Day #1 Ciudad de Mexico
My adventure to Ciudad de Mexico.
One gal finding her way around a city of 28,000,000 people.
With Scott out of town and Stella playing and staying at the awesome dog ranch, Wendy’s B and B, I packed my bags (bag, singular, actually) and headed out early the morn of July 31. My cabbie from El Centro to the San Miguel Bus Terminal, Geraldo, was super sweet, and I was able to have a full conversation with him in Spanish. He asked a lot of questions, easy questions. He claimed I’ll like Mexico City. I told him estoy muy contento ir a la Ciudad de Mexico (that’s poor Spanish for I am happy to go to Mexico City). He charged 30 pesos, or $2.40 US. Another great start to another great day.
This was my first time taking the ETN Bus (instead of Primera Plus). More space. Less noise. It was a good ride for 413 pesos or about $33.00 US to Ciudad de Mexico.
Venturing to this big city on my own. Exciting.
The 4-hour journey included a stopover in Querétaro, Guanajuato. It was an easy bus ride despite the fact I felt like puking for the first hour. But with Downton Abbey to entertain and take my mind off the winding roads, a dry peanut butter sandwich to fill the gap in my gut, and a plastic bag by my side just in case, I made it through to straighter and more settling horizons.
Arriving at the Mexico Norte Bus Terminal, which was like an airport terminal, I bought my taxi ticket at the Taxis Autorizados as directed by Casa Comtesse prior to my arrival. It’s important to get your taxi ticket at the authorized stations and not just walk outside and grab any ole’ taxi. You’re asking to get ripped off as I learned later in this journey. My cabbie was awesome. We talked the whole way, but I only understood about 40% of what he said. The total bill for the approximately 25 minute ride was 120 pesos (just under $10.00 US). The total cost of transportation from San Miguel to Mexico City was about $45.00 US.
- Lonely Planet has some Travel Tips on Mexico City’s Public Transportation here.
- Frommer’s has some Mexico City Travel Tips here.
Mexico City is nothing like I expected. Given my only experience of the city was through news broadcasts or movie clips, I envisioned a place wrought with pollution, congestion, murderers, and pickpockets, not necessarily in that order. I didn’t expect to see beautiful open spaces and tree-lined streets. I didn’t expect for a city of 28,000,000, that so many of those residents would be kind and offer to help me. I certainly didn’t expect to feel safe. What an opportunity for perceptual shifting.
Still, I wore a sling backpack and kept it in front of me on the subway. Albeit for just one time on the metro, I felt completely safe. Did you know that Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world? Check out this cool blog post about Mexico’s museums.
Casa Comtesse was another delightful surprise. Located at 197 Benjamin Franklin (yes, Benjamin Franklin) and within just a few minutes walk to two different metro stations, Casa Comtesse is a traveler’s dream. Angelique checked me in, and she is fabulous- fluent in English, French, and Spanish. She showed me around the house and helped me settle in. When I discovered that I forgot my credit card and was freaking (inside my head), she remained cool and calm. Thank goodness for Paypal. She even offered to help me with a Paypal cash advance should I need it. I didn’t.
Owned by Thomas Fléchel, Casa Comtesse is a beautiful house transformed into the most comfortable Bed and Breakfast I’ve ever experienced. I had moments there in which I felt like I was hanging out with friends. It was the perfect place for someone traveling on her own – to feel safe and at ease. It would also be a great place for couples. And they even take dogs. Note to self: Return here.
Thomas is a collector of graphic art from local artists. He houses an art gallery within the confines of Casa Comtesse. Having art throughout the house, Thomas has essentially created an eye-festival at every turn. I will certainly stay here again should we venture to Mexico City another time.
Casa Comtesse is centrally located between two metro stations: Chilpancingo and Patriotism – both Line 9. In a about ten minutes, one can find herself (on foot) at either station or in the main restaurant district of La Condesa. The restaurant district, looking at a map, is a triangle: corner of Atlixco and Tamaulipas to corner of Michoacan and Tamaulipas to the corner of Michoacan and Campeche.
