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Posts Tagged ‘Day of the Dead’

Visits to mercados in the city and Tlacolula have been made.  Along with mandarinas and manzanas, cempasuchil and cresta de gallo have been purchased.

Women selling marigolds and cockscomb

Pan de muerto has been selected…

Pan de muertos

A calaverita has been chosen…

Sugar skulls

Mezcal and water have been poured, dishes of chocolate and salt prepared, candles brought out, and photos of departed family and friends and a few of their favorite things have been collected.  Yesterday, it was time to prepare my ofrenda.

My muertos altar

As dusk descended, friends gathered; the candles and copal were lit…

Close up of my muertos altar

And we offered our silent — and sometimes not so silent — prayers to the baseball spirits to bring victory to the San Francisco Giants in game 7 of the World Series.

San Francisco Giants' cap and photo of my grandparents

The spirits listened!!!  Thinking of you, grandpa….

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Last night, flipping through my Cablemas channels, I happened upon Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film, George Harrison: Living in the Material World.  I’ve seen this beautiful documentary before, could watch it many more times, and how could I resist, on Black Friday night, the wonderful irony of the title?  I’m sure George is chuckling somewhere.

Yesterday marked the twelfth anniversary of George’s death (no doubt the reason it was being shown) and, as I watched and listened to Olivia describe the importance George placed on preparing for one’s death, I couldn’t help but reflect on Día de los Muertos.  All things must pass; death as a part of the journey of being.  And, some of this year’s Muertos photos seemed to be ready to let go of most of their color…

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All Things Must Pass
by George Harriso
n

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this, my love is up and must be leaving
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
All things must pass away

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As we have done in previous years, we returned to San Antonino Castillo Velasco on November 1 to watch families begin the preparation of the graves of their loved ones for Día de los Muertos.  In a process unique to this pueblo known for the cultivation of flowers, family members mix the area’s very fine dirt with water; spread it on the top and sides of the grave; smooth it with a trowel, as if they were getting ready to lay tile; using a nail, they outline designs and religious imagery into the mud coating; and then use flowers (fresh and dried), to “paint” the scene.  

This year’s late rainy season brought torrential rains on November 2 and it must have interrupted the decorating, because when we returned on November 3, at the same time as usual, there was still much work to be done.  However, no one seemed the least perturbed; peace, tranquility, and quiet joy prevailed and, as always, it enveloped us.

(Music: Marimba band performing, “Díos Nunca Muere,” written by Oaxaqueño composer and violinist Macedonio Alcalá.)

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The souls  have departed.   And, following 33 hours of travel, my BFF (along with her alebrijes by Alberto Perez and the Xuana family, a traditional black and white rebozo, bottle of Del Maguey mezcal from Chichicapa, several bags of Conchita chocolate, and a fabulous mohair rug woven by Antonio Ruíz Gonzalez), has returned home to the frigid climes of Alaska.  However, gal pal, souls, and the mortals with whom we shared the past, have left warm and lasting memories.  They have also left an exhausted gringa, whose brain feels like one of those overloaded small trucks one (more than occasionally) sees on the roads here.  With every nook and cranny filled, they move at a snail’s pace, be it along a pot-holed dirt road or the carretera, balancing their top-heavy loads.

Our week began on October 29, when the sounds of a band Pied Piper-ed us down the street and around a corner to a comparsa of high school students, who were taking part in a competition of using recycled products for their costumes and floats.  Alas, the rains came and eventually chased us home.

On October 30, delectable dining (lunch at La Biznaga and dinner at Los Danzantes) nourished multiple museum visits and allowed us to join the standing-room-only crowd at the Oaxaca Lending Library (without rumbling stomachs) to watch the wonderful new documentary, La Festividad de los Muertos, chronicling Day of the Dead in Teotitlán del Valle.

Then there was Thursday, the 31st….  A shopping expedition for flowers, sugar skulls, bread (pan de muertos), and two 10-foot long stalks of sugar cane to form the arch over my altar.  I carried them the 10-blocks home on my shoulder (sheesh, they are heavy) and carefully navigating the busy sidewalks.  According to BFF, I provided pedestrians and passengers in buses,cars, and taxis much entertainment.  I didn’t see a thing — I was just trying not to trip, fall, or whack anyone in front, behind, or to the sides of me!

Once the candles, photos, bread, chocolate, beverages (cervesa, mezcal, and water), and meaningful objects to our departed were in place; flowers arranged and cempasuchitl (marigold) petals scattered; and the arching sugar cane affixed to the wall surrounding our ofrenda, we made our way down to the beginning of the CEDART comparsa.

