Every Bookmark Tells a Story

Behind every bookmark is a fascinating story. The bookmark pictured here is no exception. Far from it.

Nestled in the rugged Sierra Norte de Puebla mountainous region of Mexico lies the remote village of San Pablito. The Otomis, forced out by other indigenous groups, migrated to this area as early as 800 AD. Aztecs conquered the area in the late 15th century, but the Otomis managed to maintain much of their culture and traditions.

Initially siding with the Spanish to oust the Aztecs during the Spanish Conquest, the Otomis later rebelled against Spanish rule. Because of the isolation and lack of mineral resources, not many Spanish chose to live here. Plus, enforcing Spanish law in this harsh terrain was difficult. As a result, the Otomis continued their culture and traditions in this part of Old Mexico and do so to this very day.

A tradition of high importance to this and other indigenous groups is the spiritual practise of amate paper making. This handmade paper was considered neutral until shamans used it in religious paper cutting ceremonies. The shaman cut various images into the paper while acting as an intermediary between humans and their gods. Each cut of paper was believed to be increasingly powerful while shamans attempted to communicate with their deities. Banned by the Spanish because the practise was believed to encourage witchcraft, San Pablito, due to its remote location, managed to evade detection when making amate paper.

The process of creating amate paper is in itself fascinating. Bark from wild fig (xalama), nettle (jonote) or mulberry (moral) tree is stripped and boiled in a mixture of water, lime, and ash. All the bark must be removed and cooled several times to avoid over-softening. The bark is then rinsed to remove all residue and meticulously separated in fibrous strands. These strips are sometimes bleached or dyed at this stage. Then the strands are carefully arranged in rectangular shapes on wood boards and pounded down with specially designed volcanic rock. When the correct thickness is achieved, the rectangular pieces are left to dry.

Nowadays, amate paper is not restricted for use by shamans. The process has become commercialized, bringing much needed employment into this small community. Sheets of paper are sent to Nahua artisans for painting, then sold in various markets. The bookmark pictured above was purchased at one such local market in the nearby town of Pahuatlán, where locals dress in traditional clothing on Sundays and walk through the streets in their bare feet.

You can read about my visit to this part of Old Mexico as well as other out of the way places in my upcoming book, An English Teacher in Mexico. Just don’t forget to bookmark this site!

Woman in San Pablito creates amate paper. Photo placed on amate paper book.

Take some TIME OUT Sunday.

Hey folks! What are you doing this Sunday? I know what I’ll be doing. This Sunday, March 21, 2021, I will be available ALL DAY for an online chat on the friendliest group on Facebook, WeLoveMemoirs. Why don’t you take some time out and join me in some scintillating conversation?

Time travel with me to 1970s London. If you read my memoir, A Squatter in London but want to know more about my adventures, here’s your chance. Are you wondering what everyday life was like as a squatter? Are you a child of the 70s and want to reminisce about the good ole days? Do you have questions about the writing process? And is David Bowie somehow part of the story?

Here’s your chance to put me on the hotseat. You may ask me anything you like. But if you love to read memoirs and are not a member of the fabulous, most friendliest group on Facebook, We love Memoirs, you’re out of luck. Just kidding. Here’s the link to join the chat.

Bookmark the date: Sunday, March 21, 2021. Get your questions ready and join the conversation. Make your Sunday a Fun Day! I look forward to hearing from you!

St. Patrick’s Day is in May

Given the current climate of event closures due to COVID-19, I thought I’d re-post this.

Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in May.

“Bollocks!” you say.

“It’s true,” I insist. “I was there.”

You see, in March of 2001, Ireland experienced its first outbreak of foot and mouth disease since 1941. And Ireland quickly set up measures to control the spread of this disease. As a result, many tourist attractions and outdoor festivals were closed, including the popular St. Patrick’s Day parade.

But my friend Chris and I felt that that spring was a perfect time to re-visit the Emerald Isle. Tourism to the UK and Ireland was down due to tourists being wary of exposure to the dreaded foot-and-mouth. That meant flights were bound to be much cheaper and there would be far fewer tourists getting in our way to view the same attractions. We were right on both counts.

We packed in as much as we could into our trip to Ireland, from strolling the south strand in Skerries, Co. Dublin to kissing the Blarney Stone in Co. Cork. From listening to traditional Irish music whilst imbibing Guinness in the sleepy but picturesque fishing town of Kinsale to exploring Cashel Rock in Co. Tipperary. We went from admiring centuries-old Celtic crosses to scratching our heads at Irish road signs attached haphazardly to a post with directions written only in Gaelic!

Although we weren’t anywhere near Dublin, I suggested to Chris that we back-track to the city to catch the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Chris is reluctant to do so as we were well on our way to Galway on the opposite coast at this point.

