I walked into The Turquoise Door in Austin, Texas and found Death singing, playing cards, feasting on tamales and papayas, and riding bicycles. It was moving in procession down the length of counters and across tables. I could almost hear the percussion of its bones. Its many moods could not be seen in its bony faces: skulls are less malleable even than botoxed flesh. They can neither smile or frown. But oh, the color–the liveliness of it all.
The Turquoise Door was given over to the Day of the Dead, but it wasn’t just for a day, it was a time and place where saints, demons, and human beings–living, dead–were joined in perpetual celebration of each other. Some of the figures could have filled a coffee table; others were as small as the charms for a bracelet. Clay, paper maiche, ceramic, wood–they were playing instruments–violins, concertinas, pianos, trumpets and saxophones. They were dipping and turning in dance. They were piling up marigolds. On the walls were ceremonial masks, their empty eyes staring at the sights below.
There were trees of life with the Virgin Mary and apple trees at their centers, but in one the skeleton in his snappy black uniform replaced them.. Death at the heart of life.
I don’t know much about the Day of the Dead. I know even less about Death itself. I do know that The Turquoise Door made me laugh, and it’s not very often that Death does that.