Ceramic Projects: Forming Techniques, reviewed

Ceramic Projects

Ceramic Projects

If you’re an intermediate potter who is looking for ways to expand your repertoire or a pottery teacher who needs to satisfy more experienced students, the 26 projects in Ceramic Projects, Forming Techniques will keep you busy. Included are an extruded lotion dispenser, a citrus juicer, lanterns and lights, several innovative teapots, three-piece pots, and joined pots. The step-by-step instructions, accompanied by photos, are easy to follow and the forms are simple enough that it would be a natural next step to encourage oneself or one’s students to modify them and thus move toward a personal style. Many of the essays begin with a reflection on how the author/potter came to a technique or design—valuable information for potters who are ready to move past imitation and on to making their own unique work. The best of these is an essay by Annie Chrietzberg who describes how one of her students took Chrietzberg’s technique of slab-built mugs and, by adding thrown elements and linocut texture, came up with mugs that, while inspired by Chrietzberg’s, bear little resemblance to them. Whether you just need new ideas or if you’re ready to spread your wings and take off with your own designs, Ceramic Projects will be a big help.

Published by The American Ceramics Society
ISBN 978-1-57498-307-4
136 pages / $29.95 US

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Slabs, textures, buttons: I saw it on my TV!

two mugs

slab-built mugs

My daughter-in-law loves the bluish mug on the right and I know this because she wrote me a note saying that if she had made a mug like this she would write a blog post about it, so that’s what I’m doing. This is a new design for me (I usually throw my mugs) and it was inspired by the excellent DVD set (which I will review in a later post) called What If? Explorations with Texture and Soft Slabs by  Sandi Pierantozzi. Sandi encourages us to 1) play with soft, thin slabs and with texture, and 2) ask ourselves “what if I try this?” so that’s what I did. I started by making straight-sided mugs and added buttons where the slab joined. Then I watched a bit more of the DVD and saw how Sandi pushes a straight side out to form a curve. So I did that too. Apart from being a lot of fun, this technique allows me to make ultra-thin mugs which is something that is appreciated by a friend of mine who has a disability. One thing that I like about these mugs is that they don’t look anything like Sandi’s work, even though they were inspired by it. You can see excerpts from the DVD set (and even buy it) at ceramicartsdaily.org.

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Day 14: Leaving Nicaragua

Adios Nicaragua
At 5 am it’s still dark as Ivan dri­ves us to the air­port. Inside the van no one is talk­ing and out­side groups of peo­ple out for a bit of exer­cise walk briskly along the median of the almost-emtpy divided high­way and some­times spill out into the fast lane.

In the depar­ture lounge I try to spot a tourist but every­one seems to be from either an NGO or a church group and most sound like they’re American. The in-flight movie stars Jennifer Aniston and takes place in Seattle, but sud­denly Jennifer is hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with her lead­ing man in front of the Water Street Café, which is across the street from my office in Vancouver. In another part of the movie one of the char­ac­ters finds redemp­tion at a Home Depot which could be any­where except per­haps Nicaragua. I’m glad that cul­ture shock is being dulled by the fog­gi­ness of my sleep-deprived brain.

At my daughter’s place in L.A. I pull out the comal I bought from Benita back on Day 2 and test it out on the gas stove. The tor­tillas are deli­cious and I vow never to eat store-bought again. When I get back to Vancouver I put some of the pot­tery I brought back into the dis­play case out­side the com­mu­nal stu­dio where I work on week­ends and every time I look at them I fall in love again with the soft, warm, wel­com­ing beauty of my Nicaraguan pots.

This was first posted at geist.com.

