A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Pink Cadillac

Despite overcrowded roads, rising fuel prices, polluting carbon emissions and horrific accident statistics, our love affair with the automobile still continues. For many of us the car we drive reflects what we wish to say about ourselves. Just as with the cut of our clothes and the size of our house, our choice of car can reflect the image we want to portray to the world.

Psychologists say this choice can betray a great deal about our politics and personality, about our insecurity, about our seeming need to project ideas of power, success, wealth and virility. Or the lack of those things. Sometimes it seems impossible to do or buy anything without that action or choice showing to the outside world a stance or viewpoint or perceived projection which we feel is maybe simplified, clichéd or just plain wrong.

I must admit I've never been much interested in cars. Nor in clothes or houses for that matter. I'd rather be anonymous, and blend into the background, rather than conciously or unconsciously make a statement. I don't want an expensive look-at-me car, a wardrobe full of fancy shirts, a posh house stuffed with burglar alarms and surrounded by fences and locked gates. I'm more of a second-hand VW Golf, jeans and tee-shirt, Victorian terrace kind of guy. (And this in itself is also making a strong statement about me. You see, we can't get away from it!)

This poem comes from The Green Book Of Poetry, edited by Ivo Mosley.

To a young man driving his own car

So you're already driving your own car
I'll bet your friends are jealous
As you were learning to drive

I thought how splendid for you
To go speeding everywhere
Getting any kind of licence is good.
I often said
Now you speed about in your car
you can't see the roadside trees changing

with the seasons
you can't see the merchants selling fruit

or fish at the roadside
you can't see the woman running along

with a sick child slung on her back
Always on the look-out for traffic-patrols

and red lights
your eyes fixed straight ahead
you speed about
your eyes have grown sharper
your mind has grown busier
and though the price of fuel

may go up even more
and exhaust fumes block your view
you drive around
and do not intend to walk anyway I'm sure
and those years of youth that people spend

walking or running
getting about by bus or subway
you are spending at over 40 mph
When I see you speeding along in your car
I feel you have isolated yourself
too lightly
and my heart grows heavy

KWANG-KYU KIM, Korean, b. 1941, tr. Brother Anthony of Taizé


George said...

Amazing, Robert, I always imagined you buzzing around the English countryside in a pink cadillac. Just kidding, of course.

I'm with you on this issue, especially as I get older with each passing year. I couldn't care less about cars or expensive clothes, and I would be quite content with a simple cottage as my home. Like you, I also cherish my anonymity. I have always admired those wonderful lines by Emily Dickinson:

"How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!"

The problem, as you recognize, is that it is almost impossible to avoid projecting some kind of image. You really can't get away from it. Personally, however, I would rather be judged according to who I am, for better or worse, that be judged according to what I possess.

Val said...

you know you are caught when even not choosing is a choice - but thank goodness we still have choices! i am with you on the material world thing but even so a pink cadillac would catch my eye!

Ruth said...

I'm with you and George, and I choose clothes that are modest and blend-y, though I do care about fashion and want to be up-to-date within reason. (It's all about the silhouette.) I drive a "roller skate" as my daughter calls it, a Chevy Aveo, and I do so proudly when I drive by SUV's that monster-dominate the road. But what does that say about me, that pride of mine and disdain of others? Anyway, I keep working on that judgment, while holding on to righteous "anger" that anyone would still drive a gas-hog.

As for the poem, and speed, I have felt this way for a long time. I don't think we humans are meant to go fast. Cars are bad enough. But planes! I was especially struck with the car thing when my daughter moved to NYC, ironically enough, seeing as we think of the big city as the ultimate in speed. She and her husband just recently bought a VW Jetta, but for five years she has not had a car, using trains and buses. Her first year there she told me about Valentine's Day. She walked to and from work in Manhattan along the sidewalks and saw man after man after man carrying flowers to some sweetheart. She said, If I had been in a car, I never would have seen that.

ksam said...

I had to laugh, as when I pulled up to work last week, what should I see but a pink Cadillac! While they are surprising and strangely pretty....I'll stick with my ancient Jeep with the trail gear in the back and the bike rack on the back.

And for attire... Well although I work in a ladies fashion store...Mother Theresa and her nuns are my heros...one sari to wear...on to wash...change out! What a light and lovely way to live.

How much we put in externals is amazing. How often do we look at someone and make assumptions/judgements by how they "appear". But how many of us would choose the exact features and looks that are our own? I sometimes forget what I actually look like. I'll pass a mirror and give a start, and realize that stranger...that's "me" as the world sees me. But me the real me..."she/I" doesn't look anything like that. I guess I'd have to say to George's comment...we..the real us is always anonymous!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks everyone for such revealing comments!

I've always liked that Emily Dickinson poem, George.

Val - aha, I think you're a pink cadillac girl on the quiet, aren't you?

Ruth - planes make me nervous, cars I like less and less, but I love trains and boats and feet.

That Jeep sounds just perfect for your lifestyle, Karin. Love the idea of one sari to wear and one to wash. Simplicity. What is 'the real us'? It ain't the clothes we wear, or our reflection in the mirror, that's for sure (though I think our face, especially our eyes, betray a lot.) DH Lawrence would say our real self is not the exterior persona but the interior soul-self.