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Posts Tagged ‘Día de Muertos’

The evening of October 31, I heard the unmistakable sounds of a procession coming down the street — but not the raucous cacophony of a muerteada which, given the date, I was expecting. No, this was the slow dirge-like and repetitive hymn of a religious procession. Needless to say, I grabbed my camera, keys, and cubreboca (mask) and headed out the door. The Catholic church has dedicated the month of October to honor the Virgin Mary with the recitation of the Holy Rosary. This being the last Sunday of October, María traveled through the streets of Barrio de Jalatlaco through the generous mayordomía (stewardship) of the families Robles Tamayo and García Robles.

Upon her return to Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco, she was greeted by a less than solemn scene of Día de Muertos revelers in costumes and face paint, no doubt looking for a muerteada (aka, comparsa). 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.” I suspect for some, it was just an excuse to party.

However, a muerteada did come to my neighborhood the following night. Again, I grabbed camera, keys, and cubreboca and ventured out to check it out. The craziness was only just getting started and would undoubtedly go on most of the night. Besides, not even half the people were wearing masks, so, after twenty minutes and twenty plus photos, I went home.

The sacred and profane that is Mexico.

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Day of the Dead altars and their offerings to the departed vary from region to region and, within those regions, from family to family. Ofrendas (offerings) are an integral part of Día de Muertos. They are a beacon to the departed, an ephemeral work of art, and the sum of their lovingly chosen parts. As you can see from the photos below from several in Barrio de Jalatlaco, even on public display, they are intensely personal and creative.

Galería Shadai – Flowers, papel picado, candles, incense, pan de muertos, fruit, nuts, a casserole, and beverages.

And, there is a catrina tapete de arena (sand carpet) made of sand, beans, and flowers.

However, the only photo is of Maestro Francisco Toledo placed on a side pedestal.

Los Pilares Hotel and Restaurant – Flowers, papel picado, catrinas and catrins, candles, fruit, pan de muertos, and beverages.

And, there is a beautiful floral arch.

No photos of loved ones, but it’s a love story to the state of Oaxaca.

Family ofrenda – 5 de mayo at the corner of La Alianza. Family photos of the departed take center stage with papel picado, cempasúchitl (marigolds), and skeletons playing supporting roles.

Then there are those magnificent floral candles like one sees in Teotitlán del Valle.

And, lest the departed can’t find their way home in the greatly expanded city, an old photo and skeletons await outside the altar alcove to show the way.

Last but not least, my altar and offerings. It was a creative challenge to set up in the new Casita Colibrí.

It’s smaller than previous years, but I have figured out a way to make it bigger and better next year.

A yellow (color of death in pre-hispanic southern Mexico) tablecloth; papel picado (cut tissue paper) signifying the union between life and death; cempasúchitl (marigolds) and flor de muerto from the Sierra Norte, their scent to guide the spirits; and cresta de gallo (cockscomb) to symbolize mourning. 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. The sweet smell of copal incense and its smoke help guide my loved ones to the fiesta I have prepared for them. There is water to quench their thirst, as they travel between worlds, not to mention mezcal and cervesa (beer). And, there are the tangible remembrances of my departed — photos and some of their favorite things.

With candles lit and incense burning, I’m loving it and hoping my very dearly departed will find it warm, nourishing, and welcoming.

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My new neighborhood, Barrio de Jalatlaco, has a long history — one that predates the arrival of the Spanish. Community spirit and traditions are strong, including making her departed feel welcome during Día de Muertos. Thus the bright orange and spicy scent of the flor de muerto, cempasúchitl (flower of the dead, marigolds) are everywhere.

Papel picado, in seasonal colors, ripple above the streets and cast fluttering shadows.

Floral arches welcome the living and the departed.

And skeletons are seen hanging out in doorways, windows, and sidewalks.

Tomorrow, altars and their offerings.

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Oaxaca is getting ready for the annual arrival of her difuntos (souls of the dead), so a pause in the Day in the country posts is in order. Blue sky or grey, ran or shine, and village or city, they come…

Oaxaca City
Villa de Zaachila
Villa de Zaachila

They come to eat and drink…

Villa de Zaachila
Oaxaca City
Villa de Zaachila

They come to sing and dance, contemplate life and death, and be with loved ones.

Villa de Zaachila
Villa de Zaachila
Oaxaca City

Our hearts are filled with joy to welcome them to the fiesta we have lovingly prepared in their honor.

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The Three Wise Monkeys

See no evil,
Hear no evil,
Speak no evil.

Well, maybe not monkeys! From the Día de Muertos altar “Transitions” by Estudio Dinamo at Voces de Copal Galeria.

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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. 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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