woven

Being in Peru with the tradition of woven wool everywhere is like being a little kid finding candy shops on every corner.  Everything ‘cloth’ seems to carry the bright colors and designs characteristic of the region.  My trained eye for finding fabric needs to be re-trained from so many years of looking for and at cotton fabric however.  It takes days for me to realize that everything I am seeing, mostly mass-produced on factory looms of synthetic yarns, is made in the spirit of the traditionally hand-woven beauties that can also be found in the mix of wares for sale everywhere.  And I discover that ‘cotton’ is indeed, a rare commodity…

I decide at the beginning of my visit that I am going to make a baby quilt to give to the one year old son of Molly’s music teacher Panchito, whose christening we have been invited to just before I leave.  I have brought with me some black squares of fabric and embroidery floss, and an embroidered piece in the kanta style of stitching that I made years ago, thinking to have some hand work to do if I feel so inspired.  Instead, Molly convinces me to incorporate the ‘snake’ into the quilt as it is such a potent spiritual symbol for life and re-birth in this country…

…and so my first few days of getting acclimated are centered in this activity of finding fabric to quilt with.  What I end up with initially are a few scarves of striped patterns in a tight weave that feel almost like a light flannel, and a throw that has been fashioned with decorative figures and colors, also structured in stripes, that speak to me loudly.  Molly bargains in Quechua for me at a stall in the large market at San Pedro for some spools of thread, needles, and a pair of scissors.  I spend my early morning hours experimenting with cutting and sewing these fabrics together while Molly still sleeps, realizing that it has to be done quickly and gently so as not to unravel the entire edge as I go along!  Each day I look for something new in the markets, something more to add to this quilt, and in the process, become acquainted with the vast array of ‘antique’ pieces that are literally interwoven into the piles of blankets and tablecloths and ponchos and sweaters and scarves for sale.  I have come to learn that these pieces are most often from the family’s ‘collection’, used and worn and visibly repaired or stained, but still so authentically beautiful in their wear. There is just so much, so many choices, and so it is significant, the few pieces that call out to me, that I bargain for, walk away from, come back to later or the next day, and eventually purchase.  From the woman in the small hidden shop along one of the side streets to Molly’s apartment, I find a simple piece, predominantly dark brown, seemingly plain and undistinguished, until  noticing the single embellished ‘stripe’ of whimsically woven color down the middle and along the edges …

which I respond to with a faster beating heart in acknowledgment of the passion and whimsy that shines through in an otherwise simple and obvious structure….

And then…seeing the flash of orange beckoning to me from a pile of hand-woven blankets that we pass on our way to the ruins at Ollantaytambo, I tell Molly I have to stop and see!  And oh, it is breathtaking, the simplicity of the stripes in clear bold colors that resonate in every part of me, taking me back to the bright orange fur bedspreads that I fell in love with as a young girl and graced the twin beds of my room…..

the bold edges of alternating light and dark blue barely able to contain the burst of these colors.   I am captivated by the subtle variations of design that take place within a single color of the weaving, this time the tactile quality of this piece becoming the medium for expressing spontaneously creative moments in the structure of this fabric, and after much bargaining, it comes back with me to Cusco…

So it is no surprise that the following day at the large public market on the outskirts of Cusco we are exploring with Molly’s Quechua teacher Benita and her husband, that the first thing I see is a vendor with bolts of brightly colored solid fabric.  Joy!!  It is a soft cotton flannel and I purchase enough to provide accents and become batting and backing for the quilt.  Now, with just a week left to complete the work, the design and piecing become one flow of activity in my quiet morning hours, until the day before I have to stop and figure out how to finish it quickly so that I may give it to Panchito and Jessica for their baby Wayri at the christening. The batting becomes a single layer of white flannel purchased at the market, and the back is fashioned out the rest of the colored flannel and folded over and blind stitched in place to form the binding after tying all three layers together with black embroidery floss.

