Lake Titicaca Islands: What to Expect from a Home Stay on Amantani Island

I haven’t had much time for sewing this week. Temperatures in California have been record-breaking high, which meant my fruit trees started coming out of winter dormancy earlier than usual. I therefore had to spend a couple of days in the garden, pruning, spraying, and fertilizing. In addition, I had to care for a sick child. In between, I tried to stick to working on my countless unfinished-projects, and spent hours ironing interfacing. No wonder I find it more interesting to reflect, once again, on my recent trip to Peru!

Today I would like to tell you what to expect if you decide to try a home stay on Amantani Island, a small island in the middle of Lake Titicaca.

Home Stay on Amantani Island

The House

Unlike the man-made Uros Floating Islands, the island of Amantani is a real, solid island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. Seeing it getting near after several hours on the reed islands and more time on the rocky boat was a relief…

When we planned our trip, we decided to try a home stay on the island. We thought it would be interesting not only to see how people in other parts of the world live, but to also experience living like them, even if just for one day. I expected to sleep on a living-room floor in someone’s hut, and eat the foods they normally eat. The reality turned out to be a bit different.

When our boat reached the dock, a group of women was waiting to greet us. They were all dressed in traditional black clothes embroidered with colorful flowers. We later learned that these were their formal frocks, reserved for special occasions, and that husbands traditionally embroider their wive’s clothes. One of these women turned out to be our host. She asked us to follow her uphill to the village.

Luckily for us, the house we stayed at turned out to be not too far from the docks. Once there, we were greeted by the rest of the family, and were introduced to everyone: our hostess Lucrecia, her husband Richard,and their young daughter Diana Isabella.

To our surprise, instead of the modest hut we expected, we found a large, two-storied building, with an entire newly-built guest wing. We weren’t going to sleep on a floor in a living room after all. The entire upper floor was dedicated to tourists, and consisted of three comfortable guest rooms, two for us and one for our guide.

Our host family, it turned out, did not use any of these rooms. They were reserved for tourists, and were comfortable, clean and well maintained:

The beautiful view was a bonus:

The View from our room on Amantani Island

Still, I felt a bit disappointed. This was more AirBnb than a home stay.

The Food

After a short rest we went down to the kitchen, the only common area of the house. There, our hostess, Lucrecia, and her sister Nelly were in the midst of preparing our lunch.

The food was vegetarian, and restaurant-quality:

We later realized that the meals we got during our home stay were tailored to tourist tastes. Our host family didn’t eat with us at the large table at the center of the room. Rather, they sat in another corner of the kitchen, and ate different food.

This work of art decorated the kitchen/dinning room wall. I found it quite special:

The Village

After lunch our tour guide took us on a hike. As we walked through the village, we realized that the entire settlement was in the midst of a building boom. Many of the houses had new wings, just like the one we stayed at.

And, indeed, we saw group after group of tourists climbing up the trail leading from the dock:

The day we were there, the entire population was working on paving the trails crisscrossing the village. They were trying to complete the work before Christmas, as they were all promised a bonus if they managed to meet this deadline. This was exactly what the expression “it takes a village” was coined for.

The Temple

Our guide took us up one of the two mountains on the island, to an open temple dedicated to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Pachamama is a pre-Inka goddess, and many people in Peru still worship her. The climb was taxing. Lake Titicaca is in high elevation, and the mountain we climbed was even higher.

I was struggling to catch up with my kids. Our guide gave me a few dry coca leaved to chew on, to help with elevation and give me some energy. They tested like grass, and I am not sure whether they actually helped or not.

I did make it to the peak, however!

The view was well worth the effort:

The open-air temple was also interesting. It is usually closed, and only opens a few times a year, when the entire community gathers there for celebrations.

The Dinner

By the time we returned from our hike, the women already changed out of their formal wear and into their everyday clothes. Everyone was wearing hats, since the evenings in Amantani are rather chilly due to the high elevation. The houses on the island don’t have heating.

The food was Western, and as delicious as before. After dinner Richard joined us at the table, and we all got to know each other a bit better, and learn about each other’s lives.

The Departure

The next morning, after a fine breakfast, our host family insisted on dressing us up in local clothes. We then took a few customary tourist pictures:

As we were about to leave, our hostess took out some souvenirs she said she made. Some didn’t look handmade, and the rest looked suspiciously like souvenirs we saw everywhere else. Still, we bought something.

The Effects of Tourism

Traditionally, the inhabitants of the island live off the land. The island is covered with terraces, and to this very day crops are grown on every possible piece of land. We saw some people working the land on our hike up the mountain:

The island’s inhabitants also raise farm animals such as sheep, pigs and donkeys. Nowadays, however, it seems that the local economy heavily relies on tourism, as it does for the Uros people. Tourism is physically changing the island, and is responsible for the wide-spread expansion of houses and the quick paving of local trails. It also changes people’s daily routines, with more and more families spending much of their time catering to tourists. Our hostess’s daughter and her cousin were playing with toys that former tourist-guests gave them. The changing of local diets and other habits is probably just a matter of time.

