It is Dias de los Muertos in Mexico. A day of honoring the memory of loved ones. But, to this American expat it has been a cultural revelation. Here they actually seem to accept death as the normal cycle of life. In fact, they don’t just accept it, they celebrate it. Now, since I come from a culture that, for the most part, seems to merely fear the inevitable, we tend to bury our dead in monotones with statues and marble as our accoutrements. Quiet, regal settings that keep us talking in hushed voices when we visit. Not here. Here the cemeteries are filled with vivid colors and contrasts that explode with the commentary that illuminates our differences.
I’m currently living on the island of Cozumel and decided to take advantage of the fact that I live fairly near a cemetery. However, since I’m still not quite sure what is, or is not, appropriate to photograph, I decided to go early in the morning. A time when most of the locals would not yet have arrived. And, with the sun just peeking out over the rooftops, the colors were surprising. Just about everywhere I looked I saw shades of yellows, greens, pinks and blues. This was not like any cemetery I’d ever been to before. And, as I started to walk around, I noticed something else that was just plain fun. Statues here were not just brightly painted, but some actually had what looked like real eyelashes and/or lipstick. Now I know I never saw anything like it before. So, there I was in a cemetery and I couldn’t stop smiling. That was the first time I realized this was going to be a great day. I took out my camera and started to take a few pics.
Not long after I arrived a few locals began to filter in. Careful to be quiet and respectful, I’d nod and smile. But, most just grinned and wished me a good morning without the expected whispers. Often they were carrying bags, flowers, and bottles of either beer, coke, or water. I was glad that I knew enough about the day to realize they were carrying their dearly departed’s favorite beverage and not just having an early snack. Although, from what I hear, whole picnics might well be held tonight. But, the morning seemed to be mostly for acknowledgement and preparation.
As I walked around I noticed that the contrasts between the rich and poor continue into the next life. Just as one can walk down a street on the island and see a mansion next to a tin roofed shack, the graves clearly demonstrated the difference between the haves and the have nots. But, what I found so interesting is that they aren’t segregated. There is little to no space between elaborate mausoleums and painfully plain graves. Although the flower arrangements might be a bit more grand for the wealthy, with crystal and cobalt vases, I noticed that other options could serve the same function. In one case a sawed off Coke bottle was used, and why not? The sentiment is the same even if the wrapping is not.
Something else I discovered was that many of the graves held those who’d lived quite a long life. This surprised me since I’d been told that the quality of life for Mexicans is so different that life expectancy is often quite short, but many of the inscriptions showed that living until one is in their eighties, or more, is not unusual. There were, of course, those that did not live long. In fact, I walked past one area where a few men who’d died comparatively young were side by side. It was interesting to note that someone had already placed bottles of beer in front of their graves to get the day started. It is such a great concept that I found myself smiling again. Who’d have thought?
After taking about an hour to walk through and photograph the many sites I decided that it was time to start heading home. I stopped for a picture of a couple of cherubs in psychedelic colors, then another of a statue wearing lipstick just leaning against a wall. Whether its’ posture was intentional, or not, it was still quite whimsical. In fact, there was little to make one depressed, or regretful and I was happy to have visited. Here’s hoping you enjoy the “Day of the Dead” and thanks for coming along. Salud!
p.s. in honor of the day, here are a few more pics I just had to include……