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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Meaning of Pearls

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but for me it’s always been pearls.

All gems have attributed meanings and qualities, especially when we look at birthstone definitions.

Pearl’s origin and meaning:

"The pearl is the oldest known gem, and for many centuries it was considered the most valuable. Unlike all gems, the pearl is organic matter derived from a living creature - oysters and mollusks.

It was said in some early cultures that the pearl was born when a single drop of rain fell from the heavens and became the heart of the oyster.

Pearls have been called the 'teardrops of the moon.'
Some believe that pearls were formed by the passage of angels through the clouds of heaven.

Over time, the pearl has become the symbol of purity and innocence and it is often sewn into bridal gowns, or worn as jewelry by the bride."

I’ve never been a diamond girl. Pearls suit me better and represent singular moments in my life.

At 22, fresh out of college, I received my first strand of long, lustrous, cultured pearls as an engagement gift.

My fiancĂ© and I shopped at Marshall Fields for the perfect strand to wear at the engagement party his aunt was giving me in the Chicago suburbs, a gathering for her friends to meet her nephew’s bride-to-be.

The pearls stood for his love and commitment. Pearls were also sewn on to the bodice of my wedding gown.

The next time I received pearls they came directly from the Orient. My second, shorter pearl necklace was strung with more refined, dainty pearls.

They were sent from my Army husband from Hong Kong where he, like so many other soldiers of that era, spent an RandR from their tours of duty in Vietnam.

The pearls arrived along with a 12-place setting of porcelain china, and the latest stereo and camera equipment of the time. Most GI’s sent similar care packages to their waiting wives in the late ‘60s.

When I turned 40, elegant pearl earrings were gifted to me again, this time from a new love for my birthday.

The problem was that the earrings were pierced, and my ears weren’t.

The pearls were beautiful, and I had only one choice. I dreaded the thought of punching holes into my earlobes, but I could hardly wait to wear the earrings.

My teenage daughter accompanied me to the mall to get the job done. She held my hand, like a patient mother, as the stapler popped the openings for my new pearls of love to rest.

The pearls joined my collection, and my daughter enjoyed them too when she wore them for special occasions.

At 47 when I married the second time, I thought it was only fitting that my daughter, my maid of honor, should have her own pearl earrings.

They were my gift to her on that day of love. Pearls were sewn onto the sleeves and hem of my tea-length bridal gown.

I have added to my pearl treasures over the years. They stay cloistered together in their own jewelry box, and I still favor them over other gems.

They connect me to wonderful memories and gifts of love. Over the years, my affection and fascination for pearls has deepened.

I’m especially drawn to pearls that are irregular, created in an emerging state and preserved in the process of transformation.

They are known as blister pearls, "mabe (ma-bay) pearls" grown in a Mabe oyster.

I still love traditional pearls but find a different kind of beauty in the unique shapes and free forms of the blister pearl. Unlike the attempt at perfection of the cultured pearl, they are imperfect and more interesting reminders of life itself.

"Eastern cultures believe that pearls symbolize purity and spiritual transformation. Simply wearing a pearl reminds the wearer to be honest, pure, wise, and to walk with the utmost dignity."

From the Meaning of Pearls:

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009-2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo of Strands of Pearls by wemedge

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snooki and the Book Signing by Brian Leiken

Snooki isn't a name. It's slang, a colloquialism of informal speech best used for stuffed animals and cute pets, a name befitting puggles and hamsters.

(My first pet was a hamster with a name ironically similar to "Snooki"; I named him Snoochi - until he died of wet tail. There was a Snoochi II, III, and IV - they died of wet tail too. Don't ever name your hamster Snoochi unless you want them to die of wet tail.)

Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, better known as Snooki, is a reality TV star from the hit show Jersey Shore, an MTV show about eight Italian roommates from New York pretending to be from New Jersey having to share a house together.

There's Jenni "JWowww" Farley, Paul "Pauly D"DelVecchio, and of course Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino; Jersey Shore is a mash-up of MTV's the Real World blended with HBO's the Sopranos.

Four foot nine with poofed hair, fake tan, big boobs and enough mascara to rival a raccoon, Snooki is one of the more popular characters from the show. Snooki isn't pretty, most men wouldn't give her a second glance, but what Snooki doesn't have in looks she makes up for in humor.

