Mexico! Part V: Communists

Reading this week:

  • The Great Reclamation by Rachel Heng

And on the fifth day, we went to go see some commies. After a lovely and quiet early morning, my super amazing wife and I called up a ride and went down to see the beautiful neighborhood of Coyoacán. The main draw was being loyal liberals, i.e. doing what the New York Times told us to do. We were dropped off at our first destination, the Trotsky Museum, but we got there before it opened so we walked around the block of leafy trees and colorful houses.

The Trotsky Museum is an interesting little place. It is definitely a pro-Trotsky institution. Going there felt like closing a particular loop because we had been to the Spy Museum which houses the ice pick that Ramón Mercader used to kill him. When you enter there is a little museum and then it spits you out into Trotsky’s yard from whence you can tour the rather fortified house. There is also a cafeteria but we were there too early for it to be open so I didn’t get to check out the menu. Whatever the cafeteria serves, Trotsky had excellent metaphorical taste at least in his choice of location because the yard is beautiful. It is tropical and manicured and well-kept. This is fitting because the Trotsky presented by the museum was a lovely old man who wore sweater-vests and liked to tend to his chickens in and amongst some political writing. Although the museum has a few pictures of Trotsky leading the Red Army they mostly come across as aghast that anyone would have it out for the kind of dude who liked to go fishing with some Greek guys he met. I don’t actually know a lot about Trotsky, but I was a little incredulous they couldn’t you know get it even if they didn’t condone it. But what do I know? On the way out we stopped by the gift shop where I only got a pin and turned down the chance to get a Trotsky t-shirt or Trotsky box of matches for my communist friends.

Our next stop was Casa Azul, which was the opposite of Trotsky’s journey. As the New York Times laments however Casa Azul is very popular and our timed tickets weren’t for a bit, so we talked the fairly short distance to downtown Coyoacán to enjoy the neighborhood. It is easy to enjoy! There is a beautiful park and a fountain with some coyotes and a market we wandered through and we couldn’t have spent a nicer hour or so until it was ticket time. While wandering down there we also saw an industrial tortilla machine in action and I want one now. But off we were to Casa Azul.

I know I keep describing things as “lovely” but they all deserve it, including Casa Azul. The museum is really well done and you walk through the house and see all of Frida Khalo’s things and her paintings and her garden, but the whole time I was wondering if Khalo would have liked the way she was presented. In the Trotsky Museum he is a pottering if respected old man and in the Khalo Museum she is an artist and a woman and a bisexual and several other things all helpfully outlined on a sign but what isn’t emphasized is that she was a COMMUNIST! This was an important part of her identity! She had an affair with Trotsky! Her art wasn’t about painting pretty pictures or just about expressing her physical pain but she infused her art with her politics and supported these causes and this whole intellectual, political side of her is, from my viewing, just kinda swept aside in the presentation of her in the museum. They don’t hide her politics; they have up the roster of communist leaders she hung at the foot of her bed and they have a picture of her in one of her plaster corsets upon which she has painted proudly the hammer and sickle, but they just kind of elide over it. My best guest is that when you become a tourist attraction you don’t really want to say anything controversial (though maybe I should give them credit for “bisexual”). But would Khalo approve of having her edges sanded off? Great gift shop though.

But that brings us to our final destination for the day, Museo Anahuacalli. There are no edges sanded off of that place. It is a taxi ride away from Casa Azul and out of the leafy center of Coyoacán. Anahuacalli is Diego Rivera’s monument to himself and it is monumental. You enter the gate and it spits you out onto a black stone courtyard in the blazing sun devoid of green and loomed over by the pyramid of volcanic rock that is Anahuacalli. Rivera built it with a very particular vision and as you enter you are thrust into darkness, with the light filtered through translucent stone. The pyramid is filled with Rivera’s collection of Mesoamerican art and artifacts. The collection is huge and impressive but sad for being ripped from its context. There is little in the way of explanation for any of the objects. You can descend a level into Rivera’s temple underworld but then as you start to climb up the pyramid things get brighter. There is a huge room (with gigantic pictures of communists, and throughout the pyramid mosaics of communist symbols; these people we visited today really liked communism) and at the top you can go outside to beautiful vistas of the Mexico City landscape. Well worth the visit for that alone.