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by Bob Brooke


Pre-Columbian Artifact, MexicoWalking among the ruins of Monte Alban, I noticed others looking down at the ground in hopes of finding some ancient shards or idolos (idols) to take back home with them. Unfortunately, they may not have been aware that it's illegal to take such things out of the country.

However, the Mexicans are ingenious. Throughout the ruins, children hail you to inquire whether you want to purchase an idolo. It's hard to avoid them, and once they find you, they hang on to you like leeches. My own particular leech was a boy of perhaps eleven, named Paco, a little businessman and a gem of a salesman whom I'd gladly recommend to anyone.

Paco began his sales pitch by asking, "Senor, want to buy an idolo?"

"Not really," I reply. "Not today, anyway." But I can't resist. I have to take a look. Good looking idolos. They seem old, too, with nice color and shape, and sand in their ears. Just like the ones in the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.

In spite of myself, I ask, "How much?"

"Ten thousand pesos, señor."

"How about five thousand?

He shakes his head from side to side. "Seven thousand."

Before we have time to conclude the sale, a guard appears and chases Paco away.

"You must forgive these little rascals, señor," he says. "They give Monte Alban a bad name." And away he went.

Just around the next temple corner, Paco appears again and begins his sales pitch once more.

"We've got to hurry, senor, before the guard comes back."

By this time, I'm convinced that the guard doesn't chase these kids to get rid of them but as part of the game. With this in mind, I realize that Paco's idolos must be phonies. But the game was fun.

"How about twenty for two? But only if you guarantee that they're genuine."

He crossed his heart and shook his head up and down vigorously. "My idolos are genuino, the real thing, señor. Honest."

I don't believe a word of this, but for $2, I can't go wrong. Even a fake is worth more money than that. I pay him and ask him where I can see others because I don't like the ones he has left.

"You can come to my family's house and look at a lot more if you like," he says. "I'll even sell you a bunch wholesale. Meet me at this address."

"Ok. How about tomorrow morning at ten? Paco's family's house isn't far from Monte Alban on the way back to Oaxaca. True to his word, he's out in front waiting to greet me. Inside the one-room adobe house are large piles of idolos and other artifacts stored in several oil drums. All the members of his family his father and mother, two sisters, and three brothers are busily engaged in creating artifacts out of clay and soft stone. Once shaped, he tells me later, they're baked in the sun, then buried in the ground for a few months, then dug up, looking like the real thing.

I still don't understand why Paco would first lie to me and then have the gall to let me witness the inner workings of this factory of fakes.

As I leave the house after purchasing several more pieces, I ask him, "Why did you lie to me back at Monte Alban?"

With a shocked look on his face, he answers, "Señor, I told you my goods are genuino. Now you've seen with your own eyes that they are handmade by true artists. What could be more genuino?

He had me there.

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