I was soaked to my elbows in ice water and frozen clay while a penetrating chill bit my core. My back ached from hunching over as my legs flexed with power, pushing and pushing a wooden bar below me. A cramp gripped my calf.
The cold, stone potter’s wheel turned with my force; its etched surface shredded the bottoms of my hands, burning them raw. I plunged them into a copper bowl filled with frozen water, floating clay, and congealed dirt in hopes of relief for my naive palms. Now icicles, my weak hands caressed the clay that spun unforgivingly on the wheel.
The ruddy clay openly mocked my pathetic attempts to create a simple bowl from its body. Sitting on a traditional wheel in the pottery town of Pomaire, Chile, I breathed the sparse existence of the rural Chileans, trying to comprehend their means of life.
The people make their living by creating and selling anything that can be made from clay. The art is in the technique. A true master can form hundreds of bowls all the same shape and size very quickly. Their ability provides the income and puts the Chilean bread and pebre salsa on the table. Even the smallest child can form an acceptable, balanced bowl while I stumble clumsily, wasting clay and money.
I finally coax the clay into a shadow of its intended design, a little too narrow at the mouth with a fat base when the master of the shop promptly supplies his help. His strong, able hands manipulate my bowl with the muscle of an athlete. When he finishes, my feeble bowl has been transformed into a sturdy copy of its brothers throughout the shop.
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