Leon Trotsky’s house at Coyoacán

The home-in-exile of the Russian communist notable Leon Trotsky is just a few blocks away from the Casa Azul so of course we had to drop in. I vaguely remembered Trotsky from my political science studies in school; with Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin, he was prominent in the Russian Revolution as it progressed through Bolshevism and into Communism and the Soviet Union. Trotsky was head of the Red Army.

While Frida Kahlo’s house is full of color and light and art, her neighbor and sometimes friend Leon Trotsky lived in a dimmer, dingier place. (There’s supposed to be a ‘featured image’  at the top of the post, but it seems not to be viewable in mobile devices, so maybe it will show up in the photo Gallery below). And someone in the peanut gallery is saying, well look at where they came from. No wonder her Mexican light is sunnier than his high-latitude somber.

Memorably, maybe from a Trivial Pursuits card, Trotsky was assassinated by being bashed in the head with an ice axe. That’s the event that took place in this house, and why, perhaps, it is still a public attraction. We were two of the five visitors in attendance.

But how and why did an exiled communist leader come to be living in Mexico City, and why was he finally assassinated so long after the tempest of the Russian Revolution? The Wikipedia entries on this subject are, I hate to say, more than I want to know.  The particulars about whether government would lead the people, or whether the workers should be empowered first caused everlasting infighting. These people disagreed about everything, it seems.

Suffice it (I hope) to say that Trotsky was an ally of Lenin. As head of the Red Army, he seemed an obvious choice to succeed Lenin, who suffered a series of strokes starting in 1922. However, when Lenin died in 1924, Trotsky was politically outmaneuvered by Joseph Stalin. Here I am quoting and paraphrasing from http://history1900s.about.com/od/people/p/trotsky.htm

From that point on, Trotsky was slowly but surely pushed out of important roles in the Soviet government. First he was exiled to the very remote Alma-Ata. Apparently that wasn’t far away enough, so in February 1929, Trotsky was banished from the entire Soviet Union.

Writing prolifically during his exile, Trotsky continued to criticize Stalin and his increasing bureaucratic grasp, from homes in Norway, Turkey and France. He came to Mexico in 1936 under the aegis of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and lived in the Casa Azul for a year or so.

Then there was some kind of disagreement, and eventually Trotsky moved to this house a few blocks away.

Stalin, meanwhile, named Trotsky as the major conspirator in a fabricated plot to remove Stalin from power. As part of the Great Purge, 1936-1938, 16 of Stalin’s rivals were charged with aiding Trotsky in this treasonous plot.

Stalin and the white light where Trotsky has been erased from the photo, on his was to being completely purged by Stalin
Stalin and the white light where Trotsky has been erased from the photo, as he was being completely written out of the public record by Stalin. PrePhotoshop too.

All 16 were found guilty and executed. Trotsky, condemned in absentia, was also on the execution list.

Photos of Stalin's enemies.
Each of these men was accused of blocking or betraying Stalin in some way, and each of them was executed.

On May 24, 1940, at 4 AM, Soviet agents broke in and machine-gunned Trotsky’s house in Coyohuacan. Although Trotsky and his wife and grandson were home asleep, all survived the attack. The tour guide carefully points out bullet holes in the wall just above the bed of Trotsky’s 8-years old grandson, and adds the comment that this attack failed because the would-be assassins were drunk.

Bedroom, bullet holes in wall.
The holes in the wall are said to be left from the machine gun attack in May 1940. The family all survived. The guide said it was because the attackers were drunk.

Trotsky knew that he would always be a target and had taken several security measures.

Trotsky house Mexico City floor plan
Security staff lived in the part of the house that’s in the shadow of the plan, but for some reason they were locked in the night of the machine gun attack.

Watch towers were built in the corners and the perimeter wall was raised.

Watch towers were built in the corners of the property and walls were raised
Watch towers were built in the corners of the property and walls were raised

The lovely big windows still stand but the bottom portions on the perimeter are bricked in. And doorways were reduced to slow down an intruder.

After the machine gun episode, the doorways were reduced in size. Imagine being reminded of how endangered you are every time you walk in or out.
After the machine gun episode, doorways were reduced in size.

Imagine being so constantly reminded of how endangered your life might be! Trotsky was said to work hard on his writing and publications in opposition to Stalin’s brand of Communism. And in his spare time, he bred chickens – the coops, but not the chickens, are still there along a side wall.

