Looking for that special holiday gift for the person who has everything? Or a present for the Lunar New Year?
Perhaps you just want a modestly priced hostess gift that says someone is special.
Downey has a little shop of wonders, Cocoon, nestled next to a dry cleaner near Old River School Liquor, in the mini–mall at Stewart and Gray Road. Owner Jesse Quintero has traveled to the emerging countries of the world, places where jewelry is still a hand craft. Gem stones are not always set in silver: sometimes a burnished circlet of black water buffalo horn will set off a watery moonstone.
Jesse has traveled the world and brought back amazing trinkets and treasures. He has a nice selection of incense too. When I asked him if there were places that he could no longer go, he nodded. Afghanistan with its great lapis deposits is off limits to him now. The craft of the silver-smith has become a woman’s trade there, and small business loans had begun to help with village enterprises.
“So, do you have to deal with traders,” I asked. “No,” said Jesse, “I had established my own local contacts, and now I can deal direct without a middleman. So I still have my sources. “
“And with computers you can see what you’re buying right away,” I said. “And I’ve arranged for wiring payments,” Jessie said. “So the world is still out there for me.”
Two black dog-faced statues guard the entrance to the shop, and cheetah and monkey masks glare and smile from the walls. A lovely wooden African totem stained in a giraffe pattern stands by the jewelry cases, and a Japanese black lacquered box tops another, next to wooden masks from Guatemala of jaguars and birds.
A delicate filigree ring with a moonstone caught my eye. It’s from Bali, Jesse said. Then a bold mottled blue and green stone: “Azurite,” I asked, “and from Bali?” “Yes and no,” said Jesse. “It’s azurite, but from New Mexico.”
A lovely brooch set with six highly polished apricot colored carnelians was what I wanted. “Nepal,” said Jesse, polishing each sterling silver setting as he took it out for display.
Looking for something delicate yet dramatic for my granddaughter, I tried on a hammered silver shield-shaped band, set with an amethyst cabochon from New Mexico. Jesse showed me trays of similar styles, one like a cigar-band centered with a green striped malachite and wreathed in a silver bead setting. “Bali again,” said Jessie. Another held carnelians set in brass, and onyx and silver rings, in sizes for men too.
I had bought so much by now that Jesse offered me a tray of little $3 rings, to pick one for free. I chose a bold bejeweled Hand of Fatima, fingers outspread with a red and yellow enamel disc in the palm, the Eye of Horus.
“That’s the Hand of the Prophet’s Daughter, Fatima,” I said, knowing that because I had seen it often enough when I traveled in Egypt. “Yes,” said Jesse, “but in Israel they will tell you it is the Hand of God. Either way, it’s to ward off the evil eye.”
The world we see is believed by billions – literally -- to be populated also by spirits from a vast spirit domain. Their totems and faces are carved and painted by every culture to keep us aware of the animating spirit that flows in everyone.
Jesse showed me photos from his visit in May to Surabaya in Indonesia, where an act of Isis terrorism blasted a marketplace and a Pentecostal Church, charring motorbikes and killing dozens of innocent family members.
“We had just arrived,” said Jesse, “and we were going to dinner at a restaurant in that same square. But as we got up to leave” Jesse said, “I felt an invisible pressure on my shoulders, forcing me to sit down. So we didn’t go, and that saved our lives.”
When you get that kind of warning, you can’t afford to ignore it, no matter where it comes from.
Cocoon is a comfortable way to explore for artifacts, and bizarre and odd treasures from around the world. Jesse even has a nook with clothes: skirts, blouses, and colorful cotton vests which were woven on small portable looms the weavers carry on their backs in the mountains. There’s a mirror if you want to try something on.
When travelling one should be ready to dive into the culture and put on the style and accessories of the country or tribe. Jesse’s ears are not only pierced but have holes big enough to hold the gold and jade plugs of Mezo America. Great or small, he has seen it and collected it. Now his tiny treasures wait, to delight the armchair explorer in Cocoon, which he calls “Gifts for the Mind.”
As one of the Yelp comments said, “a huge assortment of odd to cultural and everything in between. There’s always so many things to see and new gems to find! It’s a small shop but I’ve always said give yourself at least an hour to take it all in. From the floor to literally the ceiling, you’ll be amazed at what you find. There’s really nothing else like it.”
And you don’t even need a passport.
Cocoon is located at 7391 Stewart & Gray Rd. in Downey.