Some three or four years ago I drove through the tiny Campeche town of Bécal, where they make straw hats. They call them Panama hats although I understand that true Panama hats are made exclusively in Ecuador. Whatever the case, many Panama-style hats are made in Bécal where the artisans work in caves. Underground humidity keeps jippi plant fibers pliable for weaving.
The man who wove my hat showed me how it could be rolled up and stuffed into a pocket. Upon removal, it popped right back into shape. When it came time to fly home from Cancún, I stuffed my new hat into my luggage, properly rolled as I had been shown. Somehow, being squished into an overpacked bag that in turn sat out in the rain on a luggage cart was more abuse than it was designed for. When I unpacked, the hat had become a shapeless mass.
The other day I discovered the remains of my hat at the bottom of a closet. As I am planning on spending a couple of weeks under the tropical sun in Tulum, I thought I'd see if it could be salvaged. There are at least two shops in San Miguel de Allende that sell both Panama hats and cigars, an unlikely combination. Perhaps one of them would help me out.
A young woman named Maria took my hat upstairs to "iron" it, a prospect that left me nervous. I had hoped that she would block it, not "iron" it, but the shop lacked the necessary forms.
I spent some time admiring the true Ecuadorian Panama hats on sale and drooling over the Cuban cigars. Both the hats and the cigars were expensive; besides my cardiovascular system has endured all it can take from my cigar smoking days, so my shopping was restricted to the window variety.
A half hour later Maria descended with my miraculously restored hat. The woman is an artist. She went outside in search of good light so she could sew the band on, using the fender of a battered pickup truck as a work table.
As she worked, I continued exploring the shop, finally coming upon the holy grail of Panama hats—a Montecristi Superfino. Price: $25,000 pesos.
Maria completed her restoration of my $300 peso Bécal hat. I asked her what I owed her. She said "Lo que quiere" (pay what you like), ensuring that I would pay her generously.