Tag Archives: gardens

Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Garden at Casa Azul

Casa Azul, home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Coyoacan, Mexico City, has a stunning garden. Once the home of Frida’s father and mother, and where she was born in 1907, Rivera bought the property after the family amassed huge debt paying for years of treatment after the bus accident that severely handicapped Frida at age eighteen.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-44 The garden is surrounded by intense blue walls, which F & D painted after they moved in. It was expanded when Leon Trotsky moved into the complex for security reasons. He later moved to another house in the neighborhood where he was assassinated by Stalin‘s henchmen in post-revolutionary Soviet Union.MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-34

The garden is a lush expanse of tropical plants, pre-Columbian sculpture, small pools, a miniature pyramid that is a sometimes altar and walking paths.  As you exit the house, built of volcanic stone, after the self-guided tour, you come down a staircase where some pause overlooking a pool lined in tiles painted with frogs.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-15 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-17 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-19Frida called Diego Frog and you see this both here at Casa Azul and at the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Xochimilco. Dolores was his patron and preserved the contents of Casa Azul for posterity through her foundation. Frida’s ashes are in the pre-Columbian frog urn on her bedroom dresser.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-54 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-58 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-48

There are benches for sitting under the shade and the calm of a fountain. Perfect for reflecting on their lives together and the iconic image of feminism that she has become. I often refer to her as our contemporary Virgin of Guadalupe because Frida Kahlo carries that reverence among art lovers and intellectuals that makes her almost god-like.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-2 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-5 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-6

I’ve organized the art history tour Looking for Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera for the past two years and I’ve been to the house no less than six or eight times during this period.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-72 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-74

It is always enthralling, but this time I decided to put myself in the garden, find a backdrop that I liked and wait for photographs, a la Henri Cartier-Bresson.


I recall Rivera who went to Europe for fourteen years to study the great masters, copying them, refining classical painting techniques, experimenting with Cubism and Impressionism before developing his own remarkable style after returning to Mexico in 1921.


So, I have ordered the book Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Mind’s Eye, so I can understand the philosophy behind his picture-taking and practice his style.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-36 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-43 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-81

Frida Kahlo lived most of her short life in pain.  She died at age 47 in 1954. Rivera died in 1957.  He was twenty-two years older that her. The exhibition space is devoted to indigenous dresses she wore to hide her deformities, polio which she contracted at age eight and then the accident that necessitated living her life in a spinal brace with regular surgeries and hospitalization for traction.


She was never able to conceive a child and this was a focus of her later painting which captures this life tragedy.


If you are interested in organizing a small group to explore the Mexican Muralists and the life of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera accompanied by a knowledgeable art historian, please contact me. We are organizing this art history program for fall/winter 2015-2016.


Xochimilco: Connecting to Mexico’s Aztec History

The Xochimilco (so-chee-milko) floating gardens of Mexico City constructed by the Aztecs long before the Spanish conquest to support agriculture and small village life is at risk of extinction.  To take a boat ride along the waterways that extend for miles around the islands, called chinampas, is to experience what life may have been like then and for me is an essential part of knowing Mexico.  It has always been important for me to link past with present as a way to understand what the future may hold.


Leave the dock in a Venetian-style gondola painted in primary colors and within twenty minutes the boatman has you in a serene natural environment beyond the hectic, urban center of the Xochimilco neighborhood.

Xochimilco72013-11 Xochimilco72013-9

Float by and see the greenhouses and nurseries where Aztec descendents grow ornamental plants and vegetables just like their fore bearers.  Known as floating gardens, they are in fact Aztec-made islands anchored to the lakebed by centuries of rock and humus.  Degradation from encroaching waterlilies and illegal squatters threaten their fragile existence.

Xochimilco72013-7 Xochimilco72013-10

To help with preservation, Xochimilco was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Yet, rare species of wildlife are at risk and the canals are filling in and becoming polluted.  Go while you still can!

Xochimilco72013-6 Xochimilco72013-8

On Sundays, local families and tourists fill all the gondolas you see in the photo above.  Many stay on the water for six or eight hours.  A curious sight is to see a “side-car” gondola attached to the one carrying people from which cooks prepare and serve meals.   Other side-car gondolas carry minstrels and mariachi music-makers to entertain, or you can pull up to a comedor situated canal-side complete with boat dock.  Our Thursday afternoon excursion was much more tranquil.  We could concentrate on the natural beauty.

Xochimilco72013-12 Xochimilco72013-13

It’s not easy to get here.  The neighborhood is in the southern part of the city and takes a good forty-five minutes to more than an hour to travel from Mexico City center depending on traffic, which is fierce during most hours of any weekday.  Ask your hotel to book you a driver.  We paid 120 pesos an hour. The boat ride was 300 pesos an hour for up to twelve people, so we asked our driver Fabian if he wanted to join us.  He did.  He was thrilled and loved the experience, a first for him.

This was an extra-long day.  We spent the morning at Casa Azul, The Frida Kahlo Museum, the home she shared with Mexican muralist-artist Diego Rivera.   The Coyoacan location was much closer to Xochimilco than where we were staying at El Patio 77 in the San Rafael district, which we liked very much by the way!


Xochimilco72013-3 Xochimilco72013-2

After we got to Xochimilco around one-thirty in the afternoon, we made a beeline to the public market in search of fast-food tamales and blue corn tacos for lunch. Not exactly street food, but pretty close.  (Hunger called. We ate the tamales so fast we forgot to take photos.)