A flaneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles through city streets in search of adventure and fulfillment. Edmund White, who lived in Paris for sixteen years, wanders through the streets and avenues and along the quays, into parts of Paris virtually unknown to visitors and indeed to many Parisians. In the hands of the learned White, a walk through Paris is both a tour of its lush, sometimes prurient history, and an evocation of the city's spirit.
The Flaneur leads us to bookshops and boutiques, monuments and palaces, giving us a glimpse the inner human drama. Along the way we learn everything from the latest debates among French lawmakers to the juicy details of Colette's life.
Originally published as part of Bloomsbury's Writer and the City series, this book has sold consistently over the years, and will find a whole new audience in paperback.
The first in Bloomsbury's new, "occasional series" The Writer and the City, White's (The Married Man) collection of impressions stands in marked contrast to many travel books published today. The organizing principle is the combined force of White's perception, imagination, frame of reference and voice. He moves seamlessly from an eyeglasses museum to the Hotel de Lauzun--home to Baudelaire as a young man--and a discussion of the poet's dandyism and struggle with syphilis. White includes personal memories and anecdotes of gay Paris--in both senses of the phrase--past and present. "To be gay and cruise is perhaps an extension of the fl neur's very essence, or at least its most successful application," even as the fl neur's wandering is "meant to be useless." White describes his own favorite cruising spots as well as those of Louis XIV's homosexual brother, and notes that Napoleon officially decriminalized homosexuality. Other gems include a visit to the street where Colette lay bedridden with arthritis and spied on Cocteau across the way, and a discussion of the expatriation of African-Americans like Josephine Baker (Cocteau said of her, "Eroticism has found a style") and Richard Wright (who wrote of Paris, "There is such an absence of race hate that it seems a little unreal"). White's charming book is for literati, voyeurs and aesthetes, and for travelers who love familiar terrain from a different viewpoint.