“You know that the eyes of love aren’t blind, they are wide open…you realize how ordinary it is to love the beautiful, and how beautiful it is to love the ordinary.”
— Marius Vieth
When I travel, I find that I enjoy the everyday neighborhoods and local groceries, libraries and post offices almost as much as I do the world famous tourist spots. It’s a habit I picked up from my parents; no matter where we would travel, we usually took the public transportation and avoided pricey tours. Jeff and I continued that tradition, because he too preferred independent exploring over group itineraries.
When I was planning my trip to Oxford, I scheduled a couple of extra days following the end of classes. I wanted to have plenty of time to get from Oxford to Heathrow, and had always wanted to see the Royal Botanic Gardens (also known as Kew Gardens) just outside London. Feeling a bit adventurous, I booked an Airbnb lodging on a residential street within an easy walk of the Gardens and the Underground station. I was hoping I wouldn’t regret my first-ever experience with the intriguing service, which promised to offer something more than a typical hotel could sell at any price.
It was a lovely way to end my trip. I stayed at the home of a congenial Italian family who had been living in Britain for seven years or so, and built a cozy one-room studio near the back wall of their garden. It was a quiet neighborhood where I felt safe walking around in the evenings, enjoying the famed English gardening skills on full display at almost every home I passed.
I suppose that living so near to Kew Gardens might provide an extra incentive to indulge one’s love of flowers, but I saw such displays everywhere I went in England. I don’t know how much I might have noticed them if I were driving past in a car. There was nothing spectacular about the modest neighborhood where I stayed; it certainly didn’t compete with the charming cottages of the Cotswolds, or the stately buildings of Oxford, or the gorgeous mansions of Belgravia. But if someone asked me which I enjoyed most, my day at Kew Gardens or my quiet evening walks in the Richmond neighborhood just outside its gates, I would have to think about it for a long time to answer accurately. In fact, I thought about it before writing this post, and I’m still not sure of the answer. I think it must be “both.”
Things can be beautiful without being uniformly so, of course. I probably could have taken many photographs that made the area look ugly. Appreciating the beauty does not require being blind to the unsightliness that is usually present right alongside the beauty (though the camera is good at focusing in on what is best and cutting the rest).
No matter where you or I might live, if we were strolling through one of our neighborhoods together this evening during the last of the fading sunlight, I bet we could find many beautiful things to photograph. We could even take a few of those now-obligatory selfies to remember how much fun we had.
Isn’t it extraordinary to live in a world where the ordinary can be so beautiful?