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Thursday, February 27, 2020

True Color

I was surrounded and overwhelmed by the colors of Guatemala. Our mosaic project, of course, consisted of color. Every day I reveled in the panoply of colors around us, boxes full of tiles, all purchased in Guatemala City at the beginning of the project, plus some that remained from the previous year. They sat on the ground around us, sorted basically by color, many versions of blues, greens, oranges, browns, etc. Some were flat, others had some texture or mottled appearance.

We worked under our blue tarp, several hours each morning and again in the afternoon, each of us using our nippers to cut the tiles to match the images designed by Deb and by Cindy. The more skilled of us worked at the more detailed part of the panels. The murals themselves were bright and extremely colorful.

The point of the project is to beautify the town and make it known as a mosaic destination, in order to attract more tourism. There were a few groups there while we were, but very few tourists. One group whose stay overlapped with ours was from Habitat for Humanity in Washingon State.   Other towns around the lake are more well known and much more touristed. Frankly, the lack of tourists was part of the appeal of the place to me. But of course, from the local point of view, more tourists means a better economy.

The town is also brightened by a series of spray painted murals done by a local collective of young men. They are also quite colorful, and very different from our work. Oliver is the mural designer, and directs the making of the murals. Unlike our mosaic workshop leaders, who carefully design everything in advance, he designs as he works. This one represents a famous marimba player from St. Lucas.  Oliver also told us that every marimba has its own name, the way we name boats in the United States and other places, Guatemala included. But not every car or plane. I wonder how that evolved, and what other things people name in other places.

But the most dominant sense of color in their environment is seen in the beautiful textiles in the markets, the weaving cooperatives,  and sold by a multitude of street vendors. And especially so in the garments that nearly all the women, and a few of the men, wear.  Each town has its own patterns and colors of weaving, that identify them as belonging to a certain location.  This is also true in Peru, in the clothing and hats that people wear. But there it is only the indigenous people in the more remote locations that dress in the traditional garments.  In Guatemala, it is the majority of the women, in the towns as well as in the countryside. So there is color everywhere. And that is my predominant vision and memory of the country.

This, I am guessing, is a girl and her grandmother, in the three times weekly St. Lucas market. I think the granddaughter was reading to the grandmother. But it is the colors that caught my attention. This may be my favorite photo from the trip. But there are a couple more contenders.

Interestingly, we were told that the traditional clothing of San Lucas Toliman, where we were living, was a red and white striped garment. But the women did not wear that, rather, they wore a variety of multicolored clothing. It seemed as though they had "modernized" by wearing colors other than the traditional ones.

At the weaving collective that I visited twice, once with each group, we had a demonstration/lecture of all the natural dyes that were used to color the cotton they spun and wove. It was fascinating. They used a variety of vegetables, plants, insects (cochineal beetles, which live on prickly pear cacti and have been used by a variety of cultures over the centuries) and dyed them for various periods of time, in different temperatures of water,  to achieve different hues. The woman also indicated, both weeks, that the phase of the moon effected the strength of the color. One more thing to try to research further.

But when someone asked where the glittery thread that was woven into some of the material was obtained, she chuckled and answered that it was from China!

The two ceramic workshops we visited were also full of color, primarily shades of blue and brown, with lots of hummingbird and fish designs. On our very first day, I saw tiny shards of ceramic mixed in with the pieces of tile we were using, and fished them out. Cindy told me they had been bought by someone in last year's group at the ceramic factory. And so when we visited, I bypassed the beautiful whole pottery pieces, as well as the seconds, and went for the "terceras"  - thirds, broken pieces in a cardboard box on the floor under the display shelves. They will sit on my work table until I am inspired to incorporate them into a project.

The colors in the environment were also bright. When I arrived, there was a tree with bright orange flowers in the view of the lake from the restaurant porch, and another one with bright purple flowers.  And those trees continued to blossom over the entire two weeks I was there. They were incorporated into the mosaic design that we worked on, itself based on a photo taken from the porch by Walt Ali, local photographer and guide.  It was Walt who had led many from the first week's group into the forest in search of the elusive quetzal bird, itself very colorful and the symbol of the country.

The plates of food were colorful as well, with  tropical fruits  and juices and the beautiful salads.  Some salads were decorated with edible nasturtium petals. There were many other flowering plants throughout the property, and people working constantly in the gardens.

The vegetable garden, just to the side of our working space, was the domain of head gardener Jose Luis. Some of us went on a tour of the garden with him.  Many of the vegetables and herbs used in the restaurant were grown in the garden. And there were many flowering plants there as well.

Also adjacent to the work space was a bush with stunning large pink flowers. Deb, horticulturist as well as mosaic artist, identified it as Dutchman's Pipe.  A rather prosaic name for such a beautiful plant. It has the look of an orchid or a lady's slipper, but much larger and more impressive.

On our last day, after all of our work was done, some of us worked to inventory all the tiles left over, which will be stored at the hotel for use next year.  Deb and Cindy had purchased more than they realized. There were so many variations of color, including some we hadn't even used. We counted them and had fun giving them descriptive names, as well as photographing them all. One was the lime green similar to the color of my car, as well as to the orange -moringa juice blend we had one morning, and also my favorite coffee cup at the hotel.

And for a less pleasing mention of color, there are the red spots outside the ice cream shop where I fell the first week. I went back the next day to see what mark I had left. But I was disappointed to find out that the red spots on the sidewalk were paint from the wall of the shop, not blood. I guess they had washed the blood away!   Oh well, I left my mark in the  varied blue tiles of the mosaic mural's sky, the white and gray of the clouds, and the brown of a few branches.  And, in the small shards of pottery that we incorporated into the children's clothing in the mural that was installed on the wall of the school.

