With the turista behind me, mostly anyhow, I once again walked three miles to the Frida Kahlo house — the Casa Azul — and arrived just before it opened. Good planning, because I didn’t have to wait too long behind the five embarrassing Americas who stood in front of me. Loud, flashy, and dripping with money and jewelry. Spent their thirty minutes in line complaining about the heat while fiddling with their devices, trying to figure out how to buy last-minute priority tickets so they could move up to the front. I want to rant here, but I’ll refrain. I’ll simply offer up something I’ve learned over the years: if you travel, and I hope you do, the slower, less-expensive experience is usually the richer one. That is all.
The Casa Azul was designed and built by Frida Kahlo’s father, German-born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo Kauffmann, professional photographer. Carl Wilhelm’s father paid him to move to Mexico since he didn’t get along with his step-mother. In Mexico he changed his name to Guillermo, got married, lost his wife during her third childbirth, and then was married again to Matilde Calderón. Frida was the third of their four daughters.
The structure of the house allows for a maximum amount of natural light to enter. It’s designed with a colorful and lush center garden that bleeds creative energy. The museum opened its doors in 1958, but Diego Rivera, Frida’s husband, requested certain rooms be kept locked until fifteen years after his death in 1957. In 2002, these rooms were finally opened. They contained a treasure of artifacts from the artists’ lives, holdings that now fill the museum with a vitality that is likely more attuned to the original living space.
I wandered the museum, taken in by its simple, yet gripping power. It wasn’t just the paintings that captivated, but also Frida’s prolific folk pieces. Dolls in her likeness, papier-maché skeletons, and the couple’s vast archaeological collection. But before too long I felt a bit cramped by all the other visitors taking selfies, so I walked a dozen more blocks through Coyoacán to the house where Russian Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived in asylum after his brief stay with Frida and Diego in the Casa Azul.
Trotsky was vocal anti-Stalinist, yet lived somewhat peacefully while topping a political hit list. He collected cacti and raised chickens and rabbits with his wife, Natalia. The compound’s garden still contains pens, coops, and some of the flora samples he poached from the desert. Bullet holes remain in the building’s exterior from the first attempt on his life, and his study looks exactly as it did the day Ramón Mercader fatally wounded him with an ice axe blow to the skull.
On Trotsky’s desk are newspapers in five languages, and his book collection ranges from the classics to journals on Texan agriculture. The museum now houses The Institute for the Right of Asylum and Public Liberties. An annual exhibit displays works by graffiteros (graffiti artists), believing them to also be victims of marginalization. The slogan of the artistic celebration is, “Las cosas chiadas, rólalas,” which translates to “Cool things, share them.” Heard that.