We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

El Día de los Muertos in Tucson, Arizona: The All Souls Procession and Famous Sonoran Hot Dogs

The Memory Keepers by Michelle

   The All Souls Procession, in conjunction with the All Souls Weekend, is both a celebration and a mourning of the dearly departed. Death and loss are intrinsically bound. They are fundamental elements of the human condition. All Souls provides the community a space in which to publicly mourn, to remember, to reflect upon, and to celebrate those no longer with us. As a whole, we are united through the memories of our ancestors, our loved ones, and the living.
                                                                          ~ArtFire Website
My niece, Sonora, shows her holiday spirit.

We carry in our hearts the true country
And that cannot be stolen
We follow in the steps of our ancestry
And that cannot be broken
~Lyrics from The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil

   During my formative years, I was raised by parents who, for a time, adhered to the strict tenets of a certain Christian faith. We weren't really churchgoing people though. I recall sitting in a pew a couple of times next to my Mom when I was very young. She tickled my arm in an effort to keep me awake during dreary Saturday morning services. Later, instead of attending church, our Dad opted to read from the Bible or articles published in The Plain Truth to us on Sabbath mornings, and that lasted for an eternity it seemed, but then finally fizzled out, much to our relief. In high school, I had a crush on a guy that attended Bible studies, so I went, too. He liked the band Styx (secretly, that is, because his parents didn't approve of rock 'n' roll, and especially a band named after the river leading to Hades). He also enjoyed playing Ultimate Frisbee. I did, too. Around that same time, my childhood best friend Sandy and I enjoyed attending Hume Lake Christian camps over the span of two summers. We had a lot of fun rowing boats on the lake and flirting with cute guys sitting around the nightly camp fires. So that was the extent of my religious education in my early years.

Juliette surveys the scene on the patio at El Charro Café located on
Court Avenue in downtown Tucson.
   However, in my twenties, under the guiding influence of my sisters, I sought to have a deeper spiritual connection with the Universe. I began by first seeking to understand the beliefs and ritual practices across the world's most influential and commonly practiced religions. I read the The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, followed by watching Bill Moyers interview Professor Campbell for the six part PBS series of the same title. Many books and much research followed.
   Being a descendent of immigrants hailing from countries associated with western Europe, I felt compelled to read further about pre-Christian Earth-based religious traditions, which led me to understand how America's favorite celebrations were adopted from my pagan European forefathers by way of Roman conquerors. Around 300 A.D., as the first Roman Emperor to accept Christ and convert to Christianity, mighty Constantine wielded his sword and thus began the rapid spread of Christianity.

A family visiting from Flagstaff applies makeup to each other while waiting for dinner.
   The early Roman Catholic Church kept the peace more easily by allowing the conquered peoples to retain ancient rituals, ensuring to this day the continuation of ancient holy celebrations, such as Samhain (All Souls Day, the precursor to Halloween), Santurnalia (Winter Solstice "Rebirth of the Sun" celebration, the precursor to Christmas), and Ēostre (the celebration of the dawn Goddess, the precursor to Easter), an annual event tied to the Spring Equinox and celebrated with a sunrise ritual celebrating fertility (hence the bunnies) and resurrection. Beltane, the second most important ancient festival, the first being Samhain, marked the arrival of summer. While not widely celebrated in America, in certain European countries, Beltane is a joyful time which is ritualized with bonfires and doorways decorated with flowers to protect a family from the Faery Queen.
   It is well documented that the early Catholic church initially went to great lengths to quash the pagan celebrations, but in the end, it was easier to let the conquered yet defiant peoples revel in their annual traditions. Christian acceptance of pagan rituals was tied to simply aligning practiced traditions to new values. That's just good business, folks. Priests blessed the celebrations with prayer and a sprinkling of holy water and a contentious situation became a win-win for everyone involved... the people and church alike. Besides, the food was pretty darn tasty at the festivals, and generous imbibing of delicious ale, mead and wine was pretty great, too. If you enjoy Halloween, Christmas, and Easter, then you have the pagans to thank. Raise your glass and say cheers.

