The apaleador uses mallets made of dense tropical hardwood to pound the hats. The mallets are heavy. He pounds hard. Yes, that is a stone beneath the hats. This makes no sense, does it?
He takes beautiful, finely woven straw hats, puts them directly against a hard, rough stone, then pounds the bejabbers out of them with heavy wood mallets.
My first thought was that he was called the apaleador because what he was doing was appalling. That’s not it. Apalear means to beat up, to thrash.
The pounding softens the straw, makes it more flexible. If he does not pound hard enough, it does no good. If he pounds too hard, it damages the hats.
The apaleador to the left is Nestor Franco. He was one of the best. He passed away more than ten years ago. Too many years of too much alcohol was what everyone said. Too bad. His hats were beautiful.
Here he is folding them in half. He nests several inside each other. See the three folded, nested hats beneath the one he is folding?
Look beside his right foot. A brown piece of paper is covered with sulfur powder. You can see the yellow powder on his hands. He has taken up a large pinch of sulfur with his right hand and is sprinkling it on the hats. He will use his left hand to shuffle the hats while he dusts each hat with the sulfur powder.
When the hats are all dusted with sulfur, Nestor begins to pound them. The loud bonking of the mallet hitting the hats and the stone is very distinctive. Each different mallet and stone combination has its own particular “note.”
If Nestor was a heavy drinker, he probably did not do the pounding first thing in the morning. NOT something you would want to do with a hangover.
Above left: He continually shuffles the hats, rearranging the order, making sure each hat spends time on top, on bottom, and in the middle.
Above center: Nestor unfolds the hats, opening them full again.
After opening the hats, he nests them inside each other then pounds the crowns again.
This is Liverpool again, the apaleador on the right. His assistant on the left is his son. Liverpool is universally respected as having fine skills.
Whew. Hard work. Liverpool takes a breather. Right
You would be shocked how heavy those mallets are. Especially if you had foolishly placed several of them in the floor of your hallway as a decorative accent then decided to go for a drink of water at night in the dark and bashed the toes of your right foot into them with enough force to kick a 40-yard field goal. They didn’t budge a micron. I thought my toes were damaged beyond repair and would have to be amputated.
Below, the apaleador folds hats in half and nests them together. Then he pounds. And pounds. And pounds. I winced every time the mallet came crashing down and a loud BONK echoed off the brick walls. Those are my hats he is trying to destroy.
The apaleador pauses frequently to sprinkle more sulfur over, on, and in-between the hats. This process of pounding the sulfur into the hats has a much greater whitening effect than does the bleaching. I was skeptical when told this. But I personally witnessed the freakish phenomenon and it is true. I put in a call to Fox Mulder but was told he is no longer available. Ripley didn’t believe me.
Pound, shuffle, sprinkle sulfur powder. Pound, shuffle, sprinkle sulfur powder. Hit too hard and ruin the hats.
See that big rock the apaleador is using to pound the hats on? That’s not his rock. He borrowed it for the day. I assumed it must be an exemplary rock to be worth carrying across town. So I examined it carefully from all angles. It is a good rock. A fine rock. Perhaps even a truly excellent rock. But I was not jealous. I did not covet the rock. I had no desire to own one just like it. Good thing. How would I explain a really big rock to airport security?
Next: The cortador now uses half a razor to give the hats a close shave. Next Page
Text and photos © 1988-2022, B. Brent Black. All rights reserved.
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