The Life of the Bead

Dear Diary,

Wonder if all this spiritual angst people go on about is really just a nagging, subterranean feeling of guilt.

According to Christian philosophy, the love of beautiful things like beads and fashionable clothes is just trivial and materialistic. There is a deep, deep-grained antipathy to ‘materialism’ in our Christian-valued society. So much so that I find it hard to shake off.

Life_of_Beads_2015-08-11 16.22.01I found myself feeling happy just because I found and bought the ideal little strand of colourful Murano glass beads, on sale for only $50 AUD. Bright yellow they are, with lively little dots of colour: vivid red, dark blue, light blue and green. Perfect for brightening up a plain white Tee with jeans.  Then I felt I shouldn’t feel happy about such things and immediately felt guilt for being so trivial and materialistic and was unhappy with myself, for not being ‘good’ or ‘high-minded’.

But Homo Sapiens have been making beads for tens of thousands of years.  Archeologists have recently uncovered an extensive and lively trade in beads during Stone Age Europe, concurrent with our earliest art works.

Prehistoric shell bead necklace.

Cro-Magnon necklace, France, 32-22,000 BCE.
(Photo by Didier Descouens, Wikkimedia)

Our long vanished cousins, the Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans even appear to have had a penchant for making personal adornments.

Trade in fashionable items and works of art is a force for good, a peaceful activity that cuts across cultures and cross-pollinates them.  Never underestimate the power of The Bead.

Thus beads have a mystical significance and behind every good piece a woman might own that she likes, there is a story behind it – how she came across them, why she liked them, who might have given them to her.  Memories hang on strings of beads as surely as the beads themselves.

‘But it’s just a bead!’ an invisible voice scolds.  Ah the mystery!  I would love to find my way out of the maze of Christian ‘values’ and work out just why love of material things is so ‘bad’.

It might be that beads breed greed and covetousness.  But there is enough of that around anyway. In fact, if we just relaxed and took pleasure in The Bead, maybe our guilt trip would not go into overdrive and we would not then go and buy a truckload of beads to compensate, but be content with a few.

Image of Coco Chanel (Author Marion Golsteijn, Source Wikkimedia)

Image of Coco Chanel (Author Marion Golsteijn, Source Wikkimedia)

The French seem to have this pleasure in artful adornments in balance with the course and purpose of their lives.  Maybe I should read more of my book ‘How to be a Parisian’ that my sister Cathie gave me.  But I’ve really also got to find a way for myself – out of the soul-deadening tedium and anguish of Christian guilt – learn to enjoy the little things in life in moderation – without guilt.

– Megan

PS: I remember seeing a bracelet in an art exhibition of ancient Egyptian treasures.  I cannot remember much of it but one bead of the bracelet was a large hunk of beautiful, almost transparent and luminous lapis lazuli, with a seal insignia carved on it, that was apparently from the deserts of Persia and already of immense antiquity when it was put in the bracelet, thousands of years ago.

Necklace of colourful Murano glass beadsIt took my breath away to imagine that astonishing length of largely unrecorded time that people went about their daily lives in – trading, working, playing, creating art. Surely no bead that evoked such thoughts and imaginings could ever be completely trivial.


Entry for Edward Gough Whitlam

I should be asleep. I am tired and another early morning shift at work tomorrow. Was going to write more on another blog post but the best laid plans of mice and men are put to one side by the endless entrances of events.


Edward Gough Whitlam has died – at the grand old age of 98. It’s so sad to think that a vital link to my days of youth has gone.


I remember him most of all with the ‘It’s Time’ campaign when he swept into power – glorious and triumphant – with such a wonderful vision for a new Australia shining in the bright blue skies above the eucalypts that Australia always has had.


An inclusive, enthusiastic, vital Australia – where education would be accessible to everyone, no-one need go broke being sick and where everyone could have a healthy, happy life free of hardship and equal opportunity.


And I love the way Whitlam and his old foe Malcolm Fraser became friends and allies in a lot of important causes after the tumult and grief of The Dismissal had died away over the decades.


