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Posts Tagged ‘Day of the Dead’

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. It is the ofrendas that touch me the most — they are all so personal, even those on display to the public. And, one of the unexpected delights of tracking down the chairs of the Silla Calavera project, was to see the Day of the Dead ofrendas constructed by the hotels and restaurants also displaying the chairs.

Casa Antica, Av. José María Morelos.
Plaza Las Vírgenes, Calle Labastida. Only very occasionally do fires break out!
Utilitario Mexicano, Mariano Matamoros.
La Casa de las Artesanías, Mariano Matamoros.
Hotel Casa Garay, Calle Miguel Cabrera.
On the Zócalo, ofrenda for Tomás Martínez, a leader of the Frente Popular Revolucionario.
La Mano Mágica, Calle Macedonio Alcalá. Photo of Arnulfo Mendoza on the top right. I can’t believe it’s been 6-1/2 years since his passing.
Hotel Trébol, Ricardo Flores Magón.
Hotel Casa Vertiz, Calle Reforma.
Hotel Marqués Del Valle, bordering the Zócalo.
Jardín Sócrates neveria next to Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Soledad.

Sensory overload challenges the limits of heart and mind and, especially this year, my emotions ran the gamut from extreme exhilaration to quiet joy to being moved to tears.

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In my effort to “step away” from the US election news, I went in search of the fourteen chairs of the “Silla Calavera” project scattered throughout restaurants and hotels in the city — a creative and calorie-burning distraction!

Artist: Juana Vicente Ortega Fuentes, decorative painter; displayed at Pitiona restaurant. Title: Levantada de Cruz (Raised Cross).
Artist: Fabián Pacheco, metalwork artisan; displayed at Gozobi restaurant. Title: Tradición y costumbre (Tradition and practice).
Artist: Francisca Calvo, wooden alebrije artisan; displayed at Pitiona restaurant. Title: Platicando sobre las costumbres de mi pueblo (Talking about customs of my people).
Artist: Jesús Sosa Calvo, wooden alebrije artisan; displayed at Hotel Parador. Title: Como ves te ves (As you see you see).

The project arose as an idea to spread the traditions of Oaxaca through artistic creations using an object of daily life — a comforting and comfortable seat, where each artist, through their creativity and respect for the dead, exposes the face of a skull.

Artists: Taller de Barro Zamani, polychrome clay artisans; displayed at Terranova restaurant. Title: Muertos que viven (The dead who live).
Artists: Erika Nancy Carrillo Carreño, Montserrat Mandujano, Eliézer Vargas García, artesanas de la Costa oaxaqueña; displayed at Hotel Trébol. Title: Colores de vida y muerte (Colors of life and death).
Artist: Colectivo Zegache (Alejandro Mendoza, Eleuteria Pacheco Mendoza, Edith Santo Méndez, Nancy Martínez Gaspar); displayed at Hotel Casa Garay. Title: Dxi tu gúl (Zapotec, unable to translate).
Artist: Meletón Lazo, surrealist artist; displayed at Hotel Ferri. Title: Flor de piña (Pineapple flower dance).

Unfortunately, this next chair had been disassembled by the time I arrived, but here, in two parts, the back and the seat.

Artist: Gabriel Sosa, wooden alebrije artisan; seat back at Los Danzantes restaurant. Title: Fiesta de colores (Festival of colors).
Artist: Gabriel Sosa, wooden alebrije artisan; seat at Los Danzantes restaurant. Title: Fiesta de colores (Festival of colors).

The artisans, I think with great success, sought to capture and share their roots, customs, and traditions.

Artist: Marcos Lucero, painter; displayed at Hotel Santa Rosa. Title: Bii tugul/Viento de muertos (Wind of the dead).
Artist: Juan Lazo, landscape painter; displayed at El Asador Vasco restaurant. Title: La muerte es mas vida (Death is life).
Artists: Paulino Ramirez and Eduardo Ramirez, painting and wooden alebrijes; displayed at Restaurant Casa Palmeras. Title: La última luz (The last light).
Artist: Alfonso Canseco Peligro, graphic artist; displayed at La Mala restaurant. Title: Siéntate, vamos a tomar (Sit down and let’s drink).
Artists: Luis Lazo and family, textile artists; displayed at Hotel Casa Vertiz. Title: Ciclo de vida (Cycle of life).