On August 20, 1940, Trotsky was not so lucky. An insider, friend to Trotsky’s secretary, and Mexican Communist named Ramon Mercader, gained access to his study. As Trotsky was sitting at his desk in his study reading a document Mercader had brought  him for editing,  Mercader punctured Trotsky’s skull with a mountaineering ice pick.

Trotsky's desk remains as it was, or so they say. It looks quite tidy to me, not at all like any desk I've ever had.
Trotsky’s desk remains as it was, or so they say. It looks quite tidy to me, not at all like any desk I’ve ever had.

Trotsky was cogent enough to indicate that Mercader should be held rather than be shot by the guards, but died of his injuries the next day. Mercader served twenty years in Mexican prison, was decorated by the Soviet Union after his release, and died in Cuba in 1978.

I was surprised, a bit appalled to see that this photo of the dying man had been published in the newspaper. It was 1940. And I'm not too appalled to reproduce it here, so...
I was surprised, and a bit appalled, to see that this photo of the dying man had been published in the newspaper. It was 1940. And I’m not too appalled to reproduce it here, so…

so, that’s the history of Leon Trotsky’s death in Mexico City as gleaned by an interested observer visiting the museum that has taken over his house. Hope it kept you awake, perhaps contemplating how and why these same ‘interventions’ are managed these days in the Soviet Union. (And elsewhere, perhaps)



Frida Kahlo at Coyoacán

Coyohuacán Casa Azul

A travel piece I read years ago, plus curiosity about her paintings,  made me think I’d like to visit Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul. And now, here we are, 10 subway stops and a short walk away, with a shiny new Metro card in hand. So, vamanos!

Photo of Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo’s father Guillermo was a professional photographer. She was often his assistant  and clearly learned the power of photographic portraiture.

If you are unfamiliar with the name of Frida Kahlo, perhaps you will recognize her by her distinctive unibrow and exotic dress in the photo above, or in the painting below. The majority of her work was self-portraits, at least in part because she had many medical issues and spent a lot of time recuperating in bed with no other subjects at hand.

The Two Fridas, downloaded art.com
The Two Fridas, courtesy of theartstory.org:”This double self-portrait is one of Kahlo’s most recognized compositions, and is symbolic of the artist’s pain during her divorce from Rivera and the subsequent transitioning of her constructed identity. On the right, the artist is shown in modern European attire, wearing the costume she donned prior to her marriage to Rivera. Throughout their marriage, given Rivera’s strong nationalism, Kahlo became increasingly interested in indigenism and began to explore traditional Mexican costume, which she wears in the portrait on the left. It is the Mexican Kahlo that holds a locket with an image of Rivera. The stormy sky in the background, and the artist’s bleeding heart – a fundamental symbol of Catholicism and also symbolic of Aztec ritual sacrifice – accentuate Kahlo’s personal tribulation and physical pain. Symbolic elements frequently possess multiple layers of meaning in Kahlo’s pictures; the recurrent theme of blood represents both metaphysical and physical suffering, gesturing also to the artist’s ambivalent attitude toward accepted notions of womanhood and fertility.”

I admire Frida Kahlo’s work because I think it’s striking and surprising. In art jargon, the style is called ‘surreal’ and ‘naive’ and ‘folkloric’.

So that is a crash course about Frida Kahlo.Now let’s go look at the famous Casa Azul with its two stories, and ten rooms, and internal courtyard.

It’s in the district of Coyohuacán, which was a village on the outskirts of the city when Frida’s father Guillermo built there at the turn of the last century. Her husband Diego Rivera, the noted Mexican muralist, added the studio wing in the 1940s when they moved in. At the time it was considered an artsy, bohemian and intellectual neighborhood.

According to records and testimony, and Wikipedia, “the house today looks much as it did in 1951, decorated with Mexican folk art,[3] Kahlo’s personal art collection, a large collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts, traditional Mexican cookware, linens, personal mementos such as photographs, postcards and letters, and works by José María Velasco, Paul Klee and Diego Rivera. Much of the collection is now in display cases designed for their preservation. The museum also contains a café and a small gift shop.”

First the kitchen. I hope these photos zoom well, because there are a lot of interesting details.

Yellow kitchen, lots of pre-Columbian Mexican art.
Frida and Diego collected pre-Hispanic art so the kitchen seems more like a gallery than a source of cooked meals.

Which leads to this cozy little sitting room.

