Tag: Day of the Dead

The dead-quiet aftermath

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All that remains of the artisan market on Monday was the canvas roof circling the plaza.

I WAS A FAN of the Day of the Dead long before I moved to Mexico.

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Catrina

There was a ceramic Catrina that stood on the bathroom counter in my Houston condo on Braes Bayou. I had purchased it at a Mexican artisan shop in a trendy area called The Heights. The place was owned by a real Mexican who charged me $200 for it.

When I moved down here, I discovered the same thing was easily available for the peso equivalent of $20 U.S., so I wuz robbed.

It was sheer coincidence that I moved to what is likely the most famous Day of the Dead town in Mexico. Oaxaca gives us competition. Never been there.

When I moved here 19 Days of the Dead ago, there was, and still is, an artisan market on our big plaza. It was haphazard, poorly organized, and many of the offerings were sheer crap that you might find in a Five & Dime.

Things have really changed. The artisan market years back was open to the vagaries of the weather, i.e. rain. Now the whole shebang sports a canvas roof. And the offerings have improved 100 percent. The junk is gone, and spectacular, high-quality goods are on sale. You should see it.

It lasts a week, going up the weekend before the Day of the Dead and coming down the weekend after.

* * * *

Two ways to do it.

We have two ways to experience Los Muertos, as the Day of the Dead is called in Spanish: the traditional and the carnival, what I call Party Hearty. The latter appears to be the more popular option, which is unfortunate.

To experience the traditional, visitors have many options. There are numerous small towns and villages in the area where residents do what’s long been done. They clean up the cemetery, decorate the graves with flowers, mostly marigolds, light candles and sit through the night, the theory being that the spirits of the departed return to visit.

What this produces is an eerie, incredibly beautiful, silent scene. It’s what takes place in my neighborhood cemetery, which we’ve visited on the Big Night a number of times, but not the last two years out of laziness. It’s walking distance from the Hacienda, which is great since traffic in the area all week, and especially on the Big Night, is beyond belief.

The second way to experience Los Muertos is Party Hearty, and it goes like this: You go to the island of Janitzio, which floats out in our large lake. The only way to get there is via motor launch. For some reason, Janizio is incredibly famous throughout Mexico and beyond for Los Muertos, even though their cemetery is like other cemeteries, and the locals do what locals do at other cemeteries.

I think it’s the novelty of the boat ride and the fact that it’s an island that’s given Janizio its celebrity. But whatever it is, tourists flock there is droves, mobs, hordes, incredible quantities of people. And they visit the Janitzio cemetery and more. There is music, dancing, food! And all is experienced while rubbing elbows with swarms of other sightseers.

It is not an “authentic” representation of the Night of the Dead. It’s a party. If you want a party, go to Janitzio. If you want to have a more traditional experience, go to one of the other villages. There are quite a few. But traffic will be bad wherever you go on the Big Night.

The artisan market on the big plaza of my mountaintop town lasted till Sunday. The next day, I drove downtown. Most of the tourists had fled. The vendors on the plaza had packed up and gone. It was peaceful again, as I prefer it.

* * * *

The aftermath

I sat with a café negro Americano and a sugar donut, looked toward the plaza and shot the photo at the top. The only thing remaining of the jam-packed artisan market was the canvas roof that will come down this week.

Later I walked to my car, which was parked just two blocks away on the street you see below, drove home and breathed a sigh of relief that peace has returned till next year. The market will appear again on Easter Week. The crowds will be big, but not quite so big as Los Muertos, and there will not be two ways to do it.

Just one. It involves Jesus.

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Walking back to my car, two blocks from the plaza, amid the sounds of silence.

Day of the Dead, Part 2

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Brother Carlos’ grave sits as clean as we could get it, flowered and ready for another year.

YESTERDAY WE did what we always do on November 2. We tossed supplies into a big bucket — bleach, incense, lighter, broom, dustpan, trash bag, candles, plant clippers, etc. — and we headed to the downtown cemetery.

Due to the graves’ being shoulder to shoulder, the traditional Day of the Dead overnight vigils are not held in that cemetery. There simply is not enough room, so families go the next day to clean the tombs and leave flowers.

