Saturday, 31 October 2009

Getting it together for Dia de los Muertos!

My finished sugar skulls, decorated with glitter glue pens, not ideal as the sugar melts a bit, but definitely the easy option for someone who has never used royal icing decoration! I am making an altar tonight in memory of my mother who passed away Feb 2006, really looking forward to putting everything together, bone bread is also made and I found some fresh marigolds in a local allotment, so just a few things to get together now!

Friday, 30 October 2009

British Airways - Day of the Dead ad, the long version!

Following the article on Dia de los Muertos posted yesterday, I just spotted a comment left on the post inviting me to share with my readers, this mini-documentary film produced by advertising agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty on Mexico's Day of the Dead celebrations for BA. So here you go, the long version of the shorter ad which is doing the rounds on UK TV at the moment. I hadn't actually seen this yet myself although a few friends had mentioned it to me, of course I didn't think of looking on good old YouTube. I thought it was a beautiful film and I liked the fact that it mostly showed the preparations rather than the event celebrations itself as I felt this worked really nicely to tie in with the emotion of what is actually happening right now across Mexico and with others around the world planning to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. And possibly some like me, for the very first time. I'm building an altar tomorrow, so today have been running around trying to find the last few items I need, and thanks to a local allotment, my dream of getting fresh marigold's for my altar in remembrance to my mother, has been fulfilled. Just time to bake some 'bones bread' and get my sugar skulls decorated better get onto it then. Hope you enjoy the film as much as I did - and seeing as I am planning to go to Mexico in the New Year, this film has also reminded me that I really must get the flights booked. Hope BA's deals to Mexico are as good as they say!

On the Road in Mexico Angela from the Mexican Sugar Skull company

Meet Angela Villalba, owner of the Mexican Sugar Skull company in Texas who has set up a fantastic facebook page for sugar skull fans. I've been working with this company for just over a year now and Angela along with sidekick, Kathi are just the nicest, most helpful, friendly suppliers ever! Angela is a genuine Day of the Dead veteran visiting Mexico every year for around a month in the run up to and during the festivities to further her research for her business and currently a book she is working on. This year she is driving through five states, visiting some out-of-the-way villages in Puebla & Oaxaca. I love seeing the photos she is posting daily from Mexico as well as all the contributions from the 750 sugar skull fans from all over the world who have joined the site since its launch just over a month ago. Here are some of my favourite pics from the page so far. Hope you like them!

Sugar alfinique Catrinas found at the Oaxaca market. Made from powdered sugar,egg white &lime juice.

Anise liquor filled sugar candies from Ejutla, Oaxaca. Used for the ofrendas of their loved ones.

This Veracruz baker took Angela on a tour of his baking facilities. Here, he has a tray of hot Pan de Muerto! His shop was decorated with skeletons, skulls and papel picado banners. His bread had the traditional "bones" on top!

Yum! Chocolate Sugar Skulls!

And finally, I couldn't finish this post without introducing Tacuba, a beautiful Bengal cat and Mexican Sugar Skull's company mascot, who (in Angela's words) is a constant "pain in the ass cat", always ready and poised to either eat or attack newly received papier mache skulls. She certainly is a gorgeous Bengal cat, and I can relate to Angela's comment about her personality, I have a similarly nosey and playful puss in the house to contend with.

All photographs (c) Angela Villalba Mexican Sugar Skull.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Day Of The Dead In Mexico - A Passion For Life

As I am struggling a bit to fulfil my promise of a post a day in the run up to Dia de los Muertos I thought instead I would share a great article written by the Mary J.Andrade, owner of a wonderful Day of the Dead website which I have been visiting on and off myself for a few years.

Mary J. Andrade has traveled to Mexico in October and November since 1987 to photograph and document Day of the Dead celebrations. Her work has been collected in a series of bilingual books entitled, Through the Eyes of the Soul, Day of the Dead in Mexico. She lives with her family in San Jose, California and is the co-founder and travel editor of La Oferta, a weekly bilingual newspaper. Mary Andrade has presented over 170 photography exhibits on Day of the Dead in the United States, Ecuador, Spain, France, Mexico, Egypt and Chile and has published seven other books on the subject. She is also the recipient of many international awards, such as the OHTLI, two Silver Quills and a Silver Lens presented by former presidents of Mexico, Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo.

