Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Downtown for the Festivities

On Saturday morning Alejandro and I went downtown.  Although the Day of the Dead isn't until Thursday, November 2nd, this was going to be a very festive day in the heart of the city.

We arrived at the Alameda Park and found that more large "Catrina" figures had been erected.  These were sponsored by the National Lottery.  You can see that the Catrinas' dresses are decorated with lottery motifs.

We continued down to Madero Street.  The atrium of the Church of San Francisco had a display for the Day of the Dead.

This "ofrenda" was interesting because it was made from plastic bottles.

Of course we had to pose with the skulls on the wall.

We reached the Zócalo, the main plaza, which was decorated to the hilt, beneath a canopy of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Day of the Dead banners.  

The decorations included a tribute to the rescuer workers who saved many from the rubble of the September 19th earthquake.

We headed to a rooftop café a couple blocks away from the plaza for a light lunch.

After lunch we went back to the Alameda Park because there was something that we wanted to do.

There was a tent set up where make-up artists were painting people's faces.  For between 100 and 200 pesos ($5 - $10 US) you could become a "Catrina" or "Catrín".  The artists were doing a thriving business with both locals and tourists lining up to be transformed.

So now that we are appropriately made up, it is time for us to find a spot from which to watch the Day of the Dead Parade.

The Weeping Woman

Much of the valley where Mexico City is located was once covered by shallow lakes.  The pre-Hispanic inhabitants would build rafts, pile soil upon them and plant crops on the rafts.  These so-called floating gardens, known as "chinampas", eventually would take root and become small islands within a network of canals.  Most of the lake water of the Valley of Mexico was eventually drained to make room for the growing city.  However in the district of Xochimilco a remnant of those islands and canals have survived.  The Floating Gardens of Xochimilco are a popular attraction with the locals and with tourists.  Here you can rent one the flat-bottomed boats known as "trajineras".  The oarsman (a Mexican equivalent of a Venetian gondolier, you might say) will take you on an excursion along the canals.  The islands are still devoted to agriculture, grazing and the cultivation of flowers.  It seems hard to believe that you are within the city limits of one of the world's largest urban areas.

In October and November during the Day of the Dead season, there are special nighttime performances given here.  The dramatic and musical spectacle is called "La Llorona" (The Weeping Woman).  Alejandro got tickets for his sister, his nephew, himself and me.   Last Friday evening he battled the traffic and drove us across town to the "Embarcadero Cuemanco", one of the places from which the "trajineras" embark.

The colorfully decorated boats were lined up waiting to take the ticketholders to the performance.

Our oarsman guided the boat down one of the canals.

Torches marked the banks of the channel.

We arrived at an island where the stage was set up for the performance.

The boats all lined up around the island, and from there we watched the performance.  The story was a mixture of song, dance and dramatic performance.  It combined the history of the conquest of the Aztecs by the Spanish with the old Mexican ghost story of "La Llorona". "La Llorona" drowns her children and then herself after her lover abandons her.  She is then condemned to wander for all eternity weeping for her children.  In this presentation, the protagonist is a princess of Xochimilco who was taken by a Spanish soldier.

It was rather difficult to follow the story.  The sound system was not the greatest, and even Alejandro said that he couldn't understand much of the dialogue.  Also, because of the distance between the island and the boats, we often could not see which character was which, or who was speaking.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting and mildly spooky experience to be on the canals of Xochimilco at night.

Monday, October 30, 2017


While I was traveling on the Metrobus I spotted tents set up in Pushkin Park on the edge of the Roma neighborhood.  I assumed that it was a homeless shelter for victims of the earthquake.  I also glimpsed a sign which said that donations of food were needed.

The next day, last Friday, I headed back to that spot, and talked to one of the volunteers there.  She told me that the spot was no longer being used as a shelter, but as a collection center (Centro de Acopio) for donations.  She told me what sort of things were needed, and I took off with my empty shopping bag to the nearest grocery store.

I bought most of the things that she had listed... bags of rice and dried beans, jars of baby food, powdered milk, canned tuna, canned vegetables. cereal, and disposable diapers.  I headed back and gave them my purchases.

Volunteers posing with my purchases

The project is not government sponsored.  The lady was quite critical of government efforts, saying that aid was not reaching the people who needed it.  She said that foreign aid from other countries was going into politicians' pockets... an allegation which may or may not be true, but which is not difficult to believe.

From the very ramshackle appearance of the center, one might question the legitimacy of this operation.  But everything seemed to be on the up and up.  I was told that no cash donations were accepted.  While I was still there they started going through my purchases, taking markers and crossing out bar codes, and writing "Donativo" (donation) on each item, That way no one could try to resell anything.   They have a Facebook page, and, if I were on Facebook, they would have sent me information on where my donation went.  The food and clothing that they are collecting is going to quake victims in small towns in the states of Oaxaca, Puebla and Morelos.  I was pleased to hear that.  So much emphasis is placed on what happened in Mexico City that the isolated rural areas are often forgotten.  Each weekend volunteers truck the donated goods to affected areas. 

Later I googled the "Centro de Acopio Puskin".  Immediately after the quake it had been a homeless shelter, but now the efforts are centered on collecting needed items.  The volunteers who staff the center are a very diverse group who include neighbors, students from UNAM (National University of Mexico), members of motorcycle clubs, and Boy Scouts.  Before I return home in November, I intend to go there again and bring them more groceries. 

I'm writing this, not to pat myself on the back, but to highlight the efforts that the people of Mexico are making to aid those who are in need. 

