city at night

city at night

Monday, October 31, 2022

Heading to the Parade

The major event of the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City is the big parade which is held the Saturday before.  This is a relatively new event which was first held in 2016.  In 2015, the James Bond movie "Spectre" was filmed in Mexico City.  The film opens with a carnival-like Day of the Dead parade... a parade which, in fact, had never existed.  However, when tourists started asking, "When is the Day of the Dead Parade?", the city government decided to cash in on the interest.  Purists consider the event a "fake" tradition, but the parade is enjoyed by Mexicans and foreign tourists alike.

Alejandro and I attended the second parade in 2017, and it was great fun.  The next year, my friends Nancy and Fred came to Mexico City for Day of the Dead, and we attended that parade.  We had fun, but it was obvious that the event was growing in popularity.  The crowd was much larger.  In 2019, I chose not to attend.  Standing for hours waiting in order to get a good spot along the parade route and dealing with an estimated crowd of more than one million people, just did not seem like my idea of fun.

In 2020 the COVID pandemic resulted in the cancelation of the parade, as well as any travel plans on my part.  In 2021, the parade was held once again, and I was once again traveling.  However, the pandemic was far from over, and Alejandro and I were leery about being amid a large crowd.  We watched the parade on TV.

This year I really was not planning on attending the parade, BUT then a couple of Alejandro's friends said that they were going to attend, and they wanted us to join them.  I have to admit that I was not thrilled about being in that mad crush of people, but I went along.

This year, the parade was going to begin later, not until 5:00 P.M.  Also, it was going to go in the opposite direction, ending at the Zócalo, the main plaza, instead of starting there.  On Saturday we were supposed to meet Alejandro's friends at 1:30 in the afternoon, at the Reforma 222 shopping mall.  From there we would head down along the Paseo de la Reforma to find a good spot for watching the parade.  I was still a bit skeptical, thinking that the crowds would have already lined the boulevard hours before.

Alejandro and I took the Metrobus from my apartment.  Because of the parade, the bus was not running its entire route.  But from the last stop it was a short walk to the shopping mall.  Inside the mall there were a number of "Mexicráneos", the large painted, fiberglass skulls that have become another recent tradition for the Day of the Dead.

There were also a number of the benches where you can have a photo op between a "catrina" and a "catrín".   The benches are sponsored by a Mexico City chain of funeral homes.

Shortly after 1:30 Alejandro's friends arrived.  We had some ice cream in the mall, and then used the restroom since we would have no opportunity for the next several hours.  From the mall we started walking down the Paseo de la Reforma.  The boulevard was crowded with people, but I was surprised that not that many people had claimed a spot along the curb for viewing the parade.

There were loads of vendors along the boulevard.  One section was a flower market (primarly marigolds).  Flowery archways marked the entrance.  The inscription over the arches was a mixture of Spanish and Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs).  "Cempoalxochitl" is the Aztec word from which modern Mexicans get their word for marigold... "cempasúchil".  "Mictlán" was the Aztec underworld of the dead.  So, the phrase means "Without marigolds, there is no afterlife."

Here we see a couple of skeletons in a "trajinera", the gondola-like boats which ply the canals of Xochimilco in the southern part of the city.

By about 3:30 we had reached the traffic circle or "glorieta" of the Monument of Independence.

Here, along the curve of the roundabout, we decided to take our place for viewing the parade.  The people in front of us at the curb were all sitting on little benches that they had probably bought from vendors going up and down the street.  We were easily able to see over their heads.  In fact, I towered over the older lady in front of me.  Behind us were trees and street vendors, so there weren't that many people pressing in behind us either. 

So, we had our positions for viewing, and the crowd was not as bad as I had expected.  Now it was just a matter of waiting for the parade to start.

Where It's Always Day of the Dead

Last Thursday I went the Ciudadela Handicrafts Market to buy a few gifts to take home to friends and family.  As I have mentioned, the best place to buy Day of the Dead items in season is at the Jamaica Market.  However, the Ciudadela Market is geared toward tourists, and given the tourists' fascination with the Day of the Dead, you can find plenty of skeleton figures and ceramic skulls here any time of the year.

Of course, now there was even more Day of the Dead merchandise.  The market even had its own "ofrenda" set up at one end of the building.

