Día de los Muertos

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Looking at individual altars set up in doorways, on porches and even in yards, parks or other public places during the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, I am struck by an unexpected realization. There is nothing spooky, macabre or sinister about this celebration. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. Viewing photographs of those now dead, seeing objects that are reminders of their lives on these altars and offering a little rum, tequila or some of their favorite foods there prompts memories of loved ones. This is a commemoration of lives gone before, a celebration of the continuous nature of life.

Unlike Halloween in the US where trick-or-treating while wearing scary costumes has become a contest to see who gets the most stuff and plays the meanest tricks, the Mexican celebration is a time for introspection. It is a time to take stock of what is important in your life, a time to share traditional foods with family and remember loved ones now dead.

The colorful sugar skulls and displays of marigolds, cempazuchitles, are fun to see, but do not distract from the real point—to make us aware of the natural cycle of death, birth, love and loss.

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Institutional Public Art I

When Alice and I traveled to the city of Vera Cruz, we found a beautiful sculpture in front of the PEMEX building, Torre de PEMEX, just off the Malecón de Puerto de Vera Cruz.

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The scale is heroic and the work awesome. We liked it, but despite asking dozens of people who the artist is, no one could tell us. We’ve since found that Francisco Zúñiga, Costa Rican born Mexican artist, was the sculptor. The name of the work is La Riqueza del Mar, The Wealth of the Sea. We think it is probably sculpted in clay.  Do you know?

Slideshow of our pictures gives an idea of scale, texture, and detail. Alice, viewing the work in one of the pictures, is 5′ 11″ (180 centimeters) tall.

There is a nearby sculpture also by Zúñiga named La Cosecha, The Harvest.

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A Dare?

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 A tiny Inca Dove, Tortolita Colilarga, flew into the casita where I was writing today

He landed on an interior windowsill and we studied each other for a moment

I see this bird and his mate side-by-side in the jardin every day

I glanced outside and there she was—his companion—waiting on the stonewall

I moved toward the dove and cupped my hands around—no resistance

The dove turned his head back and forth eyeing me—first from his left eye, then the right

At the doorway—openhanded—I watched him fly the short distance to the wall

The couple touched bodies then flew away

Goat

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A story from my father.

Wimpy and Majette were improbable names for the two twelve-year-old boys. Wimpy was Stanley’s nickname. His buddies called him Wimpy because he was so crazy about hamburgers—just like the fat comic character, J. Wellington Wimpy, then appearing in the popular comic strip Popeye. Majette was Wimpy’s cousin and in the county where they lived, his name was not an unusual last name. Somehow, as often happened in their close rural northeastern North Carolina farm community, Majette’s last name had migrated to forename.

It was 1928 and there was, of course, no TV. Radios were one to a household—if there was one at all. Entertainment as we think of it today was sparse, so the boys amused themselves. After their schooldays were over and chores done, they could always go fishing in the Meherrin River. And there were fields, forests and swamps where the boys could re-create the Great War or the Wild West.

The Wild West was, to the boys, the kingdom of a cowboy movie star, Fredrick Clifton Thompson, and his horse, Silver King. The huge Silver King was a majestic dapple-grey seventeen hands high. Thompson rode him across the silent silver screen on Saturdays, thrilling Wimpy and Majette to the marrow.

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***

Moses Williams was a peculiar kind of farmer for their part of the world. Instead of the usual cows and chickens almost everyone raised, Moses tended goats. He had a herd of about twenty milk goats. Moses sold the milk to families with children who couldn’t tolerate cow’s milk. Goat milk sales were an important part of Moses Williams’ income.

It was while walking home after seeing the “The World’s Greatest Western Star” in his latest movie, Ridin’ the Wind, that the boys passed Moses Williams’ goat lot. Wimpy looked at the field of goats and an idea caught him. They should put to work the lariat skills he and Majette had just learned from The Master. The sight of Mr. Williams’ goats presented an opportunity for the boys to refine those cowboy arts.

Mr. Williams was tending his vegetable patch nearby, and he chuckled when Wimpy asked permission to take a little goat roping practice.

“Sure,” Moses said as he pointed out a rope hanging on the fence. “Just don’t be rough with ‘em when you catch ‘em.”

Moses gave another low laugh and went back to his weeding.

