by Karlie Marrazzo
The Día de la Constitución long weekend in early February was over and the residents of Mexico City had flooded back into town, filling the streets with traffic and choking the air with smog. Car horns blared incessantly and pedestrians swarmed the sidewalks. In the centre of the city, I emerged from the belly of a muggy metro station and ascended to the top of the Torre Latinoamericano in the thick humidity and gazed out over the megalopolis as far as the smog would allow my eyes to see. I reflected over my first trip to Mexico and anticipated my final experiences in the city, representing two quintessential yet completely different sides of Mexico – lucha libre and the surreal art of Frida Kahlo.
Lucha libre, known more simply as Mexican wrestling, takes place all over the city, but the home of the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre league is the Arena Mexico in the working class Colonia Doctores neighbourhood. It was a Friday night, and I met up with Tania, a Mexico City local and world traveler. We rode the metro to the Cuauhtemoc metro station to meet up with a local Couchsurfing group, who we ended up splitting with shortly afterwards.
The night was already dark at 8pm as we walked towards the arena. Illuminated stands lined both sides of the sidewalks, with vendors selling t-shirts, masks in every colour representing every wrestler, figurines and more. The ticket booth was nothing more than a hole tucked into the outer wall of the arena. There are several price levels of tickets available, and on the advice of the Couchsurfers we purchased the cheapest tickets available for 40 pesos each (less than $3). I didn’t do my usual research ahead of time, but if I had I definitely would have sprung for the higher priced tickets (about $30) to get a seat closer to the action. The non-descript entrance to the arena led to a grim cement foyer, from which we ascended the steep steps to sit in one of the highest rows of an arena that holds 16,500.
A match between two 3-on-3 teams of luchadoras (female wrestlers) was already taking place, getting the crowd amped up for the main event. I was immediately drawn into the insanity of the action, laughing and cheering in my seat. I’m not typically the type of person who attends many sporting events, and when I do it is very rare for me to scream or jump up, but something came over me and the action had me hooked. The crowd was hugely diverse and I was surprised to see tons of families with young kids, both because of the time of the event and the amount of swearing and heckling that was going on. Even the little kids were getting into it, chanting, screaming and jumping out of their seats with the rest of us.
After the luchadoras came the main event – the luchadores. If the women were warming up the crowd, the luchadores set the place on fire. There were three sets of fights in all, each with three rounds, featuring over 20 luchadores. Big names like Mistico, Blue Panther, Marco Corleone and my personal favourite Máximo Sexy, ran across the ring, climbed the ropes and pounced on each other from every possible angle with extreme energy and acrobatic skill, all while wearing flashy, skintight costumes and the iconic masks. There was a little person dressed in full luchadore regalia, and the wrestlers had their way with him, swinging him and tossing him through the air. The whole show was the most bizarre, hilarious and entertaining thing I’ve seen live.
The following day I experienced another iconic, yet completely opposite, piece of Mexico’s cultural identity. I made the hour-long trek to the historic centre of Coyoacán to visit the former home of the incomparable Frida Kahlo. Coyoacán is a former village that used to be on the outskirts of Mexico City that was swallowed up by the city sprawl. It is a now a neighbourhood in its own right, home to beautiful street art, cobblestone roads and lovely park squares, the smell of flowers perfuming the air.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with many of Frida’s paintings until I visited La Casa Azul (The Blue House), more formally known as the Frida Kahlo Museum. It was in this home that Frida spent most of her tumultuous and short life. She was born in The Blue House 1907 and died there just a week after her 47th birthday. She lived most of her life in the home that her father built, first with her family and later with husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera.
The small museum is one of the most popular in all of Mexico City, so I would advise anyone to buy tickets in advance on the website in order to skip the massive lines that snake around the block. The striking blue home is built around a beautiful inner courtyard and garden, complete with volcanic stone walls created by Diego, a fountain and a stepped pyramid displaying a collection of pre-Hispanic artworks. The main floor houses the permanent collection featuring paintings spanning Frida’s career, from her early works and self portraits to one of my personal favourites, Viva La Vida. Arguably her most famous painting, The Two Fridas, is housed in the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City. Other rooms in the house are set up exactly as they were when the fiery duo lived in the house, including Diego’s bedroom and the kitchen where the couple hosted infamous dinner parties for artists, intellectuals and revolutionaries.
Upstairs held the greatest treasures for me – the artists’ studio and bedroom. Frida spent most of her life confined to a wheelchair or her bed, painfully strapped in to rigid medical corsets to support her spine. She suffered lifelong pain due to polio, which she had since the age of 6, and a freak tram accident when she was 18 years old, along with many other health problems. Seeing her wheelchair set up in front of her easel, her oil paints and paintbrushes neatly laid out on her table made me feel as if she could return at any moment.
Her bedroom was much the same way she left it. I stood in front of the small bed in which she passed away, the mirror still hanging above it so she could paint, her brilliant mind imprisoned in its own body. Her polished black death mask lay on the bed, cloaked in rich scarves, and her own ashes sat atop a small dresser. Emotion flooded over me as I processed everything I had seen and learned about Frida that day. I felt inspired and empowered by this powerful woman, faced with so many hardships in her lifetime, who was able to channel her strength and creativity to live her life on her own terms as a true individual. I often think of her, look to her picture and her artwork to channel my own strength in hopes that I can be even a fraction of the woman that she was.