In collaboration with British artist Luke Edward Hall, Semaine transforms hotel Le Pigalle’s lobby during its two-week Parisian residency into a flâneur’s dream. Pull up a chair and open up the menu to discover Luke Edward Hall’s playful illustrations. Pink tablecloths with scalloped green stitching, whimsical calligraphy, and limited edition art prints evoke a medley of tasteful modernity and the dreamy nostalgia of bygone days. Designed as a throwback to the old world charm of café society, Café de la Semaine creates a space to embody the flâneur’s creative mindset—if only for a moment.
Dreaming up Café de la Semaine, we couldn’t help but imagine the fortuitous meeting of our mascot Tobias the Tortoise and Luke Edward Hall. Rushing from landmark to landmark, an artist struggled to put pencil to paper. Disheartened and uninspired, he stopped for a pause café. Watching the bustle of pedestrians jockey for position on the narrow pavement, he noticed a small creature part the crowd. Travelling at his own pace, Tobias, a bright green tortoise, caught his eye. Tossing a few euros on the table, he leapt up to follow him. Slowly retracing his steps, the French capital unfolded before them. He paused to sketch—first slowly, then rapidly—he transposed the rich possibilities of the city streets to the pages of his notebook. Pages flying, the pair whipped up a plan: In the north of Paris, in a neighbourhood steeped in la histoire d’art, an ephemeral café appeared overnight at the base of Montmartre.
But what is a flâneur, you may ask? Charles Baudelaire first describes this attentive wanderer in his poetry collection Les fleurs du mal, followed by a more concrete definition in his 1863 essay “The Painter of Modern Life,” published in Le Figaro. However, we credit Walter Benjamin for the word’s lasting impact thanks to his analysis in The Arcades Project. In the 19th century, the French capital was increasingly dense, the streets teeming with bodies, and fashionable covered arcades became all the rage. Parting the crowds, flâneurs took to the city streets with leashed turtles and let their slow-moving pets set the pace. The Parisian “street becomes a dwelling place for the flâneur; he is as much at home among the facades of the houses as a citizen within his four walls," Benjamin wrote. In context of the Industrial Revolution, the figure of the flâneur and his leashed turtle was a radical act of defiance against a rapidly shifting world—a refusal to engage with society’s dictates.
Though the term is enjoying a recent cultural resurgence, academic Lauren Elkin’s 2016 Flâneuse: Women Walk the City points out that the flâneur never really left us. Proposing a feminine alternative to the masculine-gendered flâneur, Elkin identifies famous flâneuses George Sand, Jean Rhys, Sophie Calle, and Agnes Varda—women who shift their experience of being seen to seeing.
Turning to pop culture, the figure of the flâneur remains influential in depictions of individuals interacting with cityscapes. In Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters privileged conversation and wandering over any semblance of an action-driven plot, and Greta Gerwig pirouetted through crosswalks in Frances Ha. In Begin Again, Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo craft a debut album inspired by the rhythms and sounds of New York City’s streets.
As society continues to encourage constant connectivity via smartphones, a creative pushback is emerging. Arguably, our newfound interest in flânerie concerns itself with mindfulness. Taking the long way over the shortcut, phone tucked away out of sight, the flâneur elevates idleness into the art of paying attention. Café de la Semaine creates a retreat from our chaotic pace, a place to take stock or simply a pit stop for un café à emporter to fuel an afternoon of fruitful flànerie.
By Lauren Sarazen for Semaine.
Photography by Bonny Peter.