Friday, October 29, 2010

Quest for the perfect costume

LAS CRUCES — It’s that time of year again, when all patriotic Las Crucens suit up for Full-Tilt Costume Fiesta Season (FTCFS).
This year, the pressure has been on for both sprints and marathons.
Dia de los Muertos events started with two, count ‘em TWO — Frida Kahlo look-alike contests on the same day and stretched on to include a costume ball, plus this weekend’s Dia de los Muertos festivities on the Mesilla Plaza. One of those days is, of course, Halloween. Then there’s the dusk Day of the Dead procession on Tuesday, for which it is traditional to dress up, perhaps as your favorite difunto (deceased loved one), and bring musical instruments and noisemakers. This year, the procession falls on election day. Don’t forget to vote and we hope you won’t be in mourning for your favorite candidates the next morning.
Then, or course, there’s next weekend’s Renaissance ArtsFaire, which is not the same weekend as Dead Day fiestas this year, as sometimes happens.
That’s probably good news for costume marathoners, but not so hot for sprinters, who enjoy the adrenaline rush of suiting up appropriately for a variety of parties, fiestas, ceremonies and, on double-booked occasions, fly-bys.
Speaking of which, angels and ghosts are appropriate for all our dress-up occasions, and if you’re trying to simplify your costumed life, it’s always good to get back to the basics.
In recent years, I’ve gone the angel route. I have a couple of flowing white robes that I never seem to wear any time else, and they don’t take much space in my overstuffed costume closet.
It’s filled with costumes and accessories from my pre-Minimalist days. The mask section ranges from crow beaks and glow-in-the-dark ET faces to a large Dilbert head and a nice King Tut. (That one came in handy for the Branigan’s Egyptian exhibit a couple of years ago.)
There’s a whole section devoted to wizardry, which I once thought might be the answer to the universally appropriate costume quest. There are star-spangled robes, wands, and assorted wizard hats — great hits for matching gram and grandson Harry Potter soirees, when grandson Alex the Great was in residence.
Wizards were OK for Halloween and RenFaire, where I’ve picked up some spectacular bubble wands over the years. But the hats were hot and blew off at windy outdoor fiestas. And no matter how much magic attitude I tried to conjure, wizards never seemed quite right for Día de los Muertos occasions.
I think the angel is the best bet, though I’m still searching for the perfect wings, which would be soft, bendable, hypoallergenic, non-shedding and super comfy. In an ideal world (which, let’s face it, this isn’t, or what’s a heaven for?) I’d be able to retract and unfurl my wings at will, perhaps with a handy remote control device.
In the meantime, I take them off for car trips and seek out party occasions where I can remain standing or hang out on backless benches or other angel-friendly perches.
I don’t worry about storage for my favorite pair, which has a wingspan of about 6 feet. They hang on my living room wall, where they remain a focal point through FTCFS and on through Christmas, and a topic of conversation during the rest of the year.
I’m still working on display ideas for my halo collection, which includes bendable headband high-rise versions and an ethereal, gauzy, easy-on circlet I picked up last year at a RenFaire booth.
It’s easy to customize my basic angel ensemble for any and all FTCFS needs. Last year, I paper-clipped a “PRESS” card to my halo for an office party, pulled a black-and-white skeleton T-shirt over my robe for Dia de los Muertos, added a garland of small flowers for RenFaire and pondered stacking a halo atop a sombrero for the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference’s Parque Festival. I just picked up a fun flashing-lights-and-sound gun at a costume store, so I plan to be futuristic avenging angel for Halloween.
The possible variations are endless. Maybe next year I'll add a black wig and a unibrow and enter a look-alike contest as the ghost of Frida Kahlo.
I’ve been around the FTCFS block and I’m here to tell you, it’s the perfect, all-season, all-star costume choice.
Angels, after all, are always appropriate.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Vampire wars

