Both flânerie and psychogeography are French concepts, one emblematic of the nineteenth century, the other of the postwar era. Both are the practice of dérive¸ which is another French concept though here the English wander shadows closely as the pedestrian blithely heads off the beaten track and lets the shape and folds of the cityscape dictate his steps. I write his, for the flâneur was constitutively male, and the transition to psychogeography has done little to change that preserve.
So neither, then, for I am a woman writing about the exploration of a battered landscape on the north-eastern edge of Paris, though the publisher used flânerie on the back-cover and added the ostensibly contradictory adjective of assidue. Can you wander assiduously? Well perhaps that is what I did. It was a small circuit. No great plains or vast wastes. No endless stretches of unforgiving asphalt. My wander was dictated by the rhythms of care for children and a job that also commandeered time and attention, and it was observed with the sort of regularity that a life balanced between these poles and more has, an approximate regularity easily thrown off keel by mishaps or extra eagerness. I held out for the moments when I slipped off the beam of the day and into the tiny street that was no longer a street, curious and anxious to see what and whom I would find. Would I be able to continue the conversation started a few days earlier? How much of the derelict building that had fascinated me, would be left standing? Each time the significance I discovered within the fragile envelop of this enterprise in urban reconstruction reinforced the pattern that was taking shape. Scaffolding was how I thought about it. My own scaffolding, built in words I gradually engineered into place in a language exterior to me, as a way of better grasping the construction and destruction happening around me.
The whole street was to have been wiped from the map. Too narrow, not necessary. The surrounding streets are desperately overcrowded. Its fate could have been to allow for a marginally wider pavement on the other side of the apartment blocks for easier flânerie as the city authorities wrest these long-neglected climes under the shadow of the over-ground metro into the brighter light of the twenty-first century. But it survived, unlikely and largely redundant. In it I found all sorts of other easily neglected traces: catalogues and stories, framed photos and children’s drawing, a friend I’d forgotten, and a dream I didn’t know I’d had. They all became pieces in the work. A tiny street that became a long climb to where I can see something of the city I have lived in as a woman raising children and words from the ground beneath her feet.