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Posts Tagged ‘panteón’

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.”

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Celebrations in Oaxaca surrounding Día de Muertos are beginning.  This past week, we, members of the Mexico Travel Photography Facebook group, were issued a 5-day “Day of the Dead” photo challenge by moderator, Norma Schafer.  There are always so many favorite images from so many events that I never get around to posting, so this was my opportunity.  My five…

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Panteón, Santa María Atzompa, Oaxaca on Oct. 31, 2015

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Offering on tomb in Panteón Municipal de Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca on Nov. 1, 2015

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Muerteada, morning after the night before, Nov. 2, 2014, San Agustín Etla, Oaxaca

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Sun sets on Santa María Atzompa panteón, Oct. 31, 2014

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On the Alcalá in Oaxaca City, Oct. 31, 2014

And, five more, just because…

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Santa María Atzompa, Oct. 31, 2015

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San Pablo Villa de Mitla, ofrenda with pan de muertos, Nov. 1, 2014

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Chocolate calaveras at Villa de Etla, Oct. 31, 2014

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Cempasuchil (marigold) vendor at Villa de Etla, Oct. 31, 2014

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Casa de las Artesanías de Oaxaca, Oct. 31, 2015

That’s all folks, for now.  Stay tuned for more to come from this year.

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Young and old, male and female…

it’s a family affair, labor of love…

as the tombs of San Antonino Castillo Velasco are painstakingly decorated on November 3.

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Last night, flipping through my Cablemas channels, I happened upon Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film, George Harrison: Living in the Material World.  I’ve seen this beautiful documentary before, could watch it many more times, and how could I resist, on Black Friday night, the wonderful irony of the title?  I’m sure George is chuckling somewhere.

Yesterday marked the twelfth anniversary of George’s death (no doubt the reason it was being shown) and, as I watched and listened to Olivia describe the importance George placed on preparing for one’s death, I couldn’t help but reflect on Día de los Muertos.  All things must pass; death as a part of the journey of being.  And, some of this year’s Muertos photos seemed to be ready to let go of most of their color…

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All Things Must Pass
by George Harriso
n

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this, my love is up and must be leaving
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
All things must pass away

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As we have done in previous years, we returned to San Antonino Castillo Velasco on November 1 to watch families begin the preparation of the graves of their loved ones for Día de los Muertos.  In a process unique to this pueblo known for the cultivation of flowers, family members mix the area’s very fine dirt with water; spread it on the top and sides of the grave; smooth it with a trowel, as if they were getting ready to lay tile; using a nail, they outline designs and religious imagery into the mud coating; and then use flowers (fresh and dried), to “paint” the scene.  

This year’s late rainy season brought torrential rains on November 2 and it must have interrupted the decorating, because when we returned on November 3, at the same time as usual, there was still much work to be done.  However, no one seemed the least perturbed; peace, tranquility, and quiet joy prevailed and, as always, it enveloped us.

(Music: Marimba band performing, “Díos Nunca Muere,” written by Oaxaqueño composer and violinist Macedonio Alcalá.)

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The souls  have departed.   And, following 33 hours of travel, my BFF (along with her alebrijes by Alberto Perez and the Xuana family, a traditional black and white rebozo, bottle of Del Maguey mezcal from Chichicapa, several bags of Conchita chocolate, and a fabulous mohair rug woven by Antonio Ruíz Gonzalez), has returned home to the frigid climes of Alaska.  However, gal pal, souls, and the mortals with whom we shared the past, have left warm and lasting memories.  They have also left an exhausted gringa, whose brain feels like one of those overloaded small trucks one (more than occasionally) sees on the roads here.  With every nook and cranny filled, they move at a snail’s pace, be it along a pot-holed dirt road or the carretera, balancing their top-heavy loads.

Our week began on October 29, when the sounds of a band Pied Piper-ed us down the street and around a corner to a comparsa of high school students, who were taking part in a competition of using recycled products for their costumes and floats.  Alas, the rains came and eventually chased us home.

