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Mayan Delight

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A long time ago, I alluded to this beautiful quilt, and promised I'd post about it at some point. Well, I'm being a hyper-super-insane bloggrasshopper lately, storing up posts as if Armageddon itself were on the way. Must be the fall coming, or perhaps I'm girding myself for some kind of cosmic shootout after which I'll be psychically indisposed for the foreseeable future. I can't tell you why I'm doing it myself, but there are 14 posts and counting on tap, and I'm still hoarding. This one is fresh, done tonight, in case it matters. I'm insane, I know, but at least I'm aware of it.

On our second trip to Guatemala last February, we visited a market in the center of Guatemala City and made a beeline for the nice textile shop there that has a selection of bedpreads, shams, pillow covers and tablecloths. We didn't know quite what we wanted, but we knew we'd know it when we saw it.

I could spend days at that market. Everything's neatly folded and stacked, and when the shopkeeper pulls something out for you you get a tantalizing glimpse of the next thing, be it garment or bag or bedspread, and then you just have to see that one. I am NUTS about the Mayan aesthetic. Nuts about their colors and patterns and the way they incorporate birds and plants and flowers in their art. Nuts about the color combinations, the fabulously fine handwork, and the wildly disparate styles of each region. My favorite textiles come from around Lake Atitlan, but I love them all unreservedly. I'm more than delighted to peel off bills and give them directly to the woman who created this incomparable art. It feels like free trade as it should be. It's all I can do not to stare at the women wearing these things on the street, and I've been known to discreetly use my binoculars from the bus to appreciate the textiles they're wearing to the market and the bank. Mayan culture is alive and dominant in Guatemala, and it's one of the main reasons we love the country, troubled as it is.
To me, the people in their handmade finery look like hummingbirds, with their brilliant, iridescent gorgets.

This bedspread is pieced together from discarded huipils (wee-peels), the heavily decorated blouses that Mayan women still wear for everyday use. It's covered with neck holes from the huipils, which have been creatively patched with other pieces. Here's a little tour around some of my favorite passages on the quilt.
Another neck hole. I think these are roses in the outer part, and on the inner ring are orchids, probably dendrobiums.
Who'd put roses with herringbone? Mayans. We couldn't even imagine such a combination. To me, huipil weavings are like nature itself--unexpected and beautiful beyond imagining. The merchants told me that many of the pieces of fabric in this quilt are no longer being produced; they're from men's dress pants that are no longer being made or worn. This quilt is holy, a piece of Mayan culture, and I feel privileged to have it on my bed, and not a little unworthy, too. It always makes me smile, just like sun on running water. And it doesn't show dog hairs at all.
This is Big Toe, my Ugly Doll. I bought him as a travel pillow, but because he, too, makes me smile. There's something comforting about taking a monster on your flight with you, sticking him in your backpack to pull out as the jet's taking off. Chet knows he is not allowed to chew Big Toe and treats him with respect. I know it's late in life to be buying dolls for myself, but there are things I find I need and cannot resist, from the ridiculous to the sublime. The wonder is the way they all fit together in my life.

Until I hoard again,


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