A small sitting room in Frida Kahlo's Coyohuacan house.
The sign in this room mentioned again how much she and Diego liked to entertain, so in my mind, I envision a martini shaker and a plate of olives on the table. But space-wise, it might have been more comfortable in the garden! Or at the big kitchen table.
Bedroom of Frido Kahlo
Frida Kahlo’s bedroom, said, like the entire house, to be just as she left it. That’s a mirror in the wooden canopy, one of the ones she used for her self-portraits. It’s upstairs, just beyond the studio.
Artist studio of Frida Kahlo
Her studio overlooks the courtyard garden, with a fountain off to the right. Distilled artistic essence, the sign says. This is part of the house Diego had built after  Guillermo Kahlo’s death.
Easel, wheelchair, view out window.
Frida’s easel, a wheelchair, and, out of the picture, a mirror. She taught small classes here too.
Diego had a room downstairs. Those are his overalls and hats on the wall.
Diego had a room downstairs. Those are his overalls and hats on the wall.

The house is lovely – I could move in tomorrow, but for the heavy tourist traffic. It’s one of the most popular museums in Mexico. Frida was known in her lifetime, but became much more popular starting in the 1980s.

What turned out to be even more interesting to me than the house was Frida’s life as it related to her health and her art. In my mind she is a powerful and stately woman; something about the straight, enigmatic stare, perhaps. So I was taken aback to learn that she was 5’3″ tall and weighed 98 pounds. Diego was a large, even portly, man – it was said  they were  “a bull and a dove”.

She had polio as a girl and her right leg was withered and shorter than her left. Then, at 18 she was almost fatally injured in a bus accident. Her spinal column, collarbone and right foot were broken, and a steel handrail penetrated her abdomen and uterus.

From then on, her physical condition gradually deteriorated, and she was wheelchair-bound for ever-increasing periods, not to mention the psychological trauma and ongoing pain from 22 further procedures including miscarriage, abortion, amputation of gangrenous toes etc. It explains a lot about her subject matter. One of the reasons she painted so many self portraits was that recovering from her various surgeries kept her alone alot. Increasingly frail, she died at 47.

Frida Kahlo decorated corset
No matter how beautifully  she decorated these plaster corsets, they cannot have been comfortable to wear, particularly in a warm climate. It would be tough to get a ‘Victoria’s Secret nice underwear’ glow from a plaster cast..

One of the most iconic features about Frida Kahlo is her clothing. It is very elaborate, and mostly traditional. The long skirts cover her legs, and the heavy adornment on the upper part of the body focuses the attention there. It also made her distinctive, and autonomous from her famous husband.

Whatever the initial reason, her personal style staked out a prominent position for her in the art and fashion worlds. These aren’t my ideas of course; all of this is paraphrased from the reader-boards at an exhibit of her clothing and orthopedic devices which were found in a storeroom fifty years after her death.

Wardrobe from Oaxaca and elsewhere
What striking clothes! The long skirts lent themselves to sitting in a wheelchair, and the upper body details, including headpieces, braids and flowers gave her a distinctive style.
3 Frida Kahlo dresses from rear
Frida’s mother was from Oaxaca and an early photo shows them together, both dressed traditionally. But Frida’s choice of  this type of clothing as an adult was conscious and strategic.

While it was great to visit the house, there is surely much more to Frida than an hour’s visit and a dozen reader boards can convey. This Wikipedia entry leaves a different, and more nuanced impression than one might get from the house signs.


For instance: Her husband had lots of affairs (one with her sister) but Frida did too, with men and women. They divorced, they later remarried. And her sister was with her when she died in 1954. She was said to be fiery and passionate, and something of a drinker too. She had a following during her lifetime, but has become increasingly popular since the 1980s.

It must have been expensive to be Frida. Where did the money for all the medical stuff, and the clothing and accessories come from? How about household staff? How did she keep herself going despite chronic pain and recuperation? Where did her ideas come from? Was she fun to talk to? Could we have been friends?

I can only speculate, wonder at the paintings I see in exhibits and books, and re-gurgitate what I have read.  I’d suggest you visit Coyohuacán if you can. Go early to beat the tour buses. Tickets are easy to get online and will get you to the head of the queue. Meantime, more photos.

The Six Days of Mexico City

Skyscraper view down to Mexico City

On the first day in The City, 

my true love gave to me 

a ride in a double-decker bus.

