Suburban flâneur

Cul-de-sacs, meandering peaceful roads, rows of houses, and the occasional shopping plaza–the suburbs are a peculiarly built space. Princeton is nestled among many evolving suburban neighborhoods. I often chat with my friends about growing up in the area and how easily one can feel landlocked. There are many magical places and embedded histories to experience in Princeton’s suburbs, though to uncover them is a matter of how you explore.

When I lived in the city, I’d leave my apartment and walk in any direction, seeing where my intuition took me—a new restaurant, thrift store or museum. More often than not, I enjoyed just sauntering and observing my surroundings. There are many books written about the experience of a flâneur, or a flâneuse–a French word roughly translating to stroller or wanderer. The flâneur, a figure popular in Impressionist paintings, walks through the city with no particular goal and allows the moments of the city to spark creativity and contemplation. He is often depicted with a top hat and walking cane. In the New York Times article “The Art of Being a Flâneur”, Stephanie Rosenbloom writes, “It’s an opportunity to expand your capacity for wonder, to discover and delight in things you might have missed had you been aiming to get somewhere. “

Can you explore the ‘burbs as effortlessly as a flâneur? Maybe. It’s harder to travel aimlessly in a place that requires driving. However, I still frequently experience unexpected places in the Princeton area. A favorite place I discovered during the pandemic is Hidden Spring Lavender & Alpaca Farm, a 15-minutes drive from the Princeton Public Library. It is a quaint, family-owned farm that boasts an adorable group of fluffy, Disneyesque alpacas and fields of fragrant lavender. It is idyllic. I’ve proudly convinced many coworkers to visit the farm and am enthralled when they send me their own photos of the alpacas. When I first describe where the farm is located, my coworkers tell me that they’ve driven around the bend of that road dozens of times without knowing anything was there. “Hidden” is a fitting word for the farm—and the many other treasures in the area.

In the spirit of libraries, I’ve found that learning from the adventures of others has been the best way to expand my explorations of this area. Recently, my coworker, Anna, shared that she had come upon a giant sculpture while driving past St Michael’s Farm Preserve in Hopewell, about 20 minutes from the library. After seeing a photo of a giant head coming out of a field, I knew that I had to visit. On a rainy September day, I drove directly there. The grand sculpture, called “The Awakening,” appears to be a titan emerging out of the Earth; walking slowly toward it was a chilling experience. Created by the late J. Seward Johnson II, sculptor and founder of Grounds for Sculpture, it was installed earlier this year. Despite its magnitude, I don’t think I would have stumbled upon it by chance.

Our region is full of hidden surprises, small and large. Wander free and share your discoveries. On social media, Princeton Online and NJDigest frequently share videos of interesting places as well as upcoming events. And if you find something interesting, please share with me as well!

Photo courtesy of the author.

Blog post by Tiffany Fang.

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