My husband Joseph and I were on the Grand Canal in Venice watching the palazzos slide by and I commented that it would have been remarkable to have seen it in it’s youth, when the buildings were covered in frescos and mosaics of gold and brilliant color glinted in the sunlight.
And he smiled gently and said, “It’s remarkably beautiful now.”
He’s right of course. Spending time in a different culture is beneficial in so many ways, the food, the history, the art, the language, all of these fill me with a sense of hugeness, and of the rapid passage of time. The diversity and unfamiliarity offer a sense of perspective that what we value in one small part of the world can often be incidental, or even distasteful, in another. This is important to realize and crucial to remember.
Even the faces here are different. One thing I noticed right away was the handsomeness of the elderly, especially the couples. There is a distinct difference in what is considered valuable here, and as a result, I have not once seen a woman who has destroyed her identity with plastic surgery.
People age here, and they do it gracefully. It would appear that they spend their lives living, experiencing what life has to offer with relish. What a wonderful reminder for me at 52, I have always preferred looking my age to looking desperate to be younger, it has always made me sad to see the artificiality that our society so often deems attractive. Of course, I live in Los Angeles, the city of surfaces.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t take care of yourself, for goodness sake, wax that hair or have that mole removed, or maybe get a small tuck if something bothers you. Many of the older women here in Venice wear subtle makeup and dress exquisitely. They look their age, and their best. I have several friends back in the states who have had ‘work’ done that makes them looks as though they just had a restful vacation. That’s not what I’m talking about, I’m referring to abusing the knife until the individuality is lost. In my humble opinion, it does not improve their appearance, only neuters it.
I’m not judging other’s choices or actions, to each their own. I color the gray out of my hair, because it isn’t flattering to my skin, but I’m looking forward to it arriving at a tone I can leave. I use creams and lotions and in a few years I may have my loosening jaw tightened, not because I want to look younger, but because I think being jowly makes me look mean, and if there is a way I want to look, it is kind.
The wrinkles can stay, I don’t mind them. In fact, I not only like them, I earned them. And for anyone to tell me that the results of the laughter and suffering in my life, the wind on my face as I walked in nature’s beauty or the storms I have braved for adventure, have made me ugly, shows that it is not my skin that is unattractive, but their superficial insecurity. I would not trade those experiences for any amount of beauty.
How frustrating it must be to feel that you should look decades younger than you are. How positively awful to judge yourself by what someone shallow enough to place your value there would think, or for that matter, what anyone but you would think. And shame on anyone who judges only the outside, they are missing all that is important.
I have, as they say in Italian, five decades, in a blink I will have six, and if I’m lucky, seven and then even maybe, eight.
And I want to look beautiful—and eighty. I want my eyes to shine as the crinkles radiate from them and my smile to deepen my laugh lines until the story of my extraordinary life is written on my face. No one but me will have my unique memories, will have seen and felt the experiences I have had. That is precious to me.
They have a saying here in Italy, “If you are fortunate, you will get old” It doesn’t matter what you do to try to hide it, you will age. Why not appreciate the value and beauty of that? When did we forget to honor age and the passage of years? To see it as something magnificent in itself?
I will look at this ancient city and see the crumbling walls and the fading frescoes and listen to the secrets that they whisper and see the magnificence that stands, more graceful and vibrant for the time that has brushed them, and I will feel overwhelmed with life, with death, with the beauty of centuries, of ages, past and present.
Venerable Venice, it is always the same for me, I am awed. And the millennium that have passed over and through it make me smile with my heart.
We are not so different, after all. I will grow old, and I’m content with that. And I know that my husband will never look at me and say, how beautiful I was, wishing that he could see me then, he will smile softly at my old face and say, “You are amazingly beautiful now.”
And he will mean it.
Amore da Venezia
Shari, February 24, 2013