Friday, November 13, 2015

The Graveyard, Dinner and Blues

Yesterday was another busy day here in paradise. After blogging and spending a small amount of time on my writing project, I headed out to walk. Next on my list of things to see was the Cemetery.

There are a great deal of cultural differences between Mexicans and gringos and one difference which I noticed upon my arrival was the reverence toward deceased relatives during the Day of the Dead. Marc and I had planned to go to the Cemetery the day after I arrived, on the 2nd day of the Festival, but there was such a line up to get in, we decided against it. He had told me about the riot of flowers and colour in the Mexican part of the cemetery and I wanted to get there while some of the shrines and flowers erected at that time were still there.

While there were about a dozen big garbage bags of dead flowers in evidence, put to the side waiting for pickup, there were still quite a lot of the gravesite tributes to be seen. Virtually every gravesite had been decorated, all with flowers, but many more were also decorated with banners, handmade signs and other items which the dead might appreciate. Most of the grave sites were tight together, the proximity to one another made more noticeable by the crypts, fences and plantings which I am sure made the mourners feel like the inhabitants had their own little plot of land, even while dead.

Even the poor, without means or perhaps family to pay for a headstone, crypt or even a little fence had visitors to decorate their gravesite with marigolds, the flower of choice.

A very sad sight were the tiny, little graves, perhaps 2 feet by 1 foot, with melancholy inscriptions noting "Recuerdo de sus padres y abuelos" (Remembered by the parents and grandparents). While the little balloons on the string fence around the grave have deflated, the drinking boxes and pudding cup and water, left for the young one to enjoy on Day of the Dead, were still there.

I was also struck that no matter how many years ago the burial, there were tributes, some recent, some weeks old, showing evidence of visits to their deceased by family and friends. There is a family of flower sellers at the entrance to the cemetery (something I also noted at the Colon in Havana when I was there). People here visit their dead relatives regularly and their gravesites are important to them, enough to keep a flower seller in business. In Canada, not so much. While I was wandering the cemetery, I saw a Mexican family - father, mother and young son, enter the cemetery each with a bouquet of flowers in hand. They spent 10 minutes quietly at a grave placing flowers and then left. It wasn't a particularly new grave and it was over a week after Day of the Dead. It just seemed to be something this family did on a Friday morning.

In stark contrast, the gringo part of the cemetery was barren, bereft of flowers on all but a few graves. Here, orderly gravesites were carefully laid out in a straight line, evenly spaced, one little white headstone marking each grave. Where there was a bouquet of flowers, and a few graves had them, there was one tidy bouquet placed in a vessel, placed neatly in front of the headstone. No blast of colour here, nor marigolds strewn here and there just the carefully placed bouquet. It struck me that our deceased are planted and left, for the most part as many of us tend to think of the remains not something to visit, unless we are in the middle of our grief. Wouldn't our dead like to be cheered up like their Mexican neighbours? When I get home I will go see my parents and bring some marigolds to their graves.

Aside from the obvious visual difference between the two parts of the cemetery, I am told that there is another more practical difference. Apparently, the gringo part of the cemetery operates as we would expect, one pays a fee to buy and bury a loved one in a plot but not so for the Mexicans in the other part. For this section, it is more like a condominium and an annual fee must be paid to keep one's deceased in the ground or the cemetery operators can dig up the body and return it to you. This certainly wouldn't fly with gringos. I dare say my children would soon decide I would much rather have my ashes flung to the winds then burden them with this obligation.

Another example of Mexican tree vs fence.

Next, I walked high up the hill to get some exercise and see the view.

On the way I went by the Plaza Civica and saw that there was what I think was a "Quinceañera" or 15th Birthday Mass/Celebration , at the "Scallop shell church" (Templo de Nuestra Señiora de la Salud). As they came out of the church the young woman looked very petty in her long blue dress and the glowing parents stood by while a Mariachi band playing to the well dressed folks emerging from the church.


I am surprised by the number of folks here who get around on ATV's.