I did bring back a few souvenirs, of course. A pair of  multicolored shorts for myself.  A couple of beaded lizards with pin backs. I have been wearing  them on my hats, inspired by Antonio, from whom I bought them, who wore one on his Yankee baseball cap as he plied his wares at the entrance to the hotel.

And a huipol, the colorful blouses that the women and some men wear, along with their skirts, belts and aprons.  They don't use anything to attach them. The skirts are simply large rectangles of fabric which they wrap around their bodies.  The blouses are tucked in and the belts wrapped and tucked. The aprons, which are decorative, not utilitarian, are highly embroidered, sometimes with glittery flowered appliques,  and are tied at the back as our cooking aprons are. And a couple of those eyeglass lanyards that have a name I can't think of, brightly colored thin woven items that the children make when they are learning to weave. I bought one and then was given one as a gift.

I've worn the huipol already, plan to hang the belt on the bedroom wall, will wear the shorts when the warm weather comes north.  And I have the photos and the memories of the mosaics, the people, the ones of me being dressed head to toe in traditional clothing at the weaving coop. And the food.

But most of all, the people. I was struck by the friendliness of the people, especially the ones who stopped by while we were working. Some of them just watched, but many took time to say how beautiful the work was, and to thank us.  And virtually all the people we passed on the streets of the town said either Hola or Buenos to us, if we didn't say it first.  They seemed remarkably comfortable and welcoming to the gringos in their midst.

The wait staff, housekeepers and gardeners at the hotel were also friendly and comfortable with us. They didn't seem in the least subservient or shy, much more noticeably outgoing than in other places I have visited.  It might have been partly because we were part of an ongoing group that had spent time there before. But if that was at all a factor I doubt that it was much of one.  They were as eager to practice their English as we were to practice our Spanish. It may be partly due to Chati's values and management style, but I think it is also due to the Guatemalan psyche, something I can't quite put into words, but definitely felt while there.

I hope that the mosaic project will continue, and expect it will, due to Cindy and Deb's commitment and hard work. And I hope that some of the locals will remember us when they look at the art we created, and that it serves to bring a little more economic support to their beautiful town and the lake upon which it sits.

As a small  afterthought, not especially relevant, Suzie, the Guatemalan/American woman who lives part of the year in Massachusetts, told me that Chati, the hotel manager's nickname rather than given name, means woman with a small nose.  I told that to some of our group, but I don't think they believed me, and I am not sure I believed it myself!  Yet I did find, in the Urban Dictionary when I returned home, that it does indeed mean a beautiful woman with a small nose. But it took a lot of googling before I found it.  If there's any lesson there, it may be to stay curious and be open to new knowledge.

And Flash!  I just also googled the decades-old name for those eyeglass chains:  croakies!! I think that's the name of the original company that made them in the 70s.  Does anyone but me remember that?  Or is it just one more piece of not very useful trivia filed away in my head, like the song One Last Kiss from Bye Bye Birdie?  (see the One Last Quiche post if this doesn't make any sense.)

And that's where I will end this saga of my latest journey, before it descends even more into trivial pursuits.

But if you are a facebook person, I am also about to post a photographic album of my travels  there. 

signing off, Joanna

until my next adventure in travel.  hasta luego.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

One last quiche

The title of this post came to me in a flash. I am attempting to describe some of the food we ate on the trip. Mysteriously, although surely my doing, my post about food has disappeared on me, twice, and so this is my third attempt.  I will hopefully see it thru to posting this time.

And, it has occurred to me that quite possibly no one beside me will understand the quiche reference. One Last Kiss is the song Conrad Birdie sings to an audience of screaming teens  in the musical Bye Bye Birdie, before he (an Elvis like character) goes off to war.  Obscure, I guess.

My half eaten quiche, with salad from the garden, adorned with nasturtium perals.

The food at the Hotel Toliman, where I stayed for two weeks and where I ate virtually every meal during my sojourn, was beyond delicious.  One would think that I'd tire of the same menu every day, and after two previous weeks eating nearly every meal in a restaurant. Not so.

The menu was so wonderful, and varied, that I looked forward to deciding each meal, and even after the two weeks there were items I hadn't had a chance to try.

Our group had  a limited version of the menu for breakfast, which was included in the trip.  But hardly limited. I think there were a couple of menu items on the regular menu that weren't included. And there were so many possibilities, and the staff was very flexible in honoring our requests, ie for extra yogurt, no beans (me) etc.  Each breakfast began with a blend of fruit juices. I truly think there was a different blend, and a different color,  each day.  Watermelon, papaya, orange with moringa (an herb)  etc.  Maybe because I kept asking, they began to announce the day's blend each morning. That was followed by a bowl of oatmeal, but very different from what we're used to - a very thin gruel, quite sweet, with cinnamon. I got to like it over the course of the two weeks. Some folks loved it. Others didn't.

Then there was a choice of eggs in different styles, fruit platter, etc, all accompanied by yogurt, granola, platanos (plantains, a somewhat savory kind of banana),  refried beans, local white cheese, and more.

We broke our mosaic work for lunch every day, but I rarely ate it. Three large meals a day were two much  for me, although not for most of the group.  I was amazed at how much most people were able to eat, and, I admit, a little distressed by the amount of food some folks left on their plates. I am always bothered by wasted leftover food, mine or others'.  And especially in a poor country, where the people serving us may be struggling to support themselves. Although I am sure that Chati pays and treats the hotel employees well.  She seems to support a lot of local causes, like the cooperative of mural painters, and the kid's marimba band. It is Chati, who with Cindy, initiated the mosaic project as a way to bring both beauty and tourist income to the town.

