Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Getting ready for the DOD

Remember you can view the photos much larger (and more beautiful) if you click on them.
Everyone is getting ready to greet the deaparted for their brief visit here with their loved ones.
I love the flowers and copal, heaps of copal. Some is white which is considered the most prized, some darker, and my favorite the gleaming golden copal. This copal reminds me of amber, which makes sense because given another million years and the right conditions, that is the transformation.
You can tell by the photos what flowers are favored, the marigolds were also favored by the Zapotecs and Atzecs as well as other groups for the celebrations (and fear) of the dead.
G. and I are going to make a small altar for a loved one of mine that crossed over recently.
Guess I will have to buy a bottle of his favorite brand of tequila (Don Julio?) to place on the altar. As I understand after the departed return and take the essence of whatever is on the altar to eat and drink the leftovers may be shared with family and friends.
I love these pictures of the ninos from the parades, the little Catrinas and the dead bride are my favorites. As yet, I have seen relatively few Disney characters, which surprised me because they love Disney, especially Winne the Pooh.

Food of the ancients....enjoy it before it goes away

Someone wanted to know the name of the restaurant that serves old varieties of corn

here it is..Itanoni located at Belisario Dominquez 513 in Colonial Reforma. I took a taxi there and walked back to mi casa.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Heading toward DOD

CLICK On the photos so you can see them larger. photo credits: Maria L.who lives here in Oaxaca, she took these a few days ago, I think I will meet her tomorrow night when G. and I go to the Aztompa cemetary to wait up for the dear departed. Should be a very late night, so I will have to take a long siesta!
I will upload some of my photos next time.
In Oaxaca they have friendly, helpful people who seem to want you to be here. Last year was a very hard year for them economically because of the disruptions caused by the political demonstrations that lasted for many months and eventually turned more violent. But imagine, if you will, the immense tolerance that was shown not only by the citizens of this city, but also the political powers and police. This was a city that tolerated protestors camped out in the main square for months. In am American city this would not be tolerated for more a few days, with protestors tear gassed and hauled off to jail.
There are a fair number of Americans but I think most of the white faces I see are European, French, German, Spanish. I have had several people come up to me (with absolutely nothing to sell) ask me where I am from and thank me for coming.
The day of the dead fiestas do not really begin until the 31, but there have been parades and bands in the Zocolo (main square). This morning there was a parade of Kindergarten children in costume—too cute!
The place that I am staying is about a 10 mintue (at my fast pace!) walk away from the main square.
Lots and lots of beautiful things made by hand in the outlying indigenous villages are for sale here. I am glad I have the benefit of my travels and research to be able to recognize what to look for.
The food is incredible, the complexity of the different Indian cultures in the state of Oaxaca make the food complex and interesting. I follow my usual habit of eating yogurt and fruit and coffee breakfast(the yogurt better than any I have ever had in the US, indeed Mexico is where I first learned to like it). Later, around 2 pm or so I look for someplace really interesting to eat, yesterday I had squash blossum soup and squash stuffed with Oaxacan cheese and corn. Today I went to a restuarant where they make all sorts of very traditional corn tortilla dishes. This restaurant also has the goal of preserving the many types of corn that are grown here, the kind of variety that multinational corporations are trying to destroy so that farmers can be dependent on hybrid, patented varieties. So here in Oaxaca, corn is the original whole food, indeed there is evidence that the Oaxaca valley is where corn was first domesticated. The food in this place was wonderful, complex in taste but prepared very simply, with made by hand tortillas cooked on a pottery cooking surface heated by a clay stove. This is what food is supposed to taste like!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oaxaca---Day of the Dead Dancing on the graves

Here is some background information of the Day of the Dead celebration in Oaxaca.(the photo is not mine, but is used with permission, from now on all photos will be mine,unless otherwise noted. Also note some imbedded links in my posts if you would like more information on a word or custom)
The Days of the Dead (October 31st to November 2nd) are not sad or mournful. Instead, these days are an opportunity for the dead to taste the pleasures of the world, thanks to the efforts of their living families. In addition to an altar in each home to honor and welcome the deceased, cemeteries are decorated with orange and yellow marigolds and other flowers and illuminated at night by the glow of thousands of small candles, with clouds of copal (incense). More than just decoration, both the flowers and the copal serve to guide the dead to the land of the living. Families from the youngest to the oldest crowd around their family tombs, bringing offers of food, alcohol, snacks, photos, and things their loved ones liked while living. Music and dancing are often part of the celebration, mezcal is the beverage of choice to toast the dead and warm the living.
The Day of the Dead is a blend of the pre-Hispanic cult of death, practiced by the indigenous people and the Catholic All Saints' Day. Most of the pre-conquest cultures had a much more fluid idea of the demarcation between life and death; just a step over the threshold rather than the closing of the tomb. In addition, especially since the conquest, the lives of indigenous people has often been brutal and short with death a very familiar visitor. The celebration of the days of the dead show the special relationship that Mexico has with death, a laughing, mocking acceptance most often parodied in the sugar or chocolate skulls and the skeletons performing every possible (ordinary and profane) of the daily tasks and routines of life. There is a large group of folk art that deals with these skulls and skeletons and La Catrina is a famous character often seen in this type of folk art. (La Catrina is a very well dressed high status lady, who happens to be a skeleton) .

But the heart and center of the dia de muertos is the family and the ceremonies that take place within the privacy of the home. On October 31st, the family builds the ofrenda (offering altar) together. Usually this is an arch made of reed or corn husks, placed on a table with tablecloth, and decorated with flowers, fruit, bread,often individualized with the specific pleasures the deceased enjoyed while living. Saints,candles, and pictures of the deceased are in the center of the altar. Rich helpings of food and drink are set out for the arrival of the guests- the dead. The first to arrive are the souls of dead children, the angelitos, on November 1st around noon. The deceased adults visit at the end of the afternoon on November 2nd. In their visit the dead eat and drink whatever they like: adults are offered their favourite food, as well as cigarettes, tequila as they liked, candy, soda or even junk food will be bought for the angelitos. The dead, who are not seen but whose presence is felt are not viewed as we do ghosts or haunting but as genuine loving spirits, do not eat the food but consume its essence, leaving behind only positive energy and love. After the feast the food from the altar is shared among the relatives and friends.
In some areas of Mexico children have caught on to the custom of trick or treating. When I was in Puebla last year at this time, children were doing this. However, they did trick or treating for 3 days instead of one! But for the most part the way of celebrating the departed loved ones in a joyous, welcoming way is remarkably intact, although in some places like Michoacan, the mob of tourists threatens to overwhelm the tradition, so it is very important for me to be respectful and very much in the background so that the vibrant and living customs with roots in a culture that is thousands of years old will continue.

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