Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: tennis

On beauty

I have recently defended beauty in a conversation. The truth is I enjoy spending time with beautiful people and by beautiful I mean aesthetically beautiful. I also tend to trust a person better if he/she is beautiful. Even more, I consider beauty a virtue and I choose my friends accordingly. I know: this is a hugely controversial argument and as I was speaking about it I probably ended up coming across as a narcissist and frivolous person. Which I might very well be; but for other reasons than this. Here I am determined to stand my ground and show you that beauty matters a lot – especially when choosing your friends.

I should add that initially I did not want to write about this topic. But then today I read a New York Times article about Novak Djokovic and tennis which, rather incongruously, brought me to an essay written by Susan Sontag.  And I could not resist summarizing it here. Sontag writes: To be concerned with one’s own beauty is to risk the charge of narcissism and frivolity. Why? Because beauty can illustrate an ideal; a perfection. Or, because of its identication with women (more accurately, with Woman), it can trigger the usual ambivalence that stems from the age-old denigration of the feminine. Much of the discrediting of beauty needs to be understood as a result of the gender inflection. Misogyny, too, might underlie the urge to metaphorize beauty, thereby promot- ing it out of the realm of the ‘merely’ feminine, the unserious, the specious. For if women are worshiped because they are beautiful, they are condescended to for their preoccupation with making or keeping themselves beautiful. Beauty is theatrical, it is for being looked at and admired; and the word is as likely to suggest the beauty industry (beauty magazines, beauty parlors, beauty products)–the theatre of feminine frivolity–as the beauties of art and of nature. How else to explain the association of beauty–i.e., women–with mindlessness? Obviously Sontag is suggesting that beauty is not frivolous at all.

In fact, beauty demands sophistication, knowledge, discernment, commitment. People can appear beautiful precisely because they reach such a level of sophistication in the way they appear. They must not necessarily be physically attractive, but they might have a distinctive style, or something that is, in fact, aesthetically beautiful. Sure enough, there is something élitist about it. Fine with me, I won’t contest it. But there is more. Assuming beauty as an aesthetic category puts it on a collision course with the ethical. But Sontag also writes that the ascription of beauty is never unmixed with moral values. Far from the aesthetic and the ethical being poles apart, as Kierkegaard and Tolstoy insisted, the aesthetic is it- self a quasi-moral project. Arguments about beauty since Plato are stocked with questions about the proper relation to the beautiful (the irresistibly, enthrallingly beautiful), which is thought to flow from the nature of beauty itself. So the perennial tendency to split beauty up into ‘inner’ and ‘outer,’ ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ is just a way to colonize pure judgments about beauty by moral judgments. Which is to corrupt beauty and to grossly misunderstand its value.

Beauty, as every other virtue, needs to be cultivated. A beautiful body requires commitment; a beautiful grace requires sophistication; a beautiful style requires knowledge; and even beautiful eyes required stories to tell. Not only that. For beauty to arise, a combination of these factors is necessary: a person who has a beautiful body but dresses horribly, without style, is generally regarded as a cafone, or a tamarro. And so on. For all these reason, I very much enjoy spending time with beautiful people and I think this is so because their beauty suggests that there is more about them. I make it a pride to have friends who are, well, pretty beautiful. In more than one way.

Vitas Gerulaitis

Vytautas Kevin Gerulaitis was a Lithuanian American professional tennis player who died in 1994 at the age of 40, because of a malfunction in an improperly installed pool heater that caused his death via carbon monoxide gas. Gerulaitis won the men’s doubles title at Wimbledon in 1975, as well as two Italian Open titles, in 1977 and 1979, and the men’s singles title at one of the two Australian Open tournaments held in 1977.

However, rather than for his tragic death or the titles he won, Gerulaitis is most fondly remembered as the man who never let tennis interfere with his fun. This attitude was captured by an iconic sentence he pronounced in 1979: after losing to his friend Jimmy Connors in 16 consecutive matches and then doing the unthinkable by winning, Gerulaitis commented: “And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row!”

