[blue rare]—Lost in the Splendor

A Thrifty Feast fo the Mind and Senses

If I am a hedonist—and I definitely am—I partly blame Aladdin and his magic lamp and the secret cave of wonders that he discovered.  Or, at least, an amateur theatrical pantomime adapted for children from the story, which is included in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, that famous collection of Middle Eastern folktales.  I saw it when I was eight years old during Christmas holidays in a small theatre on the end of a pier on the east coast of England and was immediately transported to a glowing otherworld of the imagination.  There was adventure, intrigue, danger, and mystery.  There were flash bombs, coloured lights, clouds of dry ice, and a magic lamp.  Above all, there was an enormous sea chest overflowing with fiery rubies, dazzling diamonds, glimmering gold coins, and glittering pearls.  The fact that they were obviously fake mattered to me not at all.  The hour or so of that performance helped to develop in me a lifelong joy in theatre, and also an intense fascination with beautiful things, the gaudier and flashier the better.

In that moment, I believe, the seeds of an aesthetic took root and began to grow.  Ever since, I have been drawn towards a certain type of beauty, a specific sort of extravagance manifested in earthly comforts and material things.  I like nice clothes, good hotels, and fine antiques (at least to look at them.if not to own them).  I have an expensive thirst and a loving appreciation for excellent cooks and top-notch service.  Shallow as I am, I don’t believe it is spirituality or deep intellectual contemplation that reveals the beauty of existence, but rather it is more mundane and sensual pleasures.  The sheer enjoyment of a good bottle of wine and a beautiful piece of music shared with agreeable company is all the revelation I need.

Now, life would be exceedingly sweet if we could enjoy all the finer things in life on a regular basis.  But, you know how it is…caviar tastes and pizza pocket budget.  This winter, with the cost of living rising beyond belief, it’s hard enough to budget for essentials, never mind shopping trips, overseas travel, concert tickets, or expensive restaurants.

Fortunately, there is more than one way of living high off the hog.  For instance, no person is impoverished when they have access to a decent library of books, either at hand in their home or down the street.  I may not be able this year to see the lights of Broadway or Paris with my own eyes, but I can see them pretty clearly in.my mind’s eye when I’m luxuriating in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald and  Anaïs Nin.  And I can stack some records on the record player and accompany my reading with an appropriate soundtrack.  (Maybe some Gershwin or Debussy would fit the bill.) When I’m in the market for some visual extravagance, I can head to the public art gallery and sit in front of an oil painting by one of the old masters, or else plug in a DVD copy of Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor or Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and become lost in the splendor.

It seems to me that the imagination, and the arts that cater to, stimulate, and are inspired by this imagination, are the only pleasure dome in which all of us are allowed to luxuriate, no matter how limited our financial resources.  Perhaps someday this source of wonder, too, will become the exclusive property of the well-to-do.  But for now, the secret cave of wonders is open to all.