La Casa Azul – Home of Frida Kahlo
My first order of business in Mexico City was to visit Frida and Diego at their house, La Casa Azul. I successfully navigated the metro (Line 9 toward Pantitlan, off at Centro Medico and onto Line 3 toward Universidad, off at Coyoacán) and then proceeded to get myself properly lost looking for Frida Kahlo’s house on foot from the metro. The Coyoacán is big. By the metro station, it’s very busy with a big mall. I asked several people along the way the direction to her house. One guy sent me the totally wrong direction. A map would’ve been nice. I just started heading towards the trees looking for Calle Londres. Finally, a woman waiting at a bus stop, gave me perfect directions in well articulated Spanish. Note to self again: Only get directions from women in the future. But carry a map, too, in case there is not a woman available.
Important Spanish words to know when seeking directions:
Esquina – Corner
Otro Lado – Other Side
Cuadra – Block
Derecho – Straight
Izquierda – Left
Derecha – Right
*All the numbers up to three digits like 247 or dos ciento cuarenta y siete*
El Museo Frida Kahlo/La Casa Azul is at calle de Londres 247, Col. Del Carmen, Coyoacán.
Opened Tuesday- Sunday (like most museums in Mexico City)
Cost: $75.00 (pesos) entrance fee and $60.00 (pesos) to take photographs – US total about $10.00.
I’ve learned that the smaller museums charge for visitors to take NON-FLASH photos. I had to wear a sort of permission slip on my chest as evidence that I paid to take photos. For some reason I felt like Hester Prynne as people were looking at me skeptically, waiting for me to use my flash while preparing to stone me. Instead of the letter A, it was the letter F for Fotografía. I’m making this all up in my head. None of that really happened.
But given that I arrived at the museum around 5:00 PM and that it supposedly closed at 6:00, I felt some anxiety about not getting enough time to see it all – closely and contemplatively. Imagine my delight when I discovered there are night hours the month of August. And while I didn’t have an official “night hours” ticket, one of the guards told me he would let it slide. At least, that’s what I think he said. Nevertheless, I stayed well past the official departure time.
Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954), born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo, is perhaps the most fascinating artist of the 20th century only paralleled to her equally captivating husband (twice over), muralist Diego Rivera.
The two together make history as one of the most tragic, passionate, tumultuous, loving couples ever to step foot on this earth. Her adult life, albeit filled with parties, the company of philosophical artists and writers, and a shared political connection with Diego and communism, was also wrought with pain. Walking with a limp, the result of having polio at a young age (about 6) AND experiencing a horrendous trolley accident (at age 18) that claimed most of her body, particularly her pelvis and spine, Frida was rendered bedridden for much of her life. Once a promising medical student, now a depressed and “cripped” young woman. She called herself a “cripple” despite her strong willed determination to walk again. None of us may never have known she had artistic ability were it not for the shackled consequence of that trolley accident. Lying in bed, she started to draw what she saw, her foot, for instance. Taking note of the healing powers art had over Frida, her parents brought in more art supplies, and her mother hung a mirror over the bed. And thus began the famous Frida portraits.
Here is an excerpt about Frida’s trolley accident from the Paris Review blog post entitled Frida’s Corsets (please note the writer claims “bus” but I do believe Frida was riding the trolley on that fateful day):
Riding a bus at eighteen, Frida stood next to an artisan carrying a pouch of gold dust. When the streetcar hit them, his pouch was broken open by the force of the collision and Frida’s body, ruined on concrete, was covered in what the pouch held. Gold was sunlight on asphalt. Gold was the gleam of metal through an open wound. Magenta, on the other hand, was the color of blood. “El más vivo y antiguo,” Frida called it—the most alive, the oldest shade. “He who sees the colors.” Frida was the one who had to wear them.
Her horrendous pain was also fuel for Frida’s artistic passion revealing something that many prominent artists have never been able to accomplish – an authentic, raw, and emotionally palpable creation that touches the very core of the viewer.
