Thursday, 5 April 2012

Is it possible to be a flâneur in Paris without walking?


It is a truism to say that Paris is a city designed for pedestrians, but what is the experience for those who have trouble walking? Is it still possible to be a flâneur if physical problems prevent us from wandering freely around the city? 

This was the crux of a mail I received from Patti, a reader of this blog, who is a regular visitor to Paris, and who until recently spent "lots of time nosing around alleyways and side streets". Unfortunately, she developed a problem in one of her knees last year which prevents her from walking very far, but she's determined to still keep exploring the city. She signed off with an imploring question - "what would you do if you couldn't walk properly?"

It is a question that immediately demands contemplation. What would I do? Most of the production of this blog stems from my interaction with the city on foot, and I realise that I take for granted the fact that I can turn at any corner, walk up and down steep staircases, and chance upon discoveries in cobbled backyards. Stopping to reflect, it becomes evident that Paris - like much of France - is wonderful for walkers, but an obstacle course for the disabled.


In the absence of a psychogeographical study of the city through the perspective of the disabled we can only pose questions. Does modern Paris offer free exploration to all of its inhabitants and visitors, or are whole swathes of the city off-limits to those who cannot walk properly? Does this change the way we view and interact with the city, and is it still possible to experience the serendipitous discoveries of the pedestrian if we are not on foot? 

Certainly, relying on other means of movement does not always give satisfaction. Patti points out that she "cannot afford to take taxis everywhere", but such trips - where scenery flashes by unfocused - are rarely more than frustration to the flâneur anyway. The Metro is also out of the question, firstly because it divorces you from your surroundings, and secondly because in Paris it is a warren of steep staircases with very few escalators or lifts. So just how do you explore the city if your movement is restricted?


I posted the question on Twitter, and received a number of interesting suggestions.

For several people, including @Jacquesjer, the answer is the bus, and @MargaritaIP explains exactly when it is best to do this, "take the bus during off-peak hours, mid-afternoon, sit and enjoy central Paris". @mackhart, who has had similar mobility problems, gives specific examples. "When our knees gave out we enjoyed taking the bus 68 and 69 which covered most of the city between the two"

This is a suggestion I would tend to agree with, and one I have even previously written about on this blog. (Interestingly, in the comments to that post there was an interesting mini-debate on whether public transport can offer pscyhogeographical interaction with the city or not). It is also worth noting the free 'Arch-Bus' series of downloadable PDFs which point out modern architectural highlights on 12 bus lines across the city (currently published in French only).

Other forms of transport were mentioned. @LostNCheeseland suggested a "boat cruise" whilst @jbrowneparis mentioned the city's "rickshaw and pedicab services".

Two other people questioned whether mobility is essential or not for the flâneur. As @dogjaunt says, "place yourself where people walk past YOU. Sit there for a bit, find another good spot. It's all about observing anyway". Finally, @FUNDAMEMORIA offered a poetic solution to the problem - "read Baudelaire in a cafe, and imagine walking..."

Is this a situation you have ever been confronted by, and how did you deal with it? What advice would you give to an ardent flâneur in Paris whose movement is restricted?

9 comments:

Diane said...

I love the bus, too! Route #72 takes you along the Seine from Louvre to St. Cloud and back again. Great ride!

My sister loves Paris and has serious mobility issues but that doesn't stop her. If you are disabled - you can go the front of the line at any museum, monument and get in for free (with your companion, too).

All Paris museums are free to those with a disability and many have wheelchairs available.

tap said...

This is fabulous- and I can hardly wait to get back to Paris. Actually, trying the bus will give me a whole new perspective on the city, and I didn't know about the rickshaws...
I already love reading and shooting street photos, which can be done sitting down.
Thanks Adam, and everyone...

Adam said...

One additional bit of advice I would give for buses is to try to get on as near to their starting point as possible. Some of the more popular lines get so full that it is almost impossible to get onboard, let alone find a seat.

patricia said...

Taking the bus is an excellent idea!

I remember coming back from Porte de Versailles to the 18th's district council with the 80, discovering districts or points of view I never or rarely saw. Turned around at that right moment to see the Big Lady, saw the Champs Elysee without setting foot on it, spotted my country's embassy...

Don't forget the Montmartrobus, this small and sympathetic little bus which crosses the Butte Montmartre. For this one, I would get onboard at the starting point (either Pigalle or Jules-Joffrin metros), and make a round trip (as the bus takes different routes).

Jeff Mings said...

Segways are pricey and don't traverse stairs, but they make it possible for many to move along pedestrian routes with ease. How does the Mairie de Paris look upon Segways? Are they welcomed or discouraged?
Thanks again for the blog Adam! I check for new entries every day.

bgz said...

My wife is mobility impaired so this is important to us. Taxis, alas, work best. (should one tip a taxi driver? we still don't know--five months in Paris over past three years). Metro at Beaugrenelle has a great elevator and is accessible for ON. I don't know if there is an elevator for getting OFF over by Salpetrie or Glacier etc?? at the other end. ? Busses work fine when not crowded. I am hoping the new rental electric cars might fill this gap a bit. (Madrid now has amazing elevator access to its metro. Not news Paris wants to hear though. :) :(

Adam said...

Jeff: Segway tours exist so I guess anyone could use one on the streets of Paris. The SNCF also use them at certain train stations!

bgz: Good point about the new Autolib service. I hadn't thought about them from this perspective, but with them being so small I'm not sure how much use they'd be. Creating a similar service of electric vehicles for the mobility impaired would be an excellent idea though.

Anonymous said...

First flaneur week last Friday, developed foot pain, muddled through on wonderful French drugs but now succumbed and X-rays are booked for tomorrow for suspected broken foot.

Looking forward to getting back to more flaneries in a few weeks time. Agree with the gentleman who says sit and watch. Who says flaneries cannot be simply sitting and watching the other flaneurs.. especially with all the rain in Paris at the mo.

Can you hire one of those little covered mopeds maybe? I think people sit straight on those with legs forward and that should reduce pressure to the knees maybe...

Reading taxi said...

If you're thinking to go through walk, then it's certainly very difficult.

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