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Day 13: Nicaraguan Journal

We headed back to Managua today and on the way we stopped at the Filtron Filter Factory which is owned and oper­ated by a Belgian man named Frank Schuringa who came to Nicaragua twenty-five years ago, mar­ried a Nicaraguan woman, had a cou­ple of kids, and  estab­lished a cof­fee busi­ness, a compost-making oper­a­tion and the fil­ter fac­tory. Last year when I vis­ited the fac­tory the fil­ters were formed by man­u­ally pump­ing a car jack to press the two pieces of the mould together, and each brigadista took a turn to make one fil­ter (it was hard work!) but the fac­tory now has an hydraulic ver­sion of the press (just push a but­ton and away it goes). Not as much fun for the brigadis­tas but a lot eas­ier on the workers.

Alvarro, our young guide-in-training, used to work at the fac­tory so he showed us around and explained how they run the clay through a ham­mer­mill to crush stones, then mix the dry clay with saw­dust and water to an exact pro­por­tion by weight, then press the fil­ters, dry them slowly, fire them in wood-burning kilns, test each fil­ter for the proper flowage rate (if the flow is too fast, the fil­ter can be refired; if the flow is too slow, the fil­ter is dis­carded), then paint the fil­ter with col­loidal sil­ver and lastly, box it.

We had a long chat with Frank, dur­ing which we sipped his excel­lent cof­fee and he told us how things had changed in Nicaragua since he first came here when peo­ple were more open and will­ing to help each other, then we took a look at the cof­fee roaster and the com­post oper­a­tion and some brigadis­tas bought some cof­fee and one bought a fil­ter and then we went into the town of Jinotepe for lunch at Comida Vegetariana, a lit­tle café that is run by a Malaysian fam­ily and that serves veg­e­tar­ian Chinese food (no chicken stew!). Lunch was delicious.

In the after­noon we stopped in at the home of our trans­la­tor Beatrice and her hus­band Fred — a beau­ti­ful two-bedroom home with all the mod­ern con­ve­niences and a lus­cious gar­den. When Beatrice told me that she had the house on the mar­ket for only $120,000US, an amount of money that wouldn’t even buy a stu­dio apart­ment in my city, I pic­tured myself liv­ing there — maybe after I mas­ter Spanish Level 2 and can find my way around with­out a guide, a dri­ver and a bunch of other gringos.

Fred has another pet project, besides Potters for Peace, and that’s a group called Stove Team International who work on the design, man­u­fac­ture and dis­tri­b­u­tion of fuel-efficient cook­stoves that will reduce the amount of smoke inhaled by peo­ple in the devel­op­ing world (most cook­stoves are inside the house and have no chim­neys), reduce the amount of wood being con­sumed by cook­stoves, and reduce the num­ber of burns on fam­ily mem­bers (the out­side of these new stoves don’t get hot). Since we had just inhaled a fair amount of smoke from cook­stoves, we could see the beauty of these stoves, although they are so dif­fer­ent from the long nar­row, counter-height adobe cook­stoves that also pro­vide a large area for rest­ing pots and keep­ing food warm, it will take some work to per­suade many Nicaraguan cooks to use them.

After that it was back to Kairos (where we began our jour­ney) where we ate din­ner (yes, chicken stew) and spent the evening try­ing to stuff all the pots we’d bought into our suit­cases. This year I brought a big­ger suit­case but I still had to leave behind my sheet and towel (which the hos­tel at Kairos can cer­tainly use) in order to get every­thing in. Then I sought out the brigadis­tas who were not leav­ing with me at dawn the next morn­ing and we exchanged hugs and promises to email. It was espe­cially sad to say good­bye to Maritza, our Nicaraguan brigadista, since my Spanish is so lim­ited that I was unable to tell her how much I had learned from her. So we just sat on the bed hug­ging each other and cry­ing a bit. Even though I hadn’t been a tourist in the usual sense, with­out flu­ency in their lan­guage I would never be able to get to know these peo­ple. (Yes, I have enrolled in more Spanish lessons!)

This was first posted at geist.com.

