A Year in San Miguel

5 Apr
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The streets of San Miguel are awash in Jacaranda petals falling from the myriad Jacaranda trees which are everywhere.  As we near the end of the “high season,” the town has been overflowing with tourists, many here for the Easter celebrations known as Semana Santa.

In a few days time we will have lived in San Miguel de Allende for an entire year, having arrived from the Republic of Panama on 10 April, 2012, a few days after Easter.  It was a bold move since neither of us had ever been here before — yet in the two years since we joined the estimated 6 million Americans living outside of the United States, many of our decisions could be considered bold.   Some of our choices have been better than others; selecting San Miguel has been among the best.

In the course of the year we have been here I have reported on many events, religious holidays and patriotic occasions.  The one remaining holiday that we had yet to experience and whichI have yet to describe is Easter.  In spite of the many over-the-top celebrations we have witnessed to date, nothing has compared with Easter.

In a country know for its fiestas, San Miguel has no equal with over 50 festivals a year and the Easter celebrations are second to none.  In a tradition that dates from the early 1800s, it all begins at midnight on the Sunday two weeks before Easter when a highly venerated effigy of Jesus is carried in a procession from the Santuario de Atotonilco, a World Heritage site eight miles from San Miguel, to the San Juan de Dios church a few blocks from our house.  The life-sized statue portraying the flagellated Christ is accompanied by thousands of pilgrims in a slow and solemn walk through the early morning darkness with frequent stops along roadways covered in fragrant herbs — chamomile, fennel and rose petals. As the procession enters San Miguel it is greeted by fireworks and balloons and joined by increasing numbers as it nears its destination.  Nine days before Easter comes the Friday of Sorrows, known as Viernes de Dolores in honor of Mary, the mother of Christ, a tradition dating from the early 1700s.  Elaborate altars are set up in windows and doorways, often decorated with bitter oranges representing the tears of the Virgin, while pots of sprouting wheat represent renewal.   All of the town’s public fountains are lavishly decorated with herbs and flowers along with images of the Virgin Mary.

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On Domingo de Ramos, Palm Sunday, red and white are the colors of the day and several different processions take place, the largest one beginning in the park and winding its way through town to the iconic parish church, La Parroquia, where Mass is celebrated.  IMG_0359In reference to Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, venders sell elaborately woven palm  fronds for a few pesos which are held aloft by the congregation and blessed by the priests.

On the Monday before Easter, Lunes Santo, the arrest of Jesus is re-enacted, complete with Judas and Roman soldiers.  On the Wednesday before Easter a dozen men carry the image of Jesus in a procession that stops for prayers at each of the 14 Stations of the Cross, stone niches set in walls along the route.  Thursday, Jueves Santo, known as Maundy Thursday in English, is dedicated to the poor and includes a recreation of the washing of the feet of the Disciples.  Most churches IMG_0423celebrate a Mass commemorating the Last Supper after which many of the faithful visit several churches, an Italian custom dating from the 16th century.  Good Friday, Viernes Santo,  features several processions and reenactments and the colors purple and white filled the streets.  IMG_0419A moot court reenacts the trial of Jesus, with Pontius Pilate presiding; Roman soldiers on guard on the roof of the church.  Then a large procession emerges from the church with hundreds of parishioners taking part:  children dressed as angels; barefoot penitents wearing crowns of thorns, and life-size effigies of the main characters.IMG_0380