“It’s just a parade,” says she.

“We have to go!” I plead. “What are the odds of us being in Ireland to see a St. Patrick’s Day parade ever again?

I’m able to convince her at length, and we catch the next train to the east coast. The train station in Dublin is about a 20-minute walk to the parade route. We still have plenty of time before the parade starts so we stop at the real Guinness Brewery gift shop, which just happens to be along the way, to purchase some souvenirs.

May 19 and 20, 2001 is dubbed the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and festivities have already begun. There is music. And there are street performers. And there are Elvis impersonators everywhere. But when the actual parade starts, we are pleasantly surprised. This is no ordinary parade. Sure, there are horses, a few floats and marching bands including one from New York that got to participate in two St. Patrick Day Parades in the same year but on different continents! But, for the most part, this parade is more like the Mardi Gras Carnival. Stilt walkers. Colourful, colourful costumes. And even elaborate, precision-engineered, human-controlled “pedestrian floats”.

When the parade ends, I’m anxious to partake in some pub grub and to raise a glass of Guinness to this amazing day. Chris, not so much. Not that she has anything against this activity, but she is worried that we might miss the last train leaving Dublin. If we do, our plans to explore the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula are in danger of being delayed or even terminated.

“You know how long it takes to get to the train station from here and we’re already familiar with the route,” I remind her. “We have plenty of time.”

But she will not be swayed.

“OK. You go,” I tell her. “But I’m going to find me a pub.” Darkey Kelly’s sounds like a good choice and I squeeze past the revelers to order my pub food and Guinness. Lively traditional tunes fill the air, and everyone is in a celebratory mood including two couples who are pub-hopping.

“This is so much better,” says one of the women. “We were just at the Temple Bar and you can’t even move there.”

Wow. And I thought this place was packed! I eat my pub grub, drink my stout and visit with my new friends while listening to traditional Irish music. I imagine heaven to be just like this.

Two hours later, I arrive at the train station to find Chris patiently sitting on a bench waiting for boarding call. I think the past two hours might have been slightly more enjoyable for me than they were for her. Just a hunch.

This was one incredible human-powered “float”!

99 cent Book Sale

Do you wonder what life was like in the Seventies? Do you like to travel? Do you like to read true stories from a bygone era? Better yet, did you live in the wild and crazy Seventies? If this describes you, this book might be just what you’re looking for.

US Readers: My memoir, A Squatter In London, is only 99 cents for a short time. Grab your copy now before it goes up in price.

St. Patrick’s Day is in May

Given the current climate of event closures due to COVID-19, I thought I’d re-post this.

Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in May.

“Bollocks!” you say.

“It’s true,” I insist. “I was there.”

You see, in March of 2001, Ireland experienced its first outbreak of foot and mouth disease since 1941. And Ireland quickly set up measures to control the spread of this disease. As a result, many tourist attractions and outdoor festivals were closed, including the popular St. Patrick’s Day parade.

But my friend Chris and I felt that that spring was a perfect time to re-visit the Emerald Isle. Tourism to the UK and Ireland was down due to tourists being wary of exposure to the dreaded foot-and-mouth. That meant flights were bound to be much cheaper and there would be far fewer tourists getting in our way to view the same attractions. We were right on both counts.

We packed in as much as we could into our trip to Ireland, from strolling the south strand in Skerries, Co. Dublin to kissing the Blarney Stone in Co. Cork. From listening to traditional Irish music whilst imbibing Guinness in the sleepy but picturesque fishing town of Kinsale to exploring Cashel Rock in Co. Tipperary. We went from admiring centuries-old Celtic crosses to scratching our heads at Irish road signs attached haphazardly to a post with directions written only in Gaelic!

Although we weren’t anywhere near Dublin, I suggested to Chris that we back-track to the city to catch the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Chris is reluctant to do so as we were well on our way to Galway on the opposite coast at this point.

“It’s just a parade,” says she.

“We have to go!” I plead. “What are the odds of us being in Ireland to see a St. Patrick’s Day parade ever again?

I’m able to convince her at length, and we catch the next train to the east coast. The train station in Dublin is about a 20-minute walk to the parade route. We still have plenty of time before the parade starts so we stop at the real Guinness Brewery gift shop, which just happens to be along the way, to purchase some souvenirs.

May 19 and 20, 2001 is dubbed the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and festivities have already begun. There is music. And there are street performers. And there are Elvis impersonators everywhere. But when the actual parade starts, we are pleasantly surprised. This is no ordinary parade. Sure, there are horses, a few floats and marching bands including one from New York that got to participate in two St. Patrick Day Parades in the same year but on different continents! But, for the most part, this parade is more like the Mardi Gras Carnival. Stilt walkers. Colourful, colourful costumes. And even elaborate, precision-engineered, human-controlled “pedestrian floats”.