The boys rigged a pretty fair lariat and began taking tosses at the goats using their best Fredrick Clifton Thompson impersonations. The goats did not cooperate. Unlike the cattle in the movie, the goats seemed to be able to run right out from under a well-thrown lasso.

When Moses was ready to move on to his next task he told the boys, “Put the rope back when you’ve had enough.”

“We’ll have caught ‘em all before we’re finished,” Wimpy replied.

Moses laughed aloud.

He was confident when he told the boys, “You can keep all the goats you can catch.”

Wimpy dug his elbow into Majette’s side.

“All we can catch,” he confirmed.

***

Around five o’clock that afternoon a proud Wimpy marched down the hard dirt main street of their little town leading a curious parade. He was holding one end of a long rope and Majette was holding the other end at the rear. Between the ends of the rope were tethered seventeen goats. This was a disorderly aggregation. Still, the boys managed to get all of the goats through town and into the backyard cow pen at Wimpy’s house. Priscilla, the family Guernsey, was offended to be so crowded in her small lot and began making loud moos.

Wimpy’s mother, three brothers, three sisters, Uncle B, and grandmother, along with many curious town folk drawn by the goat parade and distressful moos, assembled around the cow pen—all trying to determine what the ruckus was about.

Wimpy and Majette were bursting with pride and excitement as they recounted the details of their triumph to those gathered.

***

“Stanley,” the voice of Wimpy’s father boomed over the hubbub as he pushed through the crowd, “What’s the meaning of this?”

“Why, Moses Williams gave us all the goats we could catch with our lasso, Father,” Wimpy crowed as he beamed at his father. “We caught them all—except for his big, mean billygoat.”

As Wimpy’s father paused in thought, Moses Williams sheepishly maneuvered through the crowd. Mr. Williams made his way to Wimpy’s father and stood in front of him.

“It’s true, sir,” Moses said looking at his shoes, “I made a terrible mistake. I watched them a bit, and I didn’t think there was any chance those boys could catch even one of my goats. Sir, I know I was wrong, but I just can’t afford to lose all of my goats. Why, the one they left is the only one I don’t want. I would sure appreciate it if you could see your way to return my goats.”

“No, Father,” Wimpy howled without restraint over the noise of the crowd, “He promised, and we caught them fair and square!”

“Everybody, go on home now,” Wimpy’s father announced in a firm voice to the growing group of family and neighbors. “Mr. Williams and I will sort this out.”

From the tone of his father’s voice, Wimpy sensed the tide had turned. Everything was going very wrong. In a flash, his mood turned from elation to defeat. Dashing through the crowd in tears, he ran for refuge in the big barn behind the family house, slamming the door behind him.

***

“Stanley!” Wimpy’s father called into the barn. It had been more than an hour since the scene at the cow lot. “We have to have a talk about what we’re going to do about those goats.”

“But Father, he promised. He promised us all the goats we could catch,” Wimpy’s weak voice called down from the hayloft where he was lying in the already dark north end of the barn.

“I know, Son, but he can’t give up his goats. He needs them to support his family.”

Wimpy’s father climbed the ladder in the fading light and made his way toward his son through piles of loose hay strewn about the loft floor.

“What would you do with the goats if you did have them all? You know you’d have to feed and milk them everyday”

“Milk them?” Wimpy whispered.

“Of course, they’re milk goats. It would take an awful lot of work to care for seventeen goats. Why, if it took you just twenty minutes to milk each goat you’d be milking more than five hours a day.”

“…  Ohhh.”

***

Returning the goats was a difficult chore.

Wimpy’s Uncle B helped Wimpy and Majette catch their consolation prize, the big mean billy. They drove him into a little temporary corral they had constructed of cane. It had a narrowing chute leading into a dead-end chamber. When the goat entered it, the boys locked off the last chamber tying down thick cane cross members forming a makeshift gate. Fredrick Clifton Thompson would have been proud.

Wimpy’s Uncle B rigged a harness from old mule tack for the boys. They fashioned their cart using the big wheels from Rosa’s baby carriage, as Wimpy’s baby sister had outgrown it.

Training the goat to pull the small cart they fashioned took several weeks. The goat was stubborn. But, so were the boys.

When all the work was complete, Wimpy, Majette and their goat raced down Main Street from one end of their town to the other. The boys felt like they were flying—faster than anyone could run.

They challenged the other town kids to races on foot and on bicycles. Many tested them raising dust down main street, but none came close.