During an average day, the image we have of ourselves clashes with those construed by innumerable pairs of strange eyes. Wherever we turn, the encounter with someone else’s gaze is inevitable, sometimes ostensibly avoided or romantically held, provocatively prolonged or insisted with hostility. My sister and I went to see an exhibit of pictures taken by Steve McCurry. One of them featured a perfect reflection of the Taj Mahal in a pool of water; the reflection was so immobile and unwavering that from a distance I thought it was a picture of the temple itself taken upside down. Eyes are reflecting pools, the type of lake Narcissus fell in love with: in them, the watery and glossy image shows who we are, what is behind us while we look straight ahead. I never thought much of my own eyes, since they are plainly brown and have been devoid of make up for almost twenty years of my life, no winged eyeliner, no silky black eyelashes. No glasses either. And definitely no green spots to give a twist to the common brown, a hint of mystery and exoticism, the appearance of rare genes of a lost beauty. But one day I was told that I had very big eyes, in a way that was not a compliment nor a mockery, in a matter-of-fact unsettling manner that induced me to try and master the art of tracing a black line above my upper lid and along the edge of my lower one, in an attempt to attenuate the pronounced roundness and dissimulate the noticeable size.
My eyes are slightly outward, and sometimes the light lands directly on my iris, finding no obstacle in the eyelid and in the weave of eyelashes, making my look fluid, diluting the brown into amber and showing with steel-hard clarity the heaps of pictures behind them. A chubby middle-schooler, the drawings I was so proud of and never looked at again, every time I dropped and broke something or I wasn’t invited to an event, the first kiss I thought was so late to receive (or give?), all the times I cried when there was no need to, unmotivated rudeness and my writing, gifts wrapped for Christmas and my desk, in high school, with a shorter leg, airplanes and meaningful series of bracelets on both my wrists.
Steve McCurry has a talent for capturing eyes, and the camera remains stuck in those deep waters, in the greens against dark skin, in the orange and purple reflections tainting the warm browns. Similarly, the visitor’s own eyes drown in the serious gazes of children, the focus of Buddhist monks and the wisdom of Indian wizards, the color of henna and the desolation of the war, the strength of women and their love protected between the bony cheeks and unplucked eyebrows. They are the inexorable overlapping of their stories — layers and layers of lived lives and crossing paths and exchanged gazes, words that turn into experiences — as are we.
Emma is a junior Classics major in the College of Arts and Sciences. An Italian native, she loves Virginia Woolf and dreads Ithaca winters. She writes about her experience at Cornell as an international student, and has an uncontrollable passion for excessively long sentences and vivid metaphors. She can be usually found enjoying a soup in Temple of Zeus, and can be reached at [email protected]