The Search for Materials

By Keith

Today was definitely an interesting day. Sean and I awoke at 6 am to get ready for our trip an hour away to the the city of Toluca. We both needed leather and the price quotes and options in Malinalco were very limited and expensive. With the help of Oscar, a local leather artisan and wood carver, and the company of Marlene, another local artisan and Sean’s partner for the Malinalco Project, we set sail for the far off town of Toluca.

We took a cab to a city nearby called Tenancingo and then transferred to another taxi to go to Toluca. When we arrived, at 830 in the morning, the store that had the nylon thread that Maria, my partner and weaver, need was closed. So we had to wait 2 hours for it to open. Luckily there was a Starbucks nearby in the mall. I had a familiar chai latte and we sat patiently trying to figure out our plan to get leather and thread and get back at a decent hour.

While in the mall, I had a very familiar cheese burger and small fry from McDonald’s and we began to make our way to the shop. When we got there, it was huge… Thread, fabrics, fillers… They had everything. I found the thread and I found enough of them for Maria to begin her weaving, too bad it was almost twice the price I paid in Malinalco… Pissed but whatever… We then left to find the leather place… After a bus ride, Oscar ran into a friend and he agreed to take us in his car. It was a very fortunate coincidence. While in the car, he asked if he could “play some music for 10 minutes”. The English speakers in the car, Sean and I, thought that he meant play the radio. 8 minutes later, we show up at a church, and he jumps out to grab his guitar…

We had a small convo about him practicing guitar in the drive over, and when I asked him if he was good he said to me “you will have to see” in not so great English. The next thing I know we are walking into a church and Marlene explains in English that he needs to play at the church for 10 minutes before he can take us to the leather store. Obviously, my Spanish isn’t quite that great! The place is beautiful and there is only one other person in the church.

We sit down, Marlene does a quick prayer on the kneeling pad, and the music starts. He starts with “Ave Maria ” and I realize that I know this song… Possible from desperado… I don’t know. The piece is absolutely beautiful and in this moment I realize that what he meant by practice is not the same as being a novice. He is good. Really good! And it becomes a moment that slows down time and transports me to a place that is both calm and beautiful.

He does 3 songs, and to his promise we are out in 10 minutes. But I leave different. Calmer, more at peace with this complicated experience of getting leather and thread… And I am not the only one. Sean, Marlene, and Oscar all seem slightly transformed. We give him a silent applause and we head back in the car to the leather store.

When we finally arrive, close to 230 pm. I was immediately in heaven. The store is an open room on the side of the street attached to a shoe repair place. The smell is immediately familiar and I walk in and dive my face in the leather to get closer to the smell. You know that smell… I love leather because here is no material like it in the world. And when we get the skins we want, he prices mine and I’m in shock… “268 pesos”. The exchange rate here is about 12-to-1. I round out to 10 to keep my sanity and to feel like I’m saving money. That gives me a beautiful skin for the cost of $26 USD!

I grab his email and facebook info for possible export to the US and I feel super accomplished. So to celebrate we head to the California Pizza Kitchen and treat our guest to some pizza and beer. Finally we begin to head home… The total trip was about 2 buses and 8 cabs, 9 hours, 3 major cities, 2000 pesos and 4 exhausted people. To say it was an interesting day would be completely diminishing everything that we went through.

By the end, I was tired of the city. I was itching to get back to Malinalco where the people speak back as I say hi on the streets, where locals jump out of there cars to take pictures with me because I am “muy differente”, where the air is clean and I am surrounded by beautiful mountains and wonderful designers working with talented local artisans… This place is making me seriously question how I can be in a remote beautiful location while still earning a city income…

I love this place!

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