We were sitting in a classroom, surrounded by maps of Spanish-speaking regions, paintings, books, masks, and icons. Don Claudio was rushing home to prepare the dough for tomorrow’s pan de muerto. But first, he explained to me how Mexican families visit with the souls of their parents, friends, and children who have passed on. They cook meals for them, like mole, but make it extra strong; during the night, while the families sit by candlelight in the graveyards, the deceased imbibe the essence of the food left on the altars, which the family then eats the next day (though by then it is insipid).
I also heard from Rough Guide and Footprint author Richard Arghiris, who is traveling across Mexico to research his next book. When I told don Ricardo that I was looking for details to share with my students, he reported, “I had a wander around the zÃ³calo today and they’ve set up the most amazing altars. The place is completely overrun with skeletons. They’ve even put skulls at the base of the cross outside the cathedral. Some of the displays are hilarious too, like a mock-up metro train packed with skeletons staring out of the windows (having taken Mexico City’s early morning Metro a number of times, I can easily relate to the metaphor).”
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