This Wednesday, I’m flying out to Peru from December 4th until the 31st for a big adventure! People keep asking me why I’m going and why I’m going solo (Don’t worry, I’m meeting up with people along the way), so I thought I’d start writing a bit more about it. It’s a trip I’ve been thinking about and saving up for for a long time, and a place that I’ve discovered I have some strong connections with. It makes a lot of sense that I would want to go to Peru because I’m pretty much obsessed with alpacas – Their fibre is some of my favourite to spin, and they were pretty much the backbone of Incan culture. Plus, they’re pretty cute.
Over the past 4 years or so, I’ve spent alot of time learning about the process of fibre production, on an individual scale. I’ve taken an interest in the process of collecting and cleaning fibre, spinning it, felting, dyeing, and sometimes weaving it. I’ve learned alot through this process of slowing down the manufacturing process, and have gained a deeper respect and appreciation for fibre and the technologies used to harvest and process it.
When I think about where all of this started, it really started with my Grandma Aileen. But not in the way you would traditionally think. She taught me to knit when I was around 6 or 7, after I had begged her for some time. I had seen some of the garments she had made but she had a very ambivalent relationship with knitting and crafting. She often described at length that it would take far too much time to make anything by hand, and that I should never attempt to make mittens because they will just make me frustrated. I begged her to knit me a sweater vest which I realized was purchased from the store, after talking to other students who had the same one.
When I look back, I realize that she was starting to get arthritis and had a hard time holding the needles in the proper way. She was a passionate (and licensed! She even had her own very Canadian cable access show) ikebana teacher, which she learned about throughout her journeys while living in Malaysia. She grew up in a world where making and teaching how to make things was not very special. Modern conveniences and cheap, mass-produced goods were starting to make things like knitting less necessary. She was just adapting to the world in the way it was growing. She was tired. Sort of the way that I get tired and don’t want to do the dishes at the end of a long day. I can understand why she started embracing modern conveniences, but I can’t help but think of what was lost in this process…
One of her favorite cities was Cusco. She and my Grandpa lived in Ecuador for some time (I believe), and traveled there quite often. It always really blew my mind how much they did so late in life. My Grandpa worked in the mines in Sudbury, Ontario for most of his life, and decided to get a degree later, towards retirement. Once he retired, he started working as a volunteer with the Malaysian goverment to teach a computer training program and traveled a lot. All of their best photographs and stories are from that time. My Grandma believed in passing things down in generations and kept detailed documents describing where certain trinkets were purchased, and had very clearly laid out which of her kids or grandkids would get certain things. As I look around me, I realize that so much of her world surrounds me and I have created new meanings based off of those artifacts and letters.
When I realized I wanted to go to Peru, I found myself bombarded with anecdotes, images and stories from others. A friend introduced me to the ethno-musicologist John Cohen, and I was pretty blown away with the recordings that he made from Andean villages. I’ve been listening to alot of this music from Peru and read a few of his books. He is also a banjo player (I just started playing the banjo a few months ago which is a crazy coincidence), and he’s largely known for his documentation of Bob Dylan, Beat Generation writers, and “old time” musicians of Appalachia. Did you know that some of his recordings were sent into space on the Voyager? Yeah, this dude is pretty awesome.
Overall, the reason I’m going on this trip, is to connect with people – both past and present – that rely on less for survival. I also see this trip as a means of reflecting on my grandparents’ lives and to connect with a tradition of ancient fibre arts. I’m really curious to investigate how textile arts and music shape culture and communities in remote locations. For me, knitting and spinning is really a hobby, but working with textiles has allowed me to connect with others and slow down from the fast-paced technological world we live in. It’s given me a better understanding of myself and others’ and has introduced me to new and exciting concepts I don’t think I would have otherwise been exposed to.
Through experimenting with fibre, I’ve come to realize how so many of our current problems are the result of a lack of respect for the production process in the name of profit. From the treatment of animals, workers, and the instantly gratified culture of disposal that we live in, it’s creating a culture of “getting somewhere”, instead of “being here”. If you respect fibres and understand what was involved in the manufacturing process, you will not treat them in a way that’s disposable. It’s easy to follow trends and it’s easy to fall into the trap of consumption. We all are in some ways because it’s part of the system that we live within. This trip is really just a continuation of my journey to understand what it means to respect the process of production. I hope that I will learn something and I hope that I can share it with others.
I’ll be in Lima from the 5th-10th of December and will continue on guided tours to Ollantyambo and various Andean communities dedicated to agriculture, livesock, farming and weaving. I will be stopping in Chupani and Vilcabamba villages, a hot spring in Lares, back to Ollantyambo and then off to Machu Picchu. Depending on how well I handle the altitude (Cusco is around 10 ooo ft), I may be off to Puno (13 000 ft) to check out Amantani Island and the manmade reed islands. If all goes to plan, I’ll also be staying at Pachamama Temple at the summit of Amantani Island.
I’ve been making countless trips to MEC and I think I’ve got just about everything I need. I picked up my Neuvos Soles yesterday (Peruvian currency). I am floored by how beautiful the iconography is. I can’t wait to explore!
So. Adios, Amigos! Wish me luck and a safe arrival in Lima this Wednesday. I’ll be in touch!