Friday, January 27, 2006

On Size and Scale

Some little envelopes have got me thinking. I was rustling through a shelf at my favorite papetier here in Lyon, and found that she had these little itty bitty envelopes in stock. Since I'm looking forward to Aude's wedding this summer, I thought of ways she could use them at the reception. I bought them with the thought to do some calligraphy on them and show them to her. When I broke them out of the package and held one in my hand, something happened.

It was kind of like a gut memory, something I was not prepared for. I saw an envelope of this sort presented on a silver tray by gloved hands. I saw the notes we used to write in junior high school and slip into the crevice underneath our desks for the person in the next class to read.

I held the envelope in my hand and imagined receiving a posted letter in an envelope this small. But alas, I thought, these envelopes are too small to send through the mail. They will not go through because they are under the regulation size. I remembered one day in my teen years when I painstakingly hand crafted the envelope for a very important letter to my best friend to be exactly the size it should be. Yes, I suppose it was a bit small but not too small, it was kind of square and big enough to take the address and the stamp and everything, and it rested just right in the palm of my hand. The idea was to transmit intimacy. I took it to the post office behind my mother’s shop downtown, and the clerk thrust it back at me. She said it was too small to send, and they would not accept it. It was a shock and a disappointment to me at the time.

Throughout art school, I was very occupied with the idea of size and intimacy and size and monumentality, and everything in between, and I spent a great deal of time pondering the size of things. This in my mind, is a very important aspect of everything we do, and everything we transmit to others, but also in the way we see. When I had a choice, I would always frame a small area of an object and draw it very large. Coming to grips with the question of scale is a long and arduous process that continues well into our adulthood.

Now this idea of the size of a letter being regulated according to machines in America and the rules being very rigid about size is a very post machine-age thing. I got to thinking about how many very basic things in this country are different due to certain institutions dating hundreds, even thousands of years before the industrial revolution. Everyone knows that starting from scratch and building a well running system is much easier than trying to make an old one adapt. And everyone knows that France had a mail system way before sorting machines that would exclude little itty bitty envelopes. Therefore I conducted an experiment to see if my theory was correct. Indeed, my itty bitty letter was delivered without comment. I love this country! I have launched some off to America to see if they are treated differently, having been initially sorted here and I hope they finally reach their destinations.

The amuse-gueules we receive at restaurants also transmit a certain intimacy from the chef. I love it when they contain hand cut forms of cheeses or vegetables, sliced bigger than a julienne but just the right size to make us look closer, to draw us in. It makes us turn out regard to the intricate beauty of the small natural forms in the foods we eat, and also makes us glad that we have people back in the kitchen thinking of these things.



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