Monday, March 30, 2015

Trasteritos and Bateas

Some photos just can’t be improved upon--there’s no need. The picture I took of Antonio and have used all these years was from the day we met-- in 2003. I noticed him in front of his colorfully painted bateas and trasteritos, on the edge of the Plaza Grande in Patzcuaro, just outside of the official artisans booth area. It was like he had snuck in to the artisan market and didn’t really belong there. I had seen pieces like that before of course-- everyone has. The iconic painted chairs and flowery wood trays called bateas in Michoacán are well-known to Mexicans and their children, even those who’ve migrated to the U.S. There is even a demand among gringos for “vintage” bateas on websites like Ebay and among antique dealers. And I had seen some magnificent extra large bateas, like maybe a meter in diameter, in La Casa de las Artesanias in Morelia.
The bateas were made by Antonio Anita Mejia, a man with no art training but tremendous talent--the only real artisan in the town of Quiroga. Doug and I think of it as the Tijuana of Michoacán, with its dozens of shops lining the main street with all the same cheap souvenirs made somewhere else, it is a tourist trap to be sure. We can always tell when someone mentions Quiroga as a place to shop, that they don't know much about artesania. Until Doug and I moved to Michoacán and our guide Socorro took us around to film Michoacán’s artisans, we didn’t know what Quiroga really had to offer, and that was its famously delicious carnitas. From then on our workshop visits around that part of Lake Patzcuaro always include a stop at Carnitas Carmelo, across from a lovely park which is always empty. We often had trouble locating Antonio’s house, and were happy when he briefly had a shop right down the street from Carmelo. But there wasn’t enough business, weren’t enough tourists to pay the rent. Though I buy from him at least once a year, I don’t think Antonio actually knows my name. But he trusts me to pay him the right amount of money, casually looking at the numbers as I show him how I calculated the total. The soft spoken Antonio once told me he didn’t really know if the amount was correct, as he gratefully accepted the pesos I handed him. He doesn’t know much about math, but as my husband Doug says with great admiration-- no one loads a paintbrush like Antonio.

Antonio's work can be purchased in the U. S. from Mexico By Hand.
Please contact us at 510.526.6395
Trasterito with clay cups

Mini painted chairs

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mexican Tablecloths! Handloomed Textiles of Patzcuaro

Anyone who has been to the town of Patzcuaro-- even for only a day-- notices the dozens of shops that surround the Plaza Grande (the main shopping area) displaying brightly colored tablecloths, bedspreads, and napkins. Every restaurant and cafe table and most of the hotel beds in Patzcuaro are covered with the hand loomed textiles. They are in fact-- pardon the pun-- part of the fabric of the town's charming landscape. All of the textiles seem to be made by the Adame family, but the cousins and in-laws involved in the industry are not necessarily working together; it seems that they actually don't even all know each other. It's kind of strange. But anyway…most tourists will buy something at one of the shops, at least a few napkins, because they're pretty easy to throw in one's suitcase. I have bought several pieces over the years, and regularly use them at my home in California. Cotton napkins and tablecloths that are affordable and can be machine washed and dried are a rarity here in the U.S. I have bought a few tablecloths for customers, and friends and family too, but that has been problematic; getting the right color and size for other folks can be challenging. So is finding a shop there that wants to ship an order to the U.S. After several years of discussions and attempts with various well-meaning and seemingly serious textile business owners, I was about to give up on the idea. I could never get anyone to tell me for starters 1)how much it would cost to ship to California and 2) how I could pay them. But then I received an email from a customer I've never met, with a very specific request for a Patzcuaro tablecloth, and I decided to give it one more try. I promptly sent Ron a message and a photo. Ron is an expat who I met the past summer, and like most of the expats in Patzcuaro, usually isn't super busy. So I asked Ron if by any chance, he was going to be walking down to Centro soon for coffee or groceries and if so could he please do me a big favor and see if any of the shops near there have a tablecloth like the one in the photo.  Ron said he'd be happy to help. Within a few hours I received a detailed account of his search for the tablecloth I requested (no luck) followed by more emails with notes about dimensions available, conversations about delivery times, photos of some styles, and even scans of some business cards. Ron was really into this! So I proposed we talk more about doing some business together, which we did a few days later. And then Ron and I put together a scheme and he went about buying some cotton napkins, and he proceeded to conduct an experiment to see how we could transport the textiles and what it would cost. Here's Ron's theory about Mexico: "Nothing, and I mean, NOTHING, is ever straightforward in Mexico. And that theory seems to apply to something as pedestrian as napkins."

Long story short, the private companies like FedEx are ridiculously expensive and therefore not cost effective for us, so the Mexican correos (the post office) which has long held a reputation for being slow and incompetent was really our only viable option. FedEx promised to deliver in 3 days but cost 4 times as much. Really? $58 to mail 15 cloth napkins? So, on three separate days, Ron sent three packages to me containing cloth napkins from the Patzcuaro post office. I received 2 out of 3, within two weeks, which I consider pretty good. The first one he sent on November 26, still hadn't arrived by Jan. 8th. According to the "track and trace" widget on the correos website, the box didn't arrive at the airport in Mexico City until Dec. 22, which is 26 days later. So, after 42 days, I decided to check the website again, and the information was the same. According to the site, the box was last seen on Dec. 22 in Mexico City. I noticed there was a place to contact them with a question, and knowing full well that it was a real long shot I'd get an answer, I sent a short email with my question: "Where is this box?" --followed by the tracking number. Amazingly, I received a note early the next morning from the Correos Mexicanos telling me that the box had arrived at the Richmond, CA facility on Jan. 9-- that very morning. No way! At this point I stopped thinking about my package for a moment and had to marvel at the customer service and technological capabilities just exhibited by a government entity I had assumed, like most people do, was totally and completely dysfunctional. A few hours later there was a knock at my door. There it was-- box #3, which actually was box #1, with the remaining napkins in our Patzcuaro textile experiment.
It was a Mexican miracle. 

Napkins and tablecloths imported from Mexico are now available in various styles and colors from Mexico By Hand. Our Patzcuaro textiles are 100% cotton and are made by hand on a traditional wooden foot loom. They can be machine washed and dried and little or no ironing is necessary. Check our website for size and price information and to place an order. 510.526.6395