Thursday, July 07, 2005

"Americans are particularly ill-suited to be flaneurs...they are always driven by the urge towards self-improvement." (Edmund White)

True not just for reasons of culturally-predisposed temperament, but that American environments seldom permit the true aimless jaunt that produces the sensation of a myriad of sights and sounds and feeling "wed to the crowd." With the exception of perhaps New York and San Francisco, few American cities offer such stretches of the extraordinary- both socially and architecturally- to sustain more than a 25 minute walk in any direction from a starting point. Even Chicago- civic booster that I am- is giving in to the homogenized landscape that scarcely distinguishes Phoenix from LA, Boston from Milwaukee. Hopefully Europe can resist this blandification, though globalization seems to be transforming the Paris, London, Barcelona that I visited now a mighty six years ago.

Perhaps the only American flaneur experience is indoors, in say, Wal-Mart. Where one may wander without purpose for an hour or more, enticed by a new category of items around every corner. In the span of an hour one may touch pink silken briefs, compare the size and appearance of a number of vases, read and consider the immediate occasions for greeting cards, be blasted on both hemispheres of the body at once by high-definition football in a crisp synch of rows of TVs, carry and abandon before reaching the checkout: yard fertilizer, particle board barstools, Frito Lay snack packs, novelty slippers.

Is there any longer a city of the imagination? A human city of incongruities?


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