I’m writing an art column for our local newspaper’s lifestyle tabloid, the Sierra Lodestar, and my first story appeared in last week’s edition.
It’s about the ofrendas, or altars, that appear during Día de los Muertos. In Murphys, the Day of the Dead has become a popular celebration, and since it’s one of my favorite holidays, I wanted to transmit some of the beauty and meaning of the rituals of creating ofrendas for the dead.
I lived in a small tourist town in coastal Oaxaca in the 1990s, just before the narcotraficantes made Mexico a nightmarish place. Our town catered mostly to surfers and budget travelers, and Mexicans who appreciated small and real rather than huge and glitzy. During the off-season there were a few ex-pats who lived there year-round, and a small community of fishermen, farmers, service people, and shop keepers. Everyone knew everyone else; it was a lovely place to live.
In those days, the season that spanned the end of October and the beginning of November was a traveler’s secret (I don’t know what it’s like now). It wasn’t crowded. The rains had ended, for the most part, and the weather was cooler than it had been since May. The pulsating greens of the rainy season were fading to olive and gold, and there was a softness to the heat. It’s what autumn is like in the tropics.
For the week leading up to November 1 and 2, when it is believed that the veil that separates the living from the dead, people (yes, living ones) began building ofrendas, or altars, in businesses and homes. The altars, made to honor the spirits of the dead who are able to return home for the first two days of November, were crowded with things like balls of chocolate, cigars, alcohol, toys, candles, mirrors, bread, and marigolds woven into wreaths and chains, or arranged in bouquets of orange and yellow. I never fully understood which items were for the departed (but returning souls), and which items were for the saints that rather spookily had come through the now gauzy curtain between this world and the next.
The article will be up on the Enterprise website for a few more weeks (clickable link below). I hope you’ll take time to read it.