Later in the evening, we drove up to the panteón in Santa María Atzompa.  Passing the bright lights and crush of food, flower, pottery, and other vendors that line the entrance and finally emerging from under the arched gateway, the candlelit ethereal beauty of the cemetery on this night never ceases to take my breath away.  Of course, it wasn’t all exquisite and unearthly enchantment.  This is Mexico and so there was also a (very loud) band and the cervesa and mezcal flowed freely.  I’m sure the difuntos (deceased) enjoyed themselves and partied hardy with the living until the sun rose.  And then all slept.

On the other hand, we left at a reasonable hour, as we were only at the mid-point of our Día de los Muertos marathon.  More to come…

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It’s been a magnificent Muertos filled with memorable moments and special people, along with a feast for ALL the senses.  An initial pass through the photos has weeded them down to 450.  Yikes!  Lots more weeding and processing to do.  In the meantime, here is a snapshot from the past 5 days.

And the magic continues today, when we return to San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

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An ofrenda is an offering, an integral part of the Day(s) of the Dead celebration, filled with meaning, a beacon to the departed, an ephemeral work of art, and the sum of its lovingly chosen parts.  And so, last night my aforementioned BFF and I constructed our ofrenda.

Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca… so much to show and share with those we love.

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My BFF (since age 12 — I won’t say how many decades ago that was) arrived last night from Alaska.  It was her first trip to Mexico and it took 22 hours.  Of course we talked late into the night, thus the morning unfolded slowly.

However, eventually we emerged into the hustle and bustle of the temporary muertos stalls near 20 de Noviembre mercado, to begin purchasing the elements for our Día de los Muertos ofrenda:  Apples, oranges, and nuts to nourish the spirits, cempasuchitl (marigolds) to guide the spirits, cockscomb to symbolize mourning, and copal incense to draw the spirits home and ward off evil .

Muertos Altar

As you can see from the above chart, we have much more to buy and bring out of the storage closet.  And, the above list doesn’t even mention sugar cane stalks!

h/t Chef Pilar Cabrera for posting the chart on Facebook.

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Cempasuchitl, catrinas, and comparsas.  El día de los muertos is coming…

Mural at the corner of Aldama and Hidalgo in Barrio de Jalatlaco.

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Life and death is a family affair…

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November 1 and 3, 2012 in the panteón municipal, San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

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The Y-shaped valley of Oaxaca is about 700 square kilometers, not all that big when compared to California’s Sacramento Valley, which is approximately 2,570 square kilometers.  Yet, unlike the “sameness” one encounters in Sacramento Valley towns (sorry, CA), one can’t help but be struck by the unique identity of each of the Zapotec villages that are only kilometers apart.  One specializes in red clay pots, another in black pottery, and another in green glazed ceramics.  There are villages of woodcarvers near weavers of cotton and others of wool, never mind the fashion trends!

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Day of the Dead celebrations and cemeteries differ, often dramatically, from village to village.  And so, from the whitewashed graves of Santiago Apóstol and the candlelight of Santa María Atzompa (today’s earlier post), we came to the carved wooden crosses in the Panteón Municipal of the Villa de Zaachila.

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Along with livestock, produce, and household goods, wood gathered from the hills surrounding Zaachila is a major part of Zaachila’s weekly Thursday tianguis (open air market).  It’s one of my favorites!

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With only a couple of days left in November and the Christmas holiday season already making its presence known, it’s now or never to finish sorting through this year’s Día de los Muertos photos — my thoughts and impressions will take the remains of this lifetime, and then some, to process.

To an outsider, especially one whose worldview was shaped by a Judeo-Christian culture, Day of the Dead is often seen through the lens of juxtaposition.

The “unbearable lightness of being” in Santiago Apóstol…

Whitewashed graves covered with multicolored fresh flowers

Whitewashed graves covered with multicolored fresh flowers

Whitewashed graves covered with multicolored fresh flowers

Whitewashed graves covered with multicolored fresh flowers

The blurred otherworldly darkness of Santa María Atzompa…

Night shot of tall lighted candles perched around and on graves.

Night shot of tall lighted candles perched around and on graves.

Night shot of tall lighted candles perched around and on graves.

Night shot of two lighted votive candles casting halos on the ground

However, light becomes dark becomes light becomes dark, as day becomes night becomes day becomes night, as life becomes death becomes life becomes death…  dualism beginning to vanish.

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You might well ask, “What is a muerteada?”  It is a comparsa (parade) that is part of traditional Día de los Muertos celebrations particular to the state of Oaxaca.  According to the book, Day of the Dead: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca, the muerteada allows the dead “to ‘occupy’ a living body, either a muerteada participant or an audience member, for a time, and therefore enjoy the entertainment directly rather than vicariously.”

