Throwback photo day to the Days of the Dead flower markets in Valledodid, Mexico.
For the week leading up to the Days of the Dead, the markets are filled with thousands – hundreds of thousands, probably – of flowers, especially chrysanthamums and celosia, that will be used to deck the family tombs on All Soul’s Day. Every stall is is laden with blooms, and special masses said in the cemeteries and people bring candles and offerings, many spending the night in prayer, honoring their loved ones.
The morning after All Souls all these flowers had vanished, and the shopkeepers were back to regular life, with just a few stray petals being swept aside by the breeze. The market, like life, goes on – but the veil between the two worlds seems thinner for a while…
Several years ago, when I first moved to Atlanta, I had to find an apartment, one that would take not only me but the dog I then had, a 90-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback that was the very definition of a big dog. Most apartments had rules that dogs could not exceed 15 pounds, roughly the size of my dog’s left rear leg, so I had to look outside the cool neighborhoods and wound up in heavily immigrant area off Buford Highway, living in an apartment complex that was about 90% Mexican.
At the time, my Spanish was a few degrees less horrible than it is now, but wasn’t anything you would call “conversational” unless your idea of conversation involved a lot of grunting and gesturing, so I didn’t talk to my neighbors much, but I followed along with the activities of the complex, which was an almost perfect slice of Mexico carved out and dropped 500 miles north, right down to the shy woman who came door-to-door every Thursday selling homemade tamales (they were fantastic), the guy who ran a Mexican lottery out of his apartment, and the paleta man who came along selling ice creams on steamy summer afternoons. I was involved with everyone – broken spanish, grunting, gesturing – and if things went wrong and I wound up with a mango paleta instead of a strawberry one, well, at least I still had ice cream.
I had one interaction when I was there that has always stuck with me – I can picture it in my head to this day. It’s a bit weird to call it an interaction, since it was just a conversation I observed while sitting on the balcony, but I became just as invested in it as the speaker –
Two men were standing out by their van, and one of them began telling the other a long, involved story. The second listened with interest, and then more interest, and started egging the first speaker on. To me, it sounded like this:
Man 1: “spanish spanish spanish spanish, si?”
Man 2: “si, si.”
Man 1: “spanish spanish spanish…. spanish spanish”
Man 2 : (amused) “heh, heh… si, claro… vaya…” (heh, I get it, go on…”)
And I suddenly realized – based on nothing but body language and the tone of their voices – hey… wait a minute...he’s telling a joke!
And I watched, fascinated, as Man 1 continued the setup, with Man 2 getting more and more amused, and right when you would expect it, Man 1 burst out with, “spanish spanish spanish…MUCHACHOS!!!!” and both of them absolutely lost it, laughing so hard they were pounding on the side of the van and there were tears streaming down their faces. And I burst out giggling as well – not because I understood the joke; to this day I have no idea what they talked about – but just from their infectious merriment and my pleasure in having followed along. I felt like I’d tapped into some deep universal commonality, but instead of some mystical, serious revelation I found…giggles.
Two friends making each other laugh.
The best type of language there is.
*photo above of backlit Cosmos flowers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has nothing at all to do with today’s story. Sorry about that. I’ll eat a tamale later, though.
I have an odd affinity for pictures of windows and doorways.
I have huge collection of them – in fact I once did an entire photo project on doorways, and how they symbolize that spot where you shift from your “home” self, to your more reserved, protected “public” self. It’s sort an odd reversal of what with think doors are for – to keep the outside world out – and what they actually do, which is allow us back in.
I think I have doorways on my mind because I’ve been chained to my desk doing paperwork for a week, after a week of being outside and at the beach in Puerto Rico, and I am really chafing at the bit. Sometimes you can get a little too locked in your own head and forget what the real goals are – in my case, photography and storytelling – and you need to nudge yourself back onto the proper path. Is that too woo-woo mystical? Maybe. Maybe I just need a kick in the pants to get me out the door and outside.
These two windows are from a trip to Spain a couple of years ago, where I spent a day wandering the famous Alhambra palace, which is seriously eye-popping as a whole, but also filled with small vingnettes of such intricate detail that I could have – and did – spend hours falling into elaborate patterns of carved plaster and interlocking tile. The gardens around the palace were lush and green, and the reflected light filled the rooms with a soft, verdant illumination, like aquarium light, or the light you see when you look up towards the sky when you are below the surface whlle swimming. Odd to be in such a desert-like place, and yet be so enveloped by the coolness of water.
In a further attempt to get out of my own head, I think I’m going to start to post once a week or so about stuff that’s come across my radar that I happen to like – other photographers, music, books, whatever. Prepare for randomness.
Music I’m listening to: This Song by Gotan Project has been one of my faves for, like, ever. I even had it on one of my phones as the ringtone, so I could feel sultry and tango-ish whenever the phone rang. Listen to it while chilling, or while strutting about with a rose in your teeth. Queremos Paz by Gotan Project
On the other hand, I just heard this song at a trivia game last night (we lost. AGAIN) and it cracked me up. Apparently it’s what all the kids are listening to, now that the Ne Ne has had it’s moment. I could swear this is a Sly and the Family Stone hook that they’re sampling, but I can’t quite place it… I love Myself by Kendrick Lamar
Instagram awesomeness: I am probably biased because of my recent trip, but check out @backpackpr on instagram for amazing pictures of an island I’ve come to love. Especially if all you know of Puerto Rico is San Juan, and maybe Rincon if you’re a surfer, this stream will show you a whole other side of the island – literally, in some cases, as it tends to focus on the Island’s wilder south coast and mountainous interior. https://instagram.com/backpackingpr/
Fave filmmaker: Everyone loves Andy Brandy Casagrande, but for my money Kina Scollay is the wild man to watch on Shark week, if only for his calm, wise face and crazy head o’ dreads. Follow his Instagram, or check out Big Blue Backyard, which was a New Zealand nature program that he provided a lot of the imagery for (only avail on Youtube, if you’re not in NZ, for some reason), or just go by his heart-stoppingly awesome website. Please, god, let me be as cool as Kina when I grow up…
Current reading: I realize I am totally late to the party with this, but I came into Born to Run, the great epic of UltraRunning by Christopher McDougall, thru the back door; I read his newest book, Natural Born Heroes, first, and then went looking for everything else I could find by him. Both are in heavy rotation on the nightstand as my “a-few-pages-before-bed-to-get-inspired” reading. I read these and came away convinced anyone could become a superhero.
Ummm…think that’s it for now, everyone have a good Wednesday….
Ugh! what a very, very long winter this has been. And I have been criminally negligent on this page, mostly because I’m a walking disaster (but not a demolition man…). Between a 6-week stint of commercial work, frantically trying to get my Edge of the Sea film finished – we go back to Savannah for a week’s shooting next week, and then one more week in May and we’re done! – and trying to launch my next project I am severely ADD.
These flowers are the dogwoods outside my upstairs window, but in truth they are from last spring (or possibly the spring before; I need to date these things). Right now the dogwoods are still in bud, as with so many other things in life, waiting for a chance to burst open. It’s coming. I promise it’s coming.