Peruvian Textiles and Tourism

About a year ago I was casually scrolling through my Facebook feed, when a post from TAFA List made me pause. The post advertised textile tours to Peru, and featured a beautiful picture of amazing textiles in vivid, bright colors. I clicked on it and started drooling.

For a while I considered taking one of the tours, but the dates didn’t work out for me, and I also didn’t want to leave my family for too long. Hence was born the idea of dragging my kids, yet again, to South America.

Luckily for me, everyone enjoyed our Ecuador trip so much, that they were eager to explore the region further. And so, this past December, my family and I found ourselves in the Cusco province of Peru, the Mecca of textiles.

After we arrived, my kids got one day to rest and acclimatize in Cusco city. The very next morning a bus belonging to the tour company Apus Peru came by to take us down to the Sacred Valley and some weaving communities.

Apus Peru is a relatively small tour company specializing in cultural tours. This was the company that operated the textile tours I saw on Facebook. They employ knowledgeable, English-speaking guides, and engage in culturally-responsible tourism. Apus Peru actively give back to the communities they take tourists to, not only through financial support, but also by providing training and education to local groups.

Our original plan was to go to Pizaq Market and ruins, and then up the Andes to the weaving community of Chayhautire. The trip down to the valley took about an hour, however, and involved some windy roads. My daughter started suffering from motion-sickness, and I myself felt the unpleasant effects of elevation. The thought of an hour or more of driving up a narrow, windy dirt road suddenly didn’t seem that appealing, even if it was leading to a remote weaving community…

So we changed plans. We went to the ruins first and the market later (Pizaq Market, supposedly the Otavalo of Peru, turned out to be a little disappointing). Then, instead of up to Chayhautire, we drove on a relatively straight road to Chinchero, another weaving community.

This change of plans turned out to be a lucky stroke, as on the way we came across a local procession in honor of the Conception Virgin. This involved costumes, music and dance, and turned out to be very interesting:

Chinchero is a small town with several weaving centers. Our guide took us to Balcon Del Inka Centro Artesanal, which, he claimed, was the best one.

Being at the top of the hill overlooking the town, it certainly had the best view!

Women form several local families run the Artisan Center. The Center has two areas designed to show tourists how wool is prepared. It also has a small outside market. Women don’t actually weave on the premises. Everything is nicely set, however, and the English explanations are clear.

The Making of a Peruvian Tapestry:

Women gather wool from the desired animal. This could be a sheep, or one of the four camelid animals of Peru: ilama, alpaca, guanaco or vicuñaa. Ilama wool is rather course. Alpaca is softer, and baby alpaca is even softer than that. But the softest wool of them all comes for the undomesticated vicuña. This wool is hard to gather, and is therefore the most expensive on the planet.

When sheered, any wool is rather dirty:

To clean it, the local women grind a jabonera plant root that, with water, froths like soap. Local nickname it “Andean Soap.”

Women then wash and scrub the wool:

Once washed, the wool is clean and ready to work with:

Women spin the wool into thread. During our stay in Peru, we’ve seen women walking and spinning, working and spinning, cooking and spinning, caring for children and spinning. Women, in fact, seem to always multitask…

After it is spinned, the wool is ready for dyeing. Many women in Chichero and the vicinity still use natural dyes, made from local plants. In the picture below, you can see the different colors and the plants that make them. I especially loved the purple wool, dyed with purple corn:

The biggest magic, though, involves the color red. Red is made from a parasite that dines on one of the more common cactus species in the area:

When collected, this parasite appears white, as it is cocooned in a web-like fluffy substance:

But here is where the fun begins, and our hostess delighted in showing us some magic: when squished, you see, a vivid, blood-like red fluid appears:

Mixed with a bit of lime, this fluid gets an orange tint:

Mixed with salt, it becomes more purple:

Playing around with these various shades, the weavers can tweak the colors to whatever shade they like. The number of times a piece of wool is dipped in the dyeing pot, and the length of time it stays there, determine the final color:

The result is beautiful, vividly-colored wool:

Women then pull the wool onto looms. Looms are easily portable, allowing women to weave in their homes or outside in the fields.

Here are some finished pieces, at the market part of the Center:

Of course, we couldn’t leave without buying something. This is our new table runner, with the artist who claimed to make it:

How Tourism Complicates Things

Textiles are historically an integral part of the Peruvian culture. However, after a few days in the country, I realized that the locals don’t actually wear traditional textiles, nor do they use them. In fact, tourists are the only ones walking around with vividly-woven fabrics. The locals wear jeans, t-shirts and the like, like the rest of us.