So there we were, pinkish tourists in a bright pink bus, wired with earbuds so we could hear the commentary, camera in hand (mine.) The second-story roof was open, the weather was perfect and we were off for a magic carpet ride on our first day in Mexico City.

Crowds of people around Belles Artes
The Palacio de Belles Artes was always a hive of activity, a nexus of bus and subway transportation and a happening atmosphere.

Architectural Gems in the Centro historic district slid past. Beyond the Belles Artes, there was an extremely glamorous post office (remember when?), an equally beautiful museum, a church where lots of things happened.

Damaged historic church
A church of historic note in the historic district, it was damaged in the violent 1985 earthquake, and also is sinking into the earth.

Doug muttered “Get those plants out of the gutter”. Upon closer investigation, it was revealed that buildings sprouting greenery like this one were damaged in other ways: churches had leaning or missing steeples for example, other buildings either sunken, or surrounded by elevated roadways. And, not to mention buildings entirely absent, like missing teeth, in a built-up block.

Earthquake devastation 1985

Reason being: the massive earthquake in the early morning of September 20, 1985, which was felt most forcefully right here in Centro. Magnitude was a ‘violent’ 8.0, with two separate epicenters in and near the historic city center. An extra long duration, and an unfortunate congruence of seismic wave reverberations through the soft landfill that underlies much of the city meant major disaster in Mexico City.

There were 412 buildings totally destroyed, 3,142 seriously damaged, three to four billion USD in damages and effects that clearly linger to this day. Not to mention the 5,000 (bodies recovered) to as many as 45,000 souls who also perished. I am sure every city citizen above 35 knows where they were at that moment.

There is lots more of interest about this earthquake at a well-written entry: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_Mexico_City_earthquake.

But whoosh – we’re already enroute to the Minor Basilica (an official church term) of Nuestra Señora de Guadelupe. With such urban development all around, it is hard to imagine the scene in 1531 when a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to a young Mexican peasant in a field and requested that a shrine be built there.

Crowded street approaching basilica
Pilgrims progressed toward the shrine in a steady stream.

“Am I not here, I who am your mother?” Is the inscription over the main entrance, which perhaps explains the shrine’s appeal to many pilgrims. But, as in so many matters of faith, there are also disagreements about the facts of the vision, the significance, the reliability; none of which prevent this from being the most -visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

boy with Image Virgin Guadeloupe
I sometimes make up stories about people I see; I work hard to make a happy story for rhis young boy here.

Created with Photospector

Image Virgen of Guadelupe
Nearly every image of this Virgin is surrounded by the bright spiky frame that reminds me of a classic migraine aura. I wonder if Juan Diego was a sufferer.

We drove past the Plaza of the Revolution, and the Angel of Independence, past the Anthropology Museum and through the upscale Polanco neighborhood, which was appealing indeed, in  a Rodeo Drive kind of way.

We were struck by the fantastic number of trees in the city. It seems a real effort is being made clean the air and reduce the pollution alerts which I hear are a regular summer feature. The traffic lights are ‘smart’, there are pollution-free transit zones, extremely inexpensive subway fares, lots of clean buses and trolleys, at least where we went. But, there is still a LOT of traffic.

We were also struck by the number of policemen we saw – different branches, mostly in pairs and groups, everywhere along our touristic routes, except in the really nice neighborhoods where perhaps private security guards performed the same function.

Group of Mexico City policemen with clear plastic shields
The shields seemed a little over-the-top to me, but didn’t concern or surprise the passers-by. And it turns out you can store a water bottle, cell phone, even lunch, on the back side.
Monument Angel of Independence.
This monument, photo courtesy of nohaybronca.wordpress.com, might be the quintessential symbol of Mexico, we were told. Nicely lit at night, but of course we don’t know much about that!
A public reminder that the fate of 43 missing murdered students has not yet Been acknowledged by the government.
A public reminder that the fate of 43 missing murdered students has not yet been acknowledged by the government.

On the second day of Mexico we finished up the tour. We walked out to that proud symbol La Angél to join our bus. While we were waiting, we got harangued in two languages  by earnest young female Jehovah’s Witnesses, and watched several photo shoots, small parades and demonstrations.

Banner help, photos taken
It seems de rigeur to have La Angél as a backdrop for your meaningful photos.

And we saw this young lady celebrating her 15th birthday in the time-honored Mexican quincinera tradition. Our neighbor on the park bench informed us that this photography parade would continue all weekend long, day and night. Is that a stretch Hummer? I can’t say.