Not only did Frida walk again, but she danced and partied. She was known to shock with her outrageous language and behavior. But because of her accident, she was never able to carry a pregnancy to term. It was her dream to have Diego’s child, a little Dieguito. She had one abortion for a pregnancy that would’ve otherwise been fatal to her and two graphic miscarriages. These losses contributed to her depression that she readily masked when in the company of others, others that is, except for Diego, her equally passionate on again, off again husband. So, it comes as no surprise that as an adult she drank, some say a bottle of brandy a day starting in 1939. That is also the year she and Diego divorced and also the year she painted Las Dos Fridas. Frida had to accept her destiny with Diego. Despite a tumultuous and adulterous relationship, they truly loved and admired one another. They were remarried some years later.
I drank because I wanted to drown my sorrows, but now the damn things have learned to swim.
Frida had innumerable surgeries, more than thirty, since the trolley accident at age 18. In the 2005 article Anatomy of an Icon, from The Guardian, writer Gaby Wood claims that because Frida had a condition that made her fall in love with her surgeons, many of the operations that she underwent were unnecessary.
Frida died shortly after her first exhibit (she had already exhibited in France) in Mexico City. Some claim she died of pneumonia, but the official stated cause of her death was a pulmonary embolism. It is presumed she actually died of a drug overdose, an intentional one. The pain she had to bear for nearly 30 years may have contributed to her eye-opening and heart-wrenching art, but it also caused her immense misery.
After Frida died, Diego gave Casa Azul (the home she was born in, grew up in, and lived in during the latter part of her life including part of her marriage and divorce and marriage to Diego) to the Mexican people. Four years after Frida’s death, Casa Azul opened as a museum that houses over 30,000 of her personal items including X-rays of her fractured back and the trolley ticket from that fateful day. However, Diego hid some of her most personal belongings – more than 300 dresses, pieces of jewelry, medical devices (prosthetic leg), corsets, shirts and skirts – no one else to see. He hid them in a space behind the bathroom wall.
Diego, already 20 years her senior, died three years later. He asked a trusted friend to continue to protect Frida’s personal items from the public for fifteen years after his death. This friend, Dolores Olmeda, accepted this honor and more than tripled Diego’s wish by keeping these items hidden until her own death nearly 50 years later. The museum curator and various historians were the fortunate ones to open up this sacred space and sift through another layer of the complexity known as Frida Kahlo. Years later, the new exhibit – Appearances Can Be Deceiving – showing these additional 300 personal items opened in 2012. I was privileged to see it with my own eyes and heart.
The courtyard at La Casa Azul. The typical, colonial, style architecture in Mexico includes a courtyard with the house wrapped around it. Through the door at the top of the stairs you can see Frida’s daytime bed from which she painted. The second floor wing was added by Diego. It also houses Frida’s bedroom (where she slept at night), her studio and a library.
Beautiful gardens swathe La Casa Azul. Casa Azul was muy tranquilo. I suspect Frida was drawn to this tranquil place to help bring a sense of peace to her tragic life. I suspect it helped to temper her internal fire, the fire that brought passion but also emotional pain to her world.
Frida’s mother hung the mirror after her accident so that she could more easily paint self-portraits.
This part of the house, Frida’s studio, was designed by Juan O’Gorman in 1944. This beautiful and light-filled room exudes the artistic presence of Frida’s quintessential core. The easel, a gift from Nelson Rockefeller, and a mirror, used for her self portraits. There was a shelf (not seen here) on the back wall chock full of books relating to history, literature, art, and philosophy. Many of the books marked with her own doodles, drawings, and poetry. She and Diego shared an intellectual curiosity.
The kitchen: A lot of entertaining went down in this house. Their guests were a veritable collection of artists, writers, philosophers, political activists, photographers, filmmakers, and actors: André Breton, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Weston, Sergei Eisenstein, Tina Modotti, María Felix (one of Diego’s mistresses who he thought would marry him, thus asking Frida for a divorce), José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros – this list goes on and on. Sure would’ve been fun to hang out with some of those folks.