Touching a chord

Andy Murray has had an air of grievance for much of his career. After loosing three grand-slam titles, last Sunday he won the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world finally defeating the burden of national British neurosis for not having won it since 1936.

It is fair to remember that Andy Murray won the 2012 Olympics tennis tournament. But that was quite different. Back then, his Scottishness did not count against him, as the crowd had come to support Murray as part of Team GB. That doesn’t apply at Wimbledon proper. When Federer reduced Murray to tears at Wimbledon in 2012, Charles Moore wrote that “the better culture won”. It was just as if the urbane Swiss had taken apart the scruffy, pigeon-toed Scot.

Now the pigeon-toed Scot finally dominated Wimbledon. His epiphany has come after years of neediness and vulnerability. While he will never be fully loved by the crowd, he has completed his strove for triumph. Lucky the sportsman who is respected rather than adored.

Derek, Bush, and Federer

One of the beautiful persons I’ve met in Bruxelles is Derek. We had some intense chats and it is a pity we were both staying here for such a short time. He comes from Berkley and now is on his way back to California. We decided together the best beers to try around here. Only one hour after our final decision on the ranking, Derek sent me this picture. The highest step of the podium would be the second from the left. Bush is an excellent beer that Daniel found for me.

belgian beers

By the way: Derek is a big fan of Roger Federer, and of tennis. A few weeks ago he was in London for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. I promised him to share this clip that was taken only three days ago during an exhibition match between Federer and Del Potro in Argentina.

Storie extra-sportive di una finale

Alle volte il Sabato sera costringe a guardarsi una finale di Champions League con gli amici. In queste circostanze può divertirsi anche chi, come me, ha perso gran parte della sua fervente passione calcistica maturata negli anni dell’infanzia.

Ci sono tante ragioni per non annoiarsi. Anzitutto, ci sono i telecronisti Sky, che dicono sciocchezze tipo “aspettiamo ancora un tempo per scoprire il killer dell’emozionante romanzo giallo che é questa partita!“. Poi c’é questo giocatore, Bosingwa, praticamente il nome di un grande robot dei cartoni animati giapponesi, che durante la partita ha la faccia di uno che là dov’é non ci vuole proprio stare e non vede l’ora di tornarsene a casa; poi, una volta vinto, si piazza ovunque davanti alla telecamera, fa una sfilza di facce strane, balla, salta come un indiavolato e ruba la coppa ai suoi compagni che la hanno vinta un poco più meritatamente di lui. A proposito di ballare: c’é un giocatore dell’altra squadra, questo Thomas Muller (che peraltro fisicamente m’assomiglia pure molto, anche se tecnicamente credo sia più bravo di me), che quando fa goal sembra completamente impazzito. Ci sono i tedeschi sconvolti dalla delusione di una partita che avevano praticamente già vinto (in casa loro), ma che non riescono proprio a piangere. E poi c’é questo allenatore, Roberto di Matteo, che ha ereditato per caso una squadra in condizioni disastrose, praticamente fuori da tutto, e la ha portata a vincere la FA Cup e la Champions League, che il club inseguiva vanamente da anni, e adesso rischia comunque di non venir confermato dal presidente, un ricco milionario russo senza un’etica sportiva. Di Matteo, per la cronaca, é un cittadino italiano nato e cresciuto in Svizzera.

E come lui é nato in Svizzera anche Roger Federer, che oggi ha perso un’altra partita contro colui che da qualche mese é il numero 1 al mondo, questo Djokovic che é un giocatore fieramente serbo piuttosto esaltato e con uno stile di gioco basato sulla forza fisica. Ci sono moltissime cose da scrivere su Federer come esempio di stile dentro e fuori dal campo (le migliori, forse, le trovate qui), quindi io non aggiungerò nulla. Certo, é un peccato. E’ un peccato che le partite di tennis non abbiano i commentatori di quelle di calcio, e personaggi matti come Bosingwa e Muller, intendo: altrimenti sarebbe molto più facile sorbirsi quelle due-tre ore con onesti filosofi svizzeri e nazionalisti serbi.