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#180 :: Cloisonne’d Iron Balls

August 7, 2004

dosage visit web ‘popup’, this web illness ‘width=500, visit web height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>Cast of aluminum, hinged and stamped with cryptic markings, this once turned out chocolate peaches the size of baseballs. You can buy antique candy molds of all shapes and sizes on eBay – but few that can be misappropriated for the manufacture of chocolate body parts. This unique mold is a gift from my mother to my brother in law. He will use it to make a chocolate butt. Possibly several of them. No doubt they will be tasty and amusing. This is what passes for humor in my family, which may or may not explain a few things. This thing is, nonetheless, cold to the touch, but warms quickly in the hands. And it is deliciously heavy.
cure ‘popup’, order ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>Nothing makes my stomach churn like the anatomy of thermoplastic dolls. Their hair grows in numbered clumps, through symmetrically drilled holes in their plasticene skulls. Paint-irised eyes fringed with nylon fuzz tilt back on tiny weights – very sanpaku – and only little stop-pins keep you from seeing them roll all the way around to expose the unholy backs of their eyeballs. Hands extend in gestural rigors meant to invite play, frozen in spastic mudras that instead signal dread and mute panic. Hips and shoulder joints pop out of sockets at any 5-year-olds sadistic wrench, leaving that frightening hollow torso that gives you one of two possible reactions: Joking – (What do you call a quadriplegic in a bathtub? Bob) or numb horror: (My God. What if I look like that inside? What if my arms could pop off that easily?) Can’t sleep: Dolls will eat me.
order ‘popup’,’width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>One heavy little object will never appear on this site, for it is likely dead. When I was about nine, an artist friend of my parents came to visit, bringing with him trinkets from his rakish hippie life in Cartagena. Among them was a jeweled bug. Not a cloisonné insect, nor a 14-karat bug brooch with diamonds, pav&eaccute;, but a living beetle onto which some Colombian peasant had epoxied a glittering mosaic of green and yellow paste jewels and an eyelet. Attached to the eyelet was a leash of fine, gold chain. The artist clipped the leash’s other end to my mother’s lapel, and the living jewel wandered all over her collar for half an hour. Occasionally it crapped. Never did it look anything less than stunning and heartbreaking. All I could think – then and now – was, How dare they? It probably had a fine life in the rain forest, blissfully unaware of the date and time of its certain doom in a bird’s beak or a marsupial’s paws. Instead, it now had to survive on scraps of grass and live out its last days within inches of leering, burbling human faces, being dragged incessantly across an ever-changing carpet of rayon, worsted and silk by thick, careless fingers. The vanity of man demands shamelessly shiny things. Some are legendary. Others are gaudy constructions of dozens of cheap ornaments. This plastic tiara came into the house as a gift, and amply stoked the fires beneath my daughter’s burgeoning princess fetish. That’s probably a 50-carat heart-cut “ruby” at the center, there, but the tiara’s true worth – as talisman and art object – cannot be measured.
here ‘popup’, generic ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>I chose this today not for its purpose but for its look. It’s not so elegant an instrument as even this – its reeds are … reedy … and its tone not quite on pitch. But its case (?) reminds me of every little lithographed, bent-tin toy I’ve ever held, from frog clickers and party ratchets to Crazy Trains and vintage Japanese robots glimpsed through locked glass. Hard, cartoonish strokes of black limn the little animal race. The bear’s popping plewds. But I think the giraffe will win.
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Pictures of their exteriors abound. Actual clues to the mysterious musical mechanism inside them cannot be Googled effectively. The closest I’ve come is this:

Baoding Chi Balls – These chrome-plate steel balls, better known as Chinese therapy balls, originated in the Chinese city of Baoding during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). According to traditional Chinese beliefs, the vital organs of the human body are all connected to the fingers. By manipulating these iron balls, it stimulates the circulation of blood and energy throughout the body. Take the challenge of spinning these iron orbs without dropping them. Hollowed balls are outfitted with sounding plates to produce a jingle as they are rotated. Set of two in an embroidered case. 4.9″ length X 2.75″ width X 2.5″ height. Assorted color cases; please allow us to select for you. Imported from China. Usually ships in 1 to 2 business days.

The dragon and phoenix chase each other ’round and tinkling ’round, locked in struggle until your hands get tired. You can believe this about them, or this, or this combined with this. What fascinates me more is the method employed at the cloisonne shop we visited in Beijing on our honeymoon: they weld copper wire, of a certain thickness, to the cmpleted steel mystery sphere, bake in a thick coat of colors – delineated by the wire, and then smoothed to within an inch of its life. The surface of the still-rough ball is sanded smooth so the enamel and etra metal are one glossy planetary surface, and buffed to a crude, high shine like a Roman senator’s floor mosaic.

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