TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review: "The Ideal Man" by Joshua Kurlantzick

The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War

Jim Thompson earned the title of "The Silk King" in Thailand, back in the 1950's.  One of the first Westerners to appreciate Thai Silk, he had a vision to transform the life of poor weavers, giving them ownership over their production and exporting their silks to the United States and Europe.

He was also a spy.  In fact, he ended up in Thailand as one of the CIA's first batch of suave James Bond types, fell in love with the country and stayed.  He had studied architecture and design and truly loved the old Thai way of life.

Then he disappeared.  The story had intrigued me for years, but I had never really gone beyond the surface details.  His name came up again as I wrote a post for TAFA's blog , "S is for Silk".  I had seen a novel about him in a bookstore, a mystery written with a possible scenario of how he vanished, so I decided to see if my local library had it.  Instead, I found this one, "The Ideal Man", and am glad I did.

As the subtitle states, Jim Thompson's tragedy is tightly linked with how the United States developed its presence in Asia.  The tragedy goes beyond the disappearance.  Thompson's whole life became tragic as he fell in love with this country, created a voice for the common people, and increasingly lost faith in the American role in Asia.  When he arrived in Thailand, there was a vibrant democratic movement happening in the region.  Within a few years, both the Royals and the United States helped ensure that these anti-colonial voices were squashed.  Instead, the usual corrupt dictatorship was endorsed and led to power.  We all know what the consequences were for Vietnam.  Much less is told about Laos and the devastation we left there.  Thompson's political position was in favor of working with the rebels in all three countries.  He met with them, knew them as friends and had a vision for self-government that was way ahead of his time.  He watched his friends become imprisoned, then shot, and he himself lost favor with both the Thai Royals and the U.S. government.  The ideal man had ideals.  They were trampled on, breaking his spirit and his vision for the region.

The book mostly covers the political intrigue that happened around Jim Thompson over a period of twenty years.  It names the characters that played the main roles in deciding Thailand's future.  It also describes Thompson's life, how he collected and preserved thousands of artifacts, keeping them in his home until he would one day make them available to the Thai people in a museum.  

Jim Thompson's house.

Even his house was one of these artifacts.  He had two traditional peasant homes dismantled and reassembled in Bangkok, starting a fad among the elite to copy him and preserve traditional Thai architectural elements in an environment that was quickly modernizing into Western influences.  At the same time, he built the Thai silk industry into the giant that it is today.  He entertained the most famous people of the day in his peasant houses: presidents, film stars, political leaders, and wealthy tourists who had begun to explore Asia.  Towards the end, the book describes Thompson as worn out, a man with a broken heart and no hope for the future.  Ironically, his disappearance ensured the preservation of his life work.  The house is now a museum and the silk business continues as a profitable venture.

Jim Thompson goes on a trip, a vacation, in Malaysia to visit some friends on an estate.  This was March 27th, 1967.  He goes for a walk and never comes back.  There are woods on the estate and several searches funded by different parties look for any little clue that might lead to an explanation of what happened.  Detectives are hired.  For years, various groups grasp at possible leads.  Nothing is ever found. Nobody knows what happened to him.  Could he have walked out into a new life?  Unlikely.  Did anyone want him dead?  Yes.  It would have been a relief to the CIA, to the Thai Royals and to his silk competitors to have him gone.  His political positions were embarrassing to the US and the Thai elite despised him.  A tragedy, indeed.

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, where Jim Thompson disappeared.

This story is so familiar to me.  I grew up in Brazil during a time when there was great civil unrest (1970's).  Students were disappearing by the thousands.  Dissidents were imprisoned, tortured and killed.  As a teenager, an American abroad, I was told, in whispers, to always say that Brazil was a democracy.  Later, in college, I learned about the CIA's role there, about the School of the Americas, of how Latin American dictators were puppets, held in place by the US government.  Of course, none of these stories are simple, black and white moments.  They evolved out of many legitimate fears coupled with greed and the desire for power.

Now, both South America and Asia have become strong economic powers on their own terms.  We see an economic decline in the United States that rocks our way of life, our sense of entitlement.  Brazilians flock Disneyworld and fly up to Miami to shop.  Thailand is party land, a center for easy drugs and prostitutes.  The lesson for me is that what we do is important.

