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Flânerie - a view of a Paris

An imagined serendipitous journey through Paris's streets, past and present, told through its literature and music, with the actors Tamsin Greig and Neil Pearson

The Flâneur - "that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps".

It was Baudelaire, in his "Fleurs du Mal" in the late 19th century, who created flânerie as a literary ideal for evoking the patterns and emotions of modern urban life in Paris; but the concept of the detached observer - casual, directionless, voyeuristic - who finds refuge within the crowded streets of the capital, had been around for some time. Balzac, writing in the years before the advent of Haussman's modern cityscape, had described flânerie as "the gastronomy of the eye". Later, the German writer and social-critic, Walter Benjamin, would use the experiences of the Parisian flâneur as illustrations for socio-political commentary.

In this edition of Words and Music, we - much in the spirit of the flâneur - take a casual musical and literary journey through Paris's imagined streets. Glimpses of buildings bring to mind the city's great history and its inhabitants; its poets, writers and composers. Imagine sauntering past Notre Dame and the neighbouring university: and the ribaldry of medieval Paris fills the mind's eye, evoking the words of Villon and Rabelais; of Victor Hugo describing the medieval skyline and the festive sound of the medieval bells.

Next on to the Louvre and the Marais, and echoes of the grandeur of Paris during the age of the Sun King; of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal de Sévingné's famous letters; of the music of Lully and Charpentier. Turn another corner, and find the youthful Marin Marais, lost and bewildered by the banks of the Seine - his voice, post-pubescent - his services no longer required in the Royal Chapel.

A hundred years on, and in the wretched area of Sainte-Antoine, Charles Dickens watches the abject poor seemingly rehearse events for one the city's least glorious moments; their hands and clothes stained with red wine, like blood.

Balzac lists the varied "physiognomy" of the Parisian back streets in the years just before Haussmann re-invented the city - we follow him into some of Paris's more forbidding and darker haunts; while later - into the Belle Époque and beyond - coursing among the newer buildings, parks and thoroughfares - Baudelaire, Proust and Zola observe Parisian life with a multitude of senses and a painterly eye. As do Fauré, Verlaine and Debussy.

"Among all cities, there is none more associated with the book than Paris", wrote Walter Benjamin. Ernest Hemingway finds refuge in one of the city's necessary cafes, watching and transcribing, while Beria and Bechet set the same thoughts to music.

Finally, our serendipitous journey presents an aspect of the modern Paris: not the beautiful; nor the bustling, fashionable and vibrant; but urban nonetheless. The city at its edge - people at the periphery. The world in the Banlieue: of graffiti and the blues.

Release date:

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 11 May 2014 17:30

Producer's Note

The Flâneur - "that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps".

 

It was Baudelaire, in his "Fleurs du Mal" in the late 19th century,  who created flâneurie as a literary ideal for evoking the patterns and emotions of modern urban life in Paris; but the concept of the detached observer - casual, directionless, voyeuristic - who finds refuge within the crowded streets of the capital, had been around for some time. Balzac, writing in the years before the advent of Haussman's modern cityscape, had described flâneurie as "the gastronomy of the eye". Later, the German writer and social-critic, Walter Benjamin, would use the experiences of the Parisian flâneur as illustrations for socio-political commentary.

 

In this edition of Words and Music, we - much in the spirit of the flâneur - take a casual  musical and literary journey through Paris's imagined streets. Glimpses of buildings bring to mind the city's great history and its inhabitants; its poets, writers and composers. Imagine sauntering past Notre Dame and the neighbouring university: and the ribaldry of medieval Paris fills the mind's eye, evoking the words of Villon and Rabelais; of Victor Hugo describing the medieval skyline and the festive sound of the medieval bells.

 

Next on to the Louvre and the Marais, and echoes of the grandeur of Paris during the age of the Sun King;  of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal de Sévingné's famous letters; of the music of Lully and Charpentier. Turn another corner, and find the youthful Marin Marais, lost and bewildered by the banks of the Seine - his voice, post-pubescent - his services no longer required in the Royal Chapel.

 

A hundred years on, and in the wretched area of Sainte-Antoine, Charles Dickens watches the abject poor seemingly rehearse events for one the city's least glorious moments; their hands and clothes stained with red wine, like blood.

 

Balzac lists the varied "physiognomy" of the Parisian back streets in the years just before Haussmann re-invented the city - we follow him into some of Paris's more forbidding and darker haunts; while later - into the Belle Époque and beyond - coursing among the newer buildings, parks and thoroughfares - Baudelaire, Proust and Zola observe Parisian life with a multitude of senses and a painterly eye. As do Fauré, Verlaine and Debussy.

 

"Among all cities, there is none more associated with the book than Paris", wrote Walter Benjamin. Ernest Hemingway finds refuge in one of the city's necessary cafes, watching and transcribing, while Beria and Bechet set the same thoughts to music.

 

Finally, our serendipitous journey presents an aspect of the modern Paris. Not the beautiful; nor the bustling, fashionable and vibrant; but urban nonetheless. The city at its edge - people at the periphery. The world in the Banlieue: of graffiti and the blues.


Chris Wines (producer)

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