Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day of the Dead in Pátzcuaro

Pátzcuaro was a wonderful contrast to San Miguel—situated on a lake; green and lush, fragrant with the scent of trees; the simplicity of tiled-roofed, brown-trimmed, cream-colored facades replacing the ocher, rust and brick-colored buildings of town where I'm living.

Our hotel was situated right on the main square, Plaza Bocanegra, just minutes away from Plaza Chica that housed a crafts market. Handcrafts from the artisan rich state of Michóacan—metal work and pottery, hand woven and embroidered textiles, vibrantly colored folk art, feathered shawls, stringed instruments—are displayed in the square during the annual Day of the Dead celebration.

Our time in Pátzcuaro was divided between observing their Day of the Dead ritual and exploring the handcrafted goods produced in this area. The first morning, we walked up the hill to the concurso, the crafts’ competition—I wanted a sample of everything that was exhibited—then toured the mask gallery, and other exhibits at the new art school, before heading to Tzintzuntzan, a 16th century lakeshore village less than 10 miles north of the city. When we arrived, the cemetery was filled with families preparing the graves for their vigils with the dead that night. Most of the altars in this graveyard were elaborate.

Our time in Zintzuntzan was too brief. Although we saw the Franciscan monastery, the ceramics factory and their artisans market, I could have used more time in each and we didn’t even explore the ruins from the Purcépecha kingdom.

Families were just beginning to arrive when we visited a different cemetery that night, a small graveyard that doesn't draw many tourists. People were buried so close together that it was impossible not to walk on the graves as we moved around—something that made us Americans uncomfortable, but didn't seem to faze the Mexican community. I observed at a distance, felt like I was intruding on an event that should have been private.

Our last day was a lazy—we strolled around town and had a leisurely comida at a restaurant on the lake. The next day, on our way out, we visited by Santa Clara, the copper village. I wasn’t ready to go home, but since it's less than a 4-hour drive from San Miguel, will definitely return to Michóacan and Pátzcuaro again.