Girl in ball gown with young male attendants, and a stretch Hummer limo.
Throughout Latin America a girl’s fifteenth birthday is celebrated and signifies among other things, her entrance into womanhood. But only when I googled to check the spelling did I learn that while North Americans have taken to calling the event a quincerañera, in many countries, this is what the girl herself is called.

Santa Fe

Glass tower reflected in glass tower
There is a lot of interesting architecture in Mexico City, old and new.

The loop of our second day of bus touring went to Santa Fe, which we had no idea where, what or why, but, hey, it’s nice on the bus-top. Turns out it’s the biggest shopping mall in all of Latin America, full of high-end names, marble and subdued glitz. So I bought a pair of pajamas, in case I need to sleep in a multi-bed dorm with strangers. At a Sears store, at the way-back end of the mall, as far from Tiffany’s as it could get.

Santa Fe has many tall new buildings, several with I think helipads (at least windsocks) on the roof, and famous names on the facades. It may be an economic powerhouse, but it was pretty dead on Saturday afternoon.

On our third day in the City, we hit the ground because it was a Sunday. Everybody was out, shopping for Christmas, snacking, strolling the park. The streets were packed. Actually, they were packed downtown most of the time. But people seemed to move at a more relaxed pace on Sunday.

Lots of people,out downtown Sunday
Christmas shopping and Sunday strolling make for busy downtown streets.
Iceskating in the main plaza Mexico
This big skating rink-there’s more of it on the other side, plus long slides for the non-skaters – ihas been a winter feature since I think 2009. Maybe it makes Mexicans love their government more?
Nice decorations and maybe millions of poinsettias all over town.
Nice decorations and maybe millions of poinsettias all over town.
We went to the rooftop cafe
We went to a rooftop cafe atop a hotel which overlooked the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor. The historic district of Mexico City is build upon ruins like this on what once was an island in a lake.


On the fourth day in town, we made a DIY tour on the public buses to los pyramides of Teotihuacan.  The how and why of these Aztec places is lost in the mists of time, replaced by theory and conjecture.

Their demise may have been a result of climate change (long-lasting drought) and mis-management of the masses by the elites, which could serve as a lesson to other civilizations, were they desirous of learning it.

View from atop pyramid Aztec archaeological site
If I ever find a time machine, I might set the dial for this place, 600 AD, just to see how it looked in full development and decoration.

Emboldened by our new command of the transit system, on day five, we took the public bus to Coyoacán to see the house where Frida Kahlo was born and later lived with Diego Rivera. Right around the corner, Leon Trotsky lived, and had been assassinated.

Frida Kahlo was born here, and dies here in 1954 at 47.
Frida Kahlo was born here, and died here, in 1954,  at 47.

Both of these are separate posts. It’s getting a little cluttered here.

We also spent time circulating around the main plaza of the Zocalo. This led to us being targeted by students needing to fulfill an English class assignment. Each time one student would record the interview on his or her cell phone while the other worked through a list of questions like What is your favorite Mexican food? or What is your father’s name? or worse, How old are you? Then they most politely thanked us for our time, wished us an enjoyable stay in Mexico and retreated giggling to review the recording. Sometimes we had to do it again due to technical difficulties. No problema!

Doug helps a srudent from the Politecnico with his homework. Students sought us out several times, and filmed each other on their phones asking us questions like What is your favorite Mexican food' and What is your father’s name. How do you suppose they recognized us as tourists?
Doug helps a student from the Politecnico with his homework assignment. How do you suppose they recognized us as tourists?

And then it was time to catch our plane to Santiago Chile. The transit system offers a special Metrobus at 30 pesos (when the regular bus is 5) with access to its own traffic lane, to whisk passengers from the Zocalo, and other points on the line, in record time, and we (and a transit policeman) were the only passengers at ten am. Airport security was present and effective but far less of an ordeal than the TSA version.

It would take more time than either of us (you the reader, or I) has to do justice to Mexico City. But I am looking forward to a return visit and expanded exploration.

Here are some more photos:

Now that I see them on a bigger screen, I see ‘failure to focus’. But, perfection is the enemy of ‘done’!

Guaymas: Newton’s Effects, and a Parade

Newton the Hurricane

While the crew of Galivant was in Maryland doing our summer job (home maintenance, as opposed to boat maintenance), the big event in Guaymas was Hurricane Newton on September 7. Newton lost some of its oomph crossing the Baja peninsula, but still packed significant punch as it made landfall near Guaymas in the dark of night.

