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

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