A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘psychogeography

[LINK] “To Improve Your Sense of Direction, Lose the Technology”

Via the Map Room Blog I came across an article in The New York Times offering advice to people with problems in territories unknown to them. . Speaking as someone who generally does not have troubles with orienting himself, these and the other pieces of advice offered make sense to me: Having an idea as to where are you going, both beforehand in initial planning and at the time when you’re doing whatever you’re doing, helps a lot.

Create a mental map

Review a map of your proposed route before heading out, and perhaps even trace it with your finger, Dr. Brendan Kelley, a neurologist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said in an email. It will help provide context for the route. Once you arrive, review the map and the route you traveled to reinforce the memory of how you got there.

By reviewing a map before your travel, you can take note of “handrails” — landmarks such as bodies of water, stores and streets — that will visually guide you, Ben G. Oliver, the director of outdoor education at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., said in an interview.

Be mindful of place

Stop and enjoy the scenery. Set your phone to vibrate every 15 minutes to remind you to note where you are, Richard S. Citrin, an organizational psychologist from Pittsburgh, said in an email.

Take notes and comment about what you see. That will help orient you and strengthen connections in your brain about where you are and have been.

Try not to get stressed, because that makes it more likely you will become disoriented and confused. “When our automatic responses take over, we usually wind up lost emotionally and sometimes physically,” he said.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 19, 2017 at 5:15 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Who Has the Right to Walk?”

Cody Delistraty’s blog post takes a look at the way women has been excluded from the city as random walkers, how the word “flâneur” is gendered masculine in more ways than the obvious one, and how a new generation of women are challenging this.

For centuries, the word ‘flâneur’ has burrowed itself into the historical conversation of what it means to intimately know a city, to walk in it, to fully experience it, to be independent within it. The term, meaning a man who saunters around observing society, can be traced back to at least 17th-century France. It was first explained in detail in an 1872 edition of Larousse’s Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle in which the dictionary’s authors define it taxonomically: “flâneurs of the boulevards, of the parks, of the cafés.” In his 1837 novel César Birotteau, Honoré de Balzac called it “gastronomy of the eye.” Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve said that to flâne is “the very opposite of doing nothing,” insofar as it is an intellectual pursuit. Some trace the word back even further back, to 1587, with the Scandinavian noun ‘flana’, meaning “a person who wanders.” And it was Walter Benjamin, drawing on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, who first used the term in a scholarly context, writing about it in the 1920s and further honing its definition: a flâneur, for Benjamin, was at once an inherently literary character, a man of leisure, and a symbol of the modern, urban experience.

Flâneur became a historically valuable term. For at least two centuries, the word adopted a variety of meanings and contexts, but eventually it became a catchall byword for a modern, educated person. To be a flâneur was to encapsulate the progress and the civility of the Western world. The best-known flâneurs are also some of modern history’s most important writers, scholars, aristocrats, poets, and thinkers: from Thomas de Quincey to André Breton to Edgar Allen Poe to Charles Baudelaire to Will Self.

Google ‘flâneuse’, the feminine form of the word, and one only finds photographs and descriptions of a type of chaise longue. Women are excluded from the term. While this is a linguistic exclusion, it is also very much a historical one. To be excluded from the word is to be ostracised from the history of intellectualism, modernisation, even civilisation.

And yet it shouldn’t be so. Virginia Woolf was walking and learning and thinking; so too were the writers Jean Rhys and George Sand and the intrepid reporter Martha Gelhorn; likewise contemporary women like writer-artist Sophie Calle, artist Laura Oldfield Ford, and film director Agnès Varda. There have been dozens of important female saunterers, but centuries in the making, the word flâneur has failed to find room for them. Their contributions to the progression of modernity have largely been forgotten or rendered less important than those of their male counterparts.

Lauren Elkin, a critic, novelist, and author of the recent Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London, believes that the solution to women being omitted from the history of walking is not to try to retroactively integrate them into the definition of flâneur. Instead, she has sought to redefine “flâneuse,” not as a type of chaise longue, but as a female flâneur. In doing so, Elkin has allowed herself—and historians—to reflect on the history of women walking and to properly revise it.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 13, 2016 at 2:00 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Pedestrian-blaming, 1930s style”

Torontoist’s David Wencer describes how, in the 1930s, shifting conceptions of public space on the roads led to a shift in the view of pedestrians, who were now seen as largely responsible for their own safety.

The Christmas of 1936 was a black one for Toronto. On December 26, newspapers reported on the holiday slaughter: three people killed, at least six people injured by hit-and-run drivers, and more than one hundred separate traffic collisions. In the years that followed, politicians, police officials, and concerned citizens promoted annual December public safety campaigns in the hopes of making Toronto’s streets safer over the holidays.

