Something I have discovered in Paris that has become one of my new favorite activities is strolling around the city alone. Not just walking to and from boulangeries, metro stations and classroom buildings, but actually slowing down and leisurely strolling along the bustling streets.
When you’re not in a hurry to get somewhere, you appreciate everything so much more. You’re much more aware of your surroundings and of the people and noise around you. You notice fiercely loyal little Parisian chiens ignoring the tempting smell of each other and obediently trotting along behind their masters. You notice interactions between other people: older couples that slow down to wait for each other to cross the street, young children on scooters that try to escape their mother’s watchful eye, and even little things like a teenage girl walk more rhythmically when her favorite song plays into her headphones as she walks. You don’t even have to move your head or your eyes to look around and notice the smallest beauties and pleasures of the city- you’re walking right into them and interacting with everything. You notice which shops are open when not by looking at the sign displaying their hours, but by walking by and seeing if their lights are on, and what time the freshly made croissants are put in the display counter not by watching the baker but by smelling the delicious ingredients.
Alone, you’re not worried about making conversation with whoever you’re walking with- this promenade is all about you and your relationship with the city. Your only thought is on your steady footsteps and watching the world go by around you. I’ve found that when I don’t open my mouth to speak to another person for a while, I almost forget what I should say. My little reflex words like “Oui”, “merci”, “pardon”, and “d’accord” still hop off my tongue when I need to engage in conversation, but I almost get lost inside my own head and forget what I should be talking about to another human being.
When you walk alone, you think about what is truly important. Your priorities make a mental list and arrange themselves at the forefront of your cerebral cortex. When you walk aimlessly, free from the pleasures of little routine distractions, you are forced to confront what you are truly anxious or stressed about. Whether or not you reach helpful conclusions is not guaranteed, but you definitely have to deal with whatever you’ve been pushing to the back burner while you deal with more imminent, immediate issues.
I find myself noticing more details about other people when I walk alone, but I also notice little quirks about myself. I notice that I don’t like to cross the street when the person is lit up red, that I like walking on the busier side of the street even if it’s the shady side (unless there are small children overtaking it, in which case I avoid them at all costs!) and that it takes me several minutes to get my bearings when I emerge from a metro stop in a new area. The time I spend orienting myself is usually bristled over when I’m following a fellow traveler, since I usually just head in the direction they head and assume that their sense of direction is better than mine. If you walk enough, eventually you will get so lost in a new city but the experience will have been a positive one if you have used this time to escape to your most private and pressing of thoughts, and even if you don’t conquer them, at least you’ve encountered them.