A large glass of lemonade made with soda water satisfied me most days, until the mishap where I split open my lip. Then I switched to chocolate ice cream for most of the rest of the trip!

And onto supper: the varied menu included various meats, poultry, vegetarian options, fish, all with lots of vegetables. The lunch and supper menus were the same.  On the first night a couple of the group ordered pasta alfredo, which neither liked. I wouldn't have liked it either, the sauce looked exceedingly rich. On the other hand, the other pasta dish, the house pasta, was made with lots of vegetables, a little oil, some parmesan -like cheese, and was fairly light. I believe the pasta was homemade. Others agreed and many beside me ordered it more than once.  Another favorite was the kale quiche.  The crust was latticed and delicious, and the filling delicious too. I recommended it to others, who agreed. We later found out from the gardener that the ingredients included four other greens besides the kale.

Another favorite was the ceviche. Loring and I had had it elsewhere earlier in the trip, with the same preparation. Guatemalan ceviche is rather different than Peruvian ceviche, which is marinated in lime juice. This ceviche also has lime juice, but is primarily tomato based.  It resembles gazpacho, and was served in a tall glass. Someone suggested that I could use a booster seat, and she was right!  My only mistake was ordering it a second time right after my lip was cut, when  the acidity made it hard to eat. But I persisted!  And ordered it another time right before we left.  I may have to try it Guatemalan style at home.

And then, there was the tilapia. The menu said something to the effect of "from our own pool."  But I didn't realize until about a week in that the pool was the decorative fountain virtually outside my room, that I walked by more than once every day.  Sure enough, there were about a half dozen fish swimming around, until a man with a net on a pole came by.  They are bony and a bit difficult to eat, but worth it.  There was also bass from the lake on the menu, but it was very expensive, and I couldn't imagine it being any better than the tilapia. Besides, not sure I wanted to eat something from the polluted lake, where some of the sewage from the communities goes, where people wash their clothes, etc.

I didn't usually need dessert, but did manage to try most of the desserts by the end of the two weeks. There was the ice cream, several flavors but I always had the chocolate, a kind of cheese cake with a fruit sauce, and plantains with mole. I know mole as a savory Mexican sauce, served with meat. It has chocolate and chile and other things, and is not sweet.  This Guatemalan mole was basically a sweet chocolate sauce.  The waiter said the other ingredient was sesame, and I did see a few sesame seeds floating in the sauce, but didn't really detect the flavor. So, basically, cooked bananas in chocolate sauce. Delish.

I am going to stop here, partly because I am afraid of once again hitting a wrong key and deleting everything I have just written.

But I will follow up, now or shortly, with one last post, now that I am home, upon some of my experiences and impressions, and perhaps adding in some other details that I subsequently remember.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The adventures continue

It is Moday the 17th of February.  We leave on the 20th. I am sitting in the beautiful gardens of the hotel. There is marimba music playing in the background. Not sure if it live or recorded It does sound live to me and is coming from the general direction of the kid's music center. So it is very likely live. 

I just finished breakfast, and wandered down to a sunny spot. I have been here about ten days and only just now discovered that there is a lower gate into the hotel from the embarcadero, the dock. But it is locked. In an hour or so from now the group will be heading out there for our boat ride around the lake. We will revisit the town with the pottery workshops and weaving collective. This time our other stop will be Panachel, the larger town from which Loring and I took the boat to Hotel de Mundo, and later, to Antigua. We didn't spend any time there, though, aside from waiting for our collective shuttle vans.

We finished the mosaics yesterday, aside from installing them,  which we will do tomorrow. 

It is amazing how much we have accomplished In just three days. Granted, there have been a lot of us working on them, nearly twenty of us, plus three or four young men from the community.  So many, in fact, that we have had to work in shifts at times. 
Cindy'sdesigns are again based on photos that Walt had taken in the past. There are two portraits of an elderly man and a woman. Those will be installed flanking the larger mural we did last week, also based on a photo by Walter. The man depicted is Walter's father.  The other is of  is of a woman who has subsequently died.

The other mosaic, the one I have worked on the most, is of three young children. As I wrote earlier, the little boy is the music teacher's son, taken about a decade ago. He is now sixteen, still a member of the marimba band, and a part time music student in Guatemala City.  

The parts of this mosaic that I worked on are the boy's and one of the girl's clothing. Although I needed a lot of guidance from Cindy,  I am still proud of and pleased with my work. From the time I saw the shards of broken pottery in the workshop last week, I wanted to incorporate some of them into the mosaic. It was Cindy's idea to use them as part of the clothing. I am also pleased that I have met the actual person the design depicts.  I wonder, though, how Jarbin, the young musician, feels having his image on public display.  Proud, I hope. Cheyo, his father, certainly seems to be.
Speaking of the marimba band, they got a lot of tips a couple of nights ago in the restaurant, after I gave a little pitch about them to our group. When our first group, last week, saw them, it was much more as background music, although some of our group did pat them attention and give them tips.

 When they played a few days ago, though, it was Valentine's Day, as well as Friday, and the restaurant was decorated with flowers and balloons, and they were offering a 15% discount. There were quite a few local families and couples. And it was also the Habitat for Humanities group's,( who have also been staying here) last night here. So the tip money seemed to be flowing. 

