10 July 2011

The Flâneur

flâneur, euse - stroller (péj) idler, loafer 

The Flâneur; a stroll through the paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White is a book that Matt at A Guy's Moleskine Notebook reviewed in detail exactly a month ago and that I simply had to snap up in preparation for Paris in July, if only for the tantalizing title. I remember a French friend jokingly referring to the bf as a flâneur whilst we were living over there and, after hearing the word bounded around a few times afterwards, I decided to do a bit of digging into the meaning of the term and fell in love with the concept; of an aimlessly wandering, intensely curious, intellectual and stylish soul, a quintessential figure of any Parisian street scene.

Pleased as punch I was when this little gem landed on my doorstep. A handy, pocket-size guide that actually has no writing on the front, just a beautifully mysterious picture of the Tuileries garden in the snow, its characteristic chairs the only hint to the insider of where exactly in Paris this may be. This was a departure from my usual, almost purely fictional reads, and a joy to settle down with for this very reason. Edmund White is a veteran of wandering the streets of this wonderful city and his easy familiarity really reveals itself in the fascinating, almost random snippets he gives us from each arrondisement, yet random is indeed the order of the day for any genuine flâneur

This was indeed a very personal account of the streets of this fair city, and I enjoyed it all the more for this...it was nice not to have the feeling of reading fact after fact as you might do with a more conventional guidebook. There are some great portraits of artists from the nineteenth and early twentieth century (including a particularly vivid one of Colette which I relished after reading some of her work recently) and a clear focus on the life of more marginalised groups in France (e.g. Jewish, gay, black people, etc) which was just fascinating. One or two sections were very entertaining but, I have to say, a little too specific to be going on for 10+ pages - i.e. I can't really see myself getting 'on' the gay cruising scene when I next visit Paris quite as much as Edmund White may like to do, so I may be passing on some of his hints/tips onto my gay friends. Tee hee.

That said, all in all, jolly interesting, great guide. If you know Paris well then I'm sure you'll find this interesting, if not, read it while you're there and it will mean so much more...


  1. The 'Flaneur' also makes an appearance in John Baxter's new book 'The Most Beautiful Walk in the World - A Pedestrian in Paris'...there is a real trend towards walking in Paris at the moment! I have secured an interview with Baxter for my Paris in July post....so will let you know when that is ready to go online...


  2. I love books that help you walk and appreciate what you're seeing. There's no better way to learn about where you are than being a pedestrian. Thanks for this one.

  3. Hi Suzie - oo yes do! One of my favourite figures le flâneur....

    Hi cleemckenzie. I completely agree..walking around is the best way to see any city, that and sitting in cafés pretending to read...:-)

  4. Ah yes - Sorry - forgot to come back with a link to the John Baxter interview...here it is!