There are roofs peeled off in town, trees remarkable for their absence, missing signs, etc. The crumbling dome on the classic old bank building downtown that we hoped someone would rescue (http://galivantstravels.com/2015/01/26/guaymas-sonora-mexico-2/) – well, we don’t have to worry about that any more. It’s gone. Electric power went out but as happens in these cases the country pulls together to get the utilities running again, pronto, mostly. Everybody has a story but in short, Guaymas doesn’t look all that different from its usual self.

Map of storm force winds for Newton 2016

Most of the boating community weathered the storm well. We had heard from staff and from friends at Gabriel’s Marina Guaymas that Galivant was fine. When we arrived after a cross country drive two months later, we got details of what must have been a long and frightening night for Andrés, Roberto, Alejandro, Gabriel and the rest of the staff. It wasn’t so much rain as wind, they said, lots of it. The men circulated constantly, checking and tightening the boat stands, and in the end only a handful of boats got into trouble.

Up at the dry storage yard at Marina San Carlos, they weren’t so lucky. That yard hauls boats out on trailers rather than on a travelift; as a result they can be, and are, blocked up closer together. When one boat goes down, it’s more likely to take others with it.

Up in nearby San Carlos, Newton toppled a row of sailboats as if they were dominos. Photo courtesy Latitude 38.

In nearby San Carlos, Newton toppled a row of sailboats as if they were dominos. Photo courtesy Latitude 38.

The Fonatur Marina in Guaymas also took a hit. The docks were lightly built to begin with, and there were some large, and unattended, vessels,  beyond the ability of the folks on hand to deal with. In the end I believe seven boats in the water were sunk. Finger piers ripped off and the docks will need major attention.


The biggest surprise, in a ‘what’s wrong with this picture’ kind of way, was  the storage tanks in the shipyard across the lane from Galivant. They have formed the view from our cockpit while we’re out of the water – well, they blew over, all together. And it took me a hour to notice!

Hard to believe - Hurricane Newton blew these empty tanks over.
Hard to believe that Hurricane Newton could have blown these tanks over, even when empty.

A note about the dogs. It would be hard to tell if these are exactly the same dogs as in previous years – there are so many, and they have a lot of genetic material in common – but life for them appears to be poor, nasty, brutish and short (although not solitary). We’ve tried feeding the mother dog anonymously (by taking food to a location not near our boat) but she’s got my number and looks yearningly at me each time she sees me. I wish I could add some form of birth control to the tortillas and chicken bits I usually offer.


The third Monday of November is set aside to celebrate the start of the revolution in 1910 which  overthrew the aging dictator-like President Porfirio Diaz. Here’s a very abbreviated (I promise!) version of what happened next to bring this about.

There was much anger after Diaz promised an election, then rigged the results. After examining the forces arrayed against him, in 1911 Diaz accepted exile in Paris. The new president was Francisco Madero. Among Madero’s supporters were Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa in the north, and Emiliano Zapata in the south. “(Theirs) was a locally based revolt, intent on restoring village rights to lands, forests and waters, (favoring) a self-ruling, communitarian democracy, inspired by shared traditions. It was, in many ways, a conservative revolution.”*

It turned out that Madero was less interested in these social and agrarian improvements, and more interested in political changes. So Zapata rose up against Madero in 1913; then a General Victoriano Huerta turned against him too, with the upshot that Madero and his vice president were executed.

Huerta was overthrown in 1914 by Venustiano Carranza, but the Villistas, Zapatistas and Carrancistas were still divided. This is when the US, in support of Carranza, sent troops to Mexico to capture Pancho Villa, but failed. Zapata divvied up land for the campesinos in the south but was eventually forced to retreat to the mountains. (There’s lots more to both these stories; see http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/thehistoryofmexico/a/08panchovilla_3.htm)

And Carranza in 1917 was able to form a new constitution and hold onto power until he was succeeded by Alvaro Obregón in 1920, at which point it seems the revolution was considered over. Emiliano Zapata was assassinated in 1919. Francisco Villa was pardoned in 1920, but was killed on his ranch in 1923.

As revolutions go, this one, according to Fidel Castro’s recent obituary in the New York Times, was the most transformative and longest lasting in its impact of any Latin American 20th century revolution, other than Cuba’s.