Did I mention that when I had showed them video of them playing that first night, they were intrigued. I am pretty sure they had never seen themselves playing before. On the other hand, they do have a Facebook page, so I could be wrong.i need to post some of the videos or send them to Cheyo.

I had mentioned before that there were a few young men who participated yesterday with us on the mosaics.  They are the members of a collective of local mural artists who have painted on various walls around town, with permission of the city. They had all painted from a young age, but were organized last year by Oliver. He led us around town to see many of the murals, explaining to us the symbolism in the works. It is he who does all the design work and directs the others (not unlike our groups,) with a major difference being that he does all of his design work spontaneously, on site, whereas Cindy and Deb carefully plan their design work in advance. 

I asked Cindy where the group gets its funding. She answered that our groups give them some, with money from our payments to the program. Good to know. I imagine that Chati, the hotel manager, also contributes. Chati is quite involved in the community in a number of ways. And of course the hotel employs a large staff, including cooks and servers, gardening staff [a lot) housekeepers, and more. 
I will stop for now, and eventually pick up the narrative again, with the info about our meals, coffee, likely more info about handicrafts, and whatever future adventures await us!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

And ups!

Everything is fine  today, aside from the fact that I just lost everything I wrote this morning and will now try to recreate. Things seem resolved as far as my room and about them feeling like they have to watch out for me. 

Much of group 2 has arrived. I was having lunch with Marina when the shuttle arrived. They all seem quite nice. I chatted with them for a while. At least two of them had participated last  year.

Five more folks are coming on a later shuttle. That is because ome person, Brenda, slept thru her alarm and missed her flight. Had take a flight the next day, and four others chose to wait for her. Hope she’s not too frazzled or upset.

So, back to yesterday. I met with Cheo the music  teacher yesterday afternoon.  The art" school"  is really just a barn- like building a few blocks from the hotel, and a couple of blocks from the elementary school. There were three marimbas there and three kids practicing. Only boys were in the group that has played at the hotel.  Cheo explained that there are girls in the group, but they are mostly studying to be teachers and have more homework at night.  Interesting.

 I asked what the boys wanted to be, but didn’t understand his answer.
He told me he wasn’t sure if the school would continue to exist, because they couldn’t afford the rent. He said they were looking for a patron. There had been a woman helping financially but she had suddenly died. I know Chati has been helping,  she told me that she helps out when they play at the restaurant and don’t make enough in tips. The teacher said he gives the money to the kids, a little to each to help their families.

I gave him the $15 Ines had asked me to give them, and an equal amount from myself.  He seemed really grateful and gave me two cds of the group’s music,  one for Ines and one for me. I will give Ines hers when I meet up with her back in Boston.  I told him to talk to Chati about playing again at the restaurant, and to bring the cds to sell, and that I would talk to our new group about their group.

One thing that should interest our group is that Cindy ‘s new mural depicts three children,  from another photo by Walter. One of the children is the teacher’s son, who was about six at the time, and is now sixteen and still in the band.

There were several  carved masks on the wall, unpainted animals with horns, perhaps elk. He explained that a group of Americans had done a play with them, for which the masks had been made. They were truly works of art. I wonder who had made them.

There were also some  clay pieces in a case, most likely ancient and perhaps valuable.  One of them was a whistle that made animal sounds. He said he would bring it when they came to the restaurant.

He also said the group did dances. I wonder if we could get them to perform before we leave.

I think I have recreated most of what I deleted accidentally this morning,  except what I wrote about the wonderful food here. But I will attempt to post this before I lose it again, and post the food info separately.

Last week I posted a,video on Facebook of the group playing at the hotel.

Ups and downs

Wednesday, an in between day

Group one left at the crack of dawn this morning. Some of Group two has arrived  in Guatemala City. They are staying there tonight, and a shuttle is bringing them here tomorrow. 
I am the only one doing both sessions. But many of the participants, in both groups, are highly experienced mosaic artists.  The second group is somewhat larger. One person from last year is returning and bringing several friends. Another person is bringing her adult son. One or two people are from France. One person has a prosthetic leg. And that’s what I know so far!  Everyone in the earlier group seemed to get along well. Hopefully that will also be true of Group 2.

. In my experience, the first week is like a honeymoon period. If there are going to be tensions they tend to develop from the second week. And these are one week sessions so hopefully no time for tensions to arise!

Of course, my experiences have been quite different, with the majority of the group in my volunteer experiences being in their 20s, and the groups being very international. But I’m not sure how much that affects the dynamics. One likes to think that people in their 40s to 60s are more mature, but I am not really sure that is true. But everyone in this group did seem to get along quite well, and there are several that I will hopefully keep in touch with. 

This morning Deb told me that she, Chati and Cindy had decided to move me to a different room on the first floor. I had actually brought the idea up with Chati a day or two ago, not because of the steps, but because there is a lot of road traffic, especially early in the am.  I told her to show
me another room and that I would decide.

So I was rather startled when Deb informed me that they had decided for me. She also mentioned that they were going to escort me back and forth from my room because they were worried about me. That was the worst of it.   I understand that they are worried after my fall, and also that they are to an extent responsible for my wellbeing. Nonetheless, I hardly need escorting, and just how were they going to do that?  Including down to the work area? I made clear that I was upset (by bursting into tears)  and they discussed it further and decided that I didn’t need to change rooms.  They haven’t mentioned monitoring my walking again, so I am hoping they have let that go.

I realize their concern, between the fall and the group losing me in the other town. They must think I’m a total space cadet and/or incompetent , and now I am worried about their worrying about me. 