Girls adore Snooki, because of all the cast members on Jersey Shore, she's the one most of them would like to hang out with.

She even has a book, A Shore Thing. Written by Snooki's ghost writer, Valerie Frankel, A Shore Thing is a novel about a girl named "Gia" who resembles Snooki and has lots of hot sex with a beefy Italian firefighter named Frank.

Valerie Frankel may have written the book, but Snooki gave her lots of ideas, and Snooki's face is on the cover and on the back, so it's almost like Snooki wrote the entire thing all by herself.

So why am I writing about Snooki, you ask? Good question. I'm writing about Snooki because I went to her book signing at the Grove.

When I saw the sign at Barnes and Noble promoting the book signing, I immediately texted Parrish, who is a huge fan of Jersey Shore. I didn't think Parrish would want to go, but she texted me back almost instantly. "Let's Go!!"

What the hell, at least I'll get a blog out of it.

When you attend a book signing, most stores will demand you purchase a copy of the book from the store for the author to sign.

Because Snooki is a high profile reality TV celebrity, Barnes and Noble is handing out alphabetized wrist bands along with brand new copies of the book for $26.95.

Grumbling, I pay it. They won't let me stand in line with Parrish if I don't have my own book. We are given a flyer with a number of guidelines and rules:

. Posed photography WILL NOT be allowed. Photographs may be taken from the signing line only.

. Other memorabilia WILL NOT be allowed.

. Personalization WILL NOT be available.

It's only four o'clock, we've got some time to kill. We hit the Cafe Moza and people watch.

Two and a half hours later after eating a feast of fine french cheeses and bread and beer, we trek back into the store.

People are already lining up, but I cut through to the front and find that because we purchased our wrist bands early, we can move past the majority of the people waiting.

I estimate there are probably about 300 people here, most of them young women with their mothers and a handful of hapless boyfriends.

A trio of teenage girls behind us begin giggling and screaming uncontrollably as soon as Snooki appears. "Snooki!" one of them screams. Snooki waves, escorted by an entourage of security guards, managers, agents, photographers and book store staff.

She's short, tiny, would be forgettable except she is surrounded by the aura of celebrity, and that makes her the most envied person in the room.

"Oh my God!" one of the girls behind us gushes. "She is so short!"

"Quiet!" another girl admonishes her friend. "She'll hear you!"

"Are you girls from LA?" I ask.

"No, we're from Newport." (That's the OC.)

"Have you met anyone famous?"

"Well, we met the cast of Jackass!" the prettiest one titters. "But I'd really like to meet Justin Bieber."

"If I met Justin Bieber, I'd pee my pants," another girl cuts in. "Why are you here?"

"I'm writing a story for my blog."

Her eyes go round. "You have a blog! Are you someone famous?"

Parrish gives me the eye, trying to hide her smirk. I sigh, oh the lies I could spin, the lies I could spin. "No, I'm not famous. Only in my own head."

Snooki comes back out and girls at random begin screaming, WE LOVE YOU, SNOOKI!

A member of the staff opens up a copy of the book, instructing us to have the novel open to the front page for Snooki to sign.

I pull out my iPhone, attempting to figure out how to zoom in the camera. Should have checked that out earlier, because the line is moving forward like a waterslide at the park, people being processed in groups as Snooki signs her name over and over again in book after book in a bright pink pen.

There must have be at least 50 people in front of us, but the store crew has them filed past Snooki in under ten minutes.

Books primed, we hand them to a store clerk who passes the books to Snooki. I try to get in close to take a picture on my phone, but security stops me.

"Sir, you'll need to turn off that phone. No cameras past the line."

I shut it off. Risking my phone to get a close up of Snooki just ain't worth it.

As I walk up for a brief moment, Snooki and I glance at one another. I permit myself a polite smile, and give her a small nod. To her credit, Snooki doesn't pretend that I'm some super fan who has been just dying to get a chance to meet her.

Beneath the makeup, the tan, and the poofed up hair, she looks tired, weary, a five minute celebrity running a marathon because the moment she quits, it's over.

She signs the book, and I move on.

As we exit, a member of the staff cuts off and collects our wristbands, preventing us from selling or giving them away to other people.

"Wow, I can't believe we met Snooki!" Parrish exclaims. "I can't wait to read this ghost written book! What are you going to do with yours?"

