Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ordinary Beauty in the East Bay

I came across an interesting post on beauty and its price tag on the Daily Kos. Here is an excerpt:
One of the most interesting social and journalistic experiments related to this took place last year and involved a busker named Joshua. Joshua played his violin in the L'Enfant Plaza metro station in Washington, D.C. For nearly an hour, Joshua performed for approximately 1,110 people who passed by. Just 27 of them made contributions that totalled about $30. Only seven people paused to listen for more than a minute. The rest of the commuters walked by, without listening or donating.

The funny part is that Joshua is actually Joshua Bell, a world-class violinist. The pieces he played in the subway are some of the most difficult works a violinist can master. But that day, his performance earned him about $30.

I can't help but wonder if it might have been different here in the East Bay. The author goes on to say:
...This experiment seems to indicate that we value what we can quantify: We value an exceptional violinist only when we buy a ticket to his or her performance that takes place in a traditional setting. The same musician playing for free in the subway is invisible.

Our conspicuous consumption of all things luxurious and our disdain for anything less than elegant seems to go way beyond the world of music. Some women covet Birkin bags that cost $60,000(my wife asked for one of these I laughed so hard milk almost shot out of my nose lol)! Even Oprah's favorite things, listed monthly in O magazine are well beyond the means of most of her readers. (A pillow for $150? A $48 candle?) The funny thing about all of this is that anyone who would recognize, and be impressed by, a Hermes ashtray -- is the same person who would own one. So who impresses whom?

Although we are not immune to the vices of consumerism, these luxury goods are not so coveted on the streets of Berkeley. Berkeley women are still known for choosing the comfort of Birkenstocks over the status of Jimmy Choos. People here not only embrace-- but often come out in defense of "ordinary beauty." We have the tree sitters in Berkeley, and the artists of the re-purposed landfill at Albany Bulb. I also think of my colleague who traversed the East Bay and took hundreds of photos just of Wisteria. Home prices in the East Bay are high, but its good to know that the people here can not be bought.

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