Canta y no llores (on the day of the dead)

10 Nov

I was born on a really special day,  the only day of the year when it is celebrated dead people: the second of November.

In Italy and most of the catholic countries it is normally a day where people go to cemeteries and pray for their beloved.

When I was a kid, I hated being born on such a sad day, I hated that I couldn’t celebrate my birthday at school with schoolmates because on that day everything was normally shut in order to commemorate the dead.

By growing up, I started to change my mind. I was just considering that being born on the day of dead was somehow special, because every year I celebrated life instead.

And few years ago I discovered that if you ever want to celebrate the day of the dead somewhere in the world, that place is Mexico, where the deceased come back to visit their beloved during the month of November

A place where on 2nd of November people would cry of course, but would transform such a mystic fact as death into something to enjoy and celebrate. Celebrate the fact that when somebody dies, is actually going somewhere better.

Last year I had met Zitaima, a lovely Mexican girl at a birthday party in London, she had suggested me once again to go to her country on that date because celebrations were great and there was probably not a best time to enjoy Mexican folklore.

She convinced me immediately. I said her goodbye and promised I would go and visit her soon. And surprisingly, it was quite soon and my wish was going to realize soon. It is not coincidence that I landed in Mexico City on the 30th October, directly from Los Angeles.

I spent just one day in D.F. (Distrito Federal – Mexico City) and the following morning I left to Patzcuaro, in the state of Michoacán, a trip of about 5 hours driving from the capital.

In the car there was me, Elisabeth – an Austrian girl I had met in London through Sandrine and Zitaima with her flatmate Luis. None of us really knew the other much, but it sounded exciting anyway. Luis took care of all the girls during the trip, he was really sweet.

We arrived at destination with the dark; on the way we stopped at a few OXXO ( one of the most popular Mexican marts) for a break. Michoacán was rainy, and we found lots of traffic to get there.  It is a   popular destination for day of dead celebration but not only for that. The state of Michoacán is also known for being dangerous for Narco Traficant attacks; it was quite awkward to find military cars with men and tommy-guns outside supermarkets and public areas. We actually found a big Walmart and bought some food and alcohol to bring at home. Tequila for sure. I lost my friends in there. Was wondering where they were hiding, I found it why only few hours later.

We arrived at our cabaña in Ihuatzio (20 minutes from Patzcuaro) around 9 pm, while entering the town we passed through an arch full of orange flowers called Cempasuchil.

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People was decorating the town including that arch to be ready for the following day. Apparently this is a typical flower of the day of the death. And you can literally find it everywhere, outside the houses, in the streets, and even in some fashionable hairstyles.

Our cabana was located in a complex of wooden cabanas on a lake. Incredibly beautiful but a little bit scary at the same time; none of the other cabanas had lights on, everything was pretty dark and silent that at some point we were even making fun of the fact that it was  Halloween and that ghosts would have probably pop by to say hi.

Nevertheless, it was comforting to be welcomed by two lovely dogs: a Labrador called Estrella and a Beagle named Madonna, as well as a little frog in the kitchen who would be rescued from Luis and left into the grass again.

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We had some wine and decided to go for a tranquil night, we were tired from the trip and it was really cold. A totally different weather from DF.

As I was in the mood for cooking, as usual,  I prepared pasta for the new community. Spaghetti all´arrabbiata – spaghetti with spicy tomatoes, a typical Italian dish.  Simply and easy. It was actually delicious, I am sure the Mexican chilli was of a great help.

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The following day we woke up in a nice landscape with views on the lake, we had breakfast outside on a massive wood table, there were the two lovely dogs as well and we started making plans for the day.

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While driving towards the city we bumped into many cars transporting the cempasuchil , maybe on the way to decorate an arch, an altar or a whole square.

We went to the capital of the State of Michoacán, called Morelia, a lovely colonial city about one hour from our cabana.

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We parked and spent the day wandering around the city. In one of those streets I had a dejavu; that place reminded me a lot of Uruguay, especially Colonia and Montevideo.