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Vampires seem to be in season year-round these days, but this is a particularly good time of year to contemplate the great sisterly vampire wars of 2010.
Forget team Edward vs. Team Jacob.
For my sister Sally and me, it comes down to Team Sookie vs. Team Bella. If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past decade, or more likely, out in the bright sunshine away from any news of vampire literature, you may have no idea what I'm talking about. Bella is the heroine of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, basis for a hot movie franchise. Sookie is the mainstay of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, which inspired an HBO series.
Our differing vampire preferences may seem strange in sisters with nearly identical voices and tastes so similar that, even living and shopping in locales thousands of miles apart, we've often managed to give each other identical Christmas presents as esoteric as Guatemalan hand-woven patchwork tote bags.
But then again, there are some differences. Sally likes smokin' bad boys, big bowls of peel 'n eat shrimp and the smell of the ocean at low tide. I'm more partial to health-conscious, spiritually inclined guys with doctoral degrees and cowboy boots, green chile and cilantro, and the fresh aroma of ozone during a lightning storm.
So maybe it isn't so surprising that Floridian Sally likes Deep South Sookie and I'm fonder of Bella, whose primary homes are in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest, where I've spent most of my adult life.
We could have endless debates about which heroine and which vampires are most admirable.
Bella, though she isn’t adverse to a close friendship with a werewolf/shapeshifter and doesn't appear to care if her daughter marries one, is a one-vampire woman. And whatta vampire!
Edward is a “vegetarian” vampire (which means he dines on free-range wildlife rather than humans) and lives with a close-knit family of humanitarians who use their superpowers for good and healing and fret over the state of their souls (and whether they have any). Bella wants to become a vampire mainly because it can mean a very long run with her soulmate and the love of her life. Bella’s unique superpower, pre- and post-vampirism, is to shield her thoughts and her loved ones.
I wouldn't call Sookie a supernatural slut, but she is a rather bewildered soul who has had long-term relationships with a couple of vampires and seriously dated a few werewolves and shapeshifters and is especially fond of the human/collie who owns the bar where she works.
Sookie has had trouble coming to terms with her superpower, the ability to read the minds of humans, but not vampires, in whose company she therefore finds some degree of peace, except, of course, for all the vampire violence and shenanigans. Eventually, Sookie discovers she is descended from a fairy (as in Tinkerbell) ancestor, a heritage that apparently heightens her appeal for vampires.
I love both the Twilight books and movies and concede that the Sookie books are page-turners, too, but the extreme and icky violence has dissuaded me from watching the TV series, "True Blood" (named for the synthetic blood developed by the Japanese that enabled the vampires in Sookie’s world to go public and hang out in blood bars).
Sally and I can agree that both series are well-written, and I'm grateful that Sally's Sookie partisanship has introduced me to the other series by prolific author Harris. I'm enjoying working my way through her books, including her three other mystery series starring Harper Connelly, who is able to communicate with the dead after being struck by lightning, smart Southern Belle librarian Aurora Teagarden, and crime-victim-turned-karate-aficionado Lily Bard, who leaves her upscale professional life to clean houses (and become an inadvertent crime-fighter) in a small Arkansas town.
Hmm. It takes all kinds — of humans, pixies, werewolves, vampires, crime-fighting heroes and other assorted critters — to make our big, wild, imaginative world. This is a great season to treat yourself to a good, perspective-stretching, original read.
Happy Halloween — and viva la difference!

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Día de los Muertos 101: A guide to Day of the Dead customs, terms and traditions

