dia de los muertos : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

Sweet Gentle Prague

It was just a week ago yesterday that I found myself in the world class city of Prague with a personal day on my hands.

The work part of the trip had been both busy and exhausting. My coworkers all left for home that morning but I had a tourist Friday ahead of me. The challenge: To see as many of the must-see Prague sights as possible in one day.

Now just eight days later, it seems almost like a dream.

A week ago it was very real. So real I had a fair bit of anxiety and no idea what lay ahead. The Good Man managed to talk me down from nine timezones away and with a deep breath, I screwed up my courage and headed out of the hotel room.

As luck would have it, there happened to be a Metro station right under the hotel.

So this is where my journey began:



A simple suburban Metro station that would take me *everywhere*

The hotel where I stayed is in the suburbs of Prague, but the Metro is so damn good it was a less than fifteen minute ride and I emerged at the bottom of Wenceslaus Square.

I had done some reading before arriving in Prague and I knew a bit about Wenceslaus Square.

Well, I knew three things:

Thing 1) The square is dominated by a statue of King Wenceslaus. As in “Good King Weceslaus blah blah, on the feast Stephen, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh, deep and crisp and even…”

What the hell is that song even about, anyway? Wait, let’s hold that question for another time.

On that day, I knew that Saint Wenceslaus is considered the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

So I walked uphill and gawked at the shops and restaurants and soon found myself in the shadow of the Good King and his steed.



That there is a gooood king

Thing 2) Wenceslaus Square is incredibly historic, considered the very heart of the city of Prague, and it is a World Heritage Site because it was on that very square in 1989 that the Velvet Revolution happened.

What is the Velvet Revolution, you say? I’m so glad you asked.

The Velvet Revolution is when the then Czechoslovakia decided it had had just about enough (MORE than enough) and threw off Communist rule. They then became their own self-managed country with a parliament.

This is a very, very big deal. It utterly changed the course of the Czech people. For the better.

I have a coworker who grew up in Prague. She left as a teenager in 1984. She said, “We had to leave. We had so much despair. We believed it would never change.”

It would eventually change, but it would take a few more years.

So I stood on this square, a lost little girl from New Mexico, and thought about how much happened right where my feet stood. How these people took back their own destiny.



See where all those tourists are? History happened there.

Thing 3) At the top of Wenceslaus Square, behind the statue and in front of the museum something particularly sad and historic happened.

In 1968, a student named Jan Palach protested the invasion and eventual fall of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union during what was called the Prague Spring. He did so by committing suicide by self-immolation.

“…Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the ‘demoralization’ of Czechoslovak citizens caused by the occupation.” – from a doctor who treated Palach (wiki)

I think that sense of demoralization and despair runs strong through the history of the Czech people. In my experience, they are a very laid back and easy going people, but there is that sadness underneath. Well, maybe not sadness, just…world weary.

I wanted to find the small marker of Palach’s history that is embedded in the brickwork in front of the museum. I have to say I was greatly moved. There were flowers at the site, meaning people still remember and still care about what he did.



This is a simple but powerful marker

Well, that was a bit of a dark start to my day of exploration, but it also really touched me.

From there, I hopped back on the Metro and made my way to Old Town Square. The mood and attitude in the Old Town area could not have been more different.

The Old Town Square is beautiful, but incredibly overrun by tourists. Okay, sure, I was also a tourist, but you get what I mean.

Along with tourists there were an awful lot of flim-flam men (and women), grifters and pickpockets. At one point I stopped to look at maps on my phone to see if I was heading the right direction, and saw no less than three people make a move toward me.

San Francisco is a tourist town and I’m fairly used to this sort of untoward behavior, so each person got my patented City Stink Eye. The one that lets people know I am not to be trifled with.

They soon backed up, but that kind of predatory behavior was pretty rampant in the Old Town area. I was waving off sellers, beggars and all around questionable sorts left and right. I also kept a firm grip on my bag as I heard from several places that the pickpocketing is quite bad.

The main reason to be in Old Town, apart from admiring the amazing architecture, was to see the Astronomical Clock located at the Old Town Hall building.



Of course my favorite part was the skeleton

This clock was installed in 1410. Um, what? 14 freaking 10? Wow.

As luck would have it, I was there at about twenty minutes to the top of the hour, so I waited with all of the many tourists, in the rain I might add, to watch the clock’s mechanics at the top of the hour. A skeleton rings a bell, the animated figures come to life, and above the clock statues of the twelve apostles zip by and look out the windows.