Frida’s art is present throughout Casa Azul.
To learn more about Frida’s paintings, there is a fabulous site Frida Kahlo Fans, that gives detailed explanations.
Here is another excerpt from the Paris Review blog post entitled Frida’s Corsets:
Frida kept a collection of ex-votos, paintings offered in thanks to saints. These small scenes show angels hovering over the infirm and the saved, their tiny bodies curled in prostrate postures of gratitude or suffering. Cursive captions offer summaries so brief (“I was crushed by a horse; the horse was startled by a snake”) they seem gags clamped over the full stories. Ex-votos are full of Frida’s hope, and her stubbornness: hers was a body pulled almost gravitationally toward injury, and yet her paintings point ceaselessly at grace.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo had a style that attracted the likes of models and designers and that created a ripple throughout the world. Her fashion, like her art, made statements – artistic, political, emotional.
According to one text in the exhibit, Kahlo was “a cult figure appropriated by feminists, artists, fashion designers, and pop culture.” As proof, the exhibit features a handful of pieces by Jean Gaulthier, Dai Rees, Riccardo Tisci, and other fashion designers who were alternately inspired and influenced by Kahlo’s style.
How auspicious that I was able to see this exhibit. After 58 years, over 300 personal items of Frida’s were found behind a wall in the bathroom. It took the museum several years to organize into an exhibition, thus opening their doors to Appearances Can Be Deceiving in late 2012. If you’d like to read more about this exhibition and see some fabulous Frida photos, this Huffington Post article will lead the way.
Did you know that Frida appeared in Vogue Magazine in 1937 and then again in 2012 when this exhibit opened up? To learn more about the current Vogue issue with Frida, click the pinkisthenewblog.com and blogs.art info.com.
The Appearances Can Be Deceiving Exhibition is found around the back of Casa Azul and is showing about ten different outfits of Frida’s. Supposedly there is a rotation so that her wardrobe in its entirely will be displayed. This exhibition is in a quiet, dark, and somber in this part of the museum.
Frida wore a variety of corsets including plaster and steel – for the sole purpose of supporting her broken body. There is a fabulous article from the Paris Review blog about her plaster corsets. Click here to read the article.
Frida preferred the Tehuana-style dresses. This choice was strategic in that they covered her imperfections but were also a philosophical tribute to the matriarchal Tehuantepec society from Tehuantepec Isthmus (Oaxaca). A matriarchal society, the “Zopotec” women are considered equal to men, and their dress is a strong symbol of female power and independence.
I departed from this place heavy-hearted yet with a strange sense of peace. For anyone coming to Mexico City, especially those who appreciate art and even more so those who are aware of the impact Frida Kahlo made on the world, you must visit Casa Azul. Having little-to-no idea how to get back to the metro, I only remembered Londres street (because I was ON it) but was so turned around from mishearing the numerous directions I received from others. Fortunately, I found myself in the awesome plaza at the center of Colonia Coyoacan. Coyoacan, supposedly means Place of the Coyotes (Nahuatl).
A place filled with people – in restaurants, at sidewalk cafes, in the gazebo, in the plaza. It was a delight. I hung out there for a while soaking it all in and decompressing from my Frida experience. A sweet guy at the plaza told me to take the small bus to the metro. I did. At one point, I felt like a part of some old-time, Mexican movie. There was chaos and people getting on and off the little buses. An older guy there was standing in the street directing people to which buses – I felt good knowing that others were sharing confusion. I got on wondering if I was actually going to the metro. The sign read something else, but I was assured by street-director guy this was correct. It was.
Very long adventure short, I landed at the Taj Mahal restaurant around 9:00 PM. I told myself that I would be safely at my hotel after dark. I wasn’t at the hotel, but I was safe.
Taj Mahal Restaurant
Francisco Márquez 134, Colonia Condesa, Cuauhtémoc, 06140 Condesa, Federal District
Owned and operated by two brothers, Azad and Atik Hosain, this restaurant is a gem. Even more importantly, Azad and Atik have a story that inspires curiosity and a desire to eat at Taj Mahal.
