Folks in Puerto Vallarta Take the Dead Seriously… Sort of

Catrina hound in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

The charming Catrina has come to symbolize the Day of the Dead. Each artist creates his or her own version. I thought the heart and flowers added a special touch.

Come November 1st, people in Mexico prepare to entertain their dead ancestors. El Día de los Muertos, or, the Day of the Dead, has arrived. Home altars are set up; special foods are left out for the dearly departed; and people get ready to party with grandpa, even though he is no longer around. Why not? If you’d been moldering away in a grave for twenty years— or even a day as far as that goes, wouldn’t you be ready for a little fun, a bottle of tequila, and a six-pack of cerveza?

From a more serious perspective, the Day of the Dead allows people to get together and remember friends and family who have passed on. The tradition dates back to the ancient times of the Aztecs. More recently, the Catholic Church adopted it, as it often has with indigenous beliefs, to expand the flock and keep them faithful. The government, in hopes of promoting national unity, declared the day a national holiday.

Not far behind the church and the state, Mexican businesses quickly figured out that El Día de los Muertos was a cash cow waiting to be milked. Almost any market you enter in Puerto Vallarta offers Day of the Dead items for purchase. Among the most popular are skulls.

Skull art found in Puerto Vallarta.

Skulls are found for sale everywhere in Puerto Vallarta. This fine example is a from Oaxaca. The shop person told me that all of the paint brushes used in Oaxaca art are made from human hair.

Okay, this skull is wild! The art is created by laying lines of beads into wax, a process used by the Huichol indians.

Okay, this skull is wild! The art is created by laying lines of beads into wax, a process used by the Huichol indians.

Skull art found in Puerto Vallarta.

Ceramic skulls are much more common in markets, and much less expensive.

An army of skulls found in the Municipal Market of Puerto Vallarta.

An army of skulls found in the Municipal Market of Puerto Vallarta.

Miniature box art for the Day of the Dead found in Puerto Vallarta.

Miniature box art also captures the spirit of The Day of the Dead. This is a scene in an auto mechanic’s shop. Everyone, it appears, is having a good laugh. Maybe they are discussing the bill.

Dealing with the spirits of the dead is worldwide. When I was a little boy growing up next to a graveyard and sleeping outside in the summer, I encouraged our three cats and two dogs to sleep on the small cot with me. They were my protection from the denizens of the dark. It didn’t matter that there was barely room for me. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, I quickly learned that the spirits of the newly dead were particularly dangerous. An all night wake, with lots of rum and much wailing, was required to send the restless spirit on his or her way. My first night in Gbarnga, I heard people screaming and beating drums without a clue about what was happening. It was a long night.

We arrived in Mexico a few days too late to rub elbows with the dead, but we ran into Catrina in a number of locations. This lovely skeleton-woman with her stylish look and clothes has come to symbolize the Day of the Dead and Mexico’s willingness to laugh at death. She started off in the early 1900s as something of a satirical comment on Mexico’s one-percenters of the time, and their desire to wear the latest and most expensive of European fashions. She served as a reminder that regardless of our social status in life, we all end up in the same condition: dead. I salute the people of Mexico for their sense of humor about the subject.

Judging from the number and variety of Catrinas we found, I surmised that Puerto Vallarta's visitors bureau had sponsored a Catrina contest for the Day of the Dead.

Judging from the number and variety of Catrinas we found, I surmised that Puerto Vallarta’s visitors bureau had sponsored a make your own Catrina contest for the Day of the Dead.

We found this Catrina with her frilly hat at the Municipal Market.

We found this Catrina with her frilly hat, hot pepper necklace, and cactus blouse at the Municipal Market.

We found this realistic Catrina at the same location in the Municipal Market on a previous visit to Puerto Vallarta.

And this realistic Catrina at the same location in the Municipal Market on a previous visit to Puerto Vallarta. Note the snazzy ear rings.

I wondered if this blond bombshell with her generous boobs wasn't a Marilyn Monroe Catrina.

I wondered if this blond bombshell with her generous boobs wasn’t a Marilyn Monroe Catrina.

I don't think I have ever seen a plunging neckline plunge this much.

I don’t think I have ever seen a plunging neckline plunge this much. And isn’t the red hat something! I’m thinking this lady is someone’s Valentine.

A Huichol artist worked on creating a Catrina in one of the shops we visited.

A Huichol artist worked on creating a Catrina in one of the shops we visited. I added my pesos to her tip jar and snapped a photo.

Miniature Catrinas, such as this one, and their male counterparts are created to sell to people who don't have have room, or the money, to buy a big one. Many are quite beautifully made with fine attention to detail.

Miniature Catrinas, such as this one— and their male counterparts, are created to sell to people who don’t have the room or money to buy a big one. Many are quite beautifully made with fine attention to detail.

The Puerto Vallarta airport featured a number of Catrina's, including this one.

This gal greeted us at the Puerto Vallarta airport as we were flying back to Oregon.

 

NEXT BLOG: “Want to buy some junk? Almost free.” words of a vendor as we passed his booth. The markets of Puerto Vallarta carry everything from tourist trinkets to valuable folk art.

A miracle of the modern culinary arts: the self stuffing turkey. Happy Thanksgiving. The turkey above is from one of the cards I used to create before writing and blogging took over my life. While we celebrate family and friends here in the US, I also want my friends in Europe and other parts of the world who have suffered so much recently to know that my thoughts are with you. Every day. –Curt

A miracle of the modern culinary arts: the self stuffing turkey. Happy Thanksgiving.     The turkey above is from one of the cards I used to create before writing and blogging took over my life.    While we celebrate family and friends here in the US, I also want my friends in Europe and other parts of the world who have suffered so much recently to know that my thoughts are with you. Every day. –Curt

 

 

 

 

 

25 comments on “Folks in Puerto Vallarta Take the Dead Seriously… Sort of

  1. That’s a wonderful turkey Curt, but please tell me what is draped over its beak. And is it a self portrait? 🙂
    Fabulous Catrinas! I think the plunging neckline one is my fave. One day I would like to be in Mexico for the day of the dead.
    Alison

    • We’ve visited San Miguel de Allende for a week a couple of years ago and are planning 5 months there in the new year. It’s a beautiful Spanish colonial town, and I swear half the time we wondered if we were in Mexico or Spain. Also, close by is the state capital Guanajuato. I don’t know if it has a counterpart in Spain or not, but it is also very beautiful and very European – definitely worth a visit.
      Alison

      • Guanajuato is incredible Alison. My daughter studied abroad in Queretero for a year and a half. I visited her and we went to wonderful Xacatecas. There is a hotel in Queretero called La Casa de la Marquesa. It is the most beautiful place I have ever stayed. San Miguel is wonderful with all the expat artists and their creative homes. Andrea’s Mexican friends call it San Miguel del Gringos. I was going to call The Holler Casa de los Gringos Locos, but Jim nixed it. Party pooper. What an awesome 5 months you will have!

  2. Loved all the photos of the Catrinas, but your card really tickled me. You’re such a talented guy — always a surprise around here! And I thought immediately of Alison’s type of snood when I read the word. They’re actually quite popular here, at least among the Renaissance Faire sorts. Some of the fabric ones can be quite fancy and appealing.

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