Friday evening I was fortunate enough to witness the longest and most solemn procession, known as the Holy Burial, with more than 1,000 participants, an event that has taken place in San Miguel every year for nearly 300 years.  I was accompanied by a family we have come to know from Mexico City who were vacationing in San Miguel; a grandmother, father, mother, and three very impressive daughters, ages 15, 13 and 10.  They were very helpful in educating me as to the various aspects of the procession, providing a running commentary.  Parenthetically I was surprised to learn from them that there is no such spectacle available in Mexico City, a fact they attributed mostly to the diversity in a city of over 21 million.  Illuminated by the setting sun, a crucifix carried by six men led the procession, followed by Roman soldiers representing those that guarded the tomb.  Then young girls dressed in white clean the path by throwing chamomile and mastranzo (an aromatic herb) which continue to emit their healing perfume even after being trampled by the many feet of the procession.  IMG_0467 Five statues of angles are born aloft, and finally a glass catafalque containing a statue of the recumbent body of Jesus followed by priests who walk under a gold and purple canopy.  The procession would stop periodically and the priests would pray around the catafalque.  As the afternoon light faded and darkness came on, we could hear a choir, accompanied by an orchestra, playing music specifically written for this celebration some 300 years ago and sung every year since.  A statue of the Virgin of Solitude is carried by 24 women, dressed in black with lace mantillas, followed by St. John, the only apostle who accompanied Jesus to the cross, and Mary Magdalene.  IMG_0486The procession ends with statues of the two men who helped take Jesus down from the cross, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.    In the case of the glass catafalque, it took 40 men (20 on each side) to carry the load.  I later learned that the honor of carrying any of the statues is passed down through the generations, from father to son, from mother to daughter.  When the procession concluded the 15 year old daughter with whom I was with turned to me and uttered the understatement of the day:  “We take our Easter very seriously.”  And then at midnight all the church bells rang for over 10 minutes as fireworks exploded.  He is risen.

Holy Week ends, of course, on Easter Sunday with many Masses celebrated in every church, seven in the Parroquia alone.  And finally the “Burning of the Judases” begins at noon when life-size effigies made of papier mache are strung from wires in front of the garden.  Originally a teaching tool to help the missionaries explain the betrayal of the apostle Judas, the event has become more politizised and the effigies now also include public figures as well as popular cartoon characters, all of whom are exploded, one by one.

So there you have it: the last holiday description from a year of holidays.

In spite of all these occasions, normal life proceeds as well and February was full to brimming with great reunions.  Our friends of 20 years, Bill and Carmelita, were here for a fun-filled week with much laughter, great dining and one trip out of town; first to Nirvana, a inn and restaurant on a lovely hillside, and then on to the Shrine of Atotonilco.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, Atotonilco is known as the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico” and the interior is covered with paintings, poems and inscriptions.  The paintings are murals, not frescos, and the paint is tempera.   We enjoyed their visit enormously and did lots of things but the best part was sitting around talking, laughing, remembering.  Ah, the joy of friendship that survives distance, that picks up where it left off with nary a missing beat.

My visa required me to leave Mexico before the end of March and so it was that I flew once again from Leon to Tijuana where I crossed the border into San Diego for a few brief days at my brother’s home on Point Loma.   Spent an entire day shopping and managed another small dinner party with my sister and dear friend Virginia.  Each time I cross the border on foot I learn new “tricks” about how to speed up the process and this time was no exception.  Upon my return we celebrated St. Patrick’s day at our favorite restaurant, Calenda, where we dined on corned beef and cabbage and were entertained by fabulous musicians including a great bagpiper.

With the passing of Easter I come to the end of the event calendar in San Miguel — unless you count the anniversary of the death of Emiliano Zapata coming up on April 10th.  No doubt my understanding of the culture will deepen the longer I am here and I may have different views on the various holidays and events as I experience them again in the coming year.  The more I learn the more superficial my observations appear; my efforts to penetrate this complicated culture are meager at best.  The novelist Robert Somerlott who lived in San Miguel for many years, once warned against “the whirlwind explorer who deluded himself that the town and its centuries would yield themselves up in a series of glances and snapshots.”  He went on to observe that “San Miguel is deeper; more varied and complex than even some of its intricate monuments.  The best rewards come gradually, unexpectedly, often by accident: the subtle changes of the stones of La Parroquia as the light shifts . . . and the faces of San Miguel: smiling, weathered, gaunt, enigmatic, mischievous — an endless gallery of portraits.”

