Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And now it's August

And I'm back from my blog break.  Which means I'm also back from the things that were keeping me from blogging, and I can tell you all about them (lucky you, right?) - to wit, a trip to Peru (!!), and Sock Summit (!!).  Between those two trips, I was out of town for almost all of July, and the brief period that I was home between trips was taken up with things like, oh say, laundry.  And petting Tilly.  And Sock Summit homework.  And laundry. 

I'm still not even close to caught up with the laundry from SS11 (not to mention unpacking the stash enhancement part of my luggage - wait 'til you see it all!).  Instead, I spent yesterday unpacking my office (which has spent the last month in boxes, waiting for our move to our new building).  The girls helped me get books onto bookshelves, and between us we had the whole thing ship-shape and Bristol fashion in a few hours.  This is a good feeling, given how much I need to get done before classes start back at the end of the month.

But Peru!  The four of us headed off on July 2nd, and didn't get back until July 18th.  Peru has always been on my List Of Places To Go Someday (that list is actually rather frighteningly long - I need to start a plan to finance my extensive travel wish list)(note to self: buy lottery tickets today).  This year we looked at our older daughter who will be starting high school next week (which means college in four years), and realized that if we want to take some of these trips as a family, maybe we should just do it.  So we did.

There is so much to tell, but I think that I'll focus on the fiber-related goodness for now - and there was a lot of it.  Peruvian textile traditions are still an ever-present and vibrant part of Peruvian life.  We spent our whole trip in the highlands of Peru, much of it on the altiplano, where women still walk down the road, dressed entirely in handspun and -woven clothes, spinning while herding alpaca.  Having read Abby Franquemont's Respect the Spindle (a book which I cannot recommend highly enough), and having seen videos of her spinning with a Peruvian spindle (she learned to spin as a child in Peru), my big goal for the trip was to find a spindle and learn more about how to spin with it - in particular, I really wanted to master the trick whereby a spinner walks her fingers, butterfly fashion, up the newly-spun yarn.  (If I am being totally honest, I also really wanted to find some vicuna fiber to bring home, but I realized how unlikely that was, and I'd been told by several people that they would not bail me out of Peruvian jail should I be caught chasing Andean camelids across the highlands in hopes of snatching tufts of fiber from their fleeing fannies.)

On Day 1, in Lima (our one day in Lima), we headed to the Museo Larco where I was able to accost my first fiber artist.  Many museums in Peru have a regular rotation of weavers and spinners demonstrating their arts, and the Museo Larco was no exception.  When I came, this woman was weaving, but a few minutes later she picked up her spindle and set to spinning.  Rick and the girls told me I was an idiot not to approach her, so I worked up my courage (and my terrible Spanish) and did just that.  I learned that the word for spindle is (and this is a Quechua word, so my spelling could be completely off - any Quechua scholars out there who can tell me how close I am?) puxka (where the "x" is pronounced "sh").  I also managed to convey the idea that I really wanted to learn that butterfly-finger-walky thing, and she had me sit down to watch (she also offered me her spindle to try it, but I really hated the idea of messing up her work).  Can you tell I'm just not quite getting it?
(The look on my face there says: Seriously?  I don't think so.)  There was also an amazing collection of very old textiles, including a spinner's workbasket.  Look familiar?  Some things don't seem to change much over time, and a fiber artist's workbasket is one of them.
Most of those spindles are for spinning cotton.  All of the ancient textiles I saw had cotton warps and camelid wefts; none of the modern ones did.  The one thing I didn't manage to do was to find an example of one of these spindles; I'm guessing they were used supported, but I could be wrong.  They are all made with a narrow shaft with a bead in the middle, and from what I saw in the museum, the spun fiber was wound around the bead, spreading up and down the spindle shaft as it was wound.  In that basket, in the upper right corner, you can also see a ball of spun singles wound for plying.

(Side note: The Museo Larco has a tremendous pre-Quechua ceramics collection - 40,000 pots strong - with pieces dating back 3,000 years.  It also has a huge collection of ancient erotic pots.  We wandered into that gallery with the girls, oops.  Put another quarter in the therapy jar.)

The next day we were off to the highlands.  We took a bus that went right through one of the camelid preserves, where we saw vicunas (!!).  (Imagine a) a tilde over that "n", and b) that word all in capitals, gleaming gold, and with light streaming from it.  Vicunas are awesome.)
Don't you think that one wanted to come home with me?  We saw quite a few of them, along with alpacas and, later, llamas.  The one camelid we didn't see in Peru was the elusive guanaco (the forebear of the llama; vicunas and alpacas are related) - they are very rare.  At our first rest stop, Younger Daughter even got to pet an alpaca (the first of many).
And I got to watch a woman plying from a ball wound with two singles (no photo, alas), something I'd read about and tried myself, but it was really fun to see it in practice.

