A Visit to Casa Azul
12 February 2016 | Mexico City
Beth / fleecies at night - Tshirts by day
Frida Kahlo's Blue House was high on my list of places to visit. There are so many museums in the city and our time was short, but while we can see art and history museums in other places, this is the only place to see Casa Azul.
We braved the Metro again to make our way south to the neighbourhood of Coyoacán, and I say braved deliberately. It is a wonderful subway system that transports thousands of people all over the city. The stops are named with both symbols and words, and the colour-coded lines are clearly marked. But it is used by so many people that you really have to be quick on your feet to get on and off in the short time the doors are open; we discovered there is no polite queuing here! We were interested to see that at some of the stops, there is a "las mujeres solamente y niños menores" section - "women and young children only" - providing a safer option for women and younger children.
In a relatively short time, and with only one connection, we got off at the sign of the dog and walked a few blocks to the brilliantly blue house where Frida lived for most of her life, as a child and when she was married to Diego Rivera. It was after 3 pm on Friday before we got there and, having read warnings on travel sites, I was a little worried about lineups, but we waited less than half an hour to get in. Soon enough, we had the excellent audio/video guides around our necks and earphones in place and we started to explore Frida's home.
Frida's art along with that of her husband, Diego Rivera, is well known, but it is the story of her life that I think is most fascinating. The movie, Frida, in which Salma Hayak brilliantly portrayed her, brought her to the attention of many people, and Barbara Kingsolver's novel, The Lacuna, features Frida and Diego as part of the story. (While we were there, I kept thinking I had read a book about her as well as seeing the movie when it came out, but I just couldn't place it until I found a reference in the process of writing this post.) Both Frida's art and Diego's continue to be exhibited in cities around the world, making her, perhaps better known now than when she lived.
As a child Frida contracted polio, and after months in bed, she emerged with one withered leg. When a trolley hit her at age 18 she suffered broken ribs, pelvis, spinal column and more, and was once again confined to bed. It was then that she started to paint. She would suffer recurrences of intense pain from these injuries for the rest of her life, yet she refused to let them limit her. It is that contrast between the woman enduring physical pain, several miscarriages and the anguish of not ever being able to bear a child, and the woman who lived a wildly vibrant life despite those hardships that is so interesting. We could see that contrast in her tempestuous on again off again marriage to Diego, an artist 21 years her senior, her relationships with other lovers (including with Leon Trotsky when he lived with them), her love for her country, her brilliantly coloured clothing, her art that is singularly hers (she said she painted her reality). Born in 1907, she died in 1954, and the story of her whole life is right here in this house.
Some of her paintings and drawings were hung on the walls of the early rooms - paintings of her family, of friends and lovers, many self-portraits and those that clearly show her pain. She once commented, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."
As we moved through the house, we peered into the sunlit kitchen with its long tiled stove, and walls covered with shelves holding both practical and decorative utensils. This was action central for many of the parties they had - welcoming friends with food and drink. Apparently Diego's second wife (Frida was number 3) taught her how to cook!
We walked through her bright and airy studio on the second floor, lined with shelves of books and pieces of art, her wheelchair and easel awaiting the artist, as they might have been when she lived. Her day bedroom was small but fitted out with items that were important to her life and work. A mirror hung over her bed so she could see her reflection as she painted on a small easel. To the right, doors opened to a lovely garden filled with plants (and pets, according to the guide). In the night bedroom, her ashes are held in a pre-Columbian urn, displayed on a night table. Despite being very ill during the last year of her life, she wrote these lines shortly before she died, "I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida." I found it almost a meditative visit, listening to the voice in my ears as it commented on what I was seeing, being present with the artifacts and art that belonged to this famous daughter of Mexico.
We all shook our heads as we attempted to understand her passion for Diego - but passion she had aplenty. While they both had many lovers, and Diego broke her heart by having an affair with her sister, ending their marriage, they remarried a year later and continued on, sometimes living together and sometimes apart. After Frida died, Diego remarked that, too late, he realized that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her.
Some of her corsets and beautiful costumes are exhibited in an annex on the other side of the garden, and a small café is tucked in a corner. As we lingered over lemonade and carrot cake, we all commented on how well the visual/audio guide was designed. The rooms and some of the artwork were marked with symbols indicating commentary and picture on the smart phone type gadget, and we could explore more pictures and commentary if we chose. It was very user friendly as well as informative.
As we walked back toward the Metro stop, we came upon long lines of police officers and wondered if Pope Francis would be coming by soon. Although we waited for a bit and Charles had an extensive conversation with one of the officers, it seemed like it might be a long wait so we continued on. We did make use of our waiting time by ducking into a nearby panaderia (bakery) and filling our trays with an assortment of goodies. (Unfortunately, some of them looked better than they tasted! The flakey pastries were better than the doughnuts and cookies.)
A full day of exploration - the Castillo in the morning, and Casa Azul in the afternoon, and one final stop at a neighbourhood restaurant for pizza meant that after sharing some of our treats, we called it a night and collapsed into bed.