La MuerteThursday, July 19, 2007
One of the great perks of my 1997 trip to Mexico is that I had a blanket permit to shoot whatever I wanted from the Tourism Secretary. I don't remember exactly where I photographed this skull but I do remember that a tourist asked me how I had managed to obtain permission. A skull in Spanish is calavera. I like its sound. It is musical and scary at the same time.
On Thursday we went to the Johnson City Zoo and fed some animals. They converged around our caged cart as it began to rain. Rebecca was feeding them and I saw the sad eyes of some large deer-like animals that Rebecca called Moosettes. I became sad as the rain soaked us. I thought of death and of a passage from John Lloyd Stephens's Incidents of Travels In Central America, Chiapas And Yucatan.
Go where we will, to the uttermost parts of the earth, we are sure to meet one acquaintance. Death is always with us. In the afternoon was the funeral of a child. The procession consisted of eight or ten grown persons, and as many boys and girls. The sexton carried the child in his arms, dressed in white with a wreath of flowers around his head. All were huddled around the sexton, walking together; the father and mother with him. I happened to be in the church as they approached. The floor of the church was earthen, and the grave was dug inside, and the father seemed proud that he could give his child such a burial place. The sexton laid the child in the grave, folded its little hands across its breast, placing there a small rude cross, covered it over with eight or ten inches of earth, and then got into the grave and stamped it down with his feet. He then got out and threw in more, and, going outside the church, brought back a pounder, being a log of wood about four feet long and ten inches in diameter, and again takinghis place in the grave, threw up the pounder to the full swing of his arm, and brought it down with all his strength over the head of his child. My blood ran cold. As he threw it up a second time I caught his arm and remonstrated with him, but he said that they always did so with those buried inside the church; that the earth must be all put back, and the floor of the church made even. My remonstrances seemed only to give him more strength and spirit. The sweat rolled sown his body, and when perfectly tired with pounding he stepped out of the grave. But this was nothing. More earth was thrown in, and the father laid down his hat, stepped into the grave, and the pounder wasa handed to him. I saw him throw it up twice and bring it down with a dead, heavy noise.