I’ve been reading Barkskins, a new novel by Annie Proulx. It’s set in 17th century French Canada and the British colonies, and it is horrifying and yet completely engaging. I’m struck, as I read, by the way travel by ship defined life in those times. If you wanted to send a message from Quebec to Amsterdam, for instance, and get a reply, you might have to wait a couple of years. If you were shipping cargo, maybe even longer, if pirates or typhoons didn’t intervene. It gave a whole new meaning to “planning ahead.”
We, meanwhile, are eagerly awaiting delivery of our new fall titles, Oaxaca Stories in Cloth: A Book about People, Belonging, Identity, and Adornment by Eric Mindling, and Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping by Sheri Brautigam. They have spent a mere few weeks on a ship coming to San Diego from Hong Kong, and they still have miles to go by truck to arrive in Loveland. I try to imagine a world in which the wait would be years, not months. And no tracking available.
But the books. There’s a lot of geographical overlap between them, and yet they are different in almost every other way. Sheri’s book is tote-bag-friendly in size, riotously colorful in appearance, and cheerfully engaging as a travel and shopping guide to textile markets and festivals in Mexico. You just won’t want to go south of the border, especially to Oaxaca or Chiapas*, without it. You’ll get tips on where to stay, what to eat, what textile treasures to look for in which little back street.
Eric’s book, on the other hand, weighs about as much as a clay roof tile on a Oaxacan adobe home (2 pounds 5 ounces); it’s darkly dramatic and loaded with intimate photographs of people and places you will probably never have a chance to see for yourself (unless you go on one of Eric’s excellent tours). The stories he tells take you there, though. It’s the kind of book that you keep going back to, reading the faces, the textiles, the textures of daily life. I’ll tell you more in a couple of weeks. When our ship comes in.
*If you’ve been reading the news about riots in Oaxaca City and the Chiapas highlands, rest assured. Our authors on the ground, Chip Morris and Carol Karasik, say that yes, the Zapatistas are making themselves known, but traveling to San Cristóbal or Chamula is safer than going to France or Germany. If you’re nervous anyhow, just read their book, Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas. Next best thing to being there.