On Taking Walks

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

It’s been awhile since I perambulated through the biosphere (here, here, here, or here), or indeed at all, and today I thought I would perambulate through the concept of perambulation itself: What is the right word for one who walks with awareness? (Leaving aside White Walkers, and Walker, Texas Ranger, both dubiously aware, and also the ambiguous “walker”[1].) There are several options, but flâneur (Fr. f. flâneuse) seems to lead the pack:

Flâneur (French: [flɑnœʁ]) is a French noun referring to a person, literally meaning “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”, but with some nuanced additional meanings (including as a loanword into English). Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations. A near-synonym of the noun is boulevardier. Traditionally depicted as male, a flâneur is an ambivalent figure of urban affluence and modernity, representing the ability to wander detached from society with no other purpose than to be an acute observer of industrialized, contemporary life.

The OED defines flâneur as follows:

flâneur /flɑnœːr/ noun. Pl. pronounced same. m19.

[ORIGIN: French, from flâner (see flânerie) + -eur -or.]

An idler.

R. Holmes Paris..celebrated the idea of the flâneur, the man who drifts round the streets, gazing at everything.

Interestingly, the usage example is a better definition of the word than the actual definition. Because I am feeling undisciplined and lazy just now, I will quote a potted history from the New York Times, which bears out this claim, instead of deploying Poe, Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, and Nicholas Nassim Taleb, flâneurs all:

The flâneur is an archetype born, not in Rome, but in 19th-century Paris as it was transforming into a modern city. Baudelaire described this metropolitan character as a ‘passionate spectator’ who ‘enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy.’ The philosopher and essayist Walter Benjamin called the flâneur a pedestrian with ‘a detective’s nose.’ Like a number of artists and writers, the painter Edouard Manet was himself a flâneur — a ‘fashionable boulevardier’ as a 1982 exhibition catalog for ‘Manet and Modern Paris‘ at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., put it — who used the city’s streets, gardens and cafes as his muses.

This sort of aimless strolling is conducive to savoring, to finding joy in the moment, a practice that some social scientists have found can be cultivated and may help lead to a more fulfilling life. In “Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience,” the scholars Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff describe savoring not as mere pleasure, but as an active process that requires presence and mindfulness. It’s “a search for the delectable, delicious, almost gustatory delights of the moment,” as they put it.

Why have I wandered into this maze of strolling detectives and passionate spectators? Because of alert reader JM’s log:

Of that log, JM wrote:

I have been taking photos of this log, which is along a trail where I go bird watching, from time to time for many years. The hedgerow has a lot of weedy cherry flowering right now, in three different shades of pink.

(I went into LightRoom and enhanced the image to bring out the pink, so it’s a bit different from the image that originally appeared in Water Cooler.)

Alert reader Amfortas the hippie commented on “JM’s Study”, walking along the trail:

that’s cool af.

i love stuff like that.

one of the benefits of stayin put for almost 3 decades is ive been able to watch such ecological succession over the whole 20 acres…plus the surrounding 2000(i have legit access to half of that,lol…the rest, due to chasing wayward animals(frelling goats…))

from things like fallen trees, turning eventually into dirt…or a dead rabbit, doing the same, just much quicker…or the broader succession of the pastures: weeds to the willman lovegrass i spread around to stabilise and smother and build soil=> varied succession of native grasses i tossed out there eventually supplanting the lovegrass(i carry a bucket with me in the truck, and take dirt roads often, and in season can often be found picking grass seed on the side of a lonely dirt road)

and various trees and shrubs(mom hates this part,lol…so untidy!) slowly but surely doing their thing, and it’ll eventually be a “sylvopasture”, and thus more robust and resilient.

Alert reader mrsyk also commented:

I think JM’s log study is cool too. Richard Powers’ “The Overstory” has a similar study over a multi-generational timeline which [they] nimbly [use] to emphasize a theme here and there.

Now, if someone were to take a bunch of photos of their three cats on a daily basis, would that be considered similar? Asking for a friend.

I will get to the cats in a moment. My question: Is it correct to categorize JM as a flâneur?

There are two reasons to answer in the negative. First, the flâneur is almost always characterized as male. Second, flânerie is practiced in the city (where logs exist, to be sure, but not always as objects of interest).

I see no reason why flânerie may only be practiced by males. Certainly, either of the two dominant sexes is equally capable of passionate observation, and so I see no reason to import flâneuse from the French. It may be that the disparity is caused by flânerie’s second characteristic: Cities are not nearly as safe for women as they are for men.

