The dead don’t arrive in the valley of Oaxaca all at once. The cosmic difunto air traffic controller has scheduled their arrival at different times on different days, from October 31 through November 3, to avoid celestial congestion.
Santa María Atzompa’s departed are among the first to return, arriving on the night of October 31. Flower and food vendors line the walkway leading to the panteón as grandparents, parents, teens, and small children stream in with arms full of flowers, candles, buckets, and brooms. Because is built on a slope and there are almost no paths, footing can be treacherous, especially in the dark when only candles on the graves light the way. At one time, perhaps tombs were positioned on a grid, but no more and it seems to be filled to capacity. I guess that’s why one side of the panteón has been opened up (one of the walls removed), the field beyond leveled, and a new wall around the field, connected to the old, constructed. (You can click on images for a larger view.)
On November 1, in the early afternoon, it has become our custom to visit the cemetery in Tlacolula de Matamoros, before bringing pan de muerto and mezcal to the home of friends in Teotitlán del Valle. In contrast to the higgledy-piggledy of Atzompa, the panteón in Tlacolula emanates a sense of order and serenity. I wonder, could the tranquility comes from the 500 year old ahuehuete trees (hijos of el Tule, we were told) that reign over the tombs of the departed and make for an amazing play of light and shadow throughout?
On November 2, we returned to Teotitlán, but I will save that for another blog post. However, that was not the end of the road. In the category of, no rest for the living, the following day we drove south to San Antonino Castillo Velasco. This is the village known for their beautiful flowers and exquisite floral embroidery. And, it is said that because the living are so busy providing flowers to other parts of the valley, the departed wait until November 3 to return. (See the book, Day of the Dead: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca by Shawn D. Haley and Curt Fukuda.) I’m sure, like we, the difuntos are dazzled by the intricacy of floral designs that family members have created to decorate their tombs in welcome.
Octavio Paz writes in The Labyrinth of Solitude, “Life extended into death, and vice-versa. Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.”