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La Flâneuse -or- why En Route stole my heart.

29/11/2009

I adore Melbourne. If I were brave and patient enough to uproot and go through the legal battles that accompany a relocation to Paris, then I would probably give that a go, but failing the spare change to undergo such an endeavor, I am happily settled here, and content to remain so for quite some time. Melbourne is my beloved adopted city. I moved here from Hobart the day after I turned 18 to study drama. During the pre-VCA commencement month in which I was settling in, I would walk every day across every inch of the city. I would often retrace a familiar path, returning again and again to haunts that became my own, strange, lonely stomping ground; sometimes I would stumble across something entirely new. A few years ago I had an on-and-off liaison with a Melbourne city-dweller. His apartment was on one of our famed laneways, and it was he who introduced me to the temporary guerilla art, the stuff of (often) mythological status in this town. I worked, at the time, almost daily in the city, and was soon after to take up a studio in the Nicholas Building, whose balcony overlooked Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, giving me a clear line of sight all the way down to the Shrine of Remembrance in the Royal Botanic Gardens. At night as I sat there swallowing scripts and sushi, I was kept company but the strange and fickle Arts Centre Spire (the landmark that upon arriving in Melbourne, I was informed was otherwise known as Jeff’s Cock).

As time passed I drifted away from the CBD. I stopped working there two years ago, and really only return these days to see theatre or to go shopping for a specific item of clothing or electronic item that I know cannot be sourced in the Inner-North. But she never fails to delight me whenever I do manage to stumble in. Oh, love of loves: to swing over St. Kilda Road Bridge across the Yarra towards the Arts Precinct and take in the sprawling and intricate beauty of the city’s epoch-layered landscape. The love that has been invested in each infrastructural decision. I don’t care what you say about Fed Square. I’m a fan. Oh, Von Haus. Oh, City Wine Shop. Oh, Laneway Commissions. The list, my friends, goes on.

However, despite my complex and enduring love for this many-faceted city that I call my home, it has been months, if not years since I have truly wandered.

Enter En Route.

On creator-company, BettyBooke’s website, En Route describes itself as: “… a journey, inward and outward, through the thoroughfares and back-alleys of both the city and what [the participants] make of it.”

I don’t want to describe my literal experience here, because I think it far more important for future participants to be given the experience afresh. What I want to convey, however, is just how excited En Route made me about my own city, once again. How new every alley became to me, how deeply I fell in love with paths that were so well trodden, and so deeply embedded in my memory. “Here is where I kissed… ” “Here is where I broke down crying after that time when… ” “Here is where I rediscovered my love for… ” “Here is where I bought my first… ” And then the new: Laneways I’d never traversed, and some I never even knew existed, new ways of getting from Collins to Degraves Street, the backs of new galleries housed in warehouses backing onto hidden spaces that feel like whole worlds erupting out of nowhere. I saw and felt the city expanding and deepening. Still places lying quietly for the infrequent Melbournian passer-by, the chef on his smoko, the lost tourist, the homeless.

I felt the quiet palimpsest of the city; her shy smile at all that she’d seen, and all yet to come. While there is so much development under which I’m sure she groans, and which I certainly often quietly (sometimes loudly) bemoan, there have been some thrilling transformations as well. Melbourne in an almost self-reflexive state: a city paying homage to herself over and over and over. I am trying to tell you about En Route without telling you too much.

I knew little of it before I began, I have to say. A couple of quiet recommendations, a concept that piqued my interest. I thought it would be a far simpler affair than it was. Not that En Route was complicated, for me, that is – for the participant. It was complex but relatively straightforward. And deeply, deeply involved. En Route is as much about the participant as it is about the city. It would be possible, I suppose for one to not give onself over to the experience – to remain detached – objective. But not for me. The way to truly ‘play’ En Route (for if embraced it very much resembles a wondrous, real-life game) is to abandon inhibition and presumption entirely; to put your emotions and body in the hands of the work, and follow just as readily with your heart as your eyes and ears. This is not a critique. I am not going to pull apart the piece and tell you what did and did not work for me. To do so would be to lose the overall magic of the experience, and the overriding wonder that I derived from it. Wonder that I seldom find in performance these days.

My simple and overwhleming response is this: I feel blessed to have been able to participate in En Route. Strange, and rare to have this response to a work, but very true. The very personal nature of the work has filled my mind and heart with thoughts and feelings of immense possibility. The brilliant and expansive that can be found in the quotidian and microcosmic. The boundless world found in the interior of consciousness, and the wonder and meditative energy that can be derived from walking the city. En Route has inspired me to return once again to my long-lost pass-time of nothingness filled with fascination: the gentle joy of simply being une flâneuse.

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