"Not sure yet," I reply. Tax write off maybe?

The inanity of fame; how could someone like Snooki, a girl with no talent, accomplishments, or beauty, become an instant celebrity?

Snooki is a celebrity precisely because she has no talent, accomplishments, or beauty - she's the young woman many identify with because they all think they could be the next Snooki.

You don't need skill, or intelligence, or looks to be famous; just timing and luck. Who wants to be the next lottery winner, step right up and get a chance to meet Snooki, buy her book! Maybe some of her fame will rub off on you!

Snooki. Like everything else in this country, she's instant and effortless, even her name is disposable. Cultural fast food to be consumed and forgotten.

But hey, at the end of the day she's $26.95 ahead, because I still ended up buying her book.

Definitely a tax write off.

Copyright 2010 Brian Leiken

LA Teacher
Crossed Out by Brian Leiken at

Brian Leiken is an LA inner-city, special ed teacher and author of Crossed Out, a book about and for his students. Oh yes, he's also my son:)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Perfect Day in Tuscany

Every now and then, I experience a perfect day...where everything seems just right. I had such a glorious day last September in the magical city of Lucca, northern Tuscany, Italy.

Lucca dates back to 180 BC as a Roman colony. Today it is a charming, hillside town fortified with double thick, massive red-brick walls built from 1504-1645 that provided centuries of protection and defense to its citizens from invaders who sought the wealth of the thriving silk merchant families.

Lucca managed to keep the marauders at bay and then had the good fortune to be protected and ruled by Elisa, Napoleon's sister, so its beauty was enhanced and its history preserved.

Even now there are portals with massive gates for entering the town where pedestrians, mopeds and small cars wind their way around shops, cafes, open markets, piazzas, and gelato stands in the gentle bustle of the town.

Today the walls, wide enough to be a two lane road, tower above the city as a 3-mile park circling the city that offers views of the medieval look-out towers and exquisitely landscaped gardens of the villas it rings and embraces. Outside the wall lie the newer city and the countryside abundant with olives and grapes.

The top of the walls are like a park where families stroll with their children, lovers walk hand-in-hand, cyclists stop for a picnic lunch, and runners jog under the shade trees.

A garden show and exhibit hug the wall's banks where local flowers and plants are artfully displayed to the pleasure of passersby.

My perfect Lucca day started with a stop at a small grocer's inside the walled community where Gina, my traveling companion and guide from, and I select the ingredients for a fresh sandwich plus fruit and cheese for our bike ride and picnic atop the wall.

Next we rent our bikes at the foot of the wall and begin our climb onto the multi-story high walls and ramparts to enjoy the ambiance and the magnificent vista on our bike ride. The weather is just right, sunny, comfortable and clear, so we can see for miles.

We could have been in Central Park with people leisurely enjoying the day on the promenade along the tree-lined wall. Midway we pause at a grassy spot to eat our delicious lunch of prosciutto, tomatoes, pecorino (sheep-milk cheese) and fresh, juicy peaches.

Gina shares a legendary story of the great jazz musician Stan Getz being incarcerated for a month for smoking pot. The locals sat outside the jail and listened to him play from his cell every night as if they were at a concert.

After our relaxing ride, we enter Lucca through one of its portals and stop at a famous cafe where Puccini and other creative artists of his day sipped their coffee.

We wander through the city's narrow lanes, still intact in their ancient Roman street plan, to the piazza where a bronze of Puccini, legs crossed, sits and looks out at the square.

Children climb on top of his lap while adoring parents take their photos with the composer.

The shops nearby display the latest fashions of stylized, supple leather and haute couture from Milan and Rome's finest designers.

For dinner we decide to eat at a small cafe that was recommended by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Eat, Pray, Love; like her, we had the risotto with wild mushrooms and a fine red wine.

The most magical part of the day was yet to come. We went to the cathedral, where Puccini was once the organist, to hear aspiring opera students, accompanied by a grand piano, sing Puccini's famous arias.

A small audience, seated in folding chairs, listens in rapt appreciation. The night is balmy and the music enchanting. Some of us are moved to tears.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect day in Tuscany. Bellissimo!

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Lucca, Italy photo by laurab
toscana2 photo by Gabriella Pataky