Perhaps it was fitting to come upon these calla lilies only a block from the home where Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived for many years. In spite of all the big murals, with their casts of hundreds, when I think of Rivera I most often think of his monumental images of women and calla lilies:
I love Rivera's work: like its maker, I suspect, the work is warm, big, and generous, and he was a wonderful draftsman too; his charcoal drawings are especially strong:
Rivera and Kahlo were married twice; they divorced after Frida discovered Rivera's affair with her sister, but remarried later; they were, I think, meant to be together: two strong, intense spirits, two dedicated artists who shared political views and a great love of Mexio and her history.
I have always liked Frida's work, but I just didn't respond to the cult that's grown up around her; I even knew someone who dressed like her and affected that whole "Frida mystique." Jonathan remarked, as we entered the Casa Azul, that there were three or four times as many women present as men: she has become an embodiment of female strength amid extreme suffering, as well as artistic greatness. But I was much more moved than I expected to be -- the studio and much of the house are exactly the way they were when she died; Rivera must have ordered this. In her studio, the paints have dried forever on her palette, the last painting remains unfinished on the easel, her wheelchair empty before it. Glass-front bookshelves line one wall, filled with books on art, Mexican history, politics, pre-Hispanic art, and the whole house contains the couple's extensive collection of Mexican folk art and pre-Hispanic ceramics and art objects, as well as the whimsical, disturbing, and haunting objects they made themselves. There is a "day bedroom" right next to the studio, where she could lie and rest or draw (a mirror is on the ceiling of the bedstead) and a night bedroom, containing many effigies, puppets and dolls Frida made of herself, sometimes with skulls for heads; on the ceiling of that bed is a framed collection of butterflies.
I was unprepared to see Frida's death mask lying on a pillow on the daytime bed, surrounded by a shawl, and the container for her ashes on the night bedroom's dressing table: it is a large pre-hispanic urn in the motif of a toad - an epithet Diego often used to refer to himself.
Rivera painted the Mexican people in all their monumentality; he showed them to themselves and in doing so, contributed to their sense of identity and national narrative in the same way as great national poets. Frida painted herself: her artistic world was primarily an inner one, and being at La Casa Azul, I felt this more than ever; I was happy that she had had this sanctuary, which she and Diego had made even more beautiful. I didn't want to take many photos there; just a few outside, that perhaps reflect how I was feeling.
Coyoacan is definitely a tourist destination, and you get that vibe much more than in the centro of Mexico City, which is on such a huge scale that even tourists are absorbed in it. The city center contains a very old church, and a large beautiful park surrounded by artisan markets, trendy shops, and restaurants.
Finally we walked back to the metro in the shade along one of Coyoacan's oldest streets, Francisco Sosa, which is paved with stone and lined with old trees and graceful old mansions with walls and courtyards.
Tomorrow I'll show you the neighborhood where we were staying - neither touristy nor ritzy, but very real.