To live and be buried in San Miguel

Expats who have vowed never to leave San Miguel get that final wish by being buried in a special corner of the Municipal Pantheon known colloquially as the "Gringo Section."

It's a lovely spot, manicured and carefully laid out, that would not be out of place in any small all-American town. It's also walled and gated off from the rest of the far more chaotic part of the cemetery where Mexicans come to rest.

In that, the expat section resembles life: Most expats in San Miguel Americans live among Mexicans but never get to quite mix with them, not even in death. It reminds me of a Spanish saying, "Juntos pero no revueltos,"  or, "Alongside but separate."

Stew and I began visiting the expat section several years ago, when we used to attend the Community Church of San Miguel, an English-speaking congregation, which organizes visits to this part of the cemetery on the Day of the Dead, ostensibly to clean up and decorate the gravesites, though in reality the area is so fastidiously maintained there's really no need. 

For us it's a more traditional gesture of remembrance of friends who died the year before. This year we visited Norm Meyer and his son-in-law "Louie" Armstrong, whose ashes rest in simple side-by-side crypts.  

We brought them a handful of flowers we'd bought by the entrance to the cemetery, along with a metal can to serve as a vase. Total cost of the decoration package came to about two dollars. 

In San Miguel we have a not-for-profit organization, the 24 Hour Association, to which expats subscribe. For a one-time, refundable fee, the association will handle all funeral arrangements, including cremation or burial at the Municipal Panteon, or shipment of the deceased back home. 

Given the age demographics of the expat population of San Miguel, the association fulfills an essential need. 

To reach the expat section, one has to traverse almost the entire length of the entire cemetery, which on Day of the Dead is a cacophonous frenzy of activity, with relatives painting and decorating gravesites. 

The music of bands-for-hire mixes with the tapping of hammers and chisels repairing crumbling gravesites, while the sweet smell of floral offerings everywhere clashes with occasional whiffs of liquor or food of relatives celebrating their dearly departed. 

Day of the Dead also has become a somewhat circusy tourist attraction, which I confess partaking in when we first arrived in San Miguel. Now it makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable, as if we were crashing a family affair. 

This year Stew and I visited for only an hour, and mostly the expat section, though I admit taking a few photos along the way. 

Below are some of those images.   

Mountains of marigolds, the traditional flower of the Day of the Dead. 
Vendors outside the municipal cemetery sell all supplies, including painted cans
in which to place flowers, for 60 cents or so.

Traffic jam at the Pearly Gates: The Mexican section of the municipal cemetery.

           A little drummer boy at the gravesite 
            of an unknown child. 

A visitor, deep in her own thoughts. 

On the way to remember the dearly departed. 

The calligraphy may be shaky, but the
sentiments are deeply felt.

May he rest in peace indeed, with a Corona Light in hand, in case he gets thirsty.

The Expat Section:
Right by the entrance to the "Gringo Section" is a
memorial to Stirling Dickinson, one of the first
expats in San Miguel, and who's credited—or blamed—
for calling attention to San Miguel as lovely place for
Americans to resettle. A local street is named after him.

Lament for the perpetual student: "She spoke Spanish, but needed more practice."
In death as in life: Relatives of dead expats sometimes hire Mexicans 
to do the job of cleaning up and decorating the gravesites.
The rear admiral sailed away, but
his widow stayed in San Miguel. 
A lonely cross, waiting to be gussied up.
This poodle and I are both named Alfredo, though he goes
by Alfie. I took no offense. 

Double bill: The girl, in front, is called María José, and her boy twin is José María.
Old Glory standing guard.
Stew and I brought flowers for
two friends, Louie and Norm. 
Barbara's still around, and still a fun broad.


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