Now that I have retired I find it is up to me to put my new found freedom to the best use. No one else is going to tell me what to do. This freedom was hard earned over years of working and saving and doing without today to prepare for a better tomorrow. Well guess what – tomorrow has arrived.
I am fortunate to have a wide variety of interests and hobbies and passions that engage me now that my working days are done. With this diversity I have not yet had a problem keeping busy or feeling productive. I realize I am new to the retirement thing but still off to a relatively good start I think (I hope).
The other day I was watching an internet course on Impressionist Artists of nineteenth century France. What an amazingly talented bunch of people in an equally amazing time and place. In the 1850’s there was an art critic named Claude Baudelaire whose belief was artists should focus on and paint the world around them. Paintings should be “of their own times” to provide historically accurate recordings for both people of current times as well as future generations. He suggested the best way to discover the world was to start in your own neighborhood. And the best course of action was to wander the streets paying close attention to the people and places and goings-on around you.
Baudelaire coined a term that inspired me to write this particular blog. The term is “flaneur” which basically referred to someone who strolled the streets and boulevards of Paris with no destination in mind, in search of diversion. Rather than focus in to one specific spot, the flaneur steps out of his door and begins walking, nowhere in particular with no goal in mind. It is in this wandering that he may discover new and previously unknown treasures, not necessarily on any map but treasure just the same.
I love the idea of starting my day in a flaneur state of mind. I see myself stepping out the front door and heading right or left depending on the mood. Then just walking. Whether in my neighborhood, while visiting a family member or even better when traveling, my natural curiosity is piqued as I wonder what might wait around the next bend.
When my wife and I travel, we have a bit of the flaneur in our meanderings. We pick a destination or two for the day but don’t worry about charting the most direct path to get there. Instead we figure out the general direction and start walking. We are big walkers. The last time we spent a week in Paris we never took the Metro or taxi or any other means of transportation. We walked and walked all over the city and back. Occasionally we got lost but often it was in those moments that we discovered something wonderfully unexpected. Whether an historic little church tucked away in a quiet neighborhood or a tiny restaurant catering to the locals or a brightly decorated dress shop hidden between larger more impressive surrounding buildings, we never knew what we might find. How cool is that?
Venturing into unfamiliar surroundings can be a bit scary. What if you get lost? What if you cannot find the whatever-it-is you are searching for? What if you end up on the “wrong side of town”? Today you can rely on technology to get you safely through. Google maps on your iPhone with an always-on GPS to pinpoint your location makes getting lost more of a challenge than not. But that is not how the flaneur did it back in the 1860’s. Part of the excitement of new discovery was in not knowing exactly where they were at any given moment.
I confess that my wife is a bit more flaneur than I. She is the one who will instinctively head down an alley just because it is there or spy a little out of the way café with a setting right out of a Monet painting. She does not stress when we lose our way. Of course she has a great sense of direction, a talent in which I am extremely lacking. I have learned to follow her lead and the results have been nothing short of magical.
It will take me some time to fully unleash the flaneur within – but what better opportunity than in retirement. I have always been a highly organized person, some may even hint a tad obsessive. Typically I would not dream of heading out without a map in hand and a darn good idea of the most efficient way to get where I want. But I think I can get used to the idea of letting go of that need to control. Even if my wanderings do not always produce a hidden gem along the way I am still immersing myself in the local surroundings and getting a better feeling for the flow of life within the neighborhood. And as we all know walking is wonderful exercise for those of us who have reached “retirement age”.
As I look out the window beyond my computer screen I witness a beautiful day under sunny skies – perfect walking weather. I think I will head out for a little jaunt, not sure where I am going, nowhere in particular. Today I might start out with a right turn as I reach the street. And when I get to the next intersection…? We will see – such is the carefree life of this retiree and flaneur in training. 🙂