ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Face-to-Face Flanerie

Face-to-Face Flanerie

I was flattered recently to have an early post (12+ years is practically ancient in cyberlandia!) about flanerie (“What is a Flâneur?“) resurface in the blogosphere courtesy of  The Concerned Canadian. In “The Art of Walking: Lessons from my Uncle” the author introduces us to his Uncle Philly, a wise, wondering, and wide-wandering Dublin flaneur.

It’s a good read.

The author touches on the difference between real life encounters (i.e. flesh-and-blood, non-digital interaction).

People want to know people. The current generation attempts to replicate this experience through the use of social networking and long distance communication. What’s missing though is the closeness which can only be created through face to face communication. (Source: The Concerned Canadian)

A Fuzzy Phantom of Face-to-Face

Face-to-Face FlanerieHe’s on to something. I’ve ruminated before on the upside of digital flanerie, but the relative retreat from face-to-face interaction is real. Digital social networks and long distance interaction are remarkable in many respects, especially for those of us who remember life before the internet, mobile phones, 24×7 connectivity, etc. But they are at best a fuzzy phantom of face-to-face interaction.

I am a collector of people, much to the regret of my tolerant bride, so I’m an easily sympathetic and an enthusiastic audience for The Concerned Canadian. It pleased me beyond description to read the words of a self-described millennial touting the merits of real life, face-to-face flanerie!

Re-Cycling: Le Flaneur by Hermes

Le Flâneur Town Bike By Hermès

Posh wheels for well-heeled velo-flaneurs!

Aloof. Alone. Leisurely. Urban. Introducing Le Flaneur by Hermes…

Really? Really!

Just when you thought flanerie (or at least the flaneur) was sacred. Or too niche to warrant much attention from the mass market. You were wrong.

Sorry. It’s time for recycling cycling!

Gastronomy of the Eye

Leave it to Hermès – purveyors of luxe French apparel, accessories and perfumery – to recycle the mystique of flanerie. As a bike. With a price tag north of $10k. You read that right. That’s a bit spendy for this flaneur, but if you’re in the market for a pedal powered Rolls Royce Phantom (or its carbon fiber equivalent), then you’re in luck.

Le Flaneur by Hermes

You want to knock around town in style but still burn a few calories? You might give Les Vélos d’Hermès a spin. Specifically, Le Flâneur, a town bike named for that wonderful French concept of a kind of loosely directed, multicurious wandering about Balzac defined it as “the gastronomy of the eye”. Le Flâneur combines an understated luxury–bull calf leather grips and saddle that will age to a fine patina–with technical touches like a lightweight carbon-fiber frame and hydraulic disc brakes. One doesn’t always need to suffer for beauty. (Forbes)

I’m certain that’s the first time I’ve read a bicycle review in Forbes.

Le Flâneur Sportif d’Hermès

Now if that elegant crème anglaise steed is too effete for your tastes, you can rest easy. Le Flaneur is also available in a sleeker model appropriately camouflaged for nocturnal flaneurs.

Le Flaneur by Hermes is available in a sporty version too...

Le Flaneur by Hermes is available in a sporty version too…

Famous for its silk scarves and ties, Hermès… [is diversifying with a] duo of handsome carbon fiber bicycles… Le Flâneur d’Hermès and Le Flâneur sportif d’Hermès. Each will feature a shock-absorbing frame, belt-driven transmission and hydraulic disc brakes, as well as a choice of eight or 11 gears integrated into the rear wheel hub. (

What luck!

Is Le Flaneur by Hermes Art or Bike?

While an inveterate and unabashed flaneur, I’m not sure what to make of these posh toys/tools. It would be criminal to pretend that Le Flâneur sportif is not a beautiful bike. It is. Minimalist, elegant and proud. I’d seriously consider hanging one on my wall.

Francois Dore, managing director of Hermes’ Horizons department, stated,”We set out to make a real bike, not a decorative object. It had to be simple, efficient, easy to use, pleasant and elegant”, according to WWD. (The Style of the Case)

Right. It’s not wall art. It’s a real bike, a tool for flaneurs on urban safaris. Besides, is a $10,000 honestly any more more ostentatious than a turtle on a leash? No. But then again, I’m not a turtle strolling flaneur…

The Flâneur Lives Underground

The Flâneur Still Lives! (Credit: Culturethèque)

The Flâneur Still Lives! (Credit: Culturethèque)

I lead off this chilly morning with a hat tip to the good folks at Culturethèque for their flâneur-London-tube post, “The Flâneur Still Lives!“, which hit the interwebs last Sunday. More flâneurial paean than anything else, Mélissa’s short tribute leads off with this 0h-so-excellent mashup borrowed above.

