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Barga, beauty and Schopenhauer

Article by Jimmy Bitton - he is a history teacher and a published writer around the world.

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Jimmy Bitton

Peeking over the top of my laptop out at the Apuan Alps and the narrow cobblestone walkways in the medieval Tuscan mountaintop town of Barga, it was hard not to be pulled away from the screen by its sublime beauty — by the way the ochres and sienna coloured homes complement the rustic landscape, the way the aroma of wild bay leaves and sage come together in the wind to create an intoxicating fragrance, and the way the 11th century Romanesque Catholic church which occupies the highest point, lets off its wild and charming bells on the hour and every quarter hour, orchestrating with the singing birds of nature.

In 2007 I first vacationed in Barga and effortlessly fell in love with its landscape, warm people, and rich culinary culture. My family and I have since made five summer trips to Barga from our home in Toronto, and we anticipate our sixth trip in the near future. During this summer (2018) month-long vacation in Barga, I wanted to understand, once and for all, what forces animate my deep emotional love for Barga. And so, I began a journey of deep introspection to better understand myself and more importantly to better understand the human experience. 

I began with the true and tragic premise that unlike other species, humans have mental faculties to imagine our own mortality. This state of consciousness predisposes us to anxiety and denial. To alter the crippling influence of this dystopian human reality, fortitude to pursue alternative realities is needed. Extrapolating from the philosophic writings of the 19th century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, my deep emotional love for Barga stems from its consuming beauty which allows me an escape from this human default state of perpetual discontent. Aesthetic experience such as that offered by the captivating beauty of Barga is essentially, for Schopenhauer, a temporary escape.

While it may be effortless to have an aesthetic experience in picturesque places like Barga, aesthetic experience can be actualized even in the most mundane, day-to-day moments in life. How does one know that they are having an aesthetic experience? Schopenhauer believes that what distinguishes an aesthetic experiences from other experiences is that contemplation of the object of aesthetic appreciation temporarily allows the subject a respite from the default state of perpetual discontent, and allows the subject to enter an alternative state of mental enjoyment. 

Barga opened my eyes to realize that beauty can yield more than a fleeting moment of instant gratification. Beauty can be a transformative experience if only you let it. By changing the way we perceive our surroundings we can revive our connection to the world, to the people with whom we have the fortune to interact, to nature and to the beauty that can be found all around us. With the right perspective the benefits of the aesthetic experience can be an uplifting soul-journey which can move the heart and guide the spirit. Perception is a skill which one can leverage throughout life to transform both the mind and soul. 

These are the lessons that I learned in Barga and for them I am eternally grateful.

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