Sunday, May 3, 2015

Shipping and Handling Part III-- “Caras buenas”

January 2015
With the shipping nightmares of 2014 behind me, and almost all of the merchandise in that shipment now sold, I was starting to feel more positive and energized for the new year. I had some money in my bank account, and customers were clamoring for more product. That’s always a nice feeling. Plus, the exchange rate was amazing! In July of 2014 we were getting around 12.5 pesos to the dollar. At one point it went up to 13 and we were absolutely giddy. But then, in January and February of 2015 we saw the dollar surge and watched it go past 14 to 1. Holy Mole-- now’s the time to buy! Currently, at the moment I am writing this, the rate has been holding steady above 15 to 1. Think about it this way: a copper vase I bought in 2014 cost me 600 pesos, which was about $48. If I were to buy it now at 15 to 1, it would be around $40 US. If I buy ten of those vases, I will be saving $80. That’s a significant difference and some pretty strong motivation for me to start placing some orders. First though, I have to check on shipping possibilities. Always there’s that shipping issue. “Hey Carlos, got any trucks coming up in the next few months?” Affirmative, he tells me, probably end of February or beginning of March. Perfect, that will be plenty of time for the artisans to complete my orders before Domingo de Ramos. If you wait too long, they will be busy creating their pieces for the concurso and after that they’ll be kicking back, enjoying Semana Santa with their families. Of course I know from experience that “end of February” probably means the end of March, but even with a delay I figure we’ll be okay. So I place the orders, send money quickly (before the rate changes) and assure my customers that yes, I will be getting more of that beautiful pottery in a couple of months.
It was the 20th of March, officially Spring, and I was waiting to hear when I could expect to see my boxes. First I needed to check with Rene, my packer guy extraordinaire. Last time I checked he told me he still had a lot to do. So I was really surprised to receive his message telling me that he was just taking the boxes to the paqueteria to ship them to Tlaquepaque where they are to be put on Carlos’ truck. I write back, “Si? Que bien!” (yeah? that’s great!) But then his messages continued and I soon realized that this was no ordinary conversation. An accident had occurred with the boxes. “Una camioneta aplastó las cajas” (a truck had smashed the boxes) and he didn’t know how many pieces were broken. It took me a while to get the story straight, probably because I was in shock and unable to grasp what was happening. Apparently Rene had unloaded the boxes on to the pavement next to his pick-up truck and some guy in another truck drove into them. After seeing what he’d done, the driver immediately took off, and there was nothing Rene could do. They were really smashed.
True story... I am not making this shit up.
So there was my Spring shipment of pottery and that great deal (remember that fabulous exchange rate?) which is now another chapter in my book we’ll call “The great disaster of 2015”.  Maybe I’m getting used to the ups and downs of this business, or maybe I’m actually getting better in my efforts to “be more Mexican” and not complain so much (which is the norm in my Jewish culture) but as I awaited the news of just how bad the damage was, I am remarkably calm. I remember many years ago, before Mexico By Hand was even an idea, Doug and I were walking around Patzcuaro’s Plaza Grande during either the Semana Santa or Dia de los Muertos crafts event. We stopped to admire some stunningly beautiful pottery laid out on the sidewalk. It was the work of Manuel Morales, a well recognized artist who creates unusual (and pricey) painted platters, bowls and vases. We had seen his work in various galleries and at La Casa de las Artesanias and though we loved it, even at Mexico prices it was too expensive for us. Years later we became customers and friends, but this will always be my first memory of Manuel. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a big German Shepard came bounding onto the sidewalk and jumped right on top of the pottery. As we gasped in horror, Manuel calmly, without saying a word or showing any emotion, walked over and picked up the broken pieces-- including a large platter I would guess was priced at least a hundred dollars-- and threw them into the trash. There is a popular saying in Mexico that is passed down from parent to child:  “A tiempos malos, caras buenas”, which literally translates as “in bad times, good face”. In English we would probably say that one should “smile in the face of adversity” or “grin and bear it”. But we Americans, for the most part, don’t usually do that. We yell and throw things, rage and flip the bird at drivers who cut us off on the highway, and we look for someone to sue for damages and our pain and suffering. Manuel knew then that there was nothing he could do but pick up the pieces-- literally-- and keep on working. And now after many years of trying to understand both Mexico and the realities of doing this business, I have finally learned the same. Just pick up the pieces, throw them in the trash, and keep on working.

May 2, 2015 update: The shipment arrived and the pieces are beautiful!

The pottery above is hand painted by the talented husband and wife team, Demetrio and Raquel Gonzalez of Capula, Michoacán. These and others are imported by Mexico By Hand and can be purchased through
For wholesale purchases, please contact us at or 510.526.6395