Ruminating about el poncho. Why do I wear a poncho? Certainly to get attention. But that’s down around 14 on the list. Take my one of my memories:
Though sweltering in a noon sun, I lay huddled under my poncho on the wooden bench outside the Mexican train station, while a squadron of black flies swirled erratically outside and test landed across my rough cotton cover with their filthy, offal-ridden feet. I was cocooned and immune to the swarm, and every so often I would slide the poncho hole down from my head to reveal the blue sky and inhale fresh air, although worried I might suck a little Musca domestica into my little world. My friend Dean was not so lucky, as he was poncholess. I occasionally eyed him from the hole and he swatted frantically as if a confused Kung Fu student attacking himself. I even managed a little nap.
The day waiting 11 hours for a train in Mexicali got better, the flies mysteriously left, and Dean and I ended up trade sharing our bottle of tequila to split a roasted chicken with two Mexican guys sitting on a dirty curb under the intent gaze of a cur. But that’s another story. The point is that at that moment I fully understood the utilitarian nature of the poncho. And its functionality would be proven on numerous occasions afterwards. For example…
Hey, it’s a pillow!
Folded or rolled, it serves as a nice little pad for your weary head.
It keeps you warm and fends off light rain.
I once wore nothing but a long-sleeve shirt and my poncho—with a shemagh and cap for the head—in a trek through downtown Calgary at 10 degrees and I felt comfortably warm. Enough said, although cotton and wool obviously won’t stand up to extended time in a downpour.
Of course, there’s a long tradition of military applications for the poncho, from the Civil War to today, based on the functionality and protection from the elements.
When you need a blanket, it’ll do.
Drink too much and end up on a couch somewhere? You’re covered.
Easy to carry.
If it’s too warm, you can simply fold it in a long strip and throw it over your shoulder. Much better than doing the same with a jacket, or worse, tying one around your waist.
It can be attractive on occasion, and in some instances overly inviting.
I find women in nicely cut, soft ponchos (or even heavy, rough, full ones) extremely attractive. You can envision crawling in them, the poncho that is, wrapping yourself in its warmth.
I wish I could say me wearing a poncho carried the same magic, although the garment is certainly alluring on its own. Once I entered a Canadian pub, shook off the snow from my poncho and looked up to find glowing smiles and adoring eyes from a gorgeous young hostess and equally-striking waitress. “I love your poncho,” one said. “Me too,” the other said in a slow, seductive tone. Then they continued to travel my fabric and its patterns with their stares while making small talk about where I was from and why I was in Banff.
“Do you need a table,” the hostess finally asked.
“No, I’m just heading to the bar.”
“Oh, that’s fine. Can you leave the poncho here?” Giggles.
Not everyone agrees me with me on the poncho’s appeal. Although dated (2004), this reviewer at Slate noted:
Recently, during a 20-minute walk in Midtown Manhattan, I counted 18 ponchos—averaging nearly one per minute. Ponchos have become this season’s Ugg boots: unsightly and overexposed.
Unless the fabric is exquisite or the wearer excessively thin, the poncho’s room-enough-for-two cut, rather than hiding figure flaws, makes most women look bulky and misshapen—like “loose, baggy monsters,” to borrow a quote from Henry James.
Heresy to me!
When you wear a poncho you embody thousands of years of traditional textile art and cultural tradition. Not really, but ponchos did originate with the indigenous peoples of the South American Andes before being co-opted by the Spaniards and Latin Americans. They come in a variety of styles with differing names, dependent on the country of use.
Although the cultural thing carries baggage as well. As I sat drinking a pint on a blustery patio yesterday, I offered my poncho to a shivering friend, who declined and stated dryly, “I can’t wear a poncho because I feel like I should be playing a pan flute.”
Yes, one size often fits all, although sizing does vary.
You don’t want a poncho falling only just below the belt or all the way down to your ankles.
There’s a little-known Chilean martial art developed in conjunction with sea-fairing Indonesians from the 1400s that utilizes a poncho and whirling motions to disarm, entrap and confuse opponents.
OK, not really, but I might work on starting this.
And as I write this, my poncho serves as a cushion against the rigid metal seats at the local coffee shop/bar—Quickie Pickie–that are unforgiving on your butt.
If all this sounds like a sales pitch, it may be. Stay tuned. More about the origins of my ponchos and where I might find more is coming.