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As my grandchildren finished their trick or treating up in el norte, I put the final touches on my Día de los Muertos ofrenda (offering) here in Oaxaca.

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A yellow (the color of death in pre-hispanic southern Mexico) cloth covers two chests; papel picado (cut tissue paper), signifying the union between life and death, has been added, along with the traditional flowers of Day of the Dead — cempasúchil and veruche (domesticated and wild marigolds), their scent to guide the spirits, and cockscomb to symbolize mourning.  Visitors brought the sunflower and, since my grandfather, father, and father-in-law were avid gardeners, it is for them!

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There is salt to make sure the souls stay pure and chocolate, peanuts, pecans, apples, mandarin oranges, and pan de muertos (Day of the Dead bread) to nourish them.

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The sweet smell of copal incense and its smoke help guide my loved ones to the feast I have prepared.  And, there is water to quench their thirst, as they travel between worlds, not to mention mezcal and cervesa (beer).

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But, most important of all, there are the tangible remembrances of my departed — photos and some of their favorite things.

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Revolutionary catrina and catrin for my revolutionary comadre and compadre, Sylvia and Nat.

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Yarn and a crochet hook for my dear grandmother who many of the abuelas (grandmothers) in Oaxaca remind me of — always wearing an apron, never wearing pants, and incredibly adept with crochet and embroidery thread.  And, for my adored grandfather, a San Francisco Giants baseball cap.  My grandparents moved next door at the same time the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco and grandpa and I listened to many games together on his transistor radio, as I helped him in the garden.

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There are other cherished friends and relatives on my altar, but pride of place goes to my parents.  For my father, who was killed when I was only two and a half, there is beer (below the above photo) — alas Victoria not Burgermeister!  And for my mother, a fan to cool herself as she dances and a bottle of port to sip before she sleeps.

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It’s been a two-day labor of love as I wanted everything to be perfect for my difutos (departed) to find their way and feel welcome in my Oaxaca home.

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After the wretched week that was (RIP Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, not to mention the USA elections), reviewing my Día de Muerto photos from Teotitlán del Valle was the ideal tonic.

On November 1, as I previously mentioned, after strolling and sitting and contemplating and conversing our way through the panteón in Tlacolula de Matamoros, we drove to the home of friends, Zacarias Ruiz and Emilia Gonzalez, in Teotitlán.  Arriving at 3:00 PM, we were just in time to join the family and other guests, as Zac gave words of welcome to the difuntos, who had also just made their appearance.

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Our pan de muerto and mezcal joined the other offerings on the altar to provide nourishment to the departed while we, the living, sat down at the long table for a little cervesa, mezcal, and more than a few of the 500+ tamales Emilia had made.  After lots of eating and conversation, we walked across the courtyard to give our regards to Antonio Ruiz (weaver of one of my treasured rugs), wife Claudia, and their children (the beautiful Beatriz and her lively brothers, Diego and Antonito), and to see Antonio’s new showroom (Chris has a photo in his Familia blog post) and their altar.

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Invited to return to the Ruiz home the following day for Emilia’s famous mole negro, we also stopped at the village panteón to listen for the wind that signals the departure of the difuntos at 3:00 PM on November 2.

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We also stopped to pay our respects at the grave of Arnulfo Mendoza, though it took a little searching to find it, as the large tree that stood next to it had fallen, leaving only a stump.

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Both days, the drive back to the city was filled with the warmth, peace, and joy that Teotitlán del Valle always seems to impart.

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Under the strong and comforting gaze of Picacho, who could ask for a better resting place.

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Today is the sixth Friday of Lent and Oaxaca is commemorating Viernes de Dolores, the Friday of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The Municipality of Oaxaca, the Ministry of Tourism, and Hotel Quinta Real Oaxaca extended an invitation to a free Concierto Viernes de Dolores in the Ex Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena.  The less than one-hour program included a description of the altar (including the sprouted chia — yes, the original Chia Pets); a powerful poem relating the story of the celebration that alternated with a musical program sung by Coro de la Ciudad de Oaxaca, under the direction of Israel Rivera Cañas, that included the traditional, Stabat Mater de Juan Matís, a 13th-century Catholic hymn about the Sorrows of Mary.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Stabat Mater

The acoustics of Santa Catalina de Siena were wonderful, the horchata and agua de chia, served at the conclusion of the program, were refreshing, and it was a much welcome and tranquil way to spend an hour on a busy Friday.

 

 

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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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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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