Books dedicated to the history of the automobile in Canada often describe Canadians’ “love affair” with the automobile in the early 20th century. Toronto newspapers of the 1920s and 1930s, however, reveal that the new vehicles were not universally embraced. Articles express widespread public anxiety about the growing number of traffic collisions on city streets and highways; many Toronto newspapers featured regular photo arrays of smashed vehicles in and around the city.

In his 2008 book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, Peter D. Norton notes that American cities were similarly preoccupied with traffic deaths at this time. “Even in the United States there is little evidence in cities in the 1920s of a ‘love affair’ with the automobile,” Norton writes. “With the sudden arrival of the automobile came a new kind of mass death. Most of the dead were city people. Most the car’s urban victims were pedestrians, and most of the pedestrian victims were children and youths. Early observers rarely blamed the pedestrians who strolled into the roadway wherever they chose, or the parents who let their children play in the street. Instead, most city people blamed the automobile.”

By the 1930s, Norton writes, American perceptions of street use were changing, thanks in large part to dedicated lobbying by motor interests. City streets were no longer considered public space where pedestrians and pre-motor vehicles enjoyed the clear right of way. Automobiles, previously seen as a dangerous interloper on city streets, were increasingly seen as the primary road users, and pedestrians, for the first time, were expected to take some share of responsibility for their own street safety.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 11, 2016 at 8:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Savouring the city with each step”

Josh O’Kane writes about how his walks throughout Toronto have helped him, originally from New Brunswick, get to know his adopted city. I can testify that this works.

For more than four years, I have walked to and from work. But that’s about to change.

It’s about three kilometres each way, which is more than I used to walk in a week. I grew up in Saint John, N.B., in a car culture so ingrained that I’d drive to the cinemas a block from my parents’ house. In undergrad, I never lived more than two minutes from campus. Walking always seemed like a waste of time.

Now, I’m in Toronto. I hated the pedestrian commute at first, despite the city’s sheer walk-ability. There was little joy in those first few months of sore legs, or on those days spent trudging more than an hour through a blizzard or rain storm. But here’s the thing: It’s still better than standing for 15 minutes in a blizzard or monsoon, waiting for a streetcar that never comes.

I’m a reporter here at The Globe and Mail, trained to dispassionately report the news, and a millennial culturally moulded to express any personal feelings through sarcasm; I am not used to earnestness. But I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that walking to work everyday has made me both physically and mentally healthier. It wakes me up in the morning and winds me down at night. And walking has shown me what Toronto is, shown me how Toronto is changing and made Toronto feel like home.

After throwing out the flyers in my mailbox each morning, I start zig-zagging through the West End then cut through Trinity Bellwoods Park. As I pass by Gore Vale Avenue, I glance up at my old apartment, a basement palace on the park, torn from my clutches four years ago. It was here that I first decided to walk to work – an easy 20 minute stroll.

Moving west forced me further away from The Globe, though it only made the walk more interesting. I grew up a music fan far from Toronto and learning who I share my community with has been a pleasant surprise. Sometimes, I’ll see Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew holding court outside a coffee shop or the Barenaked Ladies’ Jim Creeggan running with his dog. Or, after cutting through Bellwoods, I might notice Ron Sexsmith, eyes glazed, walking to the store.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 9, 2016 at 5:30 pm

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

  • blogTO notes the growing concentration of chain stores on lower Ossington.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly describes her luck in interviewing a New York City firefighter.
  • Citizen Science Salon reports on a citizen science game intended to fight against Alzheimer’s.
  • Language Hat starts from a report about unsold Welsh-language Scrabble games to talk about the wider position of the Welsh language.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money shares the astounding news leaked about Donald Trump’s billion-dollar losses.
  • Marginal Revolution links to a psychology paper examining the perception of atheists as narcissistic.
  • Towleroad reports on the informative reality television series of the United States’ gay ambassador to Denmark.
  • Window on Eurasia notes how Russia’s war in Aleppo echoes past conflicts in Chechnya and Afghanistan, and examines the position of Russia’s border regions.

[URBAN NOTE] “Walking the grid of freedom”

I love Kalypso Nicolaïdis’ autobiographical essay at Open Democracy about her experience of Manhattan’s liberating grid of streets. Beautiful writing, lovely photos.

Freedom is the original promise. Once upon a time, we were born to a thousand paths…

Most lessons in life are learned the hard way. Some, however, are learnt with delight. Such has been Manhattan’s gift to me, a lesson in freedom, courtesy of a grid dreamed up 200 years ago.

I am new to the city, the alien progressively giving way to the resident – a transient resident, alas, a freed mother making a home away from home for a little while. But lessons, like fairy tales, never leave us as long as we continue to tell them.

