Flaneur: The magazine, the life

Le Duc and I attended a reading with the 28-year-old co-founder of Flaneur, the Berlin-based magazine whose purpose is to select one street, somewhere in the world, to which it devotes an issue. The street is chosen not for its popularity or charm, but for an idiosyncratic contribution to the local vernacular.

A flâneur deliberately practices idle and appreciative strolling; the term is often associated with the work of social critic Walter Benjamin (1892-1940.) In previous centuries, the flâneur was at either end of the socio-economic scale: rich or poor enough neither be working or concerned with errands that require an efficient route. But modern flâneurs may be laid-back travelers, retirees, or persons who choose part-time employment. It's not really who you are, it's how you treat the unfolding aspects of the city.

The  flâneur is a city species; I suppose the country equivalent is the rambler.

Issue #3 features Rue Bernard, in Montréal, not far from where I live, and so, on a mild late-summer evening, we sat in the treasured independent bookstore Drawn and Quarterly on Rue Bernard, to hear Fabian Saul, the magazine's co-editor-in-chief, discuss how he and his colleagues choose the streets, and tell stories of the people he's met while assembling each issue.

The magazine uses stunning and costly effects, a throwback to the time when print was king. "We don't say 'This is Rue Bernard' he commented, "We say, 'This could be the street called Rue Bernard'—streets are always evolving." He used the verb "flaneuring", which may be his invention.

I am often on Rue Bernard, sharing the sidewalk with tourists checking out Montréal must-sees, members of the original ethnic groups who settled in the neighbourhood (Hasidic Jews, Greeks), musicians carrying instruments, daycare workers herding unsteady toddlers. There is always much to see in shop windows (virtually none of it mass-branded), and then time for exceptionally good espresso, chocolate babka or a buttery croissant. The flâneur is not a clipped-pace fitness walker.

Is there a street you love where you live? Maybe not the prettiest or glossiest, but one that draws you, time and again, to linger and bask in the essence of that particular place?

Flâneur fashion

If your street unfolds in layers, shifts with the seasons, hints at endless secrets and stories, you wear your sturdiest, friendliest shoes, because you cannot stop walking and observing. Your coat has pockets to hold gloves or a cap; looking a la mode is not your primary goal: you are there to see, not be seen.

Shoulder strap umbrella, Umbrella Heaven

 Cashmere cap, Eric Bompard

Cross-body nylon bag, Highway

Blundstone boots, (Blundstone, from Zappos)

"Torrentshell" city coat, Patagonia


Susan B said…
It looks like a wonderful magazine. There must be some flaneur-worthy streets here in LA, but I haven't found them yet. With a few exceptions, our infrastructure is very car-oriented, and the streets not that designed to encourage strolling and lingering.
LPC said…
What a fun idea! There are flaneur-worthy streets galore in San Francisco, heck, even down here on the Peninsula, in Palo Alto, I think it's possible. Now I want to put on some Blundstones and a parka and get out there but it's still in the 70s here;).
Madame Là-bas said…
I have always been une flâneuse but it is more difficult to find a stroll-worthy street in Vancouver than it once was. Delis, non-chain coffee shops, fresh produce, flowers and bookstores make a good browsing street for me. Since you featured your red Blundstones, I have decided that they would suit me well. What a great idea for a magazine!
That's an interesting concept for a magazine. Love those Blundstone boots.
We have s few streets here that would be candidates for Flaneur.
Duchesse said…
une femme: I am sure they are there; Saul says they do not look for pretty, touristy streets but ones with a deep sense of local history- some ugliness is part of the mix.

LPC: Some of the happiest and most vividly memorable days in my life have been spent idly strolling in San Francisco streets. Then, going dancing.

Mme: Mine took about two weeks to break in, so I recommend thick socks till the back heel counters soften.

hostess: I wonder if nearly any city has what they look for, a clear street history (not everything from same era)-what Stewart Brand called "how buildings learn".
Bunny said…
So many ops for this in Boston, particularly the North End. I love walking there.
Araminta said…
I love the way in which streets change their character as you walk along them and indeed through time. Your example of Bernard for example is different on each side of the Main (St Laurent Blvd). The Outremont side to the west was always more up-market while to the east in Mile End it was more working families and students. As a student my daughter lived in a draughty apartment on Bernard at Jeanne-Mance and I still have fond memories of the tiny and steamy Brazilian breakfast place close by. She tells me that Mile End is wall-to-wall hipster creative types these days, although the Hasidim are still there, and gentrification is going on apace. To experience its old ambience you have to go north of the tracks to the Petit-Patrie.
Duchesse said…
Arminta: That's where I live, La Petite-Patrie.

The flâneur seeks experience the ever-changing life around him or her. That's why "choclately-boxy" prettiness is not chosen by Flaneur magazine. What fascinated me was what Saul said about choice of streets- the magazine looks for an ordinariness, not a Disneyfied, sparkling streetscape. I remember Bernard in the early '70s, my then-husband and I were kindly given free lodging by an organization that put us up in its basement, near Parc and Bernard. We went into a little restaurant (Polish?) to eat; the waitress took a look at him and brought a huge plate of black bread and butter. She said, "You're a big boy, you need to eat."

The present population mix in Mile End results in some of the strange juxtapositions of passers-by!
Mardel said…
That sounds fascinating. I love walking streets in cities, and the prettier and more tourist-oriented streets are never best. It is wonderful when you find a sense of history and location and life as it is lived and has been. I'd like to be out walking and I need a new parka. That one is on my list and it is one of my favorite colors at Patagonia this year.

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