The sufficiency of beauty

by Steve Brock on May 17, 2011

As I fumbled to answer the question, “How was your trip?” upon returning from Peru last month, one of my immediate answers was simply, “It was beautiful.”

I’m not alone in this sentiment.

Go back almost 600 years to when the Spanish Conquistadors first laid their greedy eyes on the Incan capital of Cuzco, and you will read reports of how they were stunned by the beauty of the place. Whether the gold-covered Temple of the Sun or the massive stonework of the fortress Sacsayhuaman, these first foreigners marveled at the architecture and craftsmanship that rivaled any in Europe at the time.

I had read of the mastery of Incan stonework before I left for Peru. So it came as no surprise to find huge stones fitted together with no mortar and no gaps. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the solemn beauty of these stones.

I found that being there completely changed my perspective on something as seemingly ordinary as carved rocks. These stones, shaped and fitted by means that still baffle archeologists today, have an appeal that pictures cannot capture.

The puzzle-piece-like joint lines, irregular yet aesthetically pleasing shapes and the texture of the surfaces create more than a functional wall or door way. You perceive a rhythm to these stones, an intriguing sensuality in the curved exterior faces or rounded corners. In them I found an unexpected beauty.

Note the green fields beneath and the Andes in the distance

I figured Machu Picchu would be gorgeous – and it was – but I didn’t expect the country itself to be so lovely. All the photos I’d seen of the Sacred Valley were taken during the prime tourist season from June through August which happens to be winter, the dry season, in Peru. Thus, the images I’d seen reflected hillsides in various shades of brown and tan.

When we arrived in early April, however, the entire countryside was a rage of green. The mountains – many layered with ancient Incan terraces – the valleys and everywhere in between formed a non-stop panorama of lush beauty.  

I can’t explain beauty or its impact on me and others. I can give examples and go into long discourses on the subjective nature of it or how culture shapes our perceptions of it. But I don’t need to do that or really, even understand beauty intellectually. I can simply appreciate a place like the Sacred Valley and be thankful for the impact such beauty has on me.

A place of beauty...the ruins at Pisac, Peru

Thus, when I answer the question of “How was your trip?” by saying, “It was beautiful,” those three words contain much more than such brevity of language might imply. They may not answer the question adequately to others. They might not capture the fullness of my trip. They might not even make sense to anyone else.

But for me, they are enough. Beauty itself is sufficient and exceeds any words I could ever use to describe it.

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