Field Notes on Various Encounters with the Afternoon

Field Notes on Various Encounters with the Afternoon


I began my drift around four o’clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday, with the initial intent of a simple meander down MacDougal Street in any manner of time or direction I pleased. After a peculiar observation of the tonal shifts of the city, it dawned upon me that The Drifter has the means to experience a particular sort of psychogeographical time travel.1 However, rather than travel across time, stirring up chronological occurrences so as to experience magical shifts in temporality, one can use the time of day to travel amongst adjacent textures of the hour. As Guy Debord describes it, the drifter, “measures the distances that actually separate two regions of a city, distances that may have little relation with the physical distance between them.”2 In this case, the regions of the city are particular types of afternoons. It is my hope here to relay some of my personal observations of this strange effect as they manifested in my drifting experiment.


Preprandial Pandiculation 

Three men in cook’s uniforms enjoying a cigarette toss their butts into the street, and as I walk alongside them, our point of departure is in front of a restaurant that could easily later be patronized by people with pockets the size of generational wealth. Someone sweeps the remnants of their smoke break off the steps. The sun has retreated just enough for lights inside the establishment to warm the street through the windows. It feels as though everyone has awoken from il riposo—yawning, stretching their wits before the evening crowd rolls in. This is the sort of afternoon reminiscent of waking up from a nap and preparing oneself for the bustle of the evening.


Sedimentation Sensation

Turning the corner onto a brightly lit street, I can see suspended particles of dust reeling from the afternoon’s commotion. I am reminiscent of arriving home from school as a child, energy expended from running around as a prepubescent gremlin. This time I am on the brink of a rest period before it begins, and the light’s perspicacity almost convinces me that the dust, too, will settle for a short while before being kicked up again. People are being welcomed home by the clicking sound and clockwise motion of unlocking doors. Shoes are ready to be slipped off. 


Hours of Consumption

If I were back in Italy, this title might refer to il aperitivo, the hour when practically everyone other than those working as servers would be enjoying the pleasures of a drink before dinner. Instead, in America, we are neurotic, and as soon as Sunglass Hut looms before me, the afternoon turns into a frenzy. People hasten—resentfully, if you yourself decide to amble—to get their fill of post-work consumerism in. We are all agitated. In an instant, I have smoked seven cigarettes and knocked back four cups of coffee. The light doesn’t bother looking over this avenue, directing its attention to more pleasant receivers of the sun. This is an afternoon of strain, of begging to conclude the hours spent dragged along by a parent at the mall. Like any other afternoon I encountered, its effect only takes a minute or two to settle in. Too much time in this afternoon may cause heart damage.



The texture of the various afternoons one may happen upon has much to do with the sun and its contours, alongside the liminal quality of the late afternoon, that is likewise shared by the early morning, of transition between work and rest. What establishments populate the area influences which type of atmosphere the afternoon might inhabit, depending on what side of the work/rest coin said establishments are flipping over to. Perhaps these characteristics could then be predetermined by urban landscaping, but that the afternoon wears many colors at all is marvelous to me.

It is the transient nature of the afternoon, whether it is due to the ever fluctuating length of sunlight during the day or the fleeting nature of the setting sun in any particular moment, that lends itself to beauty that could be described by Baudelaire’s “Modernity.” An afternoon is, “the ephemeral, the fugitive. . . whose other half is the eternal and the immutable.”3 The afternoon will continue to roll around, but the particular embellishments of each afternoon are unique and changing. It seems to me that even spending every afternoon in one specific spot would reveal multiple facets of each afternoon so that no two afternoons on the same street were quite alike.


Alternative Field Notes

As documentation of the creative energy of the afternoon, I have included in my field notes a song that I felt compelled to write towards the end of my drift. The tune presented itself to me as I strolled, and the correlation between the aforementioned content and the lyrics of the song should be quite obvious. There are a couple lines that I would like to elaborate on.

Follow in the footsteps

That you’ve yet to complete

It’s always been the right place

The right time, a new face

This is a reference to Guy Debord’s “possible rendezvous” which brings the drifter, “without warning to a place he may or may not know.” It is possible that this rendezvous will include another person, and that the other will similarly have no idea of where or when this rendezvous will take place. Either way, the drift will lead you there.

I shall conclude this field notes of this expedition with a full transcription of the lyrics:


PM cup of coffee

Turn the corner, watch him walk

He tosses a cigarette into the street

Right now we’re just waking

Arms out, faculties facing 

The sun as it sits, on the sidewalk on our skin

Turn left onto cobblestone

Kids laugh something feels like home

I’m back to getting off the bus 

Sidestreet turns into an ave

Suddenly I want what I can’t have

And the bustle returns with the first sunglass hat

Take a chance, temporarily

Suspend temporality

Follow in the footsteps

That you’ve yet to complete

It’s always been the right place

The right time, a new face

A moment in the afternoon

A warm embrace

  1. Guy Debord, “Theory of the Dérive,” 1956, UbuWeb Papers,
  2. Debord, “Theory of the Dérive.”
  3. Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, 1863.
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