In Morelia we had the first approach on dia de muertos in Mexico: there were skulls and flowers everywhere. We looked intrigued at the first ofrendas: celebrations consist in family and friends gathering at the altars honouring the deceased using sugar skulls, candles, marigolds and the favourite foods and beverages of the departed – often mole and tequila.

I bought a spongy and buttery pan de muerto, typical sweet bread for this festivity at a lovely bakery called Trico in the historic town. 
Morelia is really nice; close to the huge Hispanic cathedral there were many decorations, also a giant skeleton with a video camera; this town is also very popular for its international cinema festival that would actually happen just during those days.

On that day I saw for first time in my life two policia municipal on wheelchairs. I found it unusual but also surprised me because I had not seen any before even in countries like Great Britain and United States, where disabled are 100% integrated into the society.

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While working for the London Paralympics last summer I had realised how disabled people with willing power were able to do things that not even the half of capable would do.

After a long walk we stopped at a nice café with the excuse of an espresso, but most of us also wanted to find a Wi-Fi spot to feed our social network addiction. Then we headed towards the station to pick up the fifth member of group: Daniela, a half Mexican half Austrian sweet girl friend of Elisabeth that was also around for holidays.

Daniela got immediately integrated with the rest of the group. We went straight to Paztcuaro to see its popular artisanal market and live the atmosphere. The town was quite disappointing and surprisingly not as authentic as i expected, people around were not very recommendable neither. They kept staring at us all the time.

Plus, there was a lot of police with tommy-guns and I felt a little bit unsafe, it was not a pleasant walk.

The good thing is that I bought a corn on the cob with chilli (one of my favourite street food) from an old lady’s cart and I also bought a calaverita, a plastic skull empty inside: kids use it on this day to go and ask for candies in the street. A kind of Halloween “trick or treat”.  I would find a funny use to it few hours later, but not for candies …

During the late afternoon in Italy it was already my birthday due to the time difference, so I started to receive sms and calls from family and friends. I got just a little melancholic for not being with them. But as a proper gipsy, I try to learn more and more how to deal with emotions far away from home.

We went to buy some more food and drinks and we started to get into the” birthday”, my birthday mood. Our favourite artists of the night: Nicolas jaar, XX, El guincho, Feist, Lykke li etc. Music helped to warm up the atmosphere as usual. 
There were probably other 10 cabanas around us, this time they all nearly had lights turned on. Such a difference with the previous night when we were literally the only ones in the complex. And by the way, no ghost passed by.

There was a cabaña in front of us that had loud music on and surprisingly they were listening to the same music as us. Not the typical smash-hit of the month, and that made us quite curious to know who’s there listening to our some tunes.

Elizabeth and I are great fans of music, especially electronic and of course got immediately excited. From the window we could see that they were quite young so our male representative Luis decided to go and check it out.

He came back saying that we were right about the age but that those guys sounded funny and cool, and when he told them there were 4 girls with 4 different nationalities in that hidden place in the world, they got  intrigued and told him to bring us there for a drink. A drink, just one he may think. We were an Italian, a  Mexican, an Austrian and a German girl. I can’t blame them,  I guess it sounded quite exotic to them !

I grabbed my new plastic skull  (calaverita) and us girls put some of the many zitaima’s aunt’ hats. We crossed the 
grassland and joined the new neighbours. Their house was the perfect place for a party: there was even a bar with hundreds of bottles on the shelves , the sound system was great and there was even a Jacuzzi in the middle of the house. I was offered some tequila from one of them. I replied: “no thank you, I don’t like Tequila”.
They would make fun of this statement few hours later.

Carlos, Andres20130121-021534.jpgs, Pablo and Daniel: they were all so friendly and welcoming.

 

After few drinks, we decided to go together to the biggest party of the weekend, where major celebrations happen:  at Tzintzuntzan cemetery. Please try to say this name loud if you can, because it took me quite a while to.

It was for sure our favourite name place for the millions of way we called it during the weekend, and for the Chinese sound we associated this place. We went back at our cabana to take our things before to go out, so I went upstairs to get a suit. After not even  1 minute Luis started to call me saying we were late and that I had to hurry up.

I was surprised and kind of  pissed off because I had just gone upstairs, but didn’t want them to wait and I run those wooden stairs  quickly.  Lights were down and all was silent.

