mad in pursuit notebook



Why bead lust?

zuzu and zimI'm stuck on Chapter 1 of the new memoir. One of the things that put a glint in our eyes about going to Central Asia was the Sunday market in Kashgar, China -- "the largest outdoor bazaar in Asia."

We had a fantasy that it would be filled with all kinds of beads, little antiquities and family heirlooms coming out of the newly independent Soviet republics. But of course all we saw was livestock and newly manufactured clothes and kitchenware. We had a good laugh on ourselves.

But why did our fantasy excite us so? Why were we inspired to go to the ends of the earth for beads and amulets and ethnic figurines? And yet we can hardly stand walking through a modern shopping mall?

Do the goods we covet define us? Are we no better than the teenager who throws a fit because she can't get the smartest cell phone or the coolest shoes? Do we each just have a way of expressing our personal crassness, our ungodly attachment to material possessions?

Would I be kidding myself to say that collecting little ethnic treasures has kind of a socio-historico-religio-spiritual dimension?

Take beads. I love the fact that people have traded beads for thousands of years. You can find Mediterranean coral and Baltic amber beads in Tibet. And Venetian glass beads can be found all over Africa... Kind of a trail of cross-cultural communication across the planet. Congenial exchanges of good will and common interests. Jets and container ships were unnecessary. People just stuffed their pockets with trinkets and joined the caravan and exchanged their domestic trinkets for exotic trinkets.

There is a little magic in collecting a few of those trinkets and curios from those ancient routes. They simmer with all the finger prints of everyone who has handled them, over decades or centuries. Not to mention the spark of the craftsmen and craftswomen who made them.

I wish I could say this better.


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