Wednesday, November 11, 2009

El Dia de los Muertos- San Francisco Style

The Day of the Dead. A time of reverence, a time to remember loved ones who have passed. The festival is widely celebrated throughout Latin America, but the festivities in San Francisco rival most others. Not only does San Francisco have a large Hispanic population, but the city is also home to many worldly people and out-of-the-box thinkers. The result? A massive procession for El Dia de los Muertos of costumed, chanting, singing, sage waving, and music playing people that winds its way to a giant public altar. The altar is in fact several small altars, intertwined throughout a public park.
Rushing to the festivities after belly dance class with my dance partner, Alodiah Lunar, I didn’t have time to paint my face in the ghoulish white and black make-up that is common to wear during the festival. My friends, Mei and Coby, however, more than compensated for us, with their painted like skulls. Lots of people donned elaborate costumes, as well- ranging from black capes, to feathers, to head-dresses, to masks. One woman wore a metal frame with a larger than life skeleton attached to it. The woman was able to maneuver the skeletons limbs, and the result was a giant, moving skeleton, towering above the crowd.
Decorative floats, dance groups, and marching bands gave the procession a parade-like quality. One float was particularly interesting, as it was an antique, mobile puppet theater, complete with a shadow puppet show.
The altars themselves were beautiful, haunting, and mesmerizing, as if they emulated the souls of those we’ve loved and mourned. There was entire shrine dedicated to Michael Jackson, with a boom box playing his greatest hits. Another altar was a tangle of blood-red wires, holding up a white sculptured heart. Every tree in the park had pictures and notes stuck into its crevices. Flowers, feathers, candles, and mementos adorned the ground.
I had only gone to watch the festivities, but once I arrived at the altar, I found myself wishing I had made one myself. Luckily for me, someone had wrapped a sheet of paper around a building and markers had been left out so that everyone could write the names of their deceased on the wall.
The altars were a feast for my eyes, but the music was a feast for my ears. People were playing everything from Klezmer to Samba, and throngs of people were dancing and swaying to the music. The effect was thousands of people coming together to make-up a giant, pulsing crowd. Very much like the blood cells and energy that create a beating heart.

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