Dia de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever
Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry. —Mark Twain
Parking at Hollywood Forever was a Nightmare on Gower Street, as always. We ended up parking in a 2-hour spot on Larchmont. It was hellfire hot at 2 pm, which made the elaborate outfits and face paint we saw even more impressive. I frequently pass the Joe Blasco Makeup School and its garish van in Los Feliz, so I was excited to see its students creating intricate calavera faces. I wanted to get mine done for last night’s Mt. Baldy moonlight hike, but I didn’t have time to wait in line. (That night on the mountain, with its ghostly creaking ski lift, we realized seeing me that way would have been more shit-your-pants-and-lock-up-the-freaky-lunatic than oh-what-a-fun-scare.)
Needing a late lunch, we headed for the food vendors immediately. First up was a queso and chicharrón pupusa dressed up with curtido and hot sauce. I expected the pork rinds to be crispy like bacon bits, but unfortunately the whole thing was pretty mushy. I’m no expert, but the best pupusa I’ve had so far was at Hollywood Farmer’s Market. After that I spotted a booth manned by Guelaguetza, a restaurant I’ve definitely been meaning to try. When Jonathan Gold says your mole negro is “black as Dick Cheney’s heart,” I put you on my list. We had the famous mole on a banana-leaf wrapped tamale with shredded chicken breast—rich and plentiful split between two people.
We checked out the art exhibit in the Cathedral Mausoleum, and outside found the Toto Memorial. Apparently Toto’s grave was bulldozed to expand the Ventura Freeway. That erasure felt sad and horrifying—there’s a Toto poltergeist, people.
The true heart of the event was the outdoor altars constructed in remembrance of the dead. These danced with death in a variety of ways—there were very personal expressions of love and loss, a significant Ramones fandom, a student project immortalizing Diego and Frida’s love and art, along with metaphysical musings about dying and the history of ideas. If there were a people’s choice award for the altar contest, I would definitely have voted for #84, celebrating Tracee Manzanares, who died of breast cancer in May. Looking at it, I could feel who she was (cued by her favorite rock songs). Her vibrantly-cluttered altar, with its accretion of personal objects—a collection of high heels, a vintage bicycle, a margarita glass with a glittered rim—felt as intimate as the bedroom of the woman and the girl she once was.
We had to leave before the performances started, but we had seen enough, almost too much. When P and I talked later, we acknowledged that the altars brought up a quiet storm of emotion in us. Though it’s impossible to be somber in the face of such brightness, we were aswirl remembering our own, and I was reminded to seek some way to recognize them.