Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mexico City, Day 4: Frida Be You and Me

Today I spent a good deal of money to enjoy the company of a young Mexican woman for several hours.

And she showed me things I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Sure, if I tried I probably could've gotten to the Frida Kahlo Museum--a.k.a. La Casa Azul, where she was born, grew up, lived many years with Diego Rivera and died--via the subway and walking a good ways in unfamiliar territory.

And I certainly could've taken a cab from the hotel to the museum in Coyoacan, about a half hour south, and most likely found one that would've got me back without incident.

I also could have asked the hotel to arrange for a cabbie to take me to the museum, wait for me, perhaps show me around a few other places and bring me back.

Actually this is what I did, but paid a premium in requesting an English-speaking driver who might tell me about what I was seeing.

The cost still wound up being something I could readily live with, and similar to private driver/custom tour guide experiences I've had in San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro, being able to talk to someone who really knew the city added a great deal to my overall experience.

I didn't ask for nor was expecting a woman, but my driver turned out to be a nice young Mexican City native named Norma, who normally drives small bus tours around the central area for an outfit I believe is called Brisa Tours.

So beyond rote "look over there" conversation, she was able to help me better understand Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, the history of Mexico City and Coyoacan, while also showing me a church, park and vibrant public squares that I really enjoyed seeing for the sense I was seeing locals, not tourists.

As I discussed with Norma, my perception is that in the United States, Frida is probably more famous, certainly more iconic and likely more artistically revered than Diego.

Norma, who has never been to the U.S., concurred that that is likely the case, but conveyed that in Mexico, both during the artists' lifetimes and now, Frida is seen for having gotten famous because she was Diego's wife, and that Rivera is considered the far greater painter, but in subject matter and output.

I am fascinated enough by Frida's legacy to be enthralled by seeing her longtime home, including the rooms in which she was born, painted and died. And though there were several paintings by her, nothing was as famous as "The Two Fridas," which I saw at the Museum of Modern Art here.

I like Kahlo's paintings, but not only was Rivera's art much more dominant in terms of what I saw in Mexico City, but even at the Frida Kahlo Museum, in terms of hanging works I think my favorites were examples of Rivero's Cubism period.

It's easy to forget that Diego was hanging out in Montmarte with Picasso, Modigliani, etc. long before he met Frida.

I'm not saying my driver/guide convinced me that Frida Kahlo is overrated--nor even tried to--but I can see in terms of artistic legacies that Diego Rivera probably outranks her.

Further illustration of that was provided at the Palacio de Bellas Artes--Norma and I parted ways there--where two massive Rivera murals hang, including one that he re-created after having it commission and then decommissioned for New York's Rockefeller Center. 

The beautiful building also has multiple murals by Siqueiros, Tamayo and other notables. 

After a nice stroll through Alameda Park and an early dinner at a homey place called El Torreo, I went to the Diego Rivera Mural Museum.

This holds just one of his murals, albeit a huge and great one, and unbeknownst to me before I arrived, I got to hear a highly enjoyable concert by a Latin jazz(ish) band called El Kato Club.

They played right in front of the mural and it was a treat to be able to soak in the art accompanied by great music.

This evening I went to a performance by the Ballet Folklorico in the ornate theater within the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

While probably a bit longer than I needed, this was impressive in every way as a variety of Mexican folk dance and musical styles were deftly demonstrated.

My flight home tomorrow (Monday) is at 2:19pm and I'll probably leave for the airport at 11 at the latest. It'd be perfect if the National Palace re-opened to the public, but word is that they won't until February.

I was considering going to the La Merced market, but think I'll just stick to strolling around the Zocalo, if even that.

It's been a really good 4 days. I've had a lot of fun and enlightenment, with no problems. 

Obviously, there are worthwhile places I didn't get to--besides the National Palace murals--but I saw most of what I really wanted to see and enjoyed everything I did.

And the weather was beautiful; once again, no rain. 

Probably not real soon, but I enjoyed Mexico City enough to want to return and think it's a place many more American travelers should visit.

I'm glad I did.

(See for several iPhonetographs; will alert about a proper photo gallery when I get one done.)

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