Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Day of the Dog

Doing the Chicken Dance

October in Petaluma is brimming with events. Oh, we’ve always had fun things to do: hike Art Trails, pick pumpkins, navigate the Corn Maze, search out ghosts in the Historic district. But the Petaluma Arts Council and the Petaluma Arts Center have really ratcheted up the excitement this year, and we’ve way more to celebrate than Halloween.

Not that I have anything against Halloween; it’s one of my favorite holidays. David and I love to dress up in costumes and stage makeup. That’s us! He’s Ichabod Crane and I’m “Day of the Dead Jackie O”—and that’s what I wanted to talk about: Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos. I say bendiciónes to the Arts Council for supporting this celebration here in Petaluma all month long.

Every year I walk the “altar camino” and gather ideas for my own ofrenda, offering. (I pick up new Day of the Dead artisania at Heebe Jeebe/Boomerang Gallery) Yes, I admit it, I put up an alter in the living room every year. David’s question that first year: “and this is —Why?” Well, why not? I’ve got a pantheon of loved ones, mostly deceased pets, to remember and what better way than to invite them into my home on All Saints and All Souls days, share some food and drink, my news, and a few laughs or tears—in spirit. 

And tears will come this year as the ashes of Chocolatte, my chocolate Lab, take center stage on the altar (sorry Dad) in her own Mexican gourd painted with birds and animals. 

Chocolatte was born September 30, 1992 in Mexico City. It’s only fitting that she should have an altar, don’t you think? She’ll love the biscuit offering from Cotati’s Mike Martinez, our UPS man. He still leaves four with every delivered package. David worries that when he goes, I’ll save him in a box too, to be trotted out for chai lattes once a year. It could be worse, dear.

I got my first taste of Day of the Dead in Miahuatlán, Oaxaca before Chocolatte was born. Remembering, I smell the pungent mounds of single petaled marigolds, cempasúchil, brought on the backs of burros to be arranged on family graves and fashioned into large crosses that became part of the procession to the panteon at dusk. All day in the cemetery, men and women cleaned headstones, raked the stony ground, and set up bowls of food and jars of tequila on the graves for their dead. Family photos, playing cards, dominos and baskets of goodies for the living appeared. A farmer’s wife gave me a pan de muertos, a bone shaped bread of the dead, fresh out of the oven.

The solemn procession of brightly clothed townsfolk undulated down the shoulder of the mountain to the graveyard by candlelight, but later, the guitars and accordions heated up (with all that tequila), and the party raged. We danced and sang and cried and laughed with the living until the wee hours.

 The next year in Tepoztlán, Morelos, when handbills went up all over town in October, remonstrating “NO AL HALLOWEEN—conserve the traditions of Day of the Dead—It’s Original,” I made an offering. Parsley, my canine traveling companion from home, was my first “altar pet,” resting in her painted gourd amid marigolds, tall white candles, plates of pan dulces—she loved Conchas, and tendrils of smoke from copal.             

In nearby Cuernavaca, as in Petaluma, all kinds of activities pop up: plays, art exhibits, sugar-skull making workshops, calavera writing workshops. That year I walked in the traditional candle-lit procession to the old graveyard in Ocotapec. And best, altars, altars, altars! Even my vet had one.

 My ofrendas have evolved over the years. Some of my altars celebrate a past I’ll never recapture—presided over by my Beatles dolls in their own Yellow Submarine; some remember strangers lost to wars, disasters, hunger. All remember family, dogs, cats, and even my little pet rats, Madeline and Julia. I celebrate their lives and the joy each has brought me.            

 This Día de los Muertos, the scent of the marigolds transports me back to my years in Mexico where I lost and found two fine dogs, now side by side on the altar: Parsley, born in Lagunitas and died in Mexico City. Chocolatte, born in Mexico City and died in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain.

~These happy bones have slipped the leash;

now see who’s mistress.~ 

Ginger died 11/15/2013

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Down by the River

My busy life got in the way of summer this year. I’d planned do things with the grand kids but barely saw them, even when I hosted the barbeques. Now, It’s hard to believe summer is gone and we missed all the fun events.