It was very quaint and lovely, and I’m glad I saw it. Not much more to say than that. More than a Clark Griswald shrug, less than rapturous delight.

After taking some photos of the beautiful buildings on the square, I then made my way onward to the Charles Bridge.

The most famous of the bridges across the Vltava River, the Charles Bridge began construction in 1357.

You know how sometimes Europeans give Americans a wry smile when we talk about our deep history? Yeah, this is why. In 1357 they were building bridges that would safely transport my tired little toes across the same river some 659 years later. America wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of Columbus in 1357.

The stroll across the bridge was certainly lively. Lots of people, lots of selfie sticks (ugh), quite a few pickpockets and an awful lot of Catholic statues. Like, a LOT of Catholic statues.

Felt like I needed to go to confession when I got to the other side, ba-dum, tish!

It was hard to pick just one photo from my walk across the river, but let’s go with this one:



The walk across the bridge was quite pleasing especially since the rain had moved on and a bright blue Czech sky emerged. Quite lovely.

The part of Prague on the other side of the bridge is known as Lesser Quarter, which I find quite a rude name. There was nothing lesser about this side of the bridge in my opinion. It is much quieter, calmer and less busy. It suited me just fine.

At this point, my legs, feet and bladder asked nicely if we could stop, so I landed at a coffee shop.

Over a lovely icy coffee, I tweeted exactly how I felt in that moment on that day.



As my legs relaxed, I listened to a group of four Czech students argue and debate and I watched life happen outside the glass door. I felt enormously contented. It’s those moments I will remember long after I’ve come back to my regular life. It’s those moments I wait for on each international trip I take. It’s what makes all of those long and ugly plane miles worth it.

Yeah. Seriously, may I never forget how good I felt in that moment.

Now fortified, I moved on to my last stop of the day, St Nicholas Church.

The guidebook I pondered over coffee told me that it was a beautiful example of a baroque church. I do like to see some of the old and over the top churches in Europe, so I was game.

The guidebook also mentioned the bell tower at the church. How it had been used by the communists to keep an eye on the American Embassy nearby, and that it offered some of the best views in all of Prague.

Impulse overtook me and I smacked down 90 koruna for a ticket and began climbing the stairs.

What in the utter hell was I thinking? One, my legs were already tired, two I’m in okay shape but stair climbing is tough, and three my asthma was like “hey, what’s up?”

But I kept climbing the spiral stairs and narrow ladders until it got more and more exhausting and claustrophobia inducing (and I don’t often struggle with claustrophobia).

At more than one point I had to remind myself that I managed to get myself into this situation and had to figure out how to get myself out.

My bullish determination kicked in and I made a promise I would make it all the way to the top.

Along the way I found the watchmen’s quarters, a sparse room with a small bed, rough wood table and open brickwork fireplace.

When there were windows, I looked out then kept climbing. Finally, I could smell the fresh air of outside and found myself at a narrow deck that encircled the tower. There was a guide there and she told me to go outside (I didn’t understand what the signs meant and had hesitated).

Wow. Truly. Wow. I was stunned at seeing all of Prague laid out before me.



The sky stippled with clouds and the sun began its slow descent toward the end of the day and there I stood taking it all in.

And hey, I wasn’t even at the top of the tower yet. After taking quite a few photos with both of my cameras, I kept climbing. The very, very top of the tower, at the end of 215 steps, was less interesting. It was low ceilinged, cramped, stuffy and the windows were small.

So I went back down to the narrow deck and took another spin.

With that, I declared myself done for the day. Ready to head back to the hotel.

I came down all 215 steps a lot faster than I went up and made myself dizzy. Wobbly on my pins, I chose instead to stop for some dinner and I’m glad I did. I found a funny little restaurant where they treated me nice and I ate something they called Slovak gnocchi, which a short Google search later assured me is actually a thing.

A very delicious thing.

I wanted to have a nice Czech beer alongside, but worried a beer would drop me right to the ground so I opted for something milder.

After eating my fill, I set out back across the Charles Bridge. The mood on the bridge had changed. I crossed east to west at about 2:45pm and came back west to east at close to 6:00pm. There were more people out and the Friday revelry had begun. It was funny how quickly the mood had shifted.

On the way back, I made sure I touched the two lucky spots on the bridge, once with my left hand for my husband, the southpaw, once with my right hand for me.



One of the two lucky spots, though a bit grim. So this priest was thrown in the water…

A nice twilight stroll and I soon found myself back at a Metro station waiting to head back to the hotel and the end of my stay in Prague.