The fall, after all, was not on the hotel premises, and on a sidewalk with a bump, not on the cobblestones of the hotel. I am usually quite careful about steps, at home and elsewhere, including here, so it’s somewhat ironic that I fell on a pretty smooth pavement  which I had deliberately moved to from the cobblestone street.

So I am feeling a little out of sorts this afternoon, since I had been really enjoying myself, and the project, until this morning. Now I am feeling even more conscious of my walking, too much so, hoping not to do anything that will worry them further. 

Well, time to go to the music school. Hopefully that will put me back in a happy mood. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Several days later, a lot has transpired!


It’s our third full day here, and the first day I have ventured beyond the hotel grounds. First, in the morning, just across the street first, to the office, to let them know that I wanted to go on the coffee tour this afternoon. So not sure that actually qualified as off the grounds. ( no pun intended.)  This morning after breakfast I worked again on Cindy’s mural, putting in some last pieces of the blue sky at the top of the mural.  That has been pretty much what I have worked on, and very little on Deb’s.  But next week I will be sure to work some more on Deb’s project.

Both murals are nearly done. Now the contact paper has been laid over, and they have been cut into segments and flipped. I did a small amount of cutting with a razor blade, and then heated the segments with a hair dryer to adhere the plastic more firmly to the tiles.

It is getting dark, and we have stopped for the day. Tomorrow Cindy, and anyone else who is up early, will finish up separating the segments, eight I believe. At 9am we are heading out for a day long boat trip around the lake, stopping at a few communities with artisans, and at a hotel restaurant for lunch.

Four of us went on the coffee tour, accompanied by a guide, his young son, and Anita, a local woman who went to Antigua for three years to learn English, and now works as a translator.  Of the four of us, three including me had some skills in Spanish, and one, Inez, originally from Chile, is fluent.  We probably would have been fine without a translator, but it was nevertheless nice to have Anita along.
People are gathering for drinks and dinner, so I will stop for now and be sociable.

A couple of days later. I am sitting in the sun on the terrace of the hotel in San Lucas Toliman.  The view in front of me is the view depicted in our mural, which is now complete and was mounted yesterday on a wall along the town’s main street.  The sun feels great, although in a bit it will be too hot and I will probably retreat to the shade.

We have just finished breakfast, me and the three others who did not go on the morning jungle hike to look for quetzals, the beautiful and elusive birds that are Guatemala’s national bird. With me were Ines, Colleen, and Laurel. Colleen and Laurel are now heading out to Santiago to buy some more handicrafts. Ines and I are spending the day here.

A lot has transpired in the last couple of days, which I will try to recap. It’s been a bit more adventure than I signed up for. First, on our boat trip around to various towns along the lake a couple of days back. I got lost. Really lost. We’d just landed on the outskirts of town, and a number of us stopped to use the bathroom. When I came out, after just two or three minutes, everyone was gone.  I knew they were heading to a restaurant for lunch, but had understood that the restaurant was a twenty minute walk into town. That had indeed originally been true, but the boat guide,Rigoberto, had discovered that there was a dock right in front of the restaurant.

So, not realizing there had been a change, I began walking to town, figuring I would catch up with the group, or find them at the restaurant after a walk of about 20 minutes.  After 15 minutes I was in the middle of town. Lots of local shops and a chicken/pizza place, nothing that looked like a restaurant for gringos. Saw a couple of cops and tried asking them for help. No luck. Finally they suggested a fancy restaurant, and called a tuk tuk to take me there. After a 10 minute ride, a beautiful hotel and restaurant, but no group.

I was running out of ideas. Then it occurred to me that Susie, the Guatemala/Boston woman with whom Cindy and I had ridden here from Antigua, had told me a story about the restaurant. It and its hotel had belonged to a woman, from the States I think, who had lived there for many years, through the war, and had written books about her experiences. She was now elderly, and her family had tried, without success, to sell the place. So they wound up selling the individual casitas (cabins) and kept the restaurant. When I described that the staff at the fancy hotel recognized, right away, that it was La Posada that I had described. They called me another tuktuk and he took me off to La Posada. I realized on the way that it was where we had started out. I was about to say it wasn’t the right place, but then realized it was the best place to go, since that was where we had last seen each other. Just before we arrived back at La Posada, I saw Cindy walking along the road. She was as relieved to see me as I was to see her.  It turned out that Cindy had misunderstood, at first, where we were going, not knowing that there was a dock right at the restaurant. So La Posada was where we had landed and used the bathrooms, and the restaurant was right across the street, and I needn’t have gone anywhere except across the street to find the group.

I do feel like I handled it pretty well, and was at least pleased with myself that I was able to communicate with people in Spanish. The problem wasn’t a language problem, it was a misunderstanding about where we were going. And I had sent out a WhatsApp plea that at least some of the group received and answered. But by then I was too caught up in taking tuk tuks and trying to find the place to check back.

Cindy felt bad and was both apologetic and grateful, saying the situation made her realize that they needed to do a headcount when moving from one place to another. And she thanked me for handling the situation so well. It is true that I was  half laughing, relieved at being found and also realizing the absurdity of the situation.

So I had some lunch, while the rest of the group headed up to the town, which I had already seen, thank you very much, And Rigoberto took me on a private ride to the main dock where we re met  with the rest of the group. And I had enough time to peruse the stalls down at the dock, and to purchase a beautiful piece for myself. It’s kind of poncho like, but more of a shirt, beautifully embroidered.  Back at the boat a bevy of sellers was literally swarming the group trying to ply their merchandise.

