go for a wander.

May 26, 2016


While we’re busy battling jet lag, missing coffee meetings with friends while we oversleep, and generally bumbling about town with our eyes half-open, here are a few thoughts on traveling—somewhere nearby or far flung—and the art of the embarking on the perfect meander from my friend Tim.

Flâner: Se promener sans but, au hasard, pour le plaisir de regarder.

(To wander aimlessly, randomly, for the pleasure of watching.)

Roughly translated, the French verb flâner is the art of taking a stroll. It means stepping off the path of daily to-dos to walk with no destination in mind, see the world with the eyes of a poet, and notice all the small details.

The flâneurs, as they were known in early 20th-century Paris, were the poets who walked the streets in search of nothing more than the feeling of being alive. Today, a flâneur’s goal is much the same. They’re not window shoppers or mental list makers. They’re not Instagrammers or Tweeters. They are seekers of this current, fleeting moment.

So how does one go about taking a simple saunter? Here are my go-to tips for the embarking on the perfect meander.tealeavesflaner2

Leave the phone at home.

This is the toughest for me. It means no dropping pins for places I want to remember. It means no photos. And perhaps worst of all, it means that I don’t get the credit on my little walking app. As I leave my phone on the counter, I have to tell myself that some time apart will probably do us some good (at least one of us) and that my phone should work for me, not me for it. Being phoneless gives me a nowness that I wouldn’t have with my phone in hand.

Walk your turtle.

Flâneurs in Paris were once fond of leashing a turtle and letting the turtle set the pace. It slowed them down and served as a reminder to step slow. Don’t have a turtle? Not to worry; just remember that this isn’t a race to some enlightened finish line. Take time to savor your stroll.

Look for light.

You don’t have to fly off to Paris to take beautiful walks. Any given place in the world shares the same ever-changing and ever-beautiful resource, and that’s sunlight. Flâneurs are all about the way light shifts, cascades on a wall, or bounces off water. Noon light comes with its heavy shadows, late afternoon light comes with its low beams and softness. Go to some of your favorite spots around your hometown and see how they react with different times of day. (Monet got transfixed by haystacks, for goodness sake, and saw fit to paint them 25 times just to see how they’d look in different light, at different times of year.)

Observe – We’re all still really human.

It’s easy to gripe about our over-connectivity and obsession with emails and inboxes, but when I’m out for a walk, I see small moments and interactions between families that remind me that life is as it always was, and I’m comforted by that. The mother still fastens the buttons on her child’s wool coat. The old man still smokes his pipe. The kids still run for the sake of running. There’s a comfort in knowing that this powerful play goes on and that everyone is contributing verses similar to the ones that have always been written.

Schedule it.

My schedule always feels full and finding time to do nothing else other than walk—avoiding the temptation to also pick up the dry cleaning or grab some much needed caffeine—can be difficult. But I find I can still usually carve out an hour in a week for a meander. In fact, to make sure that I do, I’ve started scheduling my weekly walks right into my calendar.  Sure, they look a little silly written out on my iCal, but I commit to the exercise by reminding myself that time to simply be is a noble pursuit.

Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I’d like to think that my days aren’t always a race toward productivity, that sometimes, life is a turtle-paced walk toward presence.tealeavesflaner3

To flâner with Tim and his wife Laura in Provence this October, check out Moveable Feast Retreats.

Or follow them and say hello on their blog.

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  • Reply Lydia @ lupinelydia May 26, 2016 at 7:45 am

    bless this post! I love the art of stroll. my favorite wanders have been in the country in central kentucky, where you can come across a lot of green, some horses, historical cemeteries, and cricks with mulberry trees to trespass against. 🙂

  • Reply Kari May 26, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful concept. Love that quote by Annie Dillard.

  • Reply Setarra May 26, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Such great points made on the benefits of wandering. Definitely something I need to do more often – esp. without my phone. And also, thanks for teaching me a new word and its context! Already thinking of ways I can use the word “flâner” in my life 🙂

  • Reply Kari May 26, 2016 at 9:10 am

    This read has been a perfect way to start my morning. What a reminder.

  • Reply Mary Kate May 26, 2016 at 11:28 am

    This is so lovely. In my incredibly busy life of having a full-time job while also writing books (while also writing a blog while also doing all the other things life requires of us), it’s been years since I “flanered”. It was actually back when I lived in France that I used to do this all the time! I lived in Normandy, and only worked 12 hours a week. It was a time pre-smart phone, pre-busyness, where I’d spend entire afternoons just wandering through the countryside because I had nothing else to do. I said hello to cows, discovered hidden picnic spots, and watched the sun go down. I miss those days, and the simplicity they brought. Thanks for reminding me.

  • Reply Rosabella May 26, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    As soon as you mentioned the word flaneur, my first thought was “will she recommend taking the turtle out for a walk?” I am glad that I was not disappointed!
    Though of course, for the longest time, being a flaneur was the privilege of the male and privileged, of those who didn’t have to worry about their walk getting interrupted because “others”would always know to step out of their way. Having the ability to be a flaneuse, a woman strolling around the city without fear, is one of those tiny, almost trivial little things that we should thank feminists for….

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 26, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      agreed. and still one might argue something we’re working on 😉

    • Reply Laura May 26, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      oh i LOVE this perspective and reminder! Being a flaneuse= HUGE gift that I’m oh so grateful for– thank you for mentioning this!

  • Reply laney May 26, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    i love this! if anyone sees a girl walking a turtle around Denver… it’s me, so say hey. 😛

  • Reply Toyosi May 27, 2016 at 2:06 am

    love this.

    I moved to nyc last august for college and I tried to make an effort to just walk around and explore. I somehow always ended up in the same places, (i’ve very attracted to the hudson for some reason), but when I’m in the city once again I will definitely be making the effort to become a flaneur!

  • Reply Meg May 27, 2016 at 6:14 am

    Flâner…what a lovely word! And I most definitely love going for walks, just to take in the world around me yet simultaneously zone out.

  • Reply Rachel May 27, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Such a needed reminder today. Immediately taken back to a time when my life was simpler, slower – and I wandered and explored without purpose or distraction. Those are some of my most treasured memories. So, thank you! I’m setting out to find this again.

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic May 27, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Unfortunately, I live in a small town that has very few sidewalks; I miss walking around and absorbing everything around me, as I did in Chicago. But at least where I live now motivates me to travel somewhere else.

  • Reply Alice May 28, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    I love these kind of posts for they ask me to pause and reflect on the gift of today, inviting me to be conscious of being alive in this moment and place. Thank you xo

  • Reply VerbalGoldBlog May 29, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    Seriously love this so much. I needed some inspiration like this

  • Reply Alden May 30, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Loved this so so much. And gorgeous pictures!!

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