Rancho Pint - The Mexico Page

Text and Photos ©2014 by J. Pint

Photo Gallery

burnished with stainless steel

 Sculptor Martin Navarro Ibarra shows off one of his creations. Burnishing with stainless steel produces the glazed look.

spoon handle gets between the toes

A stainless steel spoon is used as a foot deodorant. “The handle is great for getting between the toes,” claims John Pint.

Burnishing with a stainless steel piston rod

Sculptor Martin Navarro Ibarra uses a piston valve to burnish a mixture of paint and clay. “Nothing works like stainless steel,” he insists.


Alum Crystal Push-Up Deodorant
A commercial brand of crystal-rock deodorant. It's also available in liquid form as a roll-on. Click here for more information.

Even the base can be used
 “Even the base of the push-up crystal is usable,” reports Pint. “It'll last you an extra year, at least.”

Jorge Monroy investigates alum
 “Sí, sí,” says Mexican muralist Jorge Monroy while hunting for data on Google. “I know this stuff. We painters love alum.”

Crystal deodorant

A commercial brand of crystal-rock deodorant. It's also available in liquid form as a roll-on and foot spray. For more information, click here.

Caves beneath the dunes? Check out our Saudicaves page:








By John Pint

Stainless steel "soap" Many years ago, out of pure curiosity, I bought a soap-shaped bar made of stainless steel, which, an ad claimed, would totally remove the smells of garlic, onions or fish from your skin in seconds. All I had to do was rub my fingers on the bar under a stream of cold water. To my surprise, the steel bar performed perfectly and has continued to do so for nearly 40 years. Even more surprising was my discovery that there was absolutely nothing inside that hollow bar, no gimmick of any sort that I could find.

Fast forward to present time. We are in the workshop of master sculptor Martín Navarro Ibarra of San Juan Evangelista, on the shore of Lake Cajititlán in Jalisco, Mexico. Navarro Ibarra is describing some of his techniques and allowing me to photograph them. I pick up one of his works of art: “What a beautiful glaze on this pot,” I remark.

“It’s actually not a glaze at all,” says the sculptor. “Before I fire the pot, I just burnish it with this…it completely transforms the surface of the pot.” He picks up part of a car’s piston, a valve made of shiny stainless steel.

“OK,” I say, “you just use something smooth…it could be a toothbrush handle.”

His eyes open wide. “No, no! Nothing does the job like stainless steel. I don’t know why, but I’ll show you how it works.”

He takes the valve and rubs it on the surface of an unfinished pot. A miracle happens in front of my eyes. The rubbed area appears beautifully glazed and the sculptor smiles.

I go home perplexed, straight to Google, of course. I find no end of theories and speculations on why stainless steel is said to remove various odors. References to the process of burnishing suggest that contact with stainless steel may actually force molecules to rearrange themselves and “lie down” in an orderly manner. I discover that stainless steel “soap” for garlic and onions is more popular than ever and is now touted as an efficient underarm and foot deodorant as well.

I begin to experiment with a large spoon. It looks pretty strange there in the shower stall, but after a couple years I’m convince it works quite well as a deodorant for all but extreme situations…and the spoon’s long handle is great for sliding between your toes!

When I tell a friend this long, crazy story, he goes home and one week later hands me a hollow piece of stainless steel, elegantly shaped like a haute-couture bar of soap. “You can find anything downtown,” he quips. “Here, I bought one for you too…and I agree: it does work.”

Disadvantages? It only works under a stream of running water, which might not be readily available inside a tent, bedroom or airplane washroom. Advantages: As long as you don’t lose the thing, I reckon it will keep right on working for several hundred years. And as for the cute soap-shaped bar: it floats!

 And what is Weird Deodorant Number Two?  See below!



By John Pint

Julian Orozco with alum rockAbove, I sang the praises of  “Stainless Steel Soap” as the world's cheapest deodorant. 

Now let's look at another strange but wonderful deodorant, which I first bumped into some 35 years ago in the form of a little crystalline rock marketed as “Thai crystal deodorant.” You were supposed to wet it and rub it in your armpits, but before I could properly evaluate its merits, I dropped the rock on a hard floor and it shattered into a thousand pieces.

Several decades later I found it again on a pharmacy shelf in the USA, this time shaped and packaged in the style of an ordinary push-up deodorant stick. I found this product to work so well that I never bought another deodorant again, except for the stainless steel kind, of course.

Just what is this crystal composed of? Potassium aluminum sulphate, otherwise known as  alum, the third most abundant substance on earth after oxygen and silicon. Why does it work as a deodorant? It is said to create a very, very unfriendly environment for bacteria to grow in, and, of course, the cause of body odor is bacteria. What are the advantages? It's said to be “natural” and, despite its chemical name, contains no possibly carcinogenic aluminum salts such as Aluminum Chlorohydrate, which environmentalists frown upon and which blocks pores, preventing natural sweating.

Disadvantages? You have to wet it before applying, which could be a problem if you find yourself wandering in a desert with no water. But then again, in that scenario smelling good may not be your top priority.

Curiously, various references to this mineral state that it has “long been known and used” not only in Thailand, but in Mexico as well.

Long used in Mexico? Because I live in Mexico, I asked around and for while couldn't find a single soul who had ever heard of alumbre, which, I discovered, is Spanish for alum. Then I mentioned the word to my brother-in-law Pepe.

“Alumbre?” he said. “Sí, cómo no. My father used to use it for whitewashing fences...as a fixative.” Of course, when I suggested using a chunk of alumbre as a deodorant, he looked at me like I was crazy. This led me to Wikipedia where I discovered alum was being used 'way back in Roman times, for purifying drinking water, of all things. I also discovered that it's good for pickling foods and tanning leather and is known as a fine blood coagulant and flame retardant to boot. And it seems that alum was used for hundreds of years as the secret ingredient of the Papal States for fixing dye in wool.

Next I asked archaeologist Francisco Sánchez about the use of alum in Mexico. He replied, “Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (who has been called “the first anthropologist”) says the alumbre rock was well known in PreHispanic times and much used by tintoreros (dyers).” Now that I know this rock is good for just about everything and anything, I was not surprised when Sánchez told me alumbre was also used by the Mixtecas to cure sicknesses. Deposits of alum, he added, can be found in the municipio of Zacualtipan in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.

If you live in Mexico and want a lump of alum for yourself, you don't have to go all the way to Hidalgo. Just try the most rustic-looking ferretería (hardware store) you can find. If you prefer your rock dressed up like a modern deodorant stick, you can order one from one of the providers mentioned in the sidebar.


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