mardi 27 septembre 2011

How are the sulky fallen

Humbled again.

Not by my inability to do well, at first try, what I've had only the tiniest practice at (tapestry) - that was only humiliating. No, by my teachers' reaction to that humiliation, which was basically to have the delicacy to ignore it, and just go on explaining and demonstrating until I had summoned enough maturity, commonsense, good taste - whatever - to start channelling my efforts into assimilating the techniques, rather than bemoaning my lack of mastery of them.

I'm back where I was this time last week with the hand embroidery. It seems to be a peculiarly Peruvian trait that ego has no place in the learning process: if you do well, your accomplishments will be recognised; if you try hard, your efforts will be encouraged. But if you seek to impose either your skill or your tragic lack of it on others, your bad taste will be quietly ignored until you've got over yourself.

By 5.15pm I'd calmed down sufficiently to do a pretty good wrapping stitch. I'll do better tomorrow, in attitude and output. In the meantime, most of my tapestry to date is the work of my teachers - and I could almost tell you how they did it!

And now for something completely different...

Hot springs, complete with Colca sour - the central Andes' answer to the inestimable pisco sour, with prickly pear fruit in the place of lemon. The same cacti used as barbed wire and cocktail accessory, and the orange flowers that the hummingbirds prefer. Alpaca in the back garden, a rolling waterfall in the front and the cliffs of the canyon all around. Walks in the awe-inspiring Andes, visits to mediaeval towns and the terraced fields that their inhabitants cut with axe and hoe into the mountainside at dizzying heights, and which are worked today. An early-morning rise to see the majestic condors lift off and swoop in search of the right thermals to carry them off on their search for food. A taste of frothy, creamy creamier creamiest milk straight from the cow, offered by the milker to the idiot tourists asking to take photos. A stop in the Altiplano at 4,900 metres to lay a stone in offering to the sacred mountains. Not to mention the soft duvets and snuggly pillows.

All in 60 hours. Colca Canyon: total delight.

dimanche 25 septembre 2011

We did it!!!

It was four days of fairly intense effort all around the beautiful Casa de Melgar hotel in Arequipa: the gourd engravers burned holes into their clothes making charcoal, the machine embroidery and tapestry students got acheing hips and sore eyes, and the hand embroiderers had stiff fingers and stitch (from laughing).

But at 5pm on Friday we were finally assembled around the fruits of our labour - including my own little embroidered bag, of which I'm inordinately proud, having never tried my hand at embroidery before.

There was a real sense of celebration as all the teachers and students gathered to view tapestries, gourds and embroidery: I think we were all very aware of just how much we owed to the skilled help and great patience of our teachers, but it seemed everyone had also achieved something they had not felt capable of before, and we all glowed!

jeudi 22 septembre 2011

A calf called Tony

‘So there we are, my husband Florencio and I, each hanging onto a foreleg, and we’re yelling to the cow “One, two, three – push!” And I swear she heard us: she pushed as we pulled, and out he came.’
A moment of distraction: ‘Your gusanitos are too fat: your flowers won’t be as delicate.’
‘So I like them fat.’
‘You like them fat?!’ (Guffaw of laughter.)
‘My gusanitos, I like them fat. They make nice fat flowers.’
‘Oh, only the gusanitos?!’  (More laughter.)
‘So what’s the cow called?’
‘Flor – flower.’
‘And the calf?’
Tony??! …Not even gusanito?’
‘He was named for his father. But okay, we’ll rename him gusanito; but you have to be the godmother.’
‘So you need to keep the tension up on those stitches: like this…’
'Okay, okay...!'

mardi 20 septembre 2011

Art with attitude

I've spent the entire day making French knots (bolitas) and bullion knots (gusanitos) and laughing. Now I'm exhausted!

The whip-cracking, side-splitting Elena and Anabél - mother and daughter - have put the three of us hand embroidery students in detention tomorrow for working too slowly, and it's a measure of what inspiring teachers they are that we all happily agreed to work the extra hour. The alternative is to risk not completing the little bags we're each embroidering, so intricate and difficult is the work. Andrea and Beck (Rebecca) are both deft hands with a needle already - Andrea's a dressmaker and costume historian and Beck's been an accomplished embroiderer for many years - but even they were daunted by the task of covering half of a small glasses case in such fine work in just four days; if we pull it off, we'll equal our two expert teachers in productivity, if not in quality. Definitely not in quality!

