Monday, November 3, 2014

The Grateful Dead: Part One

In remembrance of the 43 students that disappeared in Guererro
Día de los Muertos has come to an end, and besides the scores of roaming spirits who have decided to stay on this side and celebrate for a while longer, things are going back to normal. What a different way of looking at death! There is normally an “alegria” in the air, and instead of sadness and melancholy dominating the scene, there is celebration and fond remembrance of loved ones passed on. This is still the case, however Día de los Muertos 2014 is also shrouded in sadness and outrage. The disappearance and probable death of forty three young students in Ayotzinapa, Guererro in late September, has placed the spotlight on deaths that never should have happened.
Plaza de la Danza, La Soledad
Many of the typical decorations of ofrendas and tapetes (sand paintings) have focused on this tragic event. Since September 25th, there has been no sign of the students, no bodies identified, although they have discovered mass graves, and remains are awaiting DNA testing. In the meantime, the well respected daily newspaper, La Jornada, has reported that government official have offered families of the missing students one hundred thousand pesos each for their silence. A national student strike has been called for November 5th in all parts of Mexico. Mexicans are fed up with the deaths of innocent people caused by cartels and corrupt government officials. Unrest fills the air.

But the resilient spirit of los Mexicanos shines through, despite the cloud above them. Families still make the traditional mole to share with visitors on November 2nd, the last day of the celebration. Although mole can be purchased in the market ready to use, many families still prefer to prepare it themselves, a complicated and time-consuming process.  There are four types of chiles to be toasted over a charcoal fire. There are plantains, almonds, prunes, raisins, peanuts or walnuts, cinnamon, clove, sesame seeds, onions, tomatoes, oregano, and a special bread for mole to be added ingredient by ingredient.
Doña Soledad's mole
Once everything is toasted and mixed together, it is brought to the local mill to be ground. Doña Soledad took hers to the Mayordomo Chocolate mill a half kilometer away from our house.  Weaving through traffic with her hand truck was risky business, but she got there in one piece and did not lose one drop of mole!
Al molino
Then back home with the ground ingredients to cook it for a few more hours, stirring constantly, bien seguro, to avoid burning. It is a full day of preparation, morning til night.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing her mole with family members and friends. It was well worth every minute of toasting, grinding, and stirring! ¡Muy, muy sabroso!

On the way to the molino to grind the mole ingredients, were stall after stall of flower vendors selling marigolds (cempasúchil), cockscomb (Terciopelo), and a variety of other flowers to adorn the altars and tombs of loved ones. There were truckloads of  flowers along the busy streets, and nearly everyone you saw had a bouquet or two in their arms. And next to the flower vendors were those selling copal, a mineral burned as incense on the ofrendas.
Copal vendor with customer
The altars and ofrendas deserve a whole blog to themselves. But since long blogs are hard to read, let it suffice here to give you a sample or two.

I always wondered where the name Grateful Dead came from; now I think I know. Who wouldn't be grateful for the abundance of all the things you liked while you were alive: food, flowers, drink, tobacco and music?

The figure below holds a banner that reads:"Death says, with me there are no bribes". Perhaps the government official who ordered the massacre of the students in Ayotzinapa should take these words into account!
Parade of Barrio de la Noria, where I live


Susan said...

Gracias...we think of you and the political news. The pictures make us feel we are there, miss being so. Thank you for the color. It is very dark and gray here.

jlm said...

awesome! please continues to press the shutter button my friend - Big hug and bises from Brittany :-)

Anonymous said...

Dick, you certainly have a way of capturing the cultural colors of Mexico! I makes me feel like I live in a world of grays, browns and greens (which I guess i do, though I do try to wear red whenever I can, especially now during hunting season).

And, what a disappointment! After guiding me through the process of making mole only to discover that I would not be able to taste it ... not even a faint whiff reached me up here on the Olympic Peninsula. Another incentive for me to come visit.

The process acknowledged an often overlooked fact; how much time, money and physical effort goes into any celebration. All that beauty, activity and excitement doesn’t just appear out of nowhere.

It also made me think about how this particular celebration so beautifully interweaves a number of opposites (which I guess are just different sides of the same thing) ...

spicy peppers and sweet raisins
bleached white bones and golden flowers
respect for the dead and celebrations for the living.

I think this was reflected in the first and last images; the anger and outrage at deaths which should not have happened with the playful laughing skull in the neighborhood parade.

Thanks for bringing color to my life and expanding my horizon of awareness. Good work (which I am sure took a considerable amount of time and skill to pull together ... but you are getting quite good at this).

And, as usual, great photos!

Dennis Lloyd Kuklok
Rocky Brook, Washington