Walking is one thing, wandering is another. The flâneurist art of renouncing destination seems to have been lost to the age of immediacy. Yet wandering the city without reason or motive can dissolve the boundaries between life and art. When we walk without aim and in the spirit of the moment, we abandon ourselves to the stimuli of terrain. The flâneur might wander anywhere: the town, a neighbourhood, a few streets – if they are particularly interesting.
I begin my walking meditation at Govan Cross, as the sun is just rising. Seeing the elegant yet ramshackle square, I'm reminded why I have never lived long in the countryside; preferring the buzz and geometry of the city. I'll often walk home in the summer evenings rather than take the bus. The shallow glide through urban life makes impressions upon me and forms inspiration in my mind. The empty city streets in the morning are poetic. Where sirens wail in the evening, there is but bird song.
To walk in pure mindfulness is complicated. Later, I see Kelvingrove Museum ahead, its grand yet gracious outline in the shimmer of sunrise. I know – due to the pandemic – it will not be open today. There will be no visitors to its strange mix of dinosaurs, suits of armour, and Van Gogh. But that realisation is itself a deviation from my situationalist aim. I must accept the museum as a geometric form that speaks only its presence. As a child, I would visit here often with my grandmother, who hasn't left her home in weeks and cannot even walk down the hall.
It's just after six in the morning and I ponder that there is not much going on. This is a flawed assumption. There are no people so far as I can see, yet there is everything going on. The shapes of the buildings impose their own language. Streets, straight or winding, are the brushstrokes between that which exists and that which exists not yet. Wandering around in the moment is, in a sense, the aestheticisation of self-chosen homelessness. The firm intention is neither aim nor arrival; wherever one stands one simply is. There is neither a right nor wrong place to be. I try to accept nothing other than the place, the hum of nature, and my own disorientation. Reaching the town centre, I see many buildings – all are closed. Some have nothing to say at all. They are not inviting.
The River Clyde flows slowly past at Broomielaw. At odds with the aim of mindfulness, I note there are no bodies washing up onto the banks. India is far away. I envision corpses burning in pyres along the banks of the Clyde, the bright flames glimmering in the blue, morning light. Tragedy masquerading as beauty. But this not the Ganges and I am not here to think, imagine, or sympathise: simply to be. Further into town, I notice a musical instrument shop. The window is lit incandescent, displaying violins, cellos, flutes. There will no music, the shop may not open. A man in the corner of the shop writes next to a three-bar electric fire.
Of course, from all this roaming arises the question as to whether navigation apps are in line with the flâneurist proposition. Of course not. One must surrender to the impositions of urbanity and its shadows. As I leave the music shop window, I think my grandmother might say we also draw meaning and memory from musical experience. The little piano concert she plays each year at the retirement home has been cancelled.
Glasgow's patchwork architecture presents different impositions in the morning sky. I pass a new building, seemingly full of apartments. It is tall and emotionless. I look disorientated into the lobby and see mirrored surfaces with chandeliers and bright red leather backs of seats that reach into the ceiling and which have something pornographic about them. I reach the subway station, Maybe there was a subconscious destination after all? When my mask was off, I felt I had increased my freedom if only in degrees. Now I must wear it again, I feel like an imposter, I feel suffocated.
After a Covid outbreak in her retirement home, the only freedom for my grandmother is opening and closing the window. But anyway, she can only go outside when her limited vision allows it, otherwise it would be difficult for her to even sense her immediate surroundings.
David Stewart lives in Glasgow and has written for national and local newspapers. He likes poetry, travelling and film