I’m sitting in a cool establishment in Puerto Vallarta called Vallarta Factory*. Although I initially came for the coffee, the place can’t be easy defined as a café. The few meals I’ve had here have been great and the owners have also branched out into cigar making, chocolate making and coffee roasting – all ingredients (or most) of which originate in various states within Mexico. I’m sitting near Pancho who is one of the family members who run the place – an interesting brother who is giving me a rundown on the Factory’s 20 years in business, and their diversification which has made them much more than a coffee shop.
It turns out that Pancho manages their website and does their social media, so when he saw that I was there to do a little writing he confided that he too was a writer – dabbling in a little fiction and political writing. “Can’t that be a little dangerous here?” I asked. “Journalism is one of the most dangerous jobs in Mexico, that’s why I keep most of my commentary about the US” he replied. He then offered me a shot of hooch – some type of tequila distilled from an Agave varietal. “Lo siento Amigo, yo no beber alcohol”, I said…”I will try one of your Café Olé’s though”…a house specialty of cinnamon and grated orange in a locally hand-thrown mug. Who knows how the evening may have progressed if I were still in full-blown drinking mode, but I had no interest in breaking my resolve of six years – so, coffee and journalling it is…ok…maybe I did have a piece of their delicious pecan pie as well 🙂 I find that it’s always good to chat with the locals, it’s the only way to get the back story and you just never know when a serendipitous moment may come of such conversations.
I was treated to some lovely serendipity a few days ago when I happened to go off the beaten trail here in Puerto Vallarta on one of my lengthy daily walks. I ventured over one of the bridges spanning the Rio Cuale, into the Emiliano Zapata neighbourhood. On this day I decided to follow a road called Rivera Del Rio which is a lovely tree-lined street hugging the Cuale – a beautiful stroll beside nature, which is so much more serene than the otherwise traffic congested streets. I am in the habit of saying Hola or Buenos Dias to nearly everyone I encounter on my walks, and on this day when I did so to a woman who was dreamily looking at a row of houses on the street she countered with, “It’s a beautiful part of the world”. I took this as an invitation to engage in conversation and began a small dialogue with her. Her name is Laura Reeves and was, in fact, the owner of the house we were standing in front of. She had bought the property 12 years earlier for $39,000 and built the 3 story house from the ground up with the help of local contractors. A large sign on the second floor indicated that a suite was for rent for $950 a month. When I expressed interest she offered to show me the suite in case I might be keen to rent it in future trips to PV. While viewing the suite I happened to mention that I had a small Art Gallery in BC, and, as it turned out , she had an array of paintings and jewellery that she represented for several Mexican artists and craftspeople. Of course, we had to go down to her suite to have a look.
Although I didn’t come to Mexico on an art purchasing trip for my gallery, it’s been on my mind that it would be a cool way to connect more deeply with this country and some of her talented artisans. Laura had an interesting selection of paintings from several artists that – although beautiful – were too large for me to carry back to the Pacific Northwest. She also indicated that the postal service was unpredictable at best, and corrupt at worst – word has it that packages go missing and that posties may be pilfering – so shipping was ruled out. She next pulled out a collection of crystal-beaded jewelry that included earrings, chokers, necklaces, bracelets and belts – handmade by a Mexican woman named Laura Meza.
Although I am not well-versed in the current trends in Women’s tastes in jewellery (I do carry a small array of necklaces, bracelets, brooches and pendants) I found these pieces to be eye-catching, colourful and fun. Laura Reeves has a large collection of Señora Meza’s work and is looking for outlets for her. The pieces were small enough for me to carry back to Canada in my carry on luggage so Laura (Reeves…I am now dealing with two Lauras) suggested that I take a decent selection of each item with me to sell at Shavasana – on consignment. (Here’s a pic of some of the pieces – I preferred the jumble of colour to a symmetrical layout)
Serendipity. A casual hello turned into an invitation to view art and jewelry, and ultimately to a handshake deal to walk away with several hundred dollars of product – on consignment. I was surprised yet flattered that Laura felt comfortable enough with my “façade of honesty” 😉 To send me away with the goods. Perhaps it’s a long shot but we’ll let the merchandise reach the summer tourist market on Mayne for at least a couple of seasons to see if it has legs. At the very least it’s my first foray into being an international import merchant🙏👍😄
(*Travel and little time have put a some distance between the start of this article and my current writing location – I’m back in Vancouver at the BeFresh café on Broadway, and, if you’ve managed to read this far, keep going, as I’m about to explain the tragic aspect of this tale…)
As Pancho mentioned, there are certain occupations in Mexico which come with inherent risks. I have not yet had an opportunity to meet Laura Meza – my new Mexican jewellery maker – but I did learn some details of her life from her friend Laura Reeves in Puerto Vallarta. Many years ago when their five children were quite young, Laura’s husband was employed doing investigative work for a branch of local Government. One day, in the course of his duties he – and 4 other co-workers – were kidnapped and murdered – never to be seen again. Everything changed for Laura on that day. The father of her five children, and their sole means of support, was gone, and she was left a widow searching desperately for a way to feed, clothe and house her kids. Like many before – and after her – she took the dangerous routes north to the US where she managed to find work picking lettuce in the fields of southern Arizona to survive. Eventually Laura was able to return to Mexico, and her children, to continue with their upbringing. And now she makes crystal-beaded jewellery as an additional means of income for herself and her family.
It’s now mid March, 2018, a few days after I published/posted this article. My Puerto Vallarta contact just forwarded me a photo of Laura Meza – which is my first glimpse of the artist, and which I’ve included – below. Laura is on the right seated next to a Tarahumara woman named Maria (80 years old). This was taken last summer while the two Laura’s were in the Copper Canyon. Apparently this was Maria’s first ever bed, and the two Lauras were winterizing her log cabin.
So please, drop by Shavasana next time you are in the neighbourhood and have a look at Laura’s work – it’s fun & sparkly stuff. If you do find a piece of her jewellery that you’d like to take home with you, at least you’ll know that your purchase is helping a deserving woman overcome adversity. There’s always a back story if you look for it.