Apparently, pre-Columbian Mexicans did not believe in death -- which, yes, sounds insane. But think about it: You've got friends and family you don't see much. Maybe they live in Fresno, or maybe they don't like you, but they're not really around. Compare that with someone who gets the full Día de los Muertos treatment: You spend several weeks making an altar, adorning it with marigolds and setting out the honoree's favorite aromatic food. Then you stay up all night chanting, drinking, and meditating on the "dead" person as church bells toll every hour. You eat candy shaped like bones while elemental decorations flutter in the candlelight. By this point, you've had a seriously meaningful experience with whomever it is. So is he or she really "gone forever"? Is the concept of death even useful in a situation like this?
Don't look here for an answer; I'm post-Columbian. But consider these celebrations (all free, except where noted):
The "Deadbeat: Poems and Songs to the Dead and the Not-So-Dead" reading collects satirical eulogies at the exhibition "CaliVera: Days of the Dead Altars Remixed," 8 p.m. on Nov. 4 at the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak (at 10th Street), Oakland. Admission is $5-8; visit www.museumca.org.
The opening gala of "Nichos y Recuerdos: El Círculo de la Luz" shows off work by professional artists like papel picado expert Herminina Albarrán Romero alongside community remembrances, 6 p.m. on Nov. 2 at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission (at 25th Street), S.F. Admission is $5; call 643-5001 or visit www.missionculturalcenter.org.
The most famous local wingding is the DOTD procession, 7 p.m. on Nov. 2 starting at 24th and Bryant streets in S.F. For info, visit www.dayofthedeadsf.org.
And for the kiddies, try the "Legends of the Night: Day of the Dead Walk," a family-oriented trudge, lantern-lit and including Mexican hot chocolate and "bread of the dead." Meet at the National Cemetery Gate at Lincoln and Sheridan in the Presidio at 7 p.m. on Nov. 5. For info, call 561-7752 or visit www.crissyfield.org.