A week ago our morning began with a walk to the nearby light rail trolley stop, on a line that starts from our corner of Coyoacán and terminates further to the southeast at the center of Xochimilco, a bustling market square, colonial churches, and the last remaining section of city canals and island cropland (chinampas). The canals are well known for the brightly colored flat-bottomed boats that launch from near Xochilmilco’s town center, and on weekends they are a jumble of punters with groups of frolickers seated along the covered central tables of the boats plied with food and drink by passing boats.
We disembarked the crowded two-car trolley (rides are half the price of the Metro system, and extend beyond its reach) a few stops before this hubbub and climbed the stairs across the tracks and up a short hill to briefly stop outside the former home of anthropologist Isabel Kelly, an engrossing personality from Stephanie’s research. Her private home’s facade is well-maintained and recognizable from the archival photos. The neighborhood becomes even more hilly here, and we followed the curves and dips of the side streets towards the former home of the much more widely known Dolores Olmedo, patron and friend of Diego Rivera.
Now a sprawling grounds and museum of the extensive collection of Rivera and Kahlo works which once filled her personal rooms, the initial impression is of a lush walled hacienda with strutting peacocks everywhere. Once the most flamboyant birds blocking your path are circumnavigated (rotating their arcs of feathers to follow your progress), you see them down each grassy corner, atop the hedges, atop the roofs and steeples. Finally as you approach the extravagant central dwellings and courtyards, you encounter Diego’s favorite breed of hairless dogs playing next to a bronze statue of their own kind (yes, all but one of these dogs is alive).
Such a large collection of Rivera’s work forces you to confront the wide range of styles and experiences in his art. From early adult years in France and impressionistic to cubist still life and portraits, realistic to swoopingly abstract nudes, brightly colored bundled sledding children from a later visit to Russia, and the flowing strength in the human shapes of his industrial and historical memorializing murals, here represented by wall-sized paper-and-branch outlines and sketches. Olmedos house crows with an earlier era of wealth, even as Rivera’s art draws you into a folkart, indigenous, and communistic future.
The remaining walk to Xochimilco Centro is alive with today’s pseudonymous spray-painted murals. On a slow day like this there are taxis waiting two train stops away with placards for the canal boats, hoping to find misplaced tourists. As expected, the market and street stalls boomed and spilled into the hot street, bringing traffic to a snail’s pace as we wove alongside buses and between perfect stacks of oranges and mangoes. The boatdocks hidden down alleyways towards the canals were full of empty boats and quiet, waiting for the weekend.