This is Pt 2 of “Lockdown Walks: We’re all Flaneurs/euses Now” *(see Pt 1 here) showing how to get more out of your Lockdown exercise.
Way before mindfulness was all the rage, walking had been identified as a way to be present and to work the brain in different ways. I’ve experimented with the idea of Wonder Walks, where you set out with a open mind and search for the interesting, the unusual, or just something you hadn’t really looked at before.
Have you every looked closely at the ground? The patterns there make for great photographs. The materials there tell stories. What is this material? Where was it sourced? If you’re in London for example, Kentish ragstone tells you about the Garden of England, downriver where the Thames makes its break for ocean freedom. If it’s brick you’re looking at, the type tells stories that range from Tudor, Georgian and Victorian times right through to the present day.
If you’re in Clissold Park in Stoke Newington, you might observe Kentish chalk in the yellow bricks of Clissold House and muse on the desire for all things Italian that once raged through Europe.
But even if you’re not into history, there is plenty to take in when you slow down and really take in your surroundings. Small daily plays are staged on every corner; pre-lockdown, I’d see the the little cluster of cop cars at an 8am mid-shift catchup that took place most days at the same spot. Shifts have rhythms, just like life, just like Lockdown. Peaks and troughs: what had already taken place on our streets in the first few hours of the early shift?
Nature comes to the fore too. Have you noticed the increase in bird song? The lack of planes overhead in London and sirens on our streets means our little feathered friends are much more noticeable now. Maybe you can spot the bright green Parakeets that are so easy to hear? Or maybe, looking to the ground, you can covet elaborate cobwebs or spot some slug slime? We can all become trackers now in our daily exercise slot.
If you live in a highly urban space, perhaps now is the time to really look at those graffiti tags on the corner? Can you see the different styles? Can you tell what type of can and cap has been used? You don’t have to necessarily like something to notice it. Maybe street signs are more your bag? Can you see the different generations of road sign? There’s a pandemic link here: street signs came about as a response to another city-wide disaster, the Great Fire of London. There was a need to be able to quickly and unequivocally identify a particular street, so resources could be directed there.
You can even be a kind of Flâneur/euse in your own house or from your balcony. It’s about noticing. It’s about really seeing. It’s about taking everything in. Sight, smell and sound are all senses that can be enhanced when we’re free of distraction and really in the moment. It’s part of the experience when you visit the immersive experience in empathy that is the social enterprise Dialogue in the Dark (on Mare Street, Hackney). This is an anxious time to be alive. Being fully present has mental health benefits too. So maybe it’s time to go exploring your own backyard in a deeper and more thoughtful way, on that hour-long walk?
If you find yourself staring at a daisy in the park, or mapping the paint trails on a street corner, you’re following in a fine tradition. It’s a kind of meditation. You don’t need any money and you can be as passive or as creative as you like. You could even leave the detachment of the Flâneur behind and become an actor in your own play? Chalk something on the ground? Initiate a conversation with a stranger?
It’s a new era for the Flâneur/euse. It’s time to reinvent it. It’s time to democratise it: new rules or even no rules? New iterations? It’s your trip now!