Yesterday, the chairs were removed from the restaurants and hotels. Tonight, with an inaugural celebration, they went on display at ARIPO until November 15, 2020. For purchase after that date, contact Matlacihua Arte or individual artists.

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For my skeleton loving grandson, the 2020 skeletons, catrinas, and catrines hanging around Oaxaca.

Seen on the sidewalks, businesses, and balconies of Oaxaca on November 1 and 2 — during these days we welcome and celebrate with our departed.

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Even the recycling bins in Oaxaca are getting into the spirit of Day of the Dead.

Calle Independencia side of the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
In front of the Iglesia de Guadalupe
Zócalo side of the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

And cempasúchil (marigolds) to beckon the difuntos (departed), plastic bottles, and tin cans.

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These are strange days leading up to our departed coming to call while we are living in the time of Covid-19. With public activities canceled, thus no nightly calendas (parades) filling the streets and our ears, and fewer tourists, Oaxaca is experiencing more peace and tranquility this Day of the Dead season — albeit laced with a touch of melancholy and anxiety.

Masked and shielded, I braved the mostly local crowds south of the zócalo, to shop for cempasuchil (marigolds), cresta de gallo (cockscomb), apples, mandarin oranges, peanuts and pecans, chocolate, and pan de muertos (Day of the Dead bread) — but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as years past.

However, the joy returned when I unwrapped photographs of my parents, grandparents, and other loved ones; selected some of their favorite things to put on my ofrenda; placed the fruit, nuts, bread, and chocolate among the photos; positioned candles, flowers, and incense; and poured my departed a copita (little cup) of water and another of mezcal — all to beckon, entertain, and sustain them during their brief stay.

I’m looking forward to a more personal and reflective Día de Muertos this year.

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Cempasúchil (marigolds), the flowers synonymous with Day of the Dead, have begun appearing throughout the city. Alas, not in the quantity we are used to.

As I have written previously, because of the acceleration of the Covid-19 cases, the City of Oaxaca will not permit public Day of the Dead celebrations and events.

So it’s a subdued Día de Muertos season we are living.

While the yellows and oranges of the marigolds seem to mirror the semáforo amarillo and naranja (yellow and orange Covid-19 traffic lights) we are bouncing between, they brighten the days and impart a familiar and welcome scent.

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To borrow a line from Cole Porter, Oaxaca regrets there will be no Muertos this year, señora.

Due to a rebound in positive Covid-19 cases in both the capital and state (we are back in traffic light orange — with red threatening), yesterday the city council of Oaxaca unanimously voted to cancel all Day of the Dead activities (NVI Noticias). That means there will be no comparsas (parades), altar displays, sand paintings, costume contests, and no cemetery visits. Other municipalities are expected to follow suit. If you have plans to be here for Día de Muertos, I strongly urge you to reconsider.

Given this sad and sobering news and the above Catrín and Catrina seen on this morning’s walk, I keep flashing on the Cole Porter song, Miss Otis Regrets — especially this dirge-like version by Kristy MacColl.

This is serious and no time to let your guard down. Please practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently, and for goodness sake, cover your mouth AND nose with a mask when out in public!!!

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Today, November 3, blogger buddy Chris and I made our annual pilgrimage to experience the flowers and families of the panteón in San Antonino Castillo Velasco. We have been doing this for many years and are always surprised and delighted by the creativity of the living, as they decorate the graves of their departed. This year was no exception — especially the sculptures on two of the graves. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Below, the plaque on the simple wooden cross read, 1994 – 2018 Fernando Moctezuma Valencia García “Tachuma” Te amoremos por siempre, tu familia (We love you forever, your family). A little internet research revealed that the young Fernando was already a talented ceramicist.

The hands of a loved one honoring Fernando by creating this exceptional sculpture on his grave, moved me to tears.

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The difuntos have begun arriving and, like every year on November 1, I escape the tourist craziness of the city to spend time in the tranquility of the panteón in Tlacolula de Matamoros. Under the dappled sunlight of early afternoon, families clean, bring flowers, and celebrate. The departed must have nourishment for their travel between the world of the living and dead, thus fruit, nuts, bread, and beverages are placed on the graves.

The difuntos also seem to appreciate artistry.

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Calaveras, calacas, catrins, and catrinas, oh my!  (Click images to enlarge.)

In the city and villages, walls and windows, sitting and standing, happy and sad — they are everywhere in Oaxaca!

