Posts tagged with "beauty" - Faerye Net 2011-08-11T09:35:03+00:00 Felicity Shoulders On beauty and bridges 2011-08-11T09:35:03+00:00 2011-08-11T09:35:23+00:00 <center><a href="" title="Marquam Bridge (1966) by poetas, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="333" border="0" alt="Marquam Bridge (1966)"></a><br /> <em>Marquam Bridge, photograph by Dave Feucht</a></em></center> <p>When I was young, I remember reading some opinion piece or quote in the <em>Oregonian</em> about the <a href="" target="links">Marquam Bridge</a>: how ugly it was, what an eyesore, a concrete monstrosity. I turned to my mom and asked which bridge that was. She patiently managed to explain it to me, despite the utter ignorance of which freeway was which that I cultivated in those pre-driving days.</p> <p>She had extra difficulty in explaining because I simply didn&#8217;t believe it was ugly. Yes, it&#8217;s notorious for ugliness, I now know. Just in choosing a photo of it on Flickr to illustrate this post I have come across several comments on that score. But I didn&#8217;t agree, and I still don&#8217;t.</p> <p>Here&#8217;s what the Marquam is to me: once you merge onto the top deck, there&#8217;s a curve and a bank and all at once the horizon opens up around you. The city&#8217;s on your left with a progression of pretty bridges, but on a good day you don&#8217;t care at all because on your right is Mount Hood, and ahead is Mount St. Helens, your friendly local volcanoes fresh in white or burned out in grays and blacks on a blue canvas. On a clear day, it takes your breath away. That is a beautiful experience of a bridge.</p> <p>I thought of that admittedly odd perspective recently when I was listening to <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781596914278'>Medicus</a></em>, a historical mystery set in Roman Britain. A British viewpoint character is being asked her name in Latin &#8212; <em>quid nomen tibi est?</em> &#8212; and thinks about how ugly Latin is. Again, I was shocked. Latin, ugly?</p> <p>Well, yes, I suppose it might be. I have only one year&#8217;s formal study of Latin, in addition to some childhood lessons from my Latin teacher grandma and years of singing liturgical Latin. I understand from Latin 101/102 that the way we pronounced Latin in choir was grossly unlikely to be how Romans pronounced it. The hopefully accurate rendering robs it of some of its dignity: <em>kikero</em>, not <em>sisero</em>; <em>weni, widi, wiki.</em> It&#8217;s full of hard noises, abrupt sounds. I suppose I can understand that to that imaginary Briton, it might be ugly. Unlike some of its Romance offspring, you can&#8217;t imagine it being called &#8216;flowing&#8217; and &#8216;musical&#8217;.</p> <p>But to me, even with my imperfect understanding, its a beautiful language. It communicates so effectively, so efficiently: the endings tell you precisely what the word is doing in the sentence, so that you can move the words about for aesthetic or rhetorical effect and lose no meaning. It has a set of assumptions that clip out unnecessary words. It allows for clarity and nuance. It&#8217;s a beautiful machine of a language, even all these years later. It is elegant. It is awesome.</p> <p>Or, you know, it&#8217;s just a concrete double-decker that gets you from one place to another.</p> <p>I suppose I think beauty isn&#8217;t in the eye of the beholder &#8212; it&#8217;s in where she stands.</p> In which I discuss dentifrices 2010-04-26T23:54:01+00:00 2010-04-26T23:54:16+00:00 <p>I have brought it to my own attention that this blog has been both sparse and all-work-no-play of late. Therefore, I am going to post about something very trivial and obvious which bothers me, in celebration of the fact that this is still a blog and it is still on the internet, and all this substantive stuff and serious business needs a little leavening.</p> <p>So, people of the internet: I do not want to whiten my teeth. Seriously, I don&#8217;t want to paint whitening agent on my teeth or bathe them in a whitening wash, or even commit the relatively sane step of asking my dentist what whitening process he recommends. And most of all, I do not want to whiten while I brush. This should not be difficult to accomplish. I just want toothpaste that does what it says on the box: when used in a regimen <span class="caps">BLAH</span> <span class="caps">BLAH</span> <span class="caps">BLAH</span>, keeps my teeth from rotting and falling out. Because I like being able to eat a steak, because cavities make eating chocolate painful, because tooth pain can cause headaches, because tooth disease can cause other more systemic health problems. Because cleaning our teeth is a pretty basic hygienic standard we&#8217;ve mostly agreed on for decades (if not more).