Bravo! I shamelessly covet Mélissa’s graphic. (Until I discover otherwise, I’ll credit her for this homemade remix of popular iconography. And I’ll inevitably awaken at 4:00am with my own derivative collage. I’ll be unable to sleep until I jot a few notes, doodle a sketch, liberate the idea from my sleepless mind…)

The character emerged from the concrete of 19th Paris… a lazy yet intelligent person who strolls around… a particular personality who loves their city. That’s right, not a striking form of patriotism, just a genuine love of their city. Baudelaire… take it away: “To see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world – impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define.” (Culturethèque)

Baudelaire par lui même

Baudelaire par lui même (Credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the obligatory Baudelaire citation and a nod to Benjamin, there’s little enduring here except the jolly image. Or, perhaps I judge too hastily. Meandering a city via public transportation offers endless fodder for a flâneur. While I’m drawn less to the conductor’s announcements and more to the diverse parade of humanity swimming around and past me, I too savor public transportation. Somehow staring is more acceptable on a subway or a bus, especially if you allow your eyes to glaze, unfocused. This is a skill mastered early on in a commuter’s maturation. And it serves the flâneur well.

So, Mélissa, thank you for the troglodytic immersion and the flâneurial London tube image above. I hope you’ll excuse my carrying your idea forward. Soon…

Borderer’s Flaneur

Borderer's "Flaneur"

Borderer’s “Flaneur”

Fit for some Friday flânerie? I’ve come across the perfect weekly wrap-up to entice fellow flâneurs (and flâneuses) to abandon toil early for a plunge into the pleasure palace waiting beyond the office doors.

If you’re deadline-married and unable (or unwilling, alas) to veer from your tasks, so be it. But if you’re free to wonder and wander I’d like to introduce you to Borderer’s “Flaneur”, a retired broadcaster’s “shattered prose which goes under the generic description ‘poetry’“.

I encourage you to read the entire poem, but to tempt you away from your deadlines here are a few amuse gueules from Borderer’s “Flaneur”.

I am sitting in a bistro, my legs are crossed,
Watching the swing of passing skirts.

I am the one the teachers cursed, smiling,
“He just does not apply himself!”


I wrote a story of 16,600 words.
I wondered what had possessed me.

I prefer to scribble out poetry,
Finished in a single sitting.

I never learned to march in step;

[…]I have the time to contemplate these things,
As I stroll without a goal.

I will kiss you, whoever you are;
I inflict poetry only to seduce.

I am a stroller on the sidewalks;
I know everything is forgotten.

I know, in a world where everything ends,
I cannot waste my time, so

Take my hand along the boulevards;
Let us embrace in every doorway.

Are you seduced, fellow flaneurs? The workaday week will wait. This invitation will not… Enjoy!

Schopenhauer’s Flâneur

San Francisco: The Painted Ladies (

San Francisco: The Painted Ladies (

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism

Perhaps a flâneur is an exception to Schopenhauer’s observation. Or tries to be. A flâneur tries to amplify his/her field of vision by infiltrating the lives of others. The visual flâneur who illustrated Schopenhauer’s words above shares his (her?) pen and ink watercolors at, a simple but enticing river of illustrations “inspired by aimless ramblings of the streets”. Think of it as an evolving digital picture book for adults.

On this site, I continue the tradition of the flaneur; explore the streets and their people, follow my whims and reflect on my findings with pen, pencil and watercolor as a ‘visual’ flaneur. (visual flaneur)

Mission Dolores (Credit: visual flaneur)

Mission Dolores (

I don’t know the visual flâneur though I feel like I do. His images are familiar as if he illustrated many of the picture books of my childhood. As if I’ve been in many of these scenes before. While his eye is trained upon San Francisco most of the time, my affinity exceeds fondness for a city that has long pulled me.

The illustrations are playful and carefree but tinged with mortality. Less Pollyanna postcard; more urban reality amuse-gueule. Temptations to ramble further. Perhaps this is the finest gift of flâneurs’ literary and artistic bounty: an open invitations to flâner!

