Ray Bradbury Is So Cool

I was settling into my annual reading of The Halloween Tree, which is a ritual I have invoked and maintained for the last few post-Halloweens–a great way to come down from the witches’ high of the Big Night and prepare for Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.  I was savoring my copy of the book–pilfered from my Grandma’s basement when I was but a teen–and I noticed something for the first time in several years. The words on the dedication page read thus:

With love for

MADAM MAN’HA GAREEAU-DOMBASLE

met twenty-seven years ago in the graveyard at midnight on the Island of Janitzio at Lake Patzcuaro, Mexico, and rememebered on each anniversary of The Day of the Dead

Oh now, I have read these words before. But I hadn’t noticed them of late and this is significant because I actually visited that island! I guess Ray Bradbury was in my subconcious because two years ago on The Day of the Dead I was crouching behind mourners and candlelight vigils, taking orb-ladened photos and sips from a flask as the icy chill of midnight and the mountain lake’s waters settled all around us.  I was in the same cemetery as Bradbury, doing the same thing. Only he is way cooler because he did it back before it was really something tourist did. The influence of the Mexican culture, specifically their Day of the Dead tratiitons are all over Bradbury’s books.

In honor of his friend, and in honor of a few of mine who have gone to the great beyond, tonight I burn the candle I bought on Isla Janitzio those moons ago. And I think of those who have passed, the loved ones, the family and friends, and even the forgotten souls who wander. Tonight is the celebration of life in honor of the dead. And if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with a celebration, its time to paint your face like a skeleton and join the parade!!

16th century vampire-slaying in Italy

Back in the 16th century, the best way to kill a vampire wasn’t a garlic necklace or a stake through the heart. To stop alleged vampires from spreading disease and feeding on blood, the ancients would stuff a brick in the vampire corpse’s jaw.

Thousands of people perished in the Italian plague of 1576, so many that individual burial became unwieldy. The solution was to bury victims together in mass graves, many of which were later dug up to dispose of fresh bodies. Some of the decomposing corpses found in the old graves were bloated, their mouths dripping with blood, and their burial shrouds eaten away around the mouth. Diggers thought these corpses were keeping themselves alive by feeding on the dead, and devised a simple tactic keep their vampire brethren from doing so: the old brick-in-the-mouth trick.

Recently, the skeleton of a 60-year-old female who died from the plague was found in a mass grave in Venice. She had a large brick wedged deep in her jaw–the first skeleton to be found this way, and supporting anthropologists’ theories about 16th-century vampire  tradition. Experts suggest that she was believed to be a “shroud-eater”–it’s likely that the bacteria around her mouth ate away at her burial shroud, leaving a creepy gaping hole. Gasses built up in her body may have produced a bloating, “alive” effect, and if there was blood around her mouth, it was probably from decomposing organs. Today we have science to provide these explanations, but 16th-century diggers likely thought that this woman was a member of the clandestine ranks of the vampire underworld, spreading the plague around Venice and thereby securing lots of tasty fresh prey.