</p> <p>Which is why it&#8217;s so frustrating to find more and more of the grocery store toothpaste aisle devoted to whitening every day. I actually have to read the fine print on each box before I buy it, to make sure that I&#8217;m not being accidentally whitened. Fates forfend I should try to buy a travel-size of plain toothpaste. It&#8217;s as if I walked into the canned veggies aisle and found that 80% of canned green beans now come mixed with diet supplements, because you can&#8217;t just want green beans.</p> <p>We all have our personal capitulations and complicities with the beauty standard. But we don&#8217;t have to embrace living in a world where every single part of our body has an established yardstick by which its appearance is inadequate. &#8220;Clean&#8221; is a pretty good social standard: for hair, for skin, for teeth. If we accept that the default version of a simple toiletry should include extraneous &#8220;beautifying&#8221;, we&#8217;re accepting that the standard isn&#8217;t just clean, it&#8217;s also &#8220;shiny and manageable&#8221;, &#8220;toned and tightened&#8221;, or &#8220;white and glistening&#8221;. There are enough channels telling people they aren&#8217;t good enough in America. Why does toothpaste have to be one of them?</p> Beauty and erasure 2008-12-14T00:37:07+00:00 2010-08-03T11:30:13+00:00 <p>I recently finished the meaty nonfiction tome <em>The Bounty</em>, by Caroline Alexander. It led me to reflect on youth and responsibility, the totally different worlds that coexist within a given culture and time period, and many other things. One line of thought was inspired by a throw-away line and a series of illustration plates.</p> <blockquote>A surviving, highly stylized portrait shows Nessy [Heywood, sister of a mutinous young gentleman] as the ideal young woman of her time, with large, limpid eyes and a small &#8216;rosebud&#8217; mouth, her slim, pale face framed by a mane of soft curls &#8211; a portrait that does not accord entirely with Peter&#8217;s own fond and forgiving description. His sister&#8217;s features, he allowed, &#8216;were by no means regular&#8217;, although her long-lashed eyes &#8216;redeemed the whole face&#8217;.</blockquote> <p>The portrait, seen <a href="" target="link">here</a>, is reproduced in a plates section further on in the text. It is, in fact, pretty but insipid, a sharp contrast to the <a href="" target="links">portrait of Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley</a> on the facing page. Pasley&#8217;s portrait is more detailed and by a noted portraitist, so perhaps it&#8217;s natural that his face shows hints of cunning and perhaps a twist of humor, where Nessy&#8217;s portrait gives no real insight on her character.</p> <p>But turning the page again, I find character after character. The officers at Peter Heywood&#8217;s court martial appear in different media, by different artists, and most of them are strikingly individual. I could very easily label each with an adjective: self-absorbed, stodgy, idealist, bold; or use each picture as the jumping-off point for a character in a story. I turn the page again, and here are more portraits, few of them detailed oil portraits, but most of them, again, with that indefinable spark that speaks, if not of likeness, then of humanity, perhaps of essence. Take a look at <a href="" target="links">Rear Admiral John Knight</a>, small tho&#8217; he be here, and then look at <a href="" target="link">Nessy again</a>. Isn&#8217;t she amazingly devoid of character?</p> <p>Another woman I find myself unable to envision as real from her portrait is Tahitian noblewoman <a href="" target="links">Poedua</a> (<span class="caps">WARNING</span>: exposed breasts). On the other hand, Elizabeth Bligh, Captain Bligh&#8217;s wife, <a href="" target="links">seemed very real</a> to me. But when I turned the page to her portrait, I felt a sting of embarrassment on her behalf. Despite the intellect I know from the text she possessed, there is something weak, perhaps a desire to please, in her face. She would seem puppyish even without the accompanying dog. And there is something unprepossessing in her mouth and teeth. More than Poedua, she seems naked to me. Naked because she is real, unbeautiful.</p> <p>In our <a href="" target="links">perturbation</a> over <a href="" target="links">before and after airbrushing photos</a>, perhaps we forget this earlier precedent. When likeness was a matter both of the skill and of the tact of the portraitist, these flattering lies were rampant (whither Marie-Antoinette&#8217;s Hapsburg chin, <a href="" target="links">Mme. Vig&eacute;e-Le Brun</a>?). There&#8217;s no reason to suppose that the men&#8217;s portraits are immune &#8211; some of these men may have a more dashing set of the head or stronger set of the jaw than they did in life. But those envied physiognomies of manly <em>virtus</eM> are not so demanding and distorting as the fickle ideal of beauty.