Aesthetic Experience

“I hardly think there can be a place in the world where life is more delicious for its own simple sake.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

I am often asked why I keep returning to Florence. In her novel The Cookbook Collector Allegra Goodman answers for me.

"You forget that some aesthetic experiences satisfy…There is such a thing as excellence, and I do know it when I see it, and when I find it I am fulfilled. I want to keep on hunting endlessly. If I’m restless, that’s not because I want to be or because I can’t help it. I am not chronically dissatisfied; I’ve been disappointed. There’s a difference. When I discover something beautiful and right and rare, I’m happy. I’m content."

That is precisely the way I feel about Florence. For me there can never be another place like it. I am content there. Totally. That’s the way it has always been. I feel no need for anything more and am forever grateful for having found it and been given the chance to be there so often.

Some people want to travel, they want to go up the Amazon, explore the Great Barrier Reef, see the cheery blossoms in Japan. I am not one of them. When you find perfection and beauty, when you find a place that feels like home, your querencia, isn’t that sufficient?

Why do we call something beautiful? Why do we say Florence is a beautiful place? What is it that we mean when we say something is beautiful?

David Hume wrote: “Beauty is not a quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”

Hume has got it just right, as usual. And in The Maytrees Annie Dillard writes:

“In her last years Lou puzzled over beauty…She never knew what to make of it. Certainly nothing in Darwin, in chemical evolution, in optics or psychology or even cognitive anthropology gave it a show."

And so I continue to “puzzle over” beauty until I return to Florence where it is on “show” everywhere.


Shelly said...

And do you find yourself to be a different person while in Florence?

Clare Boothe Luce wrote, "A man has only one escape from his old self: to see a different self — in the mirror of some woman's eyes."

I think this is analogous in a way to what a change of place may do for us as well.

Richard Katzev said...


No, I'm the same person, but a more contented one, a less unhappy one. I still work on the same problems, sometimes more zestfully, but there is more joy to my life and more beauty as I noted.

I've never felt a need to escape from my old self, my way of being, although I've expressed it in a different manner--from fpsychology to literature.

A woman's eyes can support and encourage my self, but never change it. They can engage me and delight me, but it's still the same old me.

Thank you for commenting.


Stefanie said...

Are you back from Florence and missing it? It won't be long before you are off to Hawaii and your bevy of beach babes. They will help you forget about Florence for a little while ;)

Richard Katzev said...

It is impossible to forget Florence regardless of where I am. Even in the midst of my surfer girls.