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Rocking Horse Cafe, New York City
by Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
October 25, 2005 Bookmark and Share

Even the Spanish conquistadors couldn’t prevent Mexicans from celebrating El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the festival which usually includes drinking, dancing, and eating sugar skulls decorated with the names of the dead – and on Tuesday the 25th, we were no exception. While families in Mexico often head to the cemetery to drink tequila with their dead friends, we headed instead to the God’s Love We Deliver benefit at Rocking Horse Cafe where there was plenty of tequila (and particularly in the spiced apple margaritas) along with seared tuna on plantain chips and an abundance of the exceptional chipotle salsa and homemade chips for which Rocking Horse is known. All this libation and ladling was designed to loosen the tongues and wallets for the silent and live auctions (this year conducted by a representative from Sotheby’s).

Because when the celebrants of El Dia de los Muertos are not drinking at the graveyards or eating sugar skulls, they’re building altars in their homes to honor the dead, surrounding them with flowers, candles, photographs, and mementoes. And for the past nine years, the Rocking Horse Cafe has been working with local and national artists who create altars which adorn the restaurant’s walls, and are then auctioned off to benefit God’s Love We Deliver. Invariably, some altars are more successful than others – and always there’s usually one altar designed to shock the restaurant’s patrons. This year’s shock altar was the nearly-pulsing wax vulva, complete with straggly rows of pubic hair, and while some saw parallels to Magritte, others found it simply disturbing. Apart from Pulsing Vulva, there were altars which utilized the concept of white light, and one emphasizing the spirituality of a single feather. Another honored a fallen soldier. And there was also a rotary phone skeletal altar and a jewel-encrusted Buddha altar and an altar to fast food. In all, there were over forty altars, this year including work from artists such as Paul Shore, Richard Pitts, Lisa Krivaka, Diane Arrieta, Alex Koh, Philip Ward and Jacqueline Ohnhold – and at evening’s end, the majority of the altars had sold – and four of them to us. All it took was a little cajoling from a fellow artist – and the next morning, we’re getting a congratulatory phone call. Eeeks, the checkbook – but never mind, it’s all good. Because every day, God’s Love We Deliver delivers 3,000 meals, free of charge to those in need, and there’s something gratifying about bidding on altars to celebrate El Dia de los Muertos (even in an altered state) in order that other people might live and be well. (And no, we did not score the winning bid for Pulsing Vulva.)

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