My portal to many countries is usually through their textiles and crafts.  Jim Thompson's story resonates with me because of this connection and because of his understanding of how economic development can happen through handicraft production and through the arts.  He was about fair trade before the term was even coined.  And, his story rings a bell because of the expat connection.  When I was a kid, almost every house in Brazil had a picture of JFK hanging next to Jesus with his bleeding heart.  Being an American back then was like being nobility.  I learned early on that some kids wanted to be my friend because I was an American.  Some were curious, some wanted "stuff".  Now, being an American is considered cancerous and downright dangerous in many countries.  This has not happened overnight.  It's decades and even centuries of abuse on our end.  This is truly the great American tragedy.  With our way of war, we have lost our friends.

Everything we do has political and economic consequences.  What we buy, what we eat, where we walk, drive or fly.  And, this is what drives my passion behind my love for all things handmade:  We can be simple so that we can simply live.  In peace, with one another.

Jim Thompson with weavers.


Jim Thompson Website
The Jim Thompson House

TAFA Members Working in Thailand:

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles
Unique Batik Fair Trade
Luxury Lanna Crafts
Siamese Dream Design


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ad Special on TAFA: 50% off for one year!

Have you visited TAFA's new site?  www.tafalist.com

We have over 400 members and half of them have finally gotten their profiles up on the site!  Every day a couple more get up there, adding their unique contribution to the mix.  Our members are spread out around the world, representing more than 30 countries!  It's truly a wonderful selection of the best in traditional and contemporary textiles and fiber arts.

The new site is still not finished.  We went over budget by $2,500 and have many other features we want to add to the site.  We need to raise some money to do that so TAFA is offering a one-year ad to non-members for half of the price ($500 for the year instead of $1,000).  If you have an online business, you can help us reach our goal!

Our audience is mostly women over 35 who, of course, love all things fiber!  They tend to be educated, well-traveled and creative.  Ads that would interest our people:  anything to do with art, textiles, fiber art, workshops, cultural tours, travel, health, gardening, literature, yoga, green businesses,
craft supplies, and so on.

Specs are on TAFA's sponsor ad page.  For more info, contact Rachel.


Monday, April 9, 2012

A Knitter's Tips on Dealing with Celiac Disease

Diane (left) visiting me in 2010

When something goes wrong with me, I ask Diane.  Waaaahhhhhh! Now this is hurting or aching or acting like such and such...  She seems to have been through it all and most recently, has put up quite the valiant fight against breast cancer.  She's diabetic, has had a knee replaced, had surgery for carpel tunnel, has sleep apnia, and the list goes on.  Does that stop her?  No way!

Off she traipses to some foreign country or drives to New Mexico to visit favorite haunts. A retired chemistry teacher, Diane is a scientist and approaches everything matter-of-factly.  This is the problem and this is solution.  Diane is also an avid knitter and I have benefited greatly from her talent: neck warmers, leg warmers, booties, fingerless gloves.....  Wonderful!

Margaret showing one of her unfinished jackets.

Then, there is Margaret from my local fiber art group.  We received an email last week saying that she has been very ill and was diagnosed with celiac disease.  Here is the Mayo Clinic's definition:

Celiac (SEE-lee-ak) disease is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.
Celiac disease can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) that occurs with celiac disease can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive your brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment.
No treatment can cure celiac disease. However, you can effectively manage celiac disease by changing your diet.
Our Paducah Fiber Artists group meets monthly at one of the member houses.  We share a pot luck dinner and then gather around for a show and tell.  The meals are usually an unplanned, sumptuous banquet and the sharing time is inspiring, a definite highlight to my month!  Increasingly, however, we need to be more sensitive to the dietary restrictions of our group members.  We have vegetarians, diabetics, and now, celiac disease to contend with.  I guess if we all stick to salads and wine, we'll be just fine, eh?

Margaret showing one of her pencil drawings.