The few women and kids who roam about the old city of Cusco dressed in traditional clothes, often carry sheep or alpacas, and are there to take photos with tourists for money. Even in the more remote areas, the people wearing traditional clothes are mostly doing so for tourists (and wear synthetics). People told me that in really remote villages people still dress like that for real, but I haven’t been to any of those. The few houses I visited in different parts of the region didn’t have traditional textiles as home decor. If they had any textiles at all, they had the cheaper, industrial/synthetic kind, most likely imported from China.

The beautiful, traditional textiles, it seems, are made for tourists these days. They are also sold at tourist prices. These textiles are not cheap, even in American standards. Tourists have to splurge on them. The locals can’t afford them at all.

In fact, it seems that the art of weaving in Peru, like many traditional arts around the world, began to disappear. Even natural dyeing almost gave way to the easier, industrial kind. That is why several local and international organizations, The Center for Traditional Textile of Cusco and Apus Peru being some of them, intervened in an effort to save the craft.

Weaving is a very time-consuming task. Even when selling their work at tourist prices, weavers still make little per hour. It is not surprising, therefore, that many try to cut corners, by using cheaper, synthetic fibers, for example, or by selling sub-standard products. Many tourists can’t tell the difference anyway. The money that textiles bring, therefore, leads to all kinds of gray areas and dishonesty. Read this post to get an idea about some of those problematic issues.

So, as much as I enjoyed learning about textiles in the Centro Artesanal, I couldn’t but also realize that the entire place was a nicely-set illusion. The ancient craft shown was artificially kept alive. The entire display was a myth that tourist companies and the fashion industry spread, and which tourists, myself included, really want to buy into. The  tourist industry in a way re-invented the old traditions. This includes the descriptions given to explain the different designs, that often have very little connection to the actual historical origin of those designs.

In fact, in order to appeal to tourists, even the traditional patterns have been changing. Many of the fancy boutiques sell items with patterns and colors that appeal to Westerners, as do fashion houses selling Peruvian clothes in the West. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, and the textiles are still beautiful. I just found it interesting how the economy surrounding tourism preserves old traditions while, at the same time, profoundly changes them.

 

 

Cusco, Peru with Kids: Things to Do in the Capital of the Incas

Thinking of visiting Cusco, Peru with kids? I would strongly urge you to do so! The city itself can easily entertain families for a few days, and it can also serve as a comfortable base for traveling to other, nearby attractions. The following list is but a selection of what the city has to offer, and can serve as a starting point for your own explorations.

**If you plan to go and would like some tips about packing, click here.**

Things to Do

Walk Around, Get Lost, Explore

Most tourists visit the old city of Cusco, and this is the part of town I will concentrate on. This area consists of narrow lanes built around several squares. The biggest of these squares is Plaza de Armas, which once housed the palace of the Inca, as well as the palaces of the nobility and a few important temples. 

I was surprised by how similar this square was to the the one in Quito, Ecuador, which we visited last year. Except in Cusco the main square has not one, but TWO cathedrals. It is also more up-scale and tourist-oriented than the one in Quito.

As in Quito, many of the plain-looking facades along the city’s alleys hide rich and interesting interiors. There are numerous inner courtyards, now hosting boutiques, stores and restaurants. Make sure to walk into some–you never know what you might find!

As you walk down the streets, take a moment to lift your eyes from the cobblestones (only when it is safe to do so!) and look at the walls, doors and windows. They all have character, and probably many stories to tell, too! There are numerous naturally-occurring works of Arte Poverta / abstract art..

Visit Museums

There are several small museums in Cusco. They are fairly modest, but are a good place to start if you’re interested in local history. Before you visit, make sure to buy a Boleto Turistico, a pre-paid ticket which gives you access to the most popular sites in Cusco and surroundings, and which is valid for ten days (plan accordingly). Children under 12 get in for free.

Museum-visiting is a great, slow activity for your first few days in the region, when your body still acclimatizes to the elevation. On our first day we stopped by Museo de Historia Regional, which has some pre-Incan as well as Incan artifacts.

The Inca Museum is not included in the Boleto, but is worth a visit. It has mummies that might impress (or scare) your kids, interesting artifacts, and a video presentation showing the fate of the last Inca (hint: it wasn’t pretty). For the textile lovers among you, the museum also has a room dedicated to Incan weaving:

There are also live weavers working in the courtyard for you to watch. You can buy their work on the spot, too.

Finally, the museum has a store with some beautiful, unique woven textiles that replicate pre-Inca designs. No cheap finds here, though, but some really amazing stuff.

