Friday, September 28, 2012

Surrounded by Creatures

In a very short span of time I went from being "Mom" in a busy household of six, to living alone.  My daughter gave me her very special "dog-like" cat for company.  To fill up time I started my jewelry business, joined non profit boards, village government, and started a garden.

It's a vegetable garden, but my first priority is that it provides aesthetic pleasure. Therefore there are sunflowers, red runner beans, hollyhocks, and lots of paths.  The crops are carefully chosen for my table:  garlic, chard, fingerling potatoes, salad greens, tomatoes, asparagus and always--a Three Sisters garden comprising corn, beans and pumpkins.  The corn is never a winner, but it does hold up the red runner beans, and, after all, it's all about The Beauty.

I rotate my crops from raised bed to raised bed, but even so, the potato beetles and the Japanese beetles always find the potatoes and beans.  And for some reason, the cabbage worms are so bad on my property that I can't keep up with them even when I come out every morning to pick off worms of only eight plants!

This summer, my daughter bought an adorable golden doodle puppy, and had to leave for her job overseas before he was old enough to travel.  So I have him.  His name is Patrick.  He's a darling full time job.  We walk on the beach two times a day, go to puppy classes, find puppy play dates, and he still has energy to spare.  His favorite thing to do is terrorize the middle aged cat, who amazingly does not put out her claws but does hiss and bat his face like a champion boxer.

Yesterday, exhausted by the animal action in my house, I walked over to the garden to see how things were doing.  I had picked off the Japanese beetles,  and cabbage worms early in the morning.  But for the first time, I saw asparagus beetles climbing up the leftover ferns.   But it wasn't until I looked over at my defoliated tomato plants to stare in the face of a huge, grotesque tomato horn worm that I felt totally inundated by creatures.

Holy Moly. I am in the middle of my own zoo!  I'm certainly not alone.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Three Good Books... Actually Six

 I only put it together yesterday that I have recently read three really good books, and all three have a commonality:  they depict the American immigrant experience.  I came to them at different times and for different reasons.   Several years ago I read Waiting, an award winner, and wonderful story of a man's long, patient wait to divorce his wife in order to marry someone else.  The book has a mesmerizing, meditative effect so that the subject of waiting becomes an undertone--abstract and strong--in the realm of music.  I'm currently reading  A Free Life, the 600 page novel of Nan and Pingping, a Chinese couple, immigrants from China at the time of Tienanmen Square, who work hard and long to make it in the U.S.   Ha Jin (pen name for Jin Xuefei) learned English as a college student in China.  He was at Brandeis during the  Tienanmen incident, and subsequently emigrated to the U.S. He writes his novels in English.

  This immediately reminded me of two other books I've enjoyed.  One is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, and the other one is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  I read Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies years ago when our family was living in Peru.  The Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories where her characters share human problems, but in a cross cultural American Indian context.  Her novel, The Namesake, which was promptly made into an excellent film, depicts a Bengali couple, who move to Cambridge, and have two children.The novel focuses on the son, who was named Gogol, after a folly in the hospital.  As he grows up and learns about his father's reasons for choosing that name ("Everyone must come out of Gogol's overcoat") he makes peace with himself, his family and his heritage.

 In Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese writes the story of twin brothers in Ethiopia during a time of great turmoil there.  It will probably be a movie soon.    Dr. Verghese was born of Indian parents,  grew up in Ethiopia, and left during the civil unrest.  He studied medicine in India, and finished up in the U.S.  He, like Lahiri and Jin, writes of the American experience with an immigrant's eyes.  I had become acquainted with Dr. Verghese, now a medical professor at Stanford University, when I read The Tennis Partner, a memoir he wrote about an experience he had when he was teaching in El Paso as a  Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases.  That book is about his friendship with a young resident who became his tennis partner, and who was addicted to drugs.  I loved the way he wrote about tennis.  He recounted the greats from my era--Pancho Segura, Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, among others--and got to the center of what is beautiful about the sport.  Cutting for Stone is a powerful plot driven story that follows the boys on their global and internal journeys.

As our world shrinks, our national literature grows.  These are riveting novels by talented, experienced and insightful writers.  They are Americans now, and teaching in our universities.  They teach us ,enlighten us, and tell good stories.

