Outside my apartment during the past two weeks, a lady in her fifties, maybe, with an overfilled shopping cart, her possessions piled high and secured, had chosen to pass the day and the night, not moving far, often prone on the sidewalk but out of the way for pedestrians to pass without stepping on or over her.
The other day I walked by a stretch of street with two adjacent popular restaurants. The tables were taken and the terrace tables, newly installed during the pandemic to provide safe, out door dining, were all taken. Brunch is popular in Portland. Across the narrow side street and clearly visible to all were four tents, neatly pitched, and no trash cluttering the pavement.
On another day I happened to pass Voodoo Donuts. As usual a long line extended along the wall from the entrance to West Burnside. The patrons generally were young, although some adults stood patiently waiting, well dressed and clean and fresh. A jazz saxophone player played music. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
The two story Fremont Bridge in Portland is large, really big. It is a major conduit that crosses the Willamette River, and cars and trucks use it to head toward Washington state to the north and to travel south on I5 toward the California border some 250-300 miles away.
Underneath and adjacent to the bridge are stores and restaurants and schools and parking lots and . . . homeless camps.
One does not fully appreciate its size until standing underneath and looking up, and from certain vantage points, one can see the trucks and cars, the size of toys, rush by.
And underneath it all are many homeless camps.
The Fremont Bridge and the freeway cut through and over the more wealthy sections of Portland—the northwest areas of the Pearl, Nob Hill, the Alphabet District, Slabtown.
In those neighborhoods, one of which I call home, the residents are comfortable. They have money, generally. Those neighborhoods have many residents on the streets as well. That is where they sleep. And eat. They use the Portland Loo toilets when they can. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
I have criss-crossed the streets and walked in and around the pillars that support the Fremont Bridge. I have seen the camps and watched them grow and die and sometimes be taken down and swept away by the city. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!
The vanishing point in paintings forms part of a linear perspective scheme. It is the point in fictive space which is supposed to appear the furthest from the viewer – the position at which all receding parallel lines meet. —National Gallery
1 : a point at which receding parallel lines seem to meet when represented in linear perspective 2 : a point at which something disappears or ceases to exist. –Merriam-Webster Dictionary
When the neighborhoods in Portland, Oregon—my home town—were planned, I suspect a city planner took out a sheaf of graph paper and a ruler, then chose parcel of land, and set about drawing straight grids, checkerboards from the sky, with streets straight and long with vanishing points at each end.
Portland is flat, more or less, and in most neighborhoods, including mine in NW Portland, one can stand in the middle of the street and look one way and then turn 180 degrees and look in the other direction and see two long, diverging lines to a vanishing point in the distance.
Few hills obstruct the view. Few buildings will abruptly block the gaze.
Most of these long and narrow streets are lined with trees whose branches extend out and over, touching and overlapping from one side to the other. They are one more example of the tree hugging reputation that exemplifies the liberal Portland.
Occasionally there I am, hiding behind the viewfinder of the camera, not hiding well, I might add, sometimes distorted by the light and darkness of the glass. I catch my self in a reflection from a window.
Vivian Maier, the street photographer, who died unknown, took self-portraits well and with humor.
I look around my apartment and I see one passport photo sticking out from a book; I am using it as a book marker. If I pull out my driver’s license, I see what I looked like a few years ago. I have no other photographs of myself in the apartment.
It is not uncommon to see someone on the street, holding up a smart phone, and taking a selfie. Friends who gather do it. Family members capture that moment with their phones. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
"Ô belles soirées ! Devant les étincelants cafés des boulevards, sur les terrasses de glaciers en renom, que de femmes en toilettes voyantes, que d'élégants « flâneurs » se prélassent !" --Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Contes cruels, « Fleurs de ténèbres ».
“Ah! to wander over Paris. What an adorable and delectable existence is that! Flânerie is a form of science, it is the gastronomy of the eye.” – Honoré de Balzac
“Pour le parfait flâneur, pour l’observateur passionné, c’est une immense jouissance que d’élire domicile dans le nombre, dans l’ondoyant, dans le mouvement, dans le fugitif et l’infini.” –Baudelaire
“The flâneur is an observer who wanders the streets of a great city on a mission to notice with childlike enjoyment the smallest events and the obscurest sights he encounters.” –Eric Maisel
Flâneur, 19th century
“L’Art de la Flanerie”
Quelle bonne et douce chose que la flânerie, et comme le métier de badaud est plein de charmes et de séductions ! Quiconque en a goûté une fois ne s’en peut rassasier, et y revient sans cesse, comme on revient, dit-on, à ses premières amours. Vie de fainéant, s’écrient les gens graves. De fainéant ! allons donc ! Je ne voudrais dire de gros mots à personne; mais on voit bien que vous n’avez jamais flâné, messieurs, et que vous n’êtes pas capables de le faire; car il n’est pas donné à tout le monde de pouvoir flâner naïvement, et pourtant savamment, comme fit jusqu’à son dernier jour ce délicieux Xodier, le premier badaud du monde. Cette vie est, au contraire, pour qui sait la comprendre et la pratiquer, la plus active et la plus féconde en résultats utiles : un badaud intelligent et consciencieux, qui remplit avec scrupule ses devoirs, c’est-à-dire qui observe tout et se souvient de tout, peut jouer les premiers rôles dans la république de l’art. Cet homme-là est un daguerréotype mobile et passionné qui garde les moindres traces, et en qui se reproduisent, avec leurs reflets changeants, la marche des choses, le mouvement de la cité, la physionomie multiple de l’esprit public, des croyances, des antipathies et des admirations de la foule. —Ce qu’on voit dans les rues de Paris par Victor Fournel.
Physiologie du Flaneur, 1841
et moi alors ?
Michael Groves is « le parfait flâneur » et « l'observateur passionné », traveler, and Francophile. He was born in Wyoming and raised in Oregon. He attended West Linn High School, Reed College, and Lewis and Clark College. He has been a strawberry and pole bean picker, a gas station attendant, a cashier in a convenience store, a telephone repair clerk, a resin mixer, a retort operator, a crab butcher, a postal clerk, a train station operator-in-training in Botswana, a furniture cushion stuffer and button maker, a cold storage salmon grunt, an assembly line worker in a travel trailer factory, a grocery store stocker, and a teacher of English, geography, and theater. Presently during the most important and productive years of his life, without apology he has vowed to draw breath as un parfait flâneur.