M.E.X.I.C.O.




What you see above is a giant turkey or chicken foot aside some animal skulls with facial piercings. We are in Tattooluum, a tattoo parlor in Tulum, a beach town named for its famed ruins in the Yucatan. I went with some of the writers I’d been sharing condo ocho with, so we could get the word ocho tattooed on us somewhere. Some tattoos are not about design, decoration, or personal history, they’re about wanting to tattoo a moment right onto you. The ocho moment had been a moment of ocean witchery, dreaming the same dreams as one another, thinking the same thoughts, saying the same words, and in general a sharp sense of oneself as a witchy sort of person. Ocho! In astrology the 8th house is the place ruled by Scorpio, a super spooky sign, so it feels correct now to have the word scripted tiny on the inside of my ankle. What was even more correct was so walk into Tattooluum and find the shop manned by a couple of females, including Daniela, who gave us tattoos, told us about the Mayan full moon party on the beach and had such cute style and great tattoos I had to take her picture:


Her dress is a shirt she sort of finagled into a smock, and then she tossed that micro-mini cut-off skirt over it. Totally great. Thanks, Daniela!

Avenue Tulum is sort of the main drag in Tulum, with tons of little places to shop.


The sight of this wall of purses triggered some sort of chemical reaction in my brain. Maybe it’s because they all look like giant caramels to me and I want to eat them? Anyway, they live at Casa Hernandez, but they were born and raised in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. They come in lots of different styles. Here is my favorite:


It’s the perfect writer’s bag, because there is that little slot for your pen, and the first, smaller pocket would fit a notebook or a journal or a copy of Poems, Protest and a Dream: Selected Writings by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the radical nun who wrote feminist treatise and poetry and whose work was the first writing to be published on a printing press in Mexico.


This is Gonzalo Jimenez, an artist making awesome feathered and seashelled earrings out of his store and studio, Cabanas Ecologicas, as well as crafting excellent oceanic dreamcatchers, the webs made from scissored hammocks and the frames and ornaments collected from the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on the shores of Tulum.



The ceiling of dreamcatchers and wall of earrings had so enchanted me, I failed to register a very young girl torturing a puppy behind me. So, if Gonzalo aims to transport people to other, kinder worlds via his earthy crafts, well done, my man!


Hi, cute saddle bags! Not as in bags for the saddle of your horse, but bags made to look like the saddle of the horse you have in fact never been on. Stepping into Papalote Galeria, one becomes instantly hushed and allows a sort of reverence to overtake you. You are no longer in a the blanket and bikini stalls ambling up and down Avenue Tulum, you’re in a boutique with some seriously special, well-made pieces by local designers and craftspeople.

These handmade gladiator sandals are a bit rough around the edges, but I like it. 

Mexico is just full of amazing bags, which is hard for me because I fucking love hoarding bags, but when you know you have a problem it’s hard to keep indulging it. I will surely leave this country with a new one, but which? Here’s a bag the likes of I’ve never seen before. It’s like a giant canteen or ancient wine flask or something. Not only is it totally interesting, but that soft leather strap felt so good on my shoulder, like the hand of a kindly, mystical being saying, ‘Just get it, Michelle. It’s only money, and we’re all going to die someday.’ 


There is so much beaded stuff in Mexico – more on this, soon – and all of it is awesome, but these eagle necklaces are especially dramatic. Papalote had lots of excellent jewelry, including cuffs made from sea fan, the lacy purple sea plants that affix themselves to hunks of coral and sort of wave, fan-like, in the currents. Pretty!


Should I have gotten this cute, plaid poncho? Probably. I like it’s high neckline and attached scarf, and it would look great with a belt. Alas it looked like it had been dangling on the awning of this shop for about twenty-five years, so I passed. It’s still cute, tho.


