Today is All Souls Day...
Yesterday marked this year's Day of the Dead, which we noted with some interest here in New Mexico. We don't actually celebrate Dia de los Muertos, at least not in the way many of the locals do, in part because November 1 is our wedding anniversary. This year's anniversary is our 45th since we were married. We've been together for 47 (or is it 48?) years.
While I was getting our drinking water jug refilled yesterday, a couple of cowboys were at the other spigot waiting for their jug to fill, listening to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio in their truck, yocking and laughing up a storm. I nodded and smiled. Over in the park across the street, a wedding couple was having their pictures taken in the bandstand, children were running and playing, and I thought, "Oh how wonderful! This is where we live..."
So someone else chose Day of the Dead to get married, too. Our wedding anniversary is typically the main focus of our celebratory interest on November 1, as was the case this year. We don't let those who have passed be forgotten, however.
We have what amounts to a year-round ofrenda -- several of them come to think of it -- in the house. The Christmas tree is always up and always lit, for example, and that's for "Gramma," Ms. Ché's mother, who passed on in 2009. She loved Christmas; she loved the tree and the decorations. It just seemed right to put up a tree here and leave it up year round.
Above it on the left, actually above the doorway that leads to the section of the house where the library and the Jesus Room are, there's a shelf and on it are various objects that relate to Gramma and to the Honored Cat Mao. The two of them were, late in their lives, inseparable. They communed and communicated with one another on as deep and intimate a level as I think it's possible. They told one another stories, and they comforted one another as their lives were beginning to ebb away. The shelf -- along with the Christmas tree, which Mao loved, too -- is our version of a year-round ofrenda.
But we have what amounts to an altar on the other side of the room too, a bookstand on which various items, holy and profane, are placed for contemplation and honor. Father Roca figures prominently, and I think he'd smile, maybe he'd laugh out loud, if he saw it. There's a "Kitty Angel" that is the representative of all the feral felines who've passed on since we've been here. There's an Indian Warrior statuette that represents the Indian warriors who've passed through and passed on. There's Holy Water and Holy Dirt from Chimayo near Father Roca's picture and the program from his celebration of 70 years in the priesthood. There's a tambourine for musical interludes and various items for holiday cheer, including -- for now -- a glitter covered pumpkin, a pair of skeleton gloves and a ghoulish luminaria can. Nor should we forget the ceramic chicken. There's even an anniversary clock spinning merrily away, a reminder that "time passes." Profound!
Above this mini-altar/shrine is a painting by Charles Curtis Blackwell of a Mississippi farmer plowing the red Mississippi dirt, a painting I call "Git on up, Mule" which is a line from the poetry-play by Blackwell called "Is, the Color of Mississippi Mud" that we produced years ago, and that Blackwell created the large painting for. Above that are a couple of landscape paintings, one of an indeterminate farming area near a mountain range (not unlike where we are, but the barns around here aren't red...) and another titled "Jack Tone Road" which is a scene in the San Joaquin Valley of California, an area which is as surely imprinted in us as is this part of New Mexico. That area of Jack Tone Road is mostly orchard country -- or at least it was, the orchards may have been torn out by now, thanks to the drought and economics -- but the painting appears to depict old eucalyptus trees along the road which were planted as windbreaks back in the teens or twenties, trees which have also probably been cut down and disposed of by now. The image in the painting, therefore, is a memory of something that once was but may not be any more.
It's not exactly an ofrenda but it's not not one, either. Similarly, the bench/shelves in the entry hall hold a lot of items that elicit memories, too. There's a large Chinese vase full of (artificial) flowers that evokes memories of our California home(s) where often things that originated in China were collected and/or displayed. Some parts of California are tied to China much more closely than they are tied to Mexico and having something from China as it used to be is simply par for the course. Chinese things are considered somewhat exotic here in New Mexico, though, and some of the swells like to decorate their places with Chinese antiques and what have you rather than the far more typical Pueblo Indian pottery and Navajo rugs and so forth. The Chinese vase by the front door, however, is a nod to Things Chinese we recall from California rather than an emblem of rejection of Things Indian that are so common in New Mexico.
Next to the Chinese vase is a ceramic model of the Santa Clara Mission in California. I've never visited it -- one of the few California Missions I've not been to -- but Santa Clara (Saint Clare) was St. Francis's close spiritual companion in Assisi, and the mission model is a way of recalling and honoring her. Santa Clara, California, of course, is the heart of the Silicon Valley where such socially, economically and politically transformative things go on these days... and so in a backhanded way, the model of the Santa Clara Mission is a nod to that aspect of contemporary living as well.