   Call it what you like: Samhain, Shadowfest, Old Hallowmas, Summers End, All Saints Day, All Souls Day or Halloween, the days that bookend November 1st are a time to remember and celebrate the dead. October 31st through November 2nd are a time for reflection and to mentally, and physically, prepare for the approaching winter. Regardless of the origin, there are similar festivals at this time of year, across the globe, including North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
   Living in Tucson, near the Mexican border, I have fully embraced the traditions of El Día de Los Muertos, which translates into English as The Day of the Dead. In Mexico, November 1st is dedicated to remembering Día de los Angelitos, little angels, referring to deceased infants and children. November 2nd focuses on adults that have passed, including friends, family and ancestors. Although the subject of death can be quite somber, and often takes the tone of morbidity in our American society, the Mexican cultural approach of addressing the subject of death is quite joyful and full of lively mockery.

   A favorite activity for me during this time of year is to make and decorate sugar skulls and to create a personal altar to honor my ancestors and loved ones that have died. My sister Juliette got me started on building altars when she first made one in honor of our sister, Maria. Our family was grappling with ways to deal with Maria's sudden death, and building an altar gave Juliette a physical way to honor our sister. Maria's altar resonated with our entire family and Juliette's community when it was put on public display in Bisbee for an El Día de Los Muertos event. The American Red Cross asked to include Maria's altar in a traveling exhibit, but Juliette reluctantly declined due to the fragile structure of how the altar was put together. She felt the altar would surely crumble under the wear and tear of moving from place to place and from myriads of people touching it.
   At this time of year, Juliette also likes to celebrate the season by preparing pumpkin soup and pan de muerto, bread shaped like a skull. And, Juliette is always involved in a variety of art projects inspired by skeletons involving mediums such sugar, glass and clay. My sister Linda captures her community's spirit through her lens and publishes the often emotion-invoking images for everyone to enjoy. I'm also not abashed to throwing spectacular Halloween parties. One year my friend and I chose a Day of The Dead theme, complete with a community altar. It was amazing. And, particularly moving for some of our friends who had just experienced the loss of a loved one.

   In my own life, I regret that I have been slow to recognize the importance of symbolism and ritual. Growing up, my family came together for weddings and funerals and Christmas. When my Nana passed, the big family Christmas celebrations ended, too. As I've aged, I have begun to fully understand how difficult it is to make anything last: friendships, traditions, community, and even family. Ritual brings us together. In the absence of ritual, we fade away. We can so easily be disconnected from those things that at one time were most important to us. I have felt this most of all over the last decade. Things that I thought would not likely change, did in fact change.
   To me, death is a metaphor for the acceptance of the things I cannot change, or have been unwilling to change, resigning myself to what will be. I decide what I must own and what needs to be discarded. This time of year, when it is believed that the black veil is at its thinnest between worlds, and departed souls can more easily converse with the living, I give myself over to reflection. I have cause to examine the death of all things in time, and to more fully consider what I can and cannot change. In this season, I celebrate death and rebirth, and resolve to move forward on my path with a grateful heart.

   Tucson's All Souls Procession was inspired by the El Día de Los Muertos holiday. The Procession's founder, Susan Johnson, was struggling to find a way to deal with the death of her father. As an artist, Susan was compelled to channel her feelings of grief in a creative, positive and life-affirming way. In 1990, her initial offering was a ritualistic performance presented to the public. Reaction was so positive, and other likeminded individuals wanted to participate in a similar way, that the Procession was born. The popularity of the annual event continues to grow year over year. A whopping 35,000 people participated in the event last year and 250 volunteers, known as the Militia of the Dead, kept the event under control. The parade route covers two miles and culminates with a performance at the Mercado San Agustín by fire artists Flam Chen.
   "The Procession is a sanctuary for community members from all walks of life to express their grief and loss in a celebration of creative energy and a rejoicing of living," according to the official website. Procession contributors and attendees are encouraged to complete a prayer form, found here, where a participant can write what s/he is grieving, releasing, celebrating, embracing, and/or remembering. The completed forms are collectively placed in a gigantic urn and burned at the end of the night in a dazzling pyrotechnic performance.

