A Story Of Love, Art, Sex, Murder, Revolution, And Tragedy In Mexico City
I’m standing in the National Palace, posing next to a giant maguey, like Frida did in her 1937 Vogue magazine photo shoot.
I’ve got the giant maguey by my side, but Frida posed in an indigenous dress, and that’s what made it a fashion shoot.
Frida got along much better with her Hungarian father than with her indigenous mother. But Frida was alway proud of her indigenous past.
They were the downtrodden class, and that’s the side Frida always took.
You come to the National Palace to see Diego Rivera’s version of Mexican history, painted throughout the terraces of one of the courtyards.
Diego Rivera’s version of Mexican history ends with a communist revolution.
His pictorial history was to educate the illiterate masses.
Can you spot Frida Kahlo? She’s in the panel all the way to the left, just above the woman with the red blouse.
Frida grew up in La Casa Azul, and she stayed there most of the rest of her life.
It’s now the Frida Kahlo museum, and a must-visit.
I stood in Frida Kahlo’s studio, thinking about this wheelchair by her easel.
Frida came down with polio when she was 6 years old. One leg remained shorter than the other.
She was in a streetcar accident when she was 18. A steel rod pierced her body, causing her pain every day for the rest of her life.
When Frida was 46, doctors amputated her leg. She drew this, replacing her head with a pigeon’s head and giving herself wings!
She famously said, “Feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly?”
Frida’s story is about how she faced her suffering with courage and artistic flair.
Frida’s skeleton asked if she could paint me. I agreed, but I said absolutely no nudity! I’m excited to see how it comes out!
That’s Diego behind me. He was also the love, and the tragedy, of her life.
“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
They convinced Mexico’s president to give Leon Trotsky refugee status to escape Stalin. Mexico was the only country willing to take him in.
Trotsky and his wife lived with Frida in La Casa Azul.
But the relationship soured, starting with Frida’s affair with Trotsky.
It was revenge sex for Diego’s affair with Frida’s sister.
Frida and Trotsky would flirt in English, since Trotsky wife didn’t understand.
Secondly, Stalin was going to remain in power in Russia, and Frida and Diego switched to Stalin’s side.
This was Trotsky’s work studio.
On August 2 at 5pm, according to Trotsky’s wife, Ramón Mercador entered the garden with a manuscript for Trotsky to read. They had become friends. It was a trap.
Mercador entered Trotsky’s studio and hit him in the head with an ice pick. Trotsky got up and struggled with Mercador until the guards came.
He survived for 24 hours before being declared dead.
Police arrested Mercador and also….. Frida Kahlo.
As a Stalinist and Trotsky’s ex-lover (see yesterday’s post), she was a suspect. Police released her without charges the next day.
In 1929, Mexican artist/architect Juan O’Gorman designed this ultra-modern, funcionalist house.
Diego commissioned O’Gorman to build two more, those you see in the distance.
Galilea, a museum administrator, showed us around.
Frida and Diego lived together but separate in the two houses for five years.
You’re looking at Diego’s studio in his ultra-funcionalist home.
The entire wall is a window, letting light in for his paintings. The windows face north because he didn’t want direct sunlight.
During his breaks, Diego took breaks here in this separate bedroom with his models.
Meanwhile, Frida was in the other house on the property.
They called Diego el sapo, the frog.
Frida’s house on the property is where she had her affair with Leon Trotsky.
Frida became a fashion icon. She wore bright, indigenous styles, sometimes mixing them with European styles.
She knew how to distract people’s attention from her disabilities.
She wore long skirts to hide her legs. She wanted to keep the focus on her head and shoulders.
Getting dressed was a big job for Frida. Her corsets helped to straighten her spine.
And although she used her fashion sense to hide her disabilities, she revealed them all in her paintings.
She also never hid her unibrow. She presented herself exactly as she was.
These days, Frida is everywhere. I found this mural in Buenos Aires.
But this Frida is all attitude without any of the suffering behind it.
Before the movie Frida went into production, Harvey Weinstein demanded that Salma Hayek remove Frida’s unibrow and her limp.
Salma Hayek refused and won the battle.
I cannot imagine the movie being the same without Frida’s flaws. Frida, as she really was, is just as difficult to accept today as she was in her time.
But many of us accept her flaws. We admire her for living the life she wanted, in spite of her hardships.
Frida showed us that, sometimes, we’re loved in spite of our flaws. And sometimes, we’re loved because of them.
Where To Find Frida In Mexico City
- Coyoacán. This is the Mexico City neighborhood where Frida lived her whole life. In her time, though, Coyoacán wasn’t part of Mexico City.
- La Casa Azul. The house where Frida lived is now the Frida Kahlo Museum. Expect long lines. I suggest buying tickets weeks or even months in advance.
- Leon Trotsky House/Museum. Leon Trotsky and his wife fled Stalin’s Russia, no longer a hero of the revolution. Mexico was the only country that would accept him, and that was at Diego and Frida’s urging. At first, the Trotsky’s lived in La Casa Azul, but then they moved a few blocks away. This is where Trotsky was assasinated. The Museum is fascinating.
- San Angel. This neighborhood is a 10-minute Uber ride from Coyoacán.
- Diego and Frida Home/Studio. Frida lived here for five years. As you learned from this blog entry, she and Diego had separate houses on the property.
- San Angel Market. While you’re in San Angel, make sure to visit the craft market, open on Saturdays. You’ll find great restaurants in the area.
- Historic Center.
- Museum of Mexico City. You can find a streetcar on display, the same model that crushed Frida’s legs.
- The National Palace. Diego Rivera painted the murals, telling Mexico’s history to the illiterate masses. You’ll find Frida depicted in the last panel.
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