Components from 4 continents in this American made necklace
  Sooo, to make just a bit of a stretch for the tie-in:  As my beads are collected from all over the world, the jewelry itself is American, made in Maine.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


freshwater pearls with sterling silver and quartz crystals
  In the movie, "Titanic:, the elder Rose Dawson, tells the oceanographer, at the beginning of the film, that she knows about the sketch and the "heart of the ocean (sapphire necklace) ", because, as she calmly explains, "I am the girl in the sketch".  When she says this, she happens to be wearing a long necklace with silver and barrel shaped blue stones, probably sodalite.  I focused on the necklace in those few frames, and said to myself, "That looks like I made it.  As soon as I get home I'm going to make that exact necklace".
And I did, and it was, and it sold.  I didn't take a picture of it, so I would have to rent the film to go through that process again. But I still do have the materials.

Last week I watched "The Iron Lady", with Meryl Streep.  Margaret Thatcher apparently always wore her double strand of pearls, called 'The Twins", given to her by her husband after the birth of their twins.  It is a simple and classic double strand.

Pearls are in a class by themselves.  They have a long history, and a fine reputation.  They are elegant, rare, expensive, special.  Lately, they are less rare and less expensive due to the vast pearl farms in China.  Freshwater pearls are available at reasonable prices now.  In fact pearls come in all prices.  In Tucson last month, I strolled down the fine jewelry wholesaler aisles and saw single pearls selling for thousands of dollars.  I also saw freshwater pearls selling for a few dollars a strand.

dyed pearls with amber and citrine
Pearls are included in my inventory because of their beauty.  While a classic string of pearls comes with silk knotted after each pearl,  I combine pearls with deserving buddies.  A necklace of white pearls will include some sterling silver, and some quartz crystal. And golden dyed pearls might be accented with butterscotch amber, citrine,  silver or special brass.

A lady never goes anywhere without her pearls
My pampered and pedigreed aristocat doesn't go anywhere without her own personal set, complete with magnetic safety clasp.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Tucson Gem Show

Rare Vaseline Beads made in Czechoslovakia
A couple of weeks ago I was in Tucson, Arizona for the annual bead and gem show.  This was only my second time.  It is a huge event for Tucson--in fact the biggest event of the year.  Actually, there are 42 different shows going on during the two week period.  Obviously a person can't attend them all.  I went to five, and it was too much to see and process.  Vendors come from all over the world, and it is safe to say that it is not just the biggest event in Tucson, but it is the biggest bead/gem show anywhere.  The convention center is filled with hundreds and hundreds of vendors.  Huge tents are set up all over the city; hotel ballrooms are flooded with stalls.  The entire city's hotels are completely booked just with the vendors.  I don't know where the buyers stay!

I try to keep myself under control.  There are only a few things I wanted to look for:  old African trade beads,  Hebron beads, tomato beads, wedding beads, pearls for the cat collars, interesting brass, check out the amber (just look!), check out the lapis and turquoise...

First of all, there were literally tons of pearls. The tents with the fine gems included pearls where a single pearl was valued at thousands of dollars. Strands of large baroque pearls were thousands of dollars.  I eventually found my way to very inexpensive pearl strands that would work fine for my needs.  I love lapis, but all the strands I saw were obviously dyed.  Beware:  most lapis and coral these days is dyed.  I won't use a dyed material, so, no purchases there.  My weakness is, was and ever shall be, African antique beads.

There is a place at the Tucson Gem and Bead show called African Village, and that is a must stop for me.  It is outside, and reminded me of Kofuridua in Ghana.  African traders had piles and piles of  beads for sale--  some cheap, some valuable.  The best way to do it is to walk around for a long time, looking at all the stalls, locating the beads, and prices you want.  In order to get the best prices, you have to choose one vendor, one stall, for your business.  So, the walking around, asking questions, sorting and looking takes a long time; the actual purchasing goes pretty fast (I would say too fast).  And that is what I did.  I found one place that had almost everything I wanted, and chose my beads.

