Flâner (v.): To stroll, wander, or roam without an end goal in mind.
How appropriate it seems that this verb should be one of the first I encounter upon arriving in Paris. Appropriate? No no, that feels too… formal. Serendipitous, there we go. How serendipitous… that one of the first verbs I learned during orientation would come to define countless afternoons, would reveal the philosophy of a city, and would open me to a new perspective that, somehow, Paris knew I needed to see.
Paris is a city of flânerie: the art of wandering and losing oneself in the city streets. In fact, it feels built for this very purpose. The city center is small, thanks to numerous walls that surrounded Paris starting in the Gallo-Roman era. As the city developed over the centuries, communities were formed, monuments were constructed, but Paris remained compact. It is easy to walk from the Arc-de-Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower, or from the Louvre to Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Paris is also a city of cafés, which form a stark contrast with the imposing boulevards and glorious monuments to French history. The Paris café is a place of examination where the likes of Voltaire would meet to discuss emerging philosophies in the years prior to the French revolution. Paris is made to be walked and explored like no other city on Earth.
As for me, I have always thought of myself as a wanderer. I get lost very easily (which is not always convenient, especially when driving) and I grew up in a place where time, simply put, takes its own time. Life in Claremont feels faster; being a busy student in close proximity to L.A. makes the semester fly by (though getting through traffic on the 10 still takes an eternity). But studying at a liberal arts college like Pomona has given me, like most students here, the freedom to wander and take my time.
In Paris, time has once again picked up speed. I passed the halfway mark of the semester a while ago, and the city still feels new and exciting. No complaints there. But what I soon realized is that, though Paris holds many similarities to New York or L.A., there exists an underlying idea here that can summarized in one verb, the verb I scribbled into my notebook during my first week. Flâner. This is not New York, where the pace of city streets never slows. This is not L.A., where freeways dominate. In Paris, the art of slowing down and wandering is a precious gift.
But not a gift the city hands out freely. To immerse yourself in this philosophy, you have to take the first step yourself and get lost. Passing the halfway mark was a wake-up call for me, and somehow the city knew I needed a way to slow down and wander in the way I was used to doing back home. My preferred method here in Paris: find a café, order an espresso (or a glass of wine), and wait for time to slow down. When it feels right, pick a direction, and go.
Can one plan to get lost? Does that defeat the purpose? If I were to note on my calendar: “3-5 pm: Flâner,” that would be silly. But it does take initiative to step out of a class schedule and planned excursions. Yes, time will always progress forward (though let’s not get into relativity and time-space and all that). But Paris has shown me that to flâner is to pull back the reins and slow down time, with the only goal being to have no goal at all. Maybe this is why certain areas of Paris feel timeless. The combination of thousands of flâneurs has undoubtedly left a mark on this city, just as this new philosophy has left its mark on me.
To those who wander (which I hope is all of you), don’t be disenchanted by how quick the fall semester can feel. You are in control. If you are an expert at wandering, whether in school disciplines or in the town of Claremont, you have already succeeded at slowing down time (in my book at least). And to those who are new to wandering, whether in changing a major or exploring a new passion, congrats! Have a drink (yes, non-alcoholic works just fine) and go!
À la prochaine,