After nearly two decades in the corporate world, I am officially uninspired. I am restless — bogged down by the left brain thinking my job requires. I feel a desire bubbling up in me: to create, to be in charge of something, to tap into the imagination I had as a child. I need a change and I need it soon.
One particularly trying day, I return to my Los Angeles apartment and pour myself a glass of my favorite wine, Miraflores Malbec. I am pensive and moody when my eyes fall on a box of loteria cards on the bookshelf in my living room. I feel a surge of nostalgia as I stare at the faded box, once alive with vivid yellow and green. My childhood — and days of gifts and colors and making things — feels distant now.
The cards were a present from my grandmother Felicitas; they are nearly as old as I. And they are going to change my life.
During the first 12 days of December, our small town in Mexico — Teocuitatlán, or Teocui for short — throws the Fiesta en Honor a San Miguel Arcangel. It’s a huge party to celebrate our patron saint, Michael. Every place I look is decorated with papel picado garlands (paper banners) and fresh flowers. All the different colors and patterns make our streets look like the beautiful paintings I see in my art books.
My grandparents always visit on the first day of December, bringing a gift for us kids for each day of their stay. They are usually little toys, like dolls or loteria cards. I use the cards to decorate the walls in my room. They are funny little paintings and I love learning their riddles.
I can barely contain my excitement as my grandparents make a big deal out of opening the artwork my siblings and I made for them in school, which we wrapped in pretty paper from my parents’ stationary store.
The store is always very busy before the festival, and I spend a lot of time there, admiring the delicate paper and all its beautiful colors and textures. My parents are so happy during this time — we sell almost everything in the store and there is so much joy and celebration and color and life around us.
This is my favorite time of year.
I grab the box of loteria cards. As I rifle through the deck, one catches my attention.
La Pera (“The Pear”)
El que espera, desespera.
He who waits, drives himself mad.
Yes, it’s time to set out on my own and do something I am passionate about. What that is, exactly, I do not know. But the past and the future seem to be speaking to me through these cards.
I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to regret not taking this chance. And I refuse to ignore the desire that’s in me: to craft my own future.
Quitting my job is a lot easier than I thought it would be. When I walk out those doors for the last time, I feel lighter. Freer. That it is time to celebrate the beginning of… something. Something great. Sure, giving up a secure job in finance for the great unknown is a bit daunting. Perhaps insane. But I’ve got this. I just have to discover what this is.
But first, happy hour! My friends want to take me to Tam O’Shanter. I have read a lot over the years about this historic pub in the Los Feliz area. It’s an LA institution that has been around for more than 90 years, so I deduce that it must be special and, therefore, well worth patronizing on this landmark night.
I slide into a seat at the dark wood bar and ask the lanky bartender to surprise me. I watch as he pulls out a gorgeous copper mug, adds ice, vodka, and lime juice, then tops this unique concoction with ginger beer and slices of lime and cucumber.
“A Moscow Mule for you on this hot summer day,” he says as he slides the rose-gold cup toward me.
I have heard of the Moscow Mule, but this is my first time partaking. It’s beautiful and delicious and refreshing and is the perfect drink to usher in my newfound freedom.
“Wow… this is incredible.”
“Yeah, the Tam has been serving them since the 1940s. They were actually made famous here in LA… not in Moscow.” He winks.
Suddenly everyone has a copper mug in hand.
When I get home I am amped up and inspired to research this drink and its stunning vessel.
Okay… the Moscow Mule is traditionally served in pure copper mugs, whose excellent conductivity helps keep the drink ice-cold. And it did indeed become popular in the ‘40s in Los Angeles — at the Cock’n Bull bar on the Sunset Strip. I am immediately intrigued by this “Drink With the Velvet Kick” and its decades-long connection with the city I love.
Over the next few weeks, I cannot get this drink out of my mind. Or out of my line of sight — everywhere I go they are being served. Have they been here all along and I just never noticed them?
Slowly, my vision starts to take shape. My emotions oscillate from excitement to anxiety and back around again.
I love Moscow Mules.
I love the handcrafted copper mugs that keep them perfectly chilled.
I love colorful paper.
I love gift-giving.
Of course. I decide that my first venture will be a Moscow Mule mug set, something worthy of the legacy of the Tam, the Cock’n Bull, and the city which has become my home. It will be elegantly wrapped in stylish paper, something representative of my native Teocui.
I swallow my anxiety and focus on being excited — because it’s time to find the craftspeople who will help bring my idea to life.
After researching the best copper workshops around the world, I land in a city renowned for its handicrafts industry: Moradabad, India. I am here to meet Aniq, a highly-regarded metalsmith. A bit out of my wits from the flight — and definitely out of my element — I find myself on the back of a scooter, arms wrapped around my “cabbie”. The bike fires down alleyways and around corners with impossible speed — I feel a rush of adrenaline as we narrowly avoid colliding with oncoming traffic and the army of cows milling about. I tell myself to just go with it — I should be accustomed to scary and exciting these days.
We screech to a halt in front of a workshop in the old part of town, with streets so slim they can only be accessed by foot, bike, or… apparently scooter. Aniq, a handsome man who looks like he is not afraid of hard work, greets me with a big smile as he ushers me into his world of copper. He is quiet but the silence feels comfortable. Familiar, even. He moves quickly through his shop, gesturing enthusiastically, eager to share his creations. His hands, strong and stained black, are as wrought as the objects in his shop.
There are copper objects on every surface: pots, pans, trays, incense holders, lamps. Everywhere that beautiful metal.
And then I spot a copper cup that confirms I’m in the right place. Its rose-gold, hammered walls feel so familiar. New, but old. What a wild, unforgettable sense — to have a vision that combines these three places in my mind and my heart: Northern India, Los Angeles, and Teocui.
Some objects just have power. This cup is one of those objects. And I want to share it with everyone.
It’s 2016 and I wake up to fantastic news.
My vision — handmade copper mugs from India, which hold a drink made famous in Los Angeles, wrapped in delicate paper that honors my childhood in Teocui — has taken off.
I am a top seller on Amazon!
And I am elated: all of the glowing reviews from happy customers swim through my head as I personally wrap each new order.
Many customers write to ask me why genuine copper is the best way to go, and how to keep their mugs shiny and new. Here is what I tell them:
Copper ages. Beautifully. It gains a rich patina over time, which is the mug showing some character, a sign it is well used. “Copper” mugs that don’t develop a patina are not actually made of copper. And they definitely don’t conduct the coolness of a Moscow Mule the same way. Nothing does.
The first time I see the knock off of my gift set, it feels like someone punched me in the gut. A company that finds top-selling products and copies their designs has released a cheap version of my mugs. Nearly identical, right down to the packaging. But they are not the same. Unlike mine, which are made out of genuine copper by a man named Aniq, this product is faceless and lacks soul. Lacks a story. They charge less and hope that no one notices the difference in quality.
I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t worry that the artisans I have met along my journey are a dying breed. These skills that have been perfected over generations are our inheritance. We shouldn’t let these techniques die. Because with them dies craftsmanship that is real. That will last a lifetime.
When these worries cloud my brain, I think of the reviews. I think of my childhood. Of the Tam. My time in India. The many years I dreamed of creating something special. The years I have spent accomplishing just that.
I remember why I do what I do, because we all deserve something beautiful. Something real. Something with a story to tell.
And this is mine.