In his unfinished novel The First Man, Albert Camus wrote “We all have a weakness for beauty.” My favorite absurdist philosopher got it all right. I am fascinated with beauty, absolutely unreservedly fascinated. In fact, my fascination is less of a distraction and more of a purpose. I live to find the beauty in everything. My friends joke and say I am a self-proclaimed aesthetics guru. While hilarious, that’s totally wrong. I am not an expert in beautiful things. That sounds ridiculous to say, probably because beauty is a complicated mess of so many things and values, it’s impossible to find something universally beautiful. What is beautiful is specific to each person, shaped by experience, environment, and the self. Rather, I make a note of scouting out all the things I can. Material things, locations, music, graphic designs, aesthetics, people…they all make up this intricate network and cause for admiration.
I love to explore locations. I’ve always thought cities operate like clockwork. In my short life, walking cities has always been my favorite thing to do. Even before hitting the tourist spots, the first thing I did in a new place was scour the streets for hidden treasure. And my, did I find gold. One of the first cities I ever got to explore was hilly, dynamic, perennial San Francisco. Right across the bridge from my hometown, I grew up spending many weekends, days, and dinners in that dazzling city by the bay. Before, after, and in-between jobs I took the time to explore its districts. For the longest time I worked on the Embarcadero. Telegraph Hill became my Mount of Olives. I remember the first time I ever climbed up to Coit Tower by myself. My curiosity made me take a second glance at the steep zigzagging steel stairs that trailed into a verdant jungle. I could not see the endpoint, but those stairs had echoes of adventures and I couldn’t resist. As I climbed, locals–presumably the residents to the pastel dotted hill–glided down past me like clouds. 200 steps later and at my breath’s end, I reached the top. It was a quaint one way street with 360 degree vistas. The hill itself smelled of diversity, history, and opportunity. I took the chance, and it was worth it. I had a full two hours before I had to be anywhere, so I spent time going up and down streets one by one and capturing the very best of each apartment, each bus stop, and each corner laundromat. It was interesting to see the city at a quiet time of the day, because it felt like I had been taken back to a time when the city breathed and talked for itself. San Francisco’s architecture has always amazed me. Adjoined victorians and ornate reliefs littered these streets like trash. If you weren’t careful, you could miss the wonders of a century old masterpiece there in front of your eyes. It was a good couple of hours, and led me to take up this practice wherever I may be. There’s something about walking a city and collecting memories with each step. At the end of the day when my feet are swollen and legs hard, I know I’ve collected enough images and ideas.
I think in order to be a good anything you must be intrepid. There cannot be fear of the unknown; the unknown must only pique your interest and drive you to do what you would not have done before. Climbing up those stairs and not knowing what was on the other side was a bit stupid (of course I made sure it was safe before), but definitely a risk worth taking. In any case, here’s to finding the beauty in all things. Here’s to walking the cities we call home.