Postcard from Genoa, Italy: Hey, don’t knock peanuts

The graceful statue of Caterina Campondonico is among the most popular in the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno because of how it was secured. Peanuts.

“It’s only peanuts” is an idiom that never made sense in our house. Peanuts meant everything to us. My father, Lawrence Conway Brennan (1918-1988), was deep in peanuts.

Not that we grew up in a peanut patch, but our father was treasurer of the Columbian Peanut Company in Norfolk, Virginia. His engagement in the nerve-wracking gamble of predicting peanut deliverables by the railcar-load, subject to all the possible whims of Mother Nature in several southern states, sent three girls to college.

Campondonico scrimped and saved lire throughout her life to commission Lorenzo Orengo (1838-1909) to sculpt this prime example of Bourgeois Realism art in 1881, prior to her death. She funded the monument, as fine as those of neighboring aristocrats, from a lifetime of sales of doughnuts and nuts on the streets and at fairs in Genoa. She clutches a rosary of hazelnuts and a pair of doughnuts in her hands. The restoration of the statue was completed in 2016 by American Friends of Italian Monumental Sculpture.

“The Peanut Seller” is far from alone in the 82-acre cemetery; she is in the company of more than 2-million other Genovesi. The cemetery opened its gates to welcome its first deceased occupants in 1851, and the majority of its monuments are from the period of the following hundred years.

In addition to Staglieno’s monumental pantheon and marbled halls for the dead, families erected individual house-like or chapel-like mausolea climbing up the surrounding hillsides on narrow “streets,” forming sort of a suburban village overlooking those resting down below.

If this abundance of photos fails to satisfy your taphophilia, you have a severe obsession. As do I. I finally added a separate category on this blog for locating and scrolling down through related posts: Haunting Graveyards.

And, maybe, in memory of Caterina “The Peanut Seller” and Connie, my father aka “Goober,” rethink that dismissive idiom. Perhaps even improve a few sayings. A peanut in the hand is worth two in the ground. A peanut sold can be a penny saved. The road to heaven is paved with peanut hulls.

Postcard from Mexico City: Visiting the dead in Panteon de Dolores

In 1945, at the height of her career, the government commissioned (Maria) Izquierdo to do a mural for a building in Mexico City. (Diego) Rivera and (David Alfaro) Siqueiros, two of Mexico’s great muralist painters, blocked her from getting the job. When she dared to denounce them in public, she received little help and a lot of strong criticism….

Izquierdo began to experience nightmares that left her sleepless. One day, she arose and drew what she remembered… a clear vision of herself, in a window of metaphysical dimension, holding her own decapitated head as her body, still walking, becomes lost in the distance of steps leading to a void. That year, 1947, she painted “Sueños y Pensamento,” a premonitory painting that heralded great pain for her future. It was the last of her great works.

“Maria Izquierdo – Monumento Artistico de la Nacion,” Rita Pomade, Mexconnect, 2007

We journeyed to Panteon de Dolores, home to a population of a million old souls qualifying it as Mexico’s largest cemetery, on All Saints Day. We encountered less than a handful of families celebrating Day of the Dead traditions graveside with their ancestors. Perhaps more ventured out on the following day, All Souls Day?

While many graves were colored with an abundance of marigolds, the majority appeared untended by those left behind on earth. Perhaps the more antiquated term of Hallowmas is a more fitting name to apply to the day in this neighborhood occupying close to 600 acres between two main sections of the sprawling Chapultepec Park. Numerous graves were adorned with a jumbled combination of ancient Day of the Dead traditions with more recently imported Halloween decor – spiders, plastic pumpkins, orange and black plastic festoons and fake spider webs.

There was an ongoing mixture of entertainment, ranging from an annoying clownish play to a talented female vocalist while we were there, staged in the plaza of the Rotunda de las Personas Illustres. At dusk, children appeared in Halloween or Catrina costumes carrying plastic pumpkin baskets for trick-or-treating.

While the dearth of ancient practices was disappointing, change happens. And I need no flowers or incense to encourage me to wander through a cemetery. So many stories shout at you from all directions.

Despite the rejection of her mural, Maria Izquierdo gained admittance to the portion of the cemetery dedicated to the illustrious of Mexico. Perhaps her fellow muralists, Rivera and Siqueiros, forgave her for her earlier criticisms of muralists including political messages in their works before they joined her there. The excerpt above is a link worth tapping to begin to learn about her life. I found myself wandering on the internet to discover more about the fascinating artist who was the first Mexican woman to mount a major solo exhibition in the United States.

But there are others. Composer Agustin Lara, who left the women swooning with his “Senora Tentacion” in 1956.

Rosario Castellanos, who wrote because: “Writing has been a way of explaining to myself the things I do not understand.” And redefined laughter: “We have to laugh. Because laughter, we already know, is the first evidence of freedom.”

Actress Virginia Fabregas.

 

In addition to those celebrated within the inner circle of the cemetery, there are close to a million others with stories worth telling. Hopefully, the trials, tribulations and joys they experienced are preserved within their families’ oral histories, repeated over and over at holiday celebrations lest the tales be lost.

And then, there are the eerily spooky graves. The angel guarding the rusty doors of a crypt, unhinged as though indicating the residents fled the confined space long ago. The coffin rusting above ground. Occupied, empty or home to a vampire planning to emerge with the rise of the next full moon?

A belated happy Hallowmas from Mexico City.

Postcard from San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, Mexico: Grooming Graves to Welcome Back the Dead

Hallowmas, or All Saints Day, is such a convenient make-up day for Catholics. There are so many saints, some have been forgotten. November 1 represents a time to remember all of them in one powerful group prayer.

The following day, All Souls Day, is ideal for praying for all the departed, particularly those who escaped hell but were not quite good enough to have Saint Peter throw out the welcome mat – those poor souls stuck in limbo or purgatory.

For many of the indigenous people of Mexico, Catholicism is but a recent thin veneer topping centuries of ancient Mayan beliefs. We are in the heart of that land. November 1 is celebrated as Dia de los Inocentes, a time to communicate with all the small children your family might have lost. November 2 is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

While a small number of Americans hold séances to try to entice loved ones back for a visit, most Americans shrink away from the thought of inviting ghosts back to be part of our lives. But here, families devote much time and energy to cleaning their ancestors’ graves in preparation for decorating them with items to entice the departed back to earth.

This past Sunday, we viewed some of these efforts outside a church that burned long ago. A band played spirited music outside the front of the ruins to entertain those hard at work and those lying underground.

Please excuse the quality of these photographs, but San Juan Chamula operates under its own set of laws. And one of these is you are not allowed to take photographs in its churches or close-ups of any people without permission, rarely extended by the city’s elders (more later). Violators will have cameras confiscated, or worse.

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Throughout San Juan’s valley, patches of marigolds are squeezed tightly amongst rows of corn. The marigolds will be harvested for the graves to help guide the dead to earth.

The sincerity of all the preparations is critical because one would not want the dead to feel inadequately welcomed, particularly because they can impact one’s prosperity throughout the coming year.