Throughout this trip, I am struck by how beautiful the most prosaic things can look. They aren't arranged to be handsome. They are arranged to be useful. That has its own elegance.

Dried stalks piled up against a wall under a sheltering roof, or the artful construction of a fence made of slabs of slate quarried nearby...

...or the clay vessels, full of water, sitting on the ground, keeping cool, with the dipping pot ready for the thirsty farmer….

What makes one thing beautiful and another prosaic? What catches the eye, and what looks negligible. I’ve been trying to isolate the elements as we ramble through rural villages.

The first, and perhaps most important, is a sense of authenticity: the thing is doing something necessary and real, not made up; it was made for genuine reasons. A fence is not merely decorative; a clay pot keeps water cool; a signpost gives direction. The village barber’s ancient leather bag, packed with strops and stones and blades,  has a profound battered beauty.

The second might be construction: the quality of craft that goes into the making of the thing. To be beautiful, it has to be durable, true to its nature, thought through, and made with attention to whatever detail is necessary. It must give a feeling that it is made to last--and its construction must have some connection to its purpose. The roping on the bed is sturdy; you will not fall through your slumber. A strong wall made of stone quarried nearby, properly installed, will last, and will not include costly transport of materials, and will not be slapdash. The clay vessel will be properly fired so that it will not crack and leak precious water. The calligraphy on the signpost will be legible. The barber’s bag has seen at least seventy years of service. There is a halo of care around each thing.

The French have a wonderful saying about certain kinds of unconventionally handsome women: Elle est jolie-laide. We don’t have a good translation or a corresponding concept (interestingly enough, what does that say?) But the idea is that a person inhabits her “ugliness” (which is almost too strong) so thoroughly, vivaciously, and interestingly that she becomes beautiful. The unconventional can have great appeal. And beautiful things demand that you take them on their own terms. I think jolie laide is useful when it comes to changing our focus on the things we see around us--and we take into our homes.

Here are my new friend Himali Soin's contributions to "the beauty of everyday life" from our trip through Rajasthan. It's fun to look at the pictures people have been taking on the same journey--or even right by your side; fascinating to see what you both noticed, or what you missed entirely. In this case, I must have looked at hundreds of sellers showing bangle bracelets...and my eye glazed over. And I missed this fellow's gorgeous turban, as well as the gentleman taking his ease with the newspaper. Thank you, Himali!


pve design said...

I have always been drawn to the practical eye.
Lovely images and thoughts.

Joseph said...

Natural are more beautiful..Love those pics...great post!

Sharen said...

All your photographs are wonderful, yet I think these are some of the loveliest - "profound battered beauty" is a profoundly beautiful expression. Just studying the patterns in the rope bed and find them to be the same. Must be what William Morris envisioned!
"Halo of caring..." now that is what makes a slow love moment so precious. Thank you for sharing so much with so many.

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