There is a flâneur inside all of us. If I recall my art history classes well enough, once Paris was Haussmanized–many of the charming little streets were converted into wide, orderly boulevards–a new species of pedestrian emerged: the flâneur. The flâneur was a window shopper, an idler, an urban vagrant who did not necessarily set out with a destination in mind; he walked around to see the city and maybe stop for a croissant every once in a while.
My flâneurism (which sounds like a dangerous combination of flan and aneurysm) manifested in some exploration of the Hadar, a commercial and residential district which, according to the map, my street borders. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent examining maps of Haifa in a fairly futile attempt to commit the general layout of the city to memory. There’s the tourist map I keep in my purse at all times, and the one on my bulletin board at home, and there’s even one up in the office. So I had my route planned out, and I successfully found the main shopping street with its endless noisy clothing stores and the department store wherein I found this happy couple. Please take a moment to note his rakishly angled spectacles and her receding hairline. Aren’t they cozy.
And this–jeans as art, or maybe the dryer broke:
Once I had procured some houseplants and a muffin tin, I decided to retrace my route. If I could accomplish that, I figured that would mean I actually knew the Hadar.
I did not accomplish that.
I suppose I was distracted by the unusually cool weather, the streets damp with rain, or maybe it was the dead cat in the street. Anyway, I forget to take a turn and found myself in an unfamiliar area. Unwisely, I decided to keep walking. I suppose I hoped my “intuition” would lead me aright and my apartment building would suddenly appear in front of me. Eventually, I swallowed my pride and found the friendliest looking person around (not a particularly easy task–Haifans are not the smiliest bunch) and asked for help.
“English?” I asked. Over the course of the morning, I had gotten accustomed to the answer to this question being a shake of the head. But it turned out she spoke very good English. After she explained where I needed to go, she pointed at my map and asked, “Does it help?” Good question. As soon as I pull it out, I mark myself as an outsider, a foreigner. But when I try to navigate without it, I end up seeing more of Haifa than intended. Perhaps trying to make me feel better about my orienteering failure, she said, “The streets in Haifa are like the home of a spider.” A very messy spider, I might add, the kind who eschews neat webs in favor of tangled nests where he stores his victims, including young women carrying Tourist Board maps.