Saturday, April 15, 2006

Calacas y mas

The ingenuity of Mexican artisans never ceases to amaze me. With wire, springs, discarded metal objects, paper mache, sugar dough, solder and paint they create the most delightful objects. I love skeletons and have managed without trying to collect quite a number of them. They may seem repellent to some but I grew up in the desert southwest (Arizona) at a crossroad of cultures; native american, hispanic and white refugees from the dustbowl or families like ours who had moved there for health reasons. At any rate, it was a wonderful stew of humanity. When our midwestern relatives came to visit we would all load into one car and drive to Mexico for a day trip where we could cross the border and bring home souvenirs. I remember a pair of azure blue maracas that were made out of dried gourds and had wooden handles. I had never seen gourd in my life, dried or ripe. How novel to me then! And so our beige lives came to be filled with riotous color; crepe paper flowers the size of dinner plates, hammered tin trays, nested earthenware casserole dishes with glossy (lead) glazes and beautiful designs. The beauty of the Mexican culture seeped into our pores.

You could tell the houses on our street that were lived in by our neighbors from the south. As a general rule they grew more orange trees, more grape vines, more flowering vines and pecan trees. The screech of pet birds came from cages nested within the tiny jungles they'd created. I remember looking out the window of our house and seeing them lounging in chairs on their porches in the evening and wonder about that. To sit outside. But of course our porch was not a fragrant, cool oasis. We stayed in the house to avoid the heat of the evening and missed the brilliant sunsets.

There were so many differences in our cultures but it was decades before I had the time to think about those days and to reflect on them. Now that I am older I realize that the Mexicans had been living in Arizona for a lot longer than we newcomers and that they had learned how to be comfortable in that climate. But I digress.

Back on topic: clever handcrafts made of simple materials. These are sugar skulls and objects that I brought back from San Miguel Allende after a visit there several years ago to observe the Day of the Dead.

The small items are formed in molds and made from a sugar paste. I have googled instructions for them in the past and you can purchase the molds too if you are interested in a little Day of the Dead of your own. They are painted and piped with edible embellishments and although I haven't eaten them myself that is their use. Very fragile but I was determined to bring them home. Behold the clever little lamb in the shadows off to the right. So sweet.

This calaca of the gold tooth is paper mache held together with cotton twine. I just love paper mache and will do a post on that one of these days and show you some of the things my friends and I have made that are among my most prized artworks. If you haven't played with paper mache, I will try to tempt you.

This little juggling calaca in the box was a gift from my daughter on my birthday a year ago. We had just shared a muy sabroso lunch together at the excellent La Casa Del Tio Guero in Oaxaca when we came upon a park with street vendors relaxing under the shade trees. I love not only skeletons but also jugglers as they remind me so much of my own life and perhaps the lives of all women - the children, the lovers, the work, the cooking, the art making - so when we saw this little guy with his juggled skulls held in place by an invisible wire it was fated to go home with us.

If you get a chance to visit Mexico, especially if you love art, if you love to eat, if you have curiosity about the world and its people, by all means go there and delight your senses. It is the Italy our hemisphere, or maybe the India.