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Tonight, the living began welcoming the dead with a Gran Comparsa through the streets of Oaxaca, beginning at Parque Juárez El Llano and ending at the Plaza de la Danza — the latter, almost on my doorstep! Visitors and Oaxaqueños, young and old, lined the parade route in anticipation.

With bands leading the way, catrinas in regional dress and dancers in traditional muerteada attire whirled and twirled, high-stepped and jumped, and moved and grooved their way through the streets.

Día de Muertos observances are different in the indigenous villages — the mood is more formal and each village has customs and rituals that tradition dictates must be followed. Even the dates and times the difuntos arrive to join their living families can differ. However, in both ciudad and pueblo, the goal is to bring together the living and their dead to eat, drink, and reminisce.

After the comparsa passed, I walked around the corner to Casita Colibrí. However, no sooner had I downloaded my photos, the unmistakable sound of fireworks being launched from the Plaza de la Danza called me out onto my terrace. The music and partying continued until 10:30 PM.

The celebrations have only just begun! Click HERE for the very long list of Día de Muertos cultural events in the City of Oaxaca. And, below are some of the activities happening in many of the villages outside the city. (Click on image to enlarge.)

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Several pan de muerto festivals sprung up in the valley of Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos — including a Festival del Pan de Muerto in Villa Díaz Ordaz, a Feria del Pan de Muerto Adornado in Villa de Zaachila, and a Feria del Pan y Chocolate in the city of Oaxaca.  While the intention of these fairs is to attract tourists, both foreign and domestic, the primary market remains ofrendas (offerings) to the difuntos (departed) — who must be fed during their brief return to visit with their loved ones.

And, like apron styles, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) varies from village to village, be it sold at a feria, mercado, or neighborhood panadería.

Panadería Yalalag in Oaxaca city.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

Mercado, 20 de noviembre, Oaxaca city.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila

Villa de Zaachila.

Though my difuntos have departed and my altar has been disassembled, I couldn’t consign my beautiful (but stale) pan de muerto offerings to the garbage can.

Pan de muerto from Yalalag, Mitla, and Zaachila.

So, here they remain in a basket on my counter — until they disintegrate or the hormigas (ants) enjoy a feast.

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Under the dappled sunlight filtering through the 500 year old ahuehuete trees in the panteón of Tlacolula de Matamoros, lovingly placed fruit and nuts nourish the souls.  (Click on images to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the afternoon, when the light and shadows dance on the graves, beautiful still lifes greet the departed, their living family, friends, and visitors.  It is a tranquil setting to contemplate the words of Octavio Paz (The Labyrinth of Solitude, the other Mexico, and essays, Grove Press, 1985, p. 54)

The opposition between life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexicans as it is to us.  Life extended into death, and vice versa. Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.

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Today, at 3:00 PM in Teotitlán del Valle, as leaves in the mountains and fields rustled, the arrival of the difuntos (departed) was announced with the sound of cohetes (rockets) and church bells.  Incense burners were lit and placed in front of ofrendas in each home’s altar room — the smoke and scent of copal helping to guide the spirits home for their yearly twenty-four hour visit.

Tonight they will feast on tamales amarillos — special tamales that are traditionally served three times a year in Teotitlán — in July for the Fiesta de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, in October for the Fiesta de la Virgen del Rosario, and today, November first, in honor of the returning difuntos.

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As we have done for many years, blogger buddy Chris and I came to the home of Zacarías Ruiz and Emilia Gonzalez with our offering of pan de muertos and a bottle of mezcal to place on their altar — paying our respects to their difuntos.  In turn, we were offered mezcal and cervesas (beer), followed by the aforementioned tamales amarillos.

The tamales were days in the making.  Several of the family’s organic free range chickens were sacrificed; corn from their milpa was nixtamalized to make a silky smooth masa; and the ingredients for mole amarillo were toasted, chopped, blended, and boiled.  The final preparation began at 3:30 this morning — 250 tamales were assembled, filled, and wrapped in fresh green leaves from their milpa and placed in the steaming pots.  The results were to die for!

For me, more than painted faces and parades, this is what makes experiencing Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca so special.

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Not all the Día de los Muertos murals in Villa de Zaachila were finished, some were still works in progress…

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with ladders and paints standing by…

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waiting for their artists to pick up the brush…

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or spray can, as the case may be.

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I first saw many of the murals in the summer of 2017 and was happy to see they are still intact, albeit some are a little faded.  Celebrated by the community, the new murals join the old and become a part of the landscape of the village.

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