I know it sounds crazy, but Italy nearly ruined my life!
I was supposed to go to Spain for a month. Anchor in Madrid with friends then see the country, visit museums, draw and paint, eat, relax and visit the Barcelonian route of the main character in the spectacular novel Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I had been planning it in my mind for months.
Then, as it turns out, that year—2013—was a milestone birthday for my wife who decided that Italy was what she wanted for her birthday present. I should clarify, she didn’t want the entire country under the tree as a present; she just wanted to visit. Milestone Birthday. What’s a guy to do? He goes to Italy, that’s what he does. Spain can wait.
So September 2013 we headed out of LAX, made a stop in DC, then headed off to Roma, then the Amalfi Coast, Firenze was next, and finally Venetia. Everyone was telling me how much I’d love Italy but I wanted Spain and, besides, our trip seemed far too busy for 2 weeks.
We arrived at Rome in the afternoon, checked into the hotel and immediately went to the Coliseum, which I really had little interest in visiting. However, during our drive to the hotel I found myself going “hmmm.” This place looks kinda interesting. By the time we reach the Coliseum I knew that was it—I was ruined. I am lost for words. The entire environment was filled with so much beauty. Antiquity and other-worldly architecture was to be found in a 360 degree panorama. Italy has ruined my life by making me long for beauty.
As time went on I discovered three additional things: 1) Italians are THE most friendly and wonderful people I have ever met; 2) The Food—OMG—I realized I had never eaten a tomato until I ate them in Rome and the Amalfi Coast; and 3) The Coffee. Unlike any coffee I’ve ever had. Insatiably unreal. I came home and tried everything I knew to try to reproduce it. You can’t! So Ruined #1 came in four surprises: People, Food, Coffee and Spectacular Antiquity.
Florence and Venice. If you’ve ever been, then words are unnecessary. If you’ve never been… they are truly two of the most awesome cities I’ve ever visited. I was immersed in beauty and magnificence. In fact, you cannot get away from it: from spectacular architecture to amazing food to tiny backstreet alleys to bridges and churches and museums and wineries and small rolling hills and castles and tiny little unknown cities. Even more was an unending bombardment of divinely inspiring art—paintings and sculpture. Ruined #’s 2,3,4,5,6,7…
That’s all very cool but there is one underlying demon in the midst: YOU HAVE TO COME HOME. Home for me is The OC (Orange County, CA). An aesthetically un-beautiful place. Oh, there are a handful of exceptions—but it sure ain’t Italy! Once you’ve visited one of two cities in The OC you’ve seen the whole boring place. And there are more than 2.5 million of us living here.
I had never thought of The OC as “aesthetically un-beautiful” until I visited Italy. I came home and suffered for weeks. I guess I had never realized how important beauty was to me and the sense of AWE I get from it. Italy had ruined me.
I was left with two choices: 1) be depressed and whine, or 2) find beauty in the OC. I chose the 2nd option. I decided to find beauty and surround myself with it. Feeling a sense of awe, small or large, was a major component of significant importance to me and yet I had fully realized known it.
After a little thought it was obvious. I have always loved art, striking architecture, sunsets, and high fashion. I even see baseball as art. Watching Derek Jeter play short stop is watching pure beauty in action—like a ballerina.
I’m told that Aristotle held to three essential values in life: truth, beauty and the common good. Awe can be found in all three of these values however I find it mostly in beauty. And beauty is only beautiful if I define it for myself.
So where/how do I find beauty in The OC? Most important is that I MUST make a conscious effort to do so. At least weekly I do one or more of the following:
- ART: I love painting especially. But I also see architecture as art.
- Visit galleries
- Visit museums, esp. The Getty and LACMA and MOCA.
- Draw and paint on my own.
- Visit with fellow art lovers.
- SEE WITH FRESH EYES: Look for beauty in the ordinary.
- While driving, notice buildings that are unique.
- Lust over fast and sleek cars.
- Notice how finely-dressed people dress.
- Pay attention to beaches and sunsets and the hills in my area.
- ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION WITH INTERESTING PEOPLE:
- Few things are more awe-inspiring than talking to an interesting person.
- When I attend a gathering of people I look for the weirdest or the smartest person in the room and then I capture them.
- GO TO CONCERTS:
- Great music will change your life.
- I go to two small concert halls in town and watch people I’ve never heard of. It’s usually quite good.
- Go see my favorites: NIN, Amos Lee and Brad Paisely. (I regret never seeing Miles Davis.)