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Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A Flâneur at Large: An Introduction

Urban Walkers
The following is from an Introduction to A Flâneur at Large by Richard Carreño, to be published by WritersClearinghousePress next month.
Like most in our fraternity of perambulation, I was a flâneur before I knew the meaning of the word. In fact, before I encountered it. Nipping into byways. Poking about allies. Darting into swiggly-designed little streets. Even looking up, sweeping the the view of the upper reaches of a building facade.These have been my proclivities for as long as I can remember. Curiosity didn't kill this cat. It gave me a tenth life, as flâneur.
I came by the term courtesy of my father, who introduced me to the urban intrigues of the 'city,' as Manhattan was known when I was growing up scores of years ago in Brooklyn. Those urban delights were, by today's standards, the simple pleasures of museums (mummies at the Met and dinosaurs at Museum of Natural History), toys at F.A.O. Schwartz, and shopping along Madison Avenue. All this, and much more, constituted my World of Seven Wonders.

It's not surprising that I associated this part of my childhood as an urban adventure. My weekend jaunts with my dad always involved gritty metropolitan fare, subways, bumptious crowds, very tall buildings, and, on one occasion at F.A.O. Schwartz, getting 'lost.' (For all of ten minutes). Thus evolved my personal definition of flânuer as an 'inquistive urbanista.' Part nosy, part educational, part investigative. Part exploratory. Mostly casual. But never, ever, prying.
I learned that last bit the hard way when, then as an adult, I was accompanying a friend who insisted, despite my entreaties to the contrary, to go where he was not welcome. A flaneur is an engaged -- sometimes even a detached -- visitor to the the urban landscape. Never an uninvited guest.
As time went by, I always had had a vague notion linking my travel experiences, as by now I was an official flâneur, with some rarified, even dandified figure of 19th-century Paris. As a student, in 1960s Paris, I fancied myself in that leisurely mold. What student in Paris hasn't?
But it wasn't until I started collecting these dispatches from the front that I bothered with dictionary definitions. A flâneur, I learned from a well-respected lexicon, is a 'lounger, idler, loafer, saunterer.' Hardly. I prefer Charles Baudelaire's portrait of his beau ideal:
 '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 flaneur, 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 remain hidden from the world....'
In these essays that I have attempted to capture this symbiosis between urban anthropologist and urban DNA. Like Baudelaire's flâneur, I often felt 'at home abroad.' Closer to home, I was often more estranged. Still, despite my whereabouts, I enjoyed, as I hope I have been able to depict and share in these pages, the kind of wonder and curiosity that was born so many years ago in Brooklyn. The result, as any flâneur could only hope for, has been a life voyage of 'cultured shock.'
A Flâneur at Large by Richard Carreño will be published in February at $19.99 and will be available at amazon.com and via other portals. Until then, pre-publication copies are available at $15.99 from the publisher, WritersClearinghousePress (WritersClearinghouse.Press@yahoo.com); or from the publisher's retail partner, philabooks|booksellers (philabooksbooksellers.com). Other details, including bulk sales pricing, can be obtained by visiting AFlaneurAtLarge.webs.com).