This week’s dream
In Mexico for the Day of the Dead
Entering the main square in Pátzcuaro, “I felt like I had tumbled into Disney’s Coco,” said Patricia Harris in The Boston Globe. The Mexican town of 80,000 has become “almost too famous” for its Day of the Dead celebrations, yet the joy in the air that afternoon was irresistible. A day before the actual observances began, an arts fair filled the tree-shaded plaza while mariachi music spilled from restaurants tucked into the colonnades of the surrounding colonial buildings. Marigolds were everywhere, filling the mountain air with their wonderful aroma, and at the vendors’ stalls, stacks of decorated sugar skulls “attracted children and bees in equal measure.” Women of all ages were having their faces painted to transform into “La Catrina,” the elegantly dressed skeleton figure that has become an emblem of the holiday.
My brief stay would award me with far more than a check mark on my travel bucket list. Though I heard other tourists complaining that the folk dances and parades they had read about didn’t materialize on time or at all, I learned from the locals’ example. On Nov. 1 itself, I followed families into the municipal cemetery and watched as they scrubbed the graves of loved ones and adorned them with framed photos and marigolds, stopping when I approached to happily share stories about the deceased. When I asked one woman if the ceremonies saddened her, she said no. Being amid her lost family members made her contenta—happy. “Clearly I had a lot to learn from the Mexicans. I found myself openly weeping.”
I waited until the following day to take a ferry to the cemetery on Janitzio, an island in Lake Pátzcuaro. The flowers, photos, and candles left a day earlier gave the dramatic graveyard “a magnificent, almost excessive poignancy.” Yet a year later, what sticks with me most is how the people of Pátzcuaro lived with their losses, gracefully accepting death’s inevitability and learning to take greater pleasure in friends and family. While outsiders worried about lost photo opportunities, the locals “continued to eat and talk and shop and flirt and just thoroughly enjoy life.”
At Hotel Mision Pátzcuaro Centro Historico (telephone 011-52-434-342-0484), doubles start at $45. ■