A wanderer in Paris

“I had come to France to do nothing but walk and eat”

– Jack Kerouac, Satori in Paris

The above quote from Jack Kerouac’s Satori in Paris would adequately describe the three days I recently spent in Paris with my youngest son. We walked and walked and ate and ate and it was all so glorious – just like the city itself. We had no other plan, and if there’s a city in which to allow yourself to be drawn by your desires and to simply drift, then it is the city that gave birth to the flaneur in the 19th Century covered arcades – the gaslit passages such as Passage Jouffroy, Passage Verdeau, and Passage des Panoramas.

These enclosed boulevards became the haunts of poets and curious pedestrians alike. The great German sociologist Walter Benjamin dedicated a huge study to the Paris Arcades, The Arcades Project and was inspired to wax lyrically about the wonders they held within; “The innermost glowing cells of the city of light, the old dioramas, nested in the arcades, one of which today still bears the name Passage des Panoramas. It was, in the first moment, as though you had entered an aquarium. Along the wall of the great darkened hall, broken at intervals by narrow joints, it stretched like a ribbon of illuminated water behind glass.”

Paris arcade
Paris arcade

For Benjamin the ultimate figure in the crowded arcades was the Flâneur, for him epitomized by Baudelaire, engaged in “aimless strolling, the ability to lose oneself in the crowd, populating one’s solitude.”

Joe and I aimlessly strolled from Montmartre to the Latin Quarter to browse the shelves in Shakespeare and Company and sat reading on an upstairs sofa while someone tinkered on the piano next door. We took a boat to The Eiffel Tower then walked a diagonal back across the city to Montmartre. We experienced the future of art exhibition at L’Atelier des Lumières and watched the hoards swarm around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. A scooted through Père Lachaise Cemetery to find the grave of Jim Morrison and watched the illuminated red sails turn above the Moulin Rouge past midnight. But mostly we aimlessly wandered and savoured every meal – duck legs, mussels, lamb fillet, rump steak, croque monsieur, pancakes, panna cotta, caesar salad, country pate, and just the bread was amazing.

Paris people walking

Edmund White noted in his book, The Flâneur, “Paris is a world meant to be seen by the walker alone, for only the pace of strolling can take in all the rich (if muted) detail.” He writes how Benjamin explained that “the flâneur is in search of experience, not knowledge,” and that summarises our approach to this trip. Although we did scoot through some of the tourist hotspots we did so with innocence, seeking not dry facts, but the experience of place. And what a wonderful, magical experience it was.


  1. Christine Slike   •  

    Sounds wonderful! Can’t wait to watch.

  2. Daniela Jung   •  

    thank you for your impression of Paris. Me and my daughters will be going in September, also staying in Montmartre

    • JohnR   •     Author

      Hope you have a great time Daniela

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