On October 30, delectable dining (lunch at La Biznaga and dinner at Los Danzantes) nourished multiple museum visits and allowed us to join the standing-room-only crowd at the Oaxaca Lending Library (without rumbling stomachs) to watch the wonderful new documentary, La Festividad de los Muertos, chronicling Day of the Dead in Teotitlán del Valle.

Then there was Thursday, the 31st….  A shopping expedition for flowers, sugar skulls, bread (pan de muertos), and two 10-foot long stalks of sugar cane to form the arch over my altar.  I carried them the 10-blocks home on my shoulder (sheesh, they are heavy) and carefully navigating the busy sidewalks.  According to BFF, I provided pedestrians and passengers in buses,cars, and taxis much entertainment.  I didn’t see a thing — I was just trying not to trip, fall, or whack anyone in front, behind, or to the sides of me!

Once the candles, photos, bread, chocolate, beverages (cervesa, mezcal, and water), and meaningful objects to our departed were in place; flowers arranged and cempasuchitl (marigold) petals scattered; and the arching sugar cane affixed to the wall surrounding our ofrenda, we made our way down to the beginning of the CEDART comparsa.

Later in the evening, we drove up to the panteón in Santa María Atzompa.  Passing the bright lights and crush of food, flower, pottery, and other vendors that line the entrance and finally emerging from under the arched gateway, the candlelit ethereal beauty of the cemetery on this night never ceases to take my breath away.  Of course, it wasn’t all exquisite and unearthly enchantment.  This is Mexico and so there was also a (very loud) band and the cervesa and mezcal flowed freely.  I’m sure the difuntos (deceased) enjoyed themselves and partied hardy with the living until the sun rose.  And then all slept.

On the other hand, we left at a reasonable hour, as we were only at the mid-point of our Día de los Muertos marathon.  More to come…

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It’s been a magnificent Muertos filled with memorable moments and special people, along with a feast for ALL the senses.  An initial pass through the photos has weeded them down to 450.  Yikes!  Lots more weeding and processing to do.  In the meantime, here is a snapshot from the past 5 days.

And the magic continues today, when we return to San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

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Life and death is a family affair…

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November 1 and 3, 2012 in the panteón municipal, San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

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The Y-shaped valley of Oaxaca is about 700 square kilometers, not all that big when compared to California’s Sacramento Valley, which is approximately 2,570 square kilometers.  Yet, unlike the “sameness” one encounters in Sacramento Valley towns (sorry, CA), one can’t help but be struck by the unique identity of each of the Zapotec villages that are only kilometers apart.  One specializes in red clay pots, another in black pottery, and another in green glazed ceramics.  There are villages of woodcarvers near weavers of cotton and others of wool, never mind the fashion trends!

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Day of the Dead celebrations and cemeteries differ, often dramatically, from village to village.  And so, from the whitewashed graves of Santiago Apóstol and the candlelight of Santa María Atzompa (today’s earlier post), we came to the carved wooden crosses in the Panteón Municipal of the Villa de Zaachila.

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Along with livestock, produce, and household goods, wood gathered from the hills surrounding Zaachila is a major part of Zaachila’s weekly Thursday tianguis (open air market).  It’s one of my favorites!

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With only a couple of days left in November and the Christmas holiday season already making its presence known, it’s now or never to finish sorting through this year’s Día de los Muertos photos — my thoughts and impressions will take the remains of this lifetime, and then some, to process.

To an outsider, especially one whose worldview was shaped by a Judeo-Christian culture, Day of the Dead is often seen through the lens of juxtaposition.

The “unbearable lightness of being” in Santiago Apóstol…

Whitewashed graves covered with multicolored fresh flowers

Whitewashed graves covered with multicolored fresh flowers

Whitewashed graves covered with multicolored fresh flowers

Whitewashed graves covered with multicolored fresh flowers

The blurred otherworldly darkness of Santa María Atzompa…

Night shot of tall lighted candles perched around and on graves.