In “How to become a flaneur” the visual flâneur tempts the reader/viewer with a reminder that the richness of flânerie is free to all, everywhere, all the time.

I believe that life is lived at it’s fullest when we open up to experience the world. And there is a lot of world. All around us. You don’t even have to go far. It’s right there! (visual flaneur)

While Schopenhauer is likely correct, flânerie stretches our field of vision. If only for a while. And certainly stretching is superior to limiting, no?

Robot Flâneur

How do flâneurs indulge their habit when confined to their studies, jockeying their bureaus?

We read. We write. We shuffle and curate photographs. But sometimes — jonesing uncontrollably for a brief flânerie fix — we dive into the digital arcades. The popularity of my recent post on cyberflânerie has prompted me to share a secret pleasure.

Robot Flâneur, a Google Street View "explorer".

Sometimes, while I’m supposed to be massaging meter or decluttering stories, I plug in the Robot Flâneur and savor the guilty pleasure of Parisian flânerie. Or Mexico City. Or Tokyo… Robot Flâneur is a visual “explorer” based upon the magic of Google Street View. Just pick one o the nine cities around the world and enjoy the voyeurism. But not for long! Remember, there’s all that work to do…

This digital indulgence, courtesy of London-bassed writer and technologist James Bridle (, is simple but intriguing. And not a little habit forming.

“Google Street View is both the view from the machine (from the car, the Ballardian view-of-our-times) and the view of the machine (the way the machine sees). Overlayed with data augmentation, from a non-human-natural perspective (the roof of the car), slightly lensed (fish-eyed), wholly networked.” ~ James Bridle

I can hear your voice vibrating through the internets: “Wonky!” And you’re right. Sort of. But Bridle may not be the best one to articulate the sizzle in his “web flâneur” steak. It’s siren call is really enticing, especially because it’s only an effortless mouse click away most of the time. But don’t take my word for it.

Utterly useless but strangely compelling site… The idea is simple. You find yourself in a random London location in Google’s Street View. Thirty seconds later you’re teleported to another random location. That’s it… [And yet] Robot Flâneur is oddly addictive. ~ Matt Brown (Londonist)

Take a scenic vacation sans pants… Each slideshow’s interactive shots have been hand-picked to most accurately represent the local urban culture, and’re navigable using keyboard shortcuts, which’ll inevitably end up getting you lost in an area where you’ll have to roll up your computer’s windows and lock the doors. (Thrillist)

Robot Flaneur… allows users the experience of a casual stroll around famed cities… Though simplistic, its voyeuristic capabilities prove addictive… For those of you with shorter attention spans, new images are refreshed every 30 seconds, with the option to zoom in, zoom out, or skip around. Just consider this the ultimate staycation. ~ Laura Feinstein (PSFK)

What are you waiting for? Give it a try! (But remember to drop a crumb trail…)

Ascent of the Cyberflâneur

If I was a cartoonist I would depict a cyberflâneur with huge burning ears… because s/he had developed the ability to listen intently from a place of silence! ~ Linda Hollier

Linda Hollier‘s (@lindahollier) playful caricature delights for many reasons not the least of which is its totally unselfconscious (and, I suspect, unintentional) counterpoint to Evgeny Morozov‘s (@evgenymorozov) op-ed, “The Death of the Cyberflâneur“.

Morozov pits his cyberflâneur caricature — a late 19th century dandy shackled and handcuffed between Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg — at odds with social media.

Looking out... looking in.

Transcending its original playful identity… [the Internet is] no longer a place for strolling — it’s a place for getting things done. Hardly anyone “surfs” the Web anymore. The popularity of the “app paradigm,”… has made cyberflânerie less likely…

THE tempo of today’s Web is different as well… the “real-time Web,”… it’s Silicon Valley’s favorite buzzword.

That’s no surprise: people like speed and efficiency… ~ Evgeny Morozov (

Morozov proceeds to single out Google and Facebook as two of the most flanerie-threatening forces. He likens the latter to Baron Haussmann who’s urban planning transformed Paris during the reign of Napoleon III, eliminating many of the conditions which had proven favorable to flâneurs.

