Getting to know your own city through wandering
By Michele Provenzano, Staff Writer
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. When reading a sentence like that, you probably imagine setting off on an international flight, landing in a foreign climate, and adventuring through an unfamiliar landscape. Most likely, however, a large portion of the very city you live in remains unvisited by you. Why don’t we explore our own cities more often?
We dream of travel and adventure, but we overlook the value of travelling through our more immediate surroundings. Sure, you may know your neighbourhood like the back of your hand, but aren’t there pockets of the city in which you don’t know what lies?
For the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to walk through more and more areas of Vancouver and the surrounding cities. A friend of mine shares a similar perspective, and our goal is to acquaint ourselves with every corner of Vancouver. Perhaps we’re easily amused, but we find excitement in strolling through neighbourhoods previously undiscovered by us.
We begin our hangouts with either no plan or a loose one. We walk down residential streets and make decisions to switch directions based on pretty much nothing. We turn corners to find things we never would have known existed otherwise: corner stores, parks, schools, and public art. We’ve found countless little libraries and community-run book exchange sites. We’ve come across the schools we’ve always heard mentioned but have never known the location of.
Every walk makes us feel as if we’ve solved some sort of mystery. These walks bring out the photographers in us. We relentlessly document our findings as we progress through our quest to unlock new areas of our mental maps of our city.
The English language has adopted a word from the French: flâneur, which means “stroller” or “saunterer.” Its further origin—the old Norse verb, flana—means “to wander with no purpose.” Flâneur became a 19 century literary motif of scholarly interest. At first, the word was connoted an idler or one who wastes time. But the flâneur gained respectable associations, seen as the urban explorer—one who comes to deeply understand the city’s landscape. Seen as an art, flânerie—the act of strolling—has been described by literary critics as “the opposite of doing nothing” and as “the gastronomy of the eye.”
So many of the enticing aspects of travel, from simply seeing new sights and meeting new people to the general unpredictability, can be achieved through local exploration. A stroll can be such a thrill.
Reflecting on flânerie, Charles Baudelaire wrote, “The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family.”
There’s a joy in getting to know the world, and the world includes what’s close to home.