The rest of the trip had been quite interesting. We visited a ceramics factory, the place that all the pottery at the hotel was from. I recognized that some scraps from broken pots had been incorporated into our mural. They had been acquired from someone the previous year. There was a shelf of seconds, that had small cracks or chips. And then a basket of “thirds” which were really broken and really cheap. So I bought a couple of broken pieces to use either in our next mural next week, or take home. They have painted birds or fish on them.

And we also visited a weaving collective in the same town. Two women gave us a demonstration of the whole process, from cleaning and spinning the wool or cotton, spinning, dying, and weaving.  There was a large loom that, if we understood right, dated from the 1800s, and a smaller one that was older and the more traditional method.  I also saw what looked like a bicycle wheel spinning wheel. Maybe next week, when I return with the other group, I can ask about it. The part about all the natural eyes they used, and how they got different effects from varying the time in the dye bath, temperature of the water, phase of the moon (I need to research that a bit more].
But that was not all...

And now, for the great fiasco,  that had nothing to do with mosaics, and everything to do with me.

Yesterday afternoon, while walking from Cindy’s mural to see Deb’s,  I tripped over a rise in the sidewalk and fell spectacularly on my face. I remember lying on the floor, blood dripping from I didn’t know where, and Cindy saying stay calm, you’re going to be okay. Reassuring in one way, scary in another. And then saying, you’re going to need stitches. Some people gave me some ice, and others an ice cream bar (it was in front of an ice cream shop). So off we went off in a tuk tuk, Cindy and Marina and me, to the hospital. Even though my Spanish is getting better by the day,  I was awfully glad to have them along. Marina speaks fluent Spanish, and Cindy nearly so.  The hospital staff was great, the nurses  cleaned me up and the doctor came came before long. Marina knew him personally, she spends part of the year here. She is originally from the Philippines.  The doc injected me along my eyebrow, and on my upper lip.  That was the worst part, and not all that bad. Once the anesthesia took effect, I could hardly feel any pain from the stitches.

They had a black cloth draped over my face, which was probably a good thing. I know Cindy and Marina took pictures, but I am not sure I want to see them.

I came back to a lot of sympathy and concern, and offers of various pain killers and drugs from most of the members of our group.  This morning I have an impressive black lip, but the stiches along my eyebrow, which received more, are barely noticable. My lower lip is sliced too, but I guess didn’t warrant stitches.And I am barely in any pain, just a little discomfort. Didn’t even take any advil this   am.

My taking it easy, which I had planned to do anyway today, while most of the group went quetzal searching, started with me having breakfast, then chatting with Colleen and Laurel, before they went off to Santiago, and later with Ines and Marina. Chati, who is the owner of the hotel, also came over, and offered to change my room, since it is is up a flight of stairs. I think it is the only one not on the ground level. It is also the only one with a view of the lake. I don’t care much about that, since the restaurant views of the lake are beautiful, and Loring and I have had wonderful views from our other abodes. But it is called the writer’s room, according to Chati, because of the desk with the lake view. I do like having the desk, although I haven’t done most of my writing there. But I asked Chati to show me another room, so I can decide.

Everyone is very solicitous and concerned about my tribulations, and have been giving various pieces of advice, things to do, not to do, etc. But the fact is that I am much better today, hardly in any pain, and went on a long walk through town, to visit the installation that I worked on yesterday and didn’t get a chance to grout, the final step.

Then I spent a good hour walking through the market, which happens three times weekly, and where people sell everything from onions to avocados to shrimp to the beautiful woven and embroidered huichols that virtually all women and girls here wear. They have some of the most colorful clothes I have ever seen, and I am impressed that virtually every girl and woman wears them. They consist of an embroidered blouse, a skirt made of a rectangular piece of fabric, an equally colorful apron, and an embroidered belt. The women buying the clothing were locals, not tourists. In fact, I saw no tourists during the hour or more I wandered around.

I try to be sensitive and not take pictures, except of peoples backs, without their permission. But there were a few instances  when I just couldn’t resist. I will post some on fb, and here, if I remember how.

Aside from the beautiful colors and the impressive landscapes of lakes and volcanoes, other impressions include some sounds:  the marimba  band playing at supper ( I hope to go visit the school, tomorrow, between group one’s departure and group two’s arrival)  the sound of women making tortillas in the street, slapping them back and forth between their hands, the tuk tuk milkman crying leche, leche as he rides along, the onion seller in the market, calling cebollas, cebollas,  cinco por un quetzal. (five foe a quetzal, about fourteen cents.

I found out from Chati that Cindy’s design for the next mural includes several children,  and is based on a photo by local photographer Walt, as is the one we just completed. 

Another local person who has helped with the thin set mortar this year and last, is Denber. He is a cute young man who wears a beret shaped hat made of Guatemalan material, and looks like a young Che Guevera. This morning, Chati mentioned that he has a court date tomorrow. He has two kids, and is separated from his wife, who has refused to give him visitation rights. Chati has written a letter of support, as she is his employer. But she seemed worried about whether the court will rule in his favor. She says he is a wonderful father, not an alcoholic as his wife has charged, only has a beer or two from time to time, with her, Chati.  So based on Chati’s information, I am worried for him. She says the wife has had mental problems for years, and Denber actually stood by and supported her.

Well my phone is just about out of charge, so I will stop here and head back to my writer’s room!  And catch up more later.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Three days in Antigua, goodbye to Loring, on to San lucas Toliman

Three days in Antigua

This old city, along with Lake Atitlan, are the two top tourist destinations in guatemala.
Loring and I spent four three days near the north end of the Lake, and have spent his last three days in Antigua. A few minutes ago, his uber picked him up to take him to the airport.  I am sitting in the “outside” living room, which is in a courtyard. Very pleasant.

