Re-Enchanting The City – Interview

I virtually met Indy at an Interintellect salon and our first conversation on Discord started from Indy’s curiosity about my previous work on the flâneuse, the female counterpart of the flâneur. During my studies in Berlin I wrote my MA dissertation on the concept of the modern and postmodern flâneuse in literature, therefore I dived deep into this topic for academic reasons but also out of pure curiosity and personal interest. My first Interintellect salon in October 2020 was entitled Peripatetic Flânerie: A Philosophy of Walking (Aimlessly) in which we explored the concept of the flâneur from Baudelaire, Poe, Benjamin to cyberflânerie.

When Indy told me about his upcoming salon on re-enchanting the city I was thrilled. One major topic that will be explored at his salon is our relationship with the City – a very timely and important topic. Yesterday (while on a train back home from Zürich) I thought about a few questions I could ask Indy and that could offer us a glimpse into his relationship with the city of London.

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What is your favourite street in London and why?

I An interesting question – of course it’s not easy to choose and yet at the same time many of the streets I like, I like for only one or two things. Today I’ll choose Chapel Market – that’s the name of the street, but as you’d guess there’s also a daily market there. In the week it’s always busy, full of people buying everyday items, food and household goods. On Sundays there is a specialist food market, with a wider (if more expensive range of foods.) The Angel end of the street has some typical big store outlets, but as you progress, there are more small and odd places. There is also a very diverse range of little cafes/restaurants. In particular there’s the original vegetarian Indian buffet which is a staple of everyone’s student years – but my favourite place is Copperhouse Chocolate – a specialist hot chocolate cafe. You see, I can’t drink coffee, it gives me a migraine, so hot chocolate is very important to me. I knew the founders in passing when they had a stall at Broadway Market and I was one of their first customers at the new cafe. 

What is your personal definition of the flâneur?

I Someone who wanders through the city and observes the rhythms of life there – taking part sometimes, but also knowing about the bits that they only pass by. In children’s stories in particular there are figures like Tarzan, who know their area of the jungle or forest in a deeply intimate way. The flâneur seeks to develop a similar sense of the city. 

Please share a serendipitous moment from a walk. 

I Walking up from Skoob (a cramped but extensive second hand bookshop) towards King’s Cross, our way was blocked by a conspiracy of road maintenance (pavements dug up) and a large truck which had become stuck trying to turn around. So we slipped up a side street, walking along and then a cyclist came down the road. It was an old friend, who had come into King’s Cross from Cambridge (where he lives) on his way to a meeting. I hadn’t seen him in a long while and we had just been talking about him in the bookshop. Just a tiny moment, but my thanks go to the inept truck driver who thought he could turn around in that cramped street.

Please share a story of a stranger that you met on the streets and why that moment stayed with you until now. 

I met a man on Aldersgate, he was a little lost, looking for the Indian visa processing centre which is not far North, but just far enough from the Tube station to be a little confusing. He was old and handsome in a faded and not entirely tidy way. In his black shoes, smart black trousers held up with braces over a striped shirt and unruly beard he gave me a picture of who I might be in some thirty years time. I gave him directions and watched him walk purposefully and quite steadily off up the road. 

If you could name a street in London – what name would you choose for that street?

I I’m feeling politically mischievous today so I’d like to rename “New Globe Walk” which runs up from the main road to the new Globe Theatre by the river. I’d call it “Shakespeare Sarani” because that used to be one of my favourite roads in Kolkata.

What part of London would you like to re-enchant and why?

I If I could wave a magic wand I would re-enchant Oxford Street. Not only will it need it after the pandemic – traditional retail has been hit hard, but even in recent years the diversity of the street (compared to when I was young) had faded badly. Mega brands have their place, but in Oxford Street many had each spawned multiple outlets and squeezed out not only the variety but also the stopping points, the places to take a moment. Yet, it has always been and I suspect will be again one of the places where you cannot help but feel the sheer vitality of a large movement of people, not in a space in some common action, but a gathering of many individual motions.

What café did you visit the most often in London?

I At this moment I wish I was one of those quantified life people, who could open up an app and find out where I had “checked in” most often. I’d like to say Timberyard, which was a local cafe with everything I could need… (great people, hot chocolate, good wifi and a great croque monsieur) but while I went there a lot in the years it was open, it burned brightly and then closed when the building was renovated. (They reopened near Covent Garden, but it’s a little too busy for me there.) I also go to the above mentioned Copperhouse quite regularly. The truth however is that the cafe I visit most is the Barbican Cinema Cafe near where I live. Why there? Because it’s almost always on my route home, the hot chocolate is ok (of course!) and the people watching is just fantastic. Being part of the arts centre, there are always different people coming through, meeting friends, work meetings and then cinemagoers buying the strange gourmet popcorn they sell. I do sometimes meet friends there, but in a way it is too close to home for that – I mostly go when I just need to “be” for a little while and watch some people pass by.

Indy’s Twitter and his upcoming salon. Below I included a small gallery of books that I recommended to Indy in a call and that I would recommend to anyone interested in these topics. Please contact me on Twitter in case of questions or if you would like to have a conversation.

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