After a few rocky days of feeling a little isolated and, let’s face it, being whiney about not being able to speak Spanish, I began venturing out on my own, determined to enjoy my trip and practice my language skills. Things really started looking up once I reminded myself that life experiences are what you make of them – if I wanted to wallow and be sad about not having met any friends, I’d have a lonely, sad two weeks. If I wanted to be positive, bubbly, open to challenges, and generally cheerful, I’d have a fun, fresh-faced and sunny two weeks.
Moving into my second accommodation was a turning point. I stayed in an Airbnb with a woman named Meli, and oh my god, she has a fantastic apartment! It’s literally the dream home I’ve envisioned for myself for years: an open, bright loft with concrete floors, modern light fixtures, exposed beams and a spiral staircase, all situated in a historic building with tons of character. In fact, the building used to be an art gallery, and Meli has it decked out with some really fantastic Mexican paintings, gorgeous authentic textiles and – my personal favorite – a great big bookshelf with an amazing collection of literature. There was also a record player (with records, of course), an antique mezcal bar, and lots of cool little extras, like a compost bin and kombucha. The whole setup was absolutely amazing, right down the the adorable dog and cat who also lived there.
These images are from Meli’s Airbnb page.
I spent most of my remaining time meandering around the neighborhood. I stayed in an area called Roma Norte, which is among the trendiest neighborhoods in Mexico City. I could immediately tell that this was the part of town I’d want to live in if I ever moved down there. It was young, busy and hip, with tons of cafes, restaurants, bars, book stores and art galleries.
I also made a few friends (see, sometimes it just takes some time!). My cousin John introduced me to his friend Francesca, a fellow American close to my age who’s living in Mexico City. She and I connected almost immediately, and quickly got into deep conversations about subjects like, you know, boys and politics. We hung out a few times, drank mezcal, went out dancing, ate tacos and toured art galleries. She’s a really cool chick and definitely someone I could see myself being friends with.
I also met Rebeca, a Mexico City native who I connected with through Couchsurfing. Rebeca, too, was really great. She invited me to a Lucha Libre match. I had no idea what to expect, but I figured that since it’s a national pastime, I should probably check it out. I didn’t expect it to be as staged as it was, but then again, I knew pretty much nothing about the subject going in.
The biggest thing that I will carry with me forward, though, was an appreciation for Mexican art.
Mexican Art History 101
I’m no art history buff, but here’s a little background. Perhaps the most familiar art to come out of Mexico is the country’s folk art, which is called arte popular in Spanish. This is essentially the art of Mexico’s various tribes and regional groups. It runs the spectrum from pottery to hand-crafted toys to tiny decorative objects to gigantic (and awesomely terrifying) effigies of Judas that are burned around Easter Sunday.
The Museo de Arte Popular was the first art museum I visited, and I was super impressed. Mexico’s folk art is everything: some of it is colorful and playful, while other pieces are visceral, provoking an almost physical response because of their drama and intensity.
Another type of art to become familiar with is that of the Renaissance-like period during the Mexican Revolution, which ran from 1910 to 1920. During this time, famous artists created some pretty spectacular pieces that were important not only for their evocative, intensely sexual and sometimes graphic content, but also their social and economic commentary. As I understand it, muralism was the most famous medium for this kind of art. The three most well-known muralists were Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Francesca and I got to take a look at some of their stunning murals (they are gigantic in person) in the Bellas Artes building, right in the center of the city.
Man at the Crossroads, a seriously badass mural by Diego Rivera.
Frida Kahlo is also a Mexican artist, but I thought she deserved her own section. To be honest, the more I learn about Frida Kahlo’s life, the more I feel a sort of kinship with her. I’m not alone in that, by the way – lots of young women these days have taken to the painter, impressed by her strength, complexity, feminism and depth.
Frida Kahlo was a talented and well-known painter, but she was also simply a fascinating woman. As a child, she survived a bad bout of polio as well as a horrific accident in which her uterus was impaled, leaving her unable to have children. Though she survived both of the incidents, she remained in poor health for much of her life.
Her passionate and artistic temperament, though, was not to be quieted. She expressed herself in her paintings, which represent her inner turmoil and pain. Many of her paintings embody the physical pain she experienced as a result of her health issues. Others reflect the emotional pain she felt throughout her life as a result of not being able to bear children. The focus on maternity and pain is extremely apparent in so many of her pieces, and they are really humbling to behold.
She was also the wife of the aforementioned muralist Diego Rivera. They had a tumultuous relationship that involved numerous affairs (by both parties) and a divorce (though they eventually reconciled). Frida was bisexual, and had affairs with many of the women her husband took as lovers. It seems apparent in her art, though, that his promiscuity pained her all of her life.
She was notoriously revelrous, passionate, loud, and welcoming, and also really loved to party. She was also extremely political, and was outspoken about her beliefs during a time of major political upheaval. See what I mean? What a fascinating person. I love to hear about women who are so apparent in their complexity. There are too few female role models who embody passion, intelligence, sexuality, depth and conflict all at once.
I toured the home she and Diego lived in, which is often referred to as the Blue House, though its proper name is Museo Frida Kahlo. I already knew a bit about Frida before visiting the museum, but the experience solidified my admiration for her.
I often wish that I had the ability to make some kind of art to express my experiences, like Frida did. I have writing, of course, but it’s difficult to express the complexity of thoughts and experiences in a public space and in a way that’s fun and easy to read. I often feel like my truest art is all in my head, impossible to show even to those closest to me. My art is the combination of my travels, my personal relationships, my outlook, my passions, and my ethics. It’s usually when I’m ambling around a new destination completely alone, headphones in my ears and self-reflective thoughts in my head, that I feel like my most authentic, creative self.
I know I’m not alone in this regard, either. Most of us will never create great works of art, but we put our own art into whatever we do, whether it’s homemaking, leading a team, practicing a sport, building a business, writing a blog, designing a product, or connecting people socially as hosts or friends. Whether we leave a physical imprint of our thoughts and experiences on the world or not, we are all artists. I think that’s why art is such an important part of human culture. It’s through the work of these talented, hyper-creative individuals that we can reflect upon our own experiences, taking a little piece of art with us wherever we go.