A Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

Part of the pleasure of playing the flâneuse or flâneur is finding the time and space to observe. We slow down and allow the city to flow around us. We take mental snapshots as the crowd passes by, recording faces, clothes, movements, and interactions, the expected and the unexpected. We revel in the infinite wealth of detail that sails by us on the street. As we walk, we encounter others who, unlike us, do not have the time to stop and stare. For them, the city and its street life are something else entirely. For the worker running late, the crowd is an irritant, a mass of moving obstacles to be circumnavigated. The hasty walker rarely sees the city’s wonderous detail. Their focus is on direction and time (or the lack of it). As you approach them, they see straight through you to their destination. Either move or be moved. The volume of pedestrians populating the streets of the great 21st-century cities means that there is little time for politeness and little consideration for the dawdler. I once overheard a passerby push past another and exclaim: “you’re blocking progress.” The city’s energy is generated by a perpetual need to move forward. Few come to the city to stand still (literally or metaphorically). We too cannot live perpetually in flâneur mode. It is a luxury we enjoy when we are able. Bills need to be paid, and sadly, most of us must at one moment or another become the tunnel-visioned worker rushing to an appointment, while the spectacle of the city slips into a blur.

Are there fewer opportunities to play the flâneuse or flâneur in the early 21st-century metropolis? Perhaps. I was about to argue that this is because the pace of the city has increased. That can’t be strictly true. A walk becomes a run when we exceed 4.5mph. As far as I can tell, the majority of pedestrians today aren’t running about the city. Pace isn’t the issue, the issue is impatience. Cities are becoming increasingly impatient spaces. We live in an impulse society, accustomed to swiping our smartphones with the expectation of instant gratification. There is little regard for slow discovery. We are expected to move quickly, choose quickly and move on. When discussing walking meditation, the Vietnamese Thien Buddhist monk, Thích Nhat Hạnh, wrote: “Even if your surroundings are full of noise and agitation, you can still walk in rhythm with your breathing, in the commotion of a big city, you can still walk with peace…” This achievement requires a certain degree of disconnection from the surrounding world. The flâneur or flâneuse cannot disconnect in the same way because the commotion of the city is part of what they seek to observe. Yet, it is difficult not to be sucked into the pace of contemporary city life to the degree that we miss out on its spectacle. When among a crowd of impatient pedestrians, it takes courage to slow down and observe. We almost expect to be berated, jostled, or urged to hurry. Similarly, when sitting at a pavement café, watching the world go by, it is not uncommon for the bill to arrive as soon as the waiter spots your empty cup. It is a gesture that suggests we should not linger too long.

Please do not follow such suggestions. Sit in a café for as long as you desire. Sip your cappuccino ever so slowly, smile at the passersby, and at the impatient waiter, and take your time watching the glorious catwalk of city life for which you have a front-row seat. When you’re ready (and only when you’re ready) stand, brush the croissant crumbs from your overcoat and go for a leisurely amble. Care not a jot about the angry businessman chewing on your shoulder. Let him pass. He has somewhere important to be. Navigate skillfully but slowly through the sea of oncomers who refuse to look up from their smartphones. Stand at the crossing at the end of the block, take a deep breath in, and a good look around. The city remains as marvelous, mercurial, terrifying and intriguing as it always was. It may be more difficult to take our time in 21st-century cities, but that does not mean it is not worth the effort. In doing so we step outside the stultifying grind of life (and perhaps also the narrow tunnel of our online existence). I believe that playing the flâneuse or flâneur is more vital now than ever before: it is a slow but certain pathway toward reconnecting with life and enjoying each passing moment.

The talented writers published in this, the thirty-seventh issue of our magazine, understand what it means to step away and observe the crowd. They are: Geoffrey Aitken, Jan Ball, Sam Bootle, Nicky Carter, John Ganshaw, Laura Glenn, Dominic James, Tom Kelly, John Short, Theo Stone and Jean-Sebastien Surena. Our cover art comes courtesy of JC Alfier, whose collages all begin with paper, scissors, glue, and construction paper.

I would also like to mention the reissue of Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín and Other Poems, the latest collection of another great poet and flâneur, Oisin Breen.

Enjoy the issue, and the forthcoming festive season.

Yours faithfully,

Darren Richard Carlaw