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Day 12: Nicaraguan Journal

Today we took in a town­ful of pot­ters at San Juan de Oriente, a place where every street is lined with pot­tery shops and every nook and cranny con­tains stu­dios, both large and small. The style of pot­tery here is the most well-known and, in some ways, the most sophis­ti­cated in the coun­try: pots are dec­o­rated with brightly-coloured slips (that are coloured with oxides) and bur­nished until they are com­pletely smooth and shiny so that they look as if they have been glazed. Unlike pot­tery that has been dec­o­rated with naturally-occurring coloured clays, pot­tery dec­o­rated with oxide-coloured clay is not food safe.

Achieving the same effect with glaz­ing would require costly chem­i­cals and much more fuel (wood) in order to reach a high enough tem­per­a­ture to mature the glazes. Electric fir­ing is out of the ques­tion here due to the unre­li­a­bil­ity and the high cost of elec­tric­ity, so even these sophisticated-looking pots are fired in wood-burnng kilns like the one below on the right.

Often, after the colour has been applied and bur­nish­ing is com­plete, fur­ther dec­o­rat­ing is done by scratch­ing pat­terns through the coloured layer (scraf­fito) or by chip­ping the colour away in solid sec­tions, leav­ing the raw clay colour but with a beau­ti­ful repet­i­tive tex­ture.

Duillio Jimenez and his wife Paola run a store and stu­dio in San Juan de Oriente. The store is at street level and the stu­dio, which includes the kiln in the photo above, is in the base­ment. Duillio demon­strated how he chips away the bur­nished slip to reveal the nat­ural clay (see photo on above right) and then he got his young son, Duillio Junior, to demon­strate his impres­sive com­pe­tence on the wheel. Since a woman taught Duillio how to throw and he taught his son, they both throw with both feet on the same side of the wheel, sim­i­lar to rid­ing sidesad­dle on a horse — since most Nicaraguan women wear skirts, this posi­tion works bet­ter for them.

When we arrived at the shop of world-renowned pot­ter Helio Guitérrez his daugh­ter ran around the cor­ner to fetch her dad while we mar­velled at Helio’s work. His sophis­ti­cated forms and dec­o­ra­tion were aston­ish­ing and sev­eral of us found room in our bud­gets and our suit­cases for pieces of his work.

Helio urged us to visit his teacher, Gregorio Bracamonte, who lives just down the road and who makes repli­cas of pre-Columbian pot­tery — beau­ti­ful shapes cov­ered with intri­cate dec­o­ra­tion. Even though our visit was unplanned, Gregorio ush­ered us through his house to his stu­dio and spent at least an hour explain­ing his processes and show­ing us exam­ples of his work. At the moment, Gregorio has only one appren­tice work­ing with him, a young man who con­tin­ued to painstak­ingly paint brightly-coloured designs on a large piece even as we wan­dered around ask­ing ques­tions and gawk­ing at everything.

When we had exhausted both our­selves and our wal­lets, we headed back to the Monkey Hut where we feasted on Maritza’s spe­cial chicken stew (we all agreed that hers was the best we had tasted, and we had tasted a lot of chicken stew) and then we sat around the table reflect­ing on every­thing we had expe­ri­enced over the past 12 days.

This was first posted at geist.com.

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Day 11: Nicaraguan Journal

Started Day 11 by dri­ving 4 hours south to the mar­ket town of Masaya, which is a short dis­tance south of Managua, where we started our trip, which meant that even though, for the past 10 days, we have felt like we were in remote coun­try­side, we were never more than a few hours from the big city. When I got home I fig­ured out that the the whole of Nicaragua is 7 times smaller than the province I live in.

At Masaya we bought gro­ceries at the Pali Supermarket, a big flourescent-lit chain store that was our first indi­ca­tion that we were back in civ­i­liza­tion. After that we were allowed one hour at the Masaya tourist mar­ket (thanks, Robert, we know you hate that kind of thing) where, among other things, we man­aged to find a good map of Nicaragua. I bought a light woven blan­ket that the ven­dor assured me was made in Nicaragua but which we both knew was made in Guatamala.

