Posts tagged ‘beauty ‘

Every day in Tuscany

I wish I wrote like Frances Mayes. More than that; I wish I lived like Frances Mayes – Every Day in Tuscany.

Her ability to observe and describe is unmatched amongst current authors, I think. The way she crafts her sentences, surprising us with the unpredictability of passage. She is a Wordsmith and obviously honours and delights in the images she conjures.

The art, the food, the lifestyle, the landscape, the produce, the community, the history, the language, the trendy Italian flavours of Italian life, are all stamped onto her pages like a three-dimensional collage. It is the now-popular craft-art of scrapbooking minus the glue and scissors.

Her quest for beauty I share. While she succeeds and excels, I fail. The richness of the Italian culture lies to extreme of the sparse Australian life that is mine. I search but cannot find any stone-built monasteries from the 15th Century. There is a notable lack of Renaissance art around me. Deciduous trees dripping harvests of nuts and fruit do not fare well in the Aussie bush. Aussie slang spoken between thin closed unmoving lips is spare with words and emotion, by comparison to the dramatic, curvaceous, embellished opera of the mere Italian “hello”.

Reading Frances Mayes books make me feel like a starving person reading a cook book. Yet to not seem ungrateful for my lot in life; I am far from starving and can read. I am keenly aware of my lucky rich Western educated life in a free land.

Two years ago I was in Italy and did not like what I saw. Fully expecting to love it, I did not. My stay was brief and fleeting. As a passing tourist I saw multitudes of art – some flaking some not. I was often dwarfed inside cathedrals, as I had hoped. I passed by the long queue of people waiting to go inside The Dome in Florence. I saw David – whose hands are too big Michelangelo! I walked around Rome. I know why people there drive mopeds – it is because there is no physical space left to park another car. My heart sank when seeing more and more graffiti, another grey rumpled form of a homeless person lying in the town park, the rubbish strewn everywhere. The Italians appeared to have stepped straight from a catwalk in Milan, into their shiny sports car, then out into a street full of cigarette butts. They live in an ashtray. It was Summer and each day was smog-filled; not one clear day despite the cloudless skies.

Sure I loved Venice. And Burano – is it even real or did I dream it? Who would not love the Isle of Capri? And Sorrento? Assisi? Florence – beautiful Firenze? I have not one bad photo from this trip. The camera lies obviously. Italy was overcrowded everywhere and lost to the hordes of passing onlookers. Queuing for bliss became the appropriate title for my unedited travel diary. Please note that my diary is a record only and not any attempt at creative writing.

Frances Mayes Italy and my Italy are at odds. We cannot compare the experience at all because hers is deep and all-encompassing, while mine was shallow and fleeting. She lives there, I visited. I envy her, that is certain.

She talks about falling in love with a place, or a thing, or a pursuit, such as Art. I understand this and share this idea completely. Art, music, and place have the power to speak to our soul and fill us with…..Love.

I fell in love in France; not Italy. It happened in St. Paul de Vence. This small medieval hill town near Nice is now a thriving artists community and a tourist magnet. We wandered in light rain along cobblestone walkways, too narrow to be streets, looking at art. Who wouldn’t fall for this place? By the time I sat in the town square in Beaune, between Lyon and Paris, I was cocooned and floating in a crystal bubble of LOVE. I floated and smiled like an idiot. I felt at home for the first time in my life. I had found my spiritual home. But not because of the food, language, culture, history or art. Nor because my heart had longed to go to France. Something deeper. Perhaps genetically transferred ancestral cell-memory? Life destiny calling me? Wish fulfilment? Perhaps just my vivid imagination.

Back home in Australia, Frances Mayes reminds me of my heart-ache; of my parallel-life in France. The view from my window across the roof tops towards the church spire in the town somehow reminds me of Nice. There really is no similarity.

Yet my sensible self reminds me of the crowds, the traffic, and the reality-check of what daily life in Europe in the 21st Century is in actuality. Frances, please cast your observant eye towards downtown Rome, or Naples. Can you edit out the grime?

Pursuing a life of “beauty” in the harsh Australian environment and lifestyle is a challenge. But I must try harder. This is my real home and I must face the fact that life in France, for me, is not for this lifetime. My task is to focus, and bring into my days, the art, language, music, literature, good food, and beauty that I crave and miss.


1 comment June 8, 2010

Always within never

Twelve year old Paloma Josse is planning suicide. She lives in an apartment building with her wealthy family in Paris. She is an intelligent girl who finds no sense in living. Her family bore her.

