What is a Flâneur?
Flâneur (pronounced “flah-nehr”), is a word developed by the Parisians, who, living in the most-visited city in the world, felt as though there was nothing of Paris left to be discovered. They invented the concept of the flâneur, of someone who wanders without a set destination, someone who walks just to walk—perhaps in search of interesting things—as a way to rediscover their city.
I like this for a few reasons. First, I love walking, I think the place way to see a place is on foot. Second, I enjoy wandering. Wandering in a new or familiar place, wandering in search of something interesting—that makes me a seeker, an interestingness hunter-gatherer, a human being who searches.
Finally, it reminds me of a poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado that I return to every couple of months.
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.
Which I would translate to English as:
Walker, your footprints are
the way, and nothing more;
Walker, there is not path,
the path is made by walking.
By walking the path is made,
and looking back
you see the path that has
never been stepped upon.
Walker, there is no path,
if nothing but the trails in the sea.
I love that line: the path is made by walking.
Why “Flâneur Files”?
Files are retrievable units of information. The word “file” evokes images of paper organized into folders, compiled by a detective or archivist. It also reminds me of their digital counterparts. But could files also be neurological? Is our brain a master archivist, storing the sights and sounds of memories like ink on paper? And do they behave as paper files do, as mental snapshots that, like old photos, begin to weather and yellow with the marching rhythm of time?
Humans have been recording their travels from the time they could write. Travelers write and file their journeys, transcribing details and stories to paper for future generations. Travelers record, report, fictionalize, and embellish. Some travelers are objective, truth-seeking journalists. Others are writers and storytellers.
Stories are what enrapture us. The Odyssey follows a journey; The Divine Comedy does the same. We have adopted the language of The Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz into our cultural lexicon. In traveling, I want to follow the Yellow Brick Road; in writing, I want to think about the cities and emeralds of the world.
If we as humans write stories about travel, then we also spend a lot of our time writing and thinking about travel itself, about other countries and how other people have figured out how to live. How would the West be different if Alexis de Tocqueville had never published Democracy in America? Would Europe have begun an Age of Exploration if Marco Polo hadn’t written The Travels of Marco Polo? Would Bali have become such a popular tourist destination had Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love not featured it?
That’s why I wanted Flâneur Files. This literal collection of files will be a testimony of my travels.
It will be, I hope, a collection of interesting things.