Dérive in Paris
The first day after arriving in Paris, we embarked on a dérive — the French word for a “drift” — an unplanned journey (usually) through an urban space. The idea is to immerse yourself in the moment, the now of a city. No maps, no mobile phones, no direction, just walk and make choices on where to go based on your senses: the smells, sights and sounds of a city. This experiment would hopefully be some sort of authentic experience, devoid of the central modes of organization and give us a subjective experience.
I did this once before, in Berlin, while reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. That time was by bicycle and I spent the first day meandering through the city with no direction. Every couple of hours, I’d stop for a cup of coffee or a snack and read Solnit’s book, which covered themes of mental and emotional wandering. It was profound. I noticed odd things, mostly architectural.
My recommendation is to do this when you first arrive in an unfamiliar city, after getting a night’s sleep but before you’ve done anything else. At this point, your body is still jet-lagged. Daily patterns have yet to be formed. Memories are unestablished. The brain is at its most receptive state.
We started here, near where we were staying. All I know was that the 6th Arrondissement was on the Left Bank. I’ve since become familiar with the shell-like ordering of the city’s districts.
We picked the direction that we most “liked”, based on whatever looked best down the street.
When you’re not trying to get somewhere or having a conversation about something, you notice funny things, like tons of push-scooters locked with cheap cable locks everywhere.
Or custom-painted tiles like these. Of course, these are “touristy”, but the walk pushed these labels out of my mind.
I wanted to document the dérive, but didn’t want to be in a documentation state-of-mind, so just snapped photos without much consideration for what I was shooting.
The space-for-women was inviting, but also seemed to be closed. It was some sort of library.
We never would have found this old store on Yelp, but it was incredible. Lots of old science and medical devices and posters were inside! The dérive soon meant that we could go inside shops and here is where my expectations of some sort of 1950s Paris that Guy Debord lived in quickly got dashed on the rocks. There were tons of distracting shops and restaurants everywhere. I guess that was the case 60 years ago as well, but I’m sure capitalist advertising techniques have advanced significantly since his time.
We found some contemporary art galleries, too.
Though the Jesus spinning on the turntable didn’t “work” for me.
With two people, the dérive meant compromising. Sometimes I wanted to walk on one side of the street and Victoria would walk on the other. And when we made a decision, we had to pick one person’s “way” if we disagreed. I’m would have been curious to see where my choices would have left me.
Sure, you notice all sorts of details.
And signs in French, mostly about parking rules.
Interesting chimneys on buildings.
You’re not supposed to stop to do errands, but we had to get some coffee capsules for the espresso machine in our room. And then I noticed the shrink-wrapped cheese.
Wide boulevards with complex intersections. Surprisingly little traffic noise and congestions for a major city.
Plaques with names of historical figures and where they once lived.
The smell of dog shit everywhere. Cigarettes, lots of cigarette smoke. I still hate getting the exhale of smoke in my face.
Many apartment buildings with exactly the same window dressing on them. Why do only the 2nd story windows have planters on them? Everywhere, ads for various services, including “Tantra Massage” on drain pipes.
A giant old wooden door with intricate carvings.
An old church interspersed amongst the apartment buildings.
A time portal to the year 1858.
Gold leafing shop. Isn’t it dangerous to leave this in the window for potential thievery?
Real estate ads everywhere. Prices are comparable to San Francisco.
French flags outside what looks like government buildings.
Lots of small dogs and apparently it’s okay to bring them into the restaurant with you.
Sign for a movie theater…or something else.
The most amazing air vent I’ve ever seen.
Reserving your parking spot with trash.
The stop sign figurine is fatter than the walk sign figurine.
One cannot escape the Eiffel Tower as a point of orientation.
Bodily functions rule in the end. The toilets are free, but the lines are long.
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