In September 1945, the late American author Ray Bradbury agreed to serve as “navigator” for a two-month auto trip into the heart of Mexico with his friend Grant Beach. His experiences during that lone venture south of the border would enliven and deepen much of his best work until his death in 2012.Bradbury had lived his early life according to advice he received from a carnival performer named Mr. Electrico at age 12 — “Live forever!” Just seven weeks later, he fled his uncle’s funeral, “running away from death and running toward life.”
But in Mexico there was no running away. Death was everywhere. Grieving fathers hoisted children’s caskets, followed by wailing women, in funeral marches through the center of small towns. In Guanajuato, Bradbury descended into a crypt where exhumed mummies, whose families could not make payments for burial plots, grinned mournfully from the walls where they stood. And on the island of Janitzio in Lake Pátzcuaro, he first encountered the sweetly macabre celebration of El Día de Los Muertos, the day that the veil is said to be thinnest between our world and the next (Nov. 1) and families go to the cemetery to drink, eat and decorate graves of loved ones.