The Chocolate Museum is a fun place to visit when you need a break from all the other museums. It is not really a museum, but rather a fancy tourist trap where you can learn about chocolate-making, as well as taste different chocolates and chocolate jams (!). You can also take classes, and buy pricey chocolate bars and other products. The museum also has a small cafe, where you can sip hot chocolate and dine on chocolaty comfort foods. As you might imagine, my kids loved it, and I bet yours will, too!

Climb Up Saksaywaman

High above Cusco lies the impressive fortress of Saksaywaman, fondly known to tourists as “Sexy Woman.” A pre-Incan culture built it around 1100 AD, but the Inca expanded and rebuilt it. Reaching the site required a steep climb, so give yourself a couple of days to acclimatize before you try it. Once there, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city, as well as with an introduction to some impressive Inca architecture.

If your legs haven’t turned into jello by the time you are done visiting this site, you might wish to go to  the nearby hill to get a closer look at the White Jesus statue overlooking the city:

Visit Convento Santo Domingo

After you learned a bit about Inca architecture and seen a few ruins, go visit the Church of Santo Domingo. The Spanish Conquistadors built this church on top of and around Qurikancha, the most prominent Inca temple complex. By doing so they wanted to both benefit from the spiritual power of the place and erase/symbolically suppress the earlier Inca legacy. Nowadays the structure is a strange mash of Inca, Spanish and modern architecture.

Ignore the later two, and concentrate on the Inca structures. The reason I suggest going there only after you’ve seen other Inca ruins is that you will not be able to appreciate the finesse of the temples otherwise. The complex housed the Temples of the Sun, Moon, Thunder and Rainbow. The Inca-period builders built them with stones so closely put together, that some of the seams are hardly noticeable (even a sheet of paper will not fit between the stones). The walls are very smooth, and were once completely covered with gold and silver (which the Spaniards stole).

When still a working temple, the complex housed the mummies of several Incas, as well as life-sized gold statues of lamas and other animals and plants. An onsite model helps you understand what the complex looked like at the peak of its glory.

Visit the Textile Museum

When you’re done visiting Convento Santo Domingo, walk a couple of blocks down Avenue El Sol. This will bring you to the Center of Traditional Textiles of Cusco. You don’t need to be a textile lover to enjoy this little museum. A few days in Cusco will be enough to convince you of just how central textiles are to the local culture. The museum will give you a deeper understanding of what making Peruvian textiles involves.

The Center has a nice showroom showcasing the process of spinning, dyeing and weaving. It also displays examples of weaving from different regions (sadly, picture-taking was not allowed). The museum is attached to a store piled high with beautiful pieces of woven cloth from all over the Cusco area. Several weavers work inside the store, allowing you to glimpse the process at work. Prices are very reasonable.

Shop

Cusco is full of shops and boutiques selling Peruvian handicrafts in all price ranges. High-end boutiques surround Plaza de Armas, selling alpaca clothing and silver jewelry. Lower-end shops loaded with many kinds of colorful items fill every alley and courtyard. You and your kids might enjoy browsing this huge array of shops. San Blas, another city square, is known for its artisan workshops, and is a fun place to look around.

It is true that after a while many stores start looking alike. It’s also true that not everything is handmade, or even made in Peru (think China). But every now and then you might come across something special. One day, for example, I found a beautiful, unique piece of tapestry in a store hidden inside an out-of-the-way courtyard:

On our last day, we delighted in finding Ceremonias Ayahuasca San Pedro at the back of a courtyard on 338 Triunfo St. This store was filled to the brim with what appeared to be genuine, locally-made handicrafts of various kinds. Prices were pretty high and no bargaining was tolerated, but many of the items on display were high quality and truly unique. We couldn’t afford the stone dragon, carved from one piece of stone, with each link of its chain moving separately:

But we absolutely loved the huge array of unique masks, and were able to buy one of the smallest ones for our collection:

Go to Mercado Central de San Pedro (San Pedro Market)

This covered market, located a couple of blocks from the central square, is a bustling center of commerce. It caters mostly to local shoppers, and has anything you can think of. A visit there will stimulate all your senses. There are food stalls of all conceivable kinds, flower stalls, chocolate stalls, household-goods stalls and souvenir stalls, to name some.

There are also aisles filled with fresh juice stalls, and aisles dedicated to mom-and-pop stalls cooking fresh food on the spot. Here you could get an entire meal for less than 5 soles ($1.5). And if you want to shorten your pants while you eat, or alter your skirt while you shop, local tailors are waiting right there to accommodate to your needs:

Eat

Cusco is bustling with restaurants of all kinds. Numerous eateries serve tasty, fresh food in huge portions. You can easily find tourist-oriented restaurants that will cook familiar foods from home, but it will be more fun for you to try some local dishes.

