Tuesday, May 19, 2009
All in An Afternoon's Shopping
Last week, while ex-VP and known-to-shoot Dick Cheney was out and about spreading the word and making the case that "torture saves lives," I was busy jumping over pieces of cardboard and buying a sofa. All my life I've wanted, but never managed to own, a really gorgeous, comfy sofa, stacked with buttery soft cushions. Now I have one, and it all came about because of the "butterfly effect," including the unlikely help of a Tibetan Buddhist healer, Tsampa Ngawang, who was born in 1948 in Chonkhor village near Muktinath, and comes from a long line of lamas and amchis (traditional Tibetan doctors) stretching back to the 7th century.
The butterfly first began flapping its wings when I was visiting my friend Kathy Pinkerton, whose house is filled with unusually comfortable furniture. I had casually mentioned my ongoing lust for a sofa, and she suggested we start by reorganizing all the furniture in my living room. EEK! I thought, frozen by the sheer ambition of it. No way, we can't do that! (I definitely suffer from the limitations imposed by realism.) My living room, as I saw it, was already full-up with stuff, and even though there was one chair I was dying to get rid of, its removal would hardly clear enough space for a bonafide sofa--one that would be perky, soft, and, as I said, replete with buttery cushions. Disclosure: I do already own a sofa of sorts, but it's pretty hard-nosed--a Mennonite day-bed from Mexico that is painted ochre. The distressed look. Beautiful, yes. Comfortable, no.
Hiding my panic, I tentatively asked Kathy what she would change if she could, figuring to put her on the spot. Without missing a beat, she proposed moving the life-sized statue of my Burmese bodhisatva (a young, "seed" buddha-in-training, also painted in ochre) that stands between two windows along the back wall, and suggested putting it instead on the brick platform that extends out from the brick fireplace. That way, by also removing the recliner chair I hate, and shifting the other chair I like to a different spot, a large area would open up for, just possibly, a second sofa.
A few days later my friend Jane Vance arrived at my house with her longtime mentor and friend from Nepal, amchi Tsampa Ngawang, whom we were going to take on a jaunt to Roanoke while he was visiting Blacksburg. Tsampa had brought me a gift from Nepal of seven copper offering bowls, and a copper vase, decorated with dragon arms and bright green stones. I'd put crepe paper flowers in the copper vase--a small bouquet of cobalt violet roses, bought in a gas station convenience store for five dollars, that luckily I thought, at the time, were irresistible when I saw them. I had also placed seven rose-shaped candles in the offering bowls, that exactly matched the cobalt violet of the flowers. It was all drop-dead beautiful, I thought, violet being a perfect foil for the aspiring buddha's flowing, jewel-encrusted, ochre robe. Tsampa and Jane enthusiastically agreed.
When I told them about Kathy's idea to move the sculpture to the fireplace ledge, Tsampa immediately said, "Buddha better up high, look up at him. More like shrine." "Let's do it," said Jane. The two of them lifted the statue from its longtime resting place of eighteen years, and after a few moments of admiring the new position, we left for Roanoke.
After lunch at a Middle Eastern restaurant, of sauteed greens and beer, we wandered into Reid's, an upscale furniture store around the corner. At first look, there wasn't a single sofa there I liked, until the sales lady suggested we take a stroll to the warehouse next door. There, like a star somehow fallen out of the solar system, the perfect sofa sat waiting, hushed and still, in the center of the room. It was a glowing thing of beauty, covered in velvet, with a pattern of aubergine and ochre vine leavest set on a background of sage green. As it turned out, the sofa was able, despite much anxiety-in-waiting, to make it through my double front doors.
But I wasn't the only one who found a treasure that day. We took Tsampa to my favorite antique store with its own printing press, right next to the new Taubman Museum. (We had also planned on going to the museum, but it was Monday, and so it was closed.) Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tsampa at one point fingering a necklace made by a local craft artist. It had one large, sausage-shaped, ruddy bead, framed by a beaten-copper, hand-made, spiral curlicue. The bead was on a leather thong. Tsampa kept running his fingers over the bead, and once he even banged it against his tooth. I imagined he was thinking about buying it as a gift for his wife, who was back in Nepal. The price was not cheap. Tsampa bargained, got twenty dollars knocked off the price, and bought the necklace.
Afterwards we went to a Mexican restaurant and over lime-green margueritas and quesadillas, I learned that Tsampa had bought the necklace for himself. He believed the bead was an authentic dzi bead, which, he explained, in his country, was "worth maybe one thousand dollar." It could significantly lower blood pressure and provide longevity to the wearer. Tsampa looked like the cat that had swallowed the canary as he played with and studied his new necklace--clearly every bit as excited by the dzi bead as I was by my sofa. Later Jane, who seemed to know all about dzi beads, explained that in Tibet's mystery medicine books, dzi beads are described as healing illnesses, particularly blood-related diseases and protecting a person from ill-willed enemies and from their evil curses. Dzi beads have been around for 2000 to 2500 years. The ancient and pure dzi beads of Tibet are extremely precious and rare. Tsampa told us that if he confirmed, once back in Nepal, that the bead was indeed genuine, he would wear it for the rest of his life.
To learn more about the intriguing artistic collaboration between Tsampa and his friend Jane, please check out her website at agiftforthevillage.com. The photo of Tsampa above is by Sherrie Austin.