On Saturday we took the bus down to Toronto for a Day of the Dead festival that took place in the Harbourfront Centre, which is an awesome place with tons of super cool stuff going on.
The day began with an early wake-up, which still wasn’t enough for Anna and I to be at the bus terminal at the time we had agreed to meet our friends. Carol said she was thisclose to standing in front of the bus to stop it from leaving without us. Those are good friends, y’all.
Taking the GO bus is a beautiful, albeit sloooow, experience. It’s the ‘panoramic’ route, and you get to see the countryside and charming little towns.
And Toronto is… what can I say. It’s Toronto: busy, beautiful, fast, and semi-maniac. For a city girl like me, it feels just like home.
We arrived to the Harbourfront Centre at around 11 am, and the place was starting to buzz with excitement. A Catrina elegantly welcomed guests on the information desk:
We walked into the adjacent room and… be still, my heart. A Mexican marketplace!
They had exhibitions of very elaborate altares:
All things Mexican were sold here, from jewelry and clothes, to art and pan de muerto (bread of the dead, traditional sweet bread for Day of the Dead).
And talavera. I had been coveting talavera for over a year now:
Talavera is considered a form of art, and if you read the information on Wikipedia about it, you will see why. I caved in and bought one plate and two bowls for our family’s Mexican dinners. I may have lied to the husband as to how much I paid for them *cough*.
The hallways beside the main marketplace room were also used as part of the event. One particular artist set up an altar for Carlos Monsivais, Mexican journalist, writer and activist. This altar had astonishing details and a lot of hard work invested in it, including two full-size calacas (skeletons).
Remember how in a previous post I mentioned that skulls and skeletons are usually dressed in common clothes and are shown participating in everyday life activities? Here you have two skeletons working the fields, accompanied by their burro– also all bones, of course!
We walked into the craft room where tables and material were set up for the children. There was an empty altar ready to be dressed up. The kids had to make ofrendas (offerings) to decorate the altar.
Some horsing around ensued, but eventually their masks were finished.
View of the altar the kids were meant to decorate:
A Mexican flag, an image of Virgin Mary (patron of Mexico), Frida Kahlo and a traditional hand-made doll (I had one of this growing up *sniff*)
So many things were going on during this event. There was Mexican food to be had, shows to watch, movies to see:
We walked into one of the conference rooms just in time to see the mariachi playing. It’s funny how I never gave this music a second thought while I was in Mexico, but now, far away, it all takes new meaning and the memories flow with every note played. I choked back tears more than once.
The mariachi was joined by a folkloric dance group made up as skulls:
Later in the day we went back for a second show: Las Calaveras de Posada (The Skulls of Posada). Jose Guadalupe Posada is the Mexican artist credited with creating the now well-known image of La Catrina.
This show was a representation of a funeral procession, the moment of death (when Death herself comes to take us from the living world), and what happens after.
The funeral procession was silent and impressive.
The characters marched solemnly down the aisle, followed closely by La Catrina, lady death.
An electrician, a cyclist, a mariachi, Frida Kahlo, a punk and many others joined the stage. All was silent as one by one, each character showed the way that death had caught up with them: the cyclist was riding his bike and was hit by a car. The electrician grabbed the wrong wire and was electrocuted. One by one they were followed by Lady Death, who in her hands took their life.
At this point, I noticed a non-Mexican family sitting in front of me with their two young children (6-ish years old). The kids were completely absorbed in what was going on, eyes wide as plates as each person met their tragic fate. The parents exchanged uncomfortable looks as the punk acted out getting in a fight and being stabbed to death. I smiled and thought to myself “they don’t get it”.
It’s difficult to explain the rituals and symbolism of Day of the Dead to someone who wasn’t brought up within the culture. I think Mexican writer and literature Nobel-prize winner Octavio Paz said it better: “For someone from New York, Paris or London, death is the word that is never pronounced, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, however, frequents her, mocks her, caresses her, sleeps with her, celebrates her, is one of his favorite toys and his most permanent love”. (translation mine)
After everyone on stage was dead, a few moments of heavy silence followed. And then…
Lights! Lively music! The dead arise! Beers for everyone! Dance, dance, dance! Many Arriba! Dale! EEEEAAAA!
Full on celebration!
Because public drunkness is, after all, 100% Mexican. You’re doing it right.
More quizzical looks from the non-Mexican family in front of me. Yes, peeps; this is death to a Mexican. The juxtaposition of the sorrow for those left behind, with the belief of el muerto al pozo, y el vivo al gozo (the dead to the hole, and the live to enjoy!)
Famous quotes, verses, rhymes and songs alluding death flew from the lips of those onstage, all in Spanish. Some people (who I guess didn’t speak the language) decided to leave the room. But I was curious to know the perception of those who had stayed and had not understood a word of what was said.When the show was over, I asked Kendra (Carol’s 22 year old daughter), what she thought all of it meant. “Well, I understood that the people were dying, and after that, it was all like just one big party. At moments it was as if they would stop and wonder if they could really be doing all this, to realize that yeah, they could!” Girl, you got it right.
With that amazing display, our day was over. The bus ride home seemed to last forever, mainly because of how tired I was. When we had to change buses at a station in the middle of nowhere, I quickly pulled out my camera to capture this on the driver’s dashboard, welcoming commuters:
May we all allow some bus driver wisdom into our lives. Peace.