Google, in its quest to organize all of the world’s information, is making it unnecessary to visit individual Web sites in much the same way that the Sears catalog made it unnecessary to visit physical stores several generations earlier.


Facebook seems to believe that the quirky ingredients that make flânerie possible need to go. “We want everything to be social,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said on “Charlie Rose” a few months ago. (

Swept up in a relentless 24×7 social data stream which simultaneously guides and limits our capacity (or appetite) for aimless meandering, we are less and less likely to veer from the pack. Gone is the autonomy and the veil of anonymity which let us lurk voyeuristically, dabbling, observing, studying humanity’s mesmerizing diversity. Or so Morozov asks us to believe.

Shady character! Cyberflâneur?

Hollier offers another perspective. She isn’t Pollyannaish about the web, social media and our increasingly wired lifestyles, nor does she shy from the challenges of information overload. Instead she embraces the data inundation much as late 19th century Parisian flâneurs embraced the urban throng. Together, but apart.

It is this intentional distance that Hollier and I have mused over individually and collectively over the last year or two. We recently reflected on deep listening to access the source of storytelling, even in the midst of distraction and hubbub. Hollier has explored the flâneur as a model for mindfulness, suggesting that “the flâneur thus begins to play the role of consciousness“, and she returns to the idea of mindfulness in “Cyberflanerie: Deep Listening in Cyberspace“, suggesting that the state of conscious, unbiased receptivity is precisely what distinguishes and empowers cyberflâneurs.

There is so much information coming at us in cyberspace that unless we nurture the intention of listening with “moment by moment, non-judgmental awareness” – the definition of mindfulness given by Jon Kabat-Zinn – we stand the risk of being overwhelmed and suffering from information overload. We will fail to capture the fleeting moment. It is only with an attitude of deep listening that we will be able to filter what really needs our attention. (here2here)

Deep listening. The cyberflâneur’s art, like his/her predigital forebears, is the art of receptivity. Attentive openness and observation without judgment. Heightened perception and omnivorous curiosity.

Today as we move through the speedy spheres of cyberspace – the limitless mindspace we find ourselves in when using technology to communicate – I believe it is the perceptive attitude of the flaneur that we should seek to cultivate… This practice will require a deep listening, whether it be to visual, aural or textual images. (here2here)

Hollier’s big-eared caricature of a mindful cyberflâneur strolling the global arcades we know as the Internet and practicing the art of listening resonates with ‘s (@johnhendel) “The Life of the Cyberflâneur“.

Space, whether for the Parisian walker, Internet browser, or tablet user, always has its architects, and what we now have amounts to a virtual, wonderful labyrinth without end… The cyberflâneur is triumphantly alive, a wry cackling presence that pops up wherever I look… Lurkers quietly drift at all hours, intent and voyeuristically hungry for understanding. There’s the sly playfulness and quirk… The cyberflâneur continues to probe our online paths today, and I suspect the same will be true tomorrow. (The Atlantic)

This is not penumbral cyberflanerie. Is it?

Hendel’s article, penned as a response to Morozov’s doomsday op-ed, concludes with an inevitable observation: Morozov must be strolling another Internet. After all, the digital arcades that Hendel, Hollier and I stroll enable and encourage a veritable renaissance for flanerie. Long live the cyberflâneur!

If you’ve endured this ponderous post, you may enjoy reading the following related reflections:

No Pants Subway Ride

On Sunday, January 8th, 2012 tens of thousands of people took off their pants on subways in 59 cities in 27 countries around the world. In New York, our 11th Annual No Pants Subway Ride had nearly 4,000 participants, spread out over six meeting points and ten subway lines… If you’re unfamiliar with this event, you might want to first read our history of The No Pants Subway Ride. Since this is the 11th year we’ve done this, there’s not too much to report other than it was another awesome time. (Improv Everywhere)

You’ve gotta love Improv Everywhere and their annual No Pants Subway Ride. Unless you’re too stiff to drop your trousers in public without blinking an eye. Unless you’re too uptight to smile and laugh when the fellow next to you drops his trousers in public without blinking and eye. Spontaneous acts of generosity and hilarity resuscitate levity which is darned near as important as nourishment, respiration and sleep. So say I.

Can you recommend another upbeat improv video or post?

If you’re in need of a wee bit more shake-of-the-blues improv happiness, check out “Black Tie Beach“, “Worst Ice Skater or Best Entertainer? and/or “Welcome To Heathrow Airport“. Bet your day’s going better already!

