Celebrating Día de los Muertos in Los Angeles

Credit to Bowerboy on Flickr

I have to say, I’m burnt out on Halloween. I buckle under the pressure of coming up with The Most Original Costume in the World. It stresses me out. My most original and relevant costume to date (an underaged Chinese gymnast) is two years old and even survived my recent move as a souvenir of brilliance, but alas, its 2008 Olympics relevance has ceded long ago. It’s not a costume you can “raise from the dead,” or the confines of my closet.

Costume stresses are cause to look at a different holiday to celebrate – one, perhaps, that entails one theme. Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that occurs on November 2nd every year, the day after Day of the Innocents. Look at it this way: There are less grueling (i.e. not dressing up as a sexy something) ways to celebrate the end of October while honoring our ancestors – and do how Mexicans and Mexican Americans do.

You can start by picking up the November Los Angeles Magazine issue, or The Ultimate Guide to Mexican Food in L.A., featuring the expertise of baja tours extraordinaire Bill Esparza (Street Gourmet LA), L.A. Mag editor Leslie Bargar Suter and critic Patrick Kuh.

And after you emerge from those pages with a new “To Eat” memo in your BlackBerry, you may as well add to that a “To Attend” memo with these Día de los Muertos events happening around town over the weekend and thereafter. Dress code? Calaca, if you dare. (See – I need these things decided for me.) 

  • Novenario Processions (Night Processions) on Olvera Street – Nightly, now through Tuesday, November 2, 2010: 7 PM

Catch the nightly, sightly pre-Columbian parade starting at Olvera Street Gallery entrance. After each procession, free Pan du Muerto (bread of the dead) and Champurrado (warm, thick chocolate drink with masa) will be served. Free. Metro stop: Union Station. Website

  • Día de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Saturday, October 30, 2010: 12 PM – 2 AM

Enjoy altar exhibits, processionals, Aztec Dancers, art, Ballet Folklorico performances, live music and more in the most appropriate site for a celebration honoring the dead. Guelaguetza will be on-site with their awesome Oaxacan food. La Monarca Bakery will be selling their specialty Pan du Muerto Metro as well as organic Oaxacan coffee, Mexican cookies, and bunuelos (Spanish fritters). $10 admission. Metro stop: Red Line – Hollywood/Vine. Website

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Being Roused By Bon Iver at Hollywood Forever

It’s always the people from out of town who think it’s weird there are movie screenings in a cemetery. Oh you know, those L.A. hippy folk are always up to their crazy ways, up to no good. On the other hand, if you’ve been here awhile, it’s old news or – even if it actually weren’t – you had heard about the screenings and that they were really cool so you just acted like it was old news the only way hipsters in skinny jeans could. Oh yeah, been there – done that.

I myself had the Hollywood Forever routine down. I brought my layers of blankets and sleeping bags, my food and wine – ready to lay down on a damp lawn. In true fashion, we even lined up in between velvet wood stakes and plastic tape to get in. Mozza 2 Go in tow (mortadella sandwich, burrata pizza special and butterscotch budino, thankyouverymuch) we set up in the same area and pretty much in the same manner as for a screening. The 1 AM arrival time, however, was a deviation. And instead of preparing to feast or snack, all entrants prepared for slumber. People set up little kumbaya circles with tea lights in the center while we crawled inside our sleeping bags and zipped up, separating ourselves from the lawn and the mist. I never got to have sleepovers like this when I was a kid. I believe it was then when I was scared of cemeteries.

We’re all grown-up now. And what happens at grown-up sleepovers, apparently, is screenings of one Wes Andersen movie and one documentary (Bottle Rocket and Planet Earth) with the sound turned down a notch. DJ sets by Bon Iver came between the movies and a night-long coffee bar was available a few yards away. Apparently, there are still face paintings at grown-up sleepovers. But probably the most remarkable thing that happens at grown-up sleepovers is waking in said cemetery to the chants of Buddhist monks. Since generally cranky when waking from naps, I was halfway between thinking that spirit-filled monotone was the coolest thing in the world to wanting them to shut up. I sat up a bit, groggy, and finally noticed there was a stage set up to the right of the Masonic Lodge. And then I saw a spotlight upon four dudes in the dark before the dawn - their complexions only fellow Wisconsinites could understand. The red-tinged hair, beards and Justin Vernon’s sweet, quaint and perfectly harmonized voice carried through the fog so serenely over subtle syncopations – nowhere else, no other time in Hollywood would I ever feel the simple beauty of the woods of Wisconsin ever again. I held on.

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