A Travellerspoint blog

Meeting Frida in Coyoacan

Mexico day three


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Restaurant exterior in Coyoacan

I slept better and for longer but was nevertheless awake far too early, as was Chris. By 6.00 we were up and went down to breakfast before 7.00, even though Alfonso wasn’t picking us up until 9.00!

Today’s outing was to Coyoacan, a one-time colonial village now swallowed up in the Mexico City metropolis. And that means also in the Mexico City traffic chaos! The drive of about ten kilometres took an hour and 45 minutes, probably almost double what it would have done if the traffic had been moving freely. But we quite enjoyed the journey as there was always something to see, even Bart Simpson driving a truck!

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Somewhere in Mexico City

Eventually we arrived, and with plenty of time to look around the heart of the colonial area. We popped into the courtyard of the city Hall as Alfonso told us it was originally the home of Hernan Cortes, a fact most sources dispute. But it had a lovely courtyard with a bronze sculpture of two people who famously did live in Coyoacan, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

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In the courtyard of the Casa Municipal

The city hall sits on one side of the Jardin Hidalgo, one of two pretty plazas at the heart of the town. It has some lovely trees, bushes and plenty of seating for shade on a hot day. In the centre is a kiosco, a gazebo with a stained glass cupola topped with a bronze republican eagle. It was under restoration when we were there, so I found it difficult to get a photo of the whole.

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Kiosk in the Plaza Hidalgo

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In the Plaza Hidalgo

We visited the church, dedicated to John the Baptist and dating back to the 16th century, and is one of the oldest churches in all of Mexico City. Although quite plain outside, inside it is stunning, with lots of gold leaf and a beautiful dome. There are biblical scenes painted on the wide barrel vault ceiling, framed by intricate mouldings. The apse has a painting of the Virgin Mary and the dome one of St John baptising Jesus. There are also many ornate side altars with detailed woodwork covered in gold.

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San Juan Bautista

In front of the church we walked through the town’s other central square, the Jardin del Centenario. This is similar to its neighbour but has at its centre not a gazebo but an attractive fountain. Coyoacan means place of the coyotes and there are references to them all over the town, including this fountain and benches in the gardens.

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Fountain in the Plaza del Centenario

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Bench in the Plaza del Centenario

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The public library building, topped with a coyote

After this I proposed a coffee and Alfonso took us to a cool little coffee shop with some interesting decor and good drinks. Then it was time for our visit to the Frida Kahlo museum, as we had a timed entry slot for 11.45.

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In the coffee shop

Casa Azul

The museum is in the artist's former home, where she lived with her family as a child and later with her husband Diego Rivera, having inherited it when her father died. As someone who was only vaguely aware of her and her life story I found it both fascinating and moving. I am always intrigued to see the homes where great art was created, whether of writers, painters or others. They seem often to still hold an intangible magic in the air. This was no exception, despite the crowds that thronged its courtyard and small rooms.

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Casa Azul

It is painted a beautiful blue (she called it the Casa Azul), reminding me of the Jardins Majorelle in Marrakesh. I enjoyed taking photos in the garden with the house as backdrop. In one area of the courtyard we found a display of sculptures by Mardonio Magaña, whose work the couple admired and supported.

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By Mardonio Magaña

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On a wall in the courtyard, and sign for the ladies!

We then went into the house. It was rather crowded, making it hard to take in everything, but with patience we saw most of the displays and learned a lot about her life. The first rooms are set out as a museum, telling the story of her childhood, battles with disability (caused by polio and a road accident) and how this influenced her art. She was someone who painted not only what she saw but primarily what she felt.

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Art materials in the museum

Some of her works were displayed alongside the ancient artefacts that inspired them; she and Rivera were keen collectors of pre-Hispanic art. Many of her paintings were self-portraits or included her portrait within them.

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Paintings by Frida Kahlo

Later rooms are as they were when she lived here with Rivera, including a traditional Mexican kitchen and bedrooms.

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The kitchen

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Frida's studio, and her bed

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Diego Rivera's bedroom

On the far side of the garden a separate building displays some of her many distinctive dresses, and also shows how her style influenced some of the major fashion designers, including Gaultier.

In the market

When we’d finished in the museum we met up outside with Alfonso and went to the market which had a mix of tourist-focused craft stalls on the edges, and local food stalls further in. We saw some wonderful fruit and veg, but also more traditionally Mexican foodstuffs like grasshoppers, candied sweet potato (Alfonso was surprised when I told him we eat them with savoury dishes!), cows' intestines, chillies (of course), pre-mixed mole spices and more. We took lots of photos but didn’t buy anything here.

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In Coyoacan market, CDMX

Museo Anahuacalli

We then drove to Diego Rivera’s Museo Anahuacalli, entry to which is included with the Frida Kahlo one. This was very different, and much quieter. Alfonso said he preferred it of the two, but although I found the building and idea behind it interesting, and was glad to have visited, it was far less engaging than Frida's home.

I had expected to see more of Rivera’s work here, having been intrigued by his mural Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda Central) when we saw it a few days previously. But no, this a museum not about Rivera, but by him. He conceived of this as a place to encourage interest in the arts and to house his considerable collection of pre-Hispanic figures.

The building is influenced by Mayan architecture and by the layout of Teotihuacan. It also incorporates more modern influences, such as Art Deco and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom Rivera corresponded. Both were interested in the integration of architecture with the surrounding landscape. In the case of Anahuacalli that landscape was a lava field left by an ancient volcanic eruption, with an ecosystem of desert plants.

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The Museo Anahuacalli

The plaza in front of the building was designed to host dance and music performances, and the smaller buildings around it to house exhibitions. Inside his vast collection of artefacts from the country’s past is displayed, beautifully lit but unlabelled. The museum’s website explains:

The distribution of the pieces in the 23 rooms of the Anahuacalli Museum does not respond to an archaeological order, but rather an aesthetic vision. Rivera sought to link the representations of ancient cultures with contemporary art, so that a continuous timeline was constructed. For this reason, the pieces do not have an explanatory certificate, so that they can be appreciated in themselves as a current work of art.

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Displays in the museum

The initial impact is impressive, and I liked quite a few of the objects. But I quite quickly found the displays, in room after room, rather monotonous. I confess we didn’t explore thoroughly but retreated after a while to the pleasant café for a cold drink! We enjoyed photographing the sleepy cat on one of its tables, and also the cacti planted near the open plaza.

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Museum cat

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Cacti in the grounds

The drive back to the city centre went far more smoothly than the morning’s had done, and we were back at the hotel not long after three. We dropped off a few things in our room then went for a walk as we didn’t feel we'd seen a lot of the area and I’d spotted some street art marked on Google maps. We found it in Calle Regina along with lots of other photo opps and a good ice cream shop!

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In Calle Regina

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Artist in Calle Regina

Back at the hotel again I struggled with Aeromexico's website but finally managed to get us checked in for tomorrow’s flight. We decided to eat in the hotel restaurant again as we’d enjoyed the food two days previously. My choice of quesadillas wasn’t quite as good as the chicken had been, being a little dull, but we nevertheless had a good evening and enjoyed trying a different beer, Victoria.

Posted by ToonSarah 13:52 Archived in Mexico Tagged art architecture history church mexico market city museum street_art archaeology street_photography

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Comments

Interesting day. I have heard of Frida Kahlo, but never knew much about her.

by irenevt

It was fascinating Irene - I only knew a bit about her, I learned so much more here!

by ToonSarah

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