Flâneur

Dear You,

A flâneur. I have become what Charles Baudelaire described as “a person who walks the city in order to experience it.” In the morning, I go to my local café for coffee and walk down beautiful streets lined with dozens of parked cars and magnificent buildings that loom far above me. Each street is unique without breaking the architectural theme that brings Paris’ twenty arrondissements together.

The places immediately around my apartment in the 16e have grown to become familiar in the last few weeks: the cafés, the grocery store, the pharmacy, and the convenient store. Each day, I cross over the same side streets and pass the now familiar small parks that have statues of famous men that remind us of the past; however, after my morning coffee, I usually continue walking to places that I have never seen; to places that yet feel familiar.

On these walks, I carry my Leica with me. I am aware of the fact that I now look like a tourist, but I am simply documenting my life. The camera becomes my point of view while my journal becomes a trusted companion. And perhaps the street photographer is the modern day flâneur roaming through the city, looking for a moment or an image that jumps out at them. They look through their viewfinders as a way of getting to know a place.

I look to photograph something that catches my eye and write about an experience that burns into my memory long after I have moved on. I write about how I am living my life; what thoughts and emotions penetrate my heart and mind. I attempt to photograph more than a simple landmark, but the essence of a space. My eye is drawn to brightly painted doorways, ornate fixtures, curving streets, open windows, sculptures that line one of Paris’ many bridges, metro stations and the people around me.

The entire city feels as if it is straddling time. I feel as if I have one leg in the present and another in the past. You can imagine people in the cafés, strolling through museums and walking the streets fifty, eighty, a hundred years ago. It is as if little has changed over time and the city’s spirit has never altered.

I wish you were here with me. Walking these streets. Sitting across the table at the café. Philosophizing. Discussing art. People watching. Not understanding 90% of what is being said, but trying to communicate. Trying to be part of this foreign world. I think you’d love it here. Everything feels different here. Everything is temporarily new. I think your heart would race with the pulse of this city that breathes around you and envelops you in its breeze.

~ Me

I want to tell you about Paris.

Dear You,

I want to tell you about Paris. And its wide boulevards of warn cobblestone that has been driven over by countless cars. Avenues that branch out into slender side streets with charming stores and little shops. Tall buildings designed by architects that loved high windows; curves and arches; sculpted balconies; ornate railings; and attic windows that opened out to the sky.

If I could tell you about Paris, I would say: This city is a painting. With charcoal streets lined with lush green trees. Beige stone buildings peppered with greens and blacks, blues and grays, silvers and reds. Bridges cutting jagged lines through a low horizon above a river that curves through the landscape. The water brings texture to a living painting as passing boats send rippling waves towards the banks. The bridges are doorways literally to another side of life. And when you look at Paris, you see a wide landscape of a delicate city where the architecture has a soul.

It’s a walking city that beckons you to explore it. There are luscious gardens that may have once been grand estates. Old buildings that loom over grassy fields where lovers picnic. When you walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg, you pass the green chairs set on the sides of the wide sandy path. Where once Hemmingway sat, as did Picasso and Man Ray, contemplating the consciousness of their day. Stories this city could tell. The history of the city of love.

People exit buses, looking quickly around them in order to gain their bearings before quickly setting off in their desired direction. The sidewalks are filled with inquisitive visitors and Parisians, who are carefully dressed to acquire an appreciative glance, but not attract too much attention. They dress is blazers and jackets; blue jeans and pencil skirts; scarves tied around their necks; Italian leather loafers and delicate high heels. Women wear their outfits with pride while men saunter with determination; purpose.

I sit in a café and feel the breeze move in through the open doors. Wall to ceiling windows let in the sun, which does not find itself tempted to set until 10pm. I sit where patrons long before me challenged and changed our opinions of art, literature and film, as well as history and politics. I romanticize Paris, but there is a reason that people like me become ex-pats. There is a reason Paris beckons us to its streets and gardens; to its bars and cafés; to seeking out any way to make this life work; to gamble everything for everything.

I wish you’d see this…

~ Me

Free Man In Paris

Sufjan Stevens – Free Man In Paris (Joni Mitchell cover)

Written: June 18, 2011

I stepped out of my new apartment and shut the door with a loud bang. I have been told two things about my front door. First, never leave without your keys, because it locks behind you. And it costs an enormous amount (200€) to have a locksmith come unlock your door. Second, I have been told to close it with force in order for it to truly lock.

I turned on the hall light, which is near my door, and walked over to the room that has the trash chute. After disposing of the trash from the last few days, I walked to the elevator. When the doors opened, I saw one of my neighbors. We immediately smiled, said, “Bonjour,” and then rode the elevator down in silence. As I left, we said, “Au revoir.” A similar exchange happened in the evening where another neighbor and I walked past each other. We nodded, smiled and said “Bonsoir.”

Paris is so very polite. I have been told to always remember to say, “bonjour” (or “bonsoir”) to everyone to whom you speak. When you walk into a café, remember to say, “Bonjour, Madame” or “Monsieur.” It will be considered rude if you do not call the person at the café (or store) Madame, Monsieur or Mademoiselle when greeting them. I must admit, however, that I have failed a couple times with these greetings and have simply said “Bonjour” on a number of occasions, but those people have never seemed insulted. Instead they have usually smiled with a “Bonjour” in return. (When an older person has approached, I have been more formal though.)

Here it is also customary to greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek. At first, I was amazed at how many times you might kiss people depending on the amount of people with you. At a birthday party, I must have greeted a dozen people with kisses; however, I have come to find it to be a rather romantic way of saying hello. It’s actually a very polite society. It is also interesting that this city is so strict on manners and formalities (which I honestly like,) but has a reputation for being rude, which it honestly can be.

As I sit in a café, I look around me at the pedestrians passing me by. There are businessmen and women in well-tailored suits walking around amongst those like myself in blue jeans and a sweater. I am quietly having a cup of coffee (“café”) and writing in my journal. I have been sick for several days and it is good to be out, even though it is raining slightly.

In my two weeks here, I have had an amazing time with the people that I have met. It has been two weeks ago today that I came to Paris. July 4th! I left on the 3rd (a Friday) and arrived at CDG on the 4th. I am amazed at how happy I am here, although I know that I’ll have some low days, of which I have had a few. “Emotional days.” Days where I am fully aware that I have left what was my life in Los Angeles behind. A realization of what I have given up and have lost.

It is interesting how certain things or people remain close to your heart long after they are gone. And how a place can fell familiar, yet brand new – a new start – but still hold old feelings. As if these feelings came with me on my flight. Hence “baggage,” which is so appropriate. When does one let go and accept the finality of something being over and start anew? Start looking forward and outward and not looking back, because that person or those things are gone forever?

But I love being here. I am truly happy, as everything feels so streamlined. People are simply people here. No pretenses about what they might want from you. Simply put, people are less interested in what you do and are more interested in who you are. And when you meet people in your own field – i.e. film and photography – it feels far more genuine.