A Report on the Extreme Beauty of the World
I’m here to report on the extreme beauty of the world. These photos were taken in Rome on the road that runs above the top of the Spanish Steps. But it could be anywhere. Just walk out your front door and walk for 10 minutes and look around, especially at the golden hour. We stayed in an apartment near the Spanish Steps for two weeks at the beginning of November, and many evenings, early, we walked along that road, or sat on the steps. Every day was different. The light was different. All the people were different. Each time it was beautiful. Some nights I could hardly breathe the light was so surprising. And we looked at everything knowing maybe this is the last time we will see this in our lives, the last time we’ll be in Rome.
And now we’ve been home for a little over two weeks. As I write this, on a Sunday afternoon, it’s snowing and has been snowing for 2 days. Earlier, I went out and took photos in the falling snow, in that gray bright light that happens when the days are short and the clouds are low. I mean, you are squinting into that light as it hurls snowflakes into your eyes. It’s the light at the bottom of the barrel, it’s the light that’s like the last sip of your wine when the bottle’s empty. It’s a hard won light, winter light is. It’s my light, that latitude 53 Edmonton in December light. And I know it sounds melodramatic, but I’m out there on my knees in the snow, and my hands are freezing because I forgot my magic gloves, and it’s coming down, the snow, and it’s gentle and cold and it hurts. And the way that the snow is piling up on the heads of my buddha statues, and on the dried out sunflowers, just about has me weeping, out there, on my knees, the snowflakes sticking to my cheeks like exuberant, architectural tears. It’s as though the beauty is arranging itself on the things of the world, deep, and light as air, and perilous as hell, this crazy balancing act. And here I am, in my own flawed backyard, when two weeks previous I was taking photos of sun drenched flowers in Rome.
Which, also, I get, is a very privileged spot to be in. It is.
I’ve written this post off and on throughout the day. I’ve photographed snow, eaten lunch, ironed a few of my black dresses which is all I seem to wear these days. Funeral ready, or something, I guess you could say. I’ve videoed my husband painting. I’ve talked to our daughter online. I’ve walked on the treadmill. I’ve made tea. And later, near the end of all this, I’m drinking a glass of wine.
I’ve listened to Bruce Springsteen as I have been for the last few months pretty much non-stop. And I read the essay in Esquire about him. My Bruce Springsteen story is that a long ago boyfriend, very pre-Rob, loved his music a lot. And he, the boyfriend, was a completely horrible human being, which I eventually realized, but this ruined the music for me for, well, ages. A while back I realized how ridiculous it was to be bothered by what this idiot from my long, long ago past listened to, and reclaimed it for myself.
Anyway, when I read this next bit in the article, it just filled me up. He’s talking about what his wife says to him:
“It’s Scialfa who, when the kids are small, goes to Bruce, the lifelong nocturnal creature, and says, “You’re going to miss it.” What? he asks. “The kids, the morning, it’s the best time, it’s when they need you the most.” Cut to: Bruce, remaking himself as the early- morning-breakfast dad. “Should the whole music thing go south, I will be able to hold a job between the hours of 5:00 and 11:00 a.m. at any diner in America. Feeding your children is an act of great intimacy, and I received my rewards: the sounds of forks clattering on breakfast plates, toast popping out of the toaster.””
Just being there is the thing. Being there is beautiful. And toast, yah, toast is freaking beautiful. Can you see the light on it? on the toast, on the children, shining on that kitchen table, on the knives and spoons, and glinting off the jar of peanut butter? That’s extreme beauty, man. That’s splendour. That’s some kind of rock ’n roll, baby.
The light on these flowers in Rome slayed me and I photographed them while Fiats and Smart Cars and vespas zoomed by, and couples strolled by holding hands, and groups of teens, and tons of tourists, some old like us, some older, were hanging out to watch the sunset. Some were eating gelato, some were walking to sit on the Spanish Steps, and some were taking selfies. Everyone was there, in it, right smack-dab in the beauty of the world. As we all are, almost always. We all know what Rumi would say about this.
What we were all doing, and maybe it’s easy in Rome at the end of a warm day in November, was agreeing to life. Agreeing to beauty.
There’s a line in a book by Robert Adams, the photographer, that goes like this:
“And though poems and pictures cannot by themselves save anyone – only people who care for each other face to face have a chance to do that – they can strengthen our resolve to agree to life.”
You’ll probably read a lot of news today. It will wing by in your social media feeds. Maybe you’ll sit at the kitchen table with the newspaper, real or virtual. You’ll hear it on the radio as you drive in your car on the way to pick up your kids. You’ll turn on your TV and there will be the news of the day, portioned out into the heartbreaking, the suffering, the unjust, and various other categories. But this also:
The Extreme Beauty of the World Continues to Interest and Attract the Paparazzi.