Monday, November 1, 2010

Week Six

begun Thursday. Oct. 28

Monday - return to Escuela for the final week with the girls, to finish the last of the lead characters' skirts and camisoles and make a start on the five house-dresses. Zoila is with us again to begin one of the more complex dresses, and I pair her with Patricia (the quickest and most able student) in hopes that she will encourage her to attempt something more challenging, but the delicate fabric proves to be too much trouble (for Patricia), so she opts for altering some hems from the weekend fitting.

Abigail also seems to have abandoned the skirt she was working on, over issues of pressing with steam (?!) - apparently they are not allowed to put water in their irons (standard modern domestic steam irons) at the school, in the belief that this will cause them to break down faster, and Abigail will be responsible for their repair or replacement. This has been an ongoing discussion whose only resolution to date has involved me bringing the iron from Es Artes (a similar ordinary domestic iron) and having them use that one, when they need steam. Another odd thing (for me) is that whenever they finish pressing something, they turn the iron off and lay it on its side, rather than stand it on its end. I have figured out that this is likely a safety measure (again to prolong the life of the iron) to prevent it from falling over if the ironing board is joggled, and to make the students aware of when the iron is on and off - both good things - but, when Abi did the same thing with the Es Artes iron on Saturday, I jumped in to explain that this was neither advisable or necessary when there was water in the iron since a) the water would leak out in that position, and b) that particular model had an automatic shut off which made it perfectly safe to be left upright. Although she seemed to accept this explanation, I have a feeling that my reaction has offended her, as she has not returned to the skirt and none of the students are willing to tackle it, so it will go back to Es Artes to be finished by one of the ladies.

There seems to be a general flagging of interest as things are taking longer and longer to complete, and no one is eager to start anything new, so I am scrambling to find smaller "filler" projects to keep everyone going. To be fair, they have done an amazing amount of work on this project, and at a much higher level of quality than they are used to, so I think the time has come to leave on a high note and move on.

Returning to Es Artes with Tito to co-ordinate lunch and airport runs (Mark's wife, Arlene, and Eric's wife, Jenn, are arriving today), we are met with confused reports of weather problems somewhere and missed or cancelled flights which has both Mark and Eric scrambling to contact home to find out what is happening. It turns out that Arlene, who was on a stand-by ticket, was bumped from the flight (as were other stand-by passengers) in order to allow more fuel for the plane because it had to by-pass some hurricane action enroute. Jenn was on the flight, however, so Eric went off with the driver to meet her at the airport, while Mark worked out plans for Arlene to re-book for the next flight (not on stand-by) on Thursday. All very upsetting for all concerned, but thank goodness for Skype and e-mail providing rapid communication with multiple people and places to get to the bottom of the situation in short order, and thank goodness everyone is safe.

Back to Es Artes at the end of the day to see about Plan B - bringing the Casa de la Cultura ladies back on board in force for the rest of this week and next, and to see the results of the shopping trip - about 50% successful, entailing a second foray the next day. Prep for splitting focus with Zoila in charge of the ladies at Es Artes tomorrow, while I carry on at Escuela.

Tuesday - proves to be more frustrating than efficient with very little being accomplished in either camp - the ladies have questions I'm not there to answer, while the girls are working at half-speed. I re-group at lunch, and when pressed by Tatiana, who wants to know how many people I will need to finish, I tell her I have to finish at the school the next day in order to work with the ladies one-to-one, and I need a day to shift gears and get the last of the patterning done before I can take on anyone else. I also want to take leave of the girls with a bit of ceremony and small gifts, share some pictures and video clips from Stratford and other work I've done, and just have some fun with them to reward them for all their work. She agrees that this is the best course, and she and Evelyn make arrangements with the ladies for their availabilty (paid, this time). I ask Zoila if she knows of anyone in town who could rent or lend us a serger to finish the more delicate fabrics of the blouses and dresses, as the zigzag we've been using until now is too hard on them, and she suggests Elizabeth, who says yes, she has two; we can have one the next day!

Elizabeth is also approached, on behalf of Eric and Jeremy, to take on the set fabrics (legs, borders, masking and sheer panels) as a separate contract, which she immediately accepts with enthusiasm!

Back at the school, as the girls finish the last of the camisoles, I encourage them to try them on and have an impromptu fashion show for John (via pictures and e-mail), which they all enjoy. In the evening, I try with Evelyn to print copies of the pictures to give them to the girls the next day, but the printer is low on ink and there is no appropriate paper available in town. So, I head down to the square to my favourite tiendra (small general store) which has a great selection of sewing notions, and pick up some packages of needles and seam-rippers to give to the class, and wrap them in little strips of the fabrics from the skirts they made. Then I organize the picture show for the next day.

Cecy, Alejandra, Flor, Silvia, Stephany and Beatriz modeling the camisoles

Wednesday - I fill Koky in on the plan for the day and ask for his help with the slide-and-video show for the afternoon; make arrangements for an earlier pick-up in the afternoon to rejoin the ladies, and make sure they know what they're working on in the morning. At the school, as the girls carry on with their final projects, Koky and I talk to Abigail about the plan for the day, and I apologize to her about our set-to over the irons, which she graciously acknowledges. We then let the girls know that this is the last day, and the morning work goes quite well.

When we return after lunch, in the spirit of the day, Abi has the girls playing a game to test their knowledge of sewing terms, patterns and measurements (this was a lot more raucous and enjoyable than it sounds - the girls in turn taking steps forward or back across the room in a race as they answered correctly or incorrectly, with their teammates cheering them on). Then Abi makes a formal speech of thank you to me for working with them, and I thank them for all their work and tell them how proud they will all be (and should be) when they see it on the stage (Es Artes is arranging for them all to attend a free performance). We then add up the list of all the things they worked on in our five weeks together, and it comes to an astounding 143 different pieces, for which I congratulate them again! I tell them how costumes (and their work in making them) help the actors 'become' the characters they portray, and why I have pushed them to do their best work so they can take pride in it.

