NOTHING BASIC ABOUT THESE BLACKS: Sicilian Version and Tibetan Version

“Otherness”

BLACK LAVA BEADS OF SICILY  WITH CORAL.

I’m not sure if I mentioned I spent a week in Sicily in early April.  My reason for flying into Palermo after four lovely days in Rome was to meet up with a group from Oldways, a Boston firm very interested in nutrition and a sponsor of Culunarias, aka cooking classes in interesting parts of the world.

Sicilian cooking is living history born out of serial conquest.  Each wave of conquerers has shaped the Sicilian table.  The Greeks came bearing gifts of honey, wine, ricotta and olives, followed by the rapacious Roman cultivators of wheat and grains.  After invasion by the Vandals who introduced meat dishes, a return to Greek Byzantine rule boosted local agriculture with the establishment of monasteries across the island, bringing their taste for sharp cheeses and spicy biscuits.  North African Arabs and Berbers brought citrus trees, spices, nuts and, yes, dried pasta and coffee beans.

Here is a summary of what we did:  we lunched with Mary Taylor Simeti (1); drove to the rural wine estate of Regaleali and had our farmhouse  lunch made in front of our eyes at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School (2); we ambled around Palermo’s daily fresh market on a street food tour (3), eating five specialities and finishing at the lively Taverna Azzurea with local wine to sip!  We drove south-central to Agrigento, an ancient Greek city, quite intact, with an acropolis, viaduct, and temples galore. Then we finished our stay at Ortigia, a lovely island reached by a short foot and auto bridge, very close to Syracuse and Mount Etna, where our new best friend, Chef Maurizio Noceo, guided us around his favorite vendors at the fresh market, showed us how ricotta is made and cooked our goodbye dinner at his restaurant Marcelle.  In between, our expert guide/chef, Catherine Katz demo-ed a lunch of tasty but nutritious food and we toured Planeta Vineyards(4).

Whew!  A super-fast food tour.  Now for the beads.  I’ve been buying lava beads throughout my beading career, but never imagined I could find some Mt. Etna lava beads on this trip.  I also found the coral in the earrings there, but Sicilian coral was depleted in the 18th century, so this coral came from somewhere else.

Interestingly enough, Mt. Etna was in an erupting stage while we were there.

The necklace measures 19″ and is $69 for the set.  It weighs 2.7 ounces.

 

PAINTED BLACK PRAYER BEADS OF TIBET

“Holy Mala”

These prayer beads are made by Tibetans.  I visited Tibet twice but it is becoming more difficult to find the true Tibet.

Historically, Tibet covers the Tibetan Plateau, an enormous space bordered by China and the Himalayas, sitting mostly at 16,000′ altitude, except for Mount Everest which at 29,000′ is the highest spot in Tibet and the world.

In 1993, I visited Lhasa with Don and bought many exceptional beads.  I convinced Don to return a few years later:  we spent some days in Tibet and then boarded a jitney to cross the Himalayas for two days to reach Katmandu, Nepal, which is currently home to many Tibetans in exile.  In 1959 the Dalai Lama and many Tibetans fled to Dharamsala, India, and established a government-in-exile.  During the Cultural Revolution, nearly one million Tibetans were killed and 6000 monasteries were destroyed.  In the 70’s, China started relocating ethnic Chinese to Tibet in an effort to further dilute the Tibetan culture.

I admire the Tibetans and was happy to find these beads last year at Bella Beads in New Hampshire.  They are clay beads made by the monks to help support the monastery; an image of Buddha is imprinted on them.  What I like the most is the maroon paint which is the color of Tibetan Buddhist monks’ robes.  The added gold paint symbolizes the sun which has a deep spiritual connotation for Buddhism (and has nothing to do with its Western connotation of wealth).  Buddhism is the religion of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom.

The necklace also contains matte black glass beads from India.  It is 18.5″ long and comes with matching earrings.  $135.  It weighs 5.2 ounces.

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(1) Mary Taylor Simeti moved from New York in 1962 to Palermo and fell in love with the terra and with Tonino Simeti.  She raised two children and cooked her heart out.  Son Francisco lives in San Francisco and designs wallpaper; daughter Natalia manages the family farm and vineyard.  I enjoyed her delightful memoir, “On Persephone’s Island”, while traveling.

(2)  You too can enroll at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school.  Just google it.

(3)  There are specialized guides who usher small groups through the market.  Apparently there is a global ranking for street food; Palermo, Sicily is #5.  I remember sitting on the curb in the financial district of Singapore, eating delectable street food.  I wonder where they are in the rankings?  They hose the street down daily.  Hong Kong had lots of street food lean-tos, but please don’t sit on the gross curb.

(4)  I have to mention the “national” red wine of Sicily since it is very good.  Nero d’Avola.  I found it near me fairly easily.

This is the longest blog I have ever posted…hope you made it this far!  If so, thank you!

Drawer 44: Turquoise

“109th Mala”Week 44/Drawer 44: November 1, 2017: “109th Mala”

I remember buying this large Tibetan piece in the early 2000’s in New York City in a shop well-known for ethnic beads and objets.  The price tag still stuck on the bottom said $150, but my note on the plastic bag said I paid $140…not my best negotiation!  It was sold as an ear ornament from Gujarat.  I accepted it as an ear ornament but when I looked up Gujarat, and learned it is in India, I doubted that was the true provenance.

This was clearly Tibetan. I’ve been there twice and have made necklaces with many pieces of their inlaid silver or brass with turquoise or coral:  I know their style.  So, I conducted a lengthy internet search and, after scrolling many pages on www.indianamulets.com.au, I found it! It was the only such piece out of a couple hundred images!  To improve my negotiating image with my dear readers, allow me to inform you it was priced at $375, hanging on a silver chain.

On the keft, I present you the 109th mala (prayer bead).

 

Buddhists and Hindus pray with 108 beads knotted and strung. One prays by meditating, touching a bead and saying this mantra,

“All is well.

Everything is perfect.

Wisdom and compassion uphold every atom!”

then on to the next bead, until one reaches the 109th bead; called a stupa bead.  A stupa is a Buddhist prayer hall and its steeple is in the exact shape of the centerpiece of this necklace.  The 109th serves a very special purpose:  a pause.  The pause offers silence, a moment to offer gratitude, and a practical way to keep count of their mantras and chants.  Faithful Buddhists don’t just go around the mala once; they can meditate for hours.

I was interested to learn the significance of 108 beads: it is a mathematical (12 Zodiac houses x 9 planets) metaphor for the omnipresent universe which is also our most innate self.  I would need to meditate for a long time to understand that metaphor!

The necklace features turquoise cylinders from Drawer 44 separated by sterling silver beads with a silver clasp. I made a nautilus-style sterling silver loop to attach the mala to the necklace.

The centerpiece Tibetan stupa bead is mixed metals—silver and brass—rising in a pattern to the pinnacle which is modeled after a Lotus flower with six petals inset with turquoise and coral cabochons.  This 109th mala was owned by someone who had the means to commission some very nice design and workmanship.  It is strong, sturdy and magnificent!  It is not heavy since it is hollow.

The necklace measures 25” and the mala is 5” long. Wear your silver earrings with it.  $199.