A periodic guest column focusing on a variety of topics relating to cars, parts, issues and the crazy world around us.
Of Japanese Tea Pots and Aging Muscle Cars
By Kathy DeFeo
Wabi-Sabi. No, it’s not something you order at a Chinese restaurant.
It’s a Japanese aesthetic. A mindset.
Somewhere in my jumbled mind, is a storehouse of observations; obscure information, philosophy, art, social psychology, and things people should never have enough time on their hands to read. So much so, that when I see torn seats in a fifty year old car, I think of cracked Japanese teapots. A perfectly normal thought process, if you’re me. But to a rational person, it would appear that any correlation made between ratty muscle cars and Japanese teapots would be a reason to stop reading right now. I guarantee that it’s not.
I’ve always been attracted to cars with battle scars, when one we own actually gets painted I’m kind of bummed, because while paint makes it pretty, something gets lost, and that something is important. At car shows I walk over to the cars that look the least obvious. The least shiny, least likely to win best in show. The ones that someone brave decided to park in between rotisserie restorations, and then walk away from, not giving a crap weather they win anything or not.
Wabi-Sabi is a way to describe that strange attraction. It’s a way of perceiving things. Whether people realize it or not, it is akin to the ratty muscle car movement which is growing daily. When people pull a dust covered Hemi Belvedere from a barn and have a pages-long internet debate over whether or not it should be washed, there’s more than monetary value at work. There’s Wabi-Sabi.
Since so many people who are adherents to the ratty muscle car movement are unknowingly putting Zen principles into practice, it’s probably relevant to explain what they are. I’ll also get to the cracked teapots.
Wabi-Sabi’s roots lie in Zen Buddhism, and one aesthetic practice is to fill cracks in pottery, like teapots, with gold and silver. See? Teapots.
Wabi-Sabi is a mindset that embraces flaws, celebrates imperfections, and finds beauty in what has been naturally worn or weathered through the passage of time and good use. More so than if it was “perfect”. It acknowledges that nothing lasts, is perfect, or ever finished. That the flaws, imperfections, and quirks of an object make it more interesting, more authentic, and therefore more beautiful. So yes, it’s all about patina.
That’s a brief and lame Western interpretation of a hard to explain Eastern concept. All Eastern concepts are difficult to translate in their truest sense, but we’re in the West so it’ll have to do. A Japanese person might say it’s not explainable at all.
You might be thinking Zen masters would look down on us for abusing the earth with our noisey, fuel-burning machines. But, actually, they’re totally cool with it.
They’re totally cool with everything. That’s what makes them Zen masters.
Now, Wabi-Sabi doesn’t mean it’s cool to be a slob. You can’t have something that’s all hurled and say it’s Wabi-Sabi. Cleanliness – and by that I mean spotlessness – loving care, and repair when needed through the years, are all vital components. So as far as Wabi-Sabi is concerned the Hemi Belvedere would have been washed and cared for as found, unless they wanted to let it lay out in a field until it became part of the natural landscape; ’cause that’s Wabi-Sabi as well.
Stop cringing. I know, I know.
Perfect cars are beautiful. But a long-run, old race car with all of it’s wear and tear, missing parts, and what’s left of it’s faded lettering, or a street car that’s seen it’s share of pot holes, salt, N.Y.C. traffic and Fountain Ave street racing, are things of ASTOUNDING beauty.
If nothing else, Wabi-Sabi is a point of view that allows us to enjoy our cars, and focus on the drive train which is the most important part of the whole thing anyway. Sure, It’s nice to have a beautiful car that can get out of its own way. But, if it’s Wabi-Sabi and that helps us to be a little less neurotic, we’re more likely to have some fun. Just like the Zen masters that came up with this crazy stuff. – CI