The dead-quiet aftermath

All that remains of the artisan market on Monday was the canvas roof circling the plaza.

I WAS A FAN of the Day of the Dead long before I moved to Mexico.


There was a ceramic Catrina that stood on the bathroom counter in my Houston condo on Braes Bayou. I had purchased it at a Mexican artisan shop in a trendy area called The Heights. The place was owned by a real Mexican who charged me $200 for it.

When I moved down here, I discovered the same thing was easily available for the peso equivalent of $20 U.S., so I wuz robbed.

It was sheer coincidence that I moved to what is likely the most famous Day of the Dead town in Mexico. Oaxaca gives us competition. Never been there.

When I moved here 19 Days of the Dead ago, there was, and still is, an artisan market on our big plaza. It was haphazard, poorly organized, and many of the offerings were sheer crap that you might find in a Five & Dime.

Things have really changed. The artisan market years back was open to the vagaries of the weather, i.e. rain. Now the whole shebang sports a canvas roof. And the offerings have improved 100 percent. The junk is gone, and spectacular, high-quality goods are on sale. You should see it.

It lasts a week, going up the weekend before the Day of the Dead and coming down the weekend after.

* * * *

Two ways to do it.

We have two ways to experience Los Muertos, as the Day of the Dead is called in Spanish: the traditional and the carnival, what I call Party Hearty. The latter appears to be the more popular option, which is unfortunate.

To experience the traditional, visitors have many options. There are numerous small towns and villages in the area where residents do what’s long been done. They clean up the cemetery, decorate the graves with flowers, mostly marigolds, light candles and sit through the night, the theory being that the spirits of the departed return to visit.

What this produces is an eerie, incredibly beautiful, silent scene. It’s what takes place in my neighborhood cemetery, which we’ve visited on the Big Night a number of times, but not the last two years out of laziness. It’s walking distance from the Hacienda, which is great since traffic in the area all week, and especially on the Big Night, is beyond belief.

The second way to experience Los Muertos is Party Hearty, and it goes like this: You go to the island of Janitzio, which floats out in our large lake. The only way to get there is via motor launch. For some reason, Janizio is incredibly famous throughout Mexico and beyond for Los Muertos, even though their cemetery is like other cemeteries, and the locals do what locals do at other cemeteries.

I think it’s the novelty of the boat ride and the fact that it’s an island that’s given Janizio its celebrity. But whatever it is, tourists flock there is droves, mobs, hordes, incredible quantities of people. And they visit the Janitzio cemetery and more. There is music, dancing, food! And all is experienced while rubbing elbows with swarms of other sightseers.

It is not an “authentic” representation of the Night of the Dead. It’s a party. If you want a party, go to Janitzio. If you want to have a more traditional experience, go to one of the other villages. There are quite a few. But traffic will be bad wherever you go on the Big Night.

The artisan market on the big plaza of my mountaintop town lasted till Sunday. The next day, I drove downtown. Most of the tourists had fled. The vendors on the plaza had packed up and gone. It was peaceful again, as I prefer it.

* * * *

The aftermath

I sat with a café negro Americano and a sugar donut, looked toward the plaza and shot the photo at the top. The only thing remaining of the jam-packed artisan market was the canvas roof that will come down this week.

Later I walked to my car, which was parked just two blocks away on the street you see below, drove home and breathed a sigh of relief that peace has returned till next year. The market will appear again on Easter Week. The crowds will be big, but not quite so big as Los Muertos, and there will not be two ways to do it.

Just one. It involves Jesus.

Walking back to my car, two blocks from the plaza, amid the sounds of silence.

14 thoughts on “The dead-quiet aftermath

  1. Because Los Muertos is not observed in my area, or barely known of, I frequently forget this Hispanic ta-ta is going on until I read of it. I did see and I did purchase on your Plaza Grande, two exquisite ceramic Catrinas. Surprisingly, they made the rough journey back home with me several years back. They stand about 16″ tall and most people would describe them as garish. She balances a huge hat with a splendid ceramic feather on her head. I named her Fanny because … well, because. Her date for the night is Edgar who is decked out in tuxedo and top hat, holding a cigarette in finely tapered fingers. They are a work of art. I bought them in an art shop and probably paid more than what they would cost on the street, but I like to support the arts where possible. They are safely packed away for now, but next year I vow to set them out during the weeklong observance. All Saints Day is now circled on the 2019 calendar.


    1. Leisa: We prefer not to refer to Los Muertos as a Hispanic ta-ta, but you surely can. It’s a fascinating event. I just wish there were not so many visitors here. But it’s good for the local economy.


  2. I am glad too parties are over and the elections are over. There are some very quiet celebrations out here and also Catrina Contests and all done in good taste. I thought Ta-ta meant something else also. I don’t know if I learned something new or not.


  3. Think about putting Los Muertos in Oaxaca de Juárez on your list. It is worth doing and quite possibly a little different than you’re used to.



    1. Ricardo: I’ve long wanted to get down that way. Haven’t yet. But when I do, it won’t be for Los Muertos. I get enough of crowds and traffic jams here at home without going to Oaxaca to experience it in a different way. I’ll go when nothing much is happening. I prefer peace. But thanks for the suggestion anyway. Enjoy yourself.


  4. Glad the crowds are gone, which I think this year were more than past. The movie CoCo may have something to do with it as I hear people wanted to see what was depicted in the movie in person. Some of the merchants who are friends were very happy with the income associated with the celebration.

    Another year gone, some semblance of quiet might return.


    1. Tancho: Who knows the effect of Coco, a movie I loved, by the way, and saw here a second time about a week ago. If anyone went to Janitzio for a Coco experience, they really missed the boat, so to speak.


  5. I don’t know if I ever told you, but I took your recommendation and took my granddaughter to see “Coco” on the big screen when it first came out. It was amazing on the “big screen” (I’ve watched it on TV a dozen or so more times since — 3-year-olds like to revisit movies they like).

    I’ve wondered if the movie was an accurate depiction of the concept of Los Muertos. Thoughts?


    1. Ray: No, you did not tell me that you saw Coco. You told me that you were thinking of doing it or were going to do it, especially after I told you there was a loco dog in it for your young companion.

      I think the movie does depict the concept accurately, and it does it in a spectacularly beautiful way.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I see that Mexico City has started a Muertos Parade, probably after the James Bond movie a few years ago which depicted the same. Unfortunately, while I’ve been in CDMX close to Muertos, I’ve never been there on the day. One of these years I will. Assuming I ever escape Redding.


    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where every day is dead.


    1. Kim: I’m guessing what they’re doing in Mexico City is analogous to the Janitzio Carnival, an aberration of the event. Halloweenish.

      That may be the best postscript under your name that you’ve ever come up with. Kudos.

      Liked by 1 person

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