Friday, July 26, 2013

Frida Kahlo's Blue House

Mexico's best known artists, are without a doubt, Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo. This was not always so. Frida's work came into prominence later in her life, long after Diego had achieved his, and she was almost always patronizingly seen as Diego's wife, even when she wasn't. And twice she wasn't; before she married him and between their divorce and remarriage.

She once said she had two major accidents. The bus tragedy that almost killed her, and Diego.

She was raised in the Blue House, a home built by her photographer father. She then lived in it with Diego, and he continued to live and work there after her death. The house is in Coyoacán, once a small town outside of Mexico City, now a blended suburb full of exquisite large homes that date back to the early 20th century.

Patty and I especially wanted to see Frida's museum while a special exhibit of her clothing was on display. Apparently before Diego died, he asked that all her clothes, jewelry, shoes, and personal effects be put into storage and kept out of the public eye for many years. When the woman who guarded them passed on, the storage areas were opened, the clothing was fixed, repaired, and cleaned, and some pieces were put out in a special exhibit.

I downloaded the Metro map from the Metro's own website before we left for Mexico. But, not too surprisingly, the map did not have any reference to a new line that would let us out only a few blocks from Frida's house/museum. After all, the new line has only been operating for a little over a year, certainly not time enough to update the website.
The pyramid in the courtyard

Fortunately, the maps inside the Metro were up to date and we decided where we could emerge and walk to the museum. It was much further than expected and we arrived tired and thirsty.

Many things surprised me about the house. For instance "house" is a bit of a misnomer. It is a large walled lot with several disconnected buildings, quite typical of elegant homes in Mexico. The building closest to the street appeared to be public reception areas; living room with kitchen and a dining room. The whole house had a somewhat disjointed floor plan. I suppose when you have servants it's not important to be able to efficiently get food to the table, and you wouldn't worry about short flights of stairs all over the place. Just outside the kitchen was a sunken pit with stairs leading down into it with no exit or door leading to other rooms. Just an odd place to sit and read, or who knows what?

Frida's studio faced north for the best painting light, with windows to the east as well. The eastern windows looked out into the tree covered large patio with a fountain and a pyramid full of sculptures that Diego designed. The signs said the studio is just as she left it, but I doubt that. Why would she have left a large path for tourists to come traipsing through? Still, there was a real magic seeing her wheel chair in front of an easel given to her by John D. Rockefeller. Next to the studio was a small room with a single bed. This was her day bed where she could rest when she wanted to lie down flat. Through a doorway, her bedroom, was also fitted with a single bed and other furniture with items she collected or made.

Off the dining room was a guest bedroom where Trotsky stayed. I recognized it from the movie, Frida, which may have been filmed in the house, but if not, they were certainly faithful to the room and the window where he sat just as the assassin sneaked up from behind. It was the room in which he died. Not knowing that story, it would have been just a lovely room, knowing the story, it had an erie feel to it. Funny how we perceive things....

On the day Frida died, a death mask was made and then recreated in bronze. It sits, wrapped in a scarf, just below the pillow on her day bed. The mirror she looked into while painting her body casts is still affixed above the bed, stretched between the frame at the top of the four posts.

A Huipil shirt, highly decorated
In another building, which may have once been bedrooms or even servant quarters, a limited number of her wardrobe pieces were on display. Since she always wore braces and often full body casts after numerous operations, some of those items were on display too. Talk about Machiavellian torture devices! They looked so awkward and painful, yet were supposed to reduce pain.

Many of her notebooks were shown as well, with such intimate memoirs as a drawing of herself on an operating table, her miscarried baby between her legs, and Diego in the background with doctors.

She was an amazing woman, fearless it would seem when it came to being exactly who she was with little care as to what others might think. In some ways she was free to express  things other women would have kept private, and she suffered for it.

Her wardrobe was her own creation, based on the traditional costumes of her indigenous heritage, made specially for her body and its peculiarities. Her shoes/boots were custom made with one shoe built up by an inch or so to adjust her much shorter right leg. And the workmanship of each embroidered blouse and skirt was of a quality not seen today. The tiniest stitches, by the thousands, flow over voluminous skirts and dress up the plain boxy huipil shirts. She wore jewelry in her hair, didn't pluck her eyebrows, and made every attempt to draw the attention away from her flawed body to focus on her face and eyes. I do believe she succeeded. She will never be remembered as a cripple, but as a great painter and a free spirit, one that can still be felt in the house.

Pots used as rain gutters.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Palenque....For the Third Time

Cascadas de la Reina, taken from the suspension bridge

Patty and I got stuck twice between Ocosingo and Palenque. We were supposed to be on the road with a day-tour for 5 hours. We should have spent an hour in Ocosingo for breakfast, and then another hour each in Agua Azul and Misol Ha. Just past Ocosingo there was a blockade, truck drivers were protesting....about what, I'm not sure. That delay was an hour, but it was close to the place the tour driver planned to stop for breakfast so we just walked past the giant trucks turned sideways in the road, to the restaurant. By the time we finished, our bus had gotten through and we went on our way. An hour later, right at the entrance to Agua Azul, there was another blockade. This time the protesters were indigenous people. Fernando, the driver, said it was the Zapatistas, though no one else used that word. I’ve learned it’s best not to say it at all, especially in English. People who overhear don’t know what else you might be saying, and the Z word is a trigger for all kinds of reactions.

