BEAUTY colors your eyes with pleasure. It is the kind of feeling I get when I see a rainbow. And I’ve seen rainbows only three times in my 11 years, which is the other thing about beauty: it is rare.
The first rainbow I ever saw was from school, the Lycée Français de Singapour at Serangoon North, when I was seven. Compared to other rainbows I have known from picture books and cartoons, this one was different and not quite what I expected. It was only a third of a rainbow, yet it was the real thing, not an idealized one where all the seven colors were perfectly distinct. It was a “wow” moment, and my mouth made the shape of an O.
My next two encounters with rainbows weren’t as “wow.” One time, it said hello when I was in a taxi; another time, when I was at the Serangoon Central bus interchange. But what I couldn’t help thinking was this: beauty shows up in unexpected places that aren’t necessarily grand or spectacular.
Too often, we think of beauty as perfect, flawless, or new. Modern urban landscapes feel this way: new buildings, fancy ones, all looking the same. But that’s just the way it is. It’s hard to feel beauty in such an environment, except perhaps in the shophouses of Chinatown or Little India, or the old Haussmann-styled buildings in Paris. That’s why the Notre Dame Cathedral is, for me, the epitome of beauty. It’s old, it’s filled with history, it lurks with gargoyles, and it’s the home of the fictional but awfully real Hunchback of Notre Dame.
When I think of beauty, I also think of huge open spaces, like the meadows that Heidi adored, or the one where Julie Andrews sang Doe, A Deer to the seven von Trapp children. Meadows are the only places where squealing kids sound delightful, not annoying.
I may be a true-blue urban girl, but my sense of beauty tends to be more pastoral. I was born in Singapore. My mother is Thai, and my father, French. When my family is not in Singapore, we’re either in Bangkok or Paris. Always, it’s city, city, and more city. The remotest place I’ve been to, farthest away from the city, is Chiangmai. Alas, I haven’t yet visited the châteaux in Chambord or Chenonceau, or the Osaka Castle, or my friend’s barn-house in Holland.
Beauty is hard to come by in my ultra-urban life, but thank goodness, there’s Mozart. My mouth doesn’t make the shape of an O when I listen to The Magic Flute, but a soft smile. For some reason, Mozart makes me close my eyes—all the better to see and feel beauty, I suppose. And beauty, in such moments, comes to me as springtime in Japan with a glorious burst of cherry blossoms, both pink and white.
That’s the wonderful thing about beauty. Even if I couldn’t run away from the city or land up in the meadows like Heidi, I could find beauty just by going to my imagination, or by looking out for my next new rainbow. Beauty works in mysterious ways and resides in the most unexpected places. Even Mona Lisa would agree.
Julia G. Lahitte, Grade Six