One of the most exciting things to do in El Bolsón is to enjoy an intense shopping day in one of the most important handcraft fairs in South America.
With our sight lost and with a weary pace, he gets to the front of the Pagano square in El Bolsón. It is Thursday, fair day, and he must be thinking about what fate will bring today.
He finds his place in the handcraft market and starts to open every single package he could carry, loaded with the production of the week. It is hot, thus he unbuttons his shirt, so that the light which breeze timidly blows in the area may give some freshness to his body. His name is Mario (76) and he is one of the mentors –in a way– of the regional fair of the “parallel 42 degree Andean shire”.
He is well aware that I am watching him. With a friendly gesture, he invites me to come closer, in order to get to know him and his art. His long white beard shows the years he has spent without trimming it. On the exhibition cloth there are hundreds, thousands, you could say millions of stones, pots, wooden utensils and multicolor bottles.
Clear cultural exponent
Number and variety of craftsmen that inhabit the shire
“This is what I show, it is part of my being, of my life, and to those who like something about it, I offer a piece of it …–he pauses in meditation– But only one piece”– and he laughs.
Mario, as many others, is one of the craftsmen who gather on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays at the foot of the Piltriquitrón Mount, opposite the city square, to trade legitimately crafted products, in one of the largest fairs in South America.
El Bolsón, apart from the bountiful nature surrounding it, knew how to attract this cultural display that has featured the 1970’s so much. Mentioning El Bolsón, undoubtedly implies talking, among other things, about the hippies, its fair and its handcrafts.
The Sounds of the Fair
After chatting friendly with Mario for some minutes, I walk on, determined to know most of the two hundred and fifty stands that invite tourists to observe and taste original and delicious regional products.
Everything is a party. At a distance, I manage to perceive a species of drum that resounds making afro-American sounds. Seduced by the mystical drumming, I let myself be carried away to the spot from where the music comes, trying to find out what it is about.
Meanwhile, the murmur of the people gets mixed with the tunes of guitars and flutes that let “sighs” flow out in the air. The cordiality of craftsmen makes me stop at every second. I soon get to Gastón (23), an unbeatable tapping who shows his skill to make the bongo drum sound. It is incredible to see the skill of this young boy who, as if he was possessed by a contagious rhythm, does not stop tapping on the tense goat leather that acts as a patch.
I continue walking and I see Leo (57), carving lenga wood. The intense hammering of the tireless carpenter hammer rapidly gives shape to a leaf in relief.
In front is María (60), hard-working as no one. She weaves sheep wool into a sweater that will surely make some kid feel warmer during the next winter season.
Visitors take the color of craftsmen and these merge into the color of the landscape. Everything is beholding and fascination. The smell of incense and aromatic candles shrouded me in the vertigo of the fair. My senses trigger out in all directions, accompanying the addictive frenzy of the ritual that has been celebrated for more than thirty years. I just continue walking, smiling, and watching …
Marcelo Sola Marcelo Sola
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