40th Birthday Bash in Distrito Federal, a.k.a. Mexico City

This December was one of the best of my life, but I’m relieved it’s over. I’m totally funned out, evidenced by the photos and one embarrassing (but mercifully only four-second long) video you are about to see. And this is only the FIRST week of the excitement. 

But we had two good reasons to celebrate--My 40th birthday and Jesus’s 2020th! Yay us! 

Felicidades Stevie Xochimilco

We left Mendoza on the 14th of December. On the bumpy flight across the Andes to Santiago, Chile, Soleil puked the whole time. (Okay, that part was NOT fun.) But I’m happy to report every drop of vomit made it into the bag, though I can’t really say the same for the smell. 

From Santiago, we took a redeye to Distrito Federal. As we drove through the city to our rented apartment in Condesa, the street art, taco stands, and women sweeping sidewalks began to emerge from the early morning darkness. I felt the same electric buzz as when I landed in Manhattan the first time nearly twenty years ago. Then we hit rush hour traffic. 

For the next week, the constant glow of red brake lights would become a steady reminder that 8.85 million people live in La Cuidad.  

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Mexico City has been on my list of places to go for a very long time. I was hungry for the food, fascinated by the history, and in love with the art long before we arrived. But, despite my desire to go, we had to pass it by six years ago. Between the Sprinter and Kiki (our dog), we couldn’t manage the logistics. But this time it all lined up. We had to stop there on a layover anyway; Noni said she’d come to help celebrate and take care of Sol, and I had two girlfriends in the city to pick up where my early-to-bed husband left off. Perfecto! 

Given the sheer number of photos I have from our short trip, I’ve divided the post into 5 categories to try and make sense of it: 1) The Birthday Party (at Xochimilco), 2) The Food, 3) The Art, 4) The History/Culture, and 5) My favorite part (it was a tough choice). 

1) The Birthday Party

My beautiful friend Tanya arranged for us to go to Xochimilco–known as the Venice, Italy of Mexico City– located in the south side of the city. We drove for about an hour through the guts of the capital, surrounded by cars and buildings and endless tenement housing, to find ourselves, quite suddenly, in a watery wonderland. 

At the dock, you rent one of these colorful gondola-like boats called trajineras and a gondolier pushes you around what is left of this beautiful and extensive lake and canal system that at one time connected most of the settlements of the Valley of Mexico.  It’s crazy to think during Aztec times, Mexico City (then called Tenochtitlan) was completely surrounded by water. 

Look! A trajinera decorated just for me! 

Felicidades Stevie group shot

Our gondolier (or trajinero)Boat PusherTanya and Tree 2The canals  in the waters of Lake Xochimilco were initially created along with “floating gardens,” or artificial agricultural plots called chinampas. Chinampas were invented by the pre-Hispanic peoples of the region around 1,000 year ago as a way to increase agricultural production.

Here’s how the chinampas and canals were made:  On the shallow waters of the lakes, rafts were constructed of juniper branches. Then lakebed mud and soil were heaped atop the floating rafts and crops were planted. These rafts, tied to juniper trees, would eventually sink and a new one would be built to replace it. Over time, these sunken rafts formed square or rectangular islands, held in place in part by the juniper trees. As these chinampa islands multiplied, areas of the lake were reduced to canals. 
Xochimilco lusciousness

On the chinampa below you can buy pulque (a kind of thick, milky, alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of agave), coffee, or use the bathroom which is oddly called a WC, or water closet, in parts of Mexico. Pulque Island

People still live and grow food and flowers on some of the chinampas today.  In fact, many of the up-and-coming restaurants in DF proudly source their ‘local’ produce from Xochimilco. 

Soleil running XochimilcoCannals of XochimilcoBoys catching something Xochimilco

A ferry system to get local people (and their bikes) across the canals. 

Ferry Boat Xochimilco

To set the birthday mood, we drank mezcal and hired this trio to play an awesome song that was not quite “happy birthday,” but the message came across regardless. 