I fashion valuable beads into wearable jewelry.  It is not really a profitable business because jewelry buyers are not necessarily bead collectors.  So while bead collectors (including myself) will spend real money on beads, jewelry buyers don't know or really care about that value.  Knowing this full well, I try not to buy really valuable beads.  However, my eyes strayed and stopped at the aquamarine vaseline beads, the large,antique white and blue Venetian beads, more amber, and old amazonite.  As we sat in the back of the shop and counted up my bill, with discounts on everything, I impulsively added the very expensive strand of vaseline beads.

Vaseline beads are glass beads which were made in Czechoslovaki over a hundred years ago for the African trade.  They came in many colors; red, yellow, green are common. Then there are the opaque vaseline beads.  The aquamarine  opaque strands are collector items, and, I was simply unwilling to leave it behind.

And I still don't regret it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lady Hester Stanhope

  In December, my daughter and I took a trip to Lebanon.  When we  lived in the Middle East in the 80's, we had  heard about the splendor of Beirut as the "Paris of the Middle East".   At the time few people went there because of the civil war.  Peaceful now, we were eager for the opportunity to visit.

  Besides Beirut, we seriously considered  a visit to Joun (Joon, Djoun) which is in the south.  This was my daughter's idea.  She wanted to see the final home of Lady Hester Stanhope.
  Lady Hester falls directly into the category of eccentric early 19th century women travelers.  Her mother had died when she was very young, and her father, an inventor, ostracized his six children.  Hester was the only one who stood up to him and was subsequently disowned.  However her uncle, William Pitt the Younger, invited her to live with him.  In fact,when he was premier in 1804, 28-year-old Hester was his hostess,  That was a happy high point for her.  She was witty and outspoken and could talk about politics and philosophy and other intellectual topics to her heart's content.  She had her first love affair during this period, but it was rather scandalous and the fellow was assigned to a posting overseas.  Her uncle died of ill health in 1806, and had made provisions for a small pension for her and her sisters.  However she didn't have the mobility as before.  She moved to Wales, but still was restless.  So in 1810 she set off, with her maid, a young doctor, and her brother James, for Gibralter.  She met a dashing young man along the way-- Michael Bruce, and together they traveled to Turkey and Greece, and then Egypt.  Along the way, she devised a plan to go to France, and ingratiate herself with Napoleon, with the purpose of  finding a way to get information back to England.  Fortunately the ambassador to France didn't issue a passport. 
Lady Hester Stanhope would have worn a necklace like this
  Here starts the Desert Queen segment of her life.  After they arrived in Egypt, Hester set about learning Arabic and Turkish.  On one of their expeditions they lost all of their clothes, so she put on what was available--Turkish attire--and found it comfortable.  From then on she dressed in flamboyant Turkish costume.   Arab leaders were impressed with her presence and unusual style, and received her, calling her Queen Hester.  She showed uncommon courage in her desert journeys among the Bedouin.  She amazed the Arabs with her man's dress and refusal to wear a veil .  Then Michael was recalled back to England, and that romance seemed to fizzle.  Hester decided to stay in the Middle East, and  eventually ended up in Joun, where she built a house on top of a hill.  She spent money she didn't have, and finally the British government cut off her pension to pay her debts.  At this point she became truly eccentric and reclusive, and penniless.  Her maid died; the other servants stole from the house, and she walled herself in her house before dying  alone with hundred of stray cats.  The faithful doctor, Charles Meryon, recorded her story.

So we seriously considered hiring a car and driving to see her house.  But then we learned that all that is left of Lady Hester's house is about two feet of ruins. Reluctantly we gave up that expedition and chose to visit  Byblos--the oldest inhabited port city in the world.

But the tragic story of Lady Hester Stanhope is haunting, and I can see that we might make it there some time in the future.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Essence of Dining

 My daughter and I went into a busy mall in Abu Dhabi to have lunch.  She steered me towards an Indian food place she had tried before. It wasn't fancy. We sat down near a window, and pointed to a picture of an Indian plate of food that looked good.  The cheerful Filipino waitress made sure we were comfortable, and brought our fruit drinks.  After our food had come, and we had started dipping into sambols and  dals and vegetables, the waiter came out and asked, "Are you having a good time?"

A cappuccino in Beirut where we also had "a good time"
That is so much more to the point than "Is everything okay?" that I had to write it down.