Wandering as a flâneur (and staying in place)

In the early hours of the early spring months on Île Saint-Louis—before the day ticks towards its highest temperature, when the step between sunshine and a shadow dictates your mood—it seems all of the Seine belongs to you. The chilly air and stretches of deserted riverbank convinced me I had chosen the ideal Metro stop for my day’s objective of being a flâneur, a wanderer by foot and a local without aim.
I left behind a quiet world when I first took the stairs from the sidewalk to the riverbank; but every time I peeked up at one of the many bridges crossing the Seine, I saw more silhouettes of passersby. A quick jog up the next set of stairs confirmed my worries: that quiet world was gone with the morning chill, and the sunshine lured tourists and locals alike outside to the river that again belonged to the rest of Paris.
All of Paris indeed seemed to flood Île Saint-Louis. The buskers began to claim real estate for the day, and out-sang the birds’ morning melodies. The signal was clear: the tourists were coming. So much for being a lonely flâneur. Strolling aimlessly quickly turned into an act of weaving between shoulders while perpetually mispronouncing “pardon.”
On a fair afternoon, it can be difficult to see Paris. Sure, I could see the reflections of sunlight bouncing off the Seine, and I could see the Parisian architecture against the backdrop of clear blue skies; but these sights faded into the background as the bustle of selfie sticks dominated the foreground.
I shuffled along the footbridge of the Seine and remembered the constant motion in Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors where to look at an object is just to point and shoot your camera. I looked around for refuge.
In the distance, a pop of color: framed by the shoulders and traffic lights and trinket stands, I saw three pink flowered trees. In their shade, was that a garden bench? A lonesome reader? They seemed to promise some departure from the busy atmosphere. Eyes locked on the splash of pink, I walked on.
The trees marked the entrance into what seemed like the last cove around the Île Saint-Louise still accepting lonely wanderers. Their flowers threw scattered shade over a compact lawn in Jardin des Combattants de la Nueve, a scene looking for all the world like an Instagrammer’s heaven, but empty save for a couple of women chatting without their cameras.

Jardin des Combattants de la Nueve, on the mainland next to Île Saint-Louis (Photo by Alice Maiden).

I took a breath, enjoyed the silence, and then doubted whether I should linger. It was my last day in Paris, and all of Paris was beyond these pink trees! But as minutes passed, and individuals wandered in one by one, the park stayed sleepy and quiet, perhaps governed by the same unwritten rule that keeps empty churches and libraries silent. This garden was for hushed conversations and catnaps with eyes squinting closed towards the sun. Contrary to the Paris beyond the pink trees where I would have wandered in the noisy day, this garden was for the flâneurs that choose to stay put and let their minds wander.

Joining individuals laying in the dewy grass, in the quiet of closed eyes, I had the most colorful view of Paris I could have imagined. I counted the seconds between the Metro roaring underground beneath my body; I mapped the alternating French and English surrounding me; I tried to put words to the garden’s scent, but so far have only been able to articulate that it smelled exactly like my grandmother’s garden.

An hour later, I squinted my eyes open, and stood up. The cast of characters in the garden had rotated, so I vacated my spot of imprinted grass for another flâneur still to come.

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