I have a master’s degree in literary aesthetics and an undergrad degree in Art History and yet I so often forget about beauty. One reason I am hesitating about returning to my job is its sheer ugliness. I have spent 12 years teaching in a neon-lit room with a very worn linoleum floor and two tiny windows. The chairs are unmatched, the hvac system hums and buzzes constantly, the outside is concrete and it looks like a place of punishment. I eat my lunch in a windowless room with old microwaves, books that no one wants anymore and cracked chairs. I so wish I could practice my profession in a place of beauty, a place that tells the students and me, you are loved, you are amazing, you deserve this and so much more.
One of my favorite things about France is a much greater attunement to the aesthetic. It’s Monday morning and I thought I would share some examples.
I love to go out to lunch here in Toulouse. My favorite places serve soup in beautiful bowls, always with a swirl and a sprinkle of something tiny and delightful. A few days ago I had a delectable chocolate dessert but made with pears instead of cream so it was so light, so enchanting. Every salad or sandwich or quiche I order is a study in interesting colors, textures, construction, and so creative. Okay, sometimes the taste may be odd, but pretty, so pretty.
It’s not just the food though. Design is an important part of life here. My graphic designer friend pointed out that even airport security is prettier. The bins run on conveyor belts very smoothly, it is quiet because no one has to yell, and the whole process goes much more quickly.
I am lucky to come from a family that creates beautiful things. Really beautiful things. My cousin designs furniture, my brother creates dream houses, and my parents breed beautiful flowers. However, if I go back to the US it will be to live in my perfectly pleasant but unaesthetic cookie cutter house (teacher salary) and teach in an ugly room. Much of the beauty I rely on there comes from the natural world.
Sometimes the sheer ugliness of man made things in the US just makes me angry. Why don’t we care more about design? Why do poor people have to live in such ugly places? Beauty should not just be for the well-off. I think of things like ceiling height, natural light, patios where something can actually grow and I feel like over and over again the material world in the US reflects disdain for those in public education, public housing or taking public transportation. Taking the stance that we all deserve pretty food, comfortable bus seats or some greenery outside the window makes me feel like a snob, like an aristocrat. Every year when I start the school year I vow to bring more beauty into my life but then the daily grind just wears out my impetus. Does it really cost so much more to put a little curve in an archway, to place a portion in the center of the plate, to orient a room toward the sun? Toulouse is pretty, not astoundingly beautiful, but the little attentions to making things nice go so far to make me feel safe, cherished (a teensy bit) and like the world can continue to revolve smoothly on its axis.
How can I have a life that looks less like a concrete box and more like this?