But must flânerie be practiced only in the city? The Times again writes:

To walk a city led by your senses rather than a destination is to awaken to the city and, possibly, to yourself. It’s an opportunity to expand your capacity for wonder, to discover and delight in things you might have missed had you been aiming to get somewhere.


[T]he flâneur’s raison d’etre—to participate fully through observation—has always remained the same.

It is true that JM is not “participat[ing] fully through observation” in, say, café life, or energetic street life, or mimes, etc. However — the photograph shows this[2], and both Amfortas and mrsyk point this out — JM is participating through observation in the process of succession, something not generally as visible in the city as in the country.

So I think it’s fine to characterize JM’s routine as flânerie. Now about those cats: I would answer in the negative. A times series of photographs of one’s cat, though obviously a worthy project, is not flânerie, which by definition includes walking, and not only observation, no matter how passionate one might be about one’s cats, and rightly, of course.

My real motivation for all this fancy footwork is to encourage you, dear readers, to walk, if you can, regularly — to practice flânerie not, heaven forfend, with zeal, but at least with diligence — and moreover to include an object of interest on your walks, and to observe it passionately. I need not rehearse the health benefits of walking (here, here, here), especially for Jackpot-induced, well, weighty emotions. But I also believe that the act of passionate observation is good in itself, that it will sharpen the mind and strengthen the spirit to photograph, sketch, paint, or journal your object of interest as regularly as you walk, and so I encourage you to do that as well.


[1] Hat tip, Karma Medical:

[2] Although a series of photographs, perhaps even over the years, would show it more fully.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. rusell1200

    According to the 100% accurate internets:

    “The classic French female counterpart is the passante, dating to the works of Marcel Proust, though a 21st-century academic coinage is flâneuse, and some English-language writers simply apply the masculine flâneur also to women.”

    I know that in English usage, many take umbrage at feminized nouns like the British Women Soccer team calling themselves Lionesses. So as Americans (in particular) we can feel free to do as we want and call them all flâneur if we want.

    1. CanCyn

      I am learning French right now and this post has reminded me that I am struck by the difference between the two verbs marcher and promener. You can’t say ‘je marche’ (I walk or I am walking) or ‘je me promene’ (I take a walk or I am taking a walk). I definitely have two walking modes. Sometimes ‘I walk’ and this mode is more about exercise and moving my body. Sometimes ‘I take a walk’ and this is me in flanneur mode, looking for and listening for the birds. Noticing the trees and how they change over the seasons. Looking up a la Lambert’s recommendation. Je me promene is the preferable walk by a long shot.
      With regard to taking photos of something over the passing of time, my Dad took a series of seasonal photos of a maple tree that he passed by en route to his favourite fishing stream. They are my favourites of his photos.

        1. CanCyn

          Thanks Art! Very cool. makes me want to learn Russian. The lack of exact translation in many cases is keeping my interest in French alive. It is very interesting to me that while have similar things, motions, emotions, etc. that we all have different kinds of words and ways of talking about them

        2. dRbiG

          Very cool diagrams indeed, but as a Polish speaker who can read Cyrillic – those prefixes are very close to Polish ones which tells me this is most likely a Slavic family feature, rather than anything specific to Russian. E.g. pójść, wejść, wyjść, podejść, odejść, dojść, zajść, obejść… only at про- it seems to break, przejść? :D

  2. dave -- just dave

    The film Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, a Menippean satire, offers the following at the end of the film:

    “Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

    Some have argued that a more penetrating analysis is offered in the central scene of the film, which takes place in the boardroom of the Very Big Corporation of America, but others find this unconvincing.

    1. CanCyn

      The Meaning of Life, while containing some very funny moments, is my least favourite of the Python films (Life of Brian being the best IMO) but that line: “Try to be nice ….” is good life advice for us all. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. eg

    I walk. A lot. But I wouldn’t include myself among the “awareness walkers.” I use the time walking to consume a prodigious quantity of podcasts.

    1. JohnnyGL

      I do this, too. But i also have a spot where i consistently take photos throughout the seasons.

  4. Korual

    There’s more freedom in city walking as there are so many different possible routes. All the streets are commons.

    Usually in the countryside you have a set and well worn pathway surrounded by private land. Hence you must hike or tramp or clamber and climb. So stressful.

    1. Mildred Montana

      >”There’s more freedom in city walking…”

      Agree, and also about the limitations of small-town or rural walking. With those, one must deal with few routes, often no sidewalks, high-speed traffic whizzing by, and in summer heat or winter wind little protection from either.

