Posts Tagged ‘panteón’

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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I don’t have words to express “being” last night in the Panteón of Santa María Atzompa…

Marigolds and tall candles grave

Elderly man and woman in cemetary with candles

Tall candles and flowers in cemetary

Mother holding child, illuminated by candles

Elderly woman bending over grave with tall candles and marigolds

Feeling so incredibly privileged.

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November has come and now is almost gone. Time accelerated.  Where did it go?  Retired life… I thought it would slow down… apparently not when one lives in Oaxaca. There’s too much to see and experience!

Los Días de Muertos

The month began with Los Días de Muertos. I signed-up to accompany my extraordinarily energetic Spanish teacher, Laura Olachea, on two “field trips.” About 30 of us (her students and their guests) boarded a bus the night of Oct. 31, bound for the old and new cemeteries of Xoxocotlán. Tens of thousands of tourists (overwhelmingly Mexican) seemed to have descended on this small village, the bus was forced to park 8-10 blocks away on a dirt side street, the sky was pitch black, and there were no street lights. Somehow, we all managed to keep up with our tiny maestra as she lead us through the crush of people and vendors (food, drink, sugar skulls, candles, you name it!) to the old cemetery.

Panteón de Xoxocotlán 2010

I plunged in. Heeding Laura’s advice to travel in groups of 3-4, I tagged along with a couple, chosen because he was at least 6 feet tall and I figured he would be easy to keep in eye range. The scene was like nothing I’ve ever seen before… a cornucopia of candles, by the thousands, flickering in the darkness; of color from the marigolds, cockscomb, and lilies; and of hundreds of families gathered around lopsided graves, drinking, sitting, laughing, and sharing in a ritual that recognizes that death is part of life. The scene was repeated at the new cemetery, before we stumbled our way back to the bus, which spirited us to the tiny pottery village of Atzompa and its panteón, well after midnight: Stage and dance floor, band playing, couples dancing, flowers, candles glowing in the darkness, families, few tourists, deeply personal, and magical… I felt like an intruder.

Panteón de Atzompa 2010

Though it was close to 1:30 AM when the bus dropped me off a block and a half from Casita Colibrí, I was up and back on the bus at 10 AM, for the ride to Mitla with Laura and our gang. We had the privilege of being guests of the García family, invited to participate in their Zapotec Day of the Dead traditions. We were welcomed to their home, a traditional family compound, with rooms surrounding an enormous dirt courtyard, with clotheslines holding newly dyed skeins of yarn (this is a family of weavers). Cervesas were offered, and then, in accordance with age-old custom, we followed the recently widowed family matriarch through the dusty streets to the Panteón Municipal. Here, holding the three-legged incense burner, the sweet and seductive smell of the burning copal perfuming the air, Doña Garcia performed a ceremony with words spoken in Zapotec.

Doña Garcia with copal burner

Mezcal and cigarettes were passed around. Joining the others, I drank the Mezcal and deposited my cigarette on the grave of the departed, where it joined several others — smoked and, like mine, un-smoked. With fireworks erupting periodically, we retraced our steps, following Doña Garcia and the smoke of the copal, as she brought the spirit of her late husband, Rutilio Garcia, back home to share the day with his family.

We returned to the lovingly assembled altar set-up by Doña Garcia. It was here, in front of this colorful altar, laden with flowers and food, including the intricately decorated pan de muertos that echoes the designs of the archeological ruins in Mitla, words were spoken in Zapotec and Spanish and tears traveled down many cheeks. Following this extremely moving ceremony, chairs were set up around several long tables where we joined the family in drinking Oaxacan hot chocolate, feasting on pan de muertos and mole negro, served, of course, with tortillas.

Satiated, it was probably a good thing that we were then led on a walking tour through this City of the Dead, to visit several other altars. Gracious families ushered our group through courtyards. At one, we paused to marvel at a woman, standing over an open fire (on this 80+ degree day), stirring a massive cauldron of mole,

Woman stirring cauldron of mole.

We gathered in modest homes where families “introduced” their departed and proudly explained the significance of items on their altars. Hot, exhausted and deeply moved, a much quieter crowd returned to the García home. We were offered a final shot of mezcal, said our heartfelt thank-yous, and boarded the bus for the trip back to the city.

I returned home in time to watch my San Francisco Giants win their first World Series crown since 1954, when they were the New York Giants. After my initial hurrahs, my head couldn’t help but turn from the TV to my small Day of the Dead altar; where, along with photos of my parents, mother and father-in-law, and departed friends, my eyes settled in the center of the altar, to a photo of my grandparents.

They had moved next door to my childhood home in Mill Valley about the same time the Giants moved to San Francisco, and it was then that Grandpa introduced me to baseball. We listened to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons call the games and I put up a team photo (Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Felipe Alou, Stu Miller, Mike McCormick, Jose Pagan, Jimmy Davenport, Hobie Landrith…) on the wall of my bedroom; grandfather and granddaughter cheering, agonizing, and bonding. I took my Giants cap off, walked over, and put it on the altar.

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