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Sugary Skulls

Nov. 6, 2022

by Dr. David, Fialk, Editor / Pubisher

Mexican fiestas are often multi-day affairs. These people really know how to party. Here in Colonia San Antonio, Día de Los Locos, the day of our neighborhood's sainted namesake, San Antonio de Padua, begins before the day of the parade, June 13, with 10 nights of festivities in the plaza in front of the church.

My favorite origin story of Los Locos has it that the brothers of Saint Anthony gave as penance the obligation to dance through the street from their church up to el Centro. Rich folks, performing this, hid their embarrassment and their identities behind masks and costumes.

Another history asserts that Los Locos is actually in honor of San Juan Bailón, the patron saint of orchards. It recounts that orchard owners, and who didn't have a few fruit trees back then, brought their offerings to the saint on that day, in a gay procession.

All of the above may be true, contributing factors to our modern Día de Los Locos. But the patron saint of orchards has his own day, and it's not June 13, but May 17. I know because on it I was trapped by another wave of Los Locos celebratory madness while I was dog sitting for my friend Veronica up in Manatial. My first warning that day was a really impressive amount of noise, approaching from a distance. This hullabaloo turned out to be two flatbed trucks, piled high with blaring speakers, each leading sizable contingents of gyrating Locos and Indians, that made their way up the street and encamped right in front of Vero's house. I kid you not; the party stretched up and down the street some short way, but the focal point of the festivities, the over-amplified carnival music, the drumming and the dancing, was directly outside Veronica's front patio.

I, myself, was not actually physically trapped. With my fingers in my ears, I could have made my way to the empty lot next door and escaped, through that to the next street over. But I couldn't abandon my canine charge, Canela. Nor, in her hyper-excited state, dared I bring that good dog with me. Cuetes, aerial quarter sticks of dynamite, were exploding right above our house. The music was deafening. The celebrants were moving frenetically. As it was, Canela was in the back bedroom, on the far side of the bed, as distant as she could get from what really was mayhem. She's a good dog, but she's got some pit bull in her, and when feeling threatened, she's been known to nip. I put in a pair of earplugs, and spent the next few hours alternately observing the festivities and minding my own business, which included a good bit of calming the dog.

"Anyone with any sense had already left town." Lilly, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts - Bob Dylan

As I write this, on Sunday, October 30, Día de los Muertos is almost upon us. Day of the Dead really ought to be called Days of the Dead, covering as it does two day, All Saints' and All Souls', November 1 and 2. Here again, as with Los Locos, the festivities begin before the actual occasion.

A little more savvy than I was back in May, I learned from an announcement poster in Manatial, where I am again sitting Vero's dog, that today is St Judas' Day. The poster informing me of this goes on to invite everyone to a celebration in honor of that saint (I'm Jewish, but wasn't he the bad guy?) beginning at 4:00, featuring, again, by Los Locos and troops of dancing Indians. (I wondered about these dancing Indians, until I realized that almost every Mexican, except the whitest of the white, does have Indian blood.)

Earlier today, long before 4:00, the street was already clearing out. It may be that some neighbors had only moved their cars to make way for the festivities, but I did see some who were clearly driving off towards quieter ground. Following their lead, around 2:30, I hopped on my bicycle and with Canela ecstatically running alongside, made our way down the hill to my place here behind Iglesia San Antonio.

Now, here, while writing this, Canela is stretched out on her blanket at my feet. With no idea from what fate she has been saved. Having raided the cat's food twice already, she nonetheless, as always on these visits, eagerly anticipates our return home. I am not so anxious in that regard, hearing as I do the explosions of distant cuetes coming from that direction. And, when the wind is right, I swear I hear snatches of those inane Los Locos melodies, drifting down the hill. That is, I would swear, if I weren't old enough to know how the mind plays tricks on us. And, really, the music might be coming from another, closer preparatory party, other folks limbering up for the main event.

We extranjeros are impressed with Mexico's distinct attitude towards death. Already family members are decorating graves, preparing the favorite foods of their dearly departed. Already in homes, candles are illuminating photographs on flower-strewn altars. It is a beautiful folk custom, these Days of the Dead, an embrace of the irrevocable.

For me, the past, dead and gone, is a more somber subject. My ghosts are not so friendly. I am haunted by persons and situations long expired. Remorse looms up when I look back. I find myself mourning not being loved and not being loving enough, wishing that the loss could be undone, that I could make it up to others and to myself. But eras end, and with them opportunities. And that finality for me is death, rendering, as it does, everything it touches out of reach. Listen how it mocks me, "Too late. Too late."

When I was young and the world stretched out before me, I believed in cure, in sorting it out and overcoming. In middle age I put away those youthful dreams and focused on coming to terms, on being able to compensate for my deficit, on a truce. Now with old age approaching in earnest the hungry ghosts will not be denied. I am not consuming the sugary skulls. The sugary skulls consume me.

And maybe, after all, this was all that could be hoped for. The crooked could not be made straight. Perhaps the Mexicans have it right; to pay death homage and go off dancing in the streets. Perhaps in writing this, confessing my sins, my fear and regret, I am paying homage, keeping my relationship with death alive. Maybe, this is my penance, my dance, undisguised, through the streets.

Now, as I wipe away the tears, the day is closing. It's time to turn on the light or hit the road. The coolness of night falling is already washing down the mountain. Now in the quiet, from that same height, from Manatial, I clearly hear the thunderous drumming of the Indian dancers. Canela, on her blanket, keeps asking with her eyes when we are going home. Come on, old girl, we'll try our luck now. If worse comes to worst, we'll wait in the park.

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