Saturday, December 18, 2010

three concerts and a funeral

Mexican life is lived on the edge.

There is always lots of it.  And none of it is subtle.  At least, not on the surface.

I was reminded of that on Friday.  Our festival of the sea continues to celebrate life.  In several different venues.  Main stage.  Beach stage.  Small tents.

I will confess.  I am impressed with the work that went into the project.  The variety of the acts alone is astounding.  The surprising aspect is the consistent high quality of the performers.  There have been clunkers, but very few.

Combining hemorrhoid cream with tea bags on the same grocery store shelf is not an unusual marketing technique in Mexico.  But successfully mixing flamenco, Polynesian dance, clowns, and classical ballet on the same stage on the same night is sheer genius.

And these are not just local acts.  The committee invited acts throughout the country.  Pacho Padillo (and his band) are from Guadalajara.  I mention them because they may have been the best act in the festival.

There were enough singers, musicians, and dancers to fill a full season of Ed Sullivan.  (If you are under 50, call your grandpa.  He will tell you all about Ed.  Maybe do a passable impersonation.)

My praise is tempered with one caveat.  If I never see another 4-year old trying a folk dance, it will be too soon.  "Cute" wears thin very quickly when you do not share DNA with the faltering youthful performer.

The festival was a great idea.  But I fear one full year of entertainment is being stuffed into five days of six hour concerts each night.  Where will all of this fun be in February when I am looking for a touch of culture?

But that is the nature of festivals.  And I wish this one well.  The plans are to make it an annual event.  Who knows?  Maybe we can rival Guanajuato (for a week).

In the midst of all this celebration of life, my maid's father died on Thursday.  The family could hear the music of the festival during the wake that evening and night.

His funeral was on Friday morning.  Grief and burials come quickly when Emily Dickinson's carriage stops for a passenger.

The mass was not unusual.  Even though it had a Mexican twist, Catholic masses tend to be universal.

What was new to me was the cemetery service.  Instead of saying the rosary before getting to the cemetery, the family and mourners met in the entryway of the cemetery -- complete with a plate of bay leaves and sliced onion under the coffin.  A symbolic way station between the world of the living and the city of the dead.

While an instrumental quartet sang and played songs of death, the coffin was opened for the family to bid farewell.  "Open" is a relative term.  When the coffin lid is opened, a plate of glass separates the corpse from the mourners.  But they can view him for the last time.

What I have left unsaid is what truly makes this a Mexican affair.  This was not a "celebration of the deceased's life."  The type of homogenized memorial service that has sucked much of the emotion out of funerals.  This was an expression of loss.  A realization that someone loved is no longer with the family.  That he is missed right now.  Today.

Men and women cried.  Relatives wailed.  One fainted.  It was true grief writ large.  No one felt any apprehension about falling on the coffin weeping.  The Mexican smile mask was lifted for an afternoon.

 The casket was then carried to a grave that had been dug over the night and in the morning.  A layer of concrete had been laid down as a base in the bottom of the grave.

The casket was lowered with ropes.  Men then built a structure of wood, a rebar frame, and concrete to entomb the casket.  Flowers were then placed on the slab.  The slab will remain uncovered until it has an opportunity to cure.  The grave will then be filled in.

My "Y" chromosome appreciated the construction.  I was glad to learn something new. 

But my heart learned much more from people who know how to let grief out.

In that sense, this week has been a type of celebrating life.  Its sheer joy in lightening our hearts through the arts.  And teaching our hearts that life also has an end.  That is one reason we enjoy the day we are given.

And we have plenty of lessons to enjoy that life each day -- if we only have eyes to see them.


Jonna said...

I'm thinking the bay leaves and onion are remnants of a time before the glass cover to the casket.

I didn't know that one, but then I've been lucky enough to have missed the departure of anyone very close.

Great post.

Calypso said...

"Combining hemorrhoid cream with tea bags on the same grocery store shelf is not an unusual marketing technique in Mexico."

Probably better to combine the red meat department and the hemorrhoid cream - did I just write that?

You are a funny guy amigo!

Islagringo said...

Melaque is the first city that I have heard of that actually buries people in the ground. Everywhere that I have been, the casket is a cement box above ground. I wonder why they choose to bury there, where the water table is surely quite high.

La Corista said...

I like this post very much. Every time I get a little glimpse into México unmasked, I feel a bit more human and connected. My "x" chromosome appreciated that.

Anonymous said...

I would have liked to hear the band pictured at the top of your post. I hope they restored your appreciation of the guitar.

Steve Cotton said...

Jonna -- I tried to track the source of the tradition. It is Indian, but I do not know from where. I will see if I can find anything else on it.

Calypso -- As you know from your own experience, Mexico is a great writing partner. All I have to do is simply take dictation.

Islagringo -- we also have above-ground tombs. But I am not certain if they merely cover in-ground graves. I need to find out.

La Corista -- Glad to oblige all chromosomes.

Francisco -- I have a couple of video clips of the band. But they are so large, I could never upload them on my slow internet. If I get up north one of these days, I may add one. The violinist was amazing.

Anonymous said...

I agree about watching child performances. The briefer they are, the better.


Adrienne said...

"And we have plenty of lessons to enjoy that life each day -- if we only have eyes to see them."

I know you are using what seems to be your new-found vision - at least you are sharing what you see and experience. It gives us all a chance to open up, as well. Thank you.

Steve Cotton said...

Horst -- And we have had quite a few.

Adrienne -- A lesson I have learned well from you, neighbor.