Thursday, February 03, 2005

Musicians in a Graveyard. Exquisite Corpses.

Humor is so innate to culture and language and I have to keep re-learning this.

Idly flipping TV channels with A. and we stop on a Mexican variety show. There's a short skit playing out. I watch the skit and laugh. A. turns to me and asks me to explain it, to translate it for her. So, I start to explain it and as I do so I begin to realize just how completely bizarre it all sounds. "Thats so morbid!" she says and looks at me, incredulously.

Here is the skit:

Destitute man stops well-dressed woman and points his gun at her.
Woman: Oh my God, please don't hurt me!

Man holds out his hat with his other hand.
Man: I'm collecting money for my funeral!
Woman: Your funeral?? I don't understand...

The man then points the gun at his head and pulls the trigger. Only the click of an empty barrel is heard.
The man holds his hat out again to the stunned looking woman.

Man (sheepishly): Actually, I guess I'm first collecting enough money for bullets...
[Audience laughs. Skit ends]

Mexican humor is dark yet elicits a light-hearted laugh. The topic of Death is more apt to appear suddenly in conversations in Mexico than in conversations in the U.S. It is something I've noticed and is also central to what Octavio Paz is saying in his book The Labyrinth of Solitude.

"The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love"

The embrace of death can be seen in the Mexican Day of the Dead which I've written about before. A band of musicians plays in a graveyard. Children point and laugh at skeletons, run and tumble over tombstones. An old woman laughs and tells stories. Another sits silently near a grave, muttering to herself. Everyone eats candy skulls and exchanges small figurines. There are colorful scenes of the world of the Dead. The world of the Dead is just like this world, if not brighter and more colorful, vivid and real, at least for this night. Skeletons dance and get married and sing each other songs of love.


When I was a kid, my friend Matt and I would play something that was like an Exquisite Corpse. But, it went like this: One of us would speak a Noun. The other person then had three seconds to utter another Noun that was unrelated to the first (or lose the game). Now, the first person continued OR he could name a word that united the two previous nouns and win the game. And so on.

So, if I said "fish" you could say "icicle" then I would say "train" then you would say "scissors" and I would say "graveyard" and you would say "paper" and I would say "cannon" and you would say "fire" and then I would say "cannonfire" pointing out your mistake and I would win. Its harder than it sounds since by default your mind makes associations, however subtle and when forced to say another word quickly you will often make an association that even you might not be aware of at first.

We also would play a game of questions not unlike that of the two main players in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

Rosencrantz: Do you want to play questions?
Guildenstern: How do you play that?
Rosencrantz: You have to ask questions.
Guildenstern: Statement, one love.

Rosencrantz: Cheating.
Guildenstern: How?
Rosencrantz: I hadn't started yet.
Guildenstern: Statement, two love.

Rosencrantz: Are you counting that?
Guildenstern: What?
Rosencrantz: Are you counting that?
Guildenstern: Foul, no repetition, three love and game.

Rosencrantz: I'm not going to play if you're going to be like that.

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