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En Memoria de Mi

October 31, 2013

memoriaDia de los MuertosDay of the Dead — is a holiday celebrated by Mexicans and other cultures on October 31st and November 1st and 2nd. Like Halloween, Day of the Dead takes many of the elements that make death so frightful and uses them for decoration and festivity. Both holidays are favorites of children and entire families, and can involve extensive decorations, costumes, face-painting and parties. A tradition of Day of the Dead that sets it apart from Halloween, however, is the creation of altars to celebrate the lives of those who’ve passed on. Ranging from small personal shrines inside one’s home to massive and elaborate constructs that can take up an entire civic plaza, altar making has become a popular way to celebrate Day of the Dead and honor one’s ancestors. With origins that can be traced back to the Aztecs, altar making is a ritual filled with religious overtones, especially Catholic. My family, while Mexican, was not Catholic, and because public schools at the time we attended didn’t teach about Day of the Dead, we never formed our own altar making tradition. Later, as Mexican pride and cultural sensitivities increased, I was attracted to the trappings of the emerging holiday; especially the altars. This post is my first Day of the Dead altar, and surprise, it’s all about me! A digital composite of several photos, I created this altar to myself along the lines of traditional altars (minus the religiosity) and because: Why wait?! Read further for a breakdown of the components from top to bottom. To see the photos clearly, click the image once then again …

CENTRAL IMAGE: This large photo represents my interest in succulents, still life photography and Mexican folk art and Halloween. >> MARIGOLD GARLAND: Known as “flowers of the dead”, they can be formed into garland chains or arches for altars. The Aztecs called them cempazuchitl. >> PAPEL PICADO BANNER: Literally “cut paper” in Spanish, these colorful tissue paper decorations ingeniously incorporate entire scenes and words. >> PERSONAL PHOTOS: Altars often have as their focal point a large photo of the deceased; since I’m still here I chose several faves from my past. They include a b/w photo of me as a toddler, me in my Freddie Prinze phase, me mugging in a photo booth, me now. The photo in the tin heart frame at top is a very young Paul vacationing in Mexico; note the hat. >> DISCO BALL: Representative of my all-time favorite musical genre, the reason I dropped out of college and what I expect my altar’s soundtrack will be. >> EX VOTO: A small metal charm to a saint in gratitude or devotion; I chose this golden boy because I thought it perfectly represented me as a child. >> CHAMPAGNE: It’s typical for the deceased’s favorite tipple to be provided for them; in my case it’s Veuve Clicquot Champagne. I respectfully offer that I can make better use of it while alive. >> CANDLES: Handy for the deceased looking for their altar in the dark. Plus I couldn’t resist using my little barrel cactus votives. >> FRUIT (AND VEGETABLES): Anything seasonal is acceptable, but I decided to add chiles, tomatillos and pumpkins. Not only do their colors look great together but they’d make a great soup. >> SALT: Symbolizes the continuance of life. >> THAT HEART: Symbolizes my ongoing serious health problems, which began with a quintuple bypass in 2004. >> GLASS OF WATER: A thirst-quencher for traveling souls. >> FAVORITE FOOD: I chose corn meal because so many of my favorites are corn-based: corn chips, corn bread, corn pudding, masa, tortillas, the list is endless, really. >> REPRESENTATIVE ITEMS: As an artist I chose a few of my most-used paintbrushes. >> FAVORITE ITEMS: I pared down the truckload to two little kitsch figurines from the 1960’s, one a devil, the other a voodoo doll. When their heads are pushed down an acerbic saying is revealed. Hilarious!  >> SKULLS: In Mexico, sugar skulls emblazoned with the name of a loved one are placed on the altar. Previous sugary craniums caused a plague of ants so these are painted ceramic and glitter. >>  LOS ANGELES TIMES: I spent the most years of my professional life there. >> OTHER ITEMS: Copal incense, bread (pan de muerto), baskets, images of saints and even toiletries, can typically be found on an altar.

>>> |o| <<<

¡ F E L I Z   D I A   D E   L O S   M U E R T O S !

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2013 11:52 pm

    Veuve cliquot! Nice! I feel like I probably don’t appreciate disco enough…any suggestions?

    • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
      November 1, 2013 2:52 am

      Well, V, the latest Daft Punk CD is a great place to start … it’s disco the way it used to be (with some crazy stuff thrown in; you’ll know it when you hear it). Good stuff for dancing, or Zumba or both. Not that I get to do any of that but I can imagine it would be. And Veuve is my second favorite V, you’re the first … 😉

      • November 4, 2013 1:05 am

        Me encanta tu blog. Pregunta: Eres PR

      • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
        November 4, 2013 1:13 am

        ¡Muchas gracias, Annie! No soy Puertoriqueño, soy Mexicano … 🙂

      • November 15, 2013 3:53 am

        I was listening to NPR and this came on, and I thought of you–perhaps you’ll enjoy it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mw2hAe0K0Q

      • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
        November 15, 2013 4:48 am

        I can see, er, hear why you’d think of me … here’s another reason: While my family wasn’t Catholic, we were Pentecostal, uber-fundamentalist and people did “get the holy ghost” and speak in tongues at church. Good instincts, you have, V! 😉

  2. Nancy Rivera Brooks permalink
    October 31, 2013 11:53 pm

    Nicely done! Your golden boy could also be a prayer for the back health of youth. Miss you and Paul…

    • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
      November 1, 2013 12:00 am

      Yes! That’s a much nobler purpose for Goldie … Miss you and The Mister, too!

  3. Dave in Tironto permalink
    November 1, 2013 3:04 am

    Nice ‘stache! Also, how about a nod to Arizona and all the great people you met there?

    • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
      November 1, 2013 3:50 am

      While I did meet tons of terrific folk in AZ, Dave, I couldn’t find even one pic of them in my ramshackle photo archives … I’ll see what I can do tomorrow now that I’ve made deadline. :-0

      • Dave in Toronto permalink
        November 1, 2013 12:26 pm

        I’m just teasing. Your display is fantastic!

      • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
        November 1, 2013 3:21 pm

        Oh, good … because I really didn’t take any great pics when I was in AZ! 😉

  4. November 1, 2013 4:01 am

    OMG!!! I love this! how sweet.

  5. November 1, 2013 2:20 pm

    Reuben, you’ve done it again………such a beautiful altar! If you don’t already know….Saturday, Nov. 2 is the Santa Ana Dead of Day Celebration..downtown, Main St & Birch St..1-10pm (I think) fabulous…..the altars at night in an area with no lighting is magnificent…moved me to tears last year….pretty crowded…..kisses to you.

    • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
      November 1, 2013 3:24 pm

      You’re sweet, thanks for the tip, Guida … I’ve heard tell that the Day of the Dead event in Santa Ana is pretty awesome!

  6. carol permalink
    November 2, 2013 3:40 am

    The “Freddie Prinz” photo is the most awesome!!

    • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
      November 2, 2013 3:59 am

      Ha! It was the way I held my cigarette, right?! Thanks, Carol 😉

  7. Vickie Perez permalink
    November 4, 2013 4:06 am

    Quite the display. But I just can’t decide which part I like most. So will say that each part makes me think of the different parts of my life. And that’s kinda scary cause my life has had such wild swings in direction. Oh well, I’ve survived. And found friends and laughter along the way.

    • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
      November 4, 2013 4:31 am

      And finding friends that make us laugh along the way is the best life has to offer. In fact that’s the criteria that must be met most when I’m considering a new friend! 😉

  8. November 4, 2013 5:36 pm

    OK, now someone has finally shown me the potential for celebrating Oct. 31. You’ve put in the personal and exorcised the commercial — that’s some powerful magic, Reuben. Love it.

    • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
      November 4, 2013 6:03 pm

      Thanks, Denise, I enjoyed putting it together. I think the end result has magic, too!

  9. Val Rubida permalink
    November 7, 2013 2:16 pm

    Hi Reuben… So it’s not all about candy,LOL!!!
    That is quite special. I never understood the meaning of Dia de los Muertos except for All Souls day from catholic school. Your explanation is enlightening.
    You do have a way of putting things together with meaning.
    Thanks.

    • Reuben Muñoz permalink*
      November 7, 2013 5:10 pm

      Thanks, Val, I appreciate your comment so much!

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