I hope you enjoy! Please do visit her website, it is a fabulous resource for information on Dia de los Muertos.

Mexico celebrates a yearly tradition called Day of the Dead during the last days of October and the first days of November. The legacy of past civilizations is graphically manifested on this occasion through people beliefs that death is a transition from one life to another in different levels, where communication exists between the living and the dead. This communication takes place once a year throughout the country.

Differing from the Roman Catholic imposed ritual to commemorate All Souls’ Day, which is observed in many countries, the custom established by pre-colonial Mexican civilizations become a ceremony where indigenous beliefs blended with Catholic beliefs. Therefore, the Day of the Dead in Mexico is not a mournful commemoration but a happy and colorful celebration where death takes a lively, friendly expression.

Indigenous people believed that souls did not die, that they continued living in Mictlan, a special place to rest. In this place, the spirits rest until the day they could return to their homes to visit their relatives. Before the Spaniards arrived they celebrated the return of the souls between the months of July and August. Once arrived, the Spaniards changed the festivities to November 2nd to coincide with All Souls’ Day of the Catholic Church.

Presently, two celebrations honoring the memory of loved ones who have died take place: On November 1st, the souls of the children are honored with special designs in the altars, using the color white on flowers and candles. On November 2nd the souls of the adults are remembered with a variety of rituals, according to the different states of the Mexican republic.

The celebrations of Day of the Dead or All Souls Day are referred differently in some of the states. For example in Yucatan it is known as Hanal Pixan which means "The path of the soul through the essence of food;” in the the highlands of Michoacan it is known as Jimbanqua or the party honoring the people who died that year; in San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo and in the southern part of Oaxaca it is known as Xantolo and Day of the Dead in the majority of Mexico. Whatever name is given, this is an ancestral tradition that blended with Catholicism to create a special time and space to remember and honor the loved ones by offering them an ofrenda, the fragrance of the flowers, the light of the candles, the aroma of special foods and the solemnity of prayers.

It is also a time to joke and make fun of death through "calaveras", poetry allusive to a particular person, generally politicians; sugar, chocolate and amaranth skulls which are given to one another with their friend’s name so "they can eat their own death" and special crafts allusive to different aspects of the living, with skeletons representing daily activities.

People start getting ready for the celebration on the third week of October with the harvesting of the cempasuchitl flower, also known as the flower of the twenty petals or the flower of the dead which is sold in the market place or Tianguis, where the family goes to buy everything that they will need to get to put on the altar. On the altar they will place the ofrendas of fruits, vegetables and the special dishes prepared for the soul to enjoy the essence of the aroma of the food.

On November 1st in many towns the ritual of the Vigil of the Little Angels takes place in the cemeteries, particularly in the islands of Janitzio and La Pacanda in Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan. Little girls dressed in satin blouses and colored skirts, white stockings and shiny shoes are the center of this ceremony. This is the way the tradition is passed down from generation to generation.

On November 2nd, the souls of the adults are honored in their homes with beautifully decorated altars. Each state has different styles but all of them represent a place where the ofrenda becomes a spiritual communion between life and death.

The celebration concludes in many towns with the vigil in the cemetery. In some places the vigil is done during the whole night of November 1st to November 2nd. In other towns the vigil is done during the day. Mysticism is the rule in the cemeteries, but in many music is also part of the ritual that combines religious prayers with the sounds of the trumpet playing a tune with a Mariachi band. Ritualistic dances are also part of the celebrations in many places in honor of the deceased.

Whichever is celebrated, Day of the Dead is a time of reflection about the meaning of life and the mission that one needs to fulfill. Death in many situations imparts a feeling of pain and loss, particularly for those who do not know the purpose of their path on this earthly plane. For others, death is transcendence, transformation and resurrection. During the celebration of Day of the Dead all those feelings and beliefs come together in a season that brings to life the memory of the loved ones.

All photographs (c) Mary J. Andrade/ Article Source

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

British Museum - Day of the Dead arrives in London!

