The bead lady and her beads. She holds parts of the world right in the palm of her hand
Santa Fe, N.M. — BEADS dangle everywhere. From the rafters, the ceiling, from boards, shelves, and counters. They hang on the bathroom sink, too. About the only place spared is the floor. If Glorianna Lazane could figure out a way to hang them there, she would.
Her little bead shop is a booming business.
For nearly 19 years now, it's been a fixture on a downtown corner in this city of tri-cultural mix - Hispanic, Anglo, Indian. But her clientele hails from beyond Santa Fe's borders - as far flung as boonievilles in the plains to Paris and Rome.
Admittedly, Mrs. Lazane doesn't sell the beady glitz pumped out on assembly lines - the mass-market stuff that ticks along with fashion trends. She sells singles - mostly old beads (50 years or so) or antique ones (dating back several hundred years). And some new ones.
Customers pick and choose from her jars and strings like kids buying penny candy - two of this, four of that.
Then Lazane's daughter, Starr Nowak, takes the potpourri and designs a necklace. She strings it up, too - for a fee, naturally.
On other occasions, customers choose to walk out with a brown bag of goodies for their own do-it-yourself ventures.
Lazane's shop is her stage.
And she makes it shake, more from personality than flashy clothes and bedeckings of beads. But the silvering curls, the blue eyes with green shadowing, and the lavender-polished nails do grab their due.
Always, too, her low-slung voice rides the crest of the shop's conversations.
A divorc'ee with four grown children, Lazane has a romance with beads that goes back to childhood.
``When I was a kid, I'd run around the neighborhood and talk people out of their beaded clothes, cut those beads off, and put them in little jars. I thought it was colored water'' gone solid, she says.
In the early '70s when her shop was still at the starting gate, Lazane met Kalifa from the Ivory Coast. He liked beads. She liked beads. He had beads. She wanted beads.
``I knew if those beads walked away, I'd never see any like them again - because they were old, really old.''
So she bought all he had, and all he could get.
``When Kalifa arrived here [in Santa Fe], he didn't speak English, only French. So we drew pictures. And we did a lot of sign language, but we became very good friends.''
Lazane's African contacts gradually grew to about a dozen. ``I still get calls from Ghana when they find something. But now it's one strand. Maybe five. Nothing in comparison to what it used to be,'' she says of the shriveling supply of old beads. But she still has clumps of them in the shop - and in her home, where the cache is even greater.
This bead lady, who today tootles about in a pink Cadillac, took plunges way back when her ledgers showed red. If she saw good buys, she managed to get them. It took courage, too, to buy a ton of '20s beads without even seeing the loot.
But she cashed in. The truck pulled up, and out rolled strands of pristine beads never worn by anyone. And almost every one made of glass.
``It could have been all plastic. Of course, that would have been'' - and she swallows hard - ``a lot of beads, because plastic is so much lighter.''
Not to mention that plastic baubles wouldn't have been the red-hot sellers that the glass were.
When asked how she turns up such treasures, she smiles. ``Well, I have people who hunt for me.'' When pressed on the subject, she says, ``Business people don't tell their sources!'' You hear exclamation marks bounce about the shop.
She doesn't advertise. Nor has she ever changed her window displays in all these years. Throughout the day, tourists come and go, some never knowing they've seen a mini-museum.
Almost always there's chatter and twitter, creating the ambiance of a tea party in a bird nest. But everyone has to sit in dentist chairs, because that's what caught Lazane's fancy one day long ago.
For patrons or audience, whichever the case might be, she pulls out antique padre beads of blue, brass, and copper strands from Africa, silver from Afghanistan, Russian beads, Greek beads, Mexican beads. There's a world tour in her palm.
But it's when she brings strands of antique chevrons from the back room that you realize you've met the artistocrat of Italian glass beads.
Her shelves also carry a healthy stock of old Hudson's Bay trader beads of Venetian origin - opague red with white insides. They're duplicated today, but ``the new ones are much brighter. The red's just not the same,'' she explains. ``They used to use gold dust to get the red color. They don't do that anymore.
``Beads go way back,'' she continues. ``Even cave men probably wore them - bones around their necks. Who can say?''
And you know then that, with Lazane, beads are obviously more than just a business.
She also likes holding these specks of history in her hand.