The Art of Flaneuring in Ireland
To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home.
By Courtney Guth, University of Maryland
When it comes to language, there are some words that translate well, and others that are, well, quite literally lost in translation. For example, the German have “schadenfreude”, which means the happiness felt at another’s misfortune. Or take for instance, the Russian “razbliuto” meaning the sentimental feeling one has over a past lover. These words sum up a feeling or action in a way that English cannot. The French have such a word as well, and that word is “flaneur.”
According to my old pal Merriam Webster, a flaneur is “one who wanders aimlessly, who roams, or who travels at a lounging pace.” After my experiences in Ireland, I believe the bet way to travel is to flaneur. All too often, tourists get caught up in trying to do it all. They tote their guidebooks, make their checklists, and rush to see everything, while really they end up seeing nothing at all because they don’t take the time to just enjoy what’s around them while abroad.
As I prepared to study abroad in Ireland for three weeks last summer, my professor introduced the concept of “flaneuring.” She encouraged us to separate from the small group of seven and seek out independent experiences…to really be a part of the city. You must know, I spent part of my childhood tethered to the end of a child leash, so this concept of going off on my own in another country was just as foreign to me as the city itself.
Initially, I worried about traveling on my own for the first time. I often consider myself somewhat introverted and a bit of an independent spirit, but I will admit I’m sometimes far too dependent on a few people in my life and the feelings of safety and security found near them. Deciding to go off on my own was a tough decision to make, but I am glad I decided to do so. Through my experiences flaneuring around the city, I began to grow confidence within myself.
This idea of flaneuring eventually became the backbone of my experiences in Dublin. I met this idea with a hesitant curiosity. I often journal, and in my first entry abroad, I questioned, “How can I expect to lose myself in a city when I’m so bad at letting loose? To flaneur seems so independent, and I am entirely too dependent on far too many things.” I could not possibly foresee becoming comfortable with walking alone in a strange place in order to lose myself in the splendor. I was just all too anxious.
Yet, I began to embrace the term after researching it. One document described flaneuring as “to be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home.”
The purpose of my trip was to study James Joyce’s Ulysses. In Ulysses, the main character, Leopold Bloom is basically homeless for the majority of the day when he leaves home without his key. However, Bloom finds comfort all around Dublin as he tries to escape the anxiety that plagues him. The various sites and scenes of the city become Bloom’s home for the day just as they became my familiar homes over the course three weeks.
I’ve came to the conclusion that flaneuring around the city is finding the heart of the city within your own heart. This is achieved by waiting, watching, listening, and more importantly feeling everything that surrounds you within your soul. It’s taking the time to slow down and appreciate all around you.
In Ulysses, Bloom observes the busy traffic and comments on the monotonous motions of the city. It’s the same thing day after day, and today, the city is just as bustling. Though the city has changed, I could still sense the similarities in Bloom’s surveillance of the city. Police no longer march; they patrol in cars. Trams no longer clog the streets; cars and buses have replaced them. Yet, despite these differences the daily motion of the city is still there. The city is just as bustling as it was on June 16, 1904, and through flaneuring you feel it. You stop. You sense it.
I was able to sense it one afternoon as I made my way to The Irish Writer’s Museum. As usual, I was on a mission to get somewhere and felt I had no time to waste. However, as I made my way towards O’Connell Street to hail a taxi, I heard a street musician begin to play a familiar tune. Initially, I continued towards the main road, but something told me to stop. I really had no reason to rush or anything to worry about. I took a seat at the feet of the James Joyce statue and began to listen—not just to the music but also the city around me. In that moment, I became a true flaneur.
Traveling’s not just about rushing to the big name destinations. It’s just as important to stop and appreciate a street musician or the busy locals passing by. The main attractions are all part of the experience abroad, but to truly experience the city, you have to flaneur.