I dunno, doris… The new vacuum cleaner doesn’t cope very well with deep-pile sand!
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As a native of border city El Paso and a veteran traveler throughout Mexico, Lucinda Hutson has long embraced Mexican culture and traditions like Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. She recently hosted a small gathering in honor of the holiday, which is a joyful, not macabre, celebration and remembrance of dearly departed family and friends. On an altar adorned with sugar skulls is a photo of her glamorous mother, who passed away a year or two ago.
We enjoyed shots of tequila with sangrita chasers (click for Lucinda’s recipe), palomas, tamales, and tostadas. The food was delicious, the company merry, our hostess (pictured here) sparkling, and her decor, as always, a fantasia of Mexican folk art. Let me give you a tour.
A metal agave chandelier hangs over Lucinda’s dining table — what else for the author of ¡Viva Tequila!: Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures? — and from each spiny leaf dangles a tiny skeleton musician. There’s a drummer…
…and a guitarist…
…and a güiro (percussive gourd instrument) player.
The table is adorned with folk art Day of the Dead figures, skeletons enjoying foods or activities that they loved in life.
Lucinda explained that to honor a loved one who enjoyed tequila, you might place a tequila-holding skeleton on your Day of the Dead altar — and perhaps a bottle of tequila for her spirit to sample as well!
Adult spirits journey back to visit the living on November 1, it’s believed. On November 2 families go to the cemeteries to place offerings of favorite foods and colorful decorations on loved ones’ graves.
Lucinda’s table is set with colorful skull plates and sugar skulls.
When I first encountered Day of the Dead folk art and skeleton imagery, as a newcomer to the Southwest 25 years ago, I didn’t understand the imagery and conflated it with Halloween’s spooky fun.
But now I understand that it’s a way of remembering those who have died and staying connected with them in our hearts. And it acknowledges that ultimately we are all united in death — a very different worldview than the North American practice of pretending death doesn’t exist.
The photos of loved ones that Lucinda displays on her altars are so joyful it makes you smile to see them. On the left, in the sombreros, are her mother and a friend. In the upper-right photo are Lucinda and her friend Miguel Ravago, co-founder and chef of Austin’s renowned Fonda San Miguel, who died last year.
Some of Lucinda’s sugar skulls are 20 years old, she told us. She stores them in plastic bags inside her house to protect them from moisture and insects.
She laughingly said it’s a little disconcerting to think what sugar does to our bodies when it can last intact for decades!
Lucinda loves food and cooking, so I wasn’t surprised to see an altar for celebrity chef, traveler, and humanist Anthony Bourdain, who died this summer.
Lucinda’s home is filled with Mexican folk art of all kinds, not just for Day of the Dead, and there is always something interesting to see. But now let’s pop outside for a tour of the garden surrounding her purple casita in Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood.
Her front porch is decked out with skeletons and — get this — HEB’s Day of the Dead reusable plastic grocery bags! Lucinda is clever that way.
A smiling Lady of the Dead greets you as you explore the garden.
A miniature iron bed of skeletons rests on a small brick patio.
Sancho the cat surveys his domain.
Ceramic turtles and frogs swim in a birdbath.
Sparkling flowers of Tahitian bridal veil (Tradescantia geniculata) brighten a shady garden with a bench that’s gone to the birds.
Forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis) in full bloom
Its lemon yellow flower spikes pop against the purple house.
A mariposa skeleton greets you at the gate to the side garden…
…her purple monarch wings backlit by the evening sun.
Atop a stone wall, a weather-worn carved cross adds a sense of age to the garden.
Entering the side garden, a fishy paver gives a hint of things to come.
Lucinda’s mermaid grotto!
A turquoise-painted fence and seashell-bedecked arbor set an under-the-sea scene for cast-iron mermaids and metal fish. Potted snake plants evoke seaweed.
Next up is Lucinda’s herb garden, colorfully outfitted with potted chrysanthemums and cermaic plates. These fun garden rooms fill space that was once a driveway to a rear garage.
You enter the back garden through a gate that reads El Jardin Encantador.
A deck alongside the purple garage is set up with buffet tables draped in Mexican oilcloth.
Potted plants, candles, and art dress them up.
At the very back of the garden, behind the garage (here painted turquoise), is Lucinda’s tequila cantina, with a tequila bottle tree and tasting table under a cedar arbor.
A metal agave perches on top, a reminder of where tequila comes from.
An Art Deco winged figure on Lucinda’s outdoor shower — just one of the many beautiful details in her enchanting garden. Thank you, Lucinda, for a lovely evening at your home and garden!
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