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  • sarastgeorge7

Don't look down.

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And, however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up. -Stephen Hawking

One of my favourite ways to get around Paris is to walk. Everything is a lot closer than you think, and you can take your time to savour the sights and sounds. Even if you walk down a seemingly quiet, nondescript road, you only have to look up and around to see the glorious Haussmann architecture rising 5, 6, and 7 storeys high, rooftop gardens, intricate metal balconies, enormous sculptures and tiny carvings woven into in a building facade not to mention the tree-lined public gardens on almost every block.

Walking without purpose means you stumble upon places you might not have visited. I should qualify this and say that I start the day with some purpose and somewhere I would like to visit. But en route, I am often taken off course as I discover the hidden Paris. Or maybe I just see a lovely garden or sunny spot to people-watch and sit and read my book for a while,

But how often do we do this in our daily lives?

Today's world seems to rush by, each year getting faster as we get older. We all get caught up in the daily hustle and bustle, often missing the nuances, the little details. that matter. How present are you really? Do you truly notice and listen to your friends, family, or colleagues, or are they just part of the furniture?

Do you look down, or do you look up?

My recent visit to the new Manet/Degas exhibition reminded me of the art of the Flâneur. Or, in my case - the Flâneuse. No, this has nothing to do with the lovely custardy French flans I have been consuming in triplicate but with the art of doing nothing but seeing everything.

The term was first coined by Charles Baudelaire, who introduced the concept in his 1863 essay, "The Painter of Modern Life" (Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne.)

'For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; 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. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.' - Baudelaire,

The joy of a spot of flâner is you can take your time to saunter along at your own pace. This blog journey started from a perceived desire to manage my time better (in and out of work) and to create space to do more. Then I realised that the space created could be used intentionally, I didn't need to fill it. The more time I spend strolling around on flânerie each day, the more I relax and appreciate the true heart of the city.,

The flâneur is the connoisseur of the street, a solitary figure carrying a book or newspaper as they sit quietly on a park bench or at an outdoor cafe table and watch the world go by. Paris is the perfect place to perfect the art.

As I walk the streets, I love overhearing snippets of conversation around me. Sometimes, not sure what to do with them, I write them down.

'I mean, Notre Dame, I'd call that a biscuit, Not the whole box, but I'd definitely put it in the biscuit category,'

You have to do that with a broad Glaswegian accent by the way.

With the rise of the selfie, I wonder how much people are missing. How much of the world around them are they storing in their brain to look back on another time, and how much is just the background wallpaper? I've given up trying to get the perfect Seine photo. The bridges are full of people taking selfies with a major, photogenic sight behind them. What they have stopped to appreciate becomes incidental to their desire to see themselves on film. It's in-seine. Sorry, I couldn't help that,

It reminds me a bit of the overuse of camera phones at gigs. Nowadays, much of the event is watched through the screen of a phone held up by another person in front of you. When did we stop listening, I mean really listening to the music, or is it just about showing your friends or followers you were there?

Watching people around me makes me think about how much we miss in our own world filled with modern distractions. I am spending time now, consciously observing, and my head is full of these memories. Yes, I am taking photos, but I don't always capture what I see or feel. People who can do that with photos have a very special gift.

I hope I can keep hold of this approach when I re-enter real life again at the end of this sabbatical. I think it is up to me to make sure I take note of my own lessons and incorporate them into my day to day.

In complete contrast, another popular way to navigate Paris is by bike or scooter. Since I last came here, cycle lanes have sprung up everywhere, Proper two-way cycle lanes not like the little strips that are occasionally marked out on UK roads. About 15% of trips in Paris are made by bicycle, using over 1,000 km (620 mi) of cycling routes.

It feels like everyone cycles in Paris; old men smoking Gauloises, chic women in trench coats and heels, and people who seem to find room on the back for their shopping baskets. In the same cycle lanes, I have also seen scooters piled up with boxes, booming speaker systems on the handlebars and several people on one scooter, chatting, checking their phones, smoking, Oh, and lots of people use rollerblades too,

Every street corner has Vélib municipal bikes available. The move towards more environmentally friendly modes of transport is encouraging, but I was not expecting it to be so chaotic and, to be honest, dangerous.

But 90% of Parisians recently voted to get rid of scooters. Last year, Paris registered 459 accidents with e-scooters and similar vehicles, including three fatal ones, according to Reuters. I can understand this sentiment, Bikes, scooters, cars and buses are still trying to work out how to co-exist.

Fact. Bikes and scooters do not stop when the lights go red, despite what the law says. Many are coming at you at such speed you really are taking your life in your own hands if you dare to step out without double-checking first, Try looking them in the eye, and they will stay resolutely looking ahead or looking down, trying to get to their destination as fast as possible, only concerned about themselves. An allegory for modern life, perhaps. Today I saw a scooter cut across a busy crossroads without looking. The rider was texting on their phone.

'Ever bike? Now that's something that makes life worth living!...Oh, to just grip your handlebars and lay down to it, and go ripping and tearing through streets and road, over railroad tracks and bridges, threading crowds, avoiding collisions, at twenty miles or more an hour, and wondering all the time when you're going to smash up. Well, now, that's something! ― Jack London

I rather like my new role as a flâneur. I am expecting the weather to heat up in the next few days so some more flân time is definitely on the cards,

I shall leave you with this well-known poem that popped into my head as I was in full flâneur mode today.

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

-WH. Davis 1911

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