February 2005

Casa Lotta Stuff

There’s a special tienda in town that stocks the most diverse items. It reminds me of the “curiosity” shops that existed on the east coast when I was a kid. You never know what you will find there, and it’s so much fun looking. There’s no name outside the door, but everyone in town knows it as “Casa Tota,” the nickname of Carlotta Salgado de Arnaut, the owner. It’s the oldest store in town and carries everything from scotch tape, fabrics, and panty hose to candy, ranchero hats, baby clothes, lingerie and beer.

Dona Tota and Saul Todos Santos

MM: “How long has this tienda existed, Doña Tota?”

CSA: “My husband, Carlos, and I built this place 55 years ago. This space was just part of the hill next to our home.”

MM: “Did you grow up here in Todos Santos?”

CSA: “My grandparents were founders of Pescadero, and that’s where I was born. My older brothers were born in the United States. My father was in school in Los Angeles. My mother was a teacher. They met here to Todos Santos. Unfortunately my father died before I was born while my mother was pregnant with me. I attended school in La Paz since there was no school in this area at the time.”

MM: “When you were a little girl growing up here what did you imagine your life would be like as an adult?”

CSA:“I never imagined my future. I married Carlos when I was 18 and he was 35. He was a professor.  Our children were spread out between the United States and the mainland. We worked very hard to support and educate them. Carlos died seven years ago. The store was closed for a year afterwards until I reopened it. I’m 78 years old now, and this is my life.”

MM: “There’s so much rich history here, like this beautiful wood counter and bench. What can you tell me about this old metal scale?”

CSA: “It’s 55 years old, too. I used to measure beans, corn, sugar and coffee on it. You used to have to officially register a scale each year, so there are stickers all over it showing the various years. This is the only one I’ve kept of all the ones I had. It holds many fond memories for me.”

Saul (Doña Tota’s son) interjects: “You should interview that bench! Talk about the stories it can tell!”

MM: “I’ll bet. That seat has seen a lot of seats! So, Doña Tota, what is your biggest selling item, and where do you do your buying?”

CSA: “I sell clothing the most. There’s a whole room full of clothes for everybody for every season. I get things from Guadalajara and my daughter sends items from San Luis Potosi. I try to bring in what the town needs.”

MM: “Do you have many gringo customers and friends?”

Saul: “She has so many American friends. They all care about her so much, since she’s alone. She knows so much about everybody. She prefers to sit here and be social rather than just watch TV.”

CSA: “I don’t like to open until 9 a.m., though, because I sell beer, and guys with hangovers like to come early in the mornings. I don’t want any drunks here. And I close whenever I feel like it.”

MM: “Have you seen any of the rest of the world?”

CSA: “I’ve been as far as San Francisco and Los Angeles many times, as well as the mainland. Years ago I had knee replacement surgery in La Jolla and stayed there over a month.”

MM: “What do you think of all the changes that have happened here over the years?”

CSA: “It’s incredible how the town is changing. I really like the changes. There are so many every day. I like that the people coming here want to maintain the atmosphere of the town, its charm and historic nature. I like how the new people are integrating into the community.”

MM: “Well no wonder you have so many friends. It was a pleasure meeting you, Doña Tota. And you, too, Saul. Now I know where to get some really cool things!”

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All photos by the Milkmaid herself unless noted. Thanks to Erick Ochoa for his help translating. Copyright 2004-2006, all rights reserved. Any and all manners of reproduction including digital are expressly prohibited without written permission.
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