Night shot of tall lighted candles perched around and on graves.

Night shot of tall lighted candles perched around and on graves.

Night shot of two lighted votive candles casting halos on the ground

However, light becomes dark becomes light becomes dark, as day becomes night becomes day becomes night, as life becomes death becomes life becomes death…  dualism beginning to vanish.

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In addition to graveside gatherings and decoration, altars, parades, sugar skulls, sand paintings, marigolds, and Day of the Dead bread, painted faces are another distinctive feature of Día de Muertos celebrations.  They are most likely seen hanging around cemeteries and dancing through the streets but, like everything else here, you just never know…

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From Meaning of Dia de los Muertos Face Painting:

The day of the dead in Mexico is a fascinating mixture of Spanish Catholic and native Aztec traditions and beliefs. Skulls and skeletons were an important part of All Saints Day festivals in medieval Europe, especially since the Black Death ravaged the population of Europe in the 1300s. Across Europe artists, playwrights and poets mused on the theme of ‘memento mori’ (remember death) and the ‘dance of the dead’. Many artworks and books from the time depict dancing skeletons, or portraits with a skull to ‘remember death’.

At the same time, in Mexico, the Aztec culture believed life on earth to be something of an illusion – death was a positive step forward into a higher level of conscience. For the Aztecs skulls were a positive symbol, not only of death but also of rebirth.

Read full article here.

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Today is Thanksgiving in los Estados Unidos de América… and besides my wonderful family and friends, I am so grateful to see and experience places like San Antonino Castillo Velasco during los Días de Muertos.

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¡Feliz Acción de Gracias a todos!

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San Antonino Castillo Velasco, a Zapotec community near Ocotlán, is a village known for its flowers.  They are, no doubt, the inspiration for beautifully embroidered linens and clothing sold in the mercados and found in museum collections.  And, a specialty is the “flor inmortal” (immortal flower), so named because, even when dried, it retains its brilliant colors.  They are used to create intricately designed figures on display December 23 in the city of Oaxaca, during Noche de Rábanos and to decorate the graves of  loved ones during Días de Muertos in San Antonino.

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As I’ve previously mentioned, each village seems to have its own unique traditions for the Days of the Dead.  Villagers here mix the area’s very fine dirt with water, cover the graves, use a trowel to smooth it, outline designs and religious imagery into the dried coating, and then use flowers (fresh and dried), to paint the scene.  Entire families are involved, young and old, and the atmosphere is filled with joy, purpose, and most of all… Love.

For a very special moment, that is a metaphor the two days spent at San Antonino, see Chris’s post, Moments make a life..

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San Antonino Castillo Velasco, to be precise. Young and old converged on the municipal cemetery to decorate the graves with the magenta of cockscomb and yellow to orange to rust of marigolds (cempazúchil or zempoalxochitl) grown in nearby fields.

Field of marigolds with mountains in background

They came by car and truck…

Blue pick-up truck piled high with empty crates and baskets

By horse (note wooden saddle)…

Horse with saddle tied to a tree

By pedal-powered cart…

Green cart powered by a bicycle

By horse-powered cart.

Young girl riding in a horse pulled cart.

And, on foot…

Elderly woman walking with cane and carrying a bundle of flowers

Laughter, artistry, and pride followed.  Stay tuned for images of their meticulous labors of love.

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On the road during los Días de muertos led us to Santiago Apóstol in the municipality of Ocotlán de Morelos…

Profusion of flowers against whitewashed graves

Entering their Panteón, the play of light and shadow and explosion of greens, reds, oranges, yellows, and magentas against whitewashed graves was stunning.

Multicolored flowers surrounding whitewashed tomb

Unique artistry was evident in each of the cemeteries we visited.

Multicolored flowers surrounding a grave

One of the special and fragrant features here was the rose petals scattered atop graves.

Pink and red rose petals covering a grave

Have I mentioned…  No matter where one seems to go in Oaxaca, the senses are filled!

Over view of whitewashed graves and the profusion of flowers

More to come…

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