 We have an inside living room too, plus two bedrooms  and two bathrooms. It’s a nice place in a very convenient location. We have walked all over town over the last few days.
Antingua is replete with ruins, from different periods. Thee have been numerous earthquakes and volcano eruptions over the centuries. 

One hotel is built amidst of the grounds of the former Convent of Santo Domingo. Very atmospheric. And very expensive. The rooms start at about $300 nightly. There are several museums as well as several shops and workshops on the grounds. The most interesting one features ancient Maya pottery and artifacts paired with  temporary glass pieces  that bear some similarity. Unusual concept. I really liked it. The glass pieces were from a number of different international glass companies, like Orrefors in Sweden, along with some individual glass artists. 

The hotel setting is stunning, but I am not sure I would have wanted to stay there. The public spaces didn’t seem appealing, the pool area was totally empty, not just the pool but all the lounge chairs, hot tubs, etc. 

Our place here is quite nice. It’s one of four apartments that originally was one large home. According to the landlord, his family owns two apartments, one tenant is a long time resident, and the owner of the building lives in the fourth, and lived here for many years with his wife and family. The only  people we have met are a couple of staff, plus the owner of our apartment nd the other short term rental apartment. 

I am awaiting Cindy, one of the two mosaic artists organizing the project I about to join. She broke a tooth the night before leaving the States, and is currently at the dentist. Hopefully  her problem will be resolved without too much more work. I am not particularly  antsy, since it is so pleasant here. And I will be spending two whole weeks in San Lucas, so don’t feel rushed to get there. But I do feel bad for Cindy, and hope she doesn’t need too much work. There is a third person coming with us from here in Antigua, and most of the others will be arriving from Guatemala city.

The ride here from Panajachel a few days ago was tortuous, at least for me. The road is very windy and twisty, and my stomach did not appreciate it.  Several times I thought of asking the driver to stop. Towards the end of the three hour drive, another person asked for a stop on behalf of his wife. She looked as bad as I felt. When I came out of the bathroom Loring was eating a bag of potato chips. I waved him away, just the thought of them was more than I could bear.  He had felt fine the whole way, in fact was happy to have much more legroom than on our previous shuttle.
 The shuttles are vans that hold about ten people, and are arranged in advance.  Our companions were from different countries, including an Australian couple with huge packs who were travelling through Latin America for a number of months. 

This is the first time I can think of, in all my travels over many years,  that I have ever suffered from car sickness. Although it is possible that I have had the experience before, and just blocked the memory!

Yesterday afternoon, our second day in Antigua, we visited a house museum, Casa Popenoe. It was originally from the 16th or 17th century, but had been mostly destroyed and abandoned after an earthquake in 1916.  At that point, an American businessman with the United Fruit company bought it, and renovated it along with his architect wife. They worked to restore it to its original authentic state, building or repairing in accordance with traditional methods. 

The family owned it until recently, and one of the daughters, now in her late 80s, lived there until 2006, I believe. Our guide, who was not a regular guide, but an architect volunteering, for his first day, has had  a number of conversations with the now elderly daughter(who apparently conducts many of the tours herself. ). Despite this being his very first tour, he had an enormous amount of knowledge about the house. There was a printed guide, but he seemed to barely use it. He was Guatemalan, but had lived in the US for a number of years, first in New York, then in Chicago, doing historic restoration.

The grounds were beautiful, with many flowering trees and plants, and an herb garden. After the tour the staff served us tea made from herbs from the garden.  

Later, and in a new place:

I am now writing from San Lucas Toliman, back on Lake Atitlan but on the southern end, across from where Loring and I spent a few days last week. This is the second part of my trip. Loring left yesterday and is now home after a long day’s travelling.

I am in the charming hotel San Lucas Toliman, where I will be for the next two weeks. I am here for a group mosaic project. Actually two. There are two one week sessions, and I have signed up for both.
Cindy, her friend Susie ( they had been internet friends but only met in person a couple of days ago) and I took a private shuttle from Antigua to here yesterday. Cindy had part of her root canal done yesterday, and returned to Antigua this morning to have the work completed. She had been determined to be here and set up for the beginning of the project today, despite being in pain. And although she was in pain, one would never have known it. She ate breakfast with us this morning, then left with a private driver who will wait for her and bring her back tonite. Hopefully all will go acccording to plan.

So she, Susie, and I had a nice drive here, about two and a half hours and not at all tortuous. It was on a different road than Loring and I came to Antigua from Panajachel a few days back. Susie is Guatemalan, but has lived part of the year in Boston for many years, splitting her time between the two places. She is also a mosaic artist. She has joined us for a few days and then will be returning to Antigua. She was a wealth of information about Guatemala, along with our driver, and showed us coffee and other crops, and also a town on the way that had been wiped out by a volcano eruption a few years ago. She was very critical of the government’s lack of responsibility for pollution control but had hope for the newly elected president. , 

And I was glad for the chance to get to know Cindy a bit before the whole group convened last night.  She is the originator of this project, and has worked in a couple of other places in Guatemala before creating this one a few years ago.  She lives in Western Massachusetts. 