Our tour organiser and general guru, Sasha, recommended at the start of the day that we all do as Peruvian children do, and learn by observing our teachers rather than asking a million questions. It was good advice: at first I found it awe-inspiring simply to see how Elena could tie a 16-loop bullion knot to make a petal with just a few deft gestures; then I despaired as I had to keep calling on her to sort out the tangles I'd got mine into. By the afternoon I had assimilated how she fixed my tangles and was able to put them right myself, and somehow the twists of the thread were giving the right result. Her patience was contagious as well, and I almost stopped cursing my clumsiness - particularly since her and Anabél's wicked humour was always on hand to tease us for our mistakes or impatience! Art and attitude: it's a lot to teach in an eight-hour day, but somehow, with vast good humour, they manage it.

Of course Elena has been embroidering for over 40 years, so my expectations remain modest, but it's a joy to see my little garden of knotted flowers grow over the course of the day, and I look forward to giving them stems to stand on tomorrow.

lundi 19 septembre 2011

Too much to say

There's so much to take in, and to delight in, that it's really very hard to keep up any kind of an account of it all. And that's before the nightly pisco sour!

There was the visit to Maximo Laura's tapestry studio and private collection in Lima, which was an overload of the colour sensors and had me quietly thanking Maralyn Hepworth with all my heart for the introduction to the basics of tapestry and of colour blending that made me able to appreciate how technically impressive, as well as aesthetically beautiful, what I was seeing really was.

There was Mistura, the annual celebration of Peruvian food production and cuisine, which was an fun explosion of taste and colour and a chance to view something of the vast potato production which is Peru's answer to the Inuit ('You just have 50 names for snow: we actually grow 300 varieties of potato'). Not to mention the amazing meals we have had at a range of restaurants in Lima and now Arequipa, several of them owned or designed by Gaston Acuria. A delight.

And now we're in Arequipa, having visited some of its historical prettiness today and learned something of Juanita the ice maiden, the little girl of 12 or 13 presented as a human sacrifice to the mountain gods in an Inca ritual some 500 years ago and discovered preserved by the ice in the late 1990s. And tomorrow - oh giddiness - we start our textile workshops: in my case starting with four days of hand embroidery with the fantastically accomplished Elena and Anabél as teachers.

So a bag of loose ends blogwise, but the reality, happily, flows as smoothly as pisco...

vendredi 16 septembre 2011

Unbroken threads

Simon reached over and pulled open a long drawer under the display cabinet, and a collective sigh of yearning delight passed through the room. We were on the normally closed top floor of the Amano museum, gazing on the handiwork of weavers, tapesters and lace-makers who have been dead these past 900 years and more. Our group of textile fanatics could not but delight in the beauty and delicacy of their creations. And at the same time, disciples admiring the works of true masters, I'm sure each of us yearned ourselves to have the skill, eye and dedication that those works must have demanded.

The colours – often preserved for centuries in dry burial sites in the arid coastal region – were still bright: the reds and pinks of cochineal, the yellows and blues of Amazonian feathers, the remarkable range of undyed cotton shades from white to green to dark brown. In a couple of cases the craftswomen were literally showing off, with samplers of 60 or 70 designs demonstrating different colour combinations, patterns and techniques. Some of the pieces must have required literally hundreds of hours of painstaking work; some weaves were so fine you wondered how long the weaver had kept her eyesight. The museum curator, Doris, was living proof that those skills survive today, showing us how she had restored an ancient Chancay lace worked with a pattern of fish.

While our expert guides pointed out the differences between Huari, Chancay and Inca textiles, the recurring motifs of bird-feline-snake echoing the trinity of spirit world, earthly existence and underworld, and the particularities of various techniques, we passed among these bright beauties, marvelling and moved.

vendredi 2 septembre 2011

Flame of life

Somebody somewhere must have written a self-help book based on the model of the sequoia, surely.

These magnificent, majestic trees live to be thousands of years old (the oldest living one reportedly 3,200) and hundreds of feet high, with roughly the mass of a jumbo jet. They don’t tend to grow in separate stands, but thrive amidst other conifers and deciduous trees and a range of wild flowers.

Cyclical forest fires can kill them, but are also essential to their survival and health: they clear away dead wood, making room for new growth, and the heat releases from their cones the seeds of a new generation. And many trees survive the fire, though sometimes it hollows out a vast area at their base. As long as there is living tissue still connecting root to leaf, the sequoia not only lives on, but heals: its shaggy red trunk is often spotted with dark marks like a giant has been stubbing out cigarettes there, and which appear to be the healed scars of earlier fires.

There’s a moral in there somewhere…