Keph with MariachiMariachi with Stevie

He’s got happy birthday written all over his face, right? Accordian player

At 40 years old, I couldn’t love my life more. I spend my days driven by love, wanderlust and passion, surrounded by my favorite people, constantly pushing myself to dream bigger, love harder, and care more. 

So when it came time to blow out the candles, the only thing I could think to wish for was many more years like this to come. 
Blowing out the candles (1)

After Xochimilco, we dropped Tree, Noni and Soleil off at the apartment, and Tanya and Keph and I headed to a gay karaoke bar in the Zona Rosa to light it up.  

Keph sings Total Eclipse of the Heart like a boss….

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And, then, a few drinks later….IMG_1729

well, let’s just say there should be a rule against taking video at karaoke. 

“So you go to a gay bar and THIS is what you do?!” -Tree

2) Food/Market

We arrived on a Tuesday which happens to be the day of Condesa’s famous tianguis, or mobile open-aired market. It’s arguably one of the best in the world. 

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Well this is one way to go green. 
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Despite the beautiful fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, cheeses, moles and edible flowers for sale, I decided upon arrival that I would not cook a single meal in DF, nor would we go out to fancy restaurants. For seven days, I committed to eating nothing but Mexico city street food for breakfast lunch and dinner. Blue-corn tlacayos with hongos, kalite, and flor de calabaza;  tacos al pastor, quesadillas, gorditas, pozole, tamales, and chiles rellenos …we ate them all with reckless abandon. 

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3) The Art

Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Orozco, Siqueiros… I got to see all the greats but ‘experience’ just one. (see #5)

Diego Palacio Gobernal with familyOrozco Bellas ArtesBondage Bellas ArtesAmazon Woman Bellas ArtesDiego Rivera Bellas Artes head 1 Upside down headCreepy Frida Painting

Sol’s favorite was the mask folk-art exhibit at the Palacio de Gobierno. She actually cried when we had to leave. MaskSoleil looking through MaskCreepy Mask

As we were walking through the Bosque Chapultepec, we happened upon this orchestra 
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So Daddy and Sol stopped for a very cute and funny dance in the park

4) History/Culture

Mexico City’s  history and culture are too rich to possibly recap in a blog post, but here’s some images from the Zócalo (one of the largest main squares in the world), the surrounding streets of El Centro, and Coyoacán to give an essence of what it’s like.  

Harmonipan 2 Old violinist from a distanceOld Violinist Close-upChurch sunsetCute little boyIMG_2088Muchadumbre

Amazingly, about a block away from the hoard of holiday revelers in the above photo stands the ancient Aztec ruins, Templo Mayor.  In the below photo, you can see three eras of civilization: in the foreground stands the remnants of the Templo Mayor, with edifices from colonial Spain to the far left, and modern housing structures to the far right.

3 turns of civilization 2

These are called “Face Knives” found in the Templo museum. Note the eyeballs and teeth. The Aztecs would use one of these cuties to sacrifice you to the gods. Somehow having your throat sliced by an ancient Pacman doesn’t seem nearly as cunning.Face Knives

Just a block away from the Palacio Gobierno (National Palace) where armed guards hold really big guns, this illegal street market happens. 
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Note how crowded it is…Vendors Vendors display their wares on a blanket like this….Jewelry VendorWell, as we were in the middle of this hustle and bustle, casually munching on chips slathered in hot sauce, we begin to hear whistling. The “call” started at a distance and then grew closer and closer. Then, all of  a sudden, the vendors (all of them!) started folding their big blankets into a bundle and running down the street and around the corner. Within a minute the street was empty….and the popo rolled by. Talk about teamwork. 

