Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Octavia Boulevard Flaneurs

Octavia Boulevard, previously Octavia Street, is nearly finished. I am disappointed. When they said they were changing it from a “Street” to a “Boulevard,” I envisioned sidewalk cafes, grassy verges, perhaps even people with parasols and poodles. There are some elegant lampposts, but mostly, it’s just concrete. I have been doing some research on the matter, and if they really want to make it a boulevard, they should get some flaneurs.

Flaneurs, as you know, are people who aimlessly wandered the boulevards of nineteenth-century Paris. They strolled purely for the sake of strolling, with no destination in mind, and they often stopped to admire details—an intriguing shop window, a well-trimmed poodle. Some of the flaneurs liked to take pet turtles or lobsters for a walk—in part to epater le bourgeoisie and in part to ensure a suitably languorous pace. The flaneur is an idler, a loafer, a slacker, but also someone who scorns the ideology of capitalism, favoring walking not working, process not product, and aimlessness over achievement.

It seems to me that San Francisco—a haven of anti-capitalist sentiment and home to thousands who shrink from nine-to-five jobs (including me)—would have no shortage of willing flaneurs. Furthermore, the Lower Haight is a medical marijuana Mecca, where you can hardly walk a block without getting a pungent whiff. Some believe that, as one Web site puts it, “Baudelaire's flaneurs were stoned out of their heads from hashish. It was under the influence of this drug that they took so long to go nowhere and found so much hilarious interest in even the most boring aspects of things.” If the flaneurs of old were indeed stoned, Octavia Boulevard may become home to a new breed of super-flans.


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