Blog 8 A Whorl in the Market

                                                                       21 December 2012

We left San Cristóbal de Las Casas (Chiapas) on Wednesday morning, early enough so that the markets were not yet open (wise move, as I had bought more goodies in 2 hours in this lovely town’s indigenous markets than I have during the entire 3 weeks prior.

Lesson #1:  How to make  Indian women laugh:

Be a 5’ 2” blonde haired woman and walk through the markets. Tower over just about everyone. Stop to speak to the vendors in Spanish. Realize that the Indian women are only barely conversationally competent in that language. Try to figure out their information. Try to answer. Get big smiles & chuckles as responses.

Try to bargain for a pile of sheep’s wool  that hasn’t been cleaned or carded (what was I thinking?). Kneel down on the ground, feel the various piles of fleeces, try to show I do know a little bit about what I’m doing.  Pull at the wool to see how long the fibers are. Try to guess a weight: how much yarn might I be able to spin. Pretend it’s pretty but that I’m not really tempted. Try to walk away, but can’t. I know when I’m hooked.  Lady offers a price. I think it’s in Tzotzil, but we try to work out some numbers. People are watching, smiling. David is trying not to groan aloud.

Pick a price. Haggle with lady. Pick a number in the middle. Two other Tzotzil  women kneel down to watch me. Look at the fleece, look at me.  Converse with the seller lady and break out into laughter.  All economic issues done, we stuff the wool into a plastic bag, I stand up and every female in a 20-foot area around us smiles and laughs. 

Okay, I wanted it, I paid for it & I love the idea of working with this wool. I’m happy. They are all obviously beside themselves with contentment. I move on to other areas in the market. David & I stop by a fruit vendor who is selling something we’ve never seen before. We ask what it us (duh, if you think I can remember now …, espinuelas?). The lady gives us one to try and it is delicious and fun to eat….. Lady points to my bag of wool, smiles, nods. I try to explain that I am trying to learn to spin. She grins. Asks how much I paid for the bag of wool. I mention the price. She practically falls over laughing. Points to me, announces the price to all the other lady vendors in the market and

soon we have a symphony of laughter.  They smile & pat my arm.

David & I move on.  We walk through aisles and aisles of the market. Every woman vendor looks at me, asks me a question (my Tzotzil is getting no better, but I am grasping the issue), I smile, trying to explain I want to spin.  They laugh. Uh huh.  I pass another wool seller who is also set to fits of laughter when she see me.  But she has the drop spindle!  I don’t. We bargain.  Since the drop spindle also has wool already spun on it, we have to haggle a lot. 

Wait, do I hear laughter?  Male laughter?  Is that David getting into the mo? 

BTW, he must be feeling frustrated as the women make it very clear that no pictures are allowed, thank you very much.  Yes, a picture of the fruit, but not the fruit seller.  And he moves off to the sidelines, as he realizes this is a girl thing and he’s only in the way.

Okay, so I buy the spindle.  Oh, I ask the woman, “how do you call this item?”  She looks at me and looks at the spindle.  Silence.  I try to prompt by asking with the Spanish words I know:  huso, pirulo ….

The only word she can supply is bata, which I think may refer to just the yarn but none of the ladies can help either.

Now I’m walking through the market with wool and a half filled drop spindle (that measures about 16 inches long and 8 inches wide with its wool).  No one has to ask me any more. They just break out laughing immediately when they see me. Point, ask me something.  I respond with my well-practiced info that I’m trying to learn how to spin, that it’s something that we lost in the USA (although it is getting popular with women-of-a-certain-age). I learn that young Tzotzil women aren’t so interested in spinning and weaving now either. 

I think to myself, well, heck,  I haven’t seen spinning or fleeces the whole trip… There is a very tried-and-true saying about Mexican markets. If you see something you like, bargain then and there. You won’t see that thing in any other market (and you’ll regret  not getting it when you saw it.…) I have added my own corollary to this advice:  If you really like it, get 2. You never know.

Well, heck I only have 1 drop spindle and it’s half full.  So I begin to look for other new spindles.  They are not the thing out on display.  So I start asking women vendors. I’m sure they know where to find the spindles, even if they are selling fruit or bras or Christmas ornaments.

 Every time it’s a nice conversation partly understood by each conversant, but always ending in laughter.  About the 5th woman I ask (she’s selling Guatemalan style bags) says she doesn’t sell spindles, but she knows who does. Just follow her. Sure, why didn’t I figure it out:  to the gourd and slingshot stall.  No bargaining. With the woman present, the [male] vendor takes out a whorl or 2 for me to heft. They are ceramic.  And 2 w

ood spindles.  I put my chosen whorl on the spindle.  The woman  pronounces it a petate.  And she and I go off back to her stall, where I thank her profusely.


Now I am a 5’2” blonde tourist towering over everyone in the market with 2 petates, some nicely spun black wool and a bag of fleece in my arms.

Eat  your heart out, Tina Fey.

Linda (& David)