The Global Underbelly of Mexican Culture

Coyacan suburb, on the edge of Mexico City, was about the most unMexican place I’d seen in Mexico. In contrast to the crowded tumbledown streets, alleyways and markets I’d seen around Alameda Park and Zocalo, streaming with people, Coyacan was all lawns and driveways, villas set back behind flourishing palm trees, hardly any traffic here, hardly any people. It felt spacious and wealthy and paranoid. Like the British Ex-Pat barrios of the Spanish Costas, Coyacan had the same sense of furtively concealed lifelessness about it. Like photographs of Beverley Hills, or TV.

The Metro journey from the station in central Mexico City, across crowded town and through her endless undulating outskirts had taken almost an hour.  The Metro finally coughed us up right deep in the centre of shiney, Americano chain-store shopping mall. Here the incurable cyst of corporate-branded consumerism bubbled forth its phosphorescent plate-glass pus, depositing in the wake of its rancid slipstream, inter-continental brand names, sportswear, fast food, Wendys and Fucking McDonalds. All over again, just like anywhere. O Hell.

From here we consulted our guide book and scuttled our way through the network of dull closed-curtain unpromising Coyacan suburb. We were looking for The Blue House, home to the Frieda Kahlo Museum, housing the largest collection of her works in the world.

Magically, we found the Blue House. We also found the Blue House was closed for the next eighteen months for essential repairs. As we consulted our guide book again, without much hope for other interesting places in Coyacan, it began to spit rain. After some serious trawling in the culture section, the guide book threw us the Trotsky Connection.

When Leon Trotsky had been exiled from the Soviet Union in the 1930’s, Frieda Kahlo and her muralist painter husband, Diego Rivera, found Trotsky a house to rent in Coyacan. It was here in 1940 that Trotsky was assassinated. The guidebook gave an address and we determined to find Trotsky’s house.

A few streets away from The Blue House we found the house where Trotsky lived. The back wall extended to a height of about 15ft, topped with coiled razor wire. We posed and took photographs, leaping about, chanting “This is the house where Trotsky lived, Trotsky lived, Trotsky lived…” I don’t know what we were thinking. Anycase, we followed the wall around a corner, up to the front of the house. There the old pitted stone gave way to a plate glass and polished beechwood lobby, with an expensive, but tasteful reception desk at the front. The air was of stultified wealth, like a trendy Bond Street Art Dealers, or a picture-framers. This wasn’t what I’d expected at all.

Disarmed as we were, we paid the receptionist some money, she reeled off tickets and we passed inside, where it was raining less. The text of the tickets seemed to be positing some complex political allegiance for Trotsky in Spanish, which I couldn’t be bothered to translate. In anycase, my mind was refusing to assimilate this modern cut glass art gallery as the house where the revolutionary Trotsky lived out his exile, where finally he was assassinated. We mooched about, uninterested in art, sulking about the Kahlo Museum, we wandered out into an enclosed courtyard, open to the sky, rich green tropical plants gathered around a small bust of Lenin. It was still drizzling, but the air was warm and unconditioned.

Bordering the courtyard was the inside of the same thick 15ft wall we’d posed against. Information pointed out that the wall had been heightened during Trotsky residence here for added security. Bullet holes in the stone were pointed out as reminders that the assassination of Trotsky took more than one attempt and despite their best efforts in the end it was an inside job – a stalinist posing as one of Trotsky’s own students that done for him.

Tucked away beside this huge wall, in a corner of the courtyard stood the house where Trotsky lived. A thick house of the same rough stone as the wall, a small flight of paved steps brought me up to Trotsky’s study. It was all there, all there, as he’d left it, as if he’d popped out for a packet of cigarettes and they were still expecting him to come back at any time. “Sorry I’ve been so long, I went to the shopping mall and I stopped off at McDonalds…”

Through the door onto a roped off walkway, suspended about a foot from the floor. Behind the ropes and laser beam activated alarms, were Trotsky’s bookshelf, his desk, a notepad and pen, and a pair of broken spectacles, crumpled, the only clue to the violence of his death. It wasn’t gruesome or morbid; it was too detached from reality for that. It was just a horrible, boring museum. Not a shrine in any sense, there was no feeling of reverence or awe. It just was as it was, as it had been, as it would always be. A dull preservation of a moment atrophied in history. A chronological collection of meaningless articles, arranged in a pattern devoid of significance. A state of suspended animation conserved in hi tech security. As if to authenticate the Trotsky connection, all the mundane and pointless detritus of his day-to-day life had been preserved, untouched, since the day he died. After a few more moments of boredom – another two pairs of broken spectacles, photos of Trotsky’s dog, the seat where Mrs. Trotsky sat to shell peas…we left, despondent.

The November early evening was setting in with heavy rain, we walked by the side of dual carriageways busy with rush hour traffic. The signs led us through a web of flyovers and underpasses, on towards the Metro station, delivering us right back in the heart of Coyacan shopping city.


Bella Basura
From the pamphlet Necro-Tourist 1999

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