Maybe there’s still some hope! Look outside. The sky is a fathomless blue, the air is dry and warm, the hills are golden and our river keeps rolling along. We have a month before the clocks “fall back” to standard time and I, for one, am not quite ready to let go of the warm weather and settle down before the fire with my hot cocoa and the latest novel from one of our local literary luminaries. I’m planning to make the most of what Petaluma has to offer in October.
Vallejo's Petaluma Adobe
Since 4th grade I’ve harbored a fascination for Vallejo’s Petaluma Adobe. In California history we learned that Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was sent by the Mexican Government to our area in 1834 to secularize the San Francisco Solano Mission in Sonoma by starting a town, now Sonoma. The government gave him a land grant of 44,000 acres and he chose Petaluma for his Adobe rancho and factory. The Adobe served as the center of General Vallejo's 100 square mile working ranch between 1836-1846. Between 600-2,000 people worked at the Adobe and the more important workers would have lived upstairs. In those days, a Native American village was adjacent to the creek. The hide and tallow trade, as well as crops and grain supported the rancho.

Although Vallejo made his home in Sonoma, he visited the rancho as often as possible to oversee the ranching and the construction. Unfortunately the structure had not been completed when Vallejo was taken captive during the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846. By the time Vallejo was released from jail, the Gold Rush had driven labor prices up and squatters had taken over portions of the land. He eventually sold the building and some property in 1857 after attempts to lease it failed. The State bought it in 1951 and the Adobe became a registered National Historic Landmark in 1970.

On the 4th the Petaluma Adobe is celebrating its annual Fandango. I’m grabbing the grand kids and going. The California Sonoma County Pomo Dancers will open with a dance performance at noon, followed by dances of the 1840's performed in period costume. I’m curious to see the Fandango and maybe pick up a step or two. The little girls will love the costumes and crafts for kids hosted by The California Indian Museum & Cultural Center. There will be snacks, too! The park is located at Old Adobe Road at the junction of Casa Grande.
On Sunday the 5th, Shollenberger Park is the place to watch the Wine Country Rowing Classic, a 5,000-meter “head” race, attracting more than 500 athletes. This US Rowing-registered event brings competitors from up and down the West Coast, and includes the NBRC Juniors team, as well as collegiate and masters rowers. The event is free for spectators, and afterward you can take a lovely walk.
Two of my favorite events take place over the following two weekends are ArtTrails, and the Tolay Fall Festival, I’m excited about both, but the grandgirls haven’t quite become art connoisseurs, however they do like animals and bugs. We’ll visit the Tolay Fall Festival and enjoy the Nighttime Creatures Barn—exhibits of native and exotic snakes, birds of prey, tide pool animals, and taxidermy wildlife as well as the Creepy Crawly Room to see tarantulas and scorpions glow under black lights. I can’t wait. After that, the kidlets will love the hayride to a pumpkin patch to select carving pumpkins. I want to visit the replica of a Native American village and try farm activities like wool carding and candle dipping, but forgive me—I just can’t get into the Pumpkin-Seed Spitting Contest! Or can I? I bet the girls would get a kick out of seeing Granna compete in a gunnysack race—or should we reserve that for Grandpappy? I know we’ll all enjoy the petting zoo of barnyard animals. They’re holding demonstrations in archery, fly fishing and astronomy. I’ll pack a picnic and we can buy special treats from the vendors.

Weekend hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults and teens and $1 for children 12 and under. Regional Parks members get free, one-time admission for two adults and two children and free parking when they present their membership cards and parking tags at the entrance otherwise parking is $7. Activities inside the Festival are free. Find Tolay Lake Regional Park at 5869 Lakeville Highway, at the end of Cannon Lane.
The Friends of the Petaluma River is hosting River Heritage Days from the 17th through the 19th. Friends of the Petaluma River is partnering with the San Francisco Maritime Park to bring two historic ships, the Alma and the Grace Quan, up to Petaluma for touring. Special events include a movie at the Turning Basin Friday night and a Barn Dance at the David Yearsley River Heritage Center Saturday night. The Friends promise loads of boats and fun for the whole family. By the way, shoppers, did you know that Friends of the Petaluma River run the Friends River Emporium with part of each purchase going to education and conservation of the river?
Trick or Treat anyone? Alexis, Arya, Grandpappy and I (not to mention the other 3 sets of grandparents: we’re a modern family!) will have picked the hay out of our sweaters, carved the pumpkins, and done up into our most frightening costumes to stalk the Petaluma Downtown Trick-or-Treat Trail on Halloween. Shall I wear my evil fairy Godmother costume? Queen of Hearts? I know—the dead.
And after all this October excitement, our family will be ready for that cup of cocoa. Happy riverside Fandango—Hayride—Pumpkin Patch—Trick or Treat—Trails to all!