In the markets of Cusco, Peru, spindles are sold by the same vendors who sell wooden spoons, forks, bowls, and similar carved and turned wooden objects made by artisans in more remote towns, who travel to Cusco to deliver their work to the specialist vendors who live in the city.
In January, I started shopping in earnest for the tools and equipment I can’t find in the USA and have to make for myself one way or another, and that included spindles as a top priority. There are some standard types that the wood turners make and bring to market — and some they used to make, but largely don’t anymore because the market has lagged.
Stalls in the big markets are crazy things! A vendor will have a stall rented for years or decades, and while there’s always lots of product on display, there’s also always plenty that’s out of sight, not to mention what might be stored in lockers, warehouses, and other repositories for slow-moving product or back stocked quantities. So if you’re looking for something specific, sometimes, you have to be able to ask.
That’s how it is with my ongoing quest for specialty spindles. You can usually find the general-purpose ones — turned balsa whorls with carved eucalyptus shafts — but ones made from other woods, or with some of the older form factors and styles, can be hard or outright impossible to find. I asked all the vendors with spoons or spindles if they had any of these. Some had no idea what I was talking about; mostly people hadn’t seen them in years. “Por gusto no mas vas a buscar,” they told me, “por gusto no mas” being the stock Cusco phrase for when you’ll be doing something clearly just for the enjoyment of doing it since obviously, there’s no chance of success or results. Don’t even bother.
One lady, though, actually had some, even made from dark colored jungle hardwood! I snapped them up, kept one for myself, passed a few on to family and friends, and then let Patreon members snap up the remaining handful. “Can you get more of these?” I asked her. “I’m serious. I’ll pay. Can you get more?” Laughing, she said she’d try; her guy comes every Monday, bringing wares.
I went back. He had come, she said, but not brought the spindles. Other spindles, yes, but not THOSE spindles. Did she want me to ask him again, seriously? “Por favor,” I wheedled, buying some of the hand-carved ultra lights she’d just gotten in, and by “some” I mean like as many as I could buy and still have 5 soles for lunch and 2 soles for bus fare home in case I had to take the bus that doesn’t go direct. I gave her my cell phone number and she said she’d call.
The next Monday, she called. “Not this time either,” she said. I still went back, and bought the rest of her ultralights, plus huishlla (giant wooden spoons), plus a delightful batch of tiny little micro spindles, toys really, decorations, except… I put one in my pocket with a little plastic bag of alpaca fiber, because, well, it was too cute not to, and it spun just fine. “I’m totally serious,” I told her. “If he makes them, and he brings them, I’ll pay. Guaranteed.”
The next Monday, I was out of town. The Monday after that, she didn’t call, and I went by on Tuesday anyway. “No ha venido,” she said, he didn’t come. But don’t worry, she promised, she would call. That was last Monday.
Well, this Monday — yesterday — she called! “Hi,” she said, “It’s me, from the market, with the chaj-chaj spindles. Well, anyway, my casero who makes them brought some, freshly made and everything, but, they’re not the little dark wood ones. The whorls are chachacoma, sturdy and durable, and the shafts are the white aliso wood like the tiny hand carved ones. So maybe you won’t want them.”
“Why don’t I come see?” I said. She agreed, and I set off down the half-mile of stairs and further half-mile of downtown streets, wishing I’d asked her how much and how many, stopping only to withdraw soles from the ATM. It was getting late in the day, so I made my way past mostly-closed fruit vendors and lots of tourist goods vendors who were waving down group after group of tourists with tempting chocolates, local teas, small packages of decoratively-presented dried grains, and bottle openers in the shape of brass llamas, to her now-familiar stall. She greeted me warmly, diving in the back depths, and returning with a box containing thirty-one plying chaj-chaj Canti, like the one and only one I’d had as a child, over forty years ago. We made the deal, I handed over the cash, and then I had to hand over even more to buy the few remaining hand-carved ultralights she had, and the rest of the micros as well. Now greatly unfettered by excess cash, I started the walk back.
On the way, I ran into my old pujllamasi (playmate) Augusta, whose street vending route, she says, takes her down that way in the late afternoon every day. “You should come see us next weekend in Chinchero,” she said, “up at my grandmother’s old house, next door to the one your godmother sold, what a disgrace!” Next Sunday, I reminded her, there was to be a dance contest. “Ah yes,” she said, “well then I’ll see you at the dance contest, right? Surely you’ll dance?”
Maybe. Maybe I would. I showed her what I’d bought. “Like when you were little and sucked at spinning so you had to ply all the time!” We laughed, and laughed. So true. I gave her the canti. “These sound so good when you ply,” she said. “Thank you.” I gave her an ultralight. “Ooooh,” she said, “For fine liclla yarn! Ooooh.” Just then, a police officer came up. “You need to move along,” he said in Quechua. “No selling on this part of the street.”
“I’m not selling,” Augusta said, “we’re just having a conversation!” He looked at her, looked at me, looked at the spindles I’d just handed her. “It’s true,” I said. “Well, okay, I was giving her spindles. For old time’s sake.” He stared a moment, shook his head, walked on. So different from when we were girls, and yet, there we were, ogling the hard to find spindles and sharing the loot. “Kepimi churay,” she told me, and as requested, I tucked hers into the k’eparina, carrying cloth, on her back, before we parted ways.
How, I wondered, would I write the listing for these spindles? How could I tell you, the potential buyer, how we used to covet them as children, for the whirring sound the captive ring would make when it spun fast, and the clacking it would make as it slowed? How even now, in late middle age, we’d be unable to resist twirling it in hand, listening for that sound? How would I let you know it was the perseverance of almost two months to get these in hand?
Like this, I suppose.
These spindles weigh 35-40 grams, with captive rings in the whorls turned from a single block of chachacoma wood and shafts of bright white aliso wood, carved with the well-known taper and low-down bulge upon which the whorl rests snugly. They’re 13.5-14 inches in total length, with whorls between 2.5 and 3 inches in diameter. Please allow up to 4 weeks for delivery; orders to ship to non-USA locations will ship on Monday, 12 March via SERPOST, and orders to USA locations will ship in late March from the USA or can be delivered to DFW Fiber Fest.