Like Commedia dell’Arte, there are stock characters — in this case, the happy widow, the dying or dead husband, the father of the widow, a doctor, a priest, a shaman, people dressed like death, devils, and las lloronas (weeping women).  However, unlike Commedia dell’Arte, in the muerteada men play all the roles.

Last year we joined the Vista Hermosa, Etla murteado.  However, this year blogger buddy Chris decided I was ready for the big time — the “battle of the bands” when the muerteadas of San Agustín Etla and Barrio San José meet — Banda Tromba Sinaloense for San Agustín and MonteVerde Banda for San José.  FYI:  This is after participants and their bands have danced their way up and down the hills of their respective neighborhoods all night long, stopping at designated houses for food and drink — mezcal and cervesas seemed to be the beverage of choice, especially among the men!

So, early on the Nov. 2, we went in search of the San Agustín contingent, we found them, joined in the merriment, were offered food and drink along the way, and eventually came to the crossroad where mania turned to mayhem, albeit organized mayhem — courtesy of the white-shirted security for San Agustín and red-shirted security for San José.  They kept the dancers and supporters from each side apart, leaving the face-off to the two bands.  It was wild!!!  After 20+ minutes of battling bands, it was over and we and the San Agustín contingent trudged back up the hill.

You may have spotted a tall silver-haired gringo right in the middle of the action in one or two of the photos, that would be Chris.  Be sure to check out the video he put together of all the madness.

According to Organizing Committee President, Alfredo Erick Pérez, the muerteada in San Agustín Etla dates back to the 1800s, possibly to the days of Mexican President Porfirio Díaz.

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In addition to graveside gatherings and decoration, altars, parades, sugar skulls, sand paintings, marigolds, and Day of the Dead bread, painted faces are another distinctive feature of Día de Muertos celebrations.  They are most likely seen hanging around cemeteries and dancing through the streets but, like everything else here, you just never know…

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From Meaning of Dia de los Muertos Face Painting:

The day of the dead in Mexico is a fascinating mixture of Spanish Catholic and native Aztec traditions and beliefs. Skulls and skeletons were an important part of All Saints Day festivals in medieval Europe, especially since the Black Death ravaged the population of Europe in the 1300s. Across Europe artists, playwrights and poets mused on the theme of ‘memento mori’ (remember death) and the ‘dance of the dead’. Many artworks and books from the time depict dancing skeletons, or portraits with a skull to ‘remember death’.

At the same time, in Mexico, the Aztec culture believed life on earth to be something of an illusion – death was a positive step forward into a higher level of conscience. For the Aztecs skulls were a positive symbol, not only of death but also of rebirth.

Read full article here.

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an offering.

Apples, corn, beans, pinecone turkeys, marigolds

an integral part of the Day(s) of the Dead celebration.

Sand painting surrounded with apples

filled with meaning.

Carved owl and garlands

a beacon to the departed.

fruits, photos, flowers

an ephemeral work of art.

Marigolds, photos, fruit, vegetables, skulls, drum, baskets of nuts

the sum of its lovingly chosen parts.

Day of the Dead altarThis is another ofrenda from the previously mentioned “altar decorating” competition on the plaza in front of Santo Tomás in Oaxaca’s Xochimilco barrio.

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Living and being in Oaxaca during the Días de los Muertos is hard to put into words.  There is so much to experience and to think about.  Sensory overload challenges the limits of heart and mind and my emotions are running the gamut from extreme exhilaration to a quiet joy to being moved to tears.

The latter occurred a few days ago, when I walked up to the Templo de Santo Tomás in Oaxaca’s Xochimilco barrio (neighborhood) where an “altar decorating” contest was in progress.  Altars were to be judged on authenticity, originality, and creativity.  When I arrived, friends and relatives were in the midst of putting the final touches on their altars.  Some were elaborate and some exhibited real artistry, but one really touched my heart.

He was alone — no one to help, no playful banter.  When I first arrived, he was carefully etching a cross with a piece of charred wood on a stone.

He worked silently and with purpose, pulling items out of a well-worn sugar bag and carefully placing them on his altar.

When the bag was empty, he walked over to a cart and pulled out another one.

Slowly, his vision emerged, with symbology I have only a cursory grasp of and won’t presume to explain.

I don’t know who won the 5000 peso first prize or second or third place purses, and I don’t know if he was doing it for the money (he certainly looked like he could use it).

All I do know is he and his ofrenda moved me deeply.

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