I’ve wanted to visit Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s home, and now museum, in Coyoacan, Mexico for ages. When Jason and I discussed a trip to Mexico, I looked for a place to stay in this neighborhood of Mexico City. We were lucky to find a small, one-bedroom apartment over a cafe just a few blocks from Frida’s blue house.
Coyoacan has cobblestone streets, brightly colored homes with terraces full of potted plants, and a main square (zocalo) with second oldest church in the country. The bell tolls on the hour as vendors sell handwoven baskets, push carts offer cups of roasted corn or churros with hot chocolate, and couples stroll hand in hand.
It is a delightfully slower pace of life.
We sat on on one of the benches in the zocalo park just to enjoy the people watching. Frida and Diego couldn’t have picked a more beautiful neighborhood. It isn’t like the many others of this giant city. There are no billboards. There is no significant sign of corporate America. It is tucked away beneath huge rubber trees and tropical pines, noisier and far more posh barrios in all directions.
Coyoacan has remained quiet and quaint. The Frida museum is undoubtedly the biggest tourist attraction. By midday, the lines wrapped around the block.
We spent Valentine’s Day at the museum. I wanted a day when we could linger, toward the end of our trip. We were among the first few in line in front of the exterior cobalt blue wall, alongside other fans. Half a dozen languages floated in the air around us.
Soon, after a $10 ticket and a $5 photo permit (without flash, as are the rules in most Mexican museums), we were inside, following a queue of folks into a wide central patio, through the kitchen, into the studio and library she shared with Diego and finally through her bedroom, which includes a frog-shaped urn that holds her ashes.
My fingertips lingered on the walls, when possible. I couldn’t believe I was really there, in Frida’s house. Frida stood on those steps. Frida ate in this kitchen. Frida painted here! The walls are full of her art I’d see only in books, and many framed family photos. My heart pounded as I walked from one beloved portrait to the next, having read in great detail the story behind the paintings.
When we got to her bedroom, which included a small bed and the milieu of a woman who in many ways never matured in her interests beyond girlhood, I let the tears fall off my chin standing before her urn.
I cannot explain why I feel so connected to this artist. I’ve loved her art for decades and appreciate how unique and sassy she was in a time when Mexican women were expected to rarely been seen or heard. (Women in general, really.) She always marched to her own beat, including in her decision to marry the much older and infamous womanizer, Diego Rivera.
He also happened to be a prized muralist, communist and advocate for Mexico’s indigenous. Frida’s mother was a native Mexican who married the German/Austrian photographer Guillermo Kahlo. Her parents thought she was nuts for marrying Diego and her mother was reportedly horrified Frida identified with Mexico’s indigenous, not her more “refined” European ancestry. This love for Mexico is demonstrated in Frida’s choice of clothing — embroidered tops, long skirts (which also served to hide her leg brace) and heavy, rustic jewelry.
Diego, Diego. Oh, you toad, as Frida called you. You were such a tramp. Little did I know how you’d fooled even me until we later the same day traveled more than an hour across town to the barrio of Xochimilco to visit the Dolores Olomedo Museum. This gorgeous estate-turned-museum holds the largest collection of Diego’s work.
Of course it does. Dolores was Diego’s mistress. But that’s a story for tomorrow.
Today’s Mexico City travel tip: go see Frida’s art and house. Get there before it opens and plan on spending at least an hour. Walk to the zocalo in Coyoacan afterward and enjoy a leisurely lunch. And if you have to cry, I get it. That museum is a powerful place and the art will live on in your heart.