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Día de los Muertos has been called “a day when heaven and earth meet” and “a celebration of lives well lived.”
In Las Cruces, Mesilla and throughout the region, it has become a beloved tradition, a time when Borderland cultures blend, showcasing and sometimes creatively combining Spanish, Mexican, American Indian and Anglo customs and beliefs.
Día De Los Muertos “is not a morbid holiday but a festive remembrance of Los Angelitos (children) and all souls (Los Difuntos),” according to a statement from the Calavera Coalition of Mesilla. “This celebration originated with the indigenous people of the American continent, the Aztec, Mayan, Toltec and the Inca. Now, many of the festivities have been transformed from their original pre-Hispanic origins. It is still celebrated throughout North America among Native American tribes. The Spanish arrived and they altered the celebration to coincide with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).”
Continuing an annual Las Cruces Style tradition, here is a guide to some important terms and concepts relating to Day of the Dead celebrations, collected during 17 years of commemorations.
alfeñique: Molded sugar figures used in altars for the dead.
ancianos: Grandparents or elderly friends or relatives who have died; ancestors honored during the first (north) part of processions for Day of the Dead.
angelitos: Literally “little angels,” refers to departed children and babies, traditionally honored during the first day of celebrations, Nov. 1, and the third (south) part of processions honoring the dead.
anima sola: A lonely soul or spirit who died far from home or who is without amigos or relatives to take responsibility for its care.
calascas: Handmade skeleton figurines which display an active and joyful afterlife, such as musicians or skeleton brides and grooms in wedding finery.
calaveras: Skeletons, used in many ways for celebrations: bread and candies in the shape of skeletons are traditional, along with everything from small and large figures and decorations, skeleton head rattles, candles, masks, jewelry and T-shirts. It’s also the term for skull masks, often painted with bright colors and flowers and used in displays and worn in Day of the Dead processions.
literary calaveras: Poetic tributes written for departed loved ones or things mourned and/or as mock epitaphs.
Catrin and Catrina: Formally dressed couple, or bride and groom skeletons popularized by renowned graphic artist and political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada.
copal: A fragrant resin from a Mexican tree used as incense, burned alone or mixed with sage in processions in honor of the dead.
Días de los Muertos: Days of the dead, usually celebrated on Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 (the official date for Day of the Dead) in conjunction with All Souls Days or Todos Santos, the Catholic Feast of All Saints. Various Borderland communities, including Las Cruces, have their own celebration schedules in October and November.
Difunto: Deceased soul, corpse, cadaver.
La Flaca: Nickname for the female death figure, also known as La Muerte.
Frida Kahlo: Mexican artist who collected objects related to the Day of the Dead. Her photo often appears in Día de los Muertos shrines or retablos.
Los Guerreros: Literally, “the warriors,” are dead fathers, husbands, brothers and sons honored in the final (east) stop in Dia De Los Muertos processions.
marigolds: In Mexico, marigolds, or “cempasuchil,” are officially known as the “flower of the dead.” The flowers are added to processional wreaths at each stop, with one blossom representing each departed soul being honored. Sometimes, marigold pedals are strewn from the cemetery to a house. Their pungent fragrance is said to help the spirits find their way back home. Mums and paper flowers are also used.
mariposas: Butterflies, and sometimes hummingbirds, appear with skeletons to symbolize the flight of the soul from the body to heaven.
masks: Carried or worn during processions and other activities, masks can range from white face paint to simple molded plaster or papier-maché creations or elaborate painted or carved versions that become family heirlooms.
Las Mujeres: The women who have died are honored during the second (west) stop of Day of the Dead processions. After names of dead mothers, daughters, sisters and friends are called and honored, it is traditional for the crowd to sing a song for the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Náhuatl poetry: Traditional odes dedicated to the subject of death, dating back to the pre-Columbian era.
ofrenda: Traditional altar where offerings such as flowers, clothing, food, photographs and objects loved by the departed are placed. The ofrenda may be constructed in the home — usually in the dining room — at a cemetery, or may be carried in a procession. The ofrenda base is usually an arch made of bent reeds. It is ornamented with special decorations, sometimes with heirlooms collected by families much like Christmas ornaments. Decorations may include skeleton figures, toys and musical instruments in addition to offerings for a specific loved one.
pan de muertos: Literally, “bread of the dead.” It is traditionally baked in the shape of a skull — calavera — and dusted with pink sugar. Here, local bakeries sometimes include red and green chile decorations.
papel picado: Decorations made of colored paper cut in intricate patterns.
Posada: José Guadalupe Posada, (1852-1913), the self-taught “printmaker to the people” and caricaturist was known for his whimsical calaveras, or skeletons, depicted wearing dapper clothes, playing instruments and otherwise nonchalantly conducting their everyday activities, sometimes riding on horse skeletons.
veladores: Professional mourners who help in the grief process in several ways, including candlelight vigils, prayers and with dramatic weeping and wailing.
Xolotlitzcuintle: Monster dog, sometimes depicted as a canine skeleton, sometimes as a Mexican hairless breed. Since pre-Columbian times, this Día de los Muertos doggy has, according to legend, been the departed’s friend, helping with the tests of the perilous crossing of the River Chiconauapan to Mictlan, the land of the dead.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.