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Errata

28 Feb

I was sitting in a computer class while the teacher was showing me how to insert a slideshow when he inadvertently  clicked on “Publish.”  My apologies.  More to come . . .

January . . . February

8 Feb


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I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions since it has generally been my tendency to give them up for Lent.  Nonetheless I do tend to pause as each year begins anew and muse, however briefly, on ways in which I might improve.  There are many, of course, like standing up straight but at the top of the current list is my tendency to take short cuts, to not read directions.  For example, I have an idea for a couple of slideshows to accompany future posts; one of doorways and the other of local signage.   I thought I had mastered the slideshow challenge but then the technology changed, no doubt an upgrade, but one that has left me clueless.  I’m relatively confident I could successfully attain this knowledge if only I would take the time to study the on-line tutorial.   Although my powers of self-dicipline have improved with age, they remain less than stellar; it’s February and I still haven’t done it.

Our first Christmas in San Miguel (our second holiday season as expats) was simple and lovely.  When last I checked in, we were anticipating its aftermath: first came Los Santos Inocentes, Day of the Holy Innocents, on December 28th.  Although a religious holiday commemorating the slaughter of all male infants by King Herod, in Mexico it is celebrated as a kind of April Fool’s day, an occasion for jokes and pranks.

Epiphany, or Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) is another important day in the Mexican holiday tradition.  Echoing the Three Wise Men bearing gifts for the baby Jesus, Mexican children awaken early on January 6th to find toys and gifts left by the Three Kings.  Traditionally it is customary for children to leave out shoes so that the visiting Wise Men have a place in which to deposit their gifts.  A special treat served on this day is the Rosca de Reyes — a crown-shaped sweet bread decorated with jewel-like candied fruits. Tiny figures of babies are hidden in the dough before baking and, as tradition dictates, whomever gets a piece containing a baby is obliged to host another party on or before Candelaria or Candlemas, February 2nd, when Mexico’s holiday season officially ends.  Candlemas is described in the Bible as the day on which Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth, as required by law.  It’s also Ground Hog Day and represents the half way point between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.  Here in San Miguel the event is marked by the transformation of the park into an overwhelming display and sale of all manner of trees, plants, flowers, herbs, vegetables, etc., a sign of the coming Spring.  I’ve taken a number of photos of the event, none of which remotely suggest its scope.

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The offerings are vast and in addition to buyers and sellers, the park is peopled with young men and women with wheelbarrows who, for a few pesos, will happily follow you around as you select various items.  So far I’ve managed to fill three wheelbarrows and anticipate at least one more before the event winds down later today.

Speaking of the changing seasons, this is our first winter in San Miguel.  While January afternoons almost always warmed into the mid 70s, once the sun set the air cooled quickly; we had some mornings with temperatures in the low 30s, a temperature swing of  40 plus degrees in a single day, causing us to utilize our various fireplaces.  February has brought warmer temperatures ranging between the 40s and the 80s, as well as fragrant warm breezes that hint of jasmine.

My Spanish school went on hiatus in the month of December and the next class for which I am enrolled is called Storytelling, due to start later this month.  In spite of prior warnings that Level 2 would be difficult, I was surprised (and humbled) by how hard it was and at its conclusion some of us were left more discouraged than before.  Allegedly all the pieces will fall into place in the next round and I’m ready to dust myself off and dig in once again.  One of the things that fascinates me is how much of the culture is embedded in the structure of the language.  For example, in Spanish one does not wash one’s own hands; one washes the hands; body parts are not considered to “belong” to one’s self.   I of course immediately hypothesized some underlying spiritual explanation, i.e., we are not our physical bodies.  My teacher smiled — and moved on, without comment, except to say that the same is true in all of the romance languages.  We also learned about what are called the “Mexican verbs” or the “accidental verbs.”  Mexican history is replete with long periods of oppression of its populace and there were centuries when to admit to a mistake could easily result in one’s immediate execution.  Hence the advent of the accidental verb indicating an unintentional action, as in “my toy broke,” or “the bus went away from me.”   There are also a myriad of idiomatic expressions that in translation make no sense — one just has to memorize them — such as “menos mal” which means “it’s a good thing” but translates as “less bad”; when one is cold one says “tengo frio” which translate “I have cold.”  My greatest challenge continues to be direct and indirect pronouns and word order.  There’s a lot more to the language than I had originally envisioned and vocabulary is the least of it.  I have also learned that correct pronunciation requires the utilization of facial muscles that are not required when speaking English.

