Thursday, February 9, 2017

Day of the Dead is my favorite fiesta in Mexico.  I eagerly await it each fall.  As I've written extensively about the history and traditions of this holiday in my earlier blogs about it,
this one will feature more images and less text, and won't cover material I've already documented.  If you'd like to learn more, please go to my other blogs, whose addresses will be at the end of this one.

The celebration of D of the D in San Miguel is actually about five days in length, culminating with the actual date, November 2.  The fun began for me (and for San Miguel!) on Sat., Oct. 29.  Tourists streamed into the city for the festivities.  When I went to my usual Sat. breakfast with friends at Mama Mia's, I noticed the profusion of marigolds decorating buildings, shop windows, church gardens, etc., which had seemingly sprung up overnight.  Marigolds and red wine-colored cockscomb are the traditional flowers of the holiday.

Sometimes they are just made of paper.

Then, returning home, I ran into a classmate from my Spanish class, right in front of my door, and I insisted on taking her picture.  She was the first of many I met who had their faces painted like cartrinas and catríns.

Some seasonal displays in a gallery right next to my apartment complex caught my eye, and the glass reflected the buildings across the street.

Of course, I also have marigolds in my apartment.

From there, I went to the Plaza Civica to check out the annual outdoor market selling alfeñiques (sculptured sugar figurines to put on altars to deceased loved ones).

This is the first year I've seen chocolate skulls.

I loved this Rockettes line of cartrinas.

My favorite of this year's offerings.  The poor fellow trying to climb out of his casket was all of about 3" long.

Lots of other activities were taking place at the plaza.  Here some girls, having just bought D of the D flowers, were huddled over their cell phones to provide some shade so that they could read the screens.  Behind the girls, you can see a display of hugely framed photos forming.

Here are a couple I really liked.  I hope I can return in a few days to see the exhibit totally put together.

These are skulls made from fake U.S currency.  Not sure if there's a subliminal message here or not.

Then it was back to my apartment to get ready for the evening.  I passed a fun store that makes custom papier-mâché piñatas and figures for other uses.

You'll forgive me if I don't mention this fellow's name.  Perhaps the money gripped in his hand will give you a hint.  Or the shock of yellow hair.

On the way to my evening activity, I passed these sights along the way.  I helped this man find his hotel when the policeman couldn't.

This was a wedding party, walking either to the church or to the reception.

You can see the lovely bride behind the driver.

So Sat. night was the one of the biggest bashes this burg sees in any year.  It is the annual altar-viewing party at Fábrica Aurora, a former huge textile mill re-purposed as artists' studios and galleries.  Everyone was dressed to the nines and/or as catríns and catrinas.  Each gallery displayed its own altar and all were decorated with marigolds.  Most offered drinks and some, snacks.  There were musicians playing in many different spots.  Of course, the artists' work was for sale, too.

As you enter the Fábrica, there is always a welcoming catrina,

and a huge altar set up for the recently deceased of SMA, and always prepared by the same dedicated man.

This year, those honored included Toller Cranston, a two-time Olympic bronze-medalist figure skater from Canada, who is credited with bringing a new level of artistry to men's figure skating.  He had lived in SMA for many years, working as an artist.  He died far too young of a heart attack at age 65.  His siblings sold over 12,000 items from his San Miguel home.

And this skull is re-used year after year, but always decorated in a slightly different manner.

Here I am -- very much alive -- in my 75 peso (less than $4.00 USD) veiled hat with flower, bought that day at the alfeñiques market, a heavy black Mexican-style skirt, bought in Philly, a thrift-shop black blouse, bought with my sister, Gretchen, in Chester Co., PA, last summer, a thrift-shop burnt velvet jacket, bought in SMA, hidden black tights, an evening bag and necklace from Morocco, and skull earrings from the Hippie Market at Cervantino in Guanajuato several years ago.  It takes a world, it seems, to dress me.

Then I spent the next couple of hours meeting friends and taking their photos and those of strangers whose outfits intrigued me, and admiring all of the altars and magnificent gallery displays.

My friend, Paula, usually just a winter resident of SMA, came down from Maryland for a week to experience D of the D for the first time.

I loved this homage to Frida Kahlo.  As darkness fell, the candles were lit on the altar.

Another friend, Martha, who, it turns out, had the same artist as Paula for her face make-up.

This effect is realized by putting black papel picado over a mirror.  Love the black candles, too!

I particularly liked these decorated gourds made into hanging flower vases.

I lusted after this effect.

This altar blew me away with its skulls covered entirely in minuscule beads.

Perhaps you can see it better in this shot.  The amount of work required to make something like this boggles the mind!

More friends of mine, Bob and Nancy.

I went outside for a little air and asked this clown if I could take his photo, and only when he replied did I realize that it was Jorge, my yoga teacher's partner.  I think he looks like Gandhi dressed as a clown.

And here he is with Alejandro.

I am laughing here because Alejandro's hat is pushing mine off of my head.

And here I am veiled.

Some shots of the outside of the Fábrica.

The woman on the right quickly extinguished her cigarette so that I could take her photo, which I found ironic, considering her costume.