Still trying to find out who this is; none of my parade neighbors could name him
A leader of the revolution, but which one? I’m guessing Emiliano Zapata. My parade neighbors couldn’t tell me!
Throughout Mexico, school children dress in honor of revolutionaries for this holiday.
Throughout Mexico, school children dress in honor of revolutionaries for this holiday.
Dancers, twirlers, acrobats from various schools, all filed past.
Dancers, drummers, twirlers and acrobats from various schools, labor groups, government offices, volunteer organization, all filed past in a parade that lasted most of the morning.
The folks on the reviewing platform stood and saluted every time a flag went by. Wikipedia indicates that the horizontal arm salute is called a Zogist salute, after it was popularized by King Zog I of Albania in the late 1920s; and that it is popular with civilians in Latin America, especially in Mexico.
The folks on the reviewing platform stood and saluted every time a flag went by, which was often. Wikipedia indicates that their horizontal arm salute is called a Zogist salute, after it was popularized by King Zog I of Albania in the late 1920s; and that it is popular with civilians in Latin America, especially in Mexico.

I was impressed by what a gentle, respectful parade this was, no duelling sound trucks or carnival-raunchy behavior. And I was impressed too by the women who made it all the way down the parade route in these shoes!

It makes my feet ache just to contemplate wearing these shoes, much less marching in a parade.
It makes my feet ache just to contemplate wearing these shoes, much less marching in a parade. And lots of women paraders wore them.

And now for a few more photos.

*http://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/13/books/history-out-of-chaos.html?pagewanted=all  This is from a long and educational review from the NY Times about a book called Revolutionary Mexico, by John Mason Hart. Sounds interesting, even if it was published in 1987 and reviewed in 1988.

A Holiday, and a Reminder of Why

Dressing ship in honor of Benito Juarez at the Navy Base at Guaymas
Dressing ship in honor of Benito Juárez at the Navy Base at Guaymas

Merging onto the Modern Highway

We arrived back in Guaymas on the weekend of the vernal equinox, taking advantage of a break in the winter’s persistent northwesterly winds to make a jump north. Now, instead of a peaceful life in the isolated anchorages of Baja California, we’re in the throes of the 21st century. Excited to use the internet, but not about some of the news it brings. Excited to see our car, at least in its role as bodega/storage shed, but we can’t get the doors open because the battery is dead. It makes me think back to a line from a book I’m reading about the 1930s adventures of a young couple who traveled from California to Panama in a kayak.

"Machineless men, dwelling outside the currents of time and change, the faces of the villagers of Punta Duro reflected the peace and contentment that came from being presented with no problems beyond their capacity to solve." From Enchanted Vagabonds, by Dana Lamb. 1938, Harper and Brothers

We were raring to go out and see if we had the capacity to solve our problems and thereby reacquire peace and contentment on Monday , but whoa! Slow down! It’s a holiday! Honoring Benito Juárez, on March 21, this year is a holiday that segues neatly into Semana Santa, the Holy Week bookended by Palm Sunday and Easter, probably the biggest vacation week of the year in Mexico.

Overheard on the radio: “The beaches are already filling up and they’ll be so packed by Thursday that you’ll think there’s no more space. Then everybody else will come.”

Back to Benito Juárez:

I’d venture to say that there is not a town in Mexico that does not have a street named after Benito Juárez. And there he is on the twenty-peso note. He was president during tumultuous times in the 1860s. But why else would he be called Mexico’s Abraham Lincoln?

The most used piece of currency in Mexico is the 20-peso note featuring Benito Juarez. It's plastic, not paper, with secret codes embedded.

The most used piece of currency in Mexico is the 20-peso note featuring Benito Juárez. It’s a durable kind of plastic, not paper, with secret codes embedded. Each bill in Mexico is a different color, and some are different sizes too, making them easy to tell apart.

So I read about him on Wikipedia. I’m trying to keep my summary short and sweet, but these were very confused times in Mexico and some hard-to-imagine things occurred. Kind of like current events.

Importantly, Benito Juárez was a indigenous Mexican, not Spanish, but Zapotec, born in 1806. His parents were peasants who died when he was young; he was a shepherd and farmer until he was 12, when he walked to the city of Oaxaca to go to school (and learn Spanish). An acquaintance who was impressed by his intelligence arranged for his education.

Eventually he became a lawyer, and in his 30s, a judge, and in his early 40s governor of Oaxaca and the husband of a 20-years-younger white woman, which was notable considering the prevailing racism and social stratification of the era.

