Saturday, July 17, 2010

Goal for the Day: Smile at Someone

It's Saturday. If you're like most of us, at some point today, you'll be out running errands, doing things you don't want to do in places you don't want to be. You will most likely encounter a sea of frowns, impatient gestures and disinterested stares. Just take a few seconds to smile at someone. Smile at the person at the checkout line. Make eye contact with the shopkeeper and smile to show your gratitude. Even if he or she wasn't particularly helpful, perhaps your smile will encourage a gentler tone with the next person. No, it's not always easy. And, you don't have to be too extreme about it. But, if anger feeds on anger, surely a smile will do the same. We'll be one step closer to our own Belle Epoque, one smile at a time.


Object of the Day: Portrait of a Lieutenant

This painting by British artist Eve Ruth Garnett is a portrait of a young Lieutenant who was killed in the First World War. Dated 1917, the painting was clearly larger at one point in its life--possibly even a full-length portrait. When and why it was cut down are unknown, however, its current frame seems to date to the 1920's. Miss Garnett was a member of the Royal Academy and shows a sensitive hand in her work. Always a favorite of mine, the portrait hangs in my dining room. There's something about his eyes and slight smile that seems familiar and avuncular. I have a weakness for portraiture. Again, I think my fondness for this genre speaks to a sense of permanence as well as the illusion of life. The sense of the monumental is very appealing. Long before the era of camera phones in everyone's pockets, portraiture captured not just the expression of one split-second, but an impression of a person. In this painting there is more of this soldier than can be found in any photograph. Here, we get a sense of life, of his soul. His expression is not frozen in pixels, but seems to change and breathe. Yes, a photo is more accurate. However, the true measure of a life is not accuracy. A life is a series of moments, not just one. A portrait is the perfect monument--the marriage of a person's spirit and the artist's hand.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Belle Epoque

No doubt, I’m parroting a centuries-old sentiment, but, I’m disgusted with the world. To me, the world has gotten too self-absorbed, too detached, too fast, too sloppy. At first glance, a person is hard pressed to find anything gracious, beautiful, or gentle. Where’s the civility in civilization?

So many factors have contributed to this change. And, to be sure, this is not an instant phenomenon, but rather, something that’s been hundreds of years in the making. I’m not here to analyze the reasons that men don’t wear neckties to the store anymore or women don’t wear hose. I’m not here to blame any one thing for the reason that people would rather pick a fight than extend a hand. I can’t explain why we are encouraged to insult the people around us. Nor do I have any interest in figuring out why we put more stock in the intangible than we do the permanent. I denounce nothing and I judge nothing.

My goal is simply to find pieces of beauty, quiet, elegance and grace amidst all the noise and chaos. Why? Because we need it. I think our souls and our minds are aching for something soothing, something pleasing. We are a people in a constant search for stimulation. Yet, I don’t think we’re searching for something new. I think we’re missing something. Our cells seem to know that we lack an essential element; an element that the people that have walked this earth before us already knew about.

Do I worship the past? No. I do, however, appreciate the past. As useful as my laptop is, a Victorian papier Mache writing slope with Mother of Pearl inlay has a lot more style. As much as I enjoy having Central Air, wasn’t a painted hand fan a lot more beautiful?

I’ve always loved the English (and American) Victorian and Edwardian eras. In Europe, overall, this period corresponds with what (after-the-fact) was called, “The Belle Époque.” This “Beautiful Era” was a time of general peace from the end of the Nineteenth Century to the First World War. During this time, the arts flourished; social graces were respected; time was taken to appreciate life, nature and humanity.

Yes, of course, I’m romanticizing it. No period of time was without its conflict. However, the fact that we have much to learn from those efforts is irrefutable. And, so, I have created a project for myself. I will be stalking The Belle Epoch.
Each day, I will share something beautiful with you. And, I hope you will share with me. The rules are rather loose. We’re not confined to any one time period. We’re not confined to any genre or subject. We must however not lose sight of our goal—that is: to slow down and appreciate the world around us, the joy of being human and the pride we can feel in being kind and gracious. We must revel in the permanent and the lasting and let go of the quick and ugly.

Let’s remember that if we find one marvelous thing every day and if we take the time to treat ourselves and our creations with respect, we could give birth to our own “Beautiful Era.” And, not just one that will be realized decades later, but one that we can all enjoy and benefit from now.


Welcome to "Stalking the Belle Epoque." In the coming days, we will work together to create our own Renaissance.