Why cities emptied by Covid are perfect for modern flâneurs

why cities emptied by covid are perfect for modern flaneurs

Charles Baudelaire, whose 200th birthday on 9 April will be celebrated with stamp issues, new editions of his poetry and virtual events, is arguably more famous for his concept of the flâneur – an aimless stroller or ambler – than for his writing. That’s partly because reading his volumes Les Fleurs du Mal or Le Spleen de Paris requires a degree of application, but also because the idea of an individual moving through the city streets and finding aesthetic pleasure in the teeming crowds, appeals to us and continues to chime. At least, it did until spring 2020, when the crowds were told to stay at home.

Illustration drawn in 1907 by Raoul Serres for the poem Wine (from Les Fleurs du Mal) by Charles Baudelaire. Photograph: World History Archive/Alamy

But even in a ghost city, it’s possible to think and walk like a flâneur. Rainer Hanshe has translated several of Baudelaire’s books into English – including Belgium Stripped Bare, about the French author’s visit to Brussels just before it was struck by a cholera epidemic. He notes: “The flâneur is a figure who, while immersed in the urban throng, is simultaneously separate from it. If more empty than not, our streets are still to some degree populated, and we can engage in the form of communion that Baudelaire referred to as a mysterious intoxication…

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