Wednesday, March 29, 2017

City Walks

I've always thought better while I was in motion. When I'm struggling to solve a work puzzle, figure out where to take a character in a story, or want to find some clarity on life issues, I find moving to be the best way to get my thought process going. I remember doing this as far back as high school. I asked one of my teachers for a hall pass to go get a drink of water. When he pointed out that the water fountain was across the hall and I wouldn't need a hall pass for that, I told him that I liked to walk to the farther water fountain because it gave me time to think on my way there and back. At that moment, he instituted the "think and drink." If I told him I needed a think and drink, he'd write me a hall pass, no questions asked.

Lauren Elkin's new book, Flâneuse, explores the history, criticism, and her own experiences of women who walk:
In these pages, the native Long Islander ditches her ancestral car keys for a life abroad and on foot, in search of a feminine definition of the flâneur, Charles Baudelaire’s famed and always male urban wanderer. In the streets of Paris, Tokyo, London, Venice, and Manhattan, Elkin roams through broken relationships, unexpected career turns, spiritual impasses, and intellectual harvests. The streets resist and affirm her choices and beliefs; they structure her imperfect wandering. In herself and the paths of famous female walkers, Elkin uncovers her flâneuse.

Elkin, a scholar of literature, weaves incisive analysis of the work of several women artists and writers into Flâneuse, bundling their thoughts and ties to famous cities with her own. In particular, the 19th-century French novelist George Sand, the British 20th-century literary giant Virginia Woolf, and the living film artist Agnès Varda loom large as important Women Who Walked for reasons that echo and clash with Elkin’s own. They walked with purpose and without it, to think and write, to map the city, to protest society, to support civil rights, to find belonging, to lose themselves, to reject and invite another person’s gaze. Bauderlaire’s flâneur may be an exclusively male figure, Elkin writes, an aimless stroller who blends and takes solace with the crowd. But women have always walked, and on their own terms—even when society refuses to see them.

Purchase a copy of the book here.

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