There are photos which someone took on their European tour in a multi-picture frame behind the Mission model. I picked them up in a thrift store and thought they were interesting and charming. Every European tour seems to be the same, but here the pictures are somewhat different: A misty castle (or perhaps hotel) set on a crag viewed through an opening in the trees; a canal perhaps in Amsterdam though I can't be sure. There's a water-bird skimming the surface. It's quite elegant in its own way. The next picture appears to be a river-side scene, the river barely visible through the trees. There is a clearing in the foreground where one might picnic should one care to. The final picture is of a canal in Venice, tourists being squired about in gondolas. It's charming for its utter banality...
The colors in these photos are muted and somewhat faded. The pictures themselves are probably twenty five or thirty years old, maybe older, it's hard to say, for the images are timeless. These sights don't change, do they? Castles are always on their crags along the Rhine, the canals of Amsterdam are perpetual. Riversides in some parts of Europe have been nature preserves for centuries. The canals of Venice are living museums. These pictures could have been taken yesterday, and nothing much would have changed. That's part of the social and cultural context of Euro-America. Once set, a thing or a place deemed Historic is "forever." It never changes. Or it's never supposed to change.
Next to those pictures is an old Seth Thomas mantel clock. The works were pretty well shot, so I replaced them with chiming battery powered works that revivified this beat up old clock such that it seems quite festive and cheery now. Of course it's not authentic, but so what? It works and keeps good time. Not so before.
On top of the clock are varied things: a wooden sculpture by Stephen Wall that vaguely evokes something Native American, a old map of New Mexico in a frame that probably dates to the 1920s, a couple of skulls -- one ivory, one turquoise -- for the season. There are a number of other seasonal things including a nice crow scattered about below.
On the other side of the clock is an Adrian Wall sculpture called 'The Beauty.' An Indian maiden, wouldn't you know, only in this case, I was told the model was Adrian's wife, and it's a charming piece in its somewhat quirky delineation. I like it. She has a Mona Lisa smile and wears a squash-blossom necklace. There are some old and battered Shakespeare books, some game sets in wooden cases, an alabaster lamp with a scenic shade that we turn on when we'll be away after dark. "We'll leave the light on."
The wall above is covered with paintings, photos and prints. The central picture is a black and white photograph of a room at Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon. The photographer is from San Ildefonso Pueblo, and I bought the picture at Indian Market in Santa Fe a couple of years ago, first because it appealed to me, and second because this particular room was where Ms Ché and I had a kind of epiphany regarding the place and what it had been when it was occupied. Ms. Ché has had many epiphanies when she's been at Chaco, but this was one we shared, right there in that room, and the photo captures a sense of the mood and the moment. When I told the photographer of our experience there, he was intrigued. His own experience has been different, he said. There are times when the place speaks to him, but other times, he said, it's been silent, and he's captured what he sees as images of that silence. We had a lot of photos from Chaco that I stored online; unfortunately they were all deleted when that photo storage service shut down a few years ago, so I have very few photos we took at Chaco. This one takes the place of many of those that were lost.
There are many other items of memory and interest in the entrance hall. It was quite crowded with furnishings and objects at one time, but much of it was moved out as part of a more general clean-up project getting ready for the "New (half) Year."
October 31-November 1, you see, is also Samhain, the traditional Irish half-year festival, when winter sets in. In our tradition, we carry over only certain things from one (half) year to the next, and there's a good deal of clean up and disposal of whatever isn't going to be carried over. We made a lot of adjustments in the house getting ready. Several rooms were rearranged. Some of the paintings were re-framed, and others were replaced. Rugs were taken out or replaced. Cobwebs that had been collecting all year were taken down. (We're not adverse to most spiders, but their webbage can get to be extreme!) The point was to make modest but necessary changes before the onset of winter.
A lot of things that I might have done this year were delayed or abandoned because of the sciatic attack I suffered in January. Here it is November, and I've only partially recovered. I still have quite a limp, but worse for me is the loss of endurance. There's only so much I can do before I have to stop and rest, and it bothers me a great deal. It seems much more difficult for me to get around any more. Though I don't have to use a cane regularly, if I'm going to be out and about for more than an hour or so, I'll have one with me and use it as necessary. Stairs have become a challenge. There are other ambulatory challenges as well, some of which I'm still adapting to and getting used to.
Age. Yes, getting older. Recognizing my own mortality. Slowing down.
In some ways it's frustrating; in many other ways, though, it's a relief.
So as we pass into the next half-year, we honor those who we admire, who have gone before us, whose memories we treasure, and we look to tomorrow as well.
All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Day of the Dead, Samhain... a time for reflection, a time for memory.