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.