There are quite a few more things I wish I could have found time to see while in Prague. The Apple Museum, the castle, and the art gallery, to name but a few, but I was grateful to have one full free day to see the best of what Prague had to offer.

Prague is a gorgeous, easy and fun city. I loved every minute of my time there and wonder if someday I will ever find my way back.

I suppose I can dream.

Meanwhile, at a week later I think my legs have finally recovered. Seriously, 215 stairs? C’mon!

And to the good people of Prague, I say děkuji for treating me so very well.






All photos ©Copyright 2016, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with either a Canon G10 or an iPhone6.





Tell It Like It Is

Over the weekend, after another rough week at work, The Good Man and I found our way to the big main branch of our city’s library. It was like an awesome haven from the mean old world.

I immediately found my way to the fifth floor where they keep the art books. I needed an infusion of art and creation in my life to erase the financial and business blues of my workweek. I decided I wanted to look at some Frida Kahlo prints. I am a huge fan of Frida.

As I plucked a slim book of her paintings off the shelf, I found another small book hiding behind it. It was a book of letters written by Frida to her friends and family.

I love reading old letters. You learn a lot about who a person was (or is) by reading their handwritten letters.

I had always thought that Frida was so strong, powerful, fierce and uncompromising.

Boy was I wrong. Through her letters, I found her to be very sweet, quite insecure, and almost childlike.

She often would write letters to friends and ask their advice on big life decisions. For example, at one point her husband, Diego Rivera, had a terrible infection in his eye that had spread to the side of his face. She asked a friend, a fellow painter, if he though she should take Diego to New York to see American doctors or stay in Mexico and take the guidance of Mexican doctors.

Now that seems like a pretty big life crisis, something you would want to decide along with your husband and instead she was soliciting, nay begging for, the advice of a friend. She actually did this quite a lot, begged her dear friends to tell her what to do.

I found that so counter to the fierce woman I see through her paintings.

And then, over time, as she got older she did seem to become a lot harder edged. A lot more sarcastic and passive aggressive.

Clearly the philandering ways of her husband and his over bearing need to be controlling had taken a toll on her psyche.

That and years and years of immense pain in her spine, leg, and foot, all massively unresolved injuries from an accident in her teens.

Her physical and mental anguish become so forceful, it drove a little bit of the lightness out of her words. She became more bitter. And so maybe that is the Frida I came to know, the rough around the edges and hard woman who had been hurt too much.

But even then, as I understood how she could come to be that way, I was a bit shocked to read (in the book) a quite long essay that was to accompany an exhibition meant to honor Diego Rivera.

I came across this section and burst out laughing. I mean, wow.

Here, read it and see what you think. She is describing Diego’s physical form from many angles. In this section she refers to his chest:

“Diego’s chest — of it we have to say, that had he landed on an island governed by Sappho, where male invaders were apt to be executed, Diego would never have been in danger. The sensitivity of his marvelous breasts would have insured his welcome, although his masculine virility, specific and strange, would have made him equally desired in the lands of these queens avidly hungering for masculine love.”

Um. Did she just say her husband had moobs? Cuz I think she did.

In another section she describes seeing him naked as looking something like a child frog. Paraphrasing here, she said that his skin takes on a greenish tone and is pale under his clothes and only tan in his face and hands.

Yeah. Green moob guy. Awesome.

This was, I’m sure, taking a bit of her own pound of flesh from him for the years of unkindness. And also a bit of the ol’ anti-bourgeoisie taking the piss out of what might have been a flowery ode to her husband.

I’ll tell you what, that image is sure going to stick with me for a while.

Actually, the whole book will stick with me for a while. The letters so quaint, so childlike and such a deep glimpse into one of my creative heroes. Quite something.

Oh, and she liked to invent words of her own. My favorite was when she would refer to her life or other things that were not working out as expected as fuc-bulous. Oh yes. I can use that. I may have to adopt it myself.

Next up, I have on my bedside table a book of letters by Vincent Van Gogh. He was quite prolific in his letters to his brother, and it is a thick tome. I am both wary and excited to dip in.





Photograph by Martin Munkácsi





Image found here.





Feliz Dia de los Muertos

Today, I offer this beautiful virtual ofrenda so that we all may take a minute and remember those who have passed on into the next world.

On this day of both sorrow and celebration, the veil is just a little bit thinner.




