Monday, February 13, 2006

Beetle brooch

My mother had just joined me and my father on the crowded grandstand, a series of concrete steps that stretched up into the blazing sunshine. She’d finished jumping about twenty minutes before and was still slightly flushed from the sun and exertion. I was sitting on the step behind her, leaning forwards so that I could get my arms around her neck. It was slightly damp with sweat. I could smell traces of her perfume mixed with the rich smell of horse. She was telling us how disappointed she’d been with her round and that she hoped she’d fare better in the later event.

We noticed some people waving to us from the bottom of the steps and she called them over.

They climbed the steps and stopped at a level where their faces were level with ours. I’d met the Portuguese couple before. He was a keen rider and sometimes rode with my mother. His wife, very petite and fashionably dressed, was not the sort of person you’d imagine riding horses. She didn’t. The other couple were strangers. Most people there were Portuguese but there were always a lot of South African riders and visitors around when the Centro Hipico was having an ‘international’ show jumping event. These people didn’t look Portuguese nor did they look South African. Once they opened their mouths, I realised they were American.

How exotic!

I’d never met an American before. Well, not a real one. Mr Lehmann from next door was American but he was hardly ever there. And, anyway, the Lehmanns weren’t rich. He definitely didn’t count as a real one.

These people looked rich.

He was tall and slim and wore a pale safari suit. Lots of men wore them in those days. Not that many wore white hats and big black sunglasses like this man did. She was also tall and slim and wore a yellow blouse tucked into tight dark trousers. Her hair was pulled back by a scarf and she was wearing the most amazing cats-eye sunglasses that sparkled in the blazing sun. Diamonds, I thought! I was disappointed later when I found out that the shining bits were bits of glass. Rhinestones to be correct.

They were introduced to us and the grown-ups got chatting while I got staring. They were fascinating, especially the woman who looked just like a movie star. She was probably quite a lot older than my mother but she was so much more glamorous and looked absolutely beautiful. I wished that I could see her eyes behind her glasses. While she talked, she kept smiling at me, aware, I’m sure, of the way I was looking at her. I tried not to stare but couldn’t help it.

scarab broochEach time I looked at her, I drank in more of her exotic glamour. This was better than the movies, it was like being in the movies! She wasn’t wearing as much jewellery as I’d have expected on a rich ‘movie star’. In that regard, she was slightly disappointing as I’d have loved it had she dripped with jewels like Richie Rich's mother. All she wore were two yellow bangles on one arm, a few rings and her brooch, a dark golden beetle with big green jewels on its back. It was beautiful and almost made up for the lack of jewellery.

My eyes had taken her in several times by the time I noticed her brooch move, some five minutes after they’d joined us. At first I thought it was just my imagination or that it had moved as she moved while talking. I watched it very closely.

It was definitely moving on its own!

I started whispering into my mother’s ear, loudly and insistently, ‘Mom, mom, mom.’

My mother hated being interrupted if she was talking to someone. She tried to ignore me at first then, irritated, she tried to shush me. I carried on.

‘Mom, look at her brooch,’ I whispered loudly, ‘it’s moving!’

By the time she’d heard what I said, the American woman knew that I was fascinated by her brooch.

‘It’s alive, sweetie, that’s why it’s moving,’ she said.

‘Alive?’ both my mother and I said, almost in unison.

‘Yes, it’s a real beetle. See, its attached to my blouse with this little chain. When I’m not wearing her, I put her in her cage.’

In the Victorian era, there was a fascination with the natural world that manifested itself in some very weird fashions such as wearing stuffed humming birds as earings and real, live insects as brooches.


Anonymous patita said...

whoa... now that's an odd fashion. I'd not heard of that before, and I can imagine being entirely beside oneself if a bit of jewelry moved. Hope that at least some of the Americans you met later in life were charming and exotic too!

5:29 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

It was VERY odd! Many of the Americans I met later in life were very charming and exotic, of course, without having strange jewellery! :-)

6:05 pm  
Blogger Caroline said...

How weird... I wonder how long it stayed alive for...

We are currently "growing" beetles in our compost heap.... beautiful green irridescent ones if Jim got the id of their larvae right... but then that is probably a normal place to keep beetles... whether you know they are there or not!

Oh word veri really thinks that woman was criminal - jailm!

7:07 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Some beetles live to be relatively old, I think. But, perhaps she had a ready supply of them to replace the dead ones?

Very appropriate word veri!! Yours, that is. Mine says 'pjclke': pickled beetle?

10:08 pm  
Anonymous xmichra said...

very cool... that sounds like somethign I would wear. That's right, i would wear a bug but not a dead dude. You can try to figure that one out if you like.. .hehe.

I actually gave my youngest brother a scarrab necklace for x-mas. He loved it, though it was dead and in an amber setting!!

1:41 am  
Blogger Rob7534 said...

I first saw a beetle broch when I was in Mexico about 10 years ago. It was in a fine jewelry store in one of the shops in the city of Merida, Yucatan.

The beetles are highly decorated with pieces of jade, gold, diamonds, silver etc... and they move so slowly that no one can really tell they are alive until they move a bit. They have a small chain that you attack to the lapel.

I was freaked out by it, cause I don't like bugs, but at the same time, they are quite stunning to look at. They came with a little box you can store them in, you have to feed them so they won't die on you.

You should buy one Nomad!

6:19 am  
Blogger Rob7534 said...

Now that I think about it, I remember the beetles being mostly adorned w/costume jewelry pieces. Mostly fake, but lovely to look at.

6:22 am  
Blogger ChittyChittyBangBang! said...

Poor beetle! :)
We used to collect beetles when was a child and we would keep them in match boxes. Thinking back it seems a cruel thing to do.
One of my pet hates is a brown beetle we get in JHB around November/December. They are nocturnal and tend to invade your house.

6:35 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

We all seem to agree on one thing - these beetle brooches could be very beautiful but we see a bit more ambivalent on whether it's a good or bad thing using a live beetle as adornment.

I found/find the idea bizarrely fascinating even though I'd feel sorry for the beetle.

chitty: I think you're referring to rose beetles. There are tons of them in Cape Town at that time of the year and during most of summer. About the size of a thumb nail, brown, harmless (apart from chowing plants) but very irritating by the way the enter open windows and buzz around the room. They're particularly irritating when the scrabble round the room once you put the light out.

8:00 am  
Blogger rhino75 said...

Ewwwww, tho' this is a great story. But like Rob, I'm NOT a bug fan (I screamed my way round Costa Rica, lemme tell ya) so it grosses me out a bit...

9:45 am  
Blogger andrea said...

I have a movie deal waiting freshly inked and waiting for you to sign. Who would you like to play you?

9:00 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

A movie deal???? Is it going to be drama, tragedy, comedy, thriller or what?

Let's think about who to play me. If it were simply choosing a sexy man, it would be Edward Norton or Hugh Jackman. But they don't resemble me at all. Ok, how about Jude Law?

9:06 pm  
Blogger andrea said...

Nice try, Nomad. I'm not saying you aren't stunning -- it's just that these guys are all a little old to play you, ogling live jewellery at your Mummy's elbow. But maybe that's why they call it 'acting'.

4:24 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Oh, so it's short a short film about that episode and not a history about my whole life? Bugger!

As regards finding a suitable actor for that role - far too difficult as I don't know the names of any child actors and the one's in Harry Potter are all aging now.

8:39 am  
Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...




Was she serious? Telling the truth? But then there's Rob7534 saying...

I saw a keyring box from India, when you open it, a bee buzzes and shakes its wings...but that was not a real bee.

I love the little boy, staring. The way children stare, so sweet. What a delish post.

12:52 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

She was serious and it was definitely true. We had a very good look at it once we knew it was alive.

As bizarre and odd as it was for those times, I suspect people would be very careful of going out dressed with such a brooch these days for fear of being insulted/attacked by someone concerned about the beetle's well-being.

1:44 pm  
Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...

Yes, it seems that, to make a point these days, one has to attack. That makes me angry, but as I'm not violent I will simmer quietly.

12:18 pm  
Blogger x vInTaGe VioLeT x said...

wow what an incredibly interesting post! i loved that and you know i really can imagine that scene in a movie!

10:29 pm  

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