where the chairs face outwards to the world so as to allow everyone to flanerise more! They visit gardens and poke their heads into avenues and parks and galleries. Just to absorb and look. Just to get in and amongst it. It’s a big part of the French psyche: this simple, still observation of humanity. When I was in Paris I loved the spirit of it…sitting facing out to humanity. Then wandering amongst it. Then sitting back again.

Nowhere to go. Nothing to do.

In Paris, as I flanerised, I felt part of something. I belonged, even though I was alone. Paris is a great city for being alone.

A key aspect of the flanerie is walking. Walking allows you to be in real time with a city.

Another aspect: keeping close and local and small. Not big excursions, but whimsical explorations of what’s near. It’s about not trying too hard, which really is a mantra of mine. Perhaps I’ll make it my 2013 motto.

I very much like this: finding interest in the close, the small, the grottiness. Keeping expectations low. Finding the beauty in the everyday. Trying less.

For, the less you’re reaching outwards, the more you can expand from your core.

All this, it anchors me and gives me a sturdier base. I can tend to get Weekend Panic. I think I should be doing bigger things, farther out of town that folk in Country Road catalogues do (in crisp linen). But I can find the centred calm I seek in life far better from just doing a gentle flanerie.

A wander through a bookshop down the road: I chat to the owner and she offers to host my book launch in January.

A non-committal tea at a local cafe, content to just sit: I learn the owners have bee hives on their roof and support sustainable produce. And that they do Saturday afternoon pork roasts.

People in my new ‘hood sit in tiny, almost-daggy cafes where they know the owner’s family and foibles. Here they do their tax, write their Christmas cards, sitting in chairs facing out to life. In and amongst it. I like it.

Libraries, benches in less-than-perfect-but-still-quite-lovely spots, simple picnics of takeaway roast chook in small parks or verges you’d normally overlook….just looking and keeping it close and small and everyday. It’s the future, I tell you.

What do you do when you take a flanerie in your ‘hood? I’ll need ideas if I’m to make this latest experiment of mine work!

 

 

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Edwina

    Great article on The Flaneur in the autumn 2014 edition of Slow magazine (also a great magazine).

  • Tom Flannery

    All this time my surname has matched my favourite hobby and I’m only finding out now?! I’m 30!

  • Jess Pace

    One of my favourite posts from you Sarah 🙂 I love walking through Callan Park in Rozelle, I usually am listening to a podcast or I’ll take a book. It’s quite an isolated park behind the uni and I think you would love it. There’s so much to observe and I always feel like I’m on an adventure when I go there, as there are hidden pathways where nature has taken over to closed up buildings. Your blog creates a zenness within me, so thank you for passing on words of wisdom.