Sunday, July 13, 2008

FIELD NOTES: I blow my budget in the first row but...

Sunday morning in July at Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market

at the end of my tour, I confirm that if I had to choose two things, it would be the two things that I am actually walking out with – a Tibetan bracelet and a recycled caterpillar garden ornament. I found the bracelet sitting on top of a heap of delicious looking blue and green jade necklaces in a wooden box. I have a small wrist that is difficult fit to because anything of quality clunks around annoyingly like a free weight. I look for serpentine designs that can coil and cling at any portion of my arm and this one is slim like silver wishbones jointed by black faceted beads with gold flower bead caps, finished at either end with soft silver tassels of fine chain link that gently brush my skin. I should have bargained – that’s expected at the flea market – but I made the fatal error of being an enamored buyer. “Fifteen,” he said, “and the necklaces are ten apiece.” I could have looked skeptical, it was still young in the day, but I fell into enchantment. As soon as I pulled out the twenty from my pants pocket, I knew I should have asked the dealer to throw in a necklace, too. In a short distance, I found myself enamored again and chatting with a welder with five daughters. He uses re-bars and tool parts and grates and – well, NOT junk, he emphasized, but recycled material – to craft tables and benches and shelves and decorations. He quips that when he was a young man, he wished to always be surrounded by beautiful women, so be careful what you wish for! “Oh, yes,” I concur, “you have to be very specific!” He also relates the story of how one daughter asked when she could start working with him and he replied ‘right now!” as he handed her the broom. I couldn’t resist a souvenir. The caterpillar is made from two metal rake heads, a broken bed knob and two bent screws from the furnace in which he burns scrap to heat his home. His thirteen year-old daughter welded it with him, curving its tines into a body and then painting it green and yellow. “Well, thanks for hanging around!” he says as I leave with the caterpillar, picturing it in my garden as proof of the power of girls and wishing I knew how to weld! Another row is like another country. I wonder about the display of over-sized brushes and the dealer materializes to explain that they are calligraphy brushes from China. “So large?” I say. “Why, yes, they are used on walls and banners. And the crowds will make a clearing in the square where political messages are written with water.” I ask what they are made of and find out the brush is horse hair and the handles are carved from wood or stone. They feel absolutely beautiful in my hand, a fine addition to my studio, but they are seventy-five dollars. My youngest son’s tuition bill and the home heating oil bill in the same day’s mail give me pause. In light of the Beijing Olympic Games beginning in a few weeks, I look up at the dealer and comment that here I am in America, holding a Chinese calligraphy brush in my hand with a Tibetan bracelet wrapped around my wrist. He nods with uplifted eybrows, a chance moment of mutual clarity found at a flea market.

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