Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Aga Saga

Since we were in Santa Fe it was only right that we experience another chapter in the ongoing "Aga Saga".

Act I - Genesis. In the late summer of 2003 Bram and Monica (son and daughter-in-law) visit Santa Fe and go to the vastly misnamed Santa Fe Flea Market on the grounds of the Tesuque Pueblo.

My online dictionary defines a flea market as "a market, typically outdoors, selling secondhand goods." Not!!

It is out of doors. And there is a modicum of tag sale items. But the vast majority of the merchandise is not secondhand or second anything. Here is how the market's web site, quoting author Richard Mahler quite accurately describes itself.

“Sooner or later, everybody in Santa Fe shows up at 'The Flea.'" This declaration by the late abstract Santa Fe painter, African art dealer and bon vivant Don Fabricant stands the test of time.

Sprawled across several acres owned by the Tesuque Pueblo, about 6 miles north of Santa Fe on U.S. 84/285, Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market is an eclectic institution where one can buy anything from used, plastic ice-cube trays to antique Tibetan religious artifacts, with plenty of chile ristras, fresh pinon nuts and silver-turquoise jewelry thrown in for good measure. There's a surprisingly good collection of antiquarian books, Latin American textiles, folk art, Persian carpets, precious gems and even house plants.

"The Flea" is the closest thing to a Moroccan bazaar you are likely to find in North America. And as in Morocco, the buyer is expected to bargain, haggle and beware.

"The Flea is not about making money," opined Fabricant, who supplemented his irregular artist's income by trading goods at The Flea. "It's about socializing and observing humanity in its infinite variety."

And it's where the Aga Saga begins.

Aga is a designer, maker and seller of jewelry - primarily creations of amber and turquoise. Recently from Poland, from where she brought the amber, she is trying to get started in the states selling her own creations of Euro-Southwest bling from a small booth at the outdoor marketplace.

They purchase necklaces from her that are subsequently given at Christmas to each of their mothers (Mars and Ange).

In giving the gift to Mars Bram and Monica (but mostly Bram) are effusive in their praise for the workmanship, salesmanship and genuine interest exhibited by Aga. Bram seems considerably more emotive about the experience than Monica - partially at least because Aga was apparently quite taken with the notion that Bram was getting this gift for his mother. But, if I correctly read the subtext of Bram's and Monica's stories, it is also because, most likely, she is young, quite pretty, possibly overtly sexy, and definitely charming.

Act II - The Pilgrimage. During the 2005 year Monica and Bram move to Santa Fe and Aga upgrades her sales location from a booth at the market to a newly built "mall" along the downtown center square. Mars, Sandy (our longtime friend) and I visit the New Mexican capitol in May and Bram insists that we go see Aga's new store and meet the woman behind the name.

This is an easy sell on Bram's part because Mars is looking for some earrings to match the Christmas necklace and also a shorter version of that arrangement of beads; Sandy is looking for bling for herself and her daughter-in-law Diane; and I am interested in meeting the phenomena known as Aga.

None of us are disappointed.

The store is small, maybe twenty feet wide and twice as deep, open to the small shopping center, with a "U" shaped counter arrangement, and jewelry (the vast majority amber) arrayed on the side and back walls. Aga is alone in the shop when we enter, quietly arranging some of her work. She is thinnish, perhaps five and one half feet tall, mid to late twenties, short black hair, attractively made up, with a suitably tight black pants, heels and low cut blouse. She sees us and suddenly is everywhere at once, talking rapidly and seemingly being all things to all people.

Bram begins to tell his story of why we are here and Aga says she remembers him and Monica - and the necklace - from the flea market. "They are such a cute couple." she says in a lilting Polish accent. Bram laughs nervously. Monica smiles but looks as if she might start rolling her eyes in bemusement. As she continues talking to M & B she also begins speaking to both Mars and Sandy in a way that makes me think she's talking to two longtime girlfriends - pointing out and pulling out pieces that she thinks might be of interest to them. She seems genuinely excited about getting them into what she feels is the right adornments for them, and totally convinced that she knows what they would be. Occasionally she looks at me, smiles, and shows a little decolletage.

Two men in their mid to late twenties come in, one of them looking for a gift for his girlfriend who -and I can't tell which - Aga either actually knows or feels that she knows from what the young man is telling her.

In either event she tells him not to buy the item that he, with his friend's concurrence, was intent on purchasing - "It would be all wrong" - and instead "suggests" a less expensive piece. When he hesitates Aga sends him on his way to ponder the correctness of her position and returns to servicing Mars and Sandy, with whom she still keeps up an ongoing dialog even during the other transaction - while also periodically smiling and flashing at Bram and me. (Interestingly when I asked Mars after the fact what she thought of Aga's exchange with the two men she was totally unaware of it.)

Mars ultimately buys earrings and the shorter necklace that she was looking for and Sandy also purchases some things. Aga remains as enthusiastic after the sale as she was before. Just before we leave she says to me in passing "I like it for men to remember me."