The altiplano is astonishingly beautiful, in a sere, spare way.  There was no green anywhere (it was winter, remember), and at the altitudes above 16,000 feet, there was little to be seen but rocks and snow and the occasional vicuna (no wonder their fiber is so warm and fine).
(If you click to embiggen, you might just see the vicuna standing on a rock on the horizon.)
It was so clear that the water really was that lapis blue, reflecting the endless sky.  I could have stayed there the whole time and been happy.

But then I would have missed so many other things, like Lake Titicaca (the highest navigated lake in the world, at something like 12,000 feet, if I remember correctly), where we did many things, including a visit to Llachon, where I was lucky enough to have an amazing conversation with a weaver and spinner there, thanks in no small part to our gracious and multilingual guide (the main languages around the lake are Quechua and Aymara, and most of the people in the villages are more comfortable in one of those languages than Spanish).
I tried my hand at weaving, beating down the wefts with a bone tool (and earning myself a raw knuckle in the process - I was told that this meant that I was doing it correctly; she seemed surprised that I was willing to go that far, heh).  She was also kind enough to instruct me in her spindle technique; she used her spindle supported, spinning a lofty yarn for the weft threads of her textiles.  Thanks to the guide, we were able to have a conversation about the differences between her spindle (a bottom-whorl) and mine (I described a top-whorl spindle to her), and the difference between the uses of the fiber she spins supported (for blankets and clothes), and the more tightly-spun fibers that people use for, say, straps for carrying bags and babies.  She also told him, laughing, that I was the first tourist who had ever produced actual yarn on her spindle.  It wasn't good yarn, but I felt good about it nevertheless.
I think it's safe to say that it was my best textile moment in Peru. 

I'll stop there - there's lots more, but a little at a time does the trick, right?


Jane said...

What an amazing holiday, fascinating

AlisonH said...

Wow. Fascinating. Thank you for taking us with you!

Lori said...

wow -- so glad to hear this bit about your trip! peru is totally amazing, isn't it? it's great to see the photos of you engaging in the textile world there. and sock summit too?!

it's really something to look at your child and see the time slipping past, isn't it. what a wonderful thing, all of you going together on such a great trip. and i'm so glad you're back!

Unknown said...

oh, thank you thank you for the sharing the photos!

twinsetellen said...

Oh, I can just imagine your pleasure at the kind nod to your textile talent that spinner gave you. I bet you blushed!

Though I love the other photos, the one of the vicuna on the horizon is the one that plucks at me. It says more about living at that altitude than a book could.

Lynne said...

Ooo, sounds like you had a wonderful time. And you only got to post about the fibre related bits!

I bought a traditional (but new) Russian support spindle from Galena Khmeleva when she was in Australia in March (teaching the Orenburg lace traditions) but I still can't use it!

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous pictures, every one of them: the sweeping stark spaces with vicunas (what do they find to eat?); the earnest, intent faces of the last one; and my favorite - you weaving and the unexpected blue of Lake Titicaca in the background.

Carrie#K said...

Finally, a tourist can spin! We are absolved. ;) But so cool! That must have been a proud moment.

I love your pictures! It sounds wonderful. I'm just saddened that the vicuna that you took such pains to immortalized did not bound down to bestow you with tufts.

Wanderingcatstudio said...

I totally would have tried to fit a Vicuna in my luggage. Too cute.

Nana Sadie said...

I can feel your excitement and hey, it's contagious! And YES, I can see the vicuna (in all caps and streaming gold) on that rocky ridge-top.
I hope you did a few things the girls and Rick wanted to do? *wink*

Mary Lou said...

What a great trip - and so smart and brave of you all to do it now. What a memory.

EGunn said...

Oh, how fun! Someday...

I'm glad that you found weavers and spinners (and translators) to talk to. We met a Navajo woman selling handwoven rugs in Arizona, but she didn't make them (her aunt did). It would be so much fun to just sit and absorb things from fiber artists in another culture.

elizabeth said...

Excellent post! I can only imagine how it was to experience in person!

Alwen said...

Wow. There are so many cool textile things going in Peru. I don't really enjoy travelling, yet there are so many places I really want to go!

Rachael said...

How wonderful, I hope you had an amazingly fabulous time!

RobinH said...

Oh, very cool! Thanks so much for sharing!

(And you're quite right about not waiting to take vacations as a family- my own last family vacation was at 15--once I turned 16 I had a job and stayed home to work and save money for college.)