Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween & Feliz Dia De Los Muertos 2012!

Skeletoricus Romanicus Minimus

Halloween ranks high on my list of holidays for many reasons, high among them the candy and the ridiculously cute costumes I get to put Roman in, but also high on the list is the fact that Halloween in its modern-day American incarnation is an amalgamation of so many interesting and diverse cultural traditions, culminating in the right to walk from house to house in funny / scary costumes unabashedly asking for treats while threatening tricks.  When else are friendly threats of mischief nationally sanctioned?!  I love it.  My husband loves it.  And now that he really gets it, my candy-monster-son loves it (went to the dentist a couple of days ago, btw, and no cavities - which seriously soothed my conscience :)).

Being back in the Southwest this year, I feel like I can finally embrace the Mexican side of Halloween: Dia de Los Muertos.  It's not really something we ever celebrated as such in my family; for example, we never made altars and left offerings to the dead, hung out having a picnic on the graves of loved ones at the cemetery, and we certainly never worshiped Santa Muerte.  
Midge Calavera courtesy of Roman's artistic skills and Wal-Mart.
But one of the memories I do have of my brief childhood in Mexico is that of getting little sugar calaveras (skulls), hand-decorated in bright colored icing for the celebration.  I used to love nibbling on the pure sugar, breaking the little head apart in a silly but kind of macabre tradition.

The papier-mâché mask in all its glory.
These days, Calaveras have become a kind of hipster-chic symbol of Halloween / Dia de Los Muertos and Mexican culture in general. They have even started popping up as year-round decoration in places as unexpected as El Rayo Taqueria (a beloved, delicious and authentic but very, very non-hispanic taqueria in Portland, Maine).  But no matter how mainstream or unrelated to Dia de Los Muertos they become, I still see them as a small piece of my heritage, and a great opportunity to teach my son about one half of his.  Oh, and did I mention that they are also a fantastic excuse to create a gigantic papier-mâché skull-head as the crowning glory of my son's Halloween costume this year?  Well, they are. :) Several plaster explosions later, my kitchen is a disaster but my son has the coolest skeleton mask around!

I was also determined to buy a couple of sugar calaveras for Roman this year.  After uselessly cruising around all the various Mexican grocery stores in our area without any luck, I finally broke down and took Roman down to Santa Fe Drive - a slightly seedy area of downtown Denver full of fabulously crazy art galleries and artists.  We entered the gallery for the Chicano Humanities & Arts Council to find a room full of art portraying that very unique blend of Mexican / American / Chicano kitsch, beauty and culture.  The current exhibit focused, of course, on Dia de Los Muertos and Roman enjoyed perusing the many scary and colorful skeleton faces.  We also found out we'd missed the calavera decorating workshop by a week (dammit!) but we were able to buy two plain sugar skulls to decorate ourselves.  Whether that will happen is still very much in the air, given that we've already carved two pumpkins, painted another, and put together a pretty impressive Halloween set up on our porch (given that we've only had ~2 years to hoard decorations.

Which brings me to something else I'm really enjoying this year about Halloween on the
Our window display
American side of Halloween culture: the unofficial Halloween house decorating contest going on in our neighborhood.  If these people are this hardcore about Halloween, I kind of cannot wait until Christmas.  I'm hoping Matt will be shamed into putting lights up this year - he totally got roped into the Halloween madness and started complaining that I hadn't acquired enough tombstones and zombie/skeleton/mummy effigies to hang from the flower hooks on our porch. :)  There are definitely some cutesy houses with sweet happy pumpkins and funny ghosts, but for the most part everyone on our block went for the evil-more-gory-than-necessary Halloween, which I can dig after years of being stuck in places like London and Abu Dhabi where you're lucky if someone puts out a pumpkin at all.

Get crazy!
 So, all in all, Halloween year number three for Roman has been a success - if it weren't for the Catholic Church.  My current annoyance revolves around the fact that on Halloween Roman has to dress up as a Saint for school.  Seriously?  His real costume rocks.  Why can't he show up as a skeleton? Or batman?  Or the Pharaoh (is that sacrilegious?!)?!

 I don't particularly relish the idea of dressing Roman as someone who was a) flayed alive b) suffered from the stigmata c) was torn apart limb by limb - though I do admit the appeal of having him carry a head around on a platter a la St. John the Baptists (somehow I suspect that get-up wouldn't last an entire school day).  In the end, ignoring all the fantastic suggestions from my friends on facebook, we decided to go with St. Lawrence (I caught Matt changing "Sanctus Laurentius sum" to Roman this morning).  Yes, he was  technically grilled to death but he's the patron saint of chefs (because he was grilled to death...shocking!) and Matt found a harmless enough picture of him online which happened to match some clothes we hadd, so we decided - well, he is St. Lawrence the Roman, which works well for Roman Lawrence. :)

Pharaoh? Mummy? Or heretic?
As soon as he gets home, though, we're jumping out of the white toga and into the fantasmagoric bag of bones that will be Skeletoricus Romanicus Minimus. :)

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Happy Halloween Y'all!