Dinner last night was at Vivali, across from the Bellas Artes, where we were going to see Danny Marks later in the evening. There were 9 of us in all - more friends of Marc and Sue, including a couple from Ottawa and another from Kingston. They was also a permanent resident who originally was from California and a weekend "visitor" from El Paso, who was here to teach tango at some workshops over the weekend. I am having great difficulty in keeping all their friends names and origins straight in my mind. They seem to know almost everybody and every bit of local news. I had a reasonably good pasta dinner (penne y salmon) and a couple of glasses of wine for just under 300 pesos.
We had chosen the restaurant because it was across the street from the concert venue. At 7:30 we rushed over to find seats at the first come, first served seating.
I provided background to Danny Marks in my earlier blog, so won't repeat it here. I was expecting great blues and a great showman, and I wasn't disappointed. It was especially good, considering that Danny did not have his band with him, the accompanying musicians were found locally. Two were gringos originally from Canada and two were Mexican. With only one practice session under their belt, the music was tight and they seemed to have a great time up on stage as well.

One of the musicians, David Bingham, was in the 60s a member of the Toronto band "The Ugly Ducklings". In addition to accompanying Danny on harmonica he also did one excellent solo. The Ugly Ducklings had the distinction of opening for the Rolling Stones at a concert in Toronto. In addition, 2 of the band's singles have ranked among the top 100 Canadian band's singles by CBC radio's 2007 and 2010 compilations. I had thought that I perhaps had heard David perform at a club/restaurant in Collingwood, but after a bit of research, I think not. While there is a lot of good music of this sort in Collingwood/Blue Mountain, Ontario this would have been too much of a coincidence.

I have decided that SMA must be to Mexico City as Collingwood / Blue Mountain is to Toronto. They are a lot of Mexicans with 2nd homes in SMA, just as Torontonians have 2nd homes in our well known year round vacation spot 2 hours north. I have a property in Collingwood and have spent many weekends and holidays there over the last 10 years. These communities, about 10 minutes apart by car, have a good number of resident retirees with time on their hands plus and equal contingent of weekenders and seasonal visitors looking for things to do. As a consequence there is an abundance of events available- literary, cultural, artistic and also philanthropic, just as in SMA. There is also seasonal activities there (boating and swimming in summer and skiing and snowshoeing in winter), of course not available in San Miguel. While there is a similarity in community focus and the transient nature of both inhabitants, there are some bonus differences making SMA an excellent spot for those not into either of these seasonal sports; i.e. Mexican culture and architecture, lower cost of living, and a superb climate - year round.

Yesterday's weather was a bit cooler, cloudy and it only got up to 21 degrees. As you can see from the screen capture from my weather app, next week we shall have temps in the high 20 and night time lows of around 13-14 - fine by me. Apparently the weather here is so perfect as to need neither central heating (although most use space heaters or fireplaces for night times in Dec/Jan) nor air conditioning.

As I write my blog today I have been frequently pulled away with thoughts and TV news about what has happened in Paris last night and continues today. My thoughts and prayers are with those hurt and the families and friends of those who were killed and with Parisians in particular who must now feel unsafe conducting even their everyday activities. We need to figure out a way through this terror and tame ISIS. I would hope we as a society can find a way to end this war (yes, it is now war!),without ostracizing innocent Moslems and Syrians and refugees seeking refuge or worse, like we did to people of German and Japanese background in America and Canada during WWII.



  1. I think it would take me two or three days to accomplish what you did in a single day, Peggy.

    Stark would seem to be a perfect word to describe the differences between the Mexican and the gringo sides of the cemetery. I am used to seeing cemeteries here "well flowered" on holidays, such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but otherwise more-or-less randomly, perhaps mostly for personal anniversaries. I love to wander in cemeteries when I visit someplace new, and have had some fascinating experiences in them.

    Someone once said that for fifteen minutes when she turns sixteen, every Italian girl is the most beautiful woman in the world. This must be true for Mexican girls when they turn fifteen. I hope the girl in your photograph had an absolutely wonderful day .... it appears you had a pretty great day, too, Peggy.

  2. I share your fascination for cemeteries and the local cemetery is on my list of sights to see at most destinations I travel if staying for a longer time.

    As you note, I am fitting in a lot into each day and in truth, I am really busier here than I would prefer. That said, I want to get out and experience everything I can in the short month I am here, so I can make a fully informed decision about returning for a longer time. Rental prices are a lot lower for longer term (5+ months), and if I come back it may well be for a full winter and in a longer term rental. So there is a reason not to just sit and read a book and let the days waft by - as I might actually prefer to do otherwise, at least part of the time.