November 14, 2006

Mexico: Coyoacan and the Blue House

Mexico City is divided into 16 delegaciones or boroughs. The hotel we stayed in is located in Polanco which is in the Miguel Hidalgo borough. This is also the same borough where you will find the Bosque de Chapultepec, the National Museum of Anthropology and the Paseo de la Reforma. The Reforma is a 12 km. long avenue which links the city center with Chapultepec and which is dotted with landmarks such as Monumento a la Independencia, the bronze figure of Diana Cazadora or Diana the huntress, Monumento a Cuauhtemoc, Monumento a la Revolucion and the statue of Christopher Columbus. Driving down the Reforma past all the hotels, embassies and office buildings took me back to Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid which I have no doubt it was modeled after.

Another important borough in Mexico is Coyoacan whose name means “place of the Coyotes” in Nahuatl. This atmospheric neighborhood has retained much of its colonial- era charm and is an ideal place for a stroll, what with all the pretty homes and quaint cafes that line its shaded streets. We headed for Coyoacan to visit the houses of three of its most famous residents: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky.

For those of you who have not heard of Frida Kahlo, she is a Mexican painter whose famous works include mostly self-portraits which reflect her troubled life filled with physical pain (from a childhood bout of polio and a tram accident when she was 18 which broke her back) and heartaches as well as her devotion to her husband Diego Rivera, Mexico’s most celebrated muralist. Her problematic yet passionate life inspired a movie starring Salma Hayek who played the role of the uni-browed and moustached artist.

Her cobalt-blue house is open to the public, though no pictures may be taken inside the rooms. In this Casa Azul (blue house), as it was often referred to, where she was born in 1907 and lived until her death in 1954, one can see not only her artwork on display but also glimpses of the life she left behind. There are letters and diaries, easels and paintbrushes, pottery and ceramics, jewelry and other everyday artifacts associated with her life and that of Diego.

My favorite room in her house was the kitchen, it was very Mexicana with large earthenware pots arranged on top of bright blue and yellow tiled countertops, under which coals were once lit to whip up home-cooked meals. In the middle of the kitchen is a bright yellow wicker table and matching chairs. What I found most striking about this room are the tiny clay jars that are artfully arranged in intricate patterns on the walls and which spell the names Frida and Diego. I was so tempted to take a photo but there were cameras and sensors everywhere it seemed!

There are many haunting scenes around the house which give the visitor a sense of the despair Frida must have felt as a prisoner in her own body. There is her wheelchair, the stiff corset she was obliged to wear after the accident that broke her back, and a very freaky death mask on her bed. Beside the bed is a door which leads to the garden, which I imagine she must have left open while she continued painting from her deathbed.

The property on which the house sits is dominated by a beautiful, airy garden awash with the same vivid colors found around the house. On one side is a terra cotta-colored pyramid displaying various pre-Columbian idols on its steps and a gift shop on the other. I highly recommend a visit to this museum which is as unforgettable as the walls are blue.

A few blocks away from the Blue House is the Casa/Museo Leon Trotsky, the house where the Russian revolutionary lived in exile before he was murdered by Ramon Mercader, a Stalinist. Leon Trotsky played a leading role in forming the Red Army to fight the Russian Civil War of 1918-1920. After Lenin’s death however, he was forced into exile by his rival, Joseph Stalin and later granted political asylum in Mexico, thanks to an initiative by Diego Rivera.

Trotsky's tombstone and bedroom

He first lived with Frida and Diego before moving into his own house with his wife Natalia during which time he was rumored to have had an affair with the painter. This does not come as a surprise to those who knew of her notoriety for affairs and her public admittance of her bisexuality.

Trotsky’s death was the result of a second attempt at his life, as explained to us by the museum's guide. The first attempt was an assault on his house by Mexican Stalinists led by the muralist David Alfaro Siquieros, which left his bedroom riddled with bullet holes and his grandson Seva wounded but stable. They had managed to find a corner of the house away from the line of fire.
The kitchen at the Trotsky residence

Though the interior of the house is stark, austere and depressingly dark, it is hard to imagine as you stand by Trotsky’s tomb in the tranquil garden brimming with cacti and fig trees that this place had seen so much violence.

Museo Frida Kahlo
247 Londres St., Coyoacan
Open 10am to 6pm, Tues-Sun
Phone: 55 54 5999
Admission $2.00

Casa Leon Trotsky
410 Av Rio Churubusco, Coyoacan
Tel. 56 58 8732
Open: 10am to 5pm, Tues to Sun

Up Next: Centro Historico and the Murals


ginny said...

Hi Nens,

What an interesting story. Now I want to watch that about Frida's life. I also love your intriguing encounter with that nice man at the bar.

ginny said...

oops, i meant that movie about Frida's life.

Senor Enrique said...

You are a bonfide photojournalist, Christine! You had just transported me to another world.

I was never attracted enough to visit Mexico but after reading your blogs on it, now I want to go.

christine said...

Gins, me too! I wanna watch it again. Gotta buy the dvd, let's watch it together. :)

Eric, thank you. :) I think you won't be disappointed if you go! For someone who always dreamed of visiting Mexico and had high expectations, I sure was impressed.

Katrina said...

You're a great travel writer! You didn't merely describe the places you went to, but the experience of being there. You struck the balance between making me feel I was there, but at the same time, making me want to see for myself. I'm really enjoying your posts! :-)

christine said...

Katrina, thank you! Your comment gave me the warm fuzzies. :) I'm really glad you're enjoying the posts.

Anonymous said...

UH LETS GO TO MEXICO AND GET DRUNK and are yall talking about friday night lights ??