Sunday, June 17, 2012

Beauty and the Amateur

It's a lovely, hazy Sunday afternoon, and I'm over at the house of a family from the little church I'm attending here. They're all napping after a delectable lunch of pork (they raised it themselves) and an incredible roasted potato salad. I will have to get the recipe.

 I'm reading a stack of books by Fr. Robert Farrar Capon who many of you know and if you don't you should. I'd like to copy out a long section for you from the first recipe in his "cookbook" The Supper of the Lamb which I find both charming and profound. I'm cooking a lot these days and most of my pleasures are gastronomical, so you'll have to put up with 80% of my contributions to this blog being food-oriented. I'd like to dedicate this little selection to Dr. Whalen as the tone and sentiment reminds me very much of him--particularly his class on romance, if you had the honor of taking that.

With no further ado, Fr. Capon (from the very first recipe, which is for "Lamb for eight persons four times." You know a cookbook will be delightful if it has recipe titles like that.):

Amateur and nonprofessional are not synonyms. The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers--amateurs--it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral--it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness. 
In such a situation, the amateur--the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness is a seen and boredom a heresy--is just the man you need. More than that, whether you think you need him or not, he is a man who is bound, by his love, to speak. If he loves Wisdom or the Arts, so much the better for him and for all of us. But if he loves only the way meat browns or onions peel, if he delights simply in the curds of his cheese or the color of his wine, he is, by every one of those enthusiasms, commanded to speak. A silent lover is one who doesn't know his job. 
Therefore, the man who said 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' was on the right track, even if he seemed a bit weak on the objectivity beauty. ... The real world which he doubts is indeed the mother of loveliness, the womb and matrix in which it is conceived and nurtured; but the loving eye which he celebrates is the father of it. The graces of the world are the looks of a woman in love; without the woman they could not be there at all; but without her lover, they would not quicken into loveliness. 
There, then, is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. There, too, is the necessity of his work: His tribe must be in short supply; his job has gone begging. The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence of absence of a loving eye. Turn a statue over to a boor, and his boredom will break it into bits--witness the ruined monument of antiguity. On the other hand, turn a shack over to a lover; for all its poverty, its lights and shadows warm a little, and its numbed surfaces prickle with feeling. 
Or, conclusively, peel an orange. Do it lovingly--in perfect quarters like little boats, or in staggered exfoliations like a flat map of the round world, or in one long spiral, as any grandfather used to do. Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rind; but for as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles from the trash heap.  
That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage can of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God's chandelier, the wishbone in His kitchen closet. He likes it; therefore, it stays. The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the Dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of man.

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