      Life-long walker here (I’m 71). My back-of-the-envelope estimate is that the “shoe-leather express” has transported me ~60,000 miles in my lifetime, twice around the globe. My personal preference only, but I find more motivation for a long stroll if I have a destination in mind or an errand to run. Can’t just wander aimlessly without any purpose.

      And when walking in the city, look up! There’s often interesting stuff (eg. architecture) above street-level.

  5. katiebird

    We walk everyday for 45 minutes. It happens that the best time for our walks is about 11am (maybe a little earlier – almost never very much later.) We have two large loops to choose from and we sort of alternate the direction for each loop.

    It’s amazing the way we notice things depending on the direction we’re walking. It’s part of what makes our walks not boring even though they cover so much of the exact same ground.

    Also, we do look up (as Lambert recommended a couple of years ago in another walking post) Not as much as he recommends – there are too many gifts from lazy dog owners for that – but I know I’m looking up because I have dozens of photos of clouds. Or Trees against a bright blue sky.

    Our favorite walk takes us through a park with a creek that sits about a half block from our house. This park was originally a stop on the Santa Fe Trail so we always feel a little like we are slip-sliding through time as we walk were pioneers and settlers walked ~150 years ago or so.

    Like JM, I take a recurring photo – of a dead tree at one of the entrances to our park. The tree often stands out with sharp contrast to the sky and almost reflects the sun’s light – it’s so vivid. And the spread of its branches looks like a drawing of a tree. It’s so pleasing to me, I must have a couple dozen photos of it or more by now.

    Rick worries though. He’s starting to think we should bring helmets when we walk that way.

  6. Michael Fiorillo

    Along the lines of “nuanced additional meanings” should be the flaneur’s seeking out serendipity, synchronicity, the objective correlative and informed creative free asociation in response to one’s surroundings. The streets and the woods are treasure troves for the passionate observer.

    I’m also with Amfortas regarding the deep satisfaction and insight to be gained by staying put and keeping your eyes open. I always felt that raising my children where I grew up, and with grandma literally down the street, was a great boon to all of us.

  7. Tim

    I’ve been going to the same areas of the Oregon Coast for 4 decades, and it’s interesting to see the erosion of headland sandstone and basalt and the simultaneous uplift that has occurred (as a result of the subducting Juan de Fuca plate under the North American Plate lifting and buckling it), as well as changes to the flora.

    The climate has changed, the level of the land has changed and the erosion is notable in such a short geological and ecological time frame. The uplift relative to sea level is the most interesting. If I had to guess it’s lifted 1 to 2 feet in the last 40 years. How much it comes crashing back down when the big one (earthquake) strikes and releases the compression stresses is TBD.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I’ve been going to the same areas of the Oregon Coast for 4 decades, and it’s interesting to see the erosion of headland sandstone and basalt and the simultaneous uplift that has occurred

      This is citizen science (and it should have occurred to me, but did not — JM was birdwatching, in addition to log-documenting) — that the passionate observation that is part of could adapted to that purpose.

    1. Wukchumni

      The passeggiata was always my favorite to glimpse, with Italian couples often dressed as if they were walking to a wedding, see me-dig me strolling.

  8. Skk

    As a kid, living in a crowded inner city in India, in the early 60s, I recall dusk as the time when people strolled the streets. It was after the scorching afternoon heat had receded, but before the mundane evening/night chores of food shopping, flour mill chores, temple visits.

    It was really about people watching and to be watched, IMO.

    1. Betty

      I think strolling is an important activity. It captures the lusciousness of life, being alive in the midst of others – humans, animals, plants, sky. The very essence of the pleasure of being in the presence of it all.

      Without that feeling, that perception, all that remains is, perhaps as Shatner said after taking the rocket trip: “I hope I never recover from this.. the enormity and the quickness and the suddenness of life and death and the … oh, my God,.. the moment you see the vulnerability of everything. It’s so small. This air which is keeping us alive is thinner than your skin. It’s a sliver, it’s immeasurably small when you think in terms of the universe.”

  9. nielsvaar

    every day, my motivation for walking and writing is to think of how the way that people found out that kant had died was by recognizing that he had failed to walk past windows at the regular time.

    high recommendation for thomas bernhard’s ‘gehen’ (translated as walking in english).

  10. ChrisPacific

    This column reminded me of the following recent news article about a locally created card game, where you draw cards to facilitate a kind of semi-random exploration (turn left, go to the highest place you see, go in the direction the wind is blowing etc.)