</p> <p>I remember arguing once with someone who argued that we shouldn&#8217;t have a Sacagawea coin because we don&#8217;t have any contemporary portrait of her, and can&#8217;t be sure our coin is accurate. I pointed out that before photography, only rich, ruling class/race men (and a few women) could have their likeness preserved for posterity &#8211; insisting on a likeness before a stamp or coin could be produced would mean perpetuating the effacement of poor people and people of color throughout the ages. And now I realize that there is another effacement here, that of personality and individuality (and occasionally ethnicity) in many of the portraits that <em>were</em> painted. Perhaps Marie-Antoinette was mortified to be sketched on her way to the Guillotine by Revolutionnaire Jacques-Louis David. Under the circumstances, more mortified than most celebrities enduring the paparazzi&#8217;s flashes can possibly be. But I feel this picture, <a href="" target="links">stark and incomplete</a> as it is, shows more of Marie-Antoinette&#8217;s personality than the many posed and prettified portraits of her I have seen. Her jaw is set and her back is straight. That seems both real and admirable. To be without the veil of beauty is to be exposed, for good or ill.</p> <p>The beauty ideal isn&#8217;t weakening. Rather than allowing a less restrictive and more attainable range of female appearance to be celebrated, our culture is upping the pressure on men to perfect, pore-minimize, depilate and smooth. When you can open a magazine and find <a href="" target="links">Clive Owen</a> in the uncanny valley almost as easily as Beyonc&eacute;, perhaps it&#8217;s time to celebrate the fragmentary, distorted truth-telling the camera <em>can</em> provide. Perhaps next time we look at a photograph of ourselves, we can look, not for the bulge or the pimple or the wrinkle, but the spark of humanity, the essence that has been preserved and transmitted. Something that says, &#8220;I was there.&#8221;</p> Waterfalls 2006-04-06T20:02:09+00:00 2008-06-08T14:22:50+00:00 <p>I took an out-of-town friend up the Gorge today, and we wended our pilgrim way from fall to fall, taking away photos, misty blessings, and newly waving hairstyles. We were both struck, standing in the susurrating roar of Latourell (first fall we found), at the strange shape of the place. Factually, actually this place has been carved out by millennia of busy water; fingers shaping, wearing, prying. But in the presence and immediacy of the spring-swollen waters, it does not seem a prosaic thing of friction and time.</p> <p>The walls curve, great massy things of mossy basalt, hewn large and rough from the earth. They tease at the eye, falling in towards the wraith of water. So also does it seem that light falls, and gravity; reality itself making soft obeisance. These do not seem like places which work themselves softly out of the world of physics; they seem like temples sprung to life to house these falling gods.</p><p> I have studied my geology, and I know these places; sheltered Latourell and welcoming Wahkeena, the majestic plunge of Multnomah; are merely small tributary waters showing their chisels are much less busy than those of the mighty Columbia. I know the softly curving walls did not appear in reverence, but slowly crumbled into being over long years of water&#8217;s caress and ice&#8217;s invasion. I know that water is just the dance of polar molecules, drawing life and death&#8217;s debris over the globe in accordance with laws of physics and chemistry. I know that my eye interprets its falling disarray according to its own confused fancy, and no matter what shapes it seems to have, the water has no spirit and no life. But I cannot stand in such a place, kissed by the chill of the falling water, and swear I know no magic. I cannot tell you I am not on holy ground.</p> <p><center><a href=""><img src="" alt="The plunge pool at Latourell" title="Latourell Falls" border="0"></a></p> Help me out here 2003-08-29T11:17:08+00:00 2008-05-30T14:00:26+00:00 <p>I like to play the roleplaying game <a href="" target="links">Exalted</a>. When I can&#8217;t play it, I like to wish I was playing it, and discuss it over on <a href="" target="links">the <span class="caps">RPG</span>.net forums</a>. One supplemental volume for the game, which allows you to play an Undead Thing with kewl gear and 133+ powerz (as opposed to a Shining Hero with k.g. and 1.p.) is <em>Exalted: the Abyssals</em>.</p> <p>A lot of discussion about this book centers around the cover:<br /><center><a href="" target="pics"><img src=""></a> </center><br />Many people <em><strong>cough</strong>fanboys<strong>cough</strong></em> claim to have bought this book ($30 hardback!) <span class="caps">SOLELY</span> because the cover-girl, Maiden of the Mirthless Smile, is hot.</p> <p>My problem? I don&#8217;t think she&#8217;s hot! She&#8217;s kind of blurry, her face is undead vanilla, the shoes <span class="caps">AND</span> the gloves say &#8220;clown&#8221; to me&#8230; is it just the big sword coupled with the &#8220;mammaries of death&#8221;? I&#8217;d just like some honest opinions from my readers here. I won&#8217;t judge you, squirt you with holy water, or drive a wooden stake through your heart. <em>Scout&#8217;s Honor.</em></p>