And the band played on…

img_4453On Saturday evening, Alex and I ventured out to one of my favorite DTSA night… Night of the Altars. Family members set up elaborate altars (ofrendas) to honor the memory of their lost loved ones. Many believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of the deceased are allowed to reunite with their families.  The ofrendas are decorated with sugar skulls, candles, marigolds, and bread called pan de muerto. Sugar skulls represent a departed soul and is placed on the ofrenda to honor the return of a particular spirit. This tradition has been transported to the faces of the attendees with hundreds of people adorning face paint to make the sugar skull come to life.

We began our night with Dinner at the new (and amazing) restaurant El Mercado, which serves tapas style modern Mexican cuisine and inventive cocktails. Our waitresses, of course, donned sugar skull face paint. Alex’s cocktail arrived in a glass cloche full of smoke, which was unveiled at the table with a puff of smoke surrounding our table. Talk about immersive.

We then headed to Art Walk, which is traditionally held on the same night as Night of the Altars, and viewed both static and live art displays. My favorite display this year was a colorful forest of foraged cardboard, which had been painted in vibrant colors and you could wander through the “trees” and see all the different designs.  Alex’s favorite was definitely a photo of Hume Lake, his childhood (and adulthood, really) home away from home.

Finally, we headed to the main attraction, which was the altars where we were surrounded by hundreds of people, both live and made-to-look-not-alive. On both sides of the street, candles glowed, and paper flowers were illuminated by the dim light. At the end of the street, a jazzy big band played Mexican music.

As I wrote in my original Night of the Altars post, I was surprised to find Mr. Ward of Santa Ana Winds on an altar. Apparently, Mr. Ward continues to take the opportunity to reunite with his “Winds” family.  This night, one of the assistants to the band members approached me while I was listening to them play, and asked… “Weren’t you in “Winds”?” I was surprised, and the man in front of me smiled and said, “I was too, I played trumpet.” As he walked back to the band, I smiled and thanked Mr. Ward for the music, and his legacy.




Noche de Altares (Night of the Altars)

Santa Ana has a very rich Hispanic culture. Every November, a good portion of the downtown streets are shut down and families set up large altars to deceased family members for Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead is an important day in the Hispanic community. It is believed that the souls of the departed return during those nights to visit family and friends and enjoy the offerings at the altar. Offerings of marigolds, bread, textiles, traditional dishes, and candles are placed on the altars. Elaborately decorated frames surround pictures of loved family members and friends. People walk the streets to see the glowing altars, several dressed in day of the dead fare with sugar skull face paint and long lace dresses and elaborately decorated hats. It’s truly unique. For such a somber day, it’s very celebratory.

How to be Neighborly: Remember those who made a difference in the community.


Reprint from OC Register, 2007

This was our first night of the altars, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty, the sense of community, and the pride each family took in constructing their altar. As Alex and I were walking through the altars, we saw a small altar set up in the corner of a restaurant our former teacher, mentor and friend had frequented. Mr. Ward…

Mr. Ward was the band director of our volunteer marching band, The Santa Ana Winds. It was the band where I met Alex. It was the group that tied me to Santa Ana, where I spent every Monday night windspracticing for 15 years. He believed in me and my creativity. He gave me the chance to be a leader. He even introduced me to this neighborhood. I was a docent at his home for the annual home tour in this very same neighborhood I would move to 20 years later. I can see his balcony from my living room window. This was the restaurant where I shared my first martini with him. And there he was on the altar, next to the owners’ other family and friends. Next to his photo was a martini.  His Martini.

I wasn’t expecting to see him, but I was so glad to see him remembered. He was there that night. I saluted him and thanked him for everything. You are missed, Mr. Ward.

Mr. Ward’s Martini

  • 3 oz Bombay White Gin
  • Splash dry Vermouth
  • Spanish Olives

Put gin in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Add a splash of vermouth.  Shake vigorously until ice cold.  Pour into martini glass. Top with olives.  SAWinds2000

Toast to a teacher that did something special for you.