Waiting Room Purgatory

Waiting Room Purgatory by virtualDavisA recent trip to the eye doctors to get my eyeballs checked and my spectacle prescription (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) updated yielded this wonderful image.

We were all waiting and waiting and waiting for our appointments. More precisely, one of the stages of our appointments. A blurry western was playing on a wall mounted television above and behind my head which accounts for the dull gaze. And the snoozing patients.

It’s an efficient place (name withheld for diplomacy/delicacy) in so far as patients are shuffled from station to station where staff run them through tests. One clinician laughed that it was “a bit of an assembly line“. You think? Most stations were quick-ish. But this last spot was slooooooow.

It’s worth noting that the cashier at the end of the assembly line way quick, efficient and eager. Go figure!

Monday Morning Meander

English: Meander on the River Dee just west of...

Monday Morning Meander (Image via Wikipedia)

My Mondays typically are energetic, frenetic, anxious. All weekend I’ve been building up To Do lists and massaging my timelines, and by the time I crawl out from under the comforter to share breakfast with Griffin, my Labrador Retriever, my mind is already off to the races.

I suspect that there’s a Monday Morning archetype with lots of other caffeinated-before-your-caffeinated folks who know exactly what I’m talking about. Which validates my suspicions that we all need to break pace for a few moments and meander to refresh the dreams and go juices. If you’re understanding me so far, this post may be for you. Let’s meander together for a few minutes before we pull back into heavy traffic or return to slaying dragons or charming venomous snakes.

Are you social? Digitally social? Plenty gab to be had of late regarding merits and demerits of social networks, but GigaOm‘s recent post, “Do authors have to be social? No, but it helps.“, is worth a look.

Mat Johnson described the people he follows on Twitter as his “dream party guests — interesting strangers whose wit keeps me coming back.” But Johnson also put his finger on another reason that some authors like him have taken to social media like Twitter: the ability to connect directly with potential readers. As he put it: “I’ve never had a single ad for any of my novels, had a movie made or been given a big budget push by a publisher. Usually, they just throw my book out to reviewers and hope it floats. Twitter lets me hijack the promotion plane, sidestep the literary establishment and connect directly to my current and potential audience… It’s a meritocracy; if you’re interesting, you get followed.” (GigaOM: Tech News and Analysis)

I’m borrowing Johnson’s Twitter/dream party guests analogy the next time I try to explain the joys of skinny dipping in the tweet stream to a perplexed (or dismissive) audience. And while I’m thinking about dream party guests, what happened to Kevin Smokler? Was he abducted by aliens? Or is he just giving a fall/winter rest. Back in the spring?

@ This is why we need your #TED talk. Tyler Cowen takes a cynical, skeptical look at stories #gagreflex
Karl Sprague

Are you familiar with narrative pollyannaism? Fellow optimist Karl Sprague just introduced me to its antithesis, died in the cloth story skepticism. Economist Tyler Cowen’s TEDxTalk distills the dark, devious, dangers of storytelling in his warning, “Be suspicious of stories“.

Cowen admits a weakness for compelling narratives, but he’s concerned that stories oversimplify our messy lives. He reminds us that stories distort complex human nature, interactions and institutions potentially misguiding us and fueling bias and self-deception.

He’s right, of course.

As Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics at George Mason University and co-author of economics blog Marginal Revolution and an avalanche of economics books, Cowen is right about a lot. And despite taking a few laps to warm up, his dry, self-deprecating sense of humor prevails, gradually softening his admonition. And his nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s Living to Tell the Tale ultimately won me over.

“Life is not what one lives, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Stories do distort and oversimplify. But so do street signs, the nightly news, education, modern medicine, music and virtually every other human invention. His bottom line?

Be more comfortable with messy. Be more comfortable with agnostic…” (TEDxTalks)

I can live with that.

And what better way to wrap up than a digital recap of Sunday’s meander? Yesterday John Davis (@trekeast) and I escaped with our brides and progeny for a Parch Pond adventure. This Eddy Foundation wilderness holding includes a handsome pond which was frozen and snow-free, perfect skating. Here’s a clip shot by Mr. TrekEast on his iPhone:

For additional images from the outing, check out “Skating Parch Pond“.

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