John Steinbeck called it “vacilando”, the Australians go “walkabout”, now I find out that 18th century French had an urban version of the same called a “flanuer”.
Originally the term is coined by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) and refers to somebody who observes the city or theirs surroundings, and experiences an actual physical stroll but also is a way of philosophical thinking and a way of seeing/feeling things. Walking for walking sake and not in a hurry to just get from one place to another, but to just experience/wondering in the urban cityscape, alley ways and hidden corners and nooks observing the immediate, and also to be seen.
Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
Except we travel by bike, and the “not in a hurry” part has been questioned by the local constabulary on more than a few occasions. Traveling fast and far is not some sort of adrenaline trip, but sometimes is necessary to cross the wide open spaces between epiphanical landmarks and personal encounters. Then we slow things down, giving us time to roll in the situation, even flounce a bit if the situation calls for it, definitely sniff around and mark the territory before we’re of to the next set of experiences.
The flanuer existed to observe, we like to take it a few steps further and immerse; sprinkling might work for some, but a full-scale dunking is where we come down on the whole baptism debate.
And what use is observing if you don’t share the experience? In the past, dad was sometimes loathe to recount his adventures as others might view it as more than a bit of braggadocio, but if he hadn’t read of Trevor Ware’s exploits, it might have never occurred to him to attempt his own.
And what about the exposure to the elements, the possible hazards of the road? Why rough camp in the middle of nowhere when Motel 6 is dog friendly and probably right around the corner? As Hillary said when asked why he climbed Mt Everest,
“Because it’s there”.
We’re not insinuating that our little jaunts are equal to scaling the tallest mountain in the world, but we all have our own personal peaks and valleys to explore; traveling without adversity and risk is merely touring. While fear of what “might happen” should never be the defining factor in any decision, it also serves to sharpen our senses, snapping everything into vivid focus, much like the air is always much clearer after a violent thunderstorm.
Can you tell the wandering bug had bitten hard? It’s always present, buzzing around our ears and in our chests, but every once in awhile, no amount of repellant will stop it from alighting and injecting us with it’s own nectar. The result is usually a pervasive itch that must be scratched, and the only effective ointment is the balm of the open road.
But until then, we bide our time, and we dream. We spend so much time looking at maps that the same maps aren’t even necessary on the actual trip; they become part of us. Today they might direct us across the city, tomorrow around the globe, but it’s not the destination but the journey that’s important.
Sometimes the “sweet by and by” is actually the “awesome here and now”; I shall contemplate this as I nibble my butt.
See you on the road.