My son as a flaneur
I fell in love with the word flaneur the first time I came across it. According to Wikipedia, Flâneur, from the French noun flâneur, means "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", or "loafer". Flânerie refers to the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations. A near-synonym is boulevardier. The flâneur was, first of all, a literary type from 19th century France, essential to any picture of the streets of Paris. The word carried a set of rich associations: the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street.
In the summer, the inner flaneur often makes his or her grand appearance. The sun reaches its height of glory and undresses our winter layers. It frees us to a level of relaxation that represents the season. We feel light, we feel free, and we feel alive. The summer sun warms the skin and slows the pace. And with that, many of us travel. We learn to slow down, to relax, and to wander.
"Americans know entertainment but don't know pleasure." I grabbed my notebook to jot down this quote when I first heard it while watching the movie Eat, Pray, Love. In the scene, an Italian is telling an American that she works too hard only to then come home at weekend and spend the whole time in pajamas. As an American who now lives in Europe, I have seen and experienced what he references. The man in the movie goes on to explain Dolce Far Niete "The sweetness of doing nothing." Do we really know how to enjoy the sweetness in this? Why do we feel the need to be so busy all the time? We walk hastily through the streets and never slow to stroll.
When looking back, I can see that some of the sweetest times in my life were born out of doing nothing. There was a time in which I was free from the responsibilities and duties that so often hold us back from being in the moment and experiencing the world around us. It was forced upon me at first but then I found grace in living in that moment. I was a teacher who once thought I had to work at all hours because I was needed that much. It was only after tragedy that I learned to let go and realize that I was taking myself too seriously. I walked the streets of Chicago and later Los Angeles, without much to do. I explored the city as I slowly walked the streets. I could stop when I wanted and I learned to take it in, as I knew it was for only a time. Instead of the usual blur of shapes, the faces that I passed on the streets came to clear. Time was my friend. This luxury of leisure proved to be one of the greatest gifts that I have ever been given. It was in being a flaneur that I met people, read, explored and learned things that I never would have experienced had I had everything scheduled at the fast pace in which we usually live.
There are certainly seasons to life and at times we simply cannot slow down. I wonder, what is the balance? The enjoyment that the sense of accomplishment brings is wonderful. I want to be the best at what I do and I want to accomplish much during this short time I have on earth. Yet, I also want to remember to enjoy the sweetness of doing nothing. Enjoying the gift of life that is made up of moments and people that we often walk past in a hurried frenzy. Life has become busy for me again and I have to schedule time for the inner flaneur to appear. When she does, some of the best things happen. I have made many of my greatest discoveries and ended up accomplishing more as a result. It seems to provide a better perspective as I learn to see clearer the world around me. I am happier.
My career is to plan other people's vacations. I fill my clients every moment if they want me to and I have plenty of ideas on how to do so. However, I always try to encourage them to leave the time to be a Flaneur. It is a gift to wander the streets with no real agenda. When else in life do you get to do this? It is the purest of luxuries in a way. True luxury comes in the form of the gift of time. Time that is acknowledged, adored and savored.
Recently when I traveled to Stockholm with my husband and son, I spent an afternoon to myself wandering the city while my boys napped in the hotel. I turned right when I wanted and left at the same. Conversations were had with the shop owners and I sipped my coffee instead of gulping in a hurry. It was delightful to experience the city at that pace. I made new discoveries and the day was like gold.
Imagine yourself with a day in which you have nothing to do. Can you feel the breeze across your face as you step on stones that you actually for the first time notice? You may pause to see a coffee shop that lures you in with sweet smells and promises of leisure. So you stop, pull up a chair and order. You gaze out upon the city as it undresses before you. You notice those around you and smile. You body frees into relaxation as you open the pages of a book instead of checking your phone or opening your laptop.
The key to life is balance. We need to work hard, and we should. However, make sure to enjoy the sweet summer sun for it will set soon. Make time to be a flaneur. I find it the best of gifts.
Wonderful music in the streets that I came across when wandering Prague