Sunday, 8 August 2010

An unconventional day at Xochimilco

Papel picado on display at factory
Herzonia (Left) and Eire
Back in 2007, I blogged about a trip to Xochimilco with Bev and Judy, where we boarded  a trajinera (a boat, Xochimilco's equivalent to a gondola) and floated up and down canals, were serenaded by musicians on other boats, bought lunch from  hawkers on different boats, bought some earrings from the itinerant artesania salespeople, and generally did what people do at Xochimilco on weekends. You can check this out if you look at the entries from October 2007.

Quite a menagerie here
Herzonia's niece Eire is getting married to Enrique in September, and wanted to choose decorations for the wedding.  Herzonia had bought specially designed papel picado (literally, cut paper - the fluttery little paper banners they use in Mexico for festive occasions, a sample pictured at the top of this post) for her 50th birthday party at a "factory" near Xochimilco, and had promised to take her there, and invited me to come along.
Eire and Enrique were talking to people about the venue and other wedding-related activities in one section of Xochimilco,  as the ceremony will take place on a trajinera surrounded by about a dozen others transporting the guests, and the entire wedding will take place within the ecological park section of Xochimilco. So Herzonia and I wandered around one of the nursery sections till Eire was done and ready to join us.

I do like colour and movement
As my close friends know only too well, I am not a gardener's bootlace.  I am not really interested in plants and gardens, though landscapes entrance me, and I tune out when my garden-loving friends discuss plants, garden design, compost, whatever. Yet in Mexico, as in Australia and Berkeley,  I am surrounded by people who love this stuff, and the sheer exoticism of going to a nursery in Mexico  made me think it might be blog-worthy. You will see from my selection of photos that I like bright colours (whether in plants or pots), am intrigued by topiary, enjoy landscape-like displays, and feel as it is Mexico I'd better include some cactuses (or perhaps cacti)  and a few chillies. Also I find some of the kitsch elements irresistible, and I like tortoises.
Lana: for prosperity

One little cultural oddity I couldn't resist was this jade plant with coins stuck on some of its leaves, in a sheep planter.  Sheep have wool, lana in Spanish, and lana also means money in Mexican slang. The jade plant stands for prosperity, adding the sheep means more lana, and the coins speak for themselves! Several years ago as part of a Xmas gift from Maguie we got a very cute little sheep, so I already knew what lana stood for, but this little object took it to a whole new level.

Another plant that caught my eye is this striking one, with red and white flowers against its green foliage. I immediately thought of the Mexican national colours, which like Mexico's  flag are red, white and green - and Herzonia informs me that this plant is called bandera - Spanish for flag.

Red, white and green


You have no idea how many hours I put in trying to get my photos and a video up on Flickr. Last year I got my Lake Tahoe pictures up easily, as I recall, but this time I had many attempts which ended up in duplicate copies on my hard disk and none on Flickr, hence had to spend a lot of time deleting spurious copies,  and on a fourth attempt, after downloading a new copy of the software, I got some photos over - but there are multiple copies of several. And before I completed the upload, I went through deleting all the duplicates, I thought - and also deleted two photos I found  from Ben and Lissy's wedding in January 2009 which had somehow inserted themselves amidst these from Xochimilco. (maybe if you stay in Mexico long enough, Magic Realism starts happening in your life and photostream?)
Here is the link, I hope:

or else you might need to go to flickr and look up bjoymarsh's photostream and the set called Xochimilco: Nursery and papel picado. The set also includes the video I took at the papel picado factory, which I am also trying to post right here.

 It shows the people punching out the patterns from a stack of paper resting on a heavy lead plate, using a template, employing an assortment of different-shaped chisel-like tools. I am sure if they did something like this in China they'd be using a laser cutter of some kind! I wonder if they will all end up with arthritis in their hands from the repetitive shock absorption, and lead poisoning (apparently they recast the lead bases as infrequently as they can get away with - the ones we could see certainly looked very bashed about, but at some point they must need to melt them down and recast them as flat base plates again.  This process is pretty toxic, and I am pretty sure bashing holes into lead isn't great for your health at any time either.)

Cardboard Day of the Dead figures&papier mache skull
The factory was quite fascinating, operating on two levels. It is a fairly dilapidated building and the top level, where the video was shot, is reached by a mostly outdoor iron fire-escape type staircase with some concrete steps with no handrail.  Going up was less scary than coming down. The floor upstairs is covered in the brightly-coloured offcuts from the papel picado, in effect very odd-sized and -shaped confetti .  On our way out we saw  trays of empty eggshells (from real hen's eggs, none of your plastic rubbish!), which they fill with this confetti and sell. Waste not, want not!

Papier Mache Bull
A rather decrepit long-haired and white-bearded old man came in while we were perusing the designs and selecting Eire's choice, a composite of several, to use for the wedding decorations. The woman in charge introduced the man as her father and founder of the business - nice to see it still in the family. As well as the papel picado, they hand make all kinds of things out of paper, cardboard and papier mache. Money boxes in the shape of hares (looking like figures from the pre-Columbian codices), paper flowers, day of the dead skeletons, skulls (calaveras),  brightly coloured and variously shaped and sized paper lanterns, crepe paper hot air balloons, and I even saw a large papier mache bull under construction (I am going to take a photo of the bull in this apartment that is clearly a close relative, though smaller).

And I will close with a photo of a bush with black chillies, you might need to double click on this to expand on it as they are tiny and get a bit lost in the foliage.

See the tiny black chillies on the largest plant

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