We then have the slide and video show (courtesy of Koky) in the school conference room, which everyone seems to enjoy (much laughter and cries of !chivo!), especially when they see that I have added the pictures from their fitting and fashion show to my collection. Then hugs and a group picture by the school mascot, I pass out my little gifts and we're done!

Back to check in with the ladies, who had a much better day with the help of the serger, and are glad to have my (relatively) undivided attention for the rest of the work.

The girls

The rubber tree at Escuela Taller - and that's not a dog house, it's for the generator

A poinsettia in its natural habitat (but wilting a bit in the heat), also at Escuela
continued Sunday, Oct. 31

Thursday - Kris has totally charmed everyone at Es Artes and become Tatiana's much-needed personal assistant on the publicity jaunt to San Salvador. (Kris, as many from Stratford will know, is strikingly tall, slim and beautiful, even by North American standards - here she is a goddess, causing jaw-dropping stares and silences wherever she goes, which she takes in stride with great patience and good humour. The kids, especially, overcome their shyness very quickly and bond with her. Four-year-old Fabrizio, the cleaner's son, is completely smitten and tries to steal kisses whenever her husband, Jeremy, is not around.)
Koky's translating skills are needed by Mark, Eric and Jeremy at Escuela, so after writing out a few more pertinent terms and phrases for me and getting us started in the morning, he heads off and leaves me to wing it en espanol with the ladies, which goes surprisingly well! I'm not up to normal conversations of any depth, but puedo hablar coser (I can talk sewing) and make myself understood, and I am even understanding most of the questions. Plus, I have Jane and Evelyn in the office if I need back-up clarification. The ladies are very pleased and positive and are enjoying the pieces we are working on - the muy complicado dresses and blouses of the lead characters - and the day goes very well.
At about 5:30 Evelyn asks me if I would like to go to the square for the Festival where the Es Artes kids will be performing (again no mention before this that any of this is happening), so I cut my planned work short and head down with her to meet everyone else at the usual watering hole, and watch 'our' kids present their history of El Salvador piece, as well as dozens of little dancers of all ages in very colourful traditional costumes, bouncing up and down more or less in time to their music, and vigorously flourishing their skirts. There is also a set of carnival rides and booths set up around the square, but at $1 per ride (which is rather exhorbitant, considering that the average daily wage here is $6 -10), there are not many takers yet.
We catch up with Eric, who has a very scarily impressive burn blister on the edge of the palm of his right hand from accidentally picking up a piece of just-welded steel while working at Escuela today - he is being very stoic and claims it's not as bad as it looks. And we are joined by Mark and Arlene, who is introduced and welcomed all around. This flight was apparently uneventful, but the trip to the airport for Mark had several delays and detours - however, he still managed to get there before she cleared customs, so all was well.
Friday - work continues, with the ladies efficiently completing the house-dresses that the Escuela girls began, ready for the fitting on Sunday when the rehearsal will be in Suchi at the theatre (a four-year agreement with the owner of the theatre is finally signed and access is granted). I am scrambling to get the last seven blouses ready, but eventually admit that it is impossible to cut and prep more than four over the next day (when I lose half of my sewers) and ask Tatiana for the next possible fitting date for the remaining three before the technical rehearsal next week - next Thursday in San Salvador - so be it. Raquel and Manuel (Es Artes students) who have been assigned the task of preparing the show 'bible' ( a record of all the actors' pertinent info, along with their costumes and changes), keep me company into the evening, collecting samples of all the fabrics to enter into the book.
Saturday - continue with Zoila and Gloria, labelling and prepping as much as possible for the fitting Sunday. Arlene pitches in bringing tea and threading drawstrings into petticoats: Kris helps sort and pack the wardrobe boxes for the move to the theatre. At six we all head out for yet another weekly barbeque courtesy of Eric and, this time, Jeremy - a much-needed reminder that there is life beyond work, and it will all get done eventually - it always does.
Sunday - continue on my own while Zoila supervises the move and unpacking at the theatre, where there is a full run-through on stage in the morning. At noon, I call Tito to say I won't be joining them for lunch, but if someone could bring me something after, I'd have everything ready for the fittings scheduled at one. Evelyn arrives with take-out from Villa Balanza (and the news that both Eric and Jeremy are ill! - but the rest of us are OK, so maybe it wasn't the food?) and we set off for the theatre, to find that they are running late and have not broken for lunch there yet - oh well, more time to prep... around two thirty, we finally begin the fittings, which go extremely well (despite the fact that over half the actresses have lost weight and their waistbands will now need to be altered) - everything looks very good, and Tatiana and all the actresses are very pleased and impressed - I am relieved, and things look much rosier.
When everything is packed up, Jane and I head over to Pascal's gallery to check out the new exhibit of local painting, and stop for a celebratory drink at the square before trying our luck at Harlequin for dinner, where we find the rest of the Stratford crew, minus Eric who is still under the weather. Great food and chat complete with Koky dropping by, and a gecko and several flowers dropping from the ceiling - never a dull moment. Finished the night with a lovely solitary float in the El Tejado pool under the stars (at 8:30), and another week is done.


  1. Sorry about the missing spaces between the paragraphs - they were there when I wrote it, but it seems that if it lets me put pictures in, something screws up with the formatting!

  2. love the pictures! Great camisoles!