Benito Juárez with his sister Nela (right) and his wife Margarita Maza (left), 1843. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, Benito Juárez entry

Meantime, the Mexican War with the Americans was taking place; Juarez was exiled for several years and worked in a cigar factory in New Orleans. But he returned as the Liberal party regained power. In this Reform Period, an effort was made “to create a modern civil society and capitalist economy based on the model of the United States. The Ley Juárez (Juárez Law) of 1855 declared all citizens equal before the law and severely restricted the privileges of the Catholic Church.” (Wikipedia)

Juarez, as interim president of the country, headed the liberal side in the  turbulent Mexican civil war known as the Reform Wars through the late 1850s.

He was eventually elected president in his own right in 1861 but the country’s infrastructure and economy had been badly damaged by the wars; Mexico defaulted on debts owed to England, Spain and France.

So France, with the support of the Conservatives from the Reform Wars, invaded, and Napoleon III installed the Hapsburg duke Maximillian as Emperor of Mexico. Juárez  ran a government in exile in Chihuahua until 1867 when the French were finally defeated and Maximillian executed.

Juárez won election twice after that, once ‘clean’ and later ‘widespread controversy and fraud’. He died of a heart attack at the age of 66 while reading the newspaper at his desk.

The period of his leadership is known in Mexican history as La Reforma del Norte (The Reform of the North), and constituted a liberal political and social revolution with major institutional consequences: the expropriation of church lands, the subordination of the army to civilian control, liquidation of peasant communal land holdings, the separation of church and state in public affairs, and also the almost-complete disenfranchisement of bishops, priests, nuns and lay brothers, codified in the “Juarez Law” or “Ley Juárez”. Wikipedia, Benito Juárez.

His life did overlap Lincoln’s, and parts of their life stories and political agendas have substantial similarity, and reforms worth fighting for, so I guess it’s a viable comparison. But in one way they were quite different, Lincoln being notably tall and lanky, and Juárez ‘peaking’ at only four feet, six inches tall.

UPDATE: I’ve found a way better write-up here: http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/274-mexico-s-lincoln-the-ecstasy-and-agony-of-benito-juarez

The author commented that Lincoln in one sense was lucky to have been ‘martyred’ at the height of his success and thus spared the frustrations and disillusionment of Juárez’s last five years.

I can’t help but try to imagine how the wild and wooly events of Mexico in the 1860s would be described by today’s journalists and commentators. And wonder where the likes of today’s politicians and plutocrats would have found themselves in the 1860 landscape. There’s a bit more analysis of Juárez’s legacy from Wikipedia as a footnote.

While banks are closed today, I don’t think Diá Benito Juárez is a retail shopping extravaganza, at least not here in Guaymas and not at the battery store. I do hope that everyone is making the best of the day!

Sailboat sinks after hitting a whale

Because, on a more somber note, we are also thinking about a friend whose sailboat sank beneath him this week, after he hit a whale in the pre-dawn darkness. In twenty minutes, from his dinghy, he watched his very well-tended pride and joy sink in thousands of feet of water, thirty-odd miles short of Guaymas.

The good news is that the safety net we don’t want to count on but secretly do, consisting of an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and the person or institution it notifies (in this case Canadian authorities and through them the Mexican Navy) – that system worked exactly as it should.

Our friend was safe ashore very quickly. He did have insurance, and had prepared himself well for the voyage by having his ditch bags and liferaft ready in the cockpit. So although he needed to borrow shoes and clothes, he had his paperwork and electronics, etc. And his life. But his floating home is gone forever.

We had plenty of time to contemplate all the above as we came the same way the following night, scanning the darkness for debris, and for a concussed, angry, or dead whale, seeing nothing.

It’s a reminder just how fast a situation can change. With that in mind, let the Mexicans enjoy their holiday, and let us enjoy it too.

Footnote…a bit more about Mexican political history and Juárez’s legacy, from Wikipedia

“*La Reforma represented the triumph of Mexico’s liberal, federalist, anti-clerical, and pro-capitalist forces over the conservative, centralist, corporatist, and theocratic elements that sought to reconstitute a locally-run version of the old colonial system. It replaced a semi-feudal social system with a more market-driven one, but following Juárez’s death, the lack of adequate democratic and institutional stability soon led to a return to centralized autocracy and economic exploitation under the regime of Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato(Porfirist era), in turn, collapsed at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.”

So much, from more than a hundred years ago, sounds so familiar in this description.