Today I remember my four grandparents, my father, my best friend from high school, my dear college friend, and yes, even Steve Jobs.

May we all take a moment today to remember those whom we have loved and lost.

Feliz Dia de los Muertos to us all.

Virtual pink pastries and sugar skulls for everyone who passes this way on their journey.



Photo from kalavinka‘s Flickr Photostream and used under the Creative Commons license, as granted on the applicable Flickr page.


Craft Catatonia

Hoo boy….I am beat down to a nub. I have been arts and crafting my ass off in preparation for the upcoming local county fair.

While the term “county fair” may imply something small and hick-ish, my local fair is anything but. It’s a huge event

Back in February, I visited with my godkids in Las Cruces, and they were all fired up about their own county fair coming up in September.

My niños are all about 4H and have decided to raise pigs this year to show at the fair. Their excitement was contagious, so I came back to Northern California fired up and ready to participate in my own fair.

In fact, I was so excited that when the guidebook arrived, I decided to sign up for four events. Four. Which means I’m either stupid or sadistic. I, uh, have a full time job.

Since the fair kicks off June 11, my four entries are due, oh, NOW.

The events I’m doing are: short story, photography, visual art, and baking.

Yes. I said baking.

The short story had to be turned in over a month ago so the judges had plenty of time to read and evaluate the stories. Last week I got the smoking hot news that my story won my genre category, which was Western.

Whoo hoo! The fair hasn’t even started and I’m liking this already!

The story will be published in an anthology of stories put out by the Fair and sold to benefit charity.

Pretty damn excited, I can tell you that!

The photography entry has gone fairly well, too. I knew which photo I wanted to use and it was a matter of getting a good print made (harder than it sounds) and then cutting the mat and framing the piece. I got that done mid-last week. Boom!

The visual art piece is a Dia de los Muertos inspired craft. Oh, how this work has vexed me. I had a *very* ambitious idea and have spent the last couple months constructing tons and tons of tiny details and figures and touches. The work, just finished this morning, doesn’t include all of the aspects I’d hoped to accomplish, but I have to say, I’m very proud. This project really pushed the bounds of my abilities as both crafter and storyteller.

Yesterday evening I slumped back in my chair, catatonic. I had nothing left. I had glue and paint all over my hands, sweat on my brow and an ache in my lower back that defies superlatives.

But yet I was still compelled to keep going and finish this piece on deadline, for no other reason than the pure satisfaction of having completed something so very boundary testing.

I did it. I DID it. I’ll be damned…I actually did it. Whoa.

Today I’ll turn in the framed photo and the art work and then I’ll do a little “I made it by the deadline” dance.

Then I’ll collapse.

But wait, there’s more! The deadline for the fourth event comes up next week. I entered the “ethnic desserts” category and I’ll be whipping up a batch of Biscochitos.

New Mexico! Representin’!

And then I will eat my fill of anise seed treats, slip into a sugar coma, and sleep for a very long time…or at least until The Muse taps me on the psyche again.





When the Veil Thins

November 1, 2010 by · Comments Off on When the Veil Thins
Filed under: art, bebidas, Celebration, Dad, dia de los muertos, fall, ghosts, gratitude, grief, life, Love, melancholy, Mom, Opinions, party, tradition, wayback machine, where I come from 

Tomorrow Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is here again.

When all the plastic spiders and smashed pumpkins of Halloween have passed, I turn to this well known Latin American holiday to celebrate my friends and family who have passed on to the next journey.

Other cultures have similar holidays and traditions, the Bon Festival in Japan, All Saints Day in Europe, but it’s the Mexican version of Dia de los Muertos that resonates with me.

The belief, loosely, is that on this day the veil between the living and the dead is thin, and so offerings of favorite food, booze, decorations and memorabilia will be seen, enjoyed and appreciated by our deceased.

I think Dia de los Muertos appeals to me because it brings a sense of humor and fun to a painful, somber thing. It’s a chance for a community to come together and remember. To feel close to those we have lost.

Personally, just this past August, I withstood a very deep loss. Tomorrow I will remember my friend who died way too young.

I will remember my father who passed away almost six years ago. My mom will certainly remember her husband. Together, we keep his memory alive.

Grandparents, friends, family, people I hardly knew, famous people. We all deserve to be remembered by those we’ve left behind.

My grief is a slippery thing. Sometimes so overwhelming, I don’t know how I can sit up and walk through the world. Other days, it’s like a dull noise in the background. Remembering on a day like tomorrow helps keep me grounded. Keeps me sane.

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