Black and white image of Paris plaza
PHOTO: richard birchall ’89
The Arts

Are You a Flaneur?
The high art of meandering aimlessly

By Luka Willet ’24 / June–August 2023
June 22nd, 2023

During the pandemic, people all over the world took to the streets again to walk, wander, and ponder in the relative safety of fresh air and open spaces. The flaneur, it would appear, was having a moment. Popularized in the 1800s by the French poet Charles Baudelaire, the flaneur strolls around with no particular objective in mind, just drinking in the myriad sights and sounds of city life.

Richard Birchall ’89 has taken things further by compiling a guide to Baudelaire’s home turf, A Flaneur’s Guide: Paris, The Left Bank, with the aim of sharing insights and attractions in the city where he’s lived on and off for the past 30-plus years since graduation. Birchall’s updated definition of the flaneur: a person who “strolls around in a seemingly meaningless way; a connoisseur of the street, an informed observer, a lounger, a loafer, a lover of city life in all its infinite variety.” His unique guide introduces you to the key people and places of the Parisian world of religion, rebellion, and art that has flourished for centuries. Tapping into the flaneur zeitgeist, Birchall has since published A Flaneur’s Guide: Paris, The Right Bank as well as one for his own hometown, A Flaneur’s Guide, Dublin.

For Birchall, a dual English and Computer Science concentrator now working for an IT company in Dublin, “Art is where we find the intersection of the finite, which is the world that we live in, with the infinite.” Far from your typical tourist guides, Birchall’s works are an attempt to pull readers beyond their individual lived experiences meandering through cities and into the innumerable worlds that swirled in the minds of the poets, philosophers, and painters who have made Paris and Dublin their homes for hundreds of years.

Birchall hopes to continue publishing guides for the foreseeable future, focusing on the intellectual hotspots of the cities he knows best. After all, he says: “I’m absolutely a flaneur. A flaneur tries to get closer to understanding people and places by stepping away, removing intent, to be open to whatever the world presents.” These guides are a path to follow him on that quest. More information:

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Related Issue
June–August 2023