Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Incognito standing in the crowd

A loafer, an idler, and perhaps a walker are the adjectives that try to describe the very nature of the flâneur. We are talking about a regular person that is in the ebb and flow of the city, yet he does not move with it. He is a passionate observer, an analyzer of the harmony, the admirer of the chaotic, yet pithy structure of the concrete jungle. He dwells as he walks, and he feels the excitement of being incognito.

As Baudelaire puts it in the 1863 essay “The Painter of Modern Life”, this special stroller acts like a convalescent, since he experiences the happenings of the outer world by comfortably sitting behind a window. At first, it might be challenging to merge the ideas of convalescent and walker, but they do collide when the focus of the activity is internal. For example, consider the man walking out of his house for no specific purpose. As he wanders, he gazes the morning and is aware of its life: people rushing to their workplaces, whistling birds and honking cars, water drops leaking from air conditioners, steam coming from underground pipes, and the strong, then vanishing tic-tac sound of the subway train as it breaks arriving to the station. The more details taken into account, the richer the flâneurie experience turns out to be, and it is further nurtured by an appropriate music selection. This not only fosters creativity and imagination, but creates the fascinating illusion of living inside a movie.

Some flâneurs opt for the slow tempo they base their lives upon, while others quench their thirst for movement by practicing sports like Parkour, where the challenge is to achieve the maximum fluidity while running and sorting the obstacles of the city. Either way is a healthy practice, and in many occasions, doing something else during the day does missing out.

A focal point of most idlers –and in this one I include myself- is architecture. Whether it contains contemporary, light structures or medieval, castle-like turrets and buildings it’s like the sun for us. Trying to internally explain their aptness in the space and how they interact with life itself is indeed a pleasant monologue we cannot allow to miss. I got caught in this one after several walks in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, where I started pondering if it was a rule or not that all the buildings in the center of the city had to be painted with colors from a specific pantone. White, beige, dandelion, and pale blues is all I saw, whereas mahoganies, brown and colored glasses were scarce, if not absent. Churches, nonetheless, did have a myriad colors which comprised intricately detailed mosaics both inside and outside the buildings. Most of my Russian architecture-related questions remain unanswered, some because of my incipient and unskilled domain of the language, the rest because I simply do not have so much time to do the research. It is often enough to me to ask, or to ask myself. My inquiry does not always long for a thorough explanation of the subject; the actual question may be, at times, self-sufficing.

Following architecture, the list of the things available to the flâneur eyes is as vast as the number of objects, bodies and situations there are on the street. Thousands and diverse they surely are, and range for example from the scene of kids playing in the park, to the flooding of the city during a rampaging downpour. All is possible, at any time.

Loafers have different ways to seize the day. Some prefer photography, others paint or play music. These three are gifts I have yet to receive, but I do find indulgence in writing and talking about my findings.

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