Monday, November 3, 2008

Dia de los Muertos

I like to think that I am a pretty observant guy. I usually notice little things about people and places that others miss and generally I am fairly aware of my surroundings. At least I used to think that. I’ll explain. Here in Mexico November 1st and 2nd are big holidays that happened to land on Saturday and Sunday this year. The first is All Saints day and the second is Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. If you throw in Halloween which is apparently becoming more and more popular here, that’s three solid days of fiestas. Hell yeah. Anyways, a while back I asked Lolita what she did for the holiday and she said something about a street festival thing and that she opens up her carport area and has a little fiesta type thing. The days leading up to the party she cooked and cleaned up the carport and I was excited to see what kind of thing she was throwing. On Saturday I inexplicably woke up around seven o’clock (my sleep pattern, or lack of, sucks horribly) and decided to go for a run. As I was leaving my house I saw my street blocked off a block up (my house is on the corner so basically the block just across the side street) and people setting up tents and getting ready for what looked like the aforementioned street festival. I had no idea it was going to be so close to my house, and I wondered why they would pick this random street to block off and have a party in. Whatever, I thought, very little makes sense in Mexico. That’s about as far as I took it and then went for my run. I got back ate breakfast and listened to Lolita, her sister, and their friend loudly have a conversation in which they all talked at the same time never pausing for a response from another person. I’m not sure if or how any information was exchanged; it was unbelievable. Later when I went out to check what was going on in the carport I realized that it wasn’t as much of a party she was having but rather a garage sale/ taco stand for people walking past going to the festival. (I had to have eaten a dangerously unhealthy amount of tacos this weekend; I am starting to think that Mexicans genuinely don’t understand the concept of fullness. Not that I’m complaining, they were delicious.) Still a bit perplexed as to why our random street would be a center of celebration for Dia de Los Muertos, I wandered over to the street fair where on one side people were selling food and on the other flowers. After walking about 100 feet I saw people walking towards and entrance in the walls that went along the street and are kiddy-corner to my house. I decided to check it out and when I got about closer I realized the whole thing was a cemetery. Actually, it’s a massive cemetery, the only one in the city, and it’s 30 feet from my house. This whole time I have been living a stones throw from a giant graveyard for the past three months and had no idea it was there. Really Stephen, you didn’t notice the giant cemetery 30 feet from where you sleep every night. I’m an idiot. Granted, you can’t see inside from my house because of the walls and I don’t really have a reason to walk that way, but still, how did I not know this? What am I going to find out next, that there’s an airplane hangar around the corner? I told Lolita I didn’t know about it and she thought it was funny and jokingly announced it to everyone within earshot. Things started to add up pretty quickly: the now logical location of the street festival, the fact that there are four flower shops within a block of me, why a ghost named Chucho has been visiting me in the night every other Tuesday. It also hit me that the name of the neighborhood I live in is called “Cimatario.” I had to ask to make sure that didn’t translate to “cemetery” in English or else I would be really pissed at myself for not piecing this all together. It doesn’t. (I don’t have any hard data to support this, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that my finger and toe nails grow faster here than in the States. I’m serious, it’s weird. I wonder if this is because I live kiddy-corner to a graveyard and I’m picking up some weird supernatural finger and toenail growing vibe. I’ll have to ask Chuco.) Anyways, I wandered around the cemetery for a while until I didn’t want to think about death any more so I left, later called some friends to come over and we wandered around and talked about death for too long and decided we needed to leave. The whole festival is really cool and interesting. On Saturday it was a bit more somber than I expected since I heard it was more of a celebration than a memorial day type thing; I even walked past an actual burial with a woman, the widow or mother I presumed, crying uncontrollably to the point that she couldn’t stand and needed to be sat down on another gravestone. Later on and on Sunday however, it was much more laid back. The cemetery itself was infinitely cooler than any of our cemeteries. (I suppose the argument could be made that cemeteries aren’t supposed to be “cool,” but whatever, I think they should be.) The grave stones aren’t just plaques in the ground, oh no, they are huge and many of them have marble statues of Jesus or the Virgin of Guadalupe (she’s big here) or a glass case with a picture and objects of the person. I have a feeling that if a Mexican went to one of our cemeteries they would find the monotony of it horribly depressing. On Sunday it was so crowded at times you almost had to push to get in and out of the one entrance. A lot of people worked in the morning cleaning the grave sites, repainting the lettering, trimming the plants, and decorating the graves with marigolds—the traditional flower of the holiday dating back to its indigenous origins before it was converted into a Christian holiday by the Spanish—and then they later kicked back with their families around the grave, ate, drank, and hung out. It really wasn’t depressing or anything, it actually seemed quite laid back and relaxing. They were also a bunch or guys playing music that people paid to play at the graves of their loved ones. Some were mariachis but others were more indigenous sounding and one was a big brass band with trumpets, a tuba, and a dude playing a snare drum among others that reminded me of the funeral music for Vito’s brother in “Godfather II” or a more somber sounding version of the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” theme song. I spent most of my weekend either wandering around the cemetery or the festival outside turning down people trying to sell me flowers and eating tacos in the carport. When it was all over I asked Lolita if she made much money from her garage sale/ taco business and without even a hint of disappointment at all she said that she didn’t make all that much. She said she didn’t care, that her goal was never really to make money; it’s just something she has been doing for years. All three of her kids and all seven of her grandkids were there, I think that was enough for her. The whole weekend was very Mexican: family, eating, relaxing (all in a public place of course), not caring how much money you spend/make, flowers, and religion mixed with tradition. I think this is the most Mexican thing I have done here since (I had a good joke to throw in here except I can’t write it because my parents make up roughly half of my readership, sorry everyone else) ummm… since…getting diarrhea from street food in Mexico city… since almost dying every time I cross the street…since getting my full back tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe…ummm… since…

1 comment:

Gordon said...

I found that story interesting, since I went for a walk the other day and discovered something I hadn't seen before: a shopping mall! I guess it's called Lloyd Center. Buying $100 jeans there was the most American thing I'd done since um...um...