Posts Tagged ‘death’

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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Oaxaca is in mourning. Last night, word of the passing of one of her greatest champions, Maestro Francisco Toledo was announced by Mexico’s president — an indication of the importance and esteem the Maestro is held. Born in Juchitán, Oaxaca on July 17, 1940, Toledo died in Oaxaca city on September 5, 2019, at age 79.

This morning outside the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO), which he founded and funded.

Besides being a world renown artist, he was a fighter for social justice and the environment, a very generous philanthropist, and crusader for the respect of indigenous peoples and character of Oaxaca. People are still chuckling over the unique form of protest he led when a McDonald’s threatened to open in the zocaló.

This morning, inside the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO).

We awoke this morning to see the gigantic Mexican flag that flutters above the city of Oaxaca flying at half staff and large black bows, indicating a family in mourning, had been fastened above many of the institutions that benefited from Toledo’s philanthropy.

Biblioteca Pública Central Margarita Maza de Juárez – Oaxaca’s main public library.

The streets of Oaxaca are little more subdued today — less laughter, music muted, and even the traffic doesn’t seem as chaotic.

On the sidewalk outside the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO).

A public tribute to the Maestro is scheduled for 2:00 PM today at the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá.

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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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Blog post as catharsis…

Saturday was a sad day in Oaxaca.  It brought the completely unexpected death of one of Oaxaca’s most talented artists, Arnulfo Mendoza Ruiz.  He was only 59.  I knew him a little, peripherally through my blogger buddy, Chris, who has known him and his large Zapotec family in Teotitlán del Valle (his sisters are well-known chefs) for many years and with whom he had been collaborating on a project.  Arnulfo had a well-known store and workshop called La Mano Mágica on the walking street here in Oaxaca, which showcased, not only his artistry (paintings, exquisite weavings, metal work, and more), but also the cream of Oaxaca’s artesanía and artist community.  We would occasionally stop by or he would hail us from the doorway — always with twinkling eyes, mischievous smile, and well-worn fedora atop his head.

Black bow above closed doors of La Mano Mágica

Today, the doors are closed.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, ritual and tradition play central roles in all aspects of Zapotec culture and it was amazing to watch it being expressed on Saturday.  Arnulfo died in the morning and by the early afternoon, friends, family, and many of the major artists in Oaxaca, were gathered in La Mano Mágica.  At one point, there was mournful chanting by several men in the gallery where his casket lay, later a band played, people came and went in the main workshop room, and in the room behind, his sisters prepared and served chicken covered in black mole, rice, tortillas, and atole.  The women busied themselves with the ritual of preparing and offering food, but allowed the tears to well up when condolences were given.  However, the men in the family sat or stood in clusters in the other two rooms, and remained stoic.

Mourners in church plaza, El Picacho in background

Under the embrace of El Picacho

According to belief, the funeral was held the next day.  As we drove out to Teotitlán del Valle on Sunday, the winter sky’s usual puffy white clouds had turned dark and gray and a few tear drops fell from the heavens.  There is a tradition of dimming the lights on Broadway to honor the death of a prominent member of the theatrical community.  And, yesterday, it felt like Mother Nature desaturated the color of Oaxaca a little in honor of Arnulfo Mendoza Ruiz.

Casket being carried into church

Led by the solemn sounds of a band, pallbearers carried the casket from his home high atop a hill in Teotitlán del Valle, down the steep and winding cobblestone streets, to Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo where a mass was celebrated.  And then, all processed to the cemetery.  The anguished sobs, as his body was lowered into the earth, were heart-wrenching.  Like laughter, I think grief is contagious, as it reaches into our heart, takes hold, and shakes the continuum of feeling in each of us.  And so, tears welled-up in my eyes.

Floral wreath with ribbon reading, "Descansa Arnulfo"

Rest in peace, Arnulfo

Today, I continue to feel drained and very sad.  I didn’t know Arnulfo well, but feel humbled by the fragility of physical life.  I keep reflecting on how each of us tries to bring meaning to this temporal physical existence.  Arnulfo was a flawed man and was chased by demons, but in his creativity and nurturing of the arts, he left the world a little better than he found it.

Chris’s farewell blog posts to his friend are especially touching:   A sad day – Arnulfo Mendoza (1954-2014) and Another sad day – Arnulfo Mendoza (1954-2014).

And, here are two online obituaries (in Spanish):  Adiós a Arnulfo Mendoza and Oaxaca de luto por la muerte de Arnulfo Mendoza.

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