Then it was on to the wind-swept tourist attrac­tion at Laguna de Masaya, one of many crater lakes in Nicaragua, a land of vol­ca­noes. More sou­venir shop­ping was avail­able here but we pre­ferred to look out over the lagoon and to to avoid get­ting blown down the hill. A cou­ple of us took refuge from the wind in a lit­tle cof­fee shop (that had great cof­fee) and Chris bought a large (2 1/2-foot in diam­e­ter) flat bas­ket that, despite our dire pre­dic­tions and rolled eyes, she did man­age to get back to the States.

Drove from there out to the Monkey Hut at Laguna de Apoyo, along wind­ing roads that are lined with plant nurs­eries. The Monkey Hut is a youth hos­tel (but they let us old folks in any­way) perched above a huge warm crater lake, in the midst of large water­front homes. We spent the rest of the after­noon swim­ming, drink­ing beer and lay­ing about in ham­mocks, then we cooked our own din­ner and went to be early. The Monkey Hut is pic­turesque but I was miss­ing the “real” coun­try­side so I slept out­side on the deck.

This was first posted at geist.com.

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Day 10: Nicaraguan Journal

Spent the day at Loma Panda, a remote pot­tery in the moun­tains, near the bor­der with Honduras. This pot­tery is run by five sis­ters (and a niece) whose fam­ily has lived there for 500 years and despite their remote loca­tion, the  pot­tery is well-established and the work done there is some of the most inno­v­a­tive in Nicaragua. The sis­ters have clay avail­able on their land and buy­ers come to buy directly from them. During the con­tra war, the sis­ters say that they were not in dan­ger (the con­tras came over the bor­der from Honduras) because they “just went into the hills.”

The road to Loma Panda is steep and rocky and runs through a river bed but we were lucky because it was not washed out so we were able to ride all the way there, although we had to do it in the back of a pickup truck.

The day started with a buy­ing spree as we all tried to visu­al­ize the size of our suit­cases and the amount of pot­tery we had already bought — the pot­tery at Loma Panda was so exu­ber­ant and whim­si­cal and beau­ti­ful that we all wanted to own many more pieces than we would be able to carry home. The story goes that sev­eral years ago a cou­ple of the sis­ters were taken on a trip to Managua where they saw plas­tic dolls with mov­able limbs (the kind where the arms and legs are attached to each other by elas­tic bands run­ning through the hol­low body) and when they came back they began to make clay dolls like this — using under­wear elas­tic to hold the move­able limbs on. This is the only resem­blance their work has to pink plas­tic: they cre­ate crazy dolls, crea­tures and other forms and dec­o­rate them with coloured slip, some­times incised them with intri­cate pat­terns, and then bur­nish them smooth.

Later the pot­ters of Loma Panda demon­strated their hand­build­ing tech­niques and gave us a chance to try out their tech­niques. Their clay is dif­fi­cult to work with and to smooth the sur­face they make the sur­face quite wet and then rub it with var­i­ous pieces of plas­tic of dif­fer­ent shapes. My usual method of smooth­ing clay when hand­build­ing is to use as lit­tle water as pos­si­ble but this didn’t work well at Loma Panda.

Maritza, who hadn’t been able to show us much of her work (when we vis­ited her pueblo we were busy build­ing a kiln), went on a cre­ative frenzy and, in a cou­ple of hours, made these:

Lunch was another deli­cious chicken stew, served in the main room of the house with chick­ens and cats run­ning under­foot. At some point in the day, Mike remem­bered that it was his 60th birth­day and we all agreed that we couldn’t think of a bet­ter way to spend it. When our visit was over some of us walked down the rocky road and waited at the bot­tom in the cool­ness of the shady riverbed, while the rest of us rode down in the back of the truck and picked up a cou­ple of young guys who jumped on, eager to catch a free ride.

