I received a notice by email that Toller Cranston would be laid to rest in the cemetery in San Miguel on Saturday, January 31, 2015. I have made friends with another Canadian woman here and we decided to go. I was interested in Toller Cranston as an artist and I had fond memories of him as a champion skater. I am also very interested in cemeteries and I thought this would be a good chance to see what the one in this town looked like. This is the second year I have spent some winter time in San Miguel. I have come to the conclusion that it is a place that most North Americans would like to believe is Mexico. It is warm in winter. It is a beautifully preserved colonial town. It has church bells, roosters, barking dogs enough to help you believe you are in another country. It can be relatively inexpensive if you are careful. It can be luxurious if you don’t have to care. The flowers, the festivals, the beautiful children are a treat. When you are bored there are a thousand things to occupy your time. You can find many foreign artists and artisans and writers and yoga experts and chakra masagers and fortune tellers and herbal medicine experts and podiatrists and . . . well, you get the picture. . . .All these “imported” people vary in skill in charm and in honesty. Many talented people both Mexican and foreign live, work, visit San Miguel. Toller Cranston was one of those talented, exceptional people who lived here. Upon reflection it seems to have been the perfect place for him to have lived.
My friend and I arrived a little early at the cemetery. Like cemeteries in most countries that enjoy a reasonable climate, flower sellers were at the gate. There was a Mexican funeral taking place just ahead of the crowd of people who had obviously gathered to pay respects to TC. (This is how I will refer to him from now on as I did not know him and so cannot call him Toller and it seems odd to write Mr. Cranston. I mean no disrespect. ) The Mexican mourners were many, they were in black, they were mourning. The traditional huge floral tributes, like round shields fixed high on poles were carried in. Our group of easily distinguished North Americans followed. It was very interesting to see the raised white tombs, the colorful crosses and statues, the toys on children’s’ graves. It was a sort of sturdy chaos of the dead. To my surprise, there was a segregated section for non Mexicans. Here the scene was very different. The same tall cyprus trees but here were sober stones or flat plots covered with some sort of ground cover and bordered with gravel. We were about 100 to pay respects and to my surprise and joy an eight-piece Mariachi band struck up and played some lively music while the Unitarian minister prepared and greeted visitors. My friend and I were there purely as respectful and interested fellow country-women of a significant artist so we remained firmly in the background. People were dressed in a sort of mourning garb. Some black, lots of red jackets, some purely flamboyant outfits. TC’s staff were dressed in black and were obviously very sad. The Unitarian minister did his Unitarian thing. I did catch a line of St. Paul in there somewhere. TC’s sister spoke very movingly as did his brother. People were called to speak and they reminisced about this “Renaissance Man” but to me the most touching tribute was by a member of his staff. Quiet, brief, obviously touched by the personal loss, it brought the reality of death to the fore. That what funerals are all about, after all. There is no re-naissance from this moment, at least not in the world we think we know. Other worlds are for other moments. As we left we heard a rousing round of applause. I later learned someone thought it would be fitting since “Toller loved applause”. I wonder, I wonder about that well meant gesture. Rest in peace and memory eternal.
Dear Iso: In my teenage-youth in Milwaukee WI & Cleveland OH, cemeteries were our playgrounds where we “had it all”: ponds for swimming in summer, ice-skating in winter, being chased by cops year-round, etc. Wonderful memories!