Although my attendance was brief, New Year’s Eve afternoon found me at my first bullfight.  Operating under the principle that one should not have “contempt prior to investigation,” a concept usually attributed to the 19th Century British philosopher Herbert Spencer, I elected to go.  I truly attempted an open mind, having talked to many Mexicans who view the spectacle as a fine art.  In spite of all this talk about the nobility of the bull, I had to leave early on.  I must say, however, the pagentry which is integral to the event was most impressive and the horses were spectacular.

We’ve had some wonderful musical interludes, taking in a violin concert, finding a 40s-style supper club with a great singer doing Cole Porter, and last night attending a production of La Boheme.

As I write this we are between house guests.   Former neighbors Dan and Suzanne who lived across the road from us in Panama were here for a week and it was great fun to see them and catch up on all the news from the old “hood.”  They were here to check out San Miguel and I believe they found it as beautiful and charming as I had described.   Now we eagerly await the arrival of our friends of 20 years, Bill and Carmelita, whom we haven’t seen in over two years; we are quite excited.

Our enthusiasm for San Miguel continues unabated.  Wherever I turn, my ceaselessly hungry eye always seems to find that which is aesthetically pleasing, be it a flower or a wedding,

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or shadows on a wall cast by the setting sun.

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There is some ineffable quality about life here that fosters a kind of daily pinching oneself, i.e., are we really lucky enough to live here?   The world changes, places change, but for the moment there is no where else we would rather be.

Merry Christmas

23 Dec

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For many days now there has been a special energy in the air as San Miguel prepares for Christmas, a major event in this largely Catholic country.  The colorful flags that traditionally grace our streets during festivals have been replaced by strings of small white lights, and all of the parks and gardens have been planted with an abundance of poinsettias, known in Mexico as La Flor de Noche Buena, the Christmas Eve Flower.  (Parenthetically, poinsettias are indigenous to Mexico and Central America and were first introduced to the United States in 1825 by Robert Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico; hence the name, “poinsettia.”)  Houses and walls have been repainted, streets cleaned, and there are decorations everywhere.  Some streets have been closed to traffic to make room for the many makeshift booths and tents that sell everything remotely connected to Christmas.  I was interested to observe a kind of time line:  first there were Christmas trees and poinsettias everywhere.  Then a few days later, all the things one would wish to put on a Christmas tree began to appear in the markets and stalls, together with hundreds of piñatas.  A week later an entire side street was closed to traffic and devoted to the various traditional contents of a piñata, i.e., candy, peanuts, sugarcane, fruits, etc.  And then the poinsettias were all gone, replaced by mangers and manger inhabitants; now its moss and bromeliads and straw and other materials associated with the construction of a manger scene.

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I have read that the representation of the nativity dates from the 13th century and is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  In Mexico the manager scene, known as El Nacimiento, is the principal holiday adornment and while the poorest family may not be able to afford a Christmas tree, virtually every family will set up a creche in their home.  Since 1960, a life-size manger scene has been erected in the Jardin Principal, the main garden at the center of town, and when we walked by this morning it was almost finished with Mary and Joseph in place.  It should be completed later today and will include live animals.  The baby Jesus will not appear until Christmas Eve.