Making a quilt in Peru.  It contains all the memories of my experience of being present to the tradition of where I am while expressing my passion for all I see and feel…

Baby Wayri prepares for an afternoon of being honored…

The christening was a glorious day of celebration in both Christian and Peruvian style.  And while the Christian ceremony only took an hour, the Peruvian celebration was an all day affair, weaving together people and food and music and dance and gift giving and honoring of Mother Earth, Pachamama, all into one beautiful experience….

honor mother

I am at Machu Picchu with my daughter Molly and we are hiking up to the Sun Gate, the place where the inca trail ends and the first glimpse of this famed city on top of the mountain can be seen.  The rock steps are steep and I am moving very slowly, already feeling the effects of the climb under the hot Andean sun at 7:30 in the morning.  I feel tears rising and falling inside of me with each step, which occasionally do spill out in full expression.  Molly is confused by my tears.  I explain they are heartfelt happy tears, spontaneous tears, necessary tears, tears that are accompanied by two very clear words each time, of “honor mother”….

Just one week prior to this climb Molly and I make our first visit to the Sacred Valley from Cusco.  I am remembering the ride to Ollantaytambo and getting the first glimpse of the glaciers that line this famous valley that follows the winding path of the Urubamba River….

and the sheer magnificent feeling of these presences.  We are squished together in the front seat of a ‘comvi’ that will get us to Ollantaytambo for just ten soles apiece ($4 US dollars), eating the indescribably delicious pastry we found at the local bakery in Molly’s San Blas neighborhood, me taking in the breathtaking scenery I am experiencing for the first time while Molly practices her Quechua with the reserved driver, who now magically opens and begins to speak animatedly once he hears Molly address him in his first language…

Ollantaytambo (pronounced O-yan-tie-Tom-bo, and which took me almost the entire two weeks of my visit to say properly, smile) is typically a stop on the way to Machu Picchu for most tourists but we are here to just be ‘here’ for a few days.  Molly is needing a rest from her busy life in Cusco and I am needing my first foray into the realm of Incan architecture in the Sacred Valley.  And Ollantaytambo is amazing!  It is the only surviving example of the ‘old’ city planning that incorporates the famous Incan canals and still functions exactly as it did hundreds of years ago.  While Molly naps in the small hotel we have checked into, I walk the streets and take in the sights, first of the unique stone foundations that form the grid of streets for the town…

the naturally formed stone ‘thresholds’ over the canals that hold the rushing clear cold water …

the views beyond to the ‘ruins’ that we will be exploring the next day…

and even further beyond to the ever present glaciers…

Molly and I are some of the first up into the ruins the next morning.  It is thrilling to feel the ingenuity and integrity of these stone constructions, feeling the clear purpose with every step.  As we are working our way down an older woman and a younger man intersect our path and I watch as the petite woman moves with speed, agility and grace, even if supported on the arm of the younger man.  I find myself watching for her white sweater and bright blue skirt, feeling the energy of this woman still, curious, wanting to know who she is, thinking, I want this energy when I am her age.

The opportunity to make contact comes at the bottom of the ruins when we meet at the places designed to channel water.

Molly strikes up a conversation with ‘Ernesto’, son of ‘Maria Francesca’, and we discover that they are also visitors for the first time from a small town south of Cusco.  We all continue through the ruins together and Maria excitedly points out each place she discovers water and then leads me into the water temple with determination…

We walk silently together while Molly and Ernesto chat and I feel a timelessness in her presence, and the companionship that results from being mutually reverent of ‘the water’.  I dip my hand in the clear cold rushing water of the river to which all the hidden streams flow

and like a little kid, she grins, kneels down and does the same. Honor Mother.  It is a complete thought that encompasses a feeling so much bigger than I can contain in this moment, taking in all the spirits of mothers and daughters and grandmothers that hold the flow of ‘Her’, of Mother Earth, Pachamama, in our very souls.  Maria Francesca takes off her broad brimmed hat for the picture I request…..

and then she and Ernesto continue on their way.

Later in the afternoon, Molly and I climb up the mountain on the other side of the town to the place that gives us a clear view out into the Sacred Valley and of the winding Urubamba River that snakes through and defines the very form of this valley…

and we sit together, mother and daughter, and reflect on being strong independent women who venture into uncharted waters…

We have arrived at the Sun Gate now and the city of Machu Picchu has become very small behind us.  The waves of emotion I continue to feel are giving way to the relief of being able to now rest in this new perch and bask in the delight of being where we are.  And as I settle in I hear the rush of water, unmistakable, and yet there is no open source for this in sight!   We finally realize we are sitting on a hidden pipe or channel that is running right underneath us, a clear strong voice, reminding us of the significance of her watery flowing presence even in this lofty place….