Outside the cemetery gates, you’ll find vendors selling flowers at inflated prices and painted coffee cans to fill with water and use as vases. You also hire boys, young men and even girls to help scrub the headstones while family members stand nearby and observe.

This year we encountered something quite disturbing. Two tombs to the left, bodies had been removed. In so doing, a metal fence that had surrounded those graves had been tossed willy-nilly atop the abutting grave and the following one, which was ours, brother Carlos who died at age 26 over 30 years ago.

We had not yet hired the helpers to scrub our grave, so my child bride headed out to find two young men, not kids. We needed someone strong enough to move the fencing, and that is what happened. Two young men with dyed blond hair muscled it back atop the empty graves.

I neglected to snap photos until after the fence had been manhandled back to where it came from. Here is where it came from:

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It’s quite tacky to empty a grave and toss its fence atop the neighbors’ resting places.

Those empty holes go down about 10 feet, so having the fence around them is a good idea, especially if folks are stumbling about in the dead of night.

I remember who had been buried there before, a narco family. One of the homemade markers had an automatic rifle hand-painted on it. You don’t do that if you’re honest, church-going people. I wonder where they were moved to.

Today we continue our Day of the Dead duties. We’ll drive about 40 minutes southwest to the cemetery in the small town where my child bride spent her earliest years. Buried there are her mother and father.

Mother died at age 31 giving birth to her fifth and final child. Father died many years later at 61 of a heart attack. We’ll tidy up their stones, leave flowers, and go have lunch. Maybe some enchiladas.

Day of the Dead

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Our humble altar yesterday afternoon.

THIS IS THE Day of the Dead, and last night was the preceding evening.

My child bride usually builds an altar in the living room. There are too many who died too young in her family, and there was a new addition to that sad list this year. A kid brother died last May of a heart attack at the age of 55.

My mountaintop town is famous throughout Mexico for its Day of the Dead festivities and activities. There are spectacular graveyard scenes in the area. One is within walking distance of our home. Some years we walk over there on the Big Night, and some years we don’t. Last night we did not.

We stayed home, eating salads and watching Netflix.

The traffic is always dreadful. Were our cemetery not within walking distance, we’d never see the event. The most publicized cemetery here is on an island in the lake. You can only get there by boat, and hordes of people visit.

A far superior option is to visit one of the many other cemeteries that surround the lake, places where you’re not shoulder to shoulder with tourists traipsing through the tombstones, candles and marigolds.

It’s full of loveliness and spirit.

Life for the living will start returning to normal tomorrow. By Monday the mobs of tourists will be gone, the massive market on the plaza will pull up stakes, and we’ll return to our customary tranquility hereabouts. That’s how I like it.

Dead or alive.

Dry times ahead?

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Just this very morning.

HERE I SIT on the veranda having just returned from six laps around the neighborhood plaza where, on Thursdays, we always traipse around and through the temporary market that’s erected this day every week.

There are two large fruit-and-veggie stands, used clothing spread atop sheets on the sidewalk, fresh fish — many are still hopping around, wondering where the water went — beans, of course, and ladies selling various foods and munchies. I think what I like best is the vat of oil that fries pigskins.

It’s the smell, which reminds me of my childhood on the Georgia farm.

But the big news of today is that the sky is mostly blue. It did not rain yesterday and, the Goddess willing, it will not rain today … or tomorrow … and so on.

It’s time for the annual rains to halt. I think that would have happened already were it not for the hurricane out in the Pacific. It’s gone ashore now, far north of us, and is petering out, which is what you want hurricanes to do.

It gave us lots of rain and, in the nearby capital city, plenty of street flooding; in some places up to three feet deep. We drove down a street there Tuesday where people had their furniture on the sidewalk drying it out or throwing it away. It reminded me of Houston or New Orleans.

But people in Houston or New Orleans can better bear the financial hit.

But it’s gone now, that storm, and I’m optimistic as we head into the best month of the year here on the mountaintop. November is as good as it gets.

The Day of the Dead is next week, and sugar skulls, etc., are on sale around the plaza downtown. Come visit. Everyone else will be here, it seems.

With a touch of luck, it won’t rain.

Till next June.