“Walking is mapping with your feet.”Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse
If there’s one thing I’ve grown to appreciate most over the past year — besides health, family, and FaceTime — it’s my daily walks. Whether it’s a mid-day stroll in-between Zoom meetings or a walk that turns into a hike because three blocks somehow evolved into thirty, walking is, more often than not, the highlight of my day.
Just a few months ago, walking was simply how I got from Point A to Point B. I walked from the car to the desk, the desk to the salad spot. Now, it has become a thing I do for no reason beyond that it makes me happy. So happy, in fact, that I actually look forward to my walk the next day while I’m on my current walk. Can you relate?
My Daily Quarantine Walks, in no particular order:— Wendi Aarons (@WendiAarons) April 6, 2020
1. Fitness walk
2. Dog walk
3. Clear my head walk
4. THAT’S RIGHT I’M LEAVING AGAIN BECAUSE I NEED A DAMN MINUTE TO MYSELF IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK AFTER CLEANING THE KITCHEN 1000 TIMES walk
5. Mailbox walk
And from the looks of where I live in Los Angeles, I’m not alone in this newfound love of walking just for the sake of walking! Streets rarely touched by anything besides wheels are now full of couples holding hands, kids wandering aimlessly in pajamas, Face-Timers almost running into stop signs… feet are everywhere.
So when I came across the word flâneuse, pronounced, fluh-noos (the “s” is almost like a soft “z”), it felt like more than a word; it gave me a sense of self.
So, wait, what is a flâneuse?
Great question! You may have already heard the fancy-sounding French word “flâneur” which essentially translates into a stroller who idles or wanders, typically in city settings. (It was actually mentioned in “Emily In Paris.” Episode 6, about five minutes in.)
However, Lauren Elkin, an author who moved to Paris in 1999, invented the feminine form of flâneur by changing the end to the French female suffix, which gives us… flâneuse.
Elkin writes in her book aptly named Flâneuse:
“The flâneuse is not merely a female flâneur… but a figure to be reckoned with, and inspired by, all on her own. She voyages out, and goes where she’s not supposed to.” She is “keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city” and “saturated with in-betweenness.”Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse
The best part: a flâneuse can be anyone. Writers, artists, wives, mothers, single wanderers. A flâneuse is anyone open to the “liberating possibilities of a good walk.”
(PSA: If any of this speaks to you even a little – I HIGHLY recommend picking up her book that takes you on a beautiful journey through London, Paris, New York, Venice, and Tokyo.)
Read next: Travel Books by Women Writers
“I walk because I like it.”
Feeling drawn to this concept of flânuese-ing was not completely foreign to me, even before Coronavirus. While growing up in the suburbs, I spent a good chunk of my life feeling embarrassed to be seen walking.
Then and there, sidewalks seemed to be meant for joggers, bikers, or dog walkers; anyone outside of those three categories was either behind a steering wheel or a closed-door at home (likely with an alarm system or gate… or both).
But when I moved to New York post-college, I saw the beauty of jaywalking among fellow pedestrians. I loved waving at the flowers guy on 81st and 3rd and the fruit lady on 61st and Lex; peering into windows of dreamy brownstones, wandering through the east village, west village, any village.
Walking made me feel at home in a city that was so far from where I had ever lived — not just in the physical sense.
Flash forward four years and I was in Los Angeles. Lexington got replaced with Ventura and brownstones with palm trees. Quickly, walking turned into a thing I used to do. Unless we count walking to my car in a parking structure…
And even though I missed walking, the convenience of a car made a 15-minute stroll feel like an eternity. I forgot that being a flâneuse isn’t only about putting one foot in front of the other, but also a revolutionary act of inserting self-control and self-confidence into one’s life.
It’s doing something for no one else besides oneself. As Elkin writes, “Why do I walk? I walk because I like it.”
Flâneuse-ing in quarantine
Especially during quarantine, feeling cooped up is almost inevitable. Driving an hour to pick up takeout feels like a getaway and vacationing is placed in the murky realm of “someday.” ( It’s right in there with reading Moby Dick, running a marathon, and getting a dog, maybe).
As a woman who truly marked my life by my next trip, walks have become my “away.”
Am I still oddly craving that claustrophobic feeling in coach seats on the way to somewhere far from home? Absolutely. Does a part of me wish I was in the Maldives like a bunch of influencers right now? For sure.
But flaneuse-ing is helping me embrace strangeness during this very strange time. Whether it’s witnessing the funny interactions with neighbors to avoid walking on the same part of the sidewalk or even the selfie photoshoots in matching face masks (this is LA, after all).
And when there’s so much unknown and monotony right now, it feels liberating to find a mixture of comfort, humor, and rebellion in something. Not to mention, it’s a great alternative to Netflix-binging and Instagram-scrolling.
Now as I hold onto being a flâneuse, I see it gives me an overwhelming sense of mindfulness in so many other areas of my life. I’m more observant during Zoom meetings, noticing little things like a coworker’s nail polish and new throw pillow. I’ve grown to cherish socially-distant interactions with our mail delivery person. And I have more admiration than ever for the serious smarts of squirrels.
And as much as I miss going somewhere I’ve never been before, I see with more clarity that a sense of adventure doesn’t require miles of distance, and doing something nice for myself doesn’t require company. I just need me, my feet, and comfortable shoes.
Here are some tips to put a little pep in your step on your next walk:
- Go through your gratitude list: I always start with “being able to walk” and that gets me on a roll.
- Focus on your senses: Paying attention to smells, sounds, sights, and how you feel helps turn a walk into a mindful journey.
- Listen to a podcast: Designate a specific podcast to “walking only” that way you’ll look forward to it. Mine are “Terrible, Thanks For Asking” and “The Viall Files.”
- Call someone: My longest walks are always spent talking on the phone with my sister!
- Change your scenery: Going to a different neighborhood can work wonders to reinvigorate a walking rut.
- Listen to an audiobook: The first audiobook I ever listened to was The Girl on the Train, and it was so mesmerizing, I raked in the most daily steps of my life to find out what happened.
- Eavesdrop: This is my favorite. Seriously, walks are often more entertaining than anything on Netflix… by far.
- Come home a different way than you left: Even taking a slightly changed route makes a huge difference in the experience.
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I’ve heard this expression before but using the English version, ‘flanerie’ . So, you take a flanerie! This is one of my favorite things to do and it forces me to let go of my usual need to plan and know what’s next on the agenda. With a young daughter in tow for our pre-pandemic and post-pandemic travel adventures, sometimes this doesn’t pan out for as long as we would like, but even the shortest walk around a new city and seeing things from her point of view (and yes, her eye line!) is really exciting! At home, we have a big dog who loves to walk so often I’ll give him a ‘choose your own adventure’ walk, where he takes the lead and this often takes us to a neighborhood we haven’t walked through in a while. Thanks for reminding me to get outside and refresh even if it is currently freezing!!
Hi Liz, I love the idea of “choose your own adventure” walks with dogs. And I agree, a walk really does help change up the day — even a short one. I imagine you and your daughter have lots of beautiful walks in store for the future! Thank you for reading and I hope you stay bundled up on your next walk!