Juliette's grandsons, Devin and Parker, are thrilled that grandma 
"JuJu" sprung for lightsabers. Best. Gift. Ever.
The procession appeals to three generations of our family, all gathered together
 to experience a unique and special event.
My nephew, Paul and his boyzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

   Events associated with the All Souls Procession take place throughout the calendar year, from constructing masks, floats and lanterns, to sewing costumes. What I truly appreciate is that it is an all ages event, and everyone is welcome as long as they are respectful and contributing to the event in a positive way. Since this is a community funded event, the Procession continues to thrive and grow from much needed monetary donations made by local businesses and the general public.
   There are two processions in which to participate. The Procession of Little Angels and Personal Altars Vigil take place on the first Saturday of November and is currently held at Armory Park. The All Souls Procession is scheduled on the first Sunday in November. Participants begin lining up at 5:00 pm. The Procession begins at 6:00 pm. Visit the Many Mouths One Stomach website, the non-profit organization that manages all aspects of the Procession, to access a map of the route. Also, check out the on-line photo gallery, a repository of photos from numerous, talented photographers. Following is my humble offering, a collection of images that I captured during last year's Procession.

The Goddess Catrina is also referred to as the Lady of the Dead.

Skulls are displayed on altars as a symbol of death of rebirth.

Viva las belly dancers. They were my favorite performers
at last year's Procession.
Love this!.... Marc Anthony in Day of The Dead drag.

  If you are headed to downtown Tucson for the Procession, you and your crew can conveniently grab a quick dinner at a number of hot dog carts that specialize in preparing Sonoran Hot Dogs. We also like to make this Tucson specialty at home for casual gatherings.

A picture can convey a thousand words in one quick scan. This photo just shouts two: bite me.
Sonoran Hot Dogs

   It's traditional to squirt mayo on top of the garnished hot dog, but for me that is no bueno. A squirt of mayo creeps me out. For you, it might be different. As a suitable substitution, I prefer to drizzle Mexican Crème Fraîche over the top.
   Instead of chopped onions and tomatoes, I like to make quick, homemade salsa fresca, like we did during our recent Sistercation in the Southwest. Plain pinto or ranchero beans will do, but again, if I plan ahead, I'll make a big batch of my homemade Pinto Beach Chili Con Carne. While you are at it, prep a pitcher or two of margaritas for you and your amigos. 'Cause, you know, your friends will want in on the action. Friends are like that; joining in on the fun. Sonoran Hot Dogs are meant to share. Margaritas, too. The perfect non-alcoholic beverage for this type of indulgence is an ice cold Mexican Coca-Cola (made with cane sugar in lieu of corn syrup), which are conveniently offered at big box retail stores in classic glass bottles.

Mi amigo Mark and I quickly made Salsa Fresca,proving the adage 
many hands make light work during our recent Sistercation.
hot dogs
one slice of bacon for every hot dog
yellow mustard
pinto beans or Pinto Bean Chili Con Carne, heated
cheese, such a shredded cheddar or crumbled Mexican Cojita
salsa fresca
minced or pickled jalapenos, optional
Mexican Crème Fraîche
hot dog buns (I prefer toasted sourdough buns)

Juliette puts her own spin on Sonoran Hot Dogs by wrapping each hot dog with freshly roasted Hatch chilesa similar process to making Avalon's Jalapeño Poppers.
Linda and I hollowed out the homemade sourdough buns for easier garnishing and eating.
I reserved the tasty bread crumbs for topping Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
1. Adjust oven rack to middle and preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Wrap each hot dog with one slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place on a parchment covered baking sheet.
3. Bake for about 10 minutes, then using tongs, turn each hot dog over so the bacon will evenly crisp. Continue baking until bacon is crisp and brown another 8 to 10 minutes.
4. Remove the hot dogs from the oven, and if you like, quickly toast the buns under the broiler. While the buns are toasting, remove and discard all toothpicks.
5. Alternatively, grill the hot dogs. Put the chili wrapped hot dogs on the grill first. They take longer to crisp. The bacon wrapped hot dogs, without the Hatch chiles, cook in about half the time.
6. Place a cooked hot dog in the toasted bun, squirt on mustard and ketchup. Ladle on the beans or chili and top with cheese, and salsa fresca. Drizzle the Mexican Crème Fraîche.
7. Prepare to shout to one and all, "¡Muy delicioso!"

Every person makes his or her own Sonoran Hot Dog masterpiece.
Flam Chen takes the stage for a thrilling All Souls Procession Grand Finale.

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