One of these days, I’m going to visit the strange Park of the Monsters at Bomarzo, Italy. If I go, will I be greeted and led to the Hell’s Mouth by a sultry nymph with delightful long legs like this one? Will my wife, and all my family obligations and history melt away, my middle age fly off to leave me youthful and desirable, my heightened emotions and vigor to be quenched in a unique, bizarre, erotic embrace within some weird grotto?
Not likely…This renaissance (Mannerist) oddity is nicely photographed and discussed in this fine book which I own. I’ve known about the park for a very long time, but it seems that it was forgotten by Europe for centuries, until being rediscovered and somewhat restored by the efforts of Salvidor Dali and Mario Praz. Popularity followed, and now it’s a “family destination” for tourists.
The image is from a catalog for Schneider’s of Austria, a clothing manufacturer, that was all shot in the garden. What is going on here? Their slogan is “Everywhere at home.” This reminds me of the classic formulations of kitsch consciousness, i.e., that everywhere kitsch-man goes, everywhere he looks, he sees himself. Thus, he is never open to new, genuine, experience. Do I believe this? Ich bin ein kitschmensch!
Fashion advertisement, and in this case, a pretty high-end, classy example of it, trades on all sorts of moods, half-understood cultural allusions, snobbisms, innovations, cultural quotes, etc. to endow the product, the look, with a feeling, a cachet. Moody, hip, sophisticated, mannered, mysterious, cultured, refined and esoteric, sooo European…These are a few of the things this catalog has to say about Schneider’s clothes. And you know what? I buy it, all of it! I want that raincoat I saw in Century 21!! I’m a pretty unremarkable dresser, and I don’t think my appearance turns any heads, but I look at other people’s looks a lot. Sometimes I become fixated on a woman’s coat, a man’s shoes, a purse, a pair of glasses…okay, it’s probably 80/20 when it comes to the time I spend on women/men – it’s not just fashion that catches my eye.
I’ve never been able to figure out or come to terms with exactly what is going on here. It feels dreadfully superficial, even childish or stupid in a way. On the other hand, it feels totally human and natural. Does there have to be a moral evaluation involved?
I told my wife once about an incident when I was twenty years old, and I saw a Panama hat in a window of a shop in Europe during my summer travels there. The “vision” of that hat stayed with me for days. On the long train ride, I imagined myself wearing it in all sorts of situations – how it would make me feel all sorts of ways just by being on my head. (Hats – the mediator of the man-sky interface.) She rolled her eyes. That’s one reason I married her. She keeps me somewhat tethered to reality.
Bring on La Maniera. Hail to La dolce vita!