Nearer to town we stopped at the home of Maria, a tiny woman who makes the cutest piggy banks in Nicaragua. She lives with her sis­ter, Marta, in the house that their father built and she makes 4 piggy banks a day. She used to fire them, one at a time, inside her cook­stove (which is inside her house) until Potters for Peace built her a small bar­rel kiln just out­side her door. Now she can fire 11 piggy banks at a time. Her other jobs are farm­ing and pray­ing for the dead. Her sis­ter Marta was not at home when we vis­ited, but as we drove down the road we passed her walk­ing home with a load of sticks (fire­wood) on her back.

Back at our hotel in Somoto, we piled out of the truck and as we walked into the lobby we passed a group of newly-arrived Americans who had come to Nicaragua to build a church. Compared to our sweaty, dusty, wise-cracking  selves they seemed way too clean and naive to sur­vive in this coun­try, although give them a few days and they’d prob­a­bly be dirty and sweaty at least.

Robert and I spent the evening in the lobby, hunched over his lap­top, putting together the text and image for our group t-shirt. Found a tri­umphant photo of the whole gang clus­tered around the kiln we had built (it seemed ages ago) but then some­one pointed out that two peo­ple were miss­ing from the shot. Photoshop came to the res­cue and we were able to “place” two more peo­ple in the photo and then we added our group name, “Momotombito Caliente,” (after the vol­cano that the kiln we built most closely resem­bled) which we had cho­sen by secret bal­lot (!) after many long and ram­bling dis­cus­sions. The next day Robert sent the final com­puter file back to Managua (where a per­spi­ca­cious employee at the print­ing house picked up a major spelling mis­take) so that the printed t-shirts would be wait­ing for us there on our last night.

This was first posted at geist.com.

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Days 8 & 9: Nicaraguan Journal

Spent most of days 8 and 9 at Santa Rosa, one of the few remain­ing col­lec­tives in Nicaragua. The land belong­ing to the col­lec­tive was orig­i­nally a privately-owned hacienda. When the own­ers fled dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion, the peo­ple who had been work­ing for them moved onto the land and set up the col­lec­tive and then per­sisted, despite sev­eral changes in gov­ern­ment and polit­i­cal ide­olo­gies, in gain­ing title to the land. Each fam­ily in the col­lec­tive is allot­ted land to live and work on and if they do not main­tain their home or their land they are evicted.

The pot­tery there is run by one fam­ily and a por­tion of their prof­its, and those of other money-making enter­prises, goes back to the com­mu­nity. The pot­ters of Santa Rosa include Consuelo, who came along on last year’s brigade, her mother and her aunt, as well as her hus­band, although he spends some of his time rais­ing veg­eta­bles with his own father. Consuelo’s father is chair­man of the board of direc­tors of the cooperative.

After intro­duc­tions we were invited to help unload the new kiln which had been built by Potters for Peace thanks to a gen­er­ous dona­tion of $600 from one of our brigade mem­bers who shyly accepted their thanks. We were glad to help, although later, when we knew each other bet­ter, Consuelo con­fessed that, although they had planned the fir­ing so that we would be there for the unload­ing, a buyer had turned up early so they had to unload it with­out us and then, so that we wouldn’t be dis­ap­pointed, they put most of the pots back. I could see by the huge change and expan­sion in the work being pro­duced at Santa Rosa that Consuelo had taken full advan­tage of the oppor­tu­nity to learn from the other pot­ters that she met on the brigade last year.

During the two days we took turns throw­ing and hand­build­ing and Daisy, George (from Iowa) and I got a chance to demon­strate some tech­niques and Consuelo showed us how she applies slip trail­ing dec­o­ra­tion (for the non-potters, that means squeez­ing spaghetti-like lines of liq­uid clay onto a semi-dry pot) to her pots using a plas­tic bag, a tech­nique that seemed to me to be a lot eas­ier than try­ing to squeeze a hard plas­tic slip trailer.

At noon, as we mean­dered through the vil­lage in the direc­tion of Consuelo’s house, her daugh­ter Cindy, look­ing very much like a city girl, came run­ning up the road to meet us and show us the way.  Lunch was a deli­cious home­grown chicken stew which we ate while sit­ting in the shade in the backyard.