Pachapapa Restaurant on San Blas Square offers some genuine Peruvian foods alongside Western staples such as pasta (in case some family members are not in an adventurous mood). This is a good place to try cui, the local specialty:

This is what it looks like when actually tried (no, I didn’t eat it. I’m vegetarian!):

It’s also a good place to sip pisco sour, the Peruvian national drink. I did try that 😉

For vegetarians, Greens–right off plaza de Armas–is a culinary heaven (though not so much for local dishes).

Finally, Know About Local Clinics

Clinics and hospitals are not places you want to see while on vacation. If you’re travelling with kids, however, you should at least know about them.

Rest assured that Cusco has at least a couple of medical centers whose mission it is to help tourists. These centers are open 24/7, every day of the year, and provide good, Western-standard medical care. Their doctors speak English for those of us whose Spanish is not up to par.

As it happened, all three of my kids ended up using those medical services. And on the two least-convenient days of the year at that: Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Local doctors treated them for an ear infection, a sever travelers’ diarrhea, and a laceration that required stitches. They all returned home safely.

Your hotel is most likely to be able to help in case of a medical emergency, but keep the number of Oxigen Medical Network handy just in case:084-221213 / 225407.

Visiting Cusco, Peru? What to Pack and Things to Notice

My family and I just returned from an amazing vacation to Cusco, Peru, the capital of the Inca empire. Cusco is a great place to visit, and is also a comfortable base for traveling to other, nearby attractions.

A rather large city, Cusco has many shops with pretty much anything you could need. But there are some things you might like to bring from home, just in case.

What to Pack

Medicines

Cusco’s elevation is 3,400 meters above sea level (11,200 ft). Anyone coming from lower altitudes will feel the effects of this high elevation. Every hotel in the Cusco region offers free coca-leaf tea for guests. Peruvians believe that coca leaves reduce elevation sickness. Many chew on the leaves directly.

Numerous stores offer an array of other coca products as well, to the same end:

However, you might find that drinking coca tea or sucking on coca candy isn’t enough to make you feel better. Before coming, therefore, you might want to consult with your doctor and consider bringing pills to relieve altitude-sickness symptoms (we brought and took Acetazolamide).

Note: if you are vegan or vegetarian, these pills might not be enough. As I learned the hard way, your diet might not have enough iron to allow your body to create the additional red blood cells that high elevation requires. Bring iron and vitamin B12 pills, and take one of each every morning. This will speed up your acclimatization.

Your body is probably not used to the germs in Peru. It is possible, therefore, that you will suffer from an upset stomach even if you take all the necessary precautions (such as frequent hand-washing and avoiding uncooked foods). Make sure to bring some medications for upset stomach, or even some antibiotics.

There are pharmacies all over the city, but it’s always safer to bring whatever medicines you take regularly, or those you think you might need. If you are taking dietary supplements, bring those as well. We traveled with a portable pharmacy of our own, and ended up using much of it…

Clothes

December is summer in Peru, but because of the high elevation weather in Cusco can be very unpredictable. Locals joke that one can experience four season in one day in this city, and they do not exaggerate! Prepare for layering, with clothes for all possible weather conditions! Rain gear is a must, although you can buy rain ponchos everywhere, for as low as 5 soles a pop (around $1.5).

If you plan to visit Cusco in winter, realize that temperatures will be frigid . Some (but not all) hotels have heaters, but no central heating. Hotels provide warm blankets, but the rooms can still be cold. Long underwear and warm pajamas will keep you happy.

Streets in the old city of Cusco are cobbled, and sidewalks can be very narrow. Nearby sites have a rugged terrain. Good shoes, preferably hiking boots, will serve you well.

If you are planning to do some hiking (even if only to the nearby fortress of Saksaywaman), walking sticks will make your life easier.

Other Items

You need to keep hydrated at high elevation, and therefore need to drink a lot. Unless you want to keep buying bottled water (thus contributing to world pollution), bring your own refillable water bottle. We filled ours every morning with water we boiled at least three times (tap water is undrinkable). We still ended up buying bottled water, but a lot less than we would have had we didn’t have our own.

Remember: Use boiled (or bottled) water for teeth brushing as well!

Due to the altitude, you might get sun burnt even on overcast days. Bring sunscreen and put it on daily before you leave your hotel. If you peel layers after applying sunscreen, make sure to cover the newly-exposed areas as well. We’ve seen plenty of very pink tourists (and got a bit toasted ourselves as well…).

Not all public bathrooms have paper. Always carry your own toilet paper just in case. And remember not to flush any paper down the drain. The sewage system cannot handle it, and you don’t want to be responsible for a flood (or worse: get caught it it’s path!).

Advice on Luggage

Everyone has their own travel style, and every trip requires its own kind of luggage. While we usually carry suitcases, we chose to bring backpacks to Cusco. For one, as I mentioned earlier, the streets of old Cusco are cobbled and narrow, and not so suitable for dragging wheeled suitcases. Also, you will most likely need to carry your luggage up and down stairs. In addition, many people use Cusco as a base to explore other parts of Peru. You might find yourself changing hotels frequently, and lugging your stuff into trains, buses or boats. Light, small and carry-able luggage will therefore work best.

