In “History of Beauty,” Umberto Eco explored the ways in which notions of attractiveness shift from culture to culture and era to era. With ON UGLINESS, a collection of images and written excerpts from ancient times to the present, he asks: Is repulsiveness, too, in the eye of the beholder? And what do we learn about that beholder when we delve into his aversions? Selecting stark visual images of gore, deformity, moral turpitude and malice, and quotations from sources ranging from Plato to radical feminists, Eco unfurls a taxonomy of ugliness. As gross-out contests go, it’s both absorbing and highbrow.
(link via John Muse’s facebook, aka the culture portal.)
We, the baristas, have free rein over the music selection in the cafe where I work, with the one caveat that we’re not supposed to play anything “inappropriate,” which basically means a lot of swears and/or explicit sexual content. Prince straddles that line of propriety pretty much constantly (I mean, obviously I’m not going to go blasting Dirty Mind all day every day), but I just can’t not play Sign O’ the Times. I just try to keep from singing along in front of our creepy old man regulars, who would definitely take it the wrong way.
and if you come and see me you’ll upset the order you cannot come and see me for i set myself apart but when you come and see me in California you cross the border of my heart
Today, I’m twenty-four for the first time ever. Yesterday, I drove a friend to the train station in Springfield, Massachusetts, which is where one takes the train to New York if one wants to avoid either the time or the price gouging on the train that runs through Brattleboro once daily. I kind of like driving people to the train, or to the airport, and this was no exception; one way, you have company, and you get to catch up (in this case, with a friend who I don’t get to see very often and who is often very busy when we’re in the same place); and the other way, you get to play whatever music you want, loud, and reach a state akin to meditation on the long, straight, un-crowded ride home.
Yesterday, my last day of being 23, I agreed to this particular ride-giving for two reasons (well, three): first, because it was a good chance to catch up with L.; second, because we planned to stop on the way at a breakfast place that I didn’t know anything about, and I love a new breakfast jam; third, because I stil hadn’t had a chance to give the new Newsom a listen, and I really wanted to devote some time to her, because I believe in her, and I listen to music nowhere more closely than in the car.
Twenty-three, for me, has been the Year of Vermont. After a year in Philadelphia which had lovely moments, but which was unemployed, lonely, and largely soul-destroying, I’ve spent the last twelve months or so plotting and then executing my return to my hometown. I didn’t make this decision easily; it felt regressive, even though I wouldn’t be living with my parents, and a little like giving up - young people are supposed to live in cities, right? And like it? But I was low enough for long enough, and having little enough luck finding employment, that I decided, you know, what the fuck. It can’t be worse.
I can say unequivocally that no decision in my life has been a better one. I use this kind of hyperbole too casually, but over the past year, I’ve experience a profound and dramatic renewal of self that has felt both deeply relieving and more than a little magical. It’s not just that I feel like a person again, but that I feel like an awesome person again. I still bear the scars of the Dark Times, but this place has proved to be nurturing in precisely the way I needed it to be. These hills and valleys and rivers, and the towns clustered among and along them, are part of me in a way that no other place is, and my heart is stopped by their beauty every single day. I’m kind of crying about it right now, actually. I love it here.
But back to the song; the best moment of any of these trips is the return home; when you first cross the Vermont border on I-91, you crest this hill and the Connecticut River valley opens up before you, and there are all these soft, rolling mountains just kind of sitting there looking dramatic and beautiful, and you breathe in for the first time in hours, it feels like. And yesterday, while I pushed forward into this moment, pressing down the accelerator as much as I dared (never am I at greater risk for a speeding ticket), this song was playing, and this verse caught in my head as I began the descent toward home. Threshold of my heart, indeed.
Anyway. Some days, nice things happen. Happy birthday to me.