On the sec­ond after­noon we walked through the vil­lage, along a road, past a deposit of yel­low­ish clay, down a big hill, across a swampy area, and up another small hill in the woods to the pottery’s deposit of black clay, which is on land that has been des­ig­nated to Consuelo’s mother.  The walk was beau­ti­ful but it was also hot and the trail was rough in places — no won­der I felt sheep­ish when, in reply to Consuelo’s ques­tion of where I got my clay from, I answered “from the store, in a box.”

On the way to Santa Rosa on our sec­ond day, we stopped in at a fil­ter and brick fac­tory that is run by a fel­low named Tito, who is part of a fam­ily that, before the rev­o­lu­tion, were wealthy landown­ers. Tito’s fam­ily now lives in Mexico but he has returned to Nicaragua to try to regain title to some of their lands (land title in Nicaragua is incred­i­bly com­plex due to the rev­o­lu­tion and other changes in gov­ern­ment). At the fil­ter and brick fac­tory Tito employs many young men, most of whom are uni­ver­sity stu­dents. Tile-making is monot­o­nous and some­times back-breaking work but the work­ers take turns at each job so they don’t wear them­selves out. Some of the men have become com­pe­tent throw­ers and the fac­tory also pro­duces a line of flower pots.

Unfortunately, after our first day in Santa Rosa, George (from Florida) decided he would have to leave the brigade: he had a case of “stom­ach trou­bles” that he just couldn’t shake and he was find­ing that he just didn’t have the energy needed to get the most out of the brigade. Robert’s wife, Bev, who had dri­ven up to Santa Rosa to meet us, took George with her on the 4-hour drive back to Managua.

This was first posted at geist.com.

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Day 7: Nicaraguan Journal

This morn­ing we “bor­rowed” the kitchen of the comi­dor where we have been eat­ing and four of our bravest brigadis­tas cooked break­fast for us using a tra­di­tional Nicaraguan wood stove: a long, nar­row fire­box that is fed with long branches at the end of which are a cou­ple of holes to put pots onto the direct flame. I wasn’t part of this adven­ture but I heard that all would have been lost with­out the help of Maritza, our native Nicaraguan brigadista.

street, san juan de limayThe final prod­uct was deli­cious but it took a lit­tle longer (okay, a lot longer) to pre­pare than we had antic­i­pated, which gave the rest of us time to walk the streets of San Juan de Limay and watch peo­ple start­ing their day: col­lect­ing tor­tillas for their break­fast, sweep­ing their doorsteps and the street in front of their houses, sit­ting out­side their front doors look­ing at us as we looked at them, and, in the case of the dogs, sleep­ing in the mid­dle of the road.

On our way to La Naranja pot­tery, we passed another gordita, this one hold­ing a djembe, an African drum that was intro­duced to Nicaragua by a pot­ter from Africa and has since become known to grin­gos who are not as well-informed as we are, as a “tra­di­tional Nicaraguan drum.” La Naranja is a family-run pot­tery that you get to by takinga  short drive from San Juan de Limay and a longer walk down a steep and rocky road. We pulled sev­eral mys­te­ri­ous and heavy metal pieces from the back of the van and lugged them down the hill and they turned out to be the parts for an extruder, which we put together and mounted beside the stu­dio door on one of the few solid beams in the place.

We hung out at La Naranja for the rest of the morn­ing play­ing with the extruder (Maritza gave a demo of an extruded boat that she had learned how to make at a Potters for Peace work­shop last year), shar­ing pot­tery tech­niques and buy­ing pot­tery pieces that we would later stuff into the space left by the extruder parts and then we said good­bye and walked back up the long, hot hill.

