Monday, October 31, 2011

A Happy Day

Outside of Mexico, the Day of the Dead appears silly, if not outright bizarre. What else can be made out of dangling skeletons, skulls made of every imaginable material, including sugar, and macabre monsters of all kinds?

Yet, after a visit to Mexico City, which by chance happened around this Mexican holiday, I see things a bit differently.

“This is my favorite day of the year,” confessed a woman-professor at a local University.
“It gives us a chance to get together with the entire family, and to reminisce about our departed loved ones. We always have such a fun time.”

Fun? In the family of my in-laws on Upper West Side, such occasion would generate tearful silences, soul-searching conversations, and would be considered a generally traumatic experience. Not so in Mexico. The special bread they make for this day is sweet, and they eat it with chocolate. They also make a favorite dish of their grandmothers, lost uncles and cousins, and savor it together.  In an unusual way, the Day of Dead becomes a cause for spontaneous mass creativity. Curious altars are created in every home, like mini-museums of the passed family history.  There is nothing didactic or sad about those displays. Personal items of the remembered, the aroma of food and marigold flowers, fire of a candle, tissue paper ornaments, fluttering in the wind, period music – all this contributes to a complex multisensory experience.

It is believed that the dead consider it disrespectful to see grieving at their altar. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Icon

“There may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented,” stated Barak Obama in his memorial statement on passing of Steve Jobs today.

The press likes to stress the numbers of Apple devices sold around the world (and the numbers are staggering: 129 million phones sold to date) What is more remarkable, though, is the equality of distribution of Apple products. Here in Doha, it is likely that both a sheikh and his driver will own an iPhone. In my class, I have it and so do most of my students. On Occupied Wall Street, the protesters (a.k.a. The 99%) are using it to tweet their anger about the other 1%. 

Andy Warhol once wrote about Coca-Cola, an older American icon: A Coke is a Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money will buy you a better Coke that the bum on the corner is drinking.  Today, it is true that no money will buy you a better smart phone than iPhone. If Andy was alive, he would have probably painted Steve Jobs, or an iPhone. For sure, he would be using one.