I discovered how to be beautiful. It was in Paris. And it’s good news ladies. It has nothing to do with the smoothness of your skin, the thickness of your lashes or even the firmness of your thighs. I wasn’t even on the look out when I saw it. The beauty thing. Yet in that moment as I understood what I saw I felt like I remembered beauty. It was as if I had re-found something lost to me. It was an authentic sort of quality I realised I had become separated from. It was in the Maria. I was in desperate need of a good cup of coffee. When a solid wooden door changed things. It was locked shut but my heart broke open. The heavy door was aged with hearts roughly cut into the surface. The cracked peeling blue paint allowing the warmth of the timber patina though. A bit twee. Yes. Maybe. The thing was it was hung deeply into the smooth stone wall of an extremely elegant building. A mismatch. Disarmingly discordant. Yet much more than simply a charming door.
Of course I captured an image of it. This door that had obviously lived and perhaps loved its way into beauty.
It was not long after the door encounter that I stumbled upon the same blue patina. Across the sweetest of shop fronts. An old cobblers store. Inside that same contrast. New shining stainless steel and gleaming white tiles. It was Boot Cafe. Two tables. Delicious coffee. Decidedly beautiful.
When I was back at my room I looked at my photos. It. The beauty thing was there. Definitely. Cracked and smooth. Private and public. Intimate and unknowable.
After this I started to see it all over Paris. This particular kind of beauty. On the rue Lepic in Montmartre it was there. Where the light broke though a thin slip of an alleyway. Then splintered into pleasing patterns across the cobblestones. Around a corner a burst of unexpected colour threatened the restraint of a simple window ledge. And repeated all along the refined lines of the sandstone building. Later I watched rain cut softly across the hard slate grey. Like a song on the somewhat melancholic geography of those Parisian rooftops out my apartment window.
Light and dark. Cool and warm. Tears and laughter.
It was already there as I alighted the number 96 bus one evening to walk the Louvre courtyard. The young cheeky pyramid. Luminous and a little brash. Set against the soaring magnificence of ancient arches. It was lurking around that junction of the new and the very old. The playful innocent of youth and the soberness of wisdom.
Straight and curved. Solid and liquid. Love and loss.
I started to know how to see it. Where to look. It was to be found in what I recognised as ‘that’ space. The in-between. An underneath. A not always immediately obvious but deeper sort of beauty. Often it was hanging around the edges of some imperfection. Like Charlotte Gainsborough smiling with that gap between her teeth. There is a really pleasing tension in the contrast. A liveliness. Yet there is truth and rawness and yes even something very sexual in it.
Flawed and perfect. High and low. Shallow and deep.
That’s when I finally got it. That thing about the French and their beauty reputation. Those women dressed in the charcoals and the gris. The natural colours of their city. Then a surprise. A pop of fuchsia or mustard or even lime added. But just enough. Never overplayed. Unmistakably sensual. So gorgeous. With that bed tousled hair. And quiet confidence. Whatever the look or age.
Speaking of the sex thing I tasted it. It was at Patrick Rogers. Oh my goodness. While I was staring into the face of an animal sculptured from chocolate an unexpected pairing of cocoa and basil was playing across my palate. Then the lemongrass. Each more potent because of the other. If you know what I mean.
Once it even fell on me. I was kneeling in the Sacre Couer hoping for some enchantment. The nuns were singing their evening prayer. When a young novice suddenly faltered midway though her solo. It was a painful pause. But then she caught the melody. Pure and perfect again. A counterpoint. Maybe I thought this is that flawed but perfect fifth.
Broken and unbroken. Wounded and wise. Lost and found.
Soon I was literally feasting on beauty. I’d become a beauty hunter and gather. I was filling up. After a while I even found some in myself. Which is kind of wonderful because I’m not one of the usual obviously beautiful kind of people. Sometimes I have felt like a misshapen peg in the monoculture of beauty that surrounds me.
But once I knew about this beauty thing. The other beauty. That outside on the top surface kind especially if it involved false bits or cover ups or fake stuff started to seem a bit vulgar. And to be honest quite factious. Like it’s sad to feel you have cover up the real stuff.
This is what Paris taught me. Everyone can be an original beauty. It’s about becoming as real as possible and letting that show though or get out somehow. Leaving the bent or creased and crooked bits along side the straight and shiny and smooth. That to try to be a young beauty once youth has passed is to become unbeautiful. To be not-beauty.
That it is also possible to go way too far. Become a caricature of accepted beauty in the same way most pornography is a mockery of the genuinely erotic. If you get my drift.
Some people tell me they can’t find the beautiful Paris. It’s just another big dirty noisy city. There is that. And more. Because it depends on how you look what you see. Personally I like all of it. The quiet gardens and the maddening crowds. The gritty sidewalks and the elegant interiors. The imposing monuments and the more petit pleasures at street level. Because this is the Beauty. The real thing. Something that is a complete experience. Multi dimensional.
Like the modern women we now are free to choose to be. Not always picture perfect. More like imperfectly gorgeous. Each her own unique version of beautiful. Way beyond the pervasive market-driven restrictive stereotypes.
So this is a story of how my heart opened to know beauty. It was like light falling into the dark. I knew it had taken me too long. To know it was best to be my own sort of beauty. And that it actually had very little to do with my appearance. Because it’s a way of thinking. And seeing. A way of being. A living thing.
Actually I think this is what the Parisians already know. This is the actual secret. And that the city sings these wisdoms as they sleep. So that the real beauty thing seeps in. Fills up all the little lines and crinkles. Opens up the in-between spaces. And sometimes messes up their hair. Oh Paris!