Tag Archives: Mexico

Dia de Muertos one year on


Today, I received an admonishment at a Spanish-language school in historic San Miguel de Allende — criticized for having a perceived incorrect impression of Dia de Muertos, a present-day public holiday, which has been celebrated for thousands of years in Mexico.

My six classmates and I were told by the director of the  Academia Hispano Americana  (AHA) that the day is an extremely solemn event, recently commercialized, and for that reason any aspirations to visit a historic cemetery or participate in any festivities should be abandoned.

Sticking to the classroom setting is the best way to learn, we were told, after a classmate asked if we could go to the cemetery as a group — not roaming about the city where we might be unable to hear the instructor properly.  This rebuke, perhaps part of our cultural training as foreigners in Mexico, was met with bemusement and weak chuckles — one student giddily applauded.


Clearly, we still have much to learn. Chastened and penitent, we turned our focus to the intricacies of Spanish grammar, many thoughts no doubt wandering to the multitude of sugar skulls, pan de muerto, and other “Day of the Dead” delights in the Plaza Civica, just a short walk away.


I recalled the offrenda I saw and the performance I attended in Texcoco a year ago during which I was mocked by an actor dressed as “La Catrina” — a skeleton dressed in gothic Victoriana, representative of the wealthy elite in Mexico. The image was first popularized in the early 20th century by artist Luis Posada, then by muralist Diego Rivera some 30 years later in his “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park“.


This year, due to travel plans I will not be in Mexico for Dia de Muertos, but the November 1 holiday provides an opportunity to remember not only the dead, but that a year ago I was struggling without any Spanish language skills.

I now communicate the very basics in a bizarre “Spanglish” dialect.


Mama Killa alights on Carretera Molino de las Flores

IMG_0064It takes time to uncover the secrets of Texcoco, a small city with ancient roots that spills quickly from a dense urban centre onto rural roads, which roll through smallholder maize, wheat and cactus fields scattered among quaint mountain villages.


Any high-altitude home in the area offers a valley view and a nightly fireworks display originating at one or another village fiesta. Once dark falls, a cacophony of howls and barks from wary dogs reverberates, punctuated by the bangs and booms of fireworks.

Explorations in the city core, home to about 250,000 residents, have revealed friendliness, helpfulness, fascinating market stalls, eclectic cuisine, arts and culture.

To a newcomer getting by on Google Translate, mime and a few paltry words of Spanish learned in daily language classes, experiences are a mystery — at times confusing, thrilling, merciful or infuriating.


Too many mysteries to detail here.

On one occasion, a hairstylist who rang me up to tell me he had to cancel my appointment because he was going to Guadalajara, but would be in touch when he returned to Texcoco. I’ve never heard from him since and that was two weeks ago.

A delivery man from Ingenia Muebles, a furniture shop in Gran Patio, the posh shopping centre on the road to historic hacienda Molino de las Flores, delivered a broken piece of furniture a week late, then picked it up three weeks later and still has not delivered a usable piece of furniture, turning an October 25th purchase into a six-week ordeal (Since delivered on December 14 — now awaiting delivery of promised improved furniture, ed.). The shop has an email address which doesn’t work and they didn’t reply to me via Facebook.

At the Casa de Cultura on the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertes) I became the target of fun for actor Arturo Rosales who was dressed in gothic Victoriana. I stood my ground for about an hour before sneaking out onto the street when her back was turned.


On the positive side, the zocolo marketplace: women selling herbs; the bean sellers; veggie people; a man selling housewares; the bakery — Panadería Catedral; a man who speaks a bit of English in the hardware store; the butchers in nearby Bodega Aurrera;  the women at Chocolates Johfrej; the wait staff in Oasis; the merchants in the Railway Market the glass shop — El Crisol — all friendly despite my language handicap.


En route to Molino de las Flores, hardware store Zarco, an electrical shop and flower shop all superb.


By chance, I visited nearby Mama Killa (Incan Mother Moon) after buying a small poinsettia in a next-door greenhouse.

The roadside structure, entirely built out of packing crates retrieved from various warehouses around Texcoco, is a shop, a restaurant, a meditation center and more. It opened two weeks ago and is still under construction.


I was greeted by several friendly staffers and the English speaker took the time to give me a tour of the various spaces under flickering lights, explain the menu — which includes vegetarian options — and in the shop a wide range of organic and environmentally-friendly local products, including olive oil, jam, sea salt, lotion, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent and cleaning products.


I was given a 10 percent discount on the items I purchased, plus I was handed a few extra products as I left.


It reminded me of how my father used to create pieces of furniture out of wooden packing boxes for fruit by filling in gaps between planks, then applying stain and varnish. I use one as a pedestal for some Indonesian puppets.