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How does one explore Paris, the most visited city in the world? Paris is full of world-class monuments, historical sights and museums that could keep you occupied for days. Well actually, just about forever. There are organized tours of every sort and skip the line tricks that can give you a whirlwind taste of the City of Light.
Of course one needs to see the classics. They are non-negotiable. But then what?
Should you continue down your list of star attractions? Should you revisit your favourites?
finding authentic Paris,
observing how Parisians live,
slowing down and savouring the beauty of Parisian life?
Why not step into the designation of “urban explorer?” Are we not all explorers at heart?
The quintessential urban explorer, known as a flâneur in the 18th century, was a man (not a suitable designation for a woman back then) who strolled about town, frequented cafés and observed daily life. Perhaps this is the perfect way to explore Paris. Not a man? Not a problem. The modern-day female explorer can acquire the role of flâneuse, walking through the city. I prefer to do this while travelling solo in Paris.
On my first visit back to Paris in decades, I find myself slipping into the mode of modern-day “flâneuse” a word that a few years back was a new addition to my vocabulary. As I stroll along, I am surprised by her timeless familiarity. I feel strangely at home (“chez moi”) as though I belong there.
I seek out her iconic treasures, re-evaluating their ability to enthral. I have grave doubts the Eiffel Tower will impress me. But the Iron Lady, soaring above the slate rooftops and glittering in the evening, positively enchants me.
Notre-Dame’s rose windows, flying buttresses and chiming bells are impossible to snub. Upon entry, mass is in full swing. Parisians worship here while art class pupils quietly sketch the majestic interior and tourists pose for selfies amid a backdrop of soaring organ music, solemn hymns and smoky incense swirling around the pulpit. Time has not diminished Notre-Dame’s ability to captivate.
I utter the word “flâneuse” aloud. It languidly rolls off my tongue as I dawdle along, eyes darting to witness lived moments.
As I flâner through Paris, I am struck by the recent memory of my well-worn travel journal from my twenty-year-old self. Upon packing up to become a nomad, this dusty memoir had fallen open to its final page. The last line flies like an arrow, making direct contact with my heart.
“Remember Alison, anything is possible in Paris.”
Anything possible? How could I have forgotten this declaration?
I had come to explore Paris and fallen for her charm on several visits in 1980 but on return to my Canadian life, memories of Paris had burrowed deeply into the far recesses of my heart.
My own words from the past instantly ignite a lost passion.
I energetically step into my new designation of flâneuse realizing I am not so different from that twenty-year-old girl. I wander into hidden courtyards and down tiny, cobbled streets.
I want to savour the deep enjoyment that comes from finding something extraordinary all by myself.
Maybe it’s the way the light falls today,
or the clack of the pétanque balls in the parks
cascading harp notes drawing a crowd,
or the tiny Montmartre vineyard, still producing a limited amount of wine for auction.
In flâneuse mode, I stumble upon the early-morning arrival of ponies at the Jardin du Luxembourg,
Bouquinistes by the Seine delighting in a new discovery,
more melodies creating ambience,
and the banks of the Seine, filled with lovers and families sharing a bottle of wine and exquisite, yet simple, food.
Through this art of observing and walking, I develop a cherished relationship with Paris.
I ache to know her arrondissements intimately, find her hidden treasures and encounter every possibility. I yearn to inhale her village spirit and be enchanted by the unexpected. I think I am in love, ready for whatever the City of Light delivers.
Anything is possible – right?
Are you ready to explore Paris and flâner a little?