Aesthetics, Art, Beauty, Coffee Shop Stories, Don, Happiness, Nature, People, Spirituality

Wanton Girl Watching

Around noon today, the weather was so pleasant that Don and I went to the coffee shop to fearlessly engage ourselves in an hour of wanton girl watching.

At least, I myself engaged in an hour of wanton girl watching.  Don, on the other hand, completely forsook wanton girl watching, and instead, buried himself in reading the local newspaper.

I dearly love Don, but sometimes his behavior cannot be reduced to reason. Why anyone would read a newspaper when there are women to be watched is a mystery that quite obviously lies beyond the powers of the human mind to fathom.

After I got over the shock that slapped me when Don unfolded the Gazette on our sidewalk table, I noticed the sun was warming my back — warming it just enough to make my back slightly uncomfortable and to make the occasional breeze entirely delightful. Women passed by — many of them doing their own watching — and so I settled into my chair, sipping coffee, and feeling almost blissful under a blue sky.

As everyone knows, the best time of day for watching people is usually not around noon — when the sun is bright enough to wash out details, textures, and colors — but either in the early morning or the early evening.  The quality of light at those two times of day is universally recognized as ideal for photography, painting, and people watching.   For one thing, it tends to make our skin glow as if from within.

In this strange world, it’s true some people are prettier or more handsome than others.  Nevertheless, almost everyone is beautiful, regardless of whether or not they are pretty or handsome.  But I think it’s much easier to say that sort of thing than it is to see it.

It seems that to see it, it helps to either have the innocent eyes of a child, or the trained eyes of an artist.  When I took up sketching people again — after a hiatus of more than two decades — I discovered after a while that people seemed more beautiful than before.  Of course, people hadn’t changed, but the practice at sketching them had disciplined my eyes to see people without as many preconceptions; perhaps to see them as if for the first time.  And that experience has led me to believe it is the preconceptions we have of people — and not people as they actually are — that so often prevents us from seeing the beauty present in nearly everyone.

Nowadays when I watch people, I sometimes notice the poses they would make if they were suddenly frozen in place.  Say, by a camera.  And it seems to me remarkable how graceful are the lines of our bodies.  Once I saw an old, lean homeless man at a bus station.  He stood for quite some time in a single pose, staring off and up into the distance.  I studied him for several minutes.  His pose was too graceful for me to take my eyes off him.

At some point today, Don looked up from his paper to say, “Beautiful Colorado!”   For a moment, I thought he had come to his senses and was now girl watching.  But it turned out he was just commenting on the weather.  Some people are beyond comprehension.

17 thoughts on “Wanton Girl Watching”

  1. Thank you, Kris! I urge you to do some wanton guy watching: Life’s too short to neglect beauty.

    Brian, that’s among the nicest things anyone’s told me. Thank you!


  2. Thank you for sharing your view from this cafe! I’m a bit of a beginner people-watcher myself, but I can easily see how people get hooked.

    And I particularly enjoyed your comments about the way sketching changed your view of people – you’re absolutely right that it’s easy to say that everyone is beautiful, but to spontaneously see it is harder.


  3. Lirone, it astounded me that sketching people changed how and what I saw when looking at them. I had not expected it, but just the practice of sketching people made the beauty of our species vivid to me. I suspect that to some extent we are returning our eyes to their original innocence when we learn to look at people like an artist might. Does that make any sense?


  4. That makes perfect sense to me.

    Have you ever read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain? If you haven’t, I recommend it as I’m pretty sure it’s your type of book.

    I was thinking of the idea presented there – of training the eye to see shapes and lines and shadows (right brain) in order to draw what’s actually there, rather than naming the object (left brain) and drawing what we think that thing looks like.

    I can well imagine that, in that kind of process, the prejudices and expectations all fall away, leaving just appreciation of what is actually there.


  5. My older brother gave that book to me a few years ago, Lirone, and I’ve used some of the techniques mentioned in it with good results. I would recommend it to anyone.


  6. My Mom trained my eye to look for features, sharpness, character, symmetry in faces at an early age. She and I were the often the only people in a room to see the stunning beauty in a (dark-skinned) dark girl – labeled “black” and “ugly” by most others in India.

    I am so grateful for this training, it’s a talent I use subconsciously all the time.

    Today, I pride myself on my vision. I truly see grace and beauty ( occasionally also the ugliness and repulsiveness) in the physical manifestations of human beings. I’ve stopped defending my vision to those who blindly accept “fair” people to be handsome/beauteous ( i.e fair skin in India which is almost universally accepted as “beautiful”).

    My dance instructor in India, was African American, from NY…I remember how some of my fellow Indians would constantly refer to him as black – or worse, in a tone of voice which indicated not-beautiful/handsome. It makes me cringe to this day. He was a magnificent example of health, strength and the handsome physique that I consider handsome in a man.

    But – his skin tone and strong African facial features made him unattractive in some peoples’ eyes.

    Cringe cringe cringe.

    V. interesting post , and well expressed, Paul!

    Beauty is only…skin


  7. Thank you for an excellent and thought-provoking comment, AHumanBean! Your mother sounds like a remarkable woman!

    It seems to me the prejudices our societies instill in us concerning physical appearances do little more than to become obstacles in our path to seeing the beauty of most everyone. And that in itself damages the quality of our lives.


  8. Isn’t it 2 in the morning right now where you live!? (?Canada? USA?!)

    In any case, I’m happy to read your reply so quickly 🙂

    An aside and a toast: My best, sweetest, most dependable male buddies are all like your Don. I’ve worn the exact same outfit 4 times in a row and they really truly didn’t notice, for example! So – here’s to Don ( raises a flute of Taittinger)


  9. AHumanBean, I was up early to blog a bit this morning. I prefer to blog in the early morning when it’s quiet around these parts. I live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.

    I’ll pass along your compliment to Don. He’ll enjoy it! 🙂


  10. Yes, I re-read the About Paul bit…gorgeous place, Colorado, from what I’ve seen on it on TV.

    And of course you live in the US, not Canada, as I should have noted from all the Obama-Palin-McSame posts… 😉 My bad!


  11. Not a problem! I don’t mind being mistaken for a Canadian at all, AHumanBean. It seems to me that in many respects Canada today is where the US would be if — instead of having to fight the Cold War — we had put our energy into improving our society. That’s just my hunch.


  12. When I lived near Haight street there was a bar called the Gold Cane with a table right by a picture window looking out on the street. A lazy afternoon, a couple pints of beer and watching all the lovely young folk pass by …

    Mmm, now I’m missing women’s summerwear.


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