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THE RUG WEAVER OF TEOTITLAN DEL VALLE
by Bob Brooke
 

I'm a compulsive collector. Ceramics, boxes, stamps, you name it. One of my recent passions has been collecting rugs, especially rugs from Mexico. I don't simply buy these rugs, I select them. Beauty alone won't do. Each of my rugs must be a masterpiece of design, a work of art.

Upon the recommendation of a Mexican friend, I traveled to the village of Teotitlan del Valle southeast of Oaxaca. Here, weavers have been making finely woven rugs for hundreds of years. It took some effort to find a particular weaver, named Graciela, one of a hundred weavers in this village known for its weaving.

When I finally found her, I told her that I wanted to see some of her best samples. Graciela, or Chela, as she liked to be called, was a scant Zapotec Indian woman with dark bronze skin and dark piercing eyes. The darkness of her skin made her white teeth seem even whiter when she smiled. She wore a gaily colored huipil, a white overblouse with delicate embroidery around the neck and bottom. She brought out piles of her rugs and spread them before me in the sun in the courtyard of her house. I wasn't disappointed.

As I looked over the rugs, I couldn't help noticing the house. The air was filled with the aromatic smell of burning wood. The house was laid out within a walled compound separating it from the street. Everything seemed to be outside. Chela used the small courtyard to hang out her rugs, but she wove them on a large hand loom under the protection of a semi-roofed patio.

It's the custom in Mexico not to rush into business. You're expected to socialize first. Before one trades, one talks, about anything--the weather, the family, the many weeks it takes to weave just one rug. Finally, I got down to inspecting the dozen or so she had laid for me to see.

A sea of color, beautiful designs, different sizes, all magnificent. I touched and felt. Something seemed wrong. Each rug that I inspected seemed to have a little flaw, small, to be sure, but nevertheless a flaw. I thought to myself, How could this master rug weaver make such simple mistakes? The errors disturbed me. Really they weren't much, tiny misweaves or maybe a slight mismatch in pattern.

I didn't want to hurt Chela's feelings by inquiring. "Do you have any others I could look at?" I asked, hoping to find some without any flaws.

"Not now," she said. "But perhaps pronto."

What she meant to say was maybe in a month or two, after she had woven more.

"But, senor," she pleaded. "Can't you find anything you like among these?

"I'm afraid not, but I will be coming back this way in a couple of months. I definitely will buy from you next time. I'd really like to see some more patterns before buying."

"Please, senor, you must have some warm tortillas. I just made them. And to wash them down, some pulque."

I couldn't refuse. After all, the tortillas did smell good, but I was a little hesitant about the milky pulque. This slightly alcoholic drink, made from the maguey plant, is not the greatest refreshment if your taste buds aren't accustomed to it. After eating a tortilla or two and downing the pulque, and after more conversation, I left and headed back to Oaxaca.

About two months later, I returned. Chela was all smiles. As she promised, she had a new collection of rugs, as magnificent as the first batch. These had different patterns, some calm, some dramatic. She spread them out as before and invited my inspection.

I couldn't see how they could have been made any better. How could this handweaver have brought any more inspiration to fashioning them. I wanted to purchase them all. It was hard to make up my mind. But, once more, I noticed little faults similar to those in the first group. They were fine specimens, but the flaws still bothered me.

I didn't' want to offend Chela, and after considerable hemming and hawing, I had to ask, "Why do all these rugs have little flaws? Surely, you're an expert weaver?"

Chela laughed heartily. A good long hearty laugh. "Those little flaws," she explained, "were done with a purpose. I put one misweave into every one of my rugshuman beings are weak and full of error. To create perfect rugs might be an offense in the eyes of God, for only God is perfect and He might not like mere humans to emulate Him in that respect. So as not to displease God, I make sure that none of my rugs is absolutely perfect.

"But they are nearly so," she added, crossing herself.

With that explanation, I gave up. I bought four of her finest, first bargaining to get the price down, for to do otherwise would have labeled her a novice.

After the required tortillas and pulque, I left, but not before asking, "Do all the weavers in Teotitlan del Valle do what you do?"

Chela crossed herself again and replied, " Quien sabe? Who knows? But I devoutly hope so.

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