A selection of skeletal figures

The spiffy couple in the center are the classic "catrina" and "catrín", Mexican words perhaps best translated into English as "belle" and "beau", an elegantly dressed couple.  The image of the "catrina" in her big hat and feather boa first appeared in the early 1900s in the satirical drawings of the engraver José Guadalupe Posada.   Posada wrote, "Death is democratic.  In the end, white or brown, rich or poor, everyone ends up as a skull." 

This "catrina's" boa is actually a feathered serpent (the pre-Hispanic god Quetzalcoatl), an element that was added by the painter Diego Rivera in one of his murals.

Here you can even buy nearly life-size figures of a "catrina" or "catrín".  I did not check out the price tag.


One of my favorite makers of ceramics is the Mexico City based company Servín.  I was surprised to see in the market a "catrina" and skulls made by Servín.

I like the figure in the corner of the "catrina" in her kitchen.  Also, something I had not seen before are the skulls covered with butterflies.  Butterflies have come to be associated with the Dead of the Dead, because monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico in early November.  Some indigenous peoples believe that butterflies are the souls of the dead.

Well, I found the items that I wanted to buy as gifts.  No, they were not skeletons or skulls.  I bought some small Nativity scenes as Christmas presents.  That is something else the Ciudadela Market has in stock any time of the year.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

"Ofrenda" of the Stars

Each year, during the Day of the Dead season, one of the largest and most elaborate "ofrendas" in Mexico City has been the one at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.  Dolores Olmedo was a wealthy Mexican businesswoman, art collector and friend of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In 1994 she opened her home, a former 16th century hacienda, as a museum for her art collection.  Olmedo passed away in 2002 at the age of 93, but her museum continued to attract visitors, especially at this time of year, when people would come to see the enormous "ofrenda" which would have a different theme each year.

Since the pandemic, the museum has been closed, and there is no news as to when it will reopen.  The museum has continued the tradition of an "ofrenda", but it has been displayed at different locations.  This year's "ofrenda" is on display in an exhibition gallery of the Natural History Museum in Chapultepec Park.  Last Wednesday, I went to Chapultepec Park to see it.

A photograph of a young Dolores Olmedo hangs over the central portion of the "ofrenda".

This year's theme is the Golden Age of the Mexican cinema.

All of the life-size figures are, of course, skeletons.  Here the movie goers are shown buying popcorn before taking their seats in the theater.  (The skeleton to the right just happens to be Frida Kahlo.)

The "ofrenda" includes tributes to some of Mexico's most famous actors in some of their famous movie roles.  I have never seen any of the movies, but I have heard of many of the movie stars and some of the films.

The 1950 film "El Rey del Barrio" (King of the Neighborhood) starred Germán Valdés who went by the name of Tin Tan.  In many of his roles, the comic actor played a "pachuco", one of the zoot-suited rebels of the era.

The 1949 movie "Salón México" starred Marga López as a dance hall prostitute who struggles to put her younger sister through a private school.  Her role won her an Ariel Award (the Mexican equivalent of the Oscar) for best actress.

"El Vampiro", filmed in 1957, was the first Mexican horror film.

"María Candelaria" was a 1943 movie which starred Dolores del Río and Pedro Armendáriz.  The film portrayed the indigenous people of Mexico with dignity and was the first Latin American movie to win the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  Dolores del Río had previously enjoyed a successful career in Hollywood before returning to her native Mexico to be one of the most important performers of the Mexican Golden Age of cinema.

The 1947 comedy "Los Tres García" (The Three Garcías) starred Pedro Infante, one of Mexico's best-known singers and movie stars.  He tragically died at the age of 39 when the plane he was flying crashed.

The 1940 comedy "Ahi Está el Detalle" (There is the Point) is considered one of the best films of Cantinflás, the Mexican Charlie Chaplin.  Cantinflás was known to U.S. audiences for his performance in the Hollywood movie "Around the World in Eighty Days".

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Up Close and Personal with the "Alebrijes"

Last Saturday Alejandro and I went to the "Alebrije Parade".  It's a fun event, but you really don't have a chance to carefully study the large papier mache figures as they are wheeled down the street.  After the parade, the "alebrijes" are put on display along Paseo de la Reforma.

When we are on Reforma the next day, we had a chance to take a better look at the "alebrijes".  Even here, it is not always the best situation for photography... the lighting is not always ideal, and the boulevard is jammed with people who have come to see the "alebrijes".  Here are some of the better photos I managed to take of a few of the more than 200 entries in this year's parade.