In the after­noon we vis­ited the pot­tery at El Calero, a pueblo that was cre­ated to house peo­ple who sur­vived when Hurrican Mitch wiped out their pre­vi­ous pueblo, Rio Abajo. El Calero is close to San Juan de Limay but the road we had to take is rough and rocky and runs through a river bed that, at this time of year, is usu­ally dry. The pot­ters at El Calero (all of whom are women) have many chal­lenges: so far they have not been able to form a strong, cohe­sive group; they are not pro­fi­cient throw­ers and they have no one to teach them; they have lit­tle con­tact with larger cen­tres and so have dif­fi­culty com­ing up with design ideas; and they have dif­fi­culty get­ting their wares to mar­ket and buy­ers sel­dom brave the rough road to get to them. The one advan­tage they have over other pot­ter­ies is ready access to four dif­fer­ent colours of clay — light orange, red, black and light pur­ple — which they use for dec­o­rat­ing and in mak­ing jew­ellery. However, their fin­ish­ing is still lit­tle rough and we all agreed that the women of El Calero could use some help to make their busi­ness more successful.

This was first posted at geist.com.

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Day 6: Nicaraguan Journal

First stop was Condega’s, Pre-columbian Museum which has a good col­lec­tion of pot­tery includ­ing clas­si­cally shaped and elab­o­rately painted bowls. There was much spec­u­la­tion as to where the pre-columbians got their colours, as we’re pretty sure it wasn’t from a pot­tery sup­ply house.

After that we drove up the hill to look at one of Somoza’s planes that was shot down by the Sandinistas dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Quite a prize for this north­ern town who refused to coop­er­ate when the gov­ern­ment in Managua wanted the plane as their own sou­venir. Last year the plane still had a few holes torn in it and we could climb up on the wing to peer inside the win­dows, but now it has been cleaned up and put on a higher pedestal so that all we could do was look at it. Beside the plane there’s a new 3-storey look­out plat­form that shows off a great view of the val­ley below, where two rivers over­flowed into each other dur­ing Hurricane Mitch and flooded the whole area.

Later, on a wind­ing road through the moun­tains we encoun­tered the first of a series of stone stat­ues of gordi­tas (“fat ladies”) and this one was read­ing Geist! The stat­ues (there are 20 in all) are the work of the local stone carvers and each one depicts “women’s work.” We fol­lowed the stat­ues to San Juan de Limay, a sleepy lit­tle town of bicy­cles, horses, dogs and roost­ers (more on these later) and had lunch at what looked like an ordi­nary house but turned out to be a comidor.

Spent the after­noon at the home and stu­dio of the stone carver Oscar Casco where we learned to carve mar­molina (soap­stone) using first a machete and then finer instru­ments. Oscar put both his stu­dio and his work­ers at our dis­posal and some of us man­aged, with a lot of help, to end up with carvings.

That night we stayed at Casa Baltimore, a well-worn old house owned by a non-profit group in Baltimore, Maryland and my favourite place to sleep in Nicaragua. Reminds me of the villa in “The English Patient.” We slept on can­vas cots on a cov­ered patio and washed up in a roof­less cement enclo­sure in the mid­dle of the court­yard, halfway to the outhouses.

Despite bark­ing dogs and crow­ing roost­ers  (the dogs wake up the roost­ers and then the roost­ers wake up the dogs),  we man­aged to get some sleep but in the mid­dle of the night some of us were awak­ened by Maritza who had heard some­one break­ing into the house and was call­ing out to our dri­ver, Ivan, and walk­ing up and down the patio stomp­ing her feet. Ivan the Brave inves­ti­gated, going through the few empty rooms with Maritza close behind him, and then he heard the noise too and opened the street door to tell an intox­i­cated man to stop bang­ing on our door. Just to be safe, Maritza put a stout stick from the court­yard beside her bed before she went back to sleep. In the morn­ing Mike con­cluded that there were more roost­ers than peo­ple in Nicaragua and Robert, who had slept through all the excite­ment, con­fessed that the care­taker of the place had warned him about the drunk who might bang on the door.

This was first posted at geist.com.

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