I was exhausted when we arrived, and knew the others wouldn’t be arriving for several hours. So I took a little nap, well, okay, a long nap.  I was awake and hearing music, (which turned out to be a percussion band of local boys.) But I was so relaxed and lazy, didn’t head up to the restaurant here until I got a message from one of the newly arrived people that they were all at dinner. I missed the whole introduction thing and arrived at the table when everyone else had already ordered.  I think Cindy had forgotten to wake me as I had asked, and who could blame her, with all she had on her mind.  No real problem though. 

This morning after breakfast we all gathered at the spot that they use for the mosaic making. It once was a helicopter pad!  This place was once a coffee factory or plantation or something. I am guessing the pad dates from then, but don’t know for sure. 
There were tables set up, covered with tarps. Cindy and Deb each had a design for a large mosaic mural. Deb had made some changes to hers, and Cindy had awakened early since she knew she wouldn’t be there for the day, and wanted to set things up. So we began working on Cindy’s project first. The design depicts the view of the lake from the restaurant, with some beautiful flowering trees, one with orange flowers, another with purple ones.  Then there are several men carrying things on their backs, (sacks of coffee?  I will have to find out) and some more trees, birds, flowers, etc. 

All the tiles we used are from Guatemala, purchased in  Guatemala City. Boxes of them. Plus some broken pieces from a ceramics factory that is in one of the towns here on the lake.  Those pieces are my favorites, but I am not sure they will find a place in the murals.  

There are already several mosaics in the town, made by previous groups organized by Cindy and Deb.  And when we are finished there will be four more, the two that this group is doing, and two more that the second group will do next week. 

Many of the participants are experienced and talented artists. But one or two have never done them before, and then there are a couple like me, relative novices. 

It was Cindy and Deb who organized and directed a beautiful mural a couple of years ago, at the Society of Mosaic Artists convention in Boston, which I attended. The mural they created there was an ocean scene, which was later installed at the Rose Kennedy Park on Boston’s Greenway. It was supposed to be a temporary installation, but apparently they liked it so much they decided to keep it permanently.  I need to go see it, never did except at the conference itself. 

A  serious mishap occurred this afternoon, when we were all at lunch. Deb was the only person still working, when a sudden wind came up and blew over Cindy’s design, that most of us had been working on all morning.  One half folded over the other. Luckily for me, the parts I had worked on were hardly damaged, but some beautiful work had to be recreated. Some of the more experienced and talented artists had worked on foliage and birds, very painstakingly. Deb told us not to let Cindy know, and I think it all got recreated this afternoon.  We had already sent her pictures though, so she may or may not notice.  

Deb was absolutely devastated, but as she and others said, at least it happened on the first day, rather than when the design was closer to completion.  Everyone seemed to deal with it very well, though. Now we are covering the work with tarps weighted down with some of the large uncut tiles.

I am heading up to dinner now. Probably everyone else is already there.  I haven’t heard any music though, don’t know if the boy band will be there again.

Next I will describe some more of the process of making and eventually installing the works, which is the same process we used when I worked on my very first project, in a Paris housing project, some years ago. It’s called the indirect process. But now, to dinner. More later, most likely tomorrow.

Hasta pronto!  Back soon!

The next day…

It is midday, our second day of mosaicking.  This morning I worked again on Cindy’s design, with about a half dozen of the others. Yesterday I was working on branches and clouds, this morning I was doing sky. We are working with large floor tiles, about 12x12, which we cut with nippers into smallish pieces. Some people are doing pretty intricate work, making birds and flowers and grass. I don’t have the skills to do that, although I think I am improving a bit, even in just a couple of days. Cindy keeps telling me what a good job I am doing, but I think she is just trying to encourage me. 

The indirect process involves laying the design out on paper, then covering it with a sticky mesh. The tiles are laid on top of the mesh, and can be adjusted to an extent because it is only slightly adhesive. When the design  is complete, we will lay contact paper over it, cut into several panels that can be more easily handled, then remove the mesh, adhere the sections  to the wall, and grout it. We will apparently be able to reuse the mesh for next week’s projects. 
I just realized this morning that I haven’t left the premises of the hotel at all for the two days I have been here.  I could easily  just continue to do that, especially where much of the day is taken up with mosaicking, and the rest with eating and talking to people. 
I am surprised at how many people in the group speak some or fluent Spanish. Cindy of course, and Susie from Guatemala/Boston. Then there is Inez, who is originally from Chile, but lives in MA on the South Shore.  I didn’t even realize at first that English wasn’t her first language.  This morning she taught a few of us an idiom for not wanting to get out of bed, which translates to “sticking to the sheets. “ I have to get the exact Spanish from her.  

Inez, like me, is a fan of Jim Braude and Margory Eagen,  although I can’t remember how that came up in conversation. Like me, she has been to the Boston library to watch them live. She’s already suggested we meet up there some time. 

Then there is Lauren, who spent summers in Mexico as a child. And a couple who are from the US, but have been talking to each other in Spanish, which they try to do when they are in a Spanish speaking country. Their Spanish sounds pretty good to me, although it does seem a bit odd to hear them speaking it to each other. But whatever works. And I guess it works for them. They are avid birders, and have already gone out with a guide on a night hike.

And then there are a few like me, who can understand a lot and make myself understood.  I am fine speaking the language when the other people don’t speak English, but get a bit shy when there are others who are bilingual. But I  do think I get a bit better on each trip.  One of the group told me he thought I was fluent, which of course flattered me, even though it isn’t true. 

Well, most of the group has headed back to work, so I guess I should too. The schedule is kind of loose, some people work both morning and afternoon, some just one or the other. But even though I am here for both weeks, right now I want to work both shifts, at least at this point. I may change my mind later in the week.  

Back to work!