Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thanks to my paternal genes, I am relatively short and decidedly grumpy, my hairline keeps perilously receding as time goes by and I’ve been wearing prescription glasses for my entire adulthood. At forty-two, having spent twenty-seven or so years sharing whichever experience with these usefully stylish yet intrusive contraptions, I can barely remember how it felt when recognizing a friend from a distance or watching a movie on the silver screen did not require some sort of optical aid. In the meantime, I’ve gained the invaluable opportunity to change my appearance — thus the perception of my persona — with every pair of glasses I own — they are many, believe me: too much is never enough for me — but more on that later.

Oculi de vitro cum capsula” whispers a bewildered monk in the ear of another as William of Baskerville — a stern Sean Connery — takes a rudimental pair of glasses from his bag in order to read a manuscript in a memorable sequence out of Jean-Jacque Annaud’s film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The name of the Rose. Glass eyes with a frame: I could not think of a better definition — and this one was forged in the thick recesses of the Medieval times, beware. What are glasses, in fact, if not mechanical, additional yet changeable eyes? In fact, I am a quattr’occhi, as Italians amusingly call people wearing glasses. With my four eyes, I belong to the international coterie of visually impaired humans. I am proud to.

Pride does not come easily, though. I love my glasses, in fact, just as much as I hate them. My entire daily life depends on an external instrument which can be easily broken, stolen, forgotten. Yet, I would not have it any other way. I love the idea that a pair of glasses is not forever, and that I can coordinate them to my outfits — I do, actually. Perversely, I am also fond of their weight on my nose. The mere thought of wearing contacts, instead, makes me cringe — a piece of plastic inside the eye? Are you kiddin’? — not to mention undergoing eye surgery. Glasses are my shield, my signature and even my Linus blanket: an object of affection.

Quattr’occhi, although objectively impaired, are a unique, almost superior breed. For me, at least. I find glass-wearing individuals to be the height of elegance and charm, in fact, in a bookish and reserved kind of way — the way I like it. The fact that I belong to the group is totally accidental — I would prefer glass-wearing people anyway, I suppose. They ooze strength despite apparent weakness; they command attention, calmly, in the mist of chaos. I am thinking of Le Corbusier or Saul Steinberg, for instance. Iris Arpfel, too, to name but a few. Could you ever imagine them looking at the world without the filter of heavily rimmed glasses? I don’t think so. Would you ever figure out Gitte Lee or Rossana Orlandi sans their bigger than life frames? David Hockney without his round, nerdy spectacles? That’s completely out of the question. Had their gaze been perfect, I’m sure they would have never been such inventive creators. Their status of timeless style icons would gave been diminished, too.

Creativity and stylishness notwithstanding, there is something quintessentially magic about a pair of glasses. They are a punctuation mark drawn around the body’s most expressive part — the eyes. Glasses — the right pair of glasses — are better than make-up, too. They’re like a graphic makeover, some sort of visual surgery, a brand of optical empowerment. They give you plenty of options: change style and, like a chameleon, you’ll turn into a wholly different person without loosing your integrity. You’ll actually feel like a different person, as this humble writer can profusely testify. In my tiny-weeny wire-rim alchemist glasses or the thick, shiny black spectacles I wear on academic occasions, I act differently, but it all happens naturally. Glasses, in a way, are like a mask: one that does not conceal the individual, though; rather, one that reveals one’s inner strength. At the end of the day, or whenever occasion arises, you can just put them away and change, no strings attached.

Am I convincing you? Hopefully. My point is that quattr’occhi are the height of cool. So much so, in fact, there are envious people out there who wear lensless glasses just to get the look, not to correct their gaze. Which in a way is a vindication of sorts. Bespectacled humans might succumb in a street fight or join the losers club in sports, in fact. Most of them have probably been bullied in high school, too. Still, I believe quattr’occhi are ultimately powerful, like superheroes. Why? For a simple reason: whenever they want, they can look at the world in a different way, something other humans cannot physically do. They enjoy the visual opportunity to see things from at least two perspectives: au naturel and with an optical correction. That’s what I do in the morning, for instance: I keep floating in dreamland for a few moments even if I am wide awake, glass-less. Then, once bespectacled, everything gets sharp and graphically defined, and real life steps in. Wallace Stevens said that reality is the product of the imagination. I’m with him, totally, and as a glasses-wearer I can testify this is actually a daily experience more than a sensational statement.

My mumblings stop here, dearest readers. There is nothing left to add to bring you on my side — just try wearing glasses and you’ll see what I mean. Me, I’ve got to run errands now. There is only one problem: I cannot find my glasses, again. An old story, the kind only another quattr’occhi can truly understand.


Angelo Flaccavento considers himself a joker in classic clothes and always keeps a pen in his breast pocket. He says he is influenced by — in no particular order — exoticism, bohemia, the London of the Sixties, the first punk, Ennio Flaiano, Alberto Arbasino, Irving Penn, Sarah Moon, Richard Avedon, Agota Kristof, the mid-century modern, rococo, masks, brutalism, Leigh Bowery, decadence, radicalism, loneliness, Japonism, maximalism, minimalism, absurdity, order, chaos, imperfections and errors.

Convinced by Wallace Stevens, he sustains that reality is the product of imagination. Hence when he walks he has his head in the clouds. He does not drive.

You Might Also Like