I loved this rendition of the parroquia in silver.

This man's name, Feliciano, was spelled out in lighted Scrabble letters, how clever.  I'll bet that he was a devotee of the game.

Crosses are sneaked in here and there...

The ladies below, with the most extravagant of hats, told me that they bought them at the newly-opened Museum of the Catrina.  I'm not sure whether it will remain year-round or is just for the fiesta.

This had to be my favorite hat of the evening, although it looks a big heavy!

So many different -- and brilliant -- ways to display marigolds!

I liked the turtle lurking under the table.

One studio was offering face-painting.

Not only is this woman's face painted, but her dress is, too, from a shop here called Sindashi.

On the way out, these musicos were playing, and this very talented couple was dancing the tango.

I had one last look at the altar I had seen on the way in, now candle-lit in the encroaching darkness.

The following day, I attended my Unitarian Universalist congregation, as I always do on a Sunday.  We had our own altar where members and friends could place photos of loved ones, and a part of the service was dedicated to remembrance of those who had died in the past two years.  Rev. Wyman Rousseau, a retired UU minister now living in SMA with his wife, gave an excellent service on "The Burden and Blessing of Mortality."

On the way out of the Hotel Aldea, where the UUs meet, I stopped to take in the hotel's altar.

I particularly liked this catrina off to the side.

On Monday, Halloween day, we had Spanish class as usual, and, also as usual, our maestra, Alejandra, had fun prepared for us.  We learned about calaveritas, irreverent, often-ridiculous poems, written as an epitaph in traditional Mexican verse (rhyming), portraying people as if they were already dead (wishful thinking?).  They are used to channel feelings that in any other context would be difficult to express, and are usually accompanied by drawings of skulls.  They first appeared in the late 19th century, and the ones about unpopular politicians were often censored or destroyed.  Alejandra presented us with two examples she found on the Internet, one about Mexico's current president, Peña-Nieto, and the other about the Republican candidate for U.S. president, both poems very clever and funny.  Then we each picked the name of another classmate out of a hat, and wrote -- in rhyming Spanish, quite the challenge! -- a calaverita for that person.  After corrections, we wrote them out on good paper, read them to each other, and presented them to the "honoree."  Alejandra gave us little paper skulls and markers to decorate them, then we all went outside to our class' altar to hang them up on the wall nearby.

Here is the one that was written for me by my classmate, Curt.

And here is the one I wrote for Iman.

Alejandra produced a large loaf of pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a light, vaguely sweet bread with the shape of bones on top, baked only around the D of the D, and a container of nata, the cream at the top of a bottle of un-homogenized milk, to spread on the slices she cut and distributed.  Yum!

On the way home from class, I snapped two witches having an alfresco lunch,

and admired a beautifully-done altar at the entrance to Los Milagros restaurant,

and some very stylish decorations at the recently re-opened Casa Cohen (formerly a gigantic hardware store, now a super high-end boutique mall).

That afternoon was the epic wind, rain, and hail storm that I've written about, photographed, and sent to most of you earlier  If you didn't get it, and would like to learn about it, please contact me.  That unfortunate climatological event pretty much cancelled the long-scheduled vigil by ex-pats in the jardin to show our rejection of the xenophobia, hatred, misogyny, and racism emanating from the U.S. election.  I was extremely disappointed not to be able to participate in it. I had my signs all prepared.

All the next day, Tuesday, hundreds of sanmiguelenses worked very hard creating altars and ofrendas  from natural products (beans, rice, chiles, etc.) and pan de muertoalfeñiques, and other remembrances of the departed; these circled the jardin.  That night, it rained hard for hours.  My heart sank.  The creations would be ruined.  On Wed., the Day of the Dead itself, I went up to see them, and they weren't exactly ruined, but they were sad, drooping manifestations of their former selves.  Gullies had been cut in the natural materials laid out on the ground to create pictures by the flowing water.  Papel picado was limp and pale, as much of the color had leached out.  And this at a time that it usually NEVER rains in San Miguel.

My usual practice was to have breakfast at a restaurant near one of the major cemeteries, then buy flowers at one of the stalls along the route there, and then visit the graves and niches of those people I've known who have died here, a number that grows every year, of course,  This year, I had yoga first, then a massage, then lunch, and got off around 2 p.m. to visit the cemetery.  It was very hot and crowded, but I made my rounds, and saw Toller Cranston's gravesite, and also two friends from my UU congregation who passed in 2016 and others from previous years.  I threw marigolds and cockscomb on many of the graves on the gringo side, and then rested in the shade before leaving.  I saw one discordant note that has really stayed with me.  Two very young women were keeping vigil at a gravesite.  They had pushed large candles into the dirt near the gravestone, and lit them.  And there they sat, heads bowed...texting on their cell phones.  Somehow, they missed the message of the day.  How very sad.

As I said in the beginning, this blog is short and sweet, and to see photos of altars and ofrendas around the jardin and shots in the cemetery from other years, please visit one or all of my earlier blogs about Day of the Dead:

1st autumn in SMA (2011): (the D of the D part starts about half-way into it)