Soon after we arrived this week, Paul realized he needed a simple brimmed hat for protection from the sun, and when we were in the Zocalo, a small, elderly vendor had stacks of attractive little hats, something between a trilby and a fedora, made of palmas de guano, which is not made of bat dung, but from palm fronds found locally. The material was quite attractive, with slight color variations, and didn’t smell too bad if you didn’t put it right up to your nose and inhale. He rocks that hat!
Our next trip to the zocalo, the vendors shouting “Panama hat! Panama hat!” to passersby were there, and the fact that Paul was obviously set in the hat department was no deterrent.
“You should get a real hat,” the vendor called over to Paul. We thought that was kind of a hoot, and kept walking, because we were on a mission which we will discuss in a later post.
Then yesterday, we were enjoying some drummers in Santa Lucia park, which is a tactical mistake if you don’t want to be approached by people selling things. One such man wanted to discuss the city bus tour, which was actually something we were open to leaning about, so we accepted his brochure and Paul and the guy started chatting away in Spanish. I looked away, disinterested, and continued to enjoy the drums.
Somewhere along the line, the conversation turned to Paul’s hat, which we were informed will disintegrate to dust in three days and cause an allergic attack.We reassured him that the hat had been worn constantly for three days and it’s still intact, but the vendor would not have it. He then politely told Paul that his hat makes him look like a tourist. A special shop one block up and a la izquierda has authentic Panama hats, more precisely Jipijapas assembled in the pueblos, and we should check them out.
Finally, after three years of Panama hat pitches, one of them finally sinks in and we dutifully head to this little out-of-the-way shop, a nondescript little store behind the opera house. The proprietor, who bore a strong familial resemblance to the man in the park, showed us his small selection of soft, white, tightly woven hats. Only two seemed to be for men, and neither fit Paul. He wanted $900 pesos for them. Did I mention that the hat made of future palm dust cost $90 pesos? Or more specifically, “110 pesos, but just give me 90.” The transaction negotiated itself!
We decided to move along and we thanked the salesman for his time. The salesman’s face then turned deadly serious. He looked at Paul sternly and made some pronouncement of some sort in Spanish. Again, I turned away indifferently, looking at some colorful sombreros for sale in another area of the store. Paul told him that his current hat suited him fine, and we have a Panama hat somewhere at home, and with our history of losing them, we don’t always travel with them.
“There are no such things as Panama hats,” the salesman countered. We didn’t pursue his reasoning here, broke away from the conversation, and headed back to the guesthouse for a nap.
Paul told me on the way to our nap that beyond the sales pressure, it was objectionable that his hat would be dismissed so crudely. His hat, which has nice rivets and a smart black-and-white band, is reminiscent to a Jíbaro hat from Puerto Rico, which represents a proud tradition, and Paul’s heritage. Something about the pitch felt like a putdown of any culture that wears the simple, laborers hat from the countryside. Paul didn’t mind being told he looked like a tourist, but to be told his look needed to be upgraded somehow just felt wrong. These sales tactics have cost them a future customer if Paul does indeed go looking for a new Panama hat. Which he probably won’t, because this morning he declared his resolve to wear only the humble Jíbaro-type of hat when walking around Mérida.