Taking walks does wonders for the soul. One can walk in nature, in a park, or flaneur a city. The idea of flaneuring has always intrigued me. It is the art of noticing. Flanueuring comes from the French word, flâneur, which means "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", or "loafer". Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations. Charles Baudelaire described the flâneur in Le Figaro in 1863.
The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family, just like the lover of the fair sex who builds up his family from all the beautiful women that he has ever found, or that are or are not—to be found; or the lover of pictures who lives in a magical society of dreams painted on canvas. Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.
To see the world. Yes. Exactly. Now, most people “see” the world through their iPhones. Rarely observing through their own self. There is something about exploring, noticing the details, getting a little lost, that evokes freedom. It also feels really good to have walked the distance of half a marathon, at your pace, in a day. Walking is good for physical and mental health. This has long been known. Needless to say, my partner and I take walking very seriously.
For those of you who know us, you know we have embarked on a few “walking projects.” First was the MaPhattan Project in which we walked every street in Manhattan. We tackled one neighborhood at a time. We made it fun - it wasn’t a mundane thing. We did some reading up on each hood we would tackle to ensure we spotted famous landmarks - Andy Warhol’s factory on the east side, where Lou Reed scored heroin in Harlem, where Charlie Parker lived in the village, etc etc. We also ate at a restaurant that was either a classic gotham spot or represented the nabe well. Dominican food in Washington Heights for example. Sometimes we would do 20 miles in a day, sometimes, 10. Matt Green took it one step further and walked every street in NYC - all five boroughs. Hero. It was the best way to see one of the greatest cities on earth - the colors, the smells, and the transitions of an American city constantly on the move. And so were we.
We also did the Roaming Rione Project where we “roamed each rione (Italian for neighborhood) of Rome, street by street, taking in the sights, sounds, textures, smells + tastes.” There were 22 rioni and then after, we did one last giro around the Aurelian wall encompassing Rome which we did on 31 Dec 2018, as well as a few long walks into the quartiere beyond the wall. Food was always involved of course. And our research on the neighborhoods? Hard. Remember. Rome has been around a good long while. The accumulation of history was beyond comprehensible. Rome was also a lot harder to navigate than Manhattan. New York is for a large part, on a grid, so it was easy to find the breaking points. Rome, not so easy. Lots of twisty-turning streets and small avenues to navigate. Sometimes, going in circles. We tried to not use our google map, because that just takes the fun out of it. My partner would print out maps. Yes, we are old fashioned. We also still get DVDs. Stop the snickering. The printed version helped us get our boundaries. But that was it. Bodies of water helped. For Manhattan, you are surrounded by water. With Rome, you had to lean on the Tevere River as your guide post. The Rome project didn’t take us as much time as New York interestingly. It just wasn’t as big. Okay, maybe we cheated a little…There are so many sneaky alleys in Roma.
Now, we are onto our next adventure. We live in Washington DC which is littered with natural park spaces that often connect up with one another. We find ourselves most weekends exploring these parks, staying off man-made roads as much as possible. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, "In wildness is the preservation of the world.” But we are contemplating an epic DC city walk. It would involve all the embassies/consulates, all the state named streets (interesting that DC is not a state but a microcosm of the world), hitting each quadrant - NW, NE, SW, SE. The name of this epic project? Microcosmic DC Pyschogeography. We will document it of course, eat some good food, and learn a little US history using only our walking shoes and a printed out map.
And with that, I leave you with one of my fav songs — Horst Langer by Poem Rocket on their album…get ready for it…PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY.