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Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

Saturday 1 September

Orvietto has been wonderful. But we must keep moving.

The Abbizia di San Biagio is in the countryside just outside the walls of Montepulcian. Outside it has a simple stone exterior with a terrace above the area where the altar will be inside. It is one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches I have seen. It is highly decorated  around the altar, but well proportioned. There is a large dome above the area in front of the altar. The Dome is of simple construction, using bricks with windows surrounding the top to let lots of light in. There is a barrel arch over the altar, covered in bright colourful elaborate frescoes. The altar is tall and made of a creamy white stone (this stone is used inside and out, but has yellowed outside.) There are Statues either side of altar, and an elegant organ on one side, toward the front.

We park outside the bottom gate of Montepulciano. The  Porta pronto is low and simple, but deep. I  walk/wheel up the hill past tasteful shops, selling leather, clothing, and produce of the area, including wine (enoteca) . We stop at Sant’Agostina. It’s style of decor is quietly Rococo, with white plaster and light green stucco shapes on ceilings. The walls are also plastered white. It is very light and airy. The altar is tall with gold trim. A wedding is taking place. (I wonder if locals get so used to tourists that they no longer see us in out thousands). A very young couple is seated in front of the priest and in front of the altar. There are a few people in the pews behind. The small ceremony is dwarfed by the very large church.

It’s a long steep climb up the main street but we finally arrive in the town square. The facade of the  Duomo is rustic. It is made of an orange/creamy brick and has lines of protruding brick. Its simplicity is beautiful. However, the interior of the duomo is a real mish mash of styles and shows how a seventeenth century renovation can just about destroy the simple beauty of twelfth century romanesque. Some art remains from the original church … The Assumption, and a marble relief, both of which are very beautiful.
The Town hall is in the style of the Florentine della signoria, but smaller. I want to climb to its terrace to see the views. We take a lift to the second floor, walking through a room containing the town records! There are two steps up to terrace, and then … Brilliant views! 

Peter decides to visit an enoteca that is also the Cantucci producer. He tastes and buys some local reds, vino nobile. Then we’re off back  down the hill. We take a wrong turn to the Fortezza, which is now a weird art gallery, then roll on down the hill, out to the car park, and on to the next town.

Montalcino is all about the wine. We drive straight to the top and park near the Fortezza where there is only one enoteca but it offers sampling of all locally produced wines. Peter tries seven, buys twelve. There are quite a few people managing the wine tasting and as soon as one realises that Peter only speaks English, he quickly organises someone to help him exclusively. Peter has a ball talking wines with the guy, as well as cars. He is there nearly an hour talking wines. I look at the wines displayed in glass cupboards. In one cupboard no bottle is less than 800 euro, one is 2500 euro and another 1200 euro! In another cabinet the wines range from 200 euro to 600 euro. They are all Brunello wines, wines special to Montalcino. Peter is tasting and buying Brunello wines …

I have read that Abbizza sant’Antimo is worth visiting. It’s near Montalcino, set in the middle of fields. It was Built in the twelfth century, and restored in the sixteenth, but without changing any of the original features. It is made of simple stone blocks, with some nice friezes. The column capitals are decorated, and one has a particularly detailed carving of Daniel in the lion’s den. The church has a very high vault with wooden beams below a brick ceiling. There are Radiating side chapels, with simple marble altars. Like the church we had seen in the morning, there is a Chapel  below the altar. It has a low arched ceiling, and is also linked to the main altar, this time by a cleanly cut rectangular shaft leading to a grate in front of the altar. The face of the shaft would be about 40cm x 40cm. I don’t know the purpose of these shafts but they clearly link the chapels with the main altars. Mass would undoubtedly have been said in these chapels …

On the recommendation of the enoteca we continue to drive through local wine country and stop at a thermal town, bagno vignoni. It has the Roman remains of thermal baths which were built on top of in the fifteenth century to build a mill, then again in the seventeenth to build thermal baths. Little remains except channels of warm water into which people dangle their feet.

On to Siena!

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I read an article called “Sylvia’s Story” in the Sunday Star Times April 17, 2011. It was about the thousands of women, war brides, who sailed to New Zealand after World War two to join their husbands who were New Zealand servicemen. It got me thinking that something extraordinary happened in New Zealand in the decades following World War Two. In Europe people were coping with rebuilding cities and lives, coping with the results of atrocities and dealing with trauma on a scale that had never been seen before. But in New Zealand, far away from deprivation and destruction, connected only by servicemen who would not talk about their experiences, news sources that were sketchy, and immigrants who were regarded with suspicion and wariness, life went on much as it had always done. New Zealand at that time was generally isolated and insular and New Zealanders took pride in their self-sufficiency. The number 8 fencing wire mentality was still essential to survival, and women were strong, independent, able and continued the pioneering successes of previous generations of (European) women.

Into this world came not only the European refugees, but also thousands of women, mostly English, who married New Zealand servicemen they had fallen in love thousands of miles away. If they were anything like my mother, they had been spun a story of a land of milk and honey, a paradise where anything was possible. Instead they arrived in a country so primitive and unsophisticated that many, like my mother and Sylvia must have wanted desperately to go home. I don’t believe that my mother ever forgave my father for uplifting her from the vibrant (if damaged) city of London, to the tiny family cottage in Mangaweka where the toilet was an outhouse, then to Wellington where she found, not a city, but a backwater where facilities were primitive and there was not even theatre for distraction.

Like Sylvia, my mother and father were forced to live with family for the first part of their married lives. This angered Sylvia who wanted a state house.  Sylvia’s husband was an airforce officer and from an affluent family. After the war he returned to the company he had previously worked for and was trained for promotion. My father was an army private and his family was large and poor. When he left New Zealand, despite having left school at thirteen, he had achieved a cadetship with the Railways as a draughtsman. When he returned, injured in 1941 in Egypt, he was told he was too old for the cadetship and so worked variously as a labourer building the Tawa line, and as a porter, but never again had an opportunity like the cadetship.

Living with family was the least of my mother’s problems; she never complained to me about it anyway, but recalled with humour incidents like, when living with my dad’s aunt, taking all day  to light the fire under the “copper” to do the washing.

Sylvia, like most war brides, arrived in New Zealand in 1946 on a “bride ship” carrying hundreds of brides, fares paid for  by the New Zealand Government. Sylvia, married to an officer, had superior accommodation. My mother married in New Zealand and arrived in 1943 in a converted freight ship carrying mostly servicemen returning home. Fortunately, my naive mother shared a cabin with a much older, worldly woman who protected her from these predators. One evening they discovered a line of servicemen spaced out along the corridors to provide an early warning system for a serviceman who intended to try his luck. The older woman, knowing they’d be back, barricaded the cabin door.

My mother’s fare was subsidised by the government but was paid in the main by my father who had proposed by letter from his hospital bed in Egypt. She, like Sylvia needed clothing coupons for her wedding dress. Sylvia’s husband, as an officer received plenty of clothing coupons enough for a dress. My mother and her friends and workmates all saved and pitched with coupons for fabric, and she made her dress herself. It was plain but all she could afford. When she arrived in New Zealand, her aunt-in-law saw the dress and immediately offered her own lacy, pretty one instead. Feeling pressured, my mother wore the borrowed dress. Though pretty, it was at least four inches too short, my great aunt being much, much shorter. My mother always hated her wedding photo, and I believe that she thought she had betrayed the generosity of her friends and workmates.

Sylvia, like my mother was terribly homesick, but was able to return to England with her husband for a few years in the early fifties. My parents could not financially afford to visit England. My mother finally visited when she was in her eighties, with my sister and after my father had died. I sometimes wonder if my father was frightened that if my mother returned she might not come back to New Zealand. I suspect that my grandmother and others may have suggested she return to England.

It is the experiences of these war brides, their struggle to come to grips with their adopted home, that led to something extraordinary happening in New Zealand at that time. My mother felt ostracised by New Zealand women who could put their hand to anything but were probably intimidated by her dress and her “posh” accent. Though poor, my mother always found a way to dress with style, a strategy that helped her maintain her self-esteem. I wonder how many other war brides also felt isolated and abandoned. My mother found herself living in a community dominated by people of Irish descent and she felt threatened by the hatred she perceived the Irish have for the English. As a result of  loneliness, dependence on my father and a sense of obligation toward him, my mother became determined that we would have a better life than she did.

She would do everything possible to ensure her children, including her daughters, were educated and independent. She expected that we would do well at school, she expected that we would finish secondary school, and she expected that we would have a tertiary education. There is nothing more powerful than a parent’s expectations to ensure a child succeeds at school.

The one thing that New Zealand offered these war brides (and refugees) was opportunity for their children. They came from countries where class, wealth and gender determined education and opportunity. The women may have felt isolated and ostracised, but their children were, are, New Zealanders assimilated and part of New Zealand culture. These women saw for their children no class structure, equal education available for all, and limitless career opportunities regardless of gender (fodder for debate, but this has been my personal experience). Their sacrifices would benefit their children.

In this way, I believe that these women, these war brides, contributed to  extraordinary changes in New Zealand over the following decades. Women of my age (50s) and older have careers as doctors, lawyers, judges, businesswomen, university professors, politicians … and families. By the 1980s I was a marketing manager and mother. My daughter takes for granted that she may become a senior manager in the organisation she works for, and issues of gender just aren’t on her radar. My sons assume women have the same rights and opportunities they do.

New Zealand already had a history of women’s rights; the war brides, my mother anyway, saw this and made sure a door to opportunity opened wide for their children.

English war bride married in Mangaweka, NZ, 1943

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I have finally found a door into a world of social commentary through art.

Most modern and contemporary art leaves me feeling somewhat puzzled, wondering what point the artist was making, if any. I “get” that renaissance art as a visualisation of nature, religion and history; I “get” that Impressionism is a record of what the artist saw, with lots of play on light. What I haven’t been “getting” are any messages for me in modern or contemporary art. That is, until I found “Sex Change In Vitruvian Man” and discovered Australian artist Susan White!

Sex Change Vitruvian Man by Susan White

Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man is based on the Roman architect Vitruvius’ description of the human body as providing the ideal proportions for building a temple. The drawing combines art, science and geometry, as well as demonstrating da Vinci’s interest in proportion. It is one of my favourite pieces of art, yet there has always been a part of me that didn’t quite connect with it.

The original Vitruvian man

Then I found Susan White’s “Sex change in Vitruvian Man”. Not only did I relate to it as a woman, but I could enjoy the subversive messages. Much of Susan White’s works are commentaries on social issues such as human rights, the status of women, and the environment, but she also draws on her own personal experiences. The humour and irony in her work often lies in the detail, and that’s something that gives me real joy. This is why another favourite of mine is “The First Supper”.

 

The First Supper

She painted it for the Australian bicentennial celebrations (did I mention she is Australian?), and showed it in a religious exhibition. It was apparently quite controversial in Australia. The central character of Jesus is replaced by an Australian Aboriginal woman. Check out the detail then read a transcript of a radio interview with the artist at:
http://www.susandwhite.com.au/reviews.html

Another favourite of mine is “The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times” and its twin “The Seven Deadly Isms”

Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times by Susan White

Some of her work is whimsical, and I would love to be able to touch some of her sculptures, like “Stretching The Imagination”. Is that Albert Einstein’s face?  He said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge” …

Susan White says that she is inspired by anything that she feels passionately about – human rights, the environment, family, art and music. She also draws on her own personal experiences, from the naturalness of menopause to the personal trauma of having a brain tumour removed. I concede that probably I “get” her art because we share many cultural experiences –  middle aged women of european heritage with similar interests, a love of family, and sense of social justice. I am delighted that I can enjoy her art, her social commentary, her irony and her humour.

I’ve bookmarked her web site so that I can look at something beautiful, clever and witty, or be inspired by her social values whenever I want or need – its quality may be reduced on the internet, but it is accessible social commentary and art …

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Strange how when you take a look at an issue it suddenly seems to pop up elsewhere.  Just a few days after I wrote “Labels are for jars not people” I read that architect Russel Walden has described me and my neighbours as “middle- class conformist rednecks” (Oh, Futuna Your Weekend March 12 2011) because we live in Futuna Close.  So Walden labels us without knowing anything about us (other than where we live).

Some background: The area was once a Catholic retreat and includes the Futuna chapel, awarded a gold medal from the New Zealand Institute of Architects. The retreat was sold to a developer who was apparently going to demolish the chapel until fortunately it was listed as a heritage building. Residents of Futuna Close can enjoy the beauty of the chapel every time we look out a window, step onto a deck or drive past it. We, and others are privileged to benefit from the restoration of the chapel.

The author of the article, Diana Dekker, writes “Futuna sits, still needing care, in the architecturally claustrophobic landscape of as many townhouses as could be squashed onto the site. The residents love them. Some architects hate them.” (My emphasis) Presumably some don’t hate them.

There are at least three issues here. One shows yet again that labels are based on ignorance, intolerance and prejudice, and are used to forcefully present a narrow minded opinion as fact. Another issue is that the article is a biased piece of reporting that makes no attempt to explore any views other than the one the writer has. The article was published to co-incide with the chapel’s 50th anniversary so perhaps the writer thought that something contentious might help promote it?  No excuse for poor journalism. She overlooks the controversy over a design that led to leaking and high maintenance costs, one of the reasons the Catholic church sold it.   Which leads to the third issue, the credibility of some architects who value style over substance.

In case you’re wondering, that like any sensible middle class conformist, I worry about property values, I don’t. For the first time I’ve found a home I like living in and selling isn’t on my to do list. The development has opened the whole area so that the public can appreciate the chapel from the street and can walk around the outside of it. Previously only the tip of the chapel roof could be seen from the street and I doubt that many people dared to walk into the retreat to see any more. Many people didn’t know the chapel existed until the area was developed. The more people come to see Futuna, the more the development can be appreciated for the remarkable achievement of use of space, and compatibility with its environment. There is access to our private native bush that provides a beautiful backdrop to the town houses which in turn blend in with the surroundings. Giant rimu stand in gardens breaking up the potential blandness of roads that give access to houses. Ferns, cabbage trees and other plants have been preserved and break up the lines of the houses and help create open vistas. The natural stream running through Futuna is delightful. The developer employed a gardener who over several years built a nursery of mostly native plants to ultimately surround each set of townhouses, and to add to the established areas of bush. He was an interesting character who planted according to the phases of the moon and was absolutely committed, not to landscaping, but to creating something natural. The bush and mature trees conceal an astonishing sixty six town houses. Passers-by see maybe a dozen or so, visitors see a few more, but nobody comes close to realising how successfully the developer designed the layout, tricking the eye by grouping some designs in three or so, and using different designs that blend together and complement the physical surroundings.

I’ve never seen a development like this anywhere in New Zealand. Perhaps because it is unique it has attracted all sorts. Some are middle class, if that means having average status, education, tastes and income. Some may be conformist, although if conformist means conforming to accepted behaviour or established behaviour, the very act of living somewhere so unique might suggest not. There have been a few rednecks here, if redneck means narrow, prejudiced, reactionary. They haven’t lasted long because to live in this sort of environment requires a spirit of  co-operation, an ability to compromise, empathy and an ability to share common spaces. I don’t know what middle class is in New Zealand but I live opposite a truck driver, teacher, antiques dealer, sales manager, and along from a judge, and down from a partner in a law firm, and a group of young lifeguards who work at the local swimming pool. Behind me lives an artist who, with her husband, raised twelve foster children as well as their own three children. Our neighbours include a family made up of grandmother, mother, teenage son and niece; another made up of a couple, the wife’s daughter and her son; some are older people living on their own, or, like us, couples; there are teenagers, babies, young children; there are Chinese, Dutch, Sri Lankan, English, Australian, American, Korean, Maori and other ethnicities. Our delightful neighbour and his flamboyant friends would laugh at being described as conformists.

The label “middle- class conformist rednecks” is intended as an insult and likely grounded in Walden’s anger that his vision is not shared by others. The label demonstrates his ignorance of how people might choose to live rather than be told, his intolerance of the views of others, and prejudice that only architects can design living spaces.

I’d like people to see for themselves that it isn’t an “…architecturally claustrophobic landscape of as many townhouses as could be squashed onto the site.” It’s a good example of a builder sensitively developing a unique physical environment within the constraints of  financial viability and providing affordable attractive housing.  As well as blending the houses into their environment the builder has cleverly maximised the spaces within each house so that some have as many as four bedrooms and two bathrooms.  And here’s the real rub – Futuna Close was developed by a builder who worked with engineers and others to build stylish and functional homes.

Too often architects place style above functionality and the results can be catastrophic for the owners. Take “leaky homes” for which architects who designed them blame builders and materials, leaving ratepayers and taxpayers to pick up the bill for the architects disregard for function. Monolithic cladding, recessed windows, roofs with narrow or no eaves, solid balustrades, complex roof design and envelope shapes where roofs frequently intersect with walls on upper floors, enclosed or concealed gutters are all design features introduced by architects with total disregard for our weather and the environment in which we live.

Futuna chapel was designed by architect John Scott who also designed other churches. The chapel leaks; it’s always leaked. So have the other churches. The chapel has internal gutters. The most striking feature of the chapel are the stained glass “windows” (designed by an artist) which are actually plastic and have faded over time and will continue to fade. It seems to me that a lot of architectural design in New Zealand is for the immediate gratification of the architect with little regard for longevity. Materials rot, or fade, the architects deny responsibility.

Contrast that with a builder who has for years built solid, lasting homes that function well for the people living in them, and who consults experts like engineers, to make sure that drainage and roading will work effectively.

Mr Walden can throw a tantrum and call us names but that won’t change who we are, the popularity of the development, or that others can appreciate the beauty of the chapel in its new environment, even if he can’t.

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The use of labels to describe someone has irked me for some time. I would variously describe myself as womanly, paraplaegic, mother, christian, feminist, humanist, able … the list has changed over the years and I expect will change again.  Some labels seem to be mutually exclusive. Priorities change. Meanings change over time. Perceptions change. We are complex.

I don’t know about others, but I don’t want to be put in a box. I prefer to describe myself in terms of ideals I aspire to, be they noble, frivolous, challenging, or simply time wasting. For one thing the label on the box can mean different things to different people; for another, labels can lead to intolerance, stereotypes, and narrow thinking. Conversely, prejudice, intolerance and bigotry thrives on labels.

If you think this is trite consider this link sent to me by a friend. It’s a cute/tragic post about a five year old boy’s choice of Halloween costume and the absolutely appalling reactions to it. Nerdy Apple Bottom writes in “My Son is Gay”

My son is gay. Or he’s not. I don’t care. He is still my son. And he is 5. And I am his mother. and if  you have a problem with anything mentioned above, I don’t want to know you.”

If you haven’t read this post I suggest you do so now. Read the epilogue too. Her story made me mad, but it also inspired me. I admire and respect her principled and loving stand. If you need any further encouragement to read this post take a look at what she is standing up for:

(I hope that Nerdy Apple Bottom doesn’t mind my reproducing the photo of her son here.)

When did gender stereotyping become an issue for little kids? Why would you want to label a child gay, or use sexuality as a label for a child? One of my sons, when he was three years old, used to stand beside me when I was putting on my make up and practise putting on lipstick. Now that he’s twenty eight perhaps he borrows his wife’s lipstick. I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now because he’s always been a funny, loving, delightful, kid, popular with his peers and those around him because he’s so positive and cheerful. My other son used to like wearing pink, he probably still does. He used to collect and play with soft toys. He liked teddy bears. He probably still does. This caring loving kid has become a killer litigator… a label that he’d probably like, but he has lots of other attributes and he’d be just as proud if he were described as a caring socialist.

It’s not particularly helpful to use an occupation as a label either, although in social situations, often the first question people ask is “So, what do you do?”  I’m a lawyer, cleaner, teacher, public servant, secretary, house husband, musician, accountant … only promotes stereotypes. Why do we want to put people in boxes?

I think that labels get in the way of freedom – freedom to choose who we are, to make choices, to be independent and individual. That’s why I prefer to describe myself in terms of the ideals I aspire to. Freedom to choose and to be autonomous are feminist qualities I promote and aspire to, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist. The idea of loving others as I love myself is one I fervently believe in; it is at the core of christianity but if I call myself a christian I am likely to be grouped with the judgemental, intolerant “christians” of Nerdy Apple Bottom’s church school, the evil, corrupt “Bush fundamentalists” (christian fundamentalist – now there’s an oxymoron!), or the excessively pious self-indulgent preachers who want to pray over me. Not to mention hypocritical religious clergy. (Who deserve a rant in a separate blog)

Even those things that I am passionate about – freedom of speech, human rights, my children, being creative – can only describe part of who I am. I admire the strength and power with which Nerdy Apple Bottom defended her son’s choice. I hope that I have been as good a mother as she is. But I am many things, and I’d rather not be labelled by any of them.

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Who was Maud Blacklidge? Sadly, only the women in my family may remember her. Like many others who risked their families’ and societies disapproval and wrath, Maud was one of many suffragettes in England who are now forgotten, but whose efforts began the fight for women’s right to vote. She is my mother’s mother. I know little of my grandmother’s activities as a suffragette, but she was clearly a strong, stroppy, independent woman who made choices with little regard for what society thought.

I was reminded of her story when I read what a friend wrote in her post Everyday Feminism and Knitting. This struck a chord for me – that feminism is about autonomy, being able to make choices and living with the consequences of those choices.  I have always thought of my very self-sufficient grandmother as a feminist, and this is one reason why I want to share her story.

Not all feminists in the first half of the twentieth century were trailblazing doctors, lawyers or professors, some, like my grandmother, were women struggling to survive.  Being a suffragette was not what made Maud a feminist, although the qualities that motivated her to protest were the same qualities that made her rebel against her family, then become determinedly independent and resilient in hard times.

Born around 1877 my grandmother was from a middle class Yorkshire family. The suffragette movement in England peaked at around 1912, but by then Maud had been banished by her family, turned out for choosing to marry a man the family deemed unsuitable. As it turned out, the family was right, but still, it seems harsh that she and her three children had no contact and no help from them, despite becoming destitute. Maud and her husband must have moved to London because my mother grew up in Isleworth.  She recalls secret visits from Maud’s sister to show off her new clothes. (This must have had a tremendous impact on my mother who always managed to dress elegantly all her life, even when our family was living on almost nothing.) As an aside, Maud’s sister became a mannequin, as models were known then, moved to Paris in the thirties and was never heard from again, presumably a victim of the war.

By the time my mother was eleven or twelve my grandmother was supporting the family. With no social benefits, Maud turned the front room of their rented home into “tea rooms” where working men could buy their midday meal. My mother recalls the business as thriving and that Maud had established good business contacts. She must have been perceived by men as an astute businesswoman because she seemed to have no trouble securing credit, for example from the butcher who supplied her meat. For some reason Maud changed tack, and went into “textiles”. In the morning she would go into the poorer areas of London where the markets were, buy up bundles of fabric, then go to the wealthier areas and sell her fabrics to up-market haberdasheries.

In 1941 my mother accepted a marriage proposal from my father, a New Zealand soldier, and in 1943 sailed to New Zealand on the assisted passage programme. (From what I can make out, the colony was still short of women and the NZ government “bought” them in.) I’m not sure how my grandmother continued to support herself because the few letters I saw from her simply asked after my mother’s welfare. However, she must have done fairly well because she managed to make two trips to New Zealand over the next decade.

The second visit in the fifties must have been an interesting one, because despite being eighty or so, Maud was accused of taking away another woman’s husband. That is, until the accuser confronted my mother and realised that her husband was less than half Maud’s age. The farmer/businessman had been taking Maud around New Zealand, no doubt enjoying her stories and admiring her business acumen. She could not be persuaded to stay in New Zealand, finding it too quiet and having no cities.

There must have been other women like Maud who during the Great Depression had to be both nurturer and provider. The celebration of her story lies, for me, in her utter self sufficiency, and her ability to develop and use entrepreneurial and business skills at a time when English society would have been reluctant to accept this possibility. But then, as my mother admits, Maud was an intimidating woman.

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Every now and then my daughter sends me something that she has read or heard that she thinks I’ll appreciate. I love this quote she sent me last week. I love it for several reasons:

Reason#1   It’s a very powerful image, expressed succinctly and beautifully. Hmmm … diamonds … beautiful, light defracting gems that do more than sparkle, they create optical magic. Ummm … coal … dirty, product of decaying plants, pollutant. Apply pressure to coal, wow, extraordinary transformation! Who wouldn’t want to be transformed from coal to diamond? Someone who’s afraid of hard work, that’s who!

Reason#2  To quote from one of my daughter’s essays  ” A diamond is one of the most expensive and coveted of all gem stones, yet it is abundant in nature. The material value of a diamond stems from an illusion of scarcity created by strategies of production and supply control, and the successful marketing of diamonds as symbols of desire, love and wealth.” And why do we not care about being duped by de Beers? Because diamonds are BEAUTIFUL and we’d pay anything (or want someone else to pay anything on our behalf) to have one. In fact we want de Beers and the rest of the diamond industry to maintain the illusion, thank you very much. We don’t want diamonds to be a commodity, we want them to be luxury items.

Reason #3 The reason we’ve bought into the best darn marketing ever (with our eyes wide open) is because we want to. The advertising phrase “diamonds are forever” may have been a cynical manipulation to persuade men to buy diamond engagement rings, but it worked because diamonds are the most beautiful of all gems and we women don’t want a second hand one, or an emerald or sapphire one … “Diamond’s are a girl’s best friend” … Recent advertising campaigns suggest the diamond right hand ring is now the independent woman’s best friend.

So yes, with or without the aid of marketing, a diamond is merely a lump of coal that did well under pressure.

However, on a more serious note, the beauty of diamonds and the material value attached to them may have given rise to prosperity and development in parts of Africa, but the illicit sales of rough diamonds, known as conflict or blood diamonds, have been crucial in prolonging brutal wars in Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Angola. Diamonds from Zimbabwe are also classified as conflict diamonds; although not used to fund civil war, mining of diamonds there has given rise to terrible abuses of human rights. Efforts to block conflict diamonds from reaching the market have included steps taken by the World Diamond Congress in 2000, but more recently and with greater effect, the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme requires participating governments to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are conflict-free. As of 2010, there were 75 governments participating in the KP,  however, member governments have repeatedly failed to deal effectively with problem cases such as Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast and Venezuela, despite estimates of the total percentage of conflict diamonds being just 0.2%.

Many retail stores, including Michael Hill, require the provenance of diamonds before agreeing to purchase.

UPDATE
Global Witness, an organisation that advocates against the trade of conflict resources and played a big role in setting up the Kimberly process, has recently withdrawn as an official observer. The reason? Late last year the Kimberly Process lifted the ban on Zimbabwe trading its conflict diamonds despite evidence that the military and government were using the diamonds to fund illegal activities. Incredible. See my post “Blood Diamonds – Not Al Diamonds Are The Same

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