A Week in Mexico City (part 6)

The Diego Rivera Museum

The Diego Rivera Museum is not a museum of his work but one he designed to house his collection of  50,000 or so pre-hispanic artifacts. Incredible. The building alone is a work of art made of volcanic stone in the shape of a pyramid. Even the floors, ceilings, and entryways to the many rooms are etched with images of the gods of Teotihuacan, the Mayas, and the Aztecs.

These are the artifacts of a culture that helped shape the Mexican heart, the Mexican passion for life. The culture that produced a Diego Rivera, a Frida Kahlo. One that lives with death as if it were synonymous with life. Not merely life’s darker cousin but part of its body. Life is not life when separated from death the way a finger stops being a finger when severed from the body.

Wow! Melodramatic much? The lack of oxygen must be getting to me.

One of the few negatives about CDMX is the poor air quality. That combined with limited air conditioning can make some museums and events uncomfortable. So despite my growing interest in all things pre-hispanic, the museum with its close, cave-like rooms, that get tighter and tighter as you ascend the pyramid, is claustrophobic and at times it’s hard to breathe. Time to head back outside, catch my breath, and get some lunch.

La Hacienda de Cortes

We’re on the hoof, it’s hot, and the air is dirty. There are no storefronts along the sidewalk just high walls and, on the street-side, the press of traffic. I guess it’s my day to be claustrophobic. A friend of a friend recommended La Hacienda de Cortes for lunch so we’re looking for it. Feeling kinda lost we come to a doorway in the unrelenting walls. Is this it? We go in to see.

And here it comes, the reoccurring theme, the dichotomy that is Mexico. The restaurant is a freakin’ garden. And I don’t just mean it has a garden. It is a garden. You walk down a park-like path lined with trees, flowering plants, ferns, and other wild ground cover. It’s cool; the air is fresh. You walk up a small stone staircase, through an archway, and into a large forest-like clearing. Tables are laid beneath the combined canopies of many large trees. The Pollo con Mole is excellent and we are visited by squirrels.

This city is full of oases. Whether it’s La Iglesia del Convento del San Francisco, a peaceful church courtyard of shade trees and chirping birds across the street from Sanborns in Cuauhtémoc, the garden in La Palacio Nacional, or Chapultepec park. No matter how overwhelming the city may get or how overpowering the car exhaust there is always an oasis somewhere. Just duck into the nearest doorway and I’ll bet you’ll find one.

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A Week in Mexico City (part 5)

Day 5

La Casa Azul

I’m a huge fan of artist Frida Kahlo so The Blue House, where she was born, lived, and died is a highlight of the trip for me.  I’m clocking the line at more than 2 hours. But we’re the lucky ones, having arrived early, we’ve got people stacking up behind us like dominoes.

As a girl she was impaled through the pelvis by a metal rod, an injury that caused health issues and pain for her entire life. She was frequently hospitalized and had to wear these medieval, metal, corset-like contraptions, and, despite wanting desperately to have a child, learned a pregnancy could be life threatening.

She was also a deeply passionate person. It was in everything she did from her lush garden, her collections of contemporary and folk art, to her stormy marriage, divorce, and remarriage to Diego Rivera, her many lovers, both male and female, including Josephine Baker and Leon Trotsky.

Her special artistic gift was the ability to express that depth of both pain and passion which can be seen in all her work. Even in the vivid color palette she used with every color representing a specific emotion.

What I love most is her honesty. Everything she went through in her life, every pain and joy is exposed. Sometimes her work contains social commentary, but she never spares herself. If she has a uni-brow she paints herself with a uni-brow, when she miscarries a child she paints herself covered in blood.

The Blue House was converted into a museum after she died in 1954. Everything was preserved – the gardens, her painting studio, kitchen, and library. Because she was so frequently bed ridden she had a day bedroom and an night bedroom.

There’s a quote from one of her letters to Diego Rivera printed in both Spanish and English on the wall in her night bedroom.

“Never in life I will forget your presence. You found me turned apart and you took me back full and complete.”

My friend, Lisa, who reads neither Spanish nor English well, asks me what it means. Maybe I’m just tired, it’s been a long week. Maybe being around Frida’s personal things, seeing her brush strokes, the colors, her clothes, first hand has made me sentimental. I struggle to maintain composure.

When I can’t speak Lisa says, in broken English, that maybe they loved each other too much. That maybe Frida was two people, one broken, the other too alive. This is why I love Frida. Maybe Lisa is just an especially insightful person, but, unable to read the cues designed to lead visitors to the museum to specific conclusions, she still nailed the essence of Frida’s work. Frida’s ability to convey those feeling in images is the definition of the word Artist.