We learn freedom from its boundaries. From the constraints we encounter and respect, and from those we create and overcome. From the limits to what we can do and from the infinite possibilities we find within. And so from home to school to work, every morning I walk the grid. Well, my little piece of the grid. 15 streets to cross and seven avenues. I know every sidewalk and every corner along the way by now. But I will never walk every one of the 13 million possible paths on my diagonal – life is just a taster. As it is, I tend to retrace a dozen favourite ones. Our brains are like fields that have been ploughed for a thousand years, a few synapses programmed to ignite along familiar sinews, all other options long left dying along the banks. Freedom as a neuronal illusion.

And so my story goes. Freedom on the grid, it first seems, comes from never having to stop. Never having to plot one’s trajectory ahead: so many crossings and no obstacles on the way. Red Hand on the street, take the avenue. Red Hand on the avenue, take the street. The Walking Men push me along. No need to decide, my feet have taken over. I can walk fast, free to roam on automatic pilot, free to buy into the choices made in my stead. The grid is its own GPS, three minutes per avenue, one per street. It is the destination that matters. I will be there in 32 minutes. Freed from calculations and hesitations, I can let my mind wander. Back in Oxfordshire where I usually live, I can walk any which way I like through my endless meadows of forgotten paths. My little choices here and there, to avoid a bank of buttercups or take the sun sideways, now seem random, pointless.

To be sure, my Manhattan power-walk hits hindrances on the way. Take the myriad doormen who seem to wait for my passing by to spray the pavement in front of their building. Admittedly, I smile. This is my little bit of Greece-on-the-Hudson, my father would feel at home. Still, it can be slippery, you know! Each one seems to have perfected a different strategy. Respectfully turning the jet away on Fifth, waiting till the last second to avoid you on Park, turning it off on 18th street, ignoring you, semi-circling around you, aiming above you, what’s next? And will that little bit of pavement really be shinier tomorrow? In this silent game, I wonder whose freedom is being tested anyway.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2016 at 7:45 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Radical Flâneuserie”

3 Quarks Daily linked to Lauren Elkin’s article in The Paris Review looking at the experience of women wanderers in cities, the flâneuses, and the ways in which their experiences are guided and limited.

There’s something so attractive about wandering aimlessly through the city, taking it all in (especially if we’re wearing Hermès while we do it). We all, deep down, want to detach from our lives. The flâneur, since everyone wants to be one, has a long history of being many different things to different people, to such an extent that the concept has become one of these things we point to without really knowing what we mean—a kind of shorthand for urban, intellectual, curious, cosmopolitan. This is what Hermès is counting on: that we will associate Hermès products with those values and come to believe that buying them will reinforce those aspects of ourselves.

The earliest mention of a flâneur is in the late sixteenth century, possibly borrowed from the Scandinavian flana, “a person who wanders.” It fell largely out of use until the nineteenth century, and then it caught on again. In 1806, an anonymous pamphleteer wrote of the flâneur as “M. Bonhomme,” a man-about-town who comes from sufficient wealth to be able to have the time to wander the city at will, taking in the urban spectacle. He hangs out in cafés and watches the various inhabitants of the city at work and at play. He is interested in gossip and fashion, but not particularly in women. In an 1829 dictionary, a flâneur is someone “who likes to do nothing,” someone who relishes idleness. Balzac’s flâneur took two main forms: the common flâneur, happy to aimlessly wander the streets, and the artist-flâneur, who poured his experiences in the city into his work. (This was the more miserable type of flâneur, who, Balzac noted in his 1837 novel César Birotteau, “is just as frequently a desperate man as an idle one.”) Baudelaire similarly believed that the ultimate flâneur, the true connoisseur of the city, was an artist who “sang of the sorry dog, the poor dog, the homeless dog, the wandering dog [le chien flâneur].” Walter Benjamin’s flâneur, on the other hand, was more feral, a figure who “completely distances himself from the type of the philosophical promenader, and takes on the features of the werewolf restlessly roaming a social wildness,” he wrote in the late 1930s. An “intoxication” comes over him as he walks “long and aimlessly through the streets.”

And so the flâneur shape-shifts according to time, place, and agenda. If he didn’t exist, we would have had to invent him to embody our fantasies about nineteenth-century Paris—or about ourselves, today.

Hermès is similarly ambiguous about who, exactly, the flâneur in their ads is. Is he the man (or woman?) looking at the woman on the balustrade? Or is she the flâneur, too? Is the flâneur the photographer, or the (male?) gaze he represents? Is there a flâneuse, in Hermès’ version? Are we looking at her? Are we—am I, holding the magazine—her?

But I can’t be, because I’m the woman holding the magazine, being asked to buy Hermès products. I click through the pictures of the exhibition Hermès organized on the banks of the Seine, Wanderland, and one of the curiosities on view—joining nineteenth-century canes, an array of ties, an Hermès purse handcuffed to a coatrack—is an image of an androgynous person crossing the road, holding a stack of boxes so high he or she can’t see around them. Is this flânerie, Hermès-style?


Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2016 at 6:45 pm