pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: La Catrina

03 November 2013

La Catrina


Noche de Altares
Santa Ana, California
2 November 2013

There's a lot going on in this photo.

As I wrote last year, the daughter belongs to her school's chapter of Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica. This year as last, the chapter put together an altar for the local Día de los Muertos celebration, Noche de Altares. Unlike last year, this year's altar was intensely personal: it was dedicated to a young classmate who passed away in February. Like the best altars, it was sad and moving because it spoke of the loss of a young and talented boy, but there were also things that made you smile, like Chex Mix. So it was, as it was intended to be, a celebration of his life.

I left the daughter to her hour of attending the altar, and went in search of the spouse. We examined other altars and food stands and places selling t-shirts, listened to bands, and watched dancers. We picked up the daughter when her hour was up, and wandered about some more, waiting until the procession and lighting of the altars began.

And that's where the photo comes in. The procession was headed by the man who was carrying the cross covered in marigolds (or at least, paper flowers meant to look like marigolds) and he was followed by La Catrina , the skeleton dressed her in finery, carrying a candle along with her bouquet of flowers. She stopped at each altar and a representative of the altar lit a candle from her candle, and then used that taper to light whatever additional candles adorned the altar. And La Catrina moved on, followed by the musicians singing and playing in her wake.

The light was fading rapidly, and La Catrina moved as I snapped the photo, so she is blurred, while everyone around her is generally in focus. It makes her look even more otherworldly than she already did--whoever had the job never dropped out of character, and she was creepy. Quite perfect.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. Although I was born on the east coast, I spent a significant part of my childhood in the desert southwest. In those days, I remember Día de los Muertos being more of a familial celebration than a community one. Of course for me, November 1 (All Saints Day) was just another day to be dragged to Mass.

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