I remember the power of his mild eyes and steady gaze – this was a statesman for peace and the common good and in this way, far mightier than those disgraceful, tin-foil hatted, saber-rattling little men who formed The Coalition of the Willing in the early days of the new millennium.


In my own life I think the advantages his government gave me was free education – even though I abandoned my university degree in 1981 due to a serious mental illness. But I did manage to complete enough to make getting back to it easier 15 years later when I had a job and a young daughter and husband. Also, the medical care and welfare I received during my illness was enough to stop me from getting into desperate circumstances – and then again my low cost education and training opportunities helped get me into a normal, productive, financially independent working life.


Despite the difficulties that I faced, Australia – thanks to Gough Whitlam – was a first-world country with enough second chances and opportunities to stop me from falling through the cracks. So I survived and prospered in a way that does not need great wealth.


Only a few politicians have The Vision Thing – and Whitlam had a depth and breadth of vision for this country that we had never seen before and have not seen much of since, except in some ways from Paul Keating.


Whitlam did not make it to 100, but then probably did not want to go on much longer without his wife. I remember him looking like a mighty figure bowed with immense dry-eyed woe, but still magnificent in his utter despair. I guess he can rest in peace now with his beloved Margaret.


A new generation of students – my daughter included – revere him and are astounded at his legacy when they study it. So Edward Gough Whitlam will live on – some parts of my youth will never die.

Rouen Cathedral, France, 12 November, 1994

Was lucky enough to get to a Monet exhibition of Rouen Cathedral which was travelling around at Rouen Musee de Beaux Arts –

Rouen is not a large or seemingly terribly imposing cathedral – it has none of the vast Romanesque spell of faery world of endless beauty and play of Chartres – It has been ravaged by the 2nd World War.  Most of the stained glass is modern or donated, or just plain glass.  But walking around the church there is a mistiness and it has a certain grey mysteriousness.

“I care not for the trials of the flesh” says an agonised Joan of Arc in her chapel.  Here I am surrounded by colour in the exhibition.  Monet has captured some of that mistiness and a human pain of an intimate knowledge.  The facades shimmer and seems to be made of light not jewels in any way.

Etude Portal vu du Face

Etude Portal vu du Face

Monet “Etude pour portal vu de face” – scumbling muted greens browns and blues – light chocolately and never muddy – lines of colour sketched with a grave attention to freedom, a graceful (exclusion/exision) of all unnecessary lines & details.  Rouen’s elaborate spires – as in his freehand sketches also shown, shiver, waver but like flames always decisively towards the heavens.



“Effet de Soleil Fin de Jounee” – finish of the afternoon?  The west front is clad in a soft



apricot mantle, clear cobalt blue resting in the hollows of “our Lady’s” form.  In the square the blue shadows deepen at the bottom of the painting.  While the top of the portal blazes with yellow lights which reflects itself – over and above.




“le portail” – fine blue day, Plein Soliel his most famous shimmers – as I had long suspected – although not one soul shadows the sunshine.  Are they all alseep at lunch?  While the sun rides high?  except the clock, tinged with red spot blood colour, ticks on to tell the time.  The effect of the sun pales the cathedral rather than reflects the long yellow rays – which shine at the either side of each day,

“Fin Apres midi”  Apricot & pale blue hues cream & honey “the late after noon” fires embers of yellow sunlight glowing in the portals are dying into ashes – only the door seems to hold a palpitating heart and the clock swathed in blue with a yellow centre – keeps a flowery counsel.

Light Blue-green sky le portail “Brouillard Martinal” sea of blue & green – the fine boned face of the portal is graced with a white light and some yellow/sunlight, tinged with red/orange climbs some of the towers.  Strokes of freely dashed paint like elegant handwriting.  Pale patch of sky.