Madame Renee Michel is the reclusive concierge of the apartment building. She finds refuge in her role and her unattractive body; a disguise that hides her own intelligence and inner beauty.

“The elegance of the hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery challenges us to remember to always look beyond external facades. How can we possibly assume to know the real person that resides within each genetically inherited shell?

This book is about “lookism”. As a society we have risen above racism and sexism. But there is a current trend of “lookism”. It is so superficial and stupid. Why judge a person based on how they look? When, after all, none of us are responsible for our looks. Cosmetic surgery is a real blight on our society I think. Don’t women realize that when they “enhance” their lips with botulism injections they actually look like freaks? Naturally plump lips look great, as do naturally thin lips; it depends on the individual. And any cosmetic surgery does not change the soul inside.

This book is also about friendship and companionship, cats, family, life, death, philosophy and contemplation, moments, assumptions, society, and beauty.

Paloma is on a quest to find beauty. Not the superficial kind associated with exteriors and false ego, but the deep and meaningful moments of real beauty.

“There was a little sound, a soft sort of quivering in the air that went “shhhh” very very very quietly: a tiny rosebud on a little broken stem that dropped onto the counter. The moment it touched the surface it went “puff” of the ultrasonic variety, for the ears of mice alone, or for human ears when everything is very very very silent. I stopped there with my spoon in the air, totally transfixed. It was magnificent. But what was it that was so magnificent? It was just a little rosebud at the end of a broken stem, dropping onto the counter. And so?” 

The final scene envelopes me and I find myself standing outside the apartment building beside Paloma and Kakuro “listening to the music drifting down from above”. Someone is playing the music of Satie on the piano; and knowing this music I hear it too. Paloma realizes that real beauty has the quality of “always within never” and vows to go on searching for these elusive moments. As I do in this blog.

3 comments May 6, 2010


This search for “Frenchness” is about beauty. But what is beauty? And what do I mean in this context? Is it the curled metal legs on rustic furniture? Is it the carelessly draped scarf across the shoulders? Red lipstick on pouty lips? Does it relate to the Fibonacci series of perfect ratio in design? An attitude of confidence? A pink powder puff?

Perhaps it is to do with inner beauty and living with authenticity? In an article Patricia Varley expresses a feeling of trepidation because she felt her outer image of beauty and confidence did not truly represent the fragile and unconfident girl she felt inside, as she prepared to stand before an audience of women to speak about beauty. I think she expresses the feelings many of us feel often in our lives.

In my search for this sense of style I see plenty of examples of what it is NOT: badly chosen and ill-fitting clothes; excess weight; crude behaviour; lack of manners; road-rage and shopping centre-rage and life-rage; loud-mouthed speech; bullying; ignorance; laziness; lack of care of the environment and community; lack of kindness…..

venus_de_miloBeauty is not about superficial and popular ideals. It is rooted firmly in history. It is not about trying to adopt some artificial notion about what is popular. For example, tattoos can be beautiful pieces of art and I can see some kind of strange beauty in a unique application on an individual once in a while. But on the whole I think they are ugly pieces of poor art scrawled over the sagging flesh of ignorant people desperately trying to be accepted into some abstract notion of “being radical”, “bad”, “cool”, or “out-there”. And on a perfect athletic human specimen it is like bad graffiti. I know I am out of sync with this thinking but so be it.

Beauty is about finding your authentic self and living your authentic life with assuredness and confidence. It is the possession of your own unique self, embracing it, celebrating it, and living your chosen activities knowing your Self, expressing it, and still gently allowing space for others in our community – even if they choose to put bad tattoos on saggy flesh. It is caring, kindness and courtesy. It is composure. It is awareness, celebration, joy, and fun. It is not false. It is Truth. It is essential and yet the mystery remains and captures the eye and the heart. It is not an exhibition but an appreciation.

Beauty, therefore, is not just a look; it is a way of living. It is a process. It unfolds gently like an opening bloom. It can take some of us many years to realise we don’t need to do what we are told by others. And still more time to have the confidence to live that lifestyle we have discovered to be our own preference. For me I know that surrounding myself with objects that meet my notion of beauty helps lift my mood; a bunch of roses in a vase, art that pleases me, music, the French language, a well-set dinner table offering a nourishing meal, cotton sheets, playing my piano (badly but playing anyway), painting my own art when I do feel inspired, doing yoga, cycling to work rather than driving my car.

My search for this elusive quality continues; not in earnest but with delight.

3 comments January 22, 2009






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