The last time I backpacked, some quarter of a century ago, I carried a regular backpack. I still remember how hard it was to find things or reach the very bottom. This time, at the advice of our frequent-travelling friend (thanks, Arturo!), we took eBags and loved them. The fact that we could expand the bags turned out to be a great plus, as we didn’t quite expect the amount of loot we ended up purchasing…

Finally, Some Interesting Things I Noticed

Last year, when we first arrived in Quito, Ecuador, I was struck by the abundance of graffiti. The thing that stood out to me in Cusco was the cleanliness of the streets. We hardly saw any graffiti, and hardly any littler.

The second thing that stood out was the abundance of dogs. Canines were everywhere, in front of every door and every house. Big dogs, small dogs, shaggy dogs and short-haired dogs. Dogs of every shape and color.

At first I mistook them to be feral dogs and found them intimidating. Soon, though, I realized they were all pets. Almost every household in Cusco and beyond owns one or more pets. People keep cats indoors, but let the dogs roam outside. The dogs in Cusco were the most mellow, well-behaved creatures I have ever encountered. They all minded their own business, and hardly ever glanced at passersby.

If you lift your eyes up to the rooftops, you will see that almost every house in Cusco has a pair of bulls on the roof. Sometimes there are just bulls. Sometimes there is a cross between the bulls, or some other decoration:

These are guardian bulls. They are protecting the house and the family within it, and also symbolize fertility. One of our tour guides told us that in pre-Spanish times, houses had lamas on the roofs. After the Spanish brought bulls to South America, their image pushed lamas aside. For a while I wondered why two (obviously male) bulls would symbolize fertility. I later realized that the fertility people were hoping for was the fertility of the fields, which bulls help plow.

Finally, when in Cusco you will notice the rainbow flag flying from poles and balconies.

You might think you know what it means, but you will most likely be wrong. “We are not gays,” all of our tour guides insisted. They explained that the gay-pride flag has six colors, whereas the Cusco flag has seven. Also, the colors on both flags are in the opposite order. Locals believe that the Cusco rainbow flag was the old flag of the Inca Empire, symbolizing its seven parts. Whether true or not, people take great pride in it.

Interested in the Summer of Love but Can’t Visit SF? New York Has an Exhibition, Too!

A few weeks ago I wrote about my visit to the Summer of Love exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I was quite surprised to find a similar exhibition in New York City!

The Museum of Art and Design now shows a Counter Culture exhibit, which is a smaller version of the one in de Young. Spread over two floors, this show displays an array of hippie outfits. Some are even more outrageous than the ones I’ve seen in SF! Here you will find more multi-cultured outfits, combining textiles from several countries:

There are also elaborate examples of denim art:

As well as some imaginative jackets. This is a detail of an army coat embroidered and appliqued by Michael Fajans:

And this leather jacket is by Nina Huryn:

In this exhibition, too, I found some elaborately crocheted outfits:

As well as some mixed-technique ones:

And I saw more hand-made boots of the kind displayed at de Young, possibly by the same artist:

Except that this exhibit also has the tool kit with which these boots were made!

Watching the video of the Summer of Love in New York felt different than experiencing similar videos in Golden Gate Park, where the events actually took place. Things seemed more removed, somehow… Still, if you’re on the East Coast and cannot make it to the exhibition in de Young, this is an excellent next-best-thing! This exhibit, too, runs until August 20th.

And if you’re at the museum already, go down a floor to see the exhibition of Judith Lieber’s handbags. Here I learned something new about the history of handbag evolution:

Even though I related more to the aesthetics of the Counter Culture exhibit in the floors above, I still admired the outrageousness of Lieber’s designs:

Textile Lovers’ Must-See Exhibitions in New York City: Art Bingeing and the City!

If you have a couple of days in New York City, make sure to get art-drunk at some of its amazing museums!

I got to do just that this summer. In a handful of short days, I managed to visit some of the most incredible palaces of art, and immerse myself in art, textiles, culture and inspiration. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t always give each of the exhibitions the full attention it deserved. I rushed through some museums, or selectively browsed through others. But I got to see some old friends up close, as well as admire new ones. The cumulative effect was a great admiration for human creativity and imagination across the continents and throughout the ages.

Of the museums I saw, I (still) liked the architecture of the new Whitney and the Guggenheim most.

In the latter, I was excited to find a small piece by Kurt Schwitters, one of the first artists to use found objects in art. I’ve been admiring his work since I was an art student in high school!

