Wednesday, October 31, 2012

the dead arrive early

For those of you who are too impatient to wait for my Day/Night of the Dead experience in
Pátzcuaro, fret not.

My young Mexican neighbors have come to your rescue.

Our little village lacks a lot of what is traditional elsewhere in Mexico.  But this is a tourist spot -- and it knows how to take advantage of any excuse for a fiesta.  And to then make the event its own.

On Tuesday afternoon the local high school students flocked to our little plaza and started constructing their notion of what a Day/Night of the Dead altar should look like. 

Their teachers had provided instructions for all of the required elements.  Given those constraints, artistic license was theirs to pursue.

The results were interesting, but I had more fun watching the production come together.  Like most school projects, two or three students took the project seriously while the rest of their classmates wandered about aimlessly socializing. 

Young men tossed off personal insults to other young men, who puffed up their chests in indignation while their girl friends told them to stop acting like children.

And they danced to rock music (with some English rap lyrics that would have made my sailor uncles blush).  If this was a day to have fun, they were doing it.  And, of course, there was the usual flock of grandmothers shaking their heads at the "disrespectful" spectacle.

The result was about a dozen booths that looked oddly like a science fair in the Parrish Middle School gymnasium -- if the science fair had been held on Halloween night.

The booths are meant to act as public remembrances of deceased friends and relatives.

The usual Catholic paraphernalia was present.  But objects from the deceased’s life were the centerpiece of each altar.  Clothes.  Food.  Drink.  Cigarettes.  (This is one event that has not yet surrendered to the heath police.)

The most mundane objects were the most poignant. Reading glasses.  Well-worn sandals that will not be worn again.  An old scooter.

All of it looking vaguely familiar.  And then it hit me.  The collection of personal memorabilia looked liked every Evangelical Christian "celebration of life" ceremony I have attended for the past two or three decades.

These are my people. 

But seeing death through the eyes of teenagers is always a unique experience.  The sentimentally comes packed in the bubble wrap of bathos.  And is always outweighed by sheer self-referential fun.  Often slipping into a Michael Jackson Thriller homage more than remembering the deceased.

But some pieces were artistically inspired.  Going from this --

-- to this in just a few hours of patient mosaic work.

The display in the plaza is about as far away as possible in detail from what I will see in
Pátzcuaro during the next three days.  But it has a semblance of the same spirit.

In the same way that Day/Night of the Dead is a second cousin three times removed of Halloween.


Mommy with Commuter Husband said...

What a great post! I actually love the artistry showed in these pictures - those teenagers did a great job ...

barbara eckrote said...

What you saw in your plaza will be going on all over Mexico in the coming days.  Keeping the traditions alive is very important. 
What do  you mean by Catholic paraphenalia?  Crosses and candles?
I couldn't determine that.
I think the kids did a phenomenal job!

Jose RPHS said...

I'd love to know the back story of the "Jesse Barnes" memorial. You're really in Madras Oregon aren't you Steve

Dave Nic Nichols said...

a great post! 

Shannon Casey said...

Great pictures Steve. I love what the teenagers did! It all seems a little understated here after the last few years in Patzcuaro, but I guess each town celebrates in their own way. I have been invited to a celebration tomorrow, and was told that I should bring a picture, a sugar figurine, a candle and some marigolds. I'm looking forward to it. Have fun in Patzcuaro!

Steve Cotton said...

They did.  It was a very Mexican moment.  Tradition with layers of contemporary elements.

Steve Cotton said...

They did yeoman work.

Steve Cotton said...

It was a very interesting choice.

Steve Cotton said...

I am sitting in Pátzcuaro right now. It looks as if the county and state fairs have all landed here at the same time.  But more of that will show up here in a few days.  

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks, Dave.  Wait until you see the real thing.

Anna said...

Hi Steve, we arrived just in time to drive by the displays.  They looked good from afar and your blog pics are great.  We arrived to find no power at our casa so weren't able to get downtown to see them up close.

Steve Cotton said...

 Welcome back.  I should be back -- at least, briefly -- in a few weeks.

Anna said...

See you then- and good luck sorting.