    One day, a reader asked if she knew any good spots to visit in Waiouru. She’d just moved there with her husband and children and wanted more options than just the Army Museum. “There is nothing that Google can tell you. TripAdvisor is probably going to be the … local dairy and maybe a local cafe. It’s not going to tell you anything,” she says.

    But it put a thought in the back of Macnaughtan’s mind. She didn’t know Waiouru well, but based on her own adventures, she knew it must be full of possibility. “Instinctively, I knew there must be watering holes, there must be a hill you can roll down with a field of wildflowers, there must be so many amazing places,” she says. “I can’t tell you. No one can tell you. But you need a mechanism to be able to confidently explore and discover them.”

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > a locally created card game, where you draw cards to facilitate a kind of semi-random exploration

      That’s really neat. And I agree on Google and Trip Advisor. Both are not useless, in the sense that they can get you roughly where the typical tourist is likely to go, but no more. You really do need local knowledge, and neither platform has the facilities to accumulate or present it. Maybe AI can [ha ha, not ever, what garbage that would be].

  11. Wukchumni

    I walk fairly exclusively in the Sierra Nevada and its so different on the western slopes here as opposed to the east side-with so many distinct climate zones, whereas the the eastern slopes don’t play that game in a mighty whoosh! rush to craggy heights.

    This gives me much more options and there is always a trail that is perfect for the season, and something different to look at, today it was yellow Monkey flower patches en route to Case Mountain.

    I’m usually walking with anywhere from 2 to 5 friends and the power of 6 to 12 experienced eyes doesn’t miss much, as we are ad hoc trained observers looking for different things and movement.

    Nobody listens to music or podcasts as this is prime time to talk the walk, and you never want to go faster than your conversations, so the pace is just right.

    None of us would be all that comfortable walking in a city setting i’d say, as we’ve been spoiled by the splendor in our grasp.

    1. Carolinian

      You’re like a professional walker. Some of us are dawdlers–doesn’t even rise to the level of flaneur. It’s embarrassing when little kids walk faster than you do.

      But I try to walk a couple of miles every day. I enjoy it. In the summer I also still ride my bike.

    2. Wukchumni


      Most of my walks are out and back, and the scenery often looks so different going the other direction.

    3. juno mas

      My friends and me did something similar when walking/clambering through the Sawtooth, White Cloud mountains on either side of the Sawtooth Valley, beyond our summer playpen in Sun Valley,ID. Each of us were relaxing/exploring the landscape from our educational study perspectives: geology, botany, ecology, fluvial geomorphology during Summer break. Our discussions instilled both flabbergast and fascination.

      Reading John Muir, or a field guide, is a nice way to prepare for a good walk not spoiled.

  12. B Flat

    Flâneur is one of my favorite words. I always picture Ludwig Bemelmans sitting (ok flânerie violation) outside the old Stanhope, sketching and sipping.

  13. eg

    I also got the impression that the Flâneur walks to be seen (and therefore dressed with this in mind) as much as for what might be encountered/discovered, but I may be misremembering.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I also got the impression that the Flâneur walks to be seen (and therefore dressed with this in mind) as much as for what might be encountered/discovered, but I may be misremembering.

      There is an overlap between flânerie and dandyism, no question. However, I think perambulation + passionate observation is the central aspect; the flâneur themselves may dress to add to the scene, naturally.

  14. c_heale

    The best time to walk for me is from dawn to a hour or so later (depending on the time of year and the latitude). There is a lot more activity from birds and animals and people tend to be friendlier at this time of day too. And in hot climates this is often the coolest time of daylight time.

  15. timotheus

    I have begun to walk more slowly through the streets of Manhattan and to look upward whenever it can be done safely. The middle-sized buildings often have intricate stonework and decorative details that are completely missed by most pedestrians and seem to be designed for residents of neighboring buildings at a similar eye level, i. e., other prosperous types or the downright rich. Perhaps some office workers (remember those?) also get to enjoy them.

    1. Cat Lady

      Park Avenue South and Broadway have some nice ones as does 6th Avenue South of 34th Street. Weather permitting, I take a variety of routes home from 52nd and Seventh (office) to TriBeCa (home) and I do enjoy the architecture. The warmer weather necessitates slower walking. Today may be a bit too hot though so will wait until later in the evening and walk along the Hudson. Everyone there is so young and there is much displaying of bodies going on. I try to focus on the gardens that are along the pathway 😉

  16. skylark

    A fun read-aloud book for kids is The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems. Diva is a small dog living an adventure free life in Paris and Flea is a cat of no fixed abode who calls himself a flaneur. One fateful day they meet.