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

We have a lot of catching up to do.  Let's backtrack to last Thursday.

I took the Metrobus downtown, and everywhere it was obvious that the Day of the Dead was approaching.

At "La Ideal", a downtown bakery that is an institution, there were more than the usual wedding cakes in the window.  There was also an enormous "Día de Muertos" cake.

You can see how our Halloween symbols such as the jack o' lantern have mixed in with the Day of the Dead.

Stores and restaurants are decorated.  "La Ideal" was decked out with "papel picado"... the cut paper banners that are traditional for festive occasions.

A "catrina" and a "catrín", elegantly dressed skeletons, stood at the entrance to a sidewalk café. 

This restaurant went one better...  the employee at the door is dressed as a "catrín".

I headed to the Zócalo, the main plaza.  There workers were busy with the decorations... thousands of "papel picado" banners (although these outdoor decorations were made of plastic, not of paper.)

I went past a former colonial convent which now houses the Interactive Museum of Economics.  It never held any interest for me... of all the social studies classes that I took in college, economics was my least favorite.  However, there were signs advertising their Day of the Dead display.  So I went inside. 

The museum, although nicely laid out, was, as I had expected, rather boring for me.  I did not bother to see it all.  The Day of the Dead display was an "ofrenda", the altar-like offering which is set up in Mexican homes to welcome the souls of departed loved ones when they make their annual visit back to the world of the living.

Although the "ofrenda" was not especially spectacular, but it was interesting in that it explained the meaning behind each of the items that are traditionally set out on the altar.

For example, the candles guide the dead on their journey to visit their old home.
The marigold flowers, known as "cempasúchil" in the Aztec language, represent the sun, and their pungent smell also help to guide the souls on their visit.
Copal incense removes any negative energy so that the souls may enter.
Salt purifies the body, so that it will not get lost on its journey.
Fruit helps the souls to atone for their sins.
The "papel picado" decorations represent the air.
Favorite foods are set out for the visiting souls.
Squash candies are set out for the souls of departed children.
"Pan de muerto" (the traditional "Bread of the Dead") represents the human sacrifices in pre-Hispanic cultures.  Ewww... I'll try not to think of that the next time I eat "pan de muerto"!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

I Would Like to Introduce You to...

Dear readers,
Greetings from Mexico City during the "Dia de Muertos" season.  There has been so much going on that I have fallen behind in sharing with you all of my experiences.

For now, let me introduce to you, Mr. Skull, who in his previous life was known as "Retired Teacher".

And here is his friend, Señor Calavera, formerly known as Alejandro.

Mr. Skull and Señor Calavera have been quite the celebrities here in Mexico City.  They have lost track of the number of times that people have asked them to pose for photographs.  They are half-expecting to see their pictures appear on the front pages of the local newspapers.  Toddlers in their parents' arms stared at them with a mixture of fear and fascination.  

I believe that the festivities here for the Day of the Dead are getting better every year, and that Mexico City during this season is becoming a world-class travel destination.  I have never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnaval in Rio, but I think that, in spite of the enormous crowds, the events here are a less frenzied, safer, and definitely more wholesome, family-friendly alternative.  The Day of the Dead has always been a day for remembering the departed while at the same time laughing at death.  That has never been truer than this year's celebration, coming on the heels of the devastating earthquake.  The events here are dedicated to the victims and heroes of September 19th and demonstrate the strength and resiliency of the people of this great city.

It sounds trite, but we can sincerely say, "WISH YOU WERE HERE!"

Selfie taken by Señor Calavera

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Autumn Flower

Back home in the U.S. we think of iris as a spring flower.  But here we are, almost in November, and there are iris blooming in the little green space in the intersection just steps from my apartment.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Creatures on the Street

Last Saturday Alejandro and I saw the Parade of Monumental Alebrijes... a procession of large, colorful, fantastical creatures wheeled through the streets of Mexico City.  This week and next the "alebrijes" are on public display along the pedestrian promenades on either side of Reforma Boulevard.  The nearly 200 figures are arranged from the Independence Monument to the Diana Fountain.

Even though I had seen the parade, I wanted to return and take a closer look at these amazing cardboard and papier-mâché sculptures that were created by individual artists , workshops and organizations.  The "alebrijes" will be judged, and prizes will be awarded.

Here are some photos of some of my favorites...

Some of the "alebrijes" had last minute design changes in memory of the September earthquakes.

This one holds a shovel, a reference to those who rescued people from under the rubble of collapsed buildings.  On the shovel are the dates of the city's two most disastrous quakes... both on September 19th... in 1985 and 2017.

This kangaroo-like creature (it carries a baby in its pouch) grasps a shovel too.

The baby also has a shovel which says "Mexico Always United".

A couple of the "alebrijes" carried the image of a clenched fist.  During the rescue efforts that was a signal for silence as rescuers listened for signs of life beneath the rubble.   It became a symbol of Mexico's strength in the face of disaster.

As I said, prizes will be awarded to the best "alebrijes".  Here is my choice for first place, and, judging by the number of passersby who were photographing it, I think it was a favorite of many others.  It is entitled "The Magic Seed".  You cannot fully appreciate it until you study its amazing detail close up.

To one side is a skeletal figure in animal clothing... a sorcerer, perhaps?

(Notice the "Fuerza Mexico" - "Strength Mexico" slogan on his arm.)

This sorcerer has conjured a creature which is inspired by the feathered serpent of pre-Hispanic mythology.

Sprouting from the serpent's head are the branches of a tree which are filled with birds.

Truly an astounding creation by some very talented artists.