Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

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Location: Home, United Kingdom

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mexico City part the second: Trotsky, Toltecs, Lucha Libre and Murals with Metaphors

Ok, this is going to be quite a long one, as a few days go a long way out here in the big city in terms of things happening.


I've spent large parts of the last few days looking at huge murals painted by Pinko Mexican artist Diego Rivera. In the 30s he was much feted to paint the walls of lots of Mexican public buildings and government offices, meaning that one can wander round these spaces for free and gawp at the quality work on display. Most of the murals are somewhat commie in tone, despite Rivera once oddly being commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller. The painting was then rejected due to its inclusion of Karl Marx.

Rivera's best work in my opinion is the enormous painting of the history of Mexico taking up three walls around the large central staircase of the Palacio Nacional. This depicts the various conquests, insurrections, inquisitions, wars, rebellions and revolutions of Mexican history, with images of lots of the main historical characters. It's great.

There are also various galleries and such dotted around the city where Rivera paintings are shown, though in general they're not as good as his murals. Some of them are in buildings that he actually designed, built or lived in, which is quite cool. One such building is actually the house where Frida Kahlo, Rivera's wife and a famous Mexican artist in her own right, was born. Her work is less impressive for me, being as it is angsty feminist type stuff and thus not really up my tree. However, I'm sure I'll be told I'm wrong by angry e-mails from Sylvia Plath and Courtney Love fans if I denounce it as "dull self-indulgent tosh" so I'll just say that considering what it is, it's done quite well. And that without it I'm sure the artwork for "In Utero" would have been quite different.

That house is also notable because it's where Russian-Revolutionary-it's-ok-to-like Leon Trotsky lived when he first came to Mexico City. Trotsky was of course on the run from the long arm of Joe "how many divisions does the Pope have?" Stalin, and was granted asylum in Mexico largely because fellow lefties Rivera and Kahlo petitioned the then Mexican head honcho. The story goes that when he arrived in Mexico he expressed concerns at the ease of access a possible assassin could have from the neighbouring property. So Rivera bought it and combined the two houses.

Eventually Trotsky moved out of their house and in to his own place, which is where he was nearly assassinated once, before being actually assassinated. The house is now a museum, and had been left largely as was, right down to the bullet holes in the bedroom walls from the first assassination attempt, when yet another reasonably famous Mexican commie painter (this time, crucially, a Stalinist) David Siqueiros and a group of other men put 700 rounds in to the house having been let in to the grounds by a corrupt security guard. Trotsky and his wife and her kid survived by that old chestnut, hiding under the bed. After that attack the Russkie intellectual ordered security beefed up yet further, with towers and walls and 24hr guards all over the shop. Didn't matter though - his eventual assassin bluffed his way in to Trotsky's circle by pretending to be a businessman converting to Communism and then bludgeoned the man to death with the blunt end of an ice pick. Took Trotsky 24hrs to die, after an operation to try and save him. Had a massive brain, apparently.

On a totally different note, last night I went to a traditional Mexican sports event: Lucha Libre. For those familiar with WWE, I shall simply say it was like a load of Rey Mysterios fighting each other and was fantastic. For those not, it's athletic wrestling by masked Mexicans, with the emphasis far more on "pantomime" than "realism". While no doubt my Mum would describe it as "silly", I thought it was extremely enjoyable - there's very few places where you can madly boo or cheer grown men in leather masks, pants and boots, after all...

Finally, today I went to yet another Mesoamerican ruin site. This time it was the Toltecs, who the Aztecs considered to be their ancestors (though modern archaeology disagrees). The ancient Toltec site of Tula is great if, like me, you just can't get enough of stepped pyramids. Even if you're of the "seen one, seen 'em all" mentality, though it'd still be exciting because on top of one of the pyramids are fantastic 5m tall statues of Quetzalcoatl, the lord of creation, depicted in the outfit of a Toltec warrior. Quetzalcoatl is of course the bloke who feld to the East that I mentioned in the last post, then returning in the form of Hernan Cortes, at least in the perhaps misguided opinion of Aztec ruler Moctezuma II. In this particular guise rahter than sailing off on a raft of snakes across the ocean after fleeing, he instead burns himself up to become the Morning Star, or as we know it, Venus.

There are also various galleries

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