Act III - The Stand-in. Mars and I return to Santa Fe for Christmas that year and drop by Aga's store. It‘s eleven a.m., one hour after the store's posted opening time and, while the rest of the mall is open, this venue is closed. As we're walking away a women, older and thinner than Aga appears on the scene and unlocks the door. She tells us that with the holidays and all Aga is quite busy designing and making her jewelry and needed someone to be at the store in her stead. This is a great job, according to the woman, because she gets to wear "all this jewelry" during the day - which she tells as as she arrays herself in several long amber necklaces and bracelets. She is, she says, around fifty with no retirement savings, on her own, selling her own creations occasionally, etc. etc. etc.. Mars purchases some earrings for a former business colleague for whom she had offered to shop in Santa Fe and we leave.

All of which sets the stage for the most recent chapters in the Aga Saga.

Act IV - The Surrogate. Tuesday and our first full day in Santa Fe, second day in New Mexico. Mars, Sandy and I visit Aga's shop - Mars is looking for a retirement gift for a former coworker and something similar for herself, Sandy once again is looking for something for herself and her daughter-in-law. I'm hoping that this time Aga will be there.

She's not.

And neither is the clerk from last Christmas. This time the store is being serviced by a woman a little younger than Aga with what I think is a slight Polish accent (Mars disagrees) who, although she is equally bedecked in Aga-bijoux as the Christmas clerk, seems more interested in Mars' and Sandy's gem-quest than her own appearance.

Because my two companions are on something like a mission from God (or Goddess) and because there is no Aga to entertain me I wander off with the camera and check back periodically. This will also be the case in our subsequent visits (to be related below). As a result my version of this part of the Aga Saga is a little choppy and disjointed - but here it is.

Mars and Sandy finds necklaces that they like but both want matching earrings. The Aga-surrogate contacts Aga by phone and it is agreed that Aga will create these items and have them in the store by the end of the week. Sandy also purchases some amber earrings but other than that no money changes hands and little is written down.

Act V - Not MY Job. We return to the store, now with Kyoko and Ron, friends of ours from Phoenix who have come to Santa Fe for a few days. Aga's is one of the main stops on our guided tour of the "City Different".

Once again Aga is not there (Ron doesn't realize it but he is disappointed) - instead the jewelry-wearing-Christmas-clerk is running the store. Mars and Sandy start to explain about the order that may be awaiting them and the j-w-C-c explains that she only works there and doesn't know anything about what goes on. Another customer wanders in and the j-w-C-c rushes to involve herself with that new person and remove herself from Mars' and Sandy's transaction. The customer leaves. The j-w-C-c excitedly reiterates her lack of knowledge and finally hands Mars a business card, points at a phone number, and tells her to call Aga directly.

Mars goes out into the Mall as another customer enters the store. Kyoko and Ron are leaning on a railing observing the scene. Mars calls the number. The phone rings in the store and the j-w-C-c answers it saying "I don't have time to talk now, I'm busy with someone." at the same time as Ron mouths to me that "She (Mars) just called the store."

Mars concludes the same thing and calls the cell phone number for Aga also listed on the card.

Aga answers, admits to not having completed the work yet and says it will be at the store before we leave New Mexico for home - a little over a week away. That afternoon Sandy, who has been wearing the newly acquired amber earrings, loses one - possibly at the State Capitol while we were viewing the New Mexican artists whose works are displayed on virtually every public space within that building.

Act VI - A Reasonable Substitute. We take Kyoko and Ron to the Tesuque Flea Market, another stop of the tour. Mars, Sandy & Kyoko separate themselves from Ron & me and we cross paths several times during our travels - one time at a small booth operated by two women. One of the pair appears to be the Aga-surrogate from Ac t IV and the other is a thinner, taller and younger variant of Aga herself, complete with a barely more modest decolletage - and, when I hear her voice, a similar Polish accent and sense of certitude.

Mars and Sandy are engaged in earnest conversations with the sales duo when we arrive. They are totally aware of the work that Aga was to complete and the fact that it isn't. The Aga-wannabe (who Mars later tells me is in fact her younger sister) is assuring Sandy that they could also make a replacement for her lost amber earring and still have them all ready and at the store in a week and a day - in time for our trip home.

Act VII - Strike Two. Although the store opens at eleven a.m. we decide to have brunch first at Pasquel's to give Aga a little extra time to get the stuff there. At around twelve-thirty we head over to the store and find it unoccupied except for the jewelry-wearing-Christmas-clerk. She remembers Mars and Sandy, realizes that she doesn't have the goods, immediately attempts to call Aga, and somehow gets her sister. After mangling the story - among other things she somehow compresses the event into two consecutive days, one at the store and one at the market - she hands the phone to Mars who in turn passes it on to Sandy.

I walk into the store at that point ask Mars who Sandy is talking to.


"Who's that?" I ask, it being a name with which I was not familiar.

"A tall girl with blondish hair." says the jewelry wearing Christmas clerk.

"Aga's sister." says Mars.

It seems that Aga has completed all of the work and was supposed to have dropped it off "first thing". She hasn't.

Angelique agrees to ship all of the jewelry to Sandy in Connecticut and we all leave, not quite satisfied but reasonably believing that we will be soon.

Act VIII - Still Waiting. Two weeks later and no package yet. But there is one "Lesson Learned". A smile, a flash of boobs AND a quality product delivered on time is a better business model than just the first two items by themselves - unless it is that all you want to be is remembered.

Act IX - To Be Continued.

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