Altar preparations underway at the British Museum (c)

I've been tweeting on few of the Dia de los Muertos events I've heard are happening in London this weekend, but thought I would put a few more details down here. The first and the biggy as far as I can see here in London seems to be the British Museum's Day of the Dead on Sunday, 1 November. The event looks like it's going to be a really fantastic day out. I have been really impressed by their website where you can watch videos to find out how sugar skulls are made and visit the workshop of the Linares family who are renowned for their papier mache folk art and have created the wonderful Moctezuma figure which will be featured at the event. You can join in by posting your own Day of the Dead pics on either their Facebook group or Flickr. There's a live Twitter feed using the hashtag #DOTD09 - for a whole few minutes my Twitter ID @VidaMuerte was sitting on their webpage! Cool or what? You can download their events programme here but in brief, the event opens 11am through to 5pm with Carnival Parades at 1.30pm and 4.30pm. I'm going along with some friends and hoping to bump into Hector and his family, plus a few other fellow Twitter folk that are going. Can't wait! I will be adding more events shortly, watch this space!

Me! @VidaMuerte, on the British Museum's website, whatever next?!!

Click above to visit the BM's fab Day of the Dead event pages!

All images (c)
British Museum

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Yum! Chocolate & Skulls, a treat for Dia de los Muertos

In all the excitement of actually getting a post for my blog together today, I quite forgot to include my efforts with the Mexican Sugar Skull chocolate moulds. These were so easy to make, I simply melted Cadbury Dairy Milk with Bournville chocolate to balance out the sugary sweetness a bit. They proved a very popular treat for the kids (mmmnn yes I managed a couple or three myself as did the other grown ups!) during the sugar skull decorating weekend. I used the Posada and Fiesta moulds, with the smaller chocs being brushed with Dark Silver edible posh is that?

Consumed by the explosion of Dia de los Muertos in my life

Well, it's just one week until Dia de los Muertos festivities begin! This year I have had a real sense of this wonderful celebration gathering interest in the UK, and one of the reasons my blog has been pretty much abandoned for a month. I have been busy working with a number of people setting up special Day of the Dead events, parties and various other things including supplying some items for a Day of the Dead issue from Bizarre magazine due to hit the newstands next week. Will blog a bit more about all this during this coming week. So as well as all that, my Day of the Dead sales have really shown a huge surge from last year, particularly the fabulous Mexican sugar skull and chocolate moulds have been fantastic! Along with this I have been using Twitter a lot recently and have connected with a number of lovely like-minded Day of the Dead and Mexicana passionistas from around the world as well as the UK. And with so much global chatter going on here, I kind of got consumed in a visual feast of twit pics, facebook pages like those from the US based Mexican Sugar Skull and Day of the Dead Artist Market, some amazing Flickr images, Etsy treasuries and numerous venturing around some wonderful blogs - all offering up amazing Day of the Dead art of one kind or another.

Kind of overwhelming! My head so full of images and words that I found it difficult to work out where I belong in it all. Sadly I am not blessed with an artistic talent other than that of having a good roving eye for art produced by others, but that didn't stop me having a go at making my own sugar skulls this year and being pretty pleased with the result! I used the large original mould for my first attempt but I might see if I have time to make up a couple more before the weekend with the new XL Oaxaca mould which only came in-store last week.

I ended up changing the mixture a little, as I didn't plan ahead, I realised Meringue powder wasn't easy to find, so I used Royal Icing Powder instead, for the decorating I just bought some ready mixed tubes of coloured icing, which was good for the day, but not perfect as this didn't set hard, so any subsequent handling of the skulls meant lots of sticky fingers and squished artwork, but the children didn't seem to mind, in fact, by the end of the day, one little girl had pretty much licked the icing off and was starting to eat the skull itself (much to the horror of her parents!).

I kept back two blank skulls for myself as I am planning to put together an ofrenda (altar) later this week in honour of my mother who passed away in February 2006. I am going to decorate these with glitter pens as inspired by Rodrigvitzstyle's blog. I have pretty much worked out what I need for the altar, and will of course share with you once I have made this up. I've asked my local florist if they can get some marigolds in, it would be lovely to have fresh flowers, especially as my mother had a fantastic flower garden she tended so beautifully, but if not, then I shall attempt to make some!

To make amends for my tardy blog posting, I plan to post daily in the coming week in the run up to Dia de los see you all soon. Oh, and it's not too late to join in the fun, check out my Day of the Dead collection in-store, despite the Royal Mail strikes, I am shipping via a couple of courier options, so you can still get some sugar skull crafting on the go in time for the big weekend. So, here are my sugar skull decorating photos, in no particular order, hope you enjoy!