In The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, Edmund White dedicates his memoir to the flâneur — the ambler “who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes where caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps… in search of experience… pure, useless, raw.”
Going for a stroll [in Paris]… gave birth to that eminently Parisian compromise between laziness and activity known as flânerie! …More than any other city Paris is still constructed to tempt someone out for an aimless saunter…
The flâneur’s “random wanderings”
will take him more often to the strange corners of Paris then to its historic center, to the strongholds of multiculturalism rather than to the classic headquarters of the Gallic tradition.
Paris of White’s flâneur has “countless small and bizarre museums, little corners where someone’s bid for immortality goes unnoticed.” It is Paris where “you can buy anything from black eyed peas… to… the best silver and bed sheets…”
White essays on gay life, France’s admirable tradition of tolerance and acceptance, jazz, Jewish life and illuminating comparisons to American culture:
Americans consider the sidewalk an anonymous backstage space, whereas for the French it is the stage itself.”
The Flâneur is a delightful, fun and compelling read for anyone who loves Paris. It is a must for prospective visitors. Concludes White:
Paris intimidates its visitors when it doesn’t infuriate them, but behind both sentiments dwells a sneaking suspicion that maybe the French have got it right, that they have located the juste milieu, and that their particular blend of artistic modishness and cultural conservatism, of welfare-statism and intense individualism, of clear-eyed realism and sappy romanticism — that these proportions are wise, time-tested and as indisputable as they are subtle.
— Tucker Cox, Zeteo contributing writer
Photo of Paris streetlamp and the Eiffel Tower; and of Mr. White courtesy of Bing Images
Click here for a Wikipedia article on Edmund White.
Angeline Goreau reviewed The Flâneur for the New York Times (“A Walker in the Cité”) on April 8, 2001. Click here