For those unfamiliar with the word, “flâneur” in French refers to a wanderer, a stroller, or someone who meanders through life without a predetermined destination. My knowledge of the flâneur lifestyle began when we read a book on the subject during winter term. The book (titled The Flâneur, by Edmund White) was assigned to introduce us to one of the most traditional lifestyles that continues to be practiced by many Parisians today. Reading about flânerie certainly got me interested in putting the concept into practice. Over the past three weeks that I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve tried my best to channel my inner flâneur as often as possible. We have lots of scheduled class meetings and group activities, but outside of these, we are free to explore Paris at our leisure. One of my favorite things to do is to take the Metro to a neighborhood that I have not yet visited. Usually, I pick one that I’ve heard my classmates talk about, so that I know there will be interesting things to do and see once I arrive. But I never try to have any plans set in stone. One of my favorite afternoons so far was when I spent some time walking through the circling paths of the Luxembourg Gardens by myself. Now, I know that this may sound like a lonely way to spend one’s time, but the whole concept of flânerie is to explore the world on your own, in silence, with no outside distractions. It’s about walking through life with your eyes wide open and your head on a slow — yet constant — swivel. While I love sharing my time here with my classmates, there is also something to be said about taking in the beautiful city of Paris on your own terms.
This week, one of our class assignments was actually to go on a flâneur adventure to any destination that we wanted. Seeing as this is what I’ve been trying to do all term, I was overjoyed by the task! For my solo excursion, I chose to wander through the Madeleine area in the eighth arrondissement. It was an area I had not seen yet, and boy, was it eye opening. Every shop in the Madeleine area is either a high-end designer clothing store or a gorgeous restaurant or café. The people who work in this area are all very professional, and I was fascinated to watch them hustle to and fro in their finely tailored suits and lovely satin scarves. This was a side of Paris I may have never seen had it not been for our flâneur project, and I’m grateful for the exposure it gave me to yet another incredible part of this city. With only one week to go, I’ve made it my personal goal to say I’ve seen the entire city of Paris in just four short weeks. Let the flâneur games begin.
Lexington Followed Me to the Louvre
I’ve never been so happy to feel this tired. Over the past week-and-a-half, my classmates and I traversed all around Paris, visiting various monuments and museums as well as exploring a number of the city’s neighborhoods. Perhaps my favorite place that we’ve visited as a group so far is the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The largest cemetery in Paris, Père Lachaise is home to a number of world-famous writers, musicians, poets and resistance fighters. Our professor led us on a walking tour of the burial grounds, and along the way we were able to visit the graves of two highly acclaimed writers: Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein. Although I’m not as familiar with Wilde, I have discussed the work of Gertrude Stein in a number of my English classes both at W&L and in high school. To stand at her tombstone and think about all she accomplished during her career was both a chilling and incredible experience. In addition to being the final resting place of so many illustrious people, Père Lachaise also distinguishes itself as one of the most ornate and grandiose cemeteries in existence. Each tombstone is not only large in stature, but also designed so intricately that it memorializes the persons buried below in a unique way.
While our cemetery tour was my favorite class activity, I think the most exciting visit was one that I made on my own with a friend. We went to the Louvre, one of the world’s largest art museums and one of the main attractions in all of Paris. The Louvre is daunting to anyone who makes a visit. The sheer size of the building and the expanse of the collection of art inside requires you to spend nearly an entire day there if you want to see it all. We started of our trip with an obligatory visit to the Mona Lisa. Next, we made our way through the Louvre’s many hallways and levels, taking in art from the 19th century all the way back to the 15th century. After four hours, however, our energy had dwindled. Down the flights of stairs we went, retracing our steps back through time and passing all of the centuries-old paintings we’d spent our morning gawking at. Just as we turned the final corner on our way to the exit, my friend let out a gasp. Right on the wall in front of us was a plaque bearing a name and a city all too familiar to us both: “Cy Twombly, born in 1928 at Lexington, Virginia, U.S.A.”
Stunned, we entered the room to observe the mural on the ceiling that Mr. Twombly had painted. The two of us couldn’t believe it. Here, in the Louvre, a museum that nearly everyone on earth has heard of, lives a huge work of art by a man from the town we’ve called home for the last three years. As amazing as it is being away from home and learning about a new culture, I felt a ton of Generals pride and nostalgia for W&L in that moment. So let it be known, while studying in France is an incredibly different experience than studying in Virginia, a little piece of Lexington lives in the Louvre.
The Beauty Behind the Bread
Greetings from the city of love! This term, I’m fortunate enough to spend the next four weeks traversing the streets of Paris, France. My classmates and I arrived over the weekend, and I feel like we haven’t slowed down since I stepped off the plane. I say this in good spirits, though — the excitement I feel about being in a foreign country keeps fueling me to wake up each morning with the goal of seeing as much as I can that day. On Monday night, our entire group of twenty-six students sat down at an authentic Parisian bistro for a welcome dinner, compliments of our professors and W&L Spring Term Abroad. It was a great way to bond with my fellow classmates and practice a little bit of my amateur French skills (the waiters and waitresses have all been very patient with us!)
One thing I’ve learned after only being here for a few days: Parisians love their bread. When my table went through its first basket of bread at dinner, another basket full of fresh slices seemed to appear instantly. I’ve eaten at a handful of cafés and even been to an outdoor food market since then, and bread is everywhere. It comes in all shapes and sizes: baguettes, croissants, filled-pastries—you name it. At first glance, all of these baked goods look familiar, much like the kinds of bread products you can find easily in the U.S. (think Panera). But after just one bite of my first chocolate-filled croissant, I understood why France is known for them. The exterior was delicate and flaky, while the interior was dense and almost chewy. It was still warm, hinting that it had been taken out of the oven just moments before. Since trying that first pastry, I now pause to observe the fine craftsmanship of every pastry that I see on display in the windows of Paris’ countless boulangeries. Each pastry is exquisitely decorated with colorful glazes or precisely placed fruit slices. No two pastries are identical, but they are all beautiful.
For me, this symbolizes a grander theme about the city of Paris. The effort that is put in to making the bread and pastries that are sold all over the city captures just how much pride Parisians seem to take in their work and in their livelihoods. Furthermore, the people of Paris — both past and present — appear to strongly believe in the value of aesthetics. I’ve been amazed by how ornate the city is, from its clean streets and lush parks and gardens to the way the Eiffel Tower sparkles when it’s lit up at night. I cannot wait to discover what other hidden beauties this city has to offer. When I wake up each morning during the next few weeks, I won’t know for certain what I will see that day. But I can say with confidence that whatever I witness while I’m studying in Paris will surely be unforgettable.