The paper we were given by the protestors was written in English on one side, Spanish on the other. It claimed the federal government had taken their land and wouldn't give it back, that two of their leaders were in prison and another was dead, assassinated by the government. It just happens that the land in question is the land on which Agua Azul sits, one of the most popular attractions in Chiapas, and probably a big money maker, money that is currently collected by the government.

It was too hot to wait in the bus so we hiked down the road, took photos of the signs and the people who were protesting. A bus ahead of us was full of young Aussies who cranked up the radio and danced. One girl got on top of the bus with a beer and had way too much fun.

Our bus driver had given the passengers a vote about which attractions they wanted to see, or which they’d be OK missing. He said that, if necessary, they could see Agua Azul and Misol Ha on the way back, and that we needed to get to Palenque because the park closed at 5:00 sharp. No one knew how long it would take before the Zs let us go through. 

As it turned out, we sat around for less than an hour, then had an hour at Agua Azul and one at Misol Ha as planned. The time at Palenque was cut short by 45 minutes, still long enough for the passengers to see the main sections of the ruins. Anything the other people voted for was going to be fine with us, we were staying over and would explore Palenque in detail the next day.

Agua Azul was not azul at all, it was full of murky brown water that cascaded in white waves and sprayed clouds of fog. The weather was hot but not excruciatingly so. Misol Ha was much cooler because the sky was densely clouded and about to rain. We saw massive waterfalls with three times as much water thundering down than I’d ever seen before. We hiked behind them to the cave, out of which flows another river, and then returned to the bus just as the downpour came. The restaurant was open and I had plenty of time to eat a shrimp cocktail before we had to leave. I love Mexican shrimp cocktails. I ordered a medium size and it came in a tall glass, the kind that old fashioned ice cream floats used to come in. It was solidly packed with shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce with chunks of avocado, and packages of saltines. Oh my. And for only about $5.00 US.

Ruins in the 'residential' section 
Palenque was also cool after its heavy afternoon rain. The place was dripping wet, smelled like mildew, and was slippery when climbing around on the ruins. By 4pm it wasn't crowded and we could poke around through the royal palace at our leisure. With guides on the previous two visits, I had not looked in all the nooks and crannies. We never made it over to the Pyramid of the Sun area, but that was fine, it was just an introduction. Patty was amazed at what good shape the ruins were in and how many temples had been recovered and reconstructed. The whole park was lusciously green, with flowers in abundance.

I had booked a room at the Chablis Hotel again. For the money, it seems to be the best deal in Palenque. The pool water was a nice temperature. It isn't heated, but was much warmer than it was last February.  We swam a bit, drank a margarita, and then we had dinner next door at the Mayan restaurant that I had enjoyed so much on other trips.

The next day we slept in, had a late breakfast across the street, where a friendly little kitty came and sat on my lap. The more I petted him, the further out his tongue came! So cute! Patty was a bit upset with me letting him sit on my lap, she was sure he had fleas!

Around 11:00 we caught a collectivo out to the ruins and spent the day hiking about, climbing a few pyramids, and enjoying a light rain which ended just as we entered the dark jungle trail down past the now waterfull waterfalls. Until mid July, Palenque experiences light tourism. We were the only people on the trail most of the way down. At the entrance we were bombarded by guides wanting us to hire them, and kids, dressed in Lacondón tunics selling bows and arrows. The swinging suspension bridge was still-quiet since there were no people walking over it. I got my first in-focus photos of Las Cascadas de la Reina! Most of the signage in both the park and the museum is now in both English and Spanish, so we didn't really need a guide. I knew most of the back stories from having been to Palenque with guides twice before.

The museum also had a film that I missed last time, about Pakal's tomb. In the museum there was a replica of his tomb with a copy of the famous sarcophagus lid. The tomb replica at the Jade museum in San Cristobal is better as it is in full color, maybe too gaudy, but probably more of an authentic replica since his tomb was quite colorful in its day. The real tomb, deep inside the Temple of Inscriptions has been closed to the public for years. Too many feet and too many germs were destroying it. However, the museum's fake tomb, open to the air, was perhaps more authentic in smell than the one in the Jade Museum. It smelled like my great aunt's basement in Ohio, replete with the thick moldy smells of the jungle itself.

Cascadas de Agua Azul, full force water

Agua Azul

Misol Há

Watery walkway behind the falls at Misol Há

A different kind of staircase on one of the
pyramids at Palenque, it was one of the
first to be built in the complex.

Jungle mushrooms