¡Feliz Dia de los Muertos!
by Niko Mackey
I was at work, shelving some Non-Fiction books when I came across a little gift. I was happy to say the [very] least; honestly, I feel blessed. In transparent green gift wrap was a skull, properly painted to a Day of the Dead motif: flowers, hearts, and frills, all in vibrant colors. Attached by silver ribbon (curled of course!) was a red index-sized card. Amongst other things, it says “Today the Universe picks YOU to receive this gift.” I was instantly in love with it.
The gift is courtesy of Art Abandonment, “… a group designed to encourage random acts of art, left in various locations around the globe.” I don’t know about anyone else, but that there is one of the single greatest ideas ever. I checked out their Facebook page, and saw a picture (not the one below) of my precious skull sneaked from the next aisle over and the following caption:
“The New Port Richey Library, downstairs.
I had to boogie to the next isle to be discrete.
(by the way, the plastic it’s wrapped in is VERY noisy;
this is good to know!)
When I left, less than 15 minutes later,
I saw it in the hands of staff, behind the desk.
I hope one of them will enjoy it.”
Well, Miss Turansky, you don’t need to worry about anything. I am most grateful for your gift.
Having just unwrapped the my skull, I can finally get a better look. It is of paper mache construction, hollow on the inside. I’m not familiar with paper mache, and it is evident (at least to me) that the newspaper is not attached to any other structure, so I’m simply amazed at how the artist managed to get such a great looking skull.
The bottom says, “HONOR THE DEAD / CELEBRATE LIFE.” As you can see in the pictures, the whole skull is awesome. I love not only the little heart, but also the tiny design hidden beneath it. I’m a natural analyzer, and nothing escapes my critical observation, so I can say, no, it’s not perfect: a lack of symmetry is evident; the paint has strayed from the penciled design, which is still visible, and at some points out of the lines; the shapes are inconsistent, as is the texture of the paint used. But these flaws don’t bother me in the least; in fact, I think my skull is perfect.
Yes, that is a weird thing to say, but it’s true. I wish I was Mexican so I could properly celebrate Dia de los Muertos. As stated, it’s the greatest holiday in existence. The juxtaposition of images of death with flowers, hearts, and other “cutesy” designs is fascinating. The degree to which family members honor their dead relatives is humbling. They prepare all year so that a proper feast may be presented to their loved ones; graves are cleaned and decorated with marigolds (marigolds!) to attract the dead to a feast of their favorite foods and beverages. My great-grandfather’s “grave” (he was cremated and put in a wall at the cemetery) occasionally receives a different set of artificial flowers.
Death surrounds Mexico, as it does everywhere else. The only difference is that Mexicans celebrate it with more passion than most other cultures can muster for a similar occasion. Here in the US, people are afraid of death; read anything by Don Delillo: out of fear, death guides his fingers across the keyboard. Mexicans not only welcome back their dead loved ones to the present realm to partake in festivities, but also paint their faces in the image of skulls and decorate their houses with signs of death. It’s an acceptance of death, not only as a natural occurring phenomenon, but also as an essential part of life.
I first learned of Dia de los Muertos in elementary(?) school when my class read the late and great Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. As a kid I was entranced, albeit confused, by this culturally important holiday: I desired the candy skulls, which I imagined as being monstrously huge in size; I also didn’t quite comprehend the cultural aspect: an American raised by Portuguese immigrants has distinctly different ethnic experiences compared to that of a Mexican.
I find the Mexican culture as a whole magical. There is something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. I can hear it in the music of their spanish guitars and I can see it in the eyes and paintings of Frida Kahlo, but I can’t live it. It’s the wife spending hours at the grinding stone preparing tortillas for the family while the husband tills the unforgiving dust, hoping the crops won’t finally give up from the never ending lack of water; it is nothing I know.
I’m just subjected to annual yearnings for a different lineage: when Halloween comes around, absolutely my least favorite holiday, aside from New Years, I think to myself, “Those lucky Mexicans are having all the fun!” I want to be among the dead, celebrating life.
And so I look back at my beautiful paper mache skull, realizing that on such a glorious holiday I’m stuck beyond the screen of my laptop. I can be sad, but my skull agrees with me, shedding purple tears from vacant eyes adorned with a blue and green flower pedal design: I’m happy after all.
Thank you infinitely, Sherry Stamback Turansky.