Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fitting In

Somewhere in Mexico a tile-maker is tossing back a shot of tequila. He is a big guy with big clay-red hands, sitting with a pot of coffee to his left and, even though it's only 10 am, a bottle of Mescal to the right. Like the other tile workers in his group, including the woman who occupies his thoughts, he sits at a wooden bench under a tin roof, looking out onto a stream and a coconut palm forest, while children scamper up and down the hillside to fetch buckets of wet clay.

The tile-maker slaps a handful of clay into the 4-inch square metal mold, pats it flat, then removes the metal, carefully at this point or the tile can become misshapen, and puts the red tile aside, while his partner, the silent woman of his dreams, adds layers of glazing on one side, starting with a milky white, and then several thin layers of green, so that as the tile dries it curves a bit (because the bare side dries faster than the painted side). And when the tile emerges from the kiln, its convex surface has a shimmering depth of color.

These batches are done with 120 tiles at a time and then packed into a box so that each box has a distinctive color and quality, though often very different from other batches of the same tile.

The woman had dreamed of being a great painter some day, and the man, well, he just makes clay tiles and dreams about his partner instead of his work. It is beautiful.

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