Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Antigua: Pierre Turlin

Read this story about why this Parisian loves living in La Antigua, Guatemala (about 1.5 hrs from Panajachel). It's why I love living here too. If I couldn't return to my beloved Paris, Lake Atitlan is a second - and now - first choice! One day you will come too, I hope! Your friend Catherine Todd


My Antigua: Pierre Turlin

By Sofía Letona on September 201, Que Pasa

How did you end up in Antigua? Well, I’m from Paris and when I started working there, I did just that. I created a space big enough to turn it into a restaurant where there was live music, exhibitions and a display of furniture models. I had it for one and a half years, and during that period, I almost never was home because there was no time. It was then that I decided to sell it. I thought, “No, I’ll kill myself this way,” so I left with the idea of going in another direction entirely. As I had many friends in parts of Latin America, I decided to go to the United States, buy a pickup with a camper, and travel throughout Latin America. I left the United States to go to Brazil, going through all the countries possible and under several circumstances. Then I bought a farm in Costa Rica and didn’t really like it that much. I had already found Nadia (my wife now) during my time in Guatemala; we began a sentimental story. One day she said, “Look, I’m here (in Guatemala), and I like it, so if you want, come live here.” And I did.

What was your job in France? Well, once I completed high school, I studied fine arts and ceramics, and graduated in both. Then I studied and graduated in design. My work has always been the same since I was little: creation. All that has to do with it: to transform any material and give it another look. In Paris, I made prototypes of furniture, arranged exhibitions and created sculptures.

Was it difficult to get a job in that area? I was born in the year 1951, and during the 70’s and 80’s in France, there were an insane amount of opportunities because they were the years of Mitterrand, who had two periods of government. He was a socialist, but a bourgeois socialist, not a communist, which means that there was development for the country in a direction where the bourgeoisie and the people walked forward with a cause, so for 20 years I worked and worked and worked.

What happened once you were here in Guatemala? I married Nadia, had a son and our life started here, but I was not yet integrated into society because I didn’t speak Spanish. I was with an Italian woman who spoke French, so I didn’t have to make an effort, and I didn’t want to work in the same field here; I had made plans to make ships.

How did the ship making go? When I got here I started to build one, finished it (it took me three years without doing anything more than the boat which was a little more than ten meters in size), and Nadia told me, “We’re not going to live somewhere else, we are staying here.” Imagine that, after making the boat for three years, I had to do something else. Then Nadia said, “Look, why don’t you offer your artwork and design? There’s a clientele here that can really appreciate it,” and I said, “okay.”

How did you like the idea of continuing what you had been doing in France? It didn’t bother me because it was something that I liked. I was working as before, but in a different way because I didn’t have the same stress I used to have in Paris; there, if you want screws, you’re going to spend two hours looking for them. I thought I’d create a new range of furniture, ceramic sculptures and a collection of blown glass, and that’s how we opened the first showroom, Differenza.

What was working in Guatemala like? From the beginning, I realized that in Guatemala there is a gold mine in the matter of people and material to work with. There are plenty of artisans who are very good at manual labor. The only thing missing here is the cultural development because they didn’t go to school and don’t know what is happening in the world, but their manual capacity is incredible; they have a huge ability to help me develop my ideas.

What changed over time? I found the world of artisans and workers, and on the other hand, I found the world that my wife already knew: the world of customers. All these people of Antigua and foreign ones, and some from the city that realized I had the capacity to develop things with fine art and called me to participate in other projects, like the Château DeFay.

How has your integration with Antigua progressed? People got to know me more and more. I became the Treasurer for the Club Antigüeño (Antigua’s Club), then the president of the Asociación de Vecinos (Neighborhood Association) of San Pedro El Alto, and it was then that I became an Antigüeño, and the proof is that we go back to Europe very little. I have no great desire to go; I’m totally submerged in this life.

What do you like the most about Antigua? First, Antigua has a world, a social group. I’m talking about people you know, like about 5,000 or 10,000 people who almost all know each other. There are events that are organized and everyone goes and there’s another event and usually you’ll find the same people. You walk in the street and you can’t go 50 meters without saying hello to someone you know, whether they are foreigners or Antigüeños, two separate groups; they aren’t really separate because they are mixed, and this mixture has made an interesting group.

I like the possibilities that exist for children in Guatemala. Here the children are important. As a child I lived in Paris; you cannot play in the street, not tennis, not football, there is nothing to do. After school, I went straight home. Here you can do everything! That’s one of the things that encouraged me to have a child, that the environment is different and they can do so much.

The only thing that I am missing here in Guatemala is the right to vote because I don’t have the nationality; the most interesting thing is that in France I never voted for being too individualistic and here I am fully integrated into society.

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Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
View of Lake Atitlan and volcano from my apartment balcony in Panajachel. Taken by Catherine Todd June 2008.