If you’re a textile lover, I suggest the following textile tour (though I am sure there are many more textile heavens in this city!):

Start with breath-taking ancient textiles:

You will find those by visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum. Both have permanent exhibitions displaying artifacts from various ancient cultures. They include some incredible, intricate textiles, all hand woven, of course. This Moroccan Wedding Sash, for example, can be found at the Met:

And this Turkish rug is a part of a beautiful rug exhibit at the Natural History Museum:

Continue with early-modern textile art:

Visit the Cooper Hewitt Museum. It currently displays the Jazz Age exhibition, which includes textiles (and also furniture and other items) from the 1920’s. You can also see some textiles (such as wall decor and rugs) from the same period at Radio City Music Hall, where they can be seen as originally intended. If you visit the latter, I highly recommend taking the Art Deco tour. It will take you backstage, where you can also get a glimpse of Rockette costumes!

Finish with modern textiles:

Visit the Moma! It currently has an exhibition dedicated to Robert Rauschenberg, another found-object-using artist I’ve been admiring since high school. There, I saw some Pop Art pieces I’ve long liked, such as Monogram:

And also learned of a textile-art phase in the artist’s life that I wasn’t quite aware of. That phase, apparently, followed a visit he took to India in the mid-1970’s, and included pieces such as this:

The Moma has other interesting displays of modern textile art, such as this work by Ablerto Burri:

This piece by Magdalena Abakanowicz:

Or this piece by Mira Schendal:

I hope you enjoy my suggestions of Textile Lovers’ Must-See Exhibitions in New York City. And if you’re there already, try to watch one of the shows on Broadway as well. They have nothing to do with textiles, but are really fun nonetheless!

How Hamilton Turned a Middle-aged Mom into a Paparazzi, and Why You Should See It, Too!

It’s been a year and a half since the Hamilton Craze swept over the land. Newspaper articles. Radio talk shows. Endless Facebook posts of friends posing with the famous murals. Meanwhile, here at home, the music has been playing non-stop over and over again, with my kids singing along, knowing every word.

I tried to resist it as long as I could. I am not fond of crazes, for one, nor am I especially into rap or hip hop. Whenever the kids played the music, I asked them to turn it off (or to at least lower the volume). I also repeatedly rebuffed their many pleas to go watch the show. 

They were quite persistent, however, as stubborn kids can be. Once they got their father on board I knew my case was lost.

Thus it happened that, over loud protests, I was recently dragged to watch Hamilton at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco.

I passed on posing solo in front of the murals, though I didn’t mind snapping shots of my offsprings. I didn’t buy a souvenir shirt or a printed cup. In fact, I went into the theater feeling rather skeptical.

Once inside, however, strange magic started spinning its web all around me. The audience’s anticipation was catching. Excitement was in the air, and it was physically tingling. The empty stage conveyed a secret promise.

Even the playbill had more allure than it usually does.

Finally the show began. It immediately drew me in, even though I didn’t know the history, the story line, or the words to the songs. The high energy was captivating. The voices were mesmerizing. The story itself was interesting. For the first time ever, I also found myself admiring a show’s lighting. The lights in this show were as physical as the stage props or the actors. They were a live part of the play.

Two hours and forty-five minutes passed in a blink. When it was over, I was left elated and awe-stricken. Not to mention curious to learn more American history…

We exited the theater, and saw people gathered around the stage door outside, waiting for the actors to come out.

My kids wanted to hang out as well. At this point, I was a lot more eager to surrender to their demands. So we waited. The crowds gasped every time the door opened. Then they exclaimed with disappointment when it was only a security guard or a member of the orchestra (I felt a bit sorry for members of the orchestra. They worked hard, too, I’m sure, but were hidden under the stage).

The actors dripped out slowly. They were greeted with loud cheers. Suddenly, in a matter of seconds, this reluctant, middle-aged mom turned into a greedy paparazzi!

I began snapping pictures of the actors, even of the ones I didn’t recognize from up close. From touching distance, they all seemed incredibly young. Much younger than they appeared from far away on the stage. In their modern outfits and without makeup, it was sometimes hard for me to tell who played who. And yet, there I was, clicking my camera away like there’s no tomorrow. I suddenly understood how my son must be feeling every time he goes Pokemon hunting. Except that instead of Larvitar or Dratini I “caught”:

Eliza!

King George (his acting was awesome!)

Thomas Jefferson (likewise!)

And also Hamilton himself, among others. This actor, Ryan Alvarado, was the standby, yet his acting was superb!:

All the actors were incredibly friendly and polite. They gave so many autographs that their hands must have gotten sore, yet they didn’t complain. The actors let people take selfies with them, and joked with young and old alike. They made quite a lot of people happy that day. My daughter, for one, will cherish her signed souvenir book for years to come.