Christmas preparations seemed to move into high gear on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  With just a hint of pink in the early morning sky, we were awakened by a cacophony of church bells at 6 a.m., interspersed with rocket fire, as the celebration began.  Although theological controversy has long surrounded this festival, I had been unaware that it refers not to the conception of Jesus but rather to the conception of Mary by her mother, Saint Anne.  The festival dates back to at least the eighth century and in 1854 was finally declared by Pope Pius IX to be an essential dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course that celebration paled in comparison to what awaited us on the 12th, the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, also known as the “Empress of Latin America,” and the most famous and beloved icon in all of Mexico.    To Mexicans, she is THE MOTHER.

The Virgin of GuadalupeThis is her story: In 1531, an indigenous man, Juan Diego, was on his way to church when the Virgin appeared to him on Tepayac Hill, near Mexico City. She instructed him to tell the bishop to build her a church on that spot. But poor Juan, being only an Indian, could not convince the bishop he was telling the truth. So the Virgin appeared to him again. At her feet, Spanish roses grew, even though it was winter. She told him to wrap them in his cloak and take them to the bishop as proof of the miracle. When he spilled the roses at the bishop’s feet, the brown-skinned Virgin’s image had been imprinted on the cloak—which is now in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe that stands on Tepayac Hill.  In San Miguel, an image of the Virgin is mounted over the gate in front of the Parroquia.  Late in the evening of the 11th, the mariachis gather and at the stroke of midnight they serenade her with the Mexican Happy Birthday song, Las Mananitas.

The 16th of December was the first of nine consecutive nights of candlelight processions, known as Las Posadas, a tradition in Mexico for over 400 years and a tradition in San Miguel since 1737.  Posada is Spanish for “lodging” or “accommodation” and each evening’s procession is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s quest for lodging in Bethlehem.  Although there are variations, most often children personify the members of the holy family with “Mary” riding a real donkey or burro.  As the procession moves along the street, many fall in behind, sometimes in costumes of angels or shepherds.  By pre-arrangement, the procession will stop at various dwellings requesting shelter for the night and be turned away.  Finally at the last stop they will be told that while there is no room in the inn, they may take refuge in the stable.  The doors are opened and all are invited to enter.  After the rosary is prayed, a traditional Christmas punch is served, Ponche Navideno, along with tamales and bunuelos (a deep-fried dough ball rolled in brown sugar and cinnamon); the evening ends with the breaking of a large piñata.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, Noche Buena, and is the most important evening of the season and the occasion when the children open their presents.  Incidentally, Santa Claus and the clatter of reindeer hooves on the rooftop are not part of a Mexican Christmas; rather the wishlist of a Mexican child is directed instead to el Niño Dios (the Holy Child) for Christmas Eve and the Reyes Magos (Magi) for Three Kings Day, Dia de los Reyes, January 6th.

Tomorrow evening we have invited a few friends for dinner in front of the fireplace and Christmas Day will find us dining on another round of turkey.  But the season will continue unabated with many celebrations yet to come including the Day of the Holy Innocents, Los Santos Inocentes, on December 28th, New Year’s, and then Epiphany.  I can’t remember ever having had a richer holiday experience than this one in San Miguel.

As the passing solstice has reversed the Sun’s ebbing presence in our sky, so may the coming New Year bring you increasing light and love.   Happy days ahead.

 

Dia de Gracias

21 Nov

It is the day before Thanksgiving and I’m still in bed drinking a second cup of coffee, Oliver asleep beside me, as I watch the early morning light reach the domes and spires of San Miguel.  The day promises to be lovely with temperatures now in the 40s, a predicted high of 79.  Since moving to San Miguel I have a new appreciation of the word “azure” as it relates to the color of the sky; it is, indeed, a deeper blue than I have know before, no doubt a consequence of the altitude.

Thanksgiving is that quintessential American holiday.  Because of the number of Americans in San Miguel, shopkeepers work hard to provide all the “fixings” and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pies are readily available, as are turkeys of course, free-range or otherwise.  A few weeks ago cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce began to appear on the shelves and a few places even have real cranberries for sale.   We will be sharing the traditional feast with our friends and neighbors, Tom and Barry, with whom we created a menu as well as a division of labor.  Since our oven is too small to accommodate a turkey, we will be dining at their home just down the road.

