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 50: Wood

“Blurry Shadows”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 50/Drawer 50: December 13, 2017: “Blurry Shadows”

 

I am so close to the end that it is scary. Only two drawers left after this one.

My Apothecary Chest has seven rows of seven drawers, each 16” deep. Across the bottom, there are only three drawers:  I call them my “double-wides.”  And, I guess, because they are odd-sized, I used them for odd beads which didn’t have a home in one of the other 49 drawers.  So these last three are free-form!

The first is wood. I found enough to fill one-third of a drawer. Not the sophisticated wood of Drawer 4; but playful wood, reminiscent of the large shapes that were strung into necklaces for us as kids—at least in my house where we were five girls, only eight years from me to my baby sister, and a play producer Mother—dress-up and staging plays in the cellar was what we did if there was no sun shining outside.

I glossed over the playful beads as I tumbled them onto my work surface because I immediately saw a contemporary (dare I say sophisticated?) design in black and beige. It is pictured above; I shall let you judge.

The necklace is symmetrical, chunky, and very light. A pleasing yet somewhat bold design.  But I didn’t restrain myself with the earrings:  asymmetrical; one beige, one black, neither matching.  I got cold feet the next day and made a conservative pair of earrings.  Both come with the necklace.  Wearer’s choice.

The necklace measures 21.5” and is $59 including two pair of earrings.

I’ve been asked. Yes, Virginia, there will be a next year.  I’ll take a break from weekly challenges and make it monthly in 2018, with little bits popping up in between on some Wednesdays.  More info soon.  It’s premature, but THANKS, I couldn’t have done this without your feedback and that ultimate compliment of a purchase.

Drawer 39: Vintage Lucite

“Poetry and Prose”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment.   Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 39/Drawer 39: September 27, 2017: “Poetry and Prose ”

I’ve always loved buying vintage plastic—oops, Lucite—beads. In fact, most of my Lucite are from the same vendor who had a distinctive grey price tag.  Her story was she found a cache of them in a warehouse…  Who knows?  They have great colors and are easy to use.

Lucite was developed by DuPont in 1937 as a clear acrylic plastic and was widely used by the military: it was very hard and could be easily shaped.  One use was for the nose of bomber planes!  DuPont was smart enough to license this new material, and costume jewelry designers jumped on it.  Remember the name Trifari?  They were the first costume jewelry manufacturer to incorporate Lucite into their designs.  Another company of that era, Coro, followed suit.

By the 1950’s, Lucite was used for purses, stiletto heels, and jewelers loved putting rhinestones in and on their Lucite jewelry. In the ”mod” 60’s, it was big as black and white Op Art styles.  It faded and returned as neon jewelry in the 80’s.

This necklace uses up my supply of Lucite discs in black and a cerise red. There are additional red beads leading up to the Bakelite clasp.

Bakelite was another famous brand of plastic invented by Leo Baekeland in 1909. It too was used in the Thirties and Forties by jewelry artists.  It came in rods of all sizes and in great colors.  Artists appreciated that it could be carved and polished, thereby allowing them to put their marks on it, whereas Lucite designs were made in molds.  I appreciate that the clasp has more artistic expression than the beads do.

This lightweight and unbreakable necklace is 19” long and is $69.

I have a Bakelite story from our six years at a Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, weekend house. I’ll preface it by saying I do believe all 3800 citizens of this adorable hamlet pride themselves on eccentricity in themselves, their homes and their dogs.  It was a wonderful place to live!!!

Since there is no mail delivery, a daily trip to the Post Office is necessary. We always stood in the line of the Bakelite clerk:  a friendly gal with a mane of dark hair and an armful of colorful Bakelite bangles.  I too loved those bangles and had five of them, but I was developing arthritis in my thumbs and they were becoming difficult to put on. One day I asked her if she wanted to buy them and she eagerly nodded yes.  So I sold them to her for $100 in 1998.  Today one Bakelite bangle is $155 on eBay!

 

MURANO ISLAND RISING IN MY STUDIO

"Social Success"

Titled, “Social Success”, this creation joins Murano glass beads with six 1960’s vintage Lucite beads. The clasp is dyed and carved from sustainable water buffalo horn with a toggle I made from sterling silver wire. The necklace is 20″ and is accompanied by Murano glass asymmetrical earrings of one square silver foil glass bead and one twisted bead tied together with black seed beads. The larger bead, a tad over 1″, hangs 2″ from the ear piercing. The square bead earring is 1.75″ long.
The set is priced at $148 including shipping costs.

I took a baby step this summer and designed a very small Murano pendant (see previous posting) from my new acquisitions. Now taking another step with this lively necklace in lime and clear/silver foil-lined glass beads from Murano. This winter: some real adult steps working with the big boisterous boys; stay tuned!

I usually start designing in my imagination as I am buying beads and this purchase was no different, except for one big thing: they were going to be two separate necklaces. But the beads bonded in my suitcase during the rest of my Italian journey and emerged as one necklace with black seed beads to make the lime and clear colors pop.

The necklace was a bit short so I searched for appropriate companions to join the Murano glass and found just six of these 1960’s vintage Lucite (fancy for plastic). Serendipity! Ditto for the clasp: dyed horn carved from sustainable water buffalo horns and a toggle I made from sterling silver wire. The necklace is 20″ and is accompanied by asymmetrical earrings in silver foil glass beads, also from Murano. Asymmetrical, in this case, means I had one square bead and one twisted bead tied together with black seed beads. The larger bead is a tad over 1″ and the earring hangs 2″ from the ear-piercing. The square bead earring is 1.75″ in length.

The set is priced at $148 and includes mailing and shipping costs. I have titled this creation “Social Success”.