I asked Diane, who has been gluten free for years now, for some advice on what she would recommend for  Margaret.  Diane was very ill many years ago, before gluten free products were as available as they are today and along with her physician, diagnosed her problem.  She excluded the top foods that produce food allergies from her diet (peanuts, wheat, soy, etc.) and then reintroduced them one by one until she got really sick on wheat.

Margaret lives out in the country, so it will be especially challenging for her to get products that she might enjoy, so I thought Diane could help with some online resources.  I thought her response to me was extremely valuable (that good ole' scientist again!) and could be of  help to others so she gave me permission to share it here;

Diane with Mitchie
The single best online source I know is the Gluten Free Trading Company, www.gluten-free.net, which is in Milwaukee.  They carry 1500 items, all GF.  Bob’s Red Mill, www.bobsredmill.com, is a good source for grains, a variety of mixes, GF oatmeal, and a good GF hot cereal.  There is a GF section on their website.

Health food stores often have a selection of GF foods.  And here are some other suggestions for regular supermarket shopping, where the sticker shock may not be so great:

Pasta.  I have bought GF pasta (rice pasta) at Walmart.  You DO need to be careful cooking this—it can turn from hard to mush in a blink, so you have to keep testing it.   Sometimes what’s on the package doesn’t work for me. Japanese brown rice pasta is excellent, and so are most of the ones from Italy.  I can buy tofu noodles in my supermarket, but it’s a huge market.

Soup.  Most soups such as all Campbells, last time I checked, are not GF.  Many of the Imagine and other brands in the cardboard quart containers ARE ok, but you have to read every label.  Avoid “modified food starch” in these and all foods as it is often wheat starch.  Progresso has a number of gluten=free soups and Progresso labels everything for allergens.  So, as long as the list at the end of the ingredients doesn’t include wheat, you should be fine.  The Vegetable Wild Rice is my favorite.

Cereals.  Most cereals are sprayed with barley malt (for crispness)—a no, no.  Rice Chex, Corn Chex, the chocolate Chex, and one other variety are labeled Gluten Free on the front of the package.

Cake Mixes.  Betty Crocker has several cake mixes and a brownie mix that are labeled GF.  Many other companies have GF mixes; some are better than others.  All are more expensive than the Betty Crocker. 

Bread.  A toughie.  And most GF breads are awful and worse, even when toasted.  An exception is Udi’s bread and baked goods.  Their website DOES list two health food stores in Paducah as carrying Udi’s products, which I consider worth the price.  And Margaret probably needs to buy a new toaster, to be kept just for gluten-free.  Same goes for bread-making machines and wooden cutting boards.  They simply cannot be cleaned well enough to get rid of gluten contamination. 

There are many websites online with gluten-free recipes.  The problem is that you can’t just take your favorite recipe, cookies , biscuits, or piecrust, for example, and just substitute rice  or other flour—they’ll probably turn out inedible.  

Gluten free foods can often be much more expensive than their mainstream counterparts, causing  what is called “sticker shock”.  The excess expense associated with GF foods  is the reason the IRS allows celiacs deductions for GF food when one itemizes.   I no longer itemize, but it seems like a lot of bookkeeping would be involved with making this option worthwhile.

So, I hope these tips will help those of you out there who have to deal with living gluten free.  I heard someone say once, and have no idea if this is true, that the best way to avoid food allergies is to eat a varied diet and to stay away from chemically processed foods.  Diane's cousin has been tested for a genetic cause in her disease, one that may lie dormant until the body is stressed for other reasons.  Whatever the case, my hope is to see Margaret's joyful face back in our regular meetings, full of spunky Southern spice in her wonderful stories!

I did have a little chuckle in thinking about this post as it is about "fiber" AND "fiber artists".   And, if you know of any other online resources or would like to share your experiences, please feel free to leave a comment.

Margaret's husband, Fred, makes wild sculptures out of gourds.


Friday, April 6, 2012

New listings on Etsy! Suzanis, rugs, and more!

Uzbek Samarkand Suzani

I haven't listed anything new in my Etsy shop for months even though the photos were ready before Christmas. Finally, I am jumping in and getting it done!  There are some gorgeous pieces, so I hope you will come and take a look:  Rayela on Etsy.

Moroccan Boucherouite Carpet

Baluchi Tribal Carpet Floor Pillow



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