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The Flaneur of Flannel and Flip-Flops

Did you know there are 170 flannel items available from the venerable L.L. Bean? Sixteen different men’s flannel shirts (69 if you count all the colors), nine women’s shirts (and 2 nightgowns), flannel in moccasins, sleeping bags, barn coats and both jeans and chinos. Flannel sheets, flannel throw pillows and toddler’s flannel-lined jeans.

We mention all of this because some suggest a connection between the derivation of the word “flannel” from the word “flaneur” – a person known for wandering about. And fleneurs/flaneuses keep popping up everywhere we turn.

Howard Mansfield devoted a third of a book we’ve been reading, The Bones of the Earth, to The Flaneur. There’s a recent best-seller suggesting the liberation enjoyed by the Flaneuse, freed from her gilded cage. And of course a favorite wanderer, Rebecca Solnit author of Wanderlust, A Fieldguide to Getting Lost and several rich atlases of great American cities, might be said to be the ultimate flaneuse.

Mansfield tells us that the flaneur was a product of 19th century Paris, who strolled the streets at leisure, studying the crowd. “To embody the crowd with a soul [was] the very special purpose of the flaneur,” wrote Walter Benjamin. And perhaps he or she did so in soft, comfortable flannel trousers. The record is not clear.

What is clear to us, to embody the crowd seeking leisure on the Midcoast with the soul of the place, as we do at Spruce Point Inn is that flannel is a good place to start. There was a TQM style popularized by the 1982 authors of In Search of Excellence as “management by walking around"(a philosophy we embrace wholeheartedly) whose practitioners are among those who choose to unplug when they vacation. Perhaps the flannel embrace of Maine is a good place to start?

Bringing their families to a place they can put their feet up, a flannel shirt might be a good choice to take along when sailing or while making s’mores. By walking around the waterfront or on our woodland path, riding a bike into town along Grandview Avenue (it’s named that for good reason!) or paddling a sea kayak into a quiet cove, one becomes a flaneur of birdsong, wildflowers and clouds. Swinging in a hammock or floating in the pool, serenity descends. And while creating “oceanside memories made in Maine” for your own recall or your children’s – whether in flannel or flip-flops — might seem “aimless wandering” to some, it is actually choosing to be in the moment with all your senses, pausing to re-animate your soul.

And until you truly get away, to a place where all you plug into is your soul, you really won’t know clouds, at all.