“People need to see more beauty these days,” opined Manolo Blahnik last year. Well, Manolo, get a grip. You’re getting old and your heart is shrinking. Beauty never disappears: it just changes shape.
In the search for beauty, two rules need to be followed. The first is never to confuse beauty with prettiness. Beauty is never pretty. Its task is to trigger immoderate desires, and pretty things don’t do that. Beauty is the visible tip of a gigantic iceberg of want. So look for it under the water line, as well as above.
The second rule is that your beauty will probably not be everyone else’s. When warthog A sees warthog B, his heart goes boom-boody-boom. Mine would not. But never should I assume that warthog B is not beautiful. Each warthog to his own.
Here are 20 examples of beauty from my own catalogue, which I urge Blahnik to check out.
1 The Taj Mahal
I’ve never met anyone who has been disappointed by the Taj. However famous it is, however suspicious you are of sights that everyone else recommends, you will still love the Taj. Its whiteness, pureness and angelic sense of perfection are inviolate. I’ve seen it a dozen times. And can’t wait for the 13th.
2 Cate Blanchett
I’m sorry, but this woman is seriously perfect. I had the good fortune to get close to her when she was opening the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and the flawless creaminess of her skin, set off by a perfect sapphire dress, was an effect you find only on the finest Meissen. Cate makes Cheryl Cole look like a dinner lady.
3 The golden rhino of Mapungubwe
The next time you find yourself in Pretoria, pop along to the University Museum and ask to see the golden rhino. Produced 800 years ago by a lost African civilisation, this tiny masterwork is made from the most intoxicating substance known to man. I love gold so much, I sometimes pop into the bathroom simply to stare at my fillings.
4 A Yoko Ono sculpture
Any Yoko sculpture will do. The all-white chess set. The bottle of air. The marble nude. All are delicate, ethereal, magical. The best one to visit is the extraordinary tower of light that Yoko has installed on a hill in Iceland, in memory of John. Gorgeous.
5 The Quetzal
You have to go to Costa Rica to see one of these — preferably at Easter, when they mate. With its metre-long tail seemingly made of crushed emeralds, this is the most exquisite bird in the jungle.
6 The Volvo P1800
Actually, I had trouble deciding here between the sexy Volvo P1800 that Roger Moore drives in The Saint and the less coveted but no less groovy Datsun 240Z, which, as far as I know, nobody of note has ever piloted. When you run out of wall space for beautiful art, start putting some in your garage.
7 Morpho adonis
All morpho butterflies are ridiculously beautiful. When one of these blues flutters across your path in a South American jungle, it makes your day. I particularly like Morpho adonis, because from some angles it appears pearly white, then it flicks its wings and turns as screamingly blue as a neon sign in Soho.
8 Gauguin’s nevermore
This is one of the Tahiti paintings: a young girl, naked on a bed, stares up at us with an eerie mix of fear and accusation. What is she so frightened of? Everything about the picture feels mysterious, dark. And that lemon pillow she lies on is one of the most gorgeous splashes of colour in art.
9 A field of rape in the summer
The arrival of rape in the English countryside has been an eye-opener. There you are, driving mindlessly along the motorway, when suddenly an outrageous expanse of yellow pops up in your windscreen and shocks you into alertness.
10 A Ming Imperial yellow-glazed dish
I wish I knew more about Ming Imperial porcelain, so I could tell you exactly which bowl or vase delivers the finest dose of pure Chinese beauty. To my untrained European eyes, all Ming yellow-glazed Imperial porcelain is astonishingly progressive. So plain. So simple. So modern.
11 The Moussaieff red
Red diamonds are the rarest of all the fancy-coloured stones. Ever since I saw the Moussaieff, the largest ever found, sparkling in its case, I have been stricken by a dangerous urge to get myself an armour-busting tank and steal it.
12 The view to Puimisson in Languedoc
Languedoc used to be the corner of southern France that time forgot. These days, unfortunately, all the region’s mayors seem to be in competition to see who can build the least necessary and most obstructive roundabout. But they can’t spoil it all. My heart still pounds every time I drive over the hill to Puimisson and see the sun setting over the Black Mountains.
13 Japanese girls
Okay, my wife is Japanese. If it were not so patently favouritist, I would, of course, have put her straight in at No1. What poise Japanese women have. What elegance. How exquisitely feminine they are. And how utterly bonkers.
14 Madrid airport
It might be too big, you might burn a week’s calories hauling your luggage across it, but Richard Rogers’s Terminal 4 at Madrid is such a superb piece of airport architecture: the expert mix of bamboo, glass and metal; the delightful colour coding. The last thing you want to do is jump on a plane and leave it.
15 Usain Bolt
There are many different types of beauty. Some are delicate. Others are powerful. Bolt’s fearsome kind, however, strikes me as a new variety. When this miracle of human engineering is at full pelt, his running acquires an air of brutal unleashing that you also find in hunting cheetahs. There are comets in the heavens slower than Bolt.
16 The Naghsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan
Getting to Iran is problematic, but worth the effort. The dreamy architecture clustered around this spectacular square takes you straight back to the days of Aladdin. How ridiculous that we imagine Islam to be a stern and joyless religion, when it has created mosques and madrasahs as beautiful as these.
Don’t you just love peonies? The way they unfold from uptight little balls of green into unruly, billowing expanses of frilly colour?
18 A Yard-O-Led fountain pen
Forget Montblanc. Forget Cross, Waterman and certainly Parker. When it comes to the exquisite, the pen to seek out is the Viceroy Grand from Yard-O-Led. Made in tiny numbers from sterling silver, these sleek communication beauties manage to look elegantly Georgian and ultramodern at the same time.
19 Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette
Renoir is out of fashion. Much of what he painted was frilly, silly and cute. But when he got it right, as he most certainly did in this bustling masterpiece, there is no better capturer of the sheer pleasure of living.
If you weren’t impressed, go back. The Serenissima is at her best out of season, when the emptiness sets in. In Venice, the usual rules of life don’t apply. Cars turn into boats; it’s like stepping into a hashish dream.