As noted on the introductory page to this website, the term flâneur originally connoted an idle stroller, indeed even a loafer, often seen as someone prone to wasting time, the term gradually developed a more complex and richer meaning throughout 19th century France concurrent with the accompanying industrialization of French society.
Eventually the idleness of the flâneur in the context of modern urban living was viewed in a more positive light when it became apparent that the ever-increasing pace and impersonal character of industrialized society was changing the very nature of the relationships people had with one another.
In general, they had less time. They became more self-focused. They often developed a cultural cynicism, and their very notions of freedom and being were altered. Sound familiar? In the 20th century we would come to call this, "the Daily Grind," or “the Rat Race.”
The flâneur is not really part of all this. Or he at least seeks to separate himself from it. He makes for himself the luxury of time – but he wastes none of it. He uses this time – to take time – to engage with those around him. Also to savor those around him, along with the best the current culture has to offer – the most eclectic food, drink, accouterments, and the most compelling intellectual concepts and thought. In short, he takes the time to savor life itself and in the process, tries to figure out what it’s all about.
So what does this have to do with anything? Particularly in our present day and age?
I have only recently elected to become a flâneur. As well as a bon vivant. For almost the last 50 years, I was on the ‘daily grind’ side of the American equation.
Hiring on the railroad when I was 18 as a brakeman; working my way through college; slogging my way along a career path that would take me to the ranks of railroad Superintendent and General Superintendent, plus two General Manager positions, and ultimately as a rather overpaid consultant. I worked 12-14 hour days, and was on-call for the remaining time for over 40 years. Somehow in the middle of all this I managed to meet a lovely lady who became my wife over 20 years ago.
Then I woke up one day and realized I was almost 60 years old. What had I done with my life that meant anything to anybody other than myself? Sure, my wife and I bought a nice house; a good number of cars; and lots of stuff. But at what price? The most precious thing we have in this life is time – and how much of that was wasted simply acquiring stuff?
Upon reflection, I realized that I had treated most of the people in my life almost like two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that I just navigated around because I was singularly focused on acquiring my own life’s goals and had no time for them, or for enjoying the unique (and often free) things life had to offer through all of those years. As it turned out, I was a fool.
So I got my house; I got my stuff; but I looked back on all of those decades, and realize now that there was so much more I could have savored, and fine people I could have gotten to truly know, who could have further enriched my own life, if I had only taken the time.
And so, over the past couple of years, I have made it a point to transition into what I call the new American flâneur. To engage with people that I meet – even if only casually; and to savor what my surroundings have to offer based on the unique time and place in which I currently reside – recognizing that everything in our present-day lives is ever so fleeting. We consequently owe it to ourselves (and those around us) to enjoy and observe and engage what we can.
But such a transition requires one to make a conscious decision that the 'daily grind’ either gets jettisoned entirely, or at the very least, remains completely subordinate to the requirements of being a practicing flâneur. That is an axiom that simply cannot be compromised in any way.
On the surface, we live in a society that appears to get more crass, vulgar, corrupt and polarized by the month. But there remains much good to be found if you take on the role of a flâneur. And perhaps most important of all, you may be able to actually improve the lives of at least some of those whose lives you touch, just by taking the time to observe, learn about them, and engage.
Therefore, the purpose of this blog will be to chart the course of the new American flâneur, in very specific terms.
We will talk about engaging with others – both in a social context and for purposes of business networking; good food; better drink; entertainment; cool stuff; proper dress, grooming and decorum; along with some archaic civility and manners that should be restored to commonplace, contemporary American society for its betterment.
And so, just to put the focus of this blog into proper perspective, if you're one of those guys who think that it's a really cool look to wear a baseball cap backwards with a hoodie, baggy shorts and flip flops walking around the mall with your wife or girlfriend - it's a safe bet that there's probably not too much here that will interest you.
If on the other hand, you take pleasure is seeking the best in yourself and others, as well as the world around you, I invite you to stick around. You just might like it here.
© 2016 David Nogar All Rights Reserved
David Nogar worked in railroad operations for almost 50 years until retiring from the transportation business in early 2023.