From the Capitol City, Dhaka, of Bangladesh, Atik first arrived in Mexico City 2000 pursuing a dream, a better life. His brother soon followed in 2005. Both men earned their living selling clothes, mostly Indian and Bangladeshi, on the streets. While they were earning their living, they were learning Spanish. They speak Bengali, English, and Spanish. They also eventually learned that their clientele were craving exotic, Indian food.
With a pocket full of savings and a heart full of ambition, the men opened the Taj Mahal restaurant, authentic Hindi cuisine (3 years and 2 months ago according to Azad). The Hosains have successfully created an establishment that delights the tastebuds. I found the restaurant clean and well decorated with just enough splashes of color to add subtle vibrancy but not too much where the senses are overloaded. Add to it, Azad and Atik are downright decent and sweet people. My server, Eduardo, was fabulous. His excellent English combined with his lovely customer service skills made for an even more enjoyable feast. Speaking of feast, I had fabulous saag aloo with gorgeous saffron jasmine rice and papadum.
I so enjoyed taking to the Hosain brothers. And during our conversation, I learned they will be opening a new restaurant in Colonia Polanco, Casa Elephante, at #268 Newton. While they are working on the website, you can check out their facebook page here (still some work to be done), the Tripadvisor reviews here, and Atik’s email here.
It was after 10:00 by the time I looked at the clock. While I didn’t vocalize my nervousness about finding my way back to the hotel, I was still relieved when Atik offered me a ride home. I know my mother wouldn’t approve of getting a ride home with a stranger, but I consider myself a good judge of character and had already felt the comfort of being in the company of friends at Taj Mahal.
“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”
“My painting carries with it the message of pain.”
“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”
~ Frida Kahlo
“I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.”
~ Frida Kahlo
*Photos and stuff* Please contact me for permission to use images and text for commercial or private use.
This is Mexico Post #19, to see the other Mexico posts, click click click away
Mexico Post #1, Me and My Trimalleolar go to Mexico with my Husband and our Pooch
Mexico Post #2, Dos Americanos y Su Perro en Mexico
Mexico Post #3, Feliz Ano Nuevo 2013
Mexico Post #4, Ballenas, Ballenas Hermosas
Mexico Post #5, Una Visita Morelia
Mexico Post #6, Mariposas Monarcas!
Mexico Post #7, Los Pueblos de Patzcuaro, Paracho, y Tzintzuntzan
Mexico Post #8, La pintoresca ciudad de San Miguel de Allende
Mexico Post #9, Guanajuato, Guanajuato
Mexico Post #10, Back to Sayulita and Jaime Visits!
Mexico Post #11, Semana Santa y Semana Pasqua
Mexico Post #12, Semana de Animales
Mexico Post #13, Semana de Amigos y Amigas
Mexico Post #14, Frida y Diego
Mexico Post #15, Adiós Sayulita
Mexico Post #16, Living and Grinning in San Miguel de Allende
Mexico Post #17, Puddle Jumping in San Miguel de Allende
Mexico Post #18, Guanajuato International Film Festival
Mexico Post #19, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Colonia Condesa, Colonia Coyoacán, y La Casa Azul
Mexico Post #20, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Chapultapec y Centro Historico
Mexico Post #21, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Templo Mayor
Mexico Post #22, Living the Dream in San Miguel de Allende
Mexico Post #23, Viva la Independencia!
Mexico Post #24, Adios San Miguel
Mexico Post #25, Valle de Bravo y Teploztlán
Mexico Post #26, Ciudad de Oaxaca
Mexico Post #27, 50 Shades of Green: On the road from Oaxaca to Chiapas
Mexico Post #28, San Cristóbal de las Casas
Mexico Post #29, Almost Halloween Ed.: Dark Mountains, Foggy Cliffs, Witches, Jungles & Shamans
Mexico Post #30, Veracruz, Tampico y Estados Unidos