I couldn’t snap a picture of the police car so this dog will have to do. 
Dog

Known for its overpopulation and horrendous smog problem, Mexico City is doing what it can to be more ecologically responsible. This trash truck accepts recycling and organic waste, which is awesome, EXCEPT (enter whiny American complaining about the inefficiency of other countries) in order to actually dispose of your neatly separated garbage you have to vigilantly listen for the trash bell that rings at a different time every day and then run outside with all your sauce-dripping, cheap-ass plastic bags. If you miss the bell, you have to repeat the process the next day, and so on. Pinche basura! 
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The graffiti says, “Julio no murió; Peña lo mató,” protesting the lack of investigation for the murders and disappearances of scores of journalists since the drug war began. Mexico has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for reporters. They are threatened and murdered by organized crime or corrupt officials with impunity.(Read: Stop snorting cocaine, or Legalize drugs in America)

IMG_1804 This 43 was made in honor of the 43 student protesters killed in the Mexican state of Guerrero. IMG_1808

The Art Deco gems in DF will blow your mind. IMG_1812IMG_2043IMG_2122

5) My Favorite Part

We only scratched the surface of DF–the city holds countless treasures and terrors buried deep in its endless sprawl–but I can tell you what place inspired me most during our short stay.

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The Casa Azul, or Blue House, was the birthplace of Frida Kahlo and is also the home where she grew up, lived with her husband Diego Rivera for a number of years, and eventually died. In 1958, Diego Rivera donated the home and its contents in order to turn it into a museum in Frida’s honor.  

So why was it my favorite? 

I like Frida Kahlo’s art. I like her use of vibrant colors in a style influenced by indigenous Mexican cultures and European “isms” like Realism, Symbolism, Surrealism. But that’s not what got me. 

Frida free of illness

I liked being in her and Diego’s house, soaking in the atmosphere of their kitchen where they hosted famous dinner parties and served big pots of pozole to artistic contemporaries and political revolutionaries. But that’s not what got me. 

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I appreciated being in her work space, still alive with various tools and colors and canvas, and even gazing in the mirror she used to paint her numerous self-portraits. But that wasn’t it either. Self-PortraitIMG_2022

I really enjoyed looking at her wall of passiones.

BUT, please take note Future Executor of My Post-Humous Estate, for the love of decency (and wall space), NEVER have an exhibit cataloguing my lifetime of lovers.  Let’s bury my ‘passiones’ with me, okay? 
Wall of Lovers -PasionesI particularly loved these next two photos of sexy, playful Frida. We just don’t see this girl as much as we should, but even she’s not what really did it for me. Sexy FridaTopless FridaAnd, of course, I loved seeing her and Diego’s rare collection of Mexican folk-art, pre-hispanic artifacts, and memorabilia. I especially liked the Exvotos.

In short, Exvotos are ‘thank you notes’ painted by a local folk-artist, commissioned by a survivor of some horrible ill fate. 

Ex-Voto explanationWall of Ex-Votos

The person, below, for instance, is thanking her patron saint for saving her after being burned in an enormous fire. 
Ex-Voto Burning in FireAnd this guy’s saint (and baby sidekick saint) provided comfort when he fell on his head from a tree. Ex-Voto Falling from TreeWhat a colorful way to express gratitude. 

Anyhow, despite how intriguing the above exhibits were, what moved me most was seeing Frida Kahlo’s wardrobe, which was opened to the public after being locked up for nearly 60 years after her death. On display were her dresses, skirts, blouses, corsets, casts, jewelry and customized shoes–her tools to transform herself from a woman suffering great physical and psychic pain into a living piece of art. 

Not only was Frida Kahlo permanently disfigured by a childhood case of polio, but in 1925, at 18 yrs old, the bus she was riding on collided with a trolley car, breaking her spinal column, collarbone, several ribs, pelvis, right leg and foot–and, to top it off, she was impaled by an iron handrail, entering through her abdomen and exiting her vagina. Burly. The accident put her in a body cast for 3 months, left her barren and in permanent pain. 

Unlike the commissioners of exvotos who beseeched salvation and succor from outside themselves, however, Frida pulled her strength from within.

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She dressed in her own sui genris combination of traditional, medicinal, and avant-garde creations.  She donned Tehuana billowing skirts, colorful blouses and decorative headdress to distract viewers from what she called “a body less than perfect.”

