Santa Fe Street in Denver is an eclectic, electric stretch of small theaters, art galleries and hip Hispanic culture. The first Friday of each month, it grows even more energized and decidedly crowded as the galleries open their doors, food trucks line the curbs and groups gather in gas station parking lots to dance.
Three friends–one a Colorado newcomer–and I strolled the street a couple weeks ago, stopping for ceviche and chips at El Noa Noa, enjoying photographer John Fiedler‘s magnificent African creaturescapes and feeling we had a three-hour getaway from the Land of Life in General.
I really can’t think of a Denver destination more fitting for first-time visitors to the Dia de los Muertos tradition than this. My initiation was in the city of Santa Fe, NM, while in my 20s, and I still recall my surprise. To envision death as anything but somber seemed sacrilege, at first. To place tiny skeletons on motorcycles, in movie scenes and other dioramas seemed, well, unseemly. And the idea of kids being given small sugar skulls to crack between their teeth was a bit more graphic than my midwestern Methodist training encompassed.
But like so many things, the more you learn–especially the 1:1 understanding that comes from loving people who grew up with the tradition–the more it makes sense. Death is part of life, they told me. The church has All Saints Day, why is this any different? And when Latino families gather at cemeteries for picnics on Dia de los Muertos, it provides a time for generations to share stories of those who have passed, tidy up their graves and consciously confirm that our time on this earth is finite.
As for the dioramas, I’ve had the chance to see several crafted to honor a much-loved individual. So the symbolism of the tiny Coke can, small plastic pizza, the Our Lady of Guadalupe and a corner of a Pablo Neruda poem come to life as we come to death.
Via con Dios.