I am deep into Level 2 Spanish and will spend tomorrow morning in class as I will every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, from 9 to noon for the next three weeks.  I am finding it extremely challenging as I learn the first, second and third person singular and plural, word order, direct and indirect pronouns.   I’m struggling mightily with word order.  For example, instead of saying “I gave it to him,” one would say “To him it I gave.”  Or rather than ask “Did you buy it for him?,” one would ask “For him it did you buy?”   My teacher assures me that over time I will develop “Spanish mind” and it will all fall into place; I remain skeptical but willing.  It is an intensive course of study and I find it completely preoccupying.  As Oliver and I walk about town I am always practicing my Spanish out loud to myself and am confident some locals wonder about the crazy gringa that talks to herself.

Speaking of my Spanish class, I still have a few hours of homework awaiting me which I can’t put off any longer; consider this a pebble at your Thanksgiving window.  I leave you with my warmest wishes for a joyous holiday surrounded by those you love.  May we all remember the abundance of life and the bountiful bonus of friendship, past, present and ongoing.

More Images from Day of the Dead

8 Nov

Before I stop thinking about Dia de los Muertos, I wanted to attempt to create a slideshow and share some more images from the celebration.  Although not the most aesthetically pleasing, my personal favorite is the volkswagon “skull” with Oliver in the foreground.

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Day of the Dead

5 Nov

No amount of reading could have prepared me for the Mexican celebration known as Day of the Dead, or  Dia de los Muertos, an event that actually spans three days.  I found the occasion to be more complex than I had first imagined with layers of meaning; thus, I approach the topic cautiously, aware that I understand only a fraction of what it is about.  Although celebrated in various other countries, it is primarily a Mexican holiday.  It is a time of celebration, a time of rememberance, a time of mourning, a time of laughter, a time of hope.

The history of the event is old and complicated, going back to the Aztecs, and is essentially an invitation to those who have preceded us in death to return for an annual visit.  Originally a month-long celebration during the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, the Spaniards attempted to abolish it, believing it to be incompatible  with Catholicism.  Unsuccessful in that attempt, they settled for moving the event to coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, November 1st and 2nd.

From the vantage point of a “gringo,” (I’m actually a “gringa”) at first blush the whole affair can seem somewhat morbid with nearly every storefront decorated in skulls and skeletons together with tons of some kind of red flower and yellow marigolds, sometimes called Flor de Muerto (Flower of Dead), a bloom thought to attract the souls of the dead.

Instead of the red, green and white flags that adorned every street during the Fiesta Patrias in September, now the flags were brightly colored in pinks and lavendar, orange and yellow.  On the first morning we went to the garden, Jardin Principal, and found it had been completely replanted with yellow marigolds.  Altars were being constructed, a bandstand was being set up, and a miniature graveyard had been constructed in the street.

Prominent among the various skeletal representations is “Catrina,” a skeleton of an upper class woman wearing a large hat, created in 1910 by the artist, José Guadalupe Posada.  Catrina, also known as “the elegant skull” or “the grande dame of death,”  has become one of the most popular figures associated with the Day of the Dead although her popularity is evident year-round.  The children of the international school created a replica of Catrina in the park, a photo of which you’ll find below.  These representations of death seem to signify not the absence of the fear of death, but rather a way of coping with that fear by mocking death; laughing at it, belittling it.  At the same time death is accepted, not as an end but as an almost parallel world.  Apparent in everyday life, death is prominent in the native art and even in children’s toys and games, such as the game called “Funeral” in which children pretend to be undertakers and play with toy coffins. But I digress . . . .