On the right, with the pink bean beads, we got Nayeli Aparicio, who for five years has been running her super fun store Mexicarte in Akumal Village, near where I’m staying. The pink adobe structure, all lit up with Christmas lights, was one of the first things we saw when we arrived here after dark, fairly lost and totally discombobulated. The patio holds baskets full of paper mache animal heads on sticks and hung with streamers; old church relics; handcrafted treasure boxes with rusty old keys. Inside there are arts and crafts from all over Mexico, and Nayeli spends much of her time trekking across the country to buy directly from the artisans. The woman on the left is her assistant, Amalia, who has worked with Nayeli from the start and just helped her open a second store, in Tulum, this winter.

I freak out when I walk into Mexicarte in the same way a kid freaks out when their It’s A Small World boat floats them into a magical land of jerkily dancing glitter dolls. Every inch of the hot pink shop is covered with bright and beautiful things to behold, like these awesome bean necklaces! Most of these strands are just your regular ornamentation, but these special colorines bean beads:


. . . are kept their natural color and worn to keep bad vibes at bay! Nayeli says, ” The people use it for protection from bad energy. Or, when a baby is born, they use it for protection from bad eyes.” And what fashion plate doesn’t need protection from the envious glare of the bad eye, hmmm?


I have two beaded bracelets from Mexicarte; one has an eagle with a dragon in its claw (okay, maybe its a snake) and the other is a grand, white eagle. Both were made, like the bands above, by artists from the indigenous Huicholes community. Most all Huichole art depicts their mystical cosmology; the eagle is one of their main gods. Taking peyote is also a major aspect of Huicholes culture and religious practice, and the visions seen while in such a hallucinogenic state are transformed into motifs in their jewelry and crafts. I would love my eagle bracelets without thinking that the artist had a psychedelic religious experience before making them, but knowing that they’re the transmission of a mystic vision makes them pretty much the coolest. Also, the dangling beaded earrings I had always taken to be flowers are in fact peyote blossoms!


Nayeli pressed pause on the generous tutorial she was giving me, and left to help some European tourists confused about whether Frida Kahlo was a man or a woman. “That’s a woman,” Nayeli said about the painting on the tiny hand-mirror the European tourist was considering. “It was the 1930s. They did not have cosmetics.” Meanwhile, I went to check out the cluster of bags dangling in the doorway. Pinzon bags are all over the Yucatan, and they’re so cute. I love this style with the wooden handle, and it comes in many different sizes, including one big enough to carry a computer. Yes! They also make the cutest backpacks, and totes like this one:


These teeny bags are super cute and remind me of 80s-era cheapie Jordache bags – pleather pouches on long strings you wore sideways across your body untile the pleather started peeling or the string snapped, about a month. These are smaller, but I think they’re sturdier.


Okay, gotta jet to to Farmacia and pick up a year’s supply of antibiotics, lady-problem pills, Viagra, cold sore meds, prescription-strength skin issue cures, and perhaps another tube of pure Retinol to bring back to the USA, where such goods are hard to get sans health insurance. Adios!


About Michelle Tea

I chanted "I am a fashion magnet" in the shower and subsequently found a Gianni Versace - era Versace skirt at Buffalo Exchange for $17. Once I got a beyond-my-means Fendi purse for free and sat staring at it, crying. Also cried at Olivier Theyskens' last show for Nina Ricci in Paris. Other things that make me cry: a good lip synch; my emotions. I have stolen two Jeremy Scott swag items from two Jeremy Scott events I was not quite invited to. Sometimes I want to age into Patti Smith, sometimes Baby Jane Hudson. I frequently dream I am in a magic thrift store where I can have whatever I want. I regret not buying the Alexander Wang purse when it was half price at Barney's. Like a delusional guy at a strip club, I feel special when the people who work at Barney's remember me. Having a Leo rising gives me big hair and a need for attention. My favorite designers right now are Alexander Wang, Philip Lim, Proenza Schouler, Vivienne Westwood, Viktor Rolf, Rick Owens, Rodarte, Helmut Lang and Surface to Air. I was once shamed by an employee of a high-end department store for pronouncing 'Rodarte' incorrectly.

4 comments

  1. PLEASE bring me back that leather back that is also your favorite leather bag. PLEASE!

  2. ME TOO (SEINBERG). sigh. excellent post.

  3. I meant to say bring me back the leather BAG. I don't want a leather back. Ew.

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