I’m spending a few days in Athens and it’s hard here not to ponder a concept like beauty, particularly after visiting the Parthenon. Why is something beautiful? Is it because we’re taught that it is (like classical Greek architecture), or because it simplyis, even if it’s hard to know why? What about an old square, like those I saw recently in the old Swedish city of Malmo, laid out hundreds of years ago? What makes that much more pleasing to walk in than, say, a generic modern shopping mall? Even when the snow is persistent and there’s a modern machine in the square, too: the Wheel of Malmo (a ferris wheel with heated capsules)? It just is. I don’t claim to have a coherent theory of beauty, or the discernment to know it all the time.
But ugliness? That’s much easier. And what marred two old squares in Malmo in close proximity was the visage of Burger King, all bright lights, blaring logo, vivid reds and yellows. Another Burger King’same look, same food’greeted me at the Malmo train station, just a few minutes walk from the old squares. All were ugly. Each seemed out of place, unnecessary, an intrusion. (And, of course, there’s lots of hidden ugliness at the center of burger business. How can there not be? One of the most recent: E. coli and salmonella found in beef used by Burger King and other fast food chains that had been treated with ammonia, said to kill nearly all the pathogens) I wondered why certain building codes in Malmo hadn’t, if not restricted fast food establishments entirely, at least curbed their garishness on the lovely old squares. Perhaps, though, garishness, too is in the eye of the beholder. When I arrived in London from Malmo, I was astonished to see this across a modified archway: “Welcome to London Victoria…Home of the Whopper” with the Burger King logo, bold and illuminated, at the center. I could only laugh ruefully to myself. Ugliness unseen? Fugitive beauty? Branding trumps both? I’ll leave it there. Happy New Year.