A few weeks ago I was in Vienna for a day, as part of a 38-hour haul from Greece to Denmark. And I had a great realisation.
When I’m in a new city I get enveloped by the aesthetic – the hair, the shoes, the subtle mannerisms, the turns of phrases – and find myself wanting to covet it, while feeling overwhelmingly lacklustre in my own “rustic” get-up.
It’s an evolutionary thing. When you find yourself standing out from the mob, you get a survivalist urge to “buy into” the dominant vibe.
It’s a travel thing. The smells, sights and accents all feel so evocative. You get swept up in the new.
Well. I almost did, there in Vienna. Then I got a grip of myself. Vienna’s a good place for this.
At first I did my usual. I looked at the prim men in their crisp striped shirts and dapper spectacles with their neat hands and expensive tan moccasins. And the women with their curt little plimsolls and small limbs and cardigans tied over little shoulders and the contained way they sip at their coffees and peck at their pastries. I got absorbed by the way the quirky girl who I stopped to ask for “the best café to sit in for a few hours” blinked tightly as she answered me, with her bright fuchsia lipstick. And her kooky Mary-Janes.
I imagined their nice, tidy, un-dusty lives, listening to Mozart, eating strudel, sitting in parks and talking with their smart friends.
And I suddenly felt grubby and rustic and unkempt and big and clumsy.
If I were a buying type I’d dash off to the nearest Benetton and get me a cerise pullover. Instead I just stare and compare.
In France I want a good scrub and a striped red and white boat-neck tee. And to know how to eat a salad without flicking oil on myself.
In New York, I want to walk down cobblestone streets in black stilettos. And read important books in loft apartments.
It’s a travel thing. I have friends who come back from Bali with fringed dresses.
But in Vienna it was different. I stopped and realised that while this aesthetic fascinated, it wasn’t me. Respect to all Austrian’s out there, but I find Vienna mild. I might even say dour. I sat on a step and felt what I felt. It was a depression. I can’t do mildness. I have friends who love mild climates, and soft colour palates, and pretty landscapes and subtle, refined cultures. My mum, for example, likes places like Vienna.
I’d just come from Greece, of course. The contrast was stark and telling. In Austria, there are pretty fields with clipped borders, lovely buildings, neat town squares, precise (but dour) cafes. It’s pretty and the aesthetic has appeal, but…but…even when the sun is out the sky feels so very close. That’s what makes me feel depressed.
By contrast, in Greece (and Spain and the south of France) I was so comfortable. The heat, the dust, the dryness, the way I could put me feet up at the table, eat with my fingers, double dip, hitch a ride, go into a taverna’s kitchen to chat to the chef for an hour and ride my motorbike without a helmet if I want. No rules.
The way I could wear a bikini top, a singlet and my green shorts and thongs every day. And not wash my hair – just let the salt build things up into a rather workable style.
And the sky…it goes forever.
This I realised was my aesthetic. I’ve had it for years of course. I just haven’t accepted it. I lived in Melbourne for almost seven years. I love the place, but the flatness, the cold, the insideness…it doesn’t make my heart soar. And I’m just not very fashion.
My aesthetic, I realised, while I sat on the step, will never be prim and neat and sleek and blow-dried and all “Donna Karen” and well behaved. I will never be bejewelled or made up or able to keep my sneakers clean.
I’m dusty and ….brown.
I walk into a room and within minutes I’ve mucked it up and made it… not messy…always practical and functional…but rarely pretty and polished. I don’t know how to blow-dry my own hair. I colour in my grey hairs with mascara if I have to.
I can pull off the polished look and do tidy when I have to. And I’ve always had to – for shoots in magazines, work in TV etc.
But like a chef who takes off her apron at the end of the day, I unpeel this polished aesthetic.
Not an astounding realisation. But a sound one, especially as I’m touring about looking for my next home, my tribe, where I belong. I think I’m getting closer.
Sometimes you have to work out what you are not to get closer to who you are.
Have you found your aesthetic? Struggle to accept it?