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“Kahlo’s relationship to the corset is one of support and need–her body dependent on medical attention–but also one of rebellion. Far from allowing the corset to define her an invalid, Kahlo decorated and adorned her corsets, making them appear as an explicit choice and including them in the construction of her looks as an essential piece.” (from a plaque in the museum)

Frida adorning her body cast.

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In July 1952, her lower right leg had to be amputated due to gangrene, yet another complication from the bus accident, forcing her to wear a prosthetic leg and boot for the rest of her short life. In response to her loss, she said, “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” 

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In other words, Frida was a badass, punk rock, alchemist. She turned her suffering into art, her pain into beauty, her sacrifice into a gift for the world to appreciate. Not to say the woman didn’t have problems. In her blind adoration of communism, she supported Trotsky and Stalin, and by the end of her life, she became an opiate junkie. Not to mention her tumultuous and obsessive relationship with Diego Rivera and the toxic resentment she carried to the end for his womanizing ways. 

“You didn’t understand what I am. I am love. I am pleasure. I am essence. I am an idiot. I am alcoholic. I am tenacious. I am. I simply am. You are a sh*t my love.” -Frida Kahlo

But, honestly, who of us is not struggling to be our best selves as we rise up against the hardships we face? Who of us is not suffering from illusions of belief, thinking we know more than we do about anything and everything? Despite her “warts and all,” or maybe because of them, Frida turned herself inside out and showed us “a less than perfect” beauty; she showed us reality. 

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I paint my own reality.” -Frida Kahlo

And her “own reality” reflects our own internal drama–our obsessions, jealousies, wants, desires, pain, and losses. Her vulnerability empowers us to be brave. What more can we ask for from an artist?

“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

——————————————–

Thank you Mexico City! 

Thank you Lasagna and El Keff….

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a.k.a Frida and Diego, for making me feel like a teenager again. 

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Thank you Noni for coming all the way to DF to take care of the greatest gift of my life.

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And, thank you my sweet, devoted, amazing husband for making this trip happen. 

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“I love you more than my own skin.” – Frida Kahlo

 

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Comments

  1. You got it done!! Great job!! Wow-so fun!! Love the pictures!!

  2. What a wonderful birthday celebration! Loved the Frida tour too– that will be a must-see stop whenever I finally make it to DF!

  3. Happy Birthday!

  4. By the way, the toilet is called WC in many countries in Europe too…

  5. Claudia Acosta says:

    Stevie, I think this is by far my favorite post. You really captured the colors and sounds of the city and now I want to get on a plane and go!
    Ay Soleil y Tree, que lindos bailando en el parque.

    Besos a todos

  6. Best week ever! So glad you picked DF for an epic bday!

  7. Me too!!!! It was so damn good. Thank you chica for making it happen. Te quiero <3!!!!!

  8. Ah! Traveling with you is ALWAYS a blend of whirlwind, exploration, and just plain fun! Thanks for inviting me to the party!

  9. ❤️❤️❤️

  10. Clara Horchler says:

    Wow! Beautifully written!

  11. El mejor, en serio!

  12. And what a happy birthday it was!! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  13. I want to go to the market! What was with all the combined veggies in the baskets? Were they for specific dishes? Love you!!

  14. Here’s to 40 more years just like December! So fun seeing you having such a great birthday.

    The shot of the old woman in the market is great. I also dug the story of Casa Azul. We watched Frida a week or so ago – what a beautiful, powerful movie. Her source of inner strength is indeed remarkable!

  15. Outstanding writing, description of Frida Kahlo. Later this month, Fresno Art Museum is having an exhibit of her art etc. We won’t miss it. She was ONE OF A KIND, the good, honest kind.

  16. It’s great to “see” you sharing your adventures.

  17. Auntie Candy says:

    Wow my wonderful and talented niece I am blessed to have. This was epic! Your writing just gets better and better. I felt like I was right beside you in looking at Frieda and the amazing gift she left all of us. Happy birthday beautiful one. I love you.
    Auntie Candy

  18. loving your blog, what a great piece! I’m inspired!…

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