I felt her soft rotund body as we hugged and her long dark hair brushed my face .. “Tu es bonito”… She said and squeezed my hand, as I held in my other against my chest a woven shawl, which she had just finished and taken from a rectangular loom, made from thin wood and closely placed nails. As she tied the last knots I said “Me gustaría comprar ese por favor”; and her face lit up as she opened out the white and purple banded weaving and placed it around my shoulders and affixed a hand carved wooden brooch with a thin wooden skewer to hold in place her beautiful work of art which will keep me snug and hold with it memories of this crazy day in Puerto Montt.
The long street from the port was flanked with piles of hand knitted thick hand-spin wool binis, socks , ponchos; light-grey and brown chunky wool cardigans; coloured gloves and ungainly balls of wool bulging uncomfortably and growing on the ground expanding in baskets from one stall to another. Skeins of bright colours of hanging strands were gently squeezed by inquisitive hands to see whether the fluffy wool was soft – on most occasions, it was not.
Hundreds of feet from the “Queen Victoria” shuffled past the never ending rows of binis, ponchos, gloves and socks; often made in the sweatboxes of Peru. Brown llamas walked in lines on the cuffs and waistbands of woollen jumpers and cardigans. Baskets of long handled spoons and timber rolling pins; cane woven wrens with tufted grass tails clung to stiff strands of hay – in stationary families like a driftwood hanging of shells- a universal adornment it seems – regardless of location. Salmon skin, slightly textured and dyed bright colours was sewn with thick black thread using a blanket stitch and made into purses and displayed on hand woven cloth reminiscent of artisan patisseries in a specialist patisserie in France…but here in Chile was a long way from there.
I felt a sense of comfort seeing rounds and curved blocks of waxed queso in stacks resting on timber shelves; the small holes in the rubbery cheddar maturing and the yellow rind sweating in the sun. Smoked dried mussels and pipis in strands of bright orange and brown exuded the sea and wafts of cold smoke, as they were lifted from a small freezer by a man with grimy sea hands and teeth; and hung to thaw hanging in the sun beside wide bands of leathered shiny dried sea-weed; and dark blocks of sticky crumbling fine sea-grass stacked in blocks on the ground completed the marine landscape beside the buses and taxis and puddles in the rough potholed road.
More socks and binis and thick wool Peruvian cardigans. Bizarre carvings of grotesque figures copulating in awkward positions were impaled on the end of pencils.
Kitsch German clocks ticked in time with the shuffling swathe of tourists being stared at by small dolls awkwardly wearing brightly coloured skirts and their stiff arms and legs unable to move them from their woven baskets.
Unlike in Morocco, here in Puerto Montt I was free to browse without being pressured and harassed and it was wonderful to look at the crafts of those who lived locally; un-accosted.
Knitting on long fat wooden needles was quiet without the click clack to which I was accustomed; but the principle of knit and purl and slip stitch is universal and was the language of connection as I shared my own way of knitting with the local women, and our laughter and hugs and using our hands with wool became interwoven into each of our lives. Rectangular looms stood at the back of the stalls; the weft and weave led me to reflect on how once again- although I was a tourist, in a tourist strip (one I vowed I would always avoid, but glad I didn’t) – I have become part of this country and its gentle people, yet there was something which felt uneasy about the dichotomy between what I was experiencing and what was displayed in the racks of postcards in the tourist centres.
The bizarre nature of Puerte Montt was visceral as the cacophony of noises seeped into the glassy bay. Underneath a pyramid metal poled tower – as the doof of a beat box from teenagers wearing baseball caps backwards, baggy pants and branded underwear; made crutch holding gestures around a dog whose ribs protruded above weak panting breathing laying motionless on its side; I felt like I was witnessing a weird kind of ritual.
Carnival noises from loudspeakers and carousel rides accompanied squeals from children being flung into the air from an hydraulic octopus armed machine resting on a trailer with flat tyres and being chocked by rocks and guarded by a dog patiently waiting for his next meal. In the painting in the side of the carnie-trailer-homes the smile of a child was obscured by a road sign where the message had long been worn off. Wires in clumps were hanging in bunches from the back of broken metal boxes, and long grey cords plugged together lay on the rough puddled ground like the network of nerves of an organism from a past time.
A man’s head succumbed to gravity as it nodded toward his chest as he sat alone on a stationary swing. Teenagers on bicycles weaved in and out of families wandering along the uneven path along the bay and children with pedalling legs in plastic cars around orange cones. Guards wearing an olive uniform and cloth badges, sat on large brown horses unaffected by barking territorial dogs and clomped casually amongst the specked tourist crowd. A lady wearing a white cloth hat sat reading on the edge of a broken concrete wall amongst her trio of black wheeled luggage – patiently waiting for something .. I haven’t a clue. Time seems to have frozen from forty years ago here in this ocean strip in a sea of hand knitted binis, gloves, ponchos, cardigans and socks….many of which continue in other’s hands – being worn and washed and join the thread of connection of so many across this amazing planet.