Mexico's Day of the Dead a lively time

William M. Dowd photo

• We are now in the midst of the celebration known as Dia de los Muertos, celebrated mostly in Mexico and stretching anywhere from two to four days, depending on the community. I wrote this story in 2007 and pull it from the archives to share with you today. -- Bill Dowd

Mexico's tourism profile is never higher than during Dia de los Muertos, literally the Day of the Dead but in reality a longer event that this year will begin on Sunday, Oct. 28, and end the following Friday, Nov. 2.

There is nothing as quintessentially Mexican as El Dia de los Muertos, a festival that has been part of the culture since before the Spanish invaders. Originally held in July, but moved closer to All Saint's Eve in November by Catholic priests brought in by the conquistadors, it is anything but a morbid or frivolous event.

Families construct tiny temporary altars, festooned with large, colorful marigolds and chrysanthemums, near the doorways to their homes to welcome back the departed. Crowds stroll throughout the towns and cities to see and be seen. Vendors line both sides of many streets, selling foods, trinkets and crafts.

In the city of Guanajuato last year, I joined a stream of walkers headed for a large cemetery where they visited the graves of their loved ones, replacing wilted flowers with fresh, often washing down the stone or metal markers with pails of water purchased from entrepreneurial youngsters who set up shop at the cemetery gates. Some churches had theirf exterior staircases converted to temporary altars covered with flowers, candles and photos of the dead, as shown above.

Artwork for the Day of the Dead features skeletons involved in all sorts of earthly pursuits, playing instruments, dancing, eating and -- most important to some -- drinking.

This year, noted San Francisco mixologist Duggan McDonnell came up with a lineup of tequila-based cocktails to celebrate the holiday for the Don Julio line that is Mexico's top-selling high-end tequila. Most include agave nectar, a non-alcoholic sweetener made from the same blue agave plant used to create tequila. It is widely available online and in some specialty shops.

One is the Smoky Diablo that blends limoncello, grapefruit juice, agave nectar and tequila with a sprinkle of chili powder. Another is the Jalisco Sidecar, named for the Mexican state where most tequila is produced, made with aged tequila, Grand Marnier, fresh lemon juice and orange bitters.

But my favorite is the Black Widow with a superb contrast of berries and herbs. The recipe:

1½ ounces tequila blanco
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon agave nectar
5 blackberries
4 basil leaves
Ice cubes

Muddle 2 blackberries and 3 basil leaves in a Boston shaker. Add the tequila, lime juice, agave nectar and ice to the shaker. Shake well. Strain contents into a stemless martini glass or similar glass over ice and garnish with a blackberry and basil leaf on a toothpick. Serves one.

Day of the Dead background
The Mummies of Guanajuato
• Celebrating in Mexico
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