I heard from a dear friend earlier this week on her way to South Africa. She and I tend to check in with each other when we head out on the road—compare notes, give encouragement. Before I set out for a long trek in Africa years ago, I sold her my old Jeep truck. Later, she sold it back to me when she left to kick around Central America for several months. So it’s gone for a couple of decades. We lost track of the truck a while ago—last headed to Texas, I think—but she and I are still trading stories.
When she returned from that Central America trip, she brought me two lovely textiles from Guatemala: a colorful cotton vest and a gorgeous length of cloth. The old woman at the market where my friend acquired the vest, so the story went, pointed out the flaw on the back: a sun-faded stripe from having set out so long in the open air. This was no deterrent. My friend, accurately predicting I’d like the vest all the more because of that sun stripe, bought it for me anyway. I wear it still.
The piece of cloth was a lovely woven dark teal and white, and I often wondered why it was so long and what I should do with it. It served a variety of functions—a throw for the back of the couch, a tablecloth, a wall hanging. It wasn’t until I read Deborah Chandler and Teresa Cordón’s Traditional Weavers of Guatemala that I realized the fabric was probably for a corte—a Maya woman’s skirt. Deborah and Teresa will tell you the fabric for the corte is so long (traditionally 7 ½ yards) because “it handles cold weather, can be rotated for cleanliness and wear, and will fit when a woman is pregnant as easily as when she is not.” Smart.
The trouble with traipsing about from one place to the other is that sometimes you lose track of things, like that old truck, and that beautiful gift of cloth. I’m sad to have lost it because I’d love to know more about it. Where was it made? Was it jaspe? I’m pretty sure that it was. Could it have come from Salcajá, one of the most popular sources for jaspe cortes? I’d like to think that it might have been from Santa Catarina Palopó, which has mostly turquoise cortes and that I learned from Traditional Weavers, “are cloth expressions of the turquoise of Lake Atitlan.” I like that. But honestly, it could have been from Zunil or Colotenango or Nahualá just as easily.
I think I need to go see those sparkling waters of Lake Atitlan myself and do a bit of investigating, don’t you? In the meantime, I’ll be armchair traveling with Traditional Weavers of Guatemala: Their Stories, Their Lives, daydreaming the colors of Guatemala.