I had not realized that it was midnight in Mexico and they were there in circle holding a cake for my birthday! Now I knew where they had been hiding in the Walmart!

I was so far away from home, far from my friends, my family and especially from my twin sister Rubina. Few hours before I had felt a little nostalgic about it but suddenly I had forgotten that bad feeling.

It was such a special birthday. Luis had in his hands a cake. They sung happy birthday to me in Spanish and English. And German. So emotional and unexpected. Of course I had a tear.

Mexican tradition wants that the “cumpleanero” – the birthday girl/boy – must bite the cake, and so I did. Straight after we joined the new neighbours so to all go together to the cemetery.

While in the car I was holding a  calaverita full of tequila,   we sang few Jovanotti songs  (thanks to Zitaima) and parked behind the cemetery. We lost the neighbours in the crowd.

In the parking there was an adorable 7 years old kid, he was not there to celebrate but to work with his older brother. I hugged him and thank him, I wish I could bring it with me to celebrate at the feast. His name was Bryan. Elisabeth could delight you in imitating my declaration of love to this sweet boy. I was upset and felt guilty for playing with a candy skull in my hand while he was working instead.

At Tzintzutzan cemetery we found a magic atmosphere. I had never experienced anything similar in my life.

Thousand of  flowers, tombs and altars and a crowd made of familiars of dead people but also tourists and curious arrived to this place to experience this unique moment.

It was a contrast of candlelights, dark sky, people crying and people laughing, life and death together for a mysterious celebration. Mariachis singing. They say that even the deceased come and dance with us on that day.

Music and voices. And it was my birthday. I started to cry for the emotion followed by the others. It was not sad but difficult to describe the situation. It reminded me of the person whom I have been missing for every single day since 19 years now and I got a little bit sensitive.  I swear I felt like she was there. Ciao Fortuna, I said loud.

If somebody would have told me one day that I would spend my birthday in a cemetery I would have found it impossible. But  I assure you that it was really emotional. I suggest you all to go once in your life to Mexico for this date. Because you can feel your beloved close wherever you are, but probably that special place in the middle of nowhere has been designed for us to feel them closer.

On those tombs there is normally the favourite drink, food and sometimes just an object that the dead used to like in life.. For  kids it would be common to leave them a toy or a doll.  Wishing they are still playing with them somewhere above the clouds. It was quite tough but what is death if not the physical separation. We all know that we will meet them again, maybe under another shape, another body. But we will keep meeting those beautiful souls.

Many people also decide to overnight with their beloved on the graves and tradition say they would expect the food or drink to disappear on following day.

Once back at the cabaña we turned again the music, lights and spirits on, celebrating my amazing birthday.

All around in the other cabanas there was people having fun, with bonfires, singing and dancing. Is it the celebration and acceptance of death the ultimate step to be able to love more life? Maybe yes.

Our 4 neighbours came back to our place to continue the party together. One of them was apparently “dead” in the car and we had to go and rescue him. 
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We danced on the big wooden table and chairs outside. My partner in crime Andres  was the best dancer ever. We enjoyed swapping hats and glasses grabbed from everywhere,  there was the best energy I could ever desire from a birthday far away from home.

I can tell now, that it was the most emotional and beautiful birthday of my life and for that I want to thank Zitaima, Elisabeth, Luis, Daniela, Carlos, Andres, Pablo and Daniel.

At some point we all sat and starting to chat. In Mexico they call it placticar; I loved it, speaking with a stranger and finding so many things in common even being from the other part of the world is always fascinating.

Positive attitude is always the key. When you stay positive you can transform a sad day into a good one, and a birthday celebrated thousand kms away as the warmest of your life. And Mexican are the masters in it.

Their most popular song  is “Cielito Lindo” – known all over the world and played everywhere in Mexico especially from mariachis; it is often as a theme song in international events like FIFA World Cup. Who has not these lyrics in their head:

“Ay! ¡ay! ¡ay! ¡ay!, ¡canta y no llores!

Porque cantando se alegran, cielito lindo, los corazones ”

(Sing, don’t cry, because singing brightens up the hearts)

 

 

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