  17. Bart Hansen

    Each day my brother in law who lives in a Nottingham suburb takes a long walk and takes a daily photo of a certain marsh along the way.

  18. Crocus

    Thoreau’s long essay “Walking” is a gem. And the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh developed walking as meditation.

  19. Rick

    I have spent the last couple of years becoming more intimately acquainted with the land I live on, the lives of the plants and animals here.

    It makes the quote from Wendell Berry come alive for me:

    Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch.


  20. Amfortas the hippie

    the last big freeze damaged one of the batteries in the Falcon(the tricked out ranch golfcart), but it took til the end of this past may for it to damage the rest of them(wired up like one giant 36 volt battery)…and this with me dutifully checking the water levels when itgot hot.
    so ive been hoofing it since memorial day…and thus, limited in my rambling…being a cripple, and all, i have only so many steps i can do in a day, and most of those, sans Falcon, are for work.
    but before my body got so bad, i used to walk everywhere…all around, hill and dale, for miles and miles.
    for the last almost 20 years, its been rugged golf cart flaneurism.
    but with this, i notice all manner of things that people that ride with me do not…until i point it out.
    first month of wife’s cancer adventure, afraid to lose my parking space, and not familiar with even that part of san antonio…i’d walk all over, looking for lunch.
    and took the woodcraft with me…i, alone, noticed the bum camping in the brush between medical office buildings…or where the rabbits lived among all that hustle and bustle(“go placidly amidst the noise and the haste..”)
    and watching others walking…oh so purposefully…and most refusing eye contact…and so many, buried in their fondleslabs such that i marveled that they didnt walk right into traffic….
    that whole month of walking around down there left me in agony, of course…but also stronger for it.
    as, i suppose, waiting to gather enough money for battries will also make me stronger.
    i havent run or jogged in 35 years…but im happy i can still walk around as much as i do.
    one notices things…and can translate that awareness to creeping around on an almost silent golf cart, given enough monkeysnot in the tires.
    one of my very favorite things to do in the Falcon, and this time of year, is to follow the guinneas around the pasture….hanging way back, they eventually get used to my presence….and go about their business, which they take very seriously.
    with a hogleg and cooler of beer, its wonderful…peripatetic philosophy at its best.
    wife and i did that often when it was “Date Afternoon”.

  21. Stephen V

    There’s a walkway to memorialize the life of author W.G. Sebald who died in 2001: (Wikipedia)
    As a memorial to the writer, in 2005 the town of Wertach created an eleven kilometre long walkway called the “Sebaldweg”. It runs from the border post at Oberjoch (1,159m) to W. G. Sebald’s birthplace on Grüntenseestrasse 3 in Wertach (915m). The route is that taken by the narrator in Il ritorno in patria, the final section of Vertigo (“Schwindel. Gefühle”) by W. G. Sebald. Six steles have been erected along the way with texts from the book relating to the respective topographical place, and also with reference to fire and to people who died in the Second World War, two of Sebald’s main themes.[32]

  22. Sub-Boreal

    Wow! So I’ve been flaneuring all these years without knowing it.

    I got more systematic about this with the arrival of the pandemic, because I was no longer getting exercise automatically from walking up a long hill (2 km long, ~ 100 m elevation gain) to work 5 or 6 days a week.

    So on the days when I worked from home, I developed a ~ 1 hr circuit which takes me through an older part of town with more mixed (and interesting) housing, joining a trail that leads through a park next to a large river and then back through a different neighbourhood. In summer, I cover about twice as much ground by bike, which lets me explore trails on a floodplain forest, skirting a large railyard and a couple of sawmills.

    Maybe I’m just easily amused, but there just seem to be lots of things to monitor, like the progress of beaver construction in a slough, trains shunting, the seasonal rise and fall of the rivers, and what people are doing with their yards and gardens. I never get bored, and before I know it, I’m back at my house.

    Glad to know that there are so many others on here who also find this satisfying. Of course, this evening, with some of the worst air quality in Canada (forest fire smoke), I’m not sure how much net benefit I’m getting for my health!

  23. GramSci

    One of the aspirational texts of my youth was Joseph von Eichenbach’s Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts. Thanks to a succession of bullshit jobs, it was an aspiration I Iargely achieved in life, walking the Piedmont of the Appalachians, down to the detail of carrying meine Geige.

    In my fourth quarter of life I now usually take these walks down Memory Lane.

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