Mine, Matt's & Midge :)

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Friday, October 19, 2012

There's a Small Town in My Mind.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX
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Regina Spektor

I must have left a thousand times
But every day begins the same
Cause there's a small town in my mind
How can I leave without hurting every one that made me?

Oh, baby, baby it's all about the moon
I wish you wouldn't have broke my camera
Cause we're gonna get real old real soon
Today we're younger than we ever gonna be

Stop! Stop, what's the hurry?
Come on baby, don't you worry worry
Everybody not so nice nice

Thought you ought to know by now
Everybody not so nice nice

Oh baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby,
It's all about the moon

I must have left a thousand times
But there's a small town in my mind
How can I leave without hurting every one that made me?

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I love the new Regina Spektor CD.  Her first song, "Small Town Moon", and especially its first stanza, really encapsulates exactly how I've felt for a long time (almost exactly since the first day I moved out of my parents' house when I was 17 years old to go galavanting independently on the Penisola Italiana).  I must have left a thousand times, but everyday begins the same.

I wondered so many times that first year outside the proverbial fold, when I'd return to Texas for good (would I ever return to Texas for good?), where I'd make my home (my forever home this time!), and would it be anything like that small town in my mind (and heart)?  It's impossible not to idealize your hometown - in my case, only after years of dissecting it, dismissing it, rejecting and oftentimes forgetting it.  When I first left, I was perpetually torn over what-could-have-been, guilt over having left too soon, left too many people behind.

It wasn't until last week that it all came full-circle.

I found that when we drove from Colorado to Texas last week, retracing (almost exactly) a route I drove nearly 16 years ago with my Girl Scout Troop, I was happy to take in the rolling hills of New Mexico, the painfully flat plains of Oklahoma, the hot dryness of Palo Duro Canyon, singing wildly to Is This the Way to Amarillo.  There were no tinges of sadness. I find myself healthily nostalgic about the small town that made me, and all the people and things from my past that I chose to leave there.  Everything I'd done made sense, had purpose and meaning and a clear end: my wonderful life today. 

Going home to my mom's house (no longer the house I grew up in) and picking up a small u-haul's worth of belongings that had been patiently stored for 15 years by my mother - a mix of travel nicknacks (whosits and whatsits galore, might I add), hundreds of post cards, old Christmas gifts, wedding favors, love letters, homecoming pictures and childhood awards - was the final step I'd been waiting for since the day I walked out of my parents' home in 1998.  I often lamented that I'd always felt like I was still half-way in Texas because I'd never completely left: so much of my childhood, my adolescence and so many of my memories still sat in a closet waiting for me.  But last week, rifling through old pictures, I finally felt that I no longer needed to hold onto silly mementos because the life I had before - so different and yet equally wonderful when compared to the adult life I have now - was a fully cemented part of my past.

It's hard to leave places behind.  I've done a lot of that.  Maybe because my mother and sister hate moving so much I felt I needed to make up for it in extreme wanderlust.  Have I ever regretted a single voyage, move or random pick-up-and-go?  Well maybe hitch-hiking from Germany to Amsterdam wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done, but - no, not really.  I have so much perspective, so much respect for other people and places, and, finally!, so much more respect for those who choose to stay in one place and love it hard - something I could never fully understand until now.

Matt likes to joke that we're "seeing the USA in our Chevrolet" (Seriously, "the Rockies out west are calling you"?! who knew.) every time we take a road trip.  We are.  After 15 years of seeing almost every other place I could think of (or at least afford), I'm so happy and feel so blessed to be back in America - the country I petulantly swore I'd never move back to (because I was going to raise my kids in an idyllic small town in Greece, don't you know?  It could still happen!).  I have rarely felt more pride than when we drove from Maine to Colorado in June - seeing America in all its glory and taking real pleasure in touring a coal mine, eating hamburgers at one-horse-town diners, petting llamas in the middle of West Virginia or discovering the birthplace of Quaker Oats in Missouri, watching my son (I actually have a child! this still shocks and thrills me!) marvel at the OZ Museum in Kansas, and enjoying a romantic bottle of wine with my husband and soul mate in the Rocky Mountains, our new home.

It's so funny.  I have a million memories of exotic and awe-inspiring trips. But in the end, no matter how much more open my mind and heart have become, I have a small town in my mind.  It feels good to remember my roots - and set down new ones at last.

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Our First Drive Cross-Country

West Virginia

Gramma Llama

Shaker Village, Kentucky

St. Louis, MO


Have a Heart.

West Kansas

East Colorado

Palo Duro Canyon, TX
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