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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > February 2018 > the art of the FLÂNEUR

the art of the FLÂNEUR

Follow author Marcel Theroux on the trail of the flâneurs – the intellectuals, bon vivants and artist-poets who sought inspiration from the streets of 19th-century Paris
A flâneur strolls along one of Paris’ cobbled streets
Kosher Jewish breads and pastries on display at the Boulangerie Murciano, which has been a bakery in Paris’ Marais district for over 100 years.

PHILHARMONIE DE PARIS TO PLACE DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE

CANALSIDE WANDER: 4.3 MILES

BAPTISTE THIÉRY PAUSES among the steel tanks of the Paname microbrewery to wrestle with a ticklish piece of French translation. The 26-year-old Breton is brewing a new batch of an India pale ale and hops perfume the air. Baptiste is also a graduate in English literature from the prestigious Paris Diderot University, so who better to translate the tricky French term flâneur? He savours the word as though he is tasting one of his beers. ‘Flâneur, flâner, flânerie,’ he says, giving me the noun, the verb and the abstract noun. ‘Flâner is literally to stroll, but the point is not about where you’re going, the point is to do it. You’re not picking a destination.’

MAP ILLUSTRATIONS: JOE DAVIS (JOEDAVISART.COM). PHOTOGRAPH OF COINS: FLORENT LAMONTAGNE/AGE FOTOSTOCK

In Paris, where intellectuals popularised impenetrable concepts like existentialism and deconstruction, calling a flâneur ‘someone who strolls’ seems laughably simplistic. It’s like describing a venerable burgundy as ‘a drink made from fermented grape juice’. A whole philosophical system has been erected around the symbol of the flâneur: the urban wanderer who observes, loafs and meditates on the life of the city. But Baptiste’s explanation feels like a good place to start.

My own quest to understand the flâneur began a few hours earlier, just inside the Périphérique, the ring road that follows the line of the old city walls. If you think of Paris as a clock face, my walk started at 2pm, beside the extraordinary new Philharmonie de Paris building that resembles a huge gladiator’s helmet or the parliament of a sinister alien civilisation.

The new building is the latest symbol of the regeneration of this area, the 19th arrondissement, which was once full of stockyards and meat markets, and whose canals supplied the city with water. The Grand Halle de la Villette, the former slaughterhouse, has been repurposed as an arts centre. The area’s leafy green spaces and outdoor fountains extend an invitation to stressed urbanites, picnicking families – and flâneurs. Except today. I’m still coming to terms with the meaning of flânerie, but I believe I’ve already confronted its kryptonite: torrential rain. There’s nothing that ruins a leisurely, mindful stroll more than wet clothes and the prospect of hypothermia.

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February 2018 Issue of Lonely Planet
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