Beginning on the evening of October 31st, it is believed that the spirits of the dead begin to arrive to visit their families, leaving again on November 2nd.  Plans for these special days are made throughout the year, which include the gathering of goods to be offered to the deceased.  To welcome the dead, many families construct altars or small shrines in their homes or on the street on which they place scores of candles, incense, photographs of all deceased family members together with masses of yellow marigolds.  Then they add the offerings, or ofrendas, which usually include the favorite food and drink of the deceased.   Some altars hold bowls of fruit or a roasted chicken while others may include a bottle of tequila or a six-pack of coke.  Toys are offered for dead children (los angelitos or “the little angels”)  and a special bread, called pan de muertos, usually in the shape of a skull, is prepared only for this occasion.  Traditionally the family will spend significant time around the altar, praying and telling stories about the deceased.  Most believe that the dead are “present” and will hear the prayers, the jokes, the anecdotes directed to them by the living.

Another ritual involves going to the cemetery.  In the days preceding the event, the cemeteries are cleaned, weeds pulled, walls painted, graves decorated.  Then the families come with children carrying large bunches of yellow marigolds.  The cemeteries remain open all night, for two nights in a row, and some families stay continuously, presumably to be with the souls of the departed, while mariachi bands play and dances are performed to honor the spirits.  Pillows and blankets are left out so the deceased can rest after their journey.  It remains unclear to me exactly where the spirits go since some families build altars at home, some build altars at the cemetery, and others build altars in both locations.  It is a national holiday and banks and many businesses are closed, allowing employees time for these activities.

In addition to the altars built in homes and in cemeteries, there are many altars erected in public places such as the main garden and the park.  An opportunity for expression by the myriad artists who inhabit San Miguel, I saw remarkable things.

As I understand it, Dia de los Muertos allows the dead to live again, to return to their earthly homes to visit and rejoice with their loved ones.  And for those still living, the celebration is a way of retaining connection with the unseen world — a world to which it is believed we will all return one day.
I was deeply impressed with the amount of effort that goes into this celebration, generally borne of love and commitment to one’s deceased relatives.  Yet for some the celebration is motivated by fear and/or suspicion for there are many folk tales of untoward things that befall one who neglects his ancestors on Dia de los Muertos.  It is said, for example, that if a spirit returns to find no altar, they will feel sad and angry and may seek vengeance on those who have forgotten them.  Or even worse, those who ignore their deceased loved ones may fall ill and die shortly after the holiday.
A celebration of this dimension is a reminder of how little I understand the culture in which I find myself; I continue to be intrigued.
 
As I write this, it is election eve in the United States.  I like the Mexican way:  one six-year term and a limit of three months for campaigning.  The house that we rent comes equipped with Canadian television, not because the landlords are Canadian but because the Canadian satellite offers the greatest number of channels — something like 250!  In addition to Canadian television (which hosts a great number of ice hockey games), we get an NBC station from Los Angeles, an ABC station from Detroit, a CBS station from Seattle, as well as several local New York stations.   But as I observed once before, watching American politics from afar takes some of the sting out of it; the distance lessens the pain.
From reading my last post you might imagine that by now I have reached new heights in my Spanish studies.  Unfortunately it was not to be for just as the class was about to begin I came down with a throat infection complicated by bronchitis.  I’m still in the last throes of recovery but expect to finally, belatedly, begin Level 2 Spanish next week.  We anticipate spending Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays, with our friends and neighbors, Tom and Barry, originally from New York, and their dog Henry who is Oliver’s best friend.
And finally, I close with a weather report.  After weeks of gorgeous autumn-like mornings and summer afternoons, it has rained now for nearly two days straight, the longest period of mostly continuous rain since we arrived in April.  Although it is not cold by anyone’s standards except perhaps my brother’s (59 degrees this afternoon), there is a chill in the house and I have lit the fireplace this evening.  Oliver wants nothing to do with the rain and at the moment is happily curled up next to me on the couch, snoring softly.  Sunny skies and warmer temperatures predicted for Wednesday.