Sense of place is strong in Trotsky House, his second exilic residence in Coyocan. The first was with Diego and Frida in the Casa Azul, but he was asked to leave following what the museum tactfully calls ‘political differences,’ though presumably not unrelated to Trostsky’s affair with Kahlo.
I am asked if I would like to see a film that’s just starting in a shed in Trotsky’s garden; a very informative and finally very moving documentary on Trotsky’s relationship with Mexico, his assassination and Twentieth Century ideological politics more generally. Trotsky was personally received by President Cardenas when he landed in Veracruz and escorted by royal train to the capital, contrary to the Stalinist sympathies of the Mexican Communist party, and at personal and political risk to the President. Later the Communist party tried to assassinate Trotsky inside his house, in spite of the manned guard-tower. You can still see the bullet holes in the wall above the bed. They were improbably led by the famous muralist David Siqueiros, whose huge, eight-sided and quite abstract mural covers an octagonal structure next to the World Trade Centre on Insurgentes.
The Mexican sculptor Jorge Marín makes beguiling human and animal forms from bronze, with beaked-masks, wings and swimming googles, acrobatically poised and positioned in relation to the museum walls and the lighting so that some of them throw two completely different shadows on different walls, essentially making one sculpture into three different but related images. Clever stuff. Marín himself has this to say on this series, ‘El cuerpo como paisaje’ (‘The Body as Landscape’):
‘he encontrado en el bronce una fuerza intríseca que me permite construir cuerpos dinámicos, llenos de movimiento que retan a la gravedad porque giran en el espacio y se balancean apoyándose, apenas, en un punto.’
Which is something like, ‘I have found in bronze an intrinsic force that allows me to build dynamic bodies, full of movement, that challenge gravity because they turn in space and leaning, swing on one point.’
As a farewell to Mexico City we participate in a public scheme that takes place on the last Sunday of every month, whereby set roads are closed to cars across the city, forming cycle routes that take in Bellas Artes and the length of Reforma, from the Independence monument at one end almost to Zócalo at the other. There’s a feeling of transgression being on such a small piece of metal, where usually there are many lanes of furious traffic.
Before leaving Mexico City I go for the last time to the excellent Village Cafe, Condesa, where I went almost daily to wake up and try to read bits of El Universal. Reasons for liking this cafe: one wall contains photographs of Frieda and Diego and The Beetles and a self-portrait by Van Gogh. One of the outside facing windows has a board of pictures, quotes and text about Einstein. There is always a trashy Mexican game-show or soap on the TV, and there’s also an odd picture above the coffee-machine of a cellist’s legs, hands and instrument, with torso and face further back and up, obscured by shadow. The coffee is good and strong, and comes with biscuits gratis.