29 October 2008


The word “calavera” means “skull” in Spanish but “calaveras” are also a type of ditty poem written at the season of “El Día de Los Muertos” or “The Day of the Dead” celebrations in Mexico which run from October 31st through November 2nd. Calaveras are imaginary obituaries announcing fake deaths of people or to poke fun at people who are very much alive. In fact, it is an honor to receive a calavera from a friend. However, the newspapers often publish calaveras about political figures that are very amusing but not always very flattering. Calaveras contain references to “calacas” which are cadavers or “skeleton people”.

Here is a calavera that my friend Benjamín wrote for me:

La Calavera

Se encontraba el Señor Bob trab
ajando en su oficina
Cuando llegó la calaca y dijo ¿Mira? ¿Mira?

La gente esta trabajando. ¡Que alegría! ¡Que alegría!
Pero no te creas de ellos, esas son sus fantasias
Mejor te llevo al panteón y trabajas día con día.

This sounds very cute in Spanish. It loses something when you translate it but I will do what I can:

The Skull

Mr. Bob was found working in his office
When a cadaver appeared and said "What's this? What's this?
The people are working.
What joy! ¡What joy!
But don't believe in them, these are your fantasies
I better take you down to the cemetery

To do your work day after day.

In effect Benha was chiding me for working too much and not paying more attention to the finer things in life and one day it will be too late and I will just be another dead one. However, two can play the same game. I happen to know that some of the guys will go nowhere near a cemetery to celebrate the Day of the Dead but rather to their favorite tavern and try to anesthetize themselves with cerveza instead so I wrote this poem back to Benha:

Identidad Equivocada

Benjamín toca la puerta y le abre la calaca

De cara larga, larga,

Con una bolsa de hielo en la c
Benjanín dijo “Perdón...¿Está Pedro?”
Y la calaca contestó
“No joven... No estoy pedo,
¡Estoy CRUDO!”

Mistaken Identity

Benjamín knocks on the door
And a cadaver with a long, long, face

With a bag of ice on his head opens it.

And Benjamín said,
“Pardon me...is Peter here?”
And the cadaver answered,
“No young man, I am not drunk.

Now, this one isn’t a particularly traditional calavera but nevertheless it is pretty funny. It is a play on words so I need to do some explaining. Benjamín says to the calaca with the ice bag on his head, “Is Pedro here?” but the skeleton thinks that he said “Are you drunk?”. The word “pedo” by itself means “fart” but when used in the phrase “estar en pedo” it means “really drunk”. The calaca thought that Benjamín said “¿Está en pedo?” instead of “Está Pedro?” and so he answered, “No young man, I am not drunk. I am HUNG OVER!”. The word “crudo” in Mexico means “hung over” when used with the verb “estar”. Everyone got a big laugh out of this one. Try it yourself but practice it first so that you don’t screw it up because if you do...the joke will be on you.


YayaOrchid said...

Bob, I liked your poem better! It has such a clever play on words. True, 'pedo' does sound like Pedro, and it does mean 'drunk' and 'fart' as well, LOL!

You always manage to amuse your readers. Good job!

GlorV1 said...

Ha ha, yaya is so funny. I am totally amused and please tell "pedo" to have one on me. (smile now) Nice poems.

Gary Denness said...

Good post! Day of the Dead is one of my favourite times of the year in Mexico City. Last year they had loads of painted giant skulls (Calatravas?) on Reforma. Yes, I photographed each and everyone...I think!


Bob Mrotek said...

Yaya and Gloria. Because you two have been so kind to me I feel obligated to keep you amused :)

Great photos. Kind of gruesome though :)

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.