Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting, and a truck stop in Qom

We were on our way to Khorram Abad when we stopped to have tea and eggs at a truck stop in Qom. I like this particular truck stop, which is also a motel, because the restrooms are so frigging clean. There is a courtyard leading to a small mosque and the restrooms for men and women. Painted on the wall is a mural clearly inspired by Bob Ross via his television show: "The Joy of Painting."

Who knows when we first discovered Bob Ross and his happy trees, big brushes, and palette knives? It must have been channel surfing one day and hearing his soothing voice say "There…" My sister watched it with her husband to be all through college. "It was the perfect program for Sunday morning when you'd been out too late." (She probably meant: Sunday afternoon.)

The fact is Bob Ross is everywhere and appears just when you need him. He's like the Virgin Mary. I used to believe that the next great religion would have Elvis as its prophet, but now I am convinced that Bob Ross is a more likely candidate. He has to be much more popular worldwide than Elvis. Take Iran, for example, his show appears on television here and his kits and books are translated and prominently displayed in bookstore windows. Elvis, however, is nowhere to be found. (Although Metallica, The Eagles, and Eminem are all popular.)

I am not sure what makes him so compelling. Posters at the Jump the Shark website talk about his afro and his soothing voice and his anti-cool confidence. Maybe that's it. There is also something so cool about watching someone create a painting or drawing right before your eyes. To me it does not matter how much I may or may not like the style. It is a kind of magic. (I am still mesmerized by Mr. Drawing Board from Captain Kangaroo) And what is amazing is that people actually can learn the Bob Ross style. I saw a whole show of Bob Ross paintings created by a 7th grade art class. I was pretty amazed. Learning the style gave these kids so much confidence.

It's soothing too, to be in a strange country, close to its theological heart, and see a mural clearly inspired by Bob Ross. It's as though his ultra-mellow voice is speaking to you from the painting itself. For those of you traveling to Iran, you can check out the mural on the road leading from Tehran to Qom (unfortunately, you cannot get there from the reverse direction.). There is a motel on the right side of the road that has good pizza, good eggs, good coffee, and clean restrooms. This is not the only Bob Ross inspired painting in Iran. I will pay more attention in the future and list more of them.

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