People, if you haven’t seen this show yet, go see it! You don’t need to know American history to enjoy Hamilton, nor like rap or hip hop music. It’s truly amazing!

The Summer of Love: Still Relevant Fifty Years Later!

Fifty summers ago, in 1967, 100,000 youngsters converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. What began as a concert in Golden Gate Park developed into the Summer of Love and the resulting Hippie Movement that changed the United States, and the world, forever.

I heard about it, of course, and, like everyone else, associated it with sex, drugs and Rock & Roll. But I didn’t really know the details, and never thought any of it was relevant to my own life. The Summer of Love felt far removed, something that happened at a great distance and long ago.

Recently I visited the excellent Summer of Love exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and realized just how wrong I was. Cruising through the exhibition, guided by the many signs and the audio guide (highly recommended!!!), I learned that what happened fifty years ago actually shaped my own life (and yours, too!)  in ways big and small.

The young hippies rebelled against what they considered to be the constraining lifestyle of their parents (think 40’s and 50’s), and against the Vietnam War. Their rebellion involved lots of drugs and free love, yes, but also a shakeup of concepts related to religion, lifestyle, art and fashion. As you might imagine, I found the later two to be the most interesting.

Graphic artists began designing new kinds of posters during the Summer of Love. At first they drew them by hand:

Then they started printing them, inventing new printing techniques on the way. Their posters drew elements from old circus posters, among others, and were meant to express the experience of being on a drug-induced trip. That involved using bright, neon colors, and juxtaposing contrasting colors with the explicit intention of irritating the eye:

Influenced by tie-dyed clothes, some artists began experimenting with tie-dyed canvases. This beautiful piece, for example, is by Marian Clayden:

Hippie art found its most creative outlet in fashion. The fashion of the 1950’s involved tailored, tight-ish outfits. The hippies were going for loose, flowing clothes, designed to make the wearer feel as if they were wearing nothing at all:

Whereas many clothes in the 50’s were made out of polyester (an exciting new material that was invented during WWII, at the beginning of the 40’s), the Flower Children wanted to go back to natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and linen (in essence, they rebelled against a material that was relatively brand-new, but seemed ancient to them since their parents used it). They turned fashion into art, and broke all the existing rules of color and texture. They incorporated textiles from all over the world into their clothes, often from several cultures in one outfit. By doing so they expressed their growing interest in foreign (mostly Eastern) spirituality and religions. The outfits in the picture below, for example, have Indian, Thai, Panaman and Chinese motifs, to name some:

Many outfits at this time were hand made, hand painted, hand appliqued, hand embroidered. This hospital scrub, for example, decorated by a “bad trip” patient, must have taken numerous hours to create:

The hippies took a staple, iconic American piece of clothing, jeans, and tweaked it. In essence, they were the inventors of denim art (not to mention bell bottoms!):

They incorporated art into each and every item of clothing, such as these boots, which were made by hand for drummers:

This applied to accessories as well. This purse by Linda Gravenites, for example, must have taken days to embroider:

The Flower Children brought crocheting into the limelight. Although this isn’t one of my favorite art media, I couldn’t but appreciate the work and creativity that went into making some of the exhibited pieces. The pictures below is of a wall-sized bed spread:

Sadly, not all was sunny and happy during the Summer of Love. The exhibition sheds light on some of its darker sides, too. As a parent, the below poster, for example, broke my heart. These are pictures of runaway teenagers that parents from all over the country sent to the SF police, in the hope that they would find their kids:

And the following announcement talks of other dark aspects, such as rapes, STDs and “Bad Trips.” The latter were drug-experimentations gone wrong, which sent many Flower Children into hospitals and months-long recovery (hence the elaborately embroidered hospital garb shown above):

*****

Have you taken a yoga class or tried meditation? Did you ever shop at Whole Foods or buy organic foods? Are you taking nutritional supplements? Are you recycling, composting or upcycling? Do you own any Anthropologie, Free People, Urban Outfitters or Sundance Catalog clothing? Do you wear a fashionable pair of jeans? If so, you are the unknowing beneficiary of the Summer of Love! Many aspects of our current lifestyle, it turns out, are a direct result of the hippie movement!

On a more personal note, I left the exhibition realizing that ANY Texture would not have been what it is had the Summer of Love not happened. Eco-friendly art? Sustainable accessories? Purely handmade items? Bright colors? Ethnic fabrics? Denim art? Turns out, to my great surprise, that ANY Texture has everything to do with what happened far away and long ago! The Summer of Love is still relevant. It’s relevant to you, to me, to all of us!

If you are curious to learn more, the exhibition runs until August 20th. Just make sure to get an audio tour! If you go, please go ahead and post your impressions in the comments 🙂

One last suggestion: If you do see the exhibition, go grab lunch (or dinner) at Haight-Ashbury. Some things haven’t change much over the last fifty years…