Monday, November 06, 2006

Our First Noche de Muertos

Papel picado at Hornos Los Ortiz, Morelia 
Although we've lived in the Pátzcuaro area for over a year, we missed most of the observances of el Día de Los Muertos last year, as we were away at the time.
This year, two nearby señoras invited us to come to the small panteón, where one's husband is buried. The cemetery is a longish walk from our house, set in a grove in the valley that spans our area.

First, we went via a soggy wet path to Rosa's house, a humble building, yet scrubbed clean and neatly arranged inside. She was delighted to see us. Her 16 year old daughter Laura, came out and introductions were made. She is a beauty. Then, one by one, other daughters came, all very attractive, and our other acquaintance, María, who lives closer to the highway.

We had brought them some sewing notions, especially 3 pairs of scissors in 3 sizes, from Costco. It was like Christmas two months early. They lead a sewing club of local women, and we knew from our previous meeting that they lacked certain basics, like scissors and cloth!! So they divided up the goods, and we went on out to the cemetery. It was a pleasant night, not too cold, with a nearly full moon to illuminate the otherwise unlit roads.They carried a pail of hot tea and small, folding chairs. I helped with one of the chairs.

We arrived at the panteón after dark, but it was well illuminated by candles, small fires and even the headlights of some cars. The scene was vivid, with the smoke and flowers decorating the tombs and gravesites. There were sounds of laughter and children's merriment mingled with the chanting of prayers and sacred song.

From what I could see, the majority of those in attendance were women, but there were some men. Children were playing at some of the tombs. At our site, our amigas provided small folding chairs for us to sit on, and we drank hot, sweetened lemon tea that they'd carried in a cooking bucket from home. There was a lot of smoke in the air from the fires, but it wasn't unpleasant.

After cleaning the gravesite, the widow and her friends first made a cross from cempasuchil (orange marigold) blossoms, then arranged used cans and jars as candle holders to light the corners of the grave. The block wall of this humble but well-cared for grave was further illuminated by candles in glasses. (Reminding me of the yahrzeit candles my grandparents burned in their apartment in honor of their dead.)

More cempasuchil flowers were stripped of their petals and strewn over the bare earth of this grave to make a carpet. A few, simple offerings of the deceased's favorite foods were placed at the head of the cross. Paper napkins were found and included.
There were other flowers: crimson cockscombs, "flores de nubes" and lilies.

A group of women friends gathered, and a cycle of prayers and song began. (I am not very familiar with Catholic ritual, but I think it was the saying of the Rosary, although no beads were in evidence. One women took the lead in the prayers (in Spanish) and the group responded. They knew these prayers well, and only a few songs were written on notebook paper for occasional reference. It was quite a moving experience, yet no tears were visible. They were dressed in everday clothing, some with varying rebozos wrapped about their heads and shulders.

We did not stay for the prayers at another tomb, but our amigas escorted us to the cemetery gates, where we began to walk home. It's a bit circuitous, as some large corn fields lay between us and the highway. Although we could have done it on foot in about 30 minutes, we were grateful when a passing pickup truck paused and the couple inside offered us a lift. We jammed ourselves in, and I started to introduce myself, but the señora said we'd already met the day before. They live in the house in front of our other amigas.

From where they dropped us off, it was a quick walk up the deserted streets to our house, silent except for the barking of the watchdogs.

The next day, we reunited for a picnic amongst the graves. The only tears shed were those of Patti, who was chopping onions for the salsa to accompany the carne asada.

Graveside in another year

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