Posted by: ktzefr | February 24, 2014

Miguel and the Professor of Hats

I bought a sisal fedora from the “professor of hats” who worked out of a local artisan shop near the Zocalo in Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico.  An authentic sisal hat can be rolled into a cone to fit into a suitcase or purse and then shaken out when you get where you’re going.  I’d had a similar hat for years and it was great for travel.  But I must have left it someplace as it disappeared sometime back.  So I bargained with the professor and bought the hat.  I knew I would need one for the hot, open spaces at Chichen Itza where the shade is sparse.  Unfortunately, the wind picked up the day we went to the ruins and my hat kept blowing off my head.  I finally had to roll it up and carry it.    

hat

I was sent to the professor by Miguel who stopped us on the street to suggest that we eat at a café nearby.  Turned out it was a café I had read about in one of the guidebooks and the food was supposed to be good.  We were hungry so I said okay.  Miguel insisted on escorting us to the café, even though we could clearly see it from the street corner where we were standing, but we went along and he promptly seated us at a great little table outdoors overlooking Parque Hidalgo with the Gran Hotel at our backs.  Then he disappeared inside the café.  When he returned a few minutes later he had morphed into our waiter.  This is the sort of thing that happens in Yucatan.  Some folks would feel tricked; I didn’t mind.  It’s a way of life. 

The food was excellent – salbutes and guacamoleGuacamole was on the menu everywhere, of course, and every day and every new bowl we tried just kept getting better.    

So…Miguel sent me (actually, he escorted us there after lunch) to the professor of hats, an older gentleman who had learned to make the Panama hats from his grandfather and was passing on this tradition to the latest generation in his village.  All the products in the store came from the Maya villages that surround the city and stretch out across the peninsula. 

There are a number of shops in Mérida with endless rooms stacked floor to ceiling (and the ceilings in these historic buildings are very high) with all kinds of handicrafts – blankets, wall hangings, tablecloths and runners, rugs, clothing, serapes, pottery, tin work, paintings, sculpture, talavera tiles and dishes and novelties, jewelry, leather products, wood carvings, Christmas ornaments, creches made from wood and clay and plastic, and whistles shaped like the head of a jaguar.  The whistles sound like the big cat when you blow into them, and they were popular everywhere, especially at Chichen Itza.  The first few times I heard the screams I practically jumped out of my shoes giving the Maya vendors a good laugh.  Eventually, I quit jumping.  But I didn’t quit shopping.  Shops in Mérida were filled with so much stuff it was hard to make choices.  It was like being a kid in a candy store.  And, oh, the candy store! Ki’Xocolatl had the real deal Mexican chocolate that I perused on the first day in town and meant to go back and buy some treats before coming home, but I forgot.  This may be the only time I have ever forgotten to do something that involved chocolate.

In any case, I bought a hat from the professor of hats, listened to his story of his grandfather and the sisal-hat-making process and how the village children are continuing the tradition, and all the while I was thinking that maybe it’s true, maybe not.  But who cares.  I like my new Panama hat that collapses into a cone and slips easily into a small handbag — even if it does take flight at the slightest breeze. 

**********

See also:

5 Things I Learned in Xcalacoop

12 Scenes from Merida’s Marvelous Market

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