Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)


The Day of the Dead celebration was much as I wrote about in the last blog. Pixie was unable to go into the graveyard because of her bad foot, but Daniel and I went and he walked around the graveyard with me. This was good, because I would have felt a bit awkward walking around by myself. Being with him gave me some credibility, so to speak. As it turns out, it would hardly have been a problem. The Day of the Dead is not a solemn event. As we walked around the graveyard, we saw families gathered around the garishly decorated graves laughing and presumably sharing memories of their dead relatives. Some had brought in Mariachi bands to play, which everyone enjoyed. In one part of the graveyard, they had set up a stage with a huge skeleton in the back, where they had a Ballet Folklorico performance, a particular type of Mexican folk dancing popular at all types of fiestas and celebrations. Outside the graveyard, vendors sold all types of candles, balloons for the kids, and many types of food, including the special sweet Dia de los Muertos Pan, or bread. I brought home a loaf for Pixie.

The next two photos were taken by Steve and Susan Barr on their recent trip to Morelia. The marigolds are the flowers used in the grave decorations and altars because they are believed to attract the spirits of the dead.

Overall my impressions are that Mexicans look at death differently than we do. The reason they decorate the graves and set up altars in the streets and in their homes to honor their dead is that they believe the spirits of the dead will remain alive and with them as long as they are remembered. So this annual rite is, to them, keeping the spirit of their dead relatives alive.

Death is not hidden away here. When a Mexican dies, they display the body in the living room of the home, while they set up chairs in the street in front and eat and drink and honor the person who died, not unlike an Irish wake. Then they put the body in a wooden coffin and carry it on their shoulders to the cemetery, while everybody walks behind. Sometimes Mariachis play music. It's kind of like a New Orleans funeral. We have been caught behind these funerals when driving in Ajijic.

We also shared a Day of the Dead service at our UU fellowship last week. Here one of our UU friends, Susan, remembers her husband who died shortly after they arrived in Mexico a number of years ago.


The other big event this week has been Pixie's birthday! And, the good news is, she was able to exchange her regular cast for a walking cast, so she's chucked the wheelchair for a simple cane. This was what she wanted most for her birthday. Her leg is healing well, and she will probably only need the cast on for another two weeks. In the meantime, she's able to get around much more easily. Here she is upright and dressed to kill!

My birthday shopping was made much more easy because the spectacular Feria Maestros del Arte just happened to be on Pixie's birthday. This annual exhibition has artisans from all over Mexico displaying their wares and, of course, selling them. It's rare to see so many of these fine Mexican craftspeople all in one place, this year at the yacht club in Chapala. The artisans are given the space free, so all the money they get goes directly to them, no middle man. Walking around there, you wish you had lots more money; the prices are reasonable but not really cheap, because there are some of the finest artists in Mexico. We saw everything from pre-Columbian sculpture replicas, to fine embroidery, to hand-crafted knives made by the same family for thirteen generations, to Mayan weavings, to incredible Huichol bead work, and more. It will definitely be an event we return to for Pixie's next birthday.

Here are a couple of photos of the craft work displayed at the event:






We went out for dinner at the Blue Agave Restaurant in Chapala with our friends Steve and Sue and toasted Pixie for her first birthday in our new home.

The weather has returned to a more seasonable temperature, with cool mornings and evenings, and warm and sunny afternoons. The huge white pelicans have returned to their winter home at Lake Chapala from Western Canada. We had never seen these birds which weigh 16-20 pounds each and have 100 inch wingspans. Pixie noticed that the fishermen on the lake take their cues from the pelicans and go to where they are congregating.


Here is a poem I wrote last week after visiting the graveyard on the Day of the Dead celebration:


Remember Me With Good Dark Beer


In Mexico, when people die

Their stay on earth does not expire,

Extending on in memory

As concrete offerings require.


Flowers, photos, food, tequila

All that they loved their families share

And gather o’er their loved ones’ bones

To eat, to weep, to laugh, to bear


The tragedy of human loss

A celebration of our fate

To breathe and love while briefly here

Aware it soon will be too late.


And as I watch this ritual

With skulls and food and special bread

I think of mother’s bare, cold grave

Unvisited, of course she’s dead;


She couldn’t know, nor could she care

If we brought her garlic bread,

Or beer, or shrimp, or needlepoint

Or tell her, “Mom, we’re all well fed!”


And as I wander through these graves

My eyes now sting with unshed tears

For soon my bones will lie here too.

Although I know, I still have fears


That no one will remember me

That I liked chips and good dark beer

And think of me when they indulge

And worse, not know what I held dear.



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