When the parade ends, I’m anxious to partake in some pub grub and to raise a glass of Guinness to this amazing day. Chris, not so much. Not that she has anything against this activity, but she is worried that we might miss the last train leaving Dublin. If we do, our plans to explore the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula are in danger of being delayed or even terminated.

“You know how long it takes to get to the train station from here and we’re already familiar with the route,” I remind her. “We have plenty of time.”

But she will not be swayed.

“OK. You go,” I tell her. “But I’m going to find me a pub.” Darkey Kelly’s sounds like a good choice and I squeeze past the revelers to order my pub food and Guinness. Lively traditional tunes fill the air, and everyone is in a celebratory mood including two couples who are pub-hopping.

“This is so much better,” says one of the women. “We were just at the Temple Bar and you can’t even move there.”

Wow. And I thought this place was packed! I eat my pub grub, drink my stout and visit with my new friends while listening to traditional Irish music. I imagine heaven to be just like this.

Two hours later, I arrive at the train station to find Chris patiently sitting on a bench waiting for boarding call. I think the past two hours might have been slightly more enjoyable for me than they were for her. Just a hunch.

This was one incredible human-powered “float”!

St. Patrick’s Day is in May

Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in May.

“Bollocks!” you say.

“It’s true,” I insist. “I was there.”

You see, in March of 2001, Ireland experienced its first outbreak of foot and mouth disease since 1941. And Ireland quickly set up measures to control the spread of this disease. As a result, many tourist attractions and outdoor festivals were closed, including the popular St. Patrick’s Day parade.

But my friend Chris and I felt that that spring was a perfect time to re-visit the Emerald Isle. Tourism to the UK and Ireland was down due to tourists being wary of exposure to the dreaded foot-and-mouth. That meant flights were bound to be much cheaper and there would be far fewer tourists getting in our way to view the same attractions. We were right on both counts.

We packed in as much as we could into our trip to Ireland, from strolling the south strand in Skerries, Co. Dublin to kissing the Blarney Stone in Co. Cork. From listening to traditional Irish music whilst imbibing Guinness in the sleepy but picturesque fishing town of Kinsale to exploring Cashel Rock in Co. Tipperary. We went from admiring centuries-old Celtic crosses to scratching our heads at Irish road signs attached haphazardly to a post with directions written only in Gaelic!

Although we weren’t anywhere near Dublin, I suggested to Chris that we back-track to the city to catch the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Chris is reluctant to do so as we were well on our way to Galway on the opposite coast at this point.

“It’s just a parade,” says she.

“We have to go!” I plead. “What are the odds of us being in Ireland to see a St. Patrick’s Day parade ever again?

I’m able to convince her at length, and we catch the next train to the east coast. The train station in Dublin is about a 20-minute walk to the parade route. We still have plenty of time before the parade starts so we stop at the real Guinness Brewery gift shop, which just happens to be along the way, to purchase some souvenirs.

May 19 and 20, 2001 is dubbed the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and festivities have already begun. There is music. And there are street performers. And there are Elvis impersonators everywhere. But when the actual parade starts, we are pleasantly surprised. This is no ordinary parade. Sure, there are horses, a few floats and marching bands including one from New York that got to participate in two St. Patrick Day Parades in the same year but on different continents! But, for the most part, this parade is more like the Mardi Gras Carnival. Stilt walkers. Colourful, colourful costumes. And even elaborate, precision-engineered, human-controlled “pedestrian floats”.

When the parade ends, I’m anxious to partake in some pub grub and to raise a glass of Guinness to this amazing day. Chris, not so much. Not that she has anything against this activity, but she is worried that we might miss the last train leaving Dublin. If we do, our plans to explore the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula are in danger of being delayed or even terminated.

“You know how long it takes to get to the train station from here and we’re already familiar with the route,” I remind her. “We have plenty of time.”

But she will not be swayed.

“OK. You go,” I tell her. “But I’m going to find me a pub.” Darkey Kelly’s sounds like a good choice and I squeeze past the revelers to order my pub food and Guinness. Lively traditional tunes fill the air, and everyone is in a celebratory mood including two couples who are pub-hopping.

“This is so much better,” says one of the women. “We were just at the Temple Bar and you can’t even move there.”

Wow. And I thought this place was packed! I eat my pub grub, drink my stout and visit with my new friends while listening to traditional Irish music. I imagine heaven to be just like this.

Two hours later, I arrive at the train station to find Chris patiently sitting on a bench waiting for boarding call. I think the past two hours might have been slightly more enjoyable for me than they were for her. Just a hunch.

This was one incredible human-powered “float”!