Monday, 10 November 2008

flâneur in beijing

Today I walked around the city, alone, for eight hours with scarcely a break. This solitary walking is a reflection of a deep need that goes back decades. There is a kind of opening to chance, to adventure. I feel myself in a lineage of 'flâneurs'. Edmund White writes beautifully about the 'flâneur' in his book, not coincidentally, on Paris. He describes him as someone in search of aesthetic and erotic delight.
The 'flâneur' was born in Paris in the late C19th. Baron Haussmann had torn down great swathes of Paris, to build wide boulevards (that troops could swiftly enter in case of popular insurrection) full of bourgeois apartment blocks and shopping arcades, and thus created the first recognisably modern city (I simplify!). Ancient neighbourhoods were broken up for ever.............I have decided its quite impossible to describe the 'flâneur'! If you are one, you may recognise yourself. Let me know.
I don't know if women can be 'flâneuses'. A woman in search of aesthetic and erotic delight might attract a different and less flattering epithet. A woman, besides, cannot slip as easily as a man, alone, through the interstices of city life. (Do prove me wrong, girls!) There have however been some great women photographers of the city, Berenice Abbott to mention but one, so I guess a woman behind a camera must count as a 'flâneur' - 'flâneuse' as a word is just too hideous, and perilously close to 'floozy'.

The baser elements of Eros, fortunately, play much less of a part in my life than hitherto. My interests and explorations on my solitary perambulations are largely aesthetic, but having now exhausted myself trying to explain the 'flâneur's' impulse, after a hard day's walking, I need to turn in, hit the sack. ( More idioms for you, Oiuna!)

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