“Effet du Matin” golden green shadows pale reddish face – blue spires rise coldly awakening faint flushed the sky.  fingers of sunlight barely touching barely transmitting their warmth

“le portail et la tour d’Albane” temps gris captures much of the mistiness of Rouen which

Facade et Tour D'Albane

Facade et Tour D’Albane

rises swirling into the air – surprising the traveller myself, who expected this from a surely more imposing looking building.  Not so – many ghosts throughout time live their spirit life peacefully in Rouen cathedral




“la cour d’Albane Apres-midi” wonderful blue sky.  The houses are awake it the sunlight – all the colours are dark blue, pale mauve, gold, green, hues of red & yellows all dancing in their outlines of blue – Beside the wall of the church a jumble of buildings with light-jewels for casements – a reddish brown passageway burns – Nobody is there.  Also not on a grey day.  16 paintings in all.  Have no more time –

Towers of light, of glowing embers, of muted sculpted grey – sketched in faces – in all kinds of weather & time & the clock strikes on…

Letter from Hue, Vietnam – April 2013

View of city of Hue from hotel

View of Hue from our hotel.

Just around bedtime, last Monday, we were holed up in our beautiful 4star hotel after an exhausting day of exploring the old Forbidden City that lies at the heart of this large provincial town. Having had visions of cycling through wide, peaceful, tree-lined streets, we hired bikes for the day.

Uh uh! Traffic was just as abysmally bad as at Hanoi with millions of motorcycles, and cars, other bicycles, trucks and people all going wherever they chose, luckily though at about 40kph. It took us quite some time to get into something like the right Zen headspace and just relax and let them all flow around you.

Hue used to be the political epicentre of Vietnam, the place of dynastic kings, until Ho Chi Minh rose to power in 1945. Thenceforth government wielded power from Hanoi. And indeed it seems like a place that Time has passed by and in doing so has imbued the place with a rich, fantastic and melancholy beauty.

The walled fortress, citadels and Forbidden City complex is incredibly vast, filled with gardens, canals, artificial lakes with lotuses and fringed with graceful trees, temples, all kinds of buildings such as the rich carmine red and gold interior end throne room, the theatre, the luxurious residence of the Queen Mother and much much more… Anyway we took loads of photos, which you can see when we get back!

The Royal Palace complex with its surrounding fortress walls and citadels lie on the banks of the beautiful, wide, swirling, moss green waters of the Perfume River, above which scores of dragonflies hover in the warm, heavy, humid air.

River with boat before palace

Perfume River, Hue

Above the citadel at the entrance an enormous Vietnamese flag of the yellow star in red background waves. The banks of the river on our side are flanked with beautiful public gardens with trees and modern and ancient sculptures and many fine French colonial style buildings.

2013-04-14 16.35.04

There were always secret little archways leading into gardens,

Archway in Forbidden City, Hue

Archway in Forbidden City, Hue

Courtyard with archway.

One of the many little courtyards in the Forbidden City.

stone dragons winding their ways down staircases, roofs and sitting at the bases of steps

Staircase with stone dragons

Dragon stairs, Forbidden City, Hue

Stone dragon on a wall

A rampant dragon perched atop a wall.

and more buildings, to house all the eunuchs, concubines, royal family, mandarins and other officials.

Palace pavilion with artificial ponds

Dowager Queens pleasure pavilion, Forbidden City, Hue

Altar of worship.

Dowager Queen’s altar of worship.

It suggests an atmosphere heavy with suppressed intrigues and whisperings but also a sense of being a beautiful placid world far removed from the real world of working people outside whose taxes paid for it.

Residences with gardens in Forbidden City, Hue

Residential quarters in Forbidden City, Hue

Ceramic flower shaped tile in wall.

Ceramic tile in wall doing double duty as a peep-hole?

Artificial lakes with waterlilies

Artificial lakes with waterlilies.

Much of it was in ruins and dereliction,

Ruins of stone wall with trees

Bombed wall at Forbidden City, Hue.

especially since the bloody Americans (and sadly I guess we also) bombed the place. However the Vietnamese are busily restoring it with the help of German government funding and have already done some beautiful work, such as the red and gold lacquering on the wooden pillars, walls and casements of a long hall.

Restored open doors of a hallway in the Forbidden City

Part of a restored hallway in the Forbidden City

And I think the Vietnamese have the last laugh, since near the exit was this fenced compound where all these military tanks that stormed the fall of Saigon in 1975 along with a number of captured US bomber planes were proudly displayed for the benefit of the public. So hah!

US Military helicopter

An impounded US military helicopter

Love, Megan, John and Veronique