Mexico City: Our Pilgrimage Paths

A psychogeographical (from the Situationist movement) tour of Mexico City exploring the history-charged atmospheres of its landscape.

Calavera, pyramids, cannibals, headless bodies swinging to a narcos tune.

No it’s not the Bardo. It’s the blood-drenched earth of pre-Conquest Mexico forever stamped on the people who occupy it.

That’s my take on Mexico’s fascination with the macabre. It can’t be helped—it grows from the land itself.

It’s what fuels Mexico’s fantastic sense of the monumental and the ability of its arts to work with epic themes and aesthetic excellence.

With things this primal no wonder Surrealists and the Russian Avant Garde were taken with Mexico City.

The psychogeographical pilgrimages we made to our sacred sites on a recent trip to Mexico City (or CDMX as the locals now call it) continually features themes around suffering, violence and bloodletting.

But it’s all good. The city takes on a new resonance when you dig a little deeper. We had a great time. The people we encountered were warm and welcoming—even street toughs I met. It was tranquil.

Aztec blood mingles with that of the Christ in a symbiotic understanding of what Campbell would call “Redeemer” cultures.

This was my second visit to Mexico City in the last five years. The first gave me the general lay of the lay of the land. The second deepened my understanding of the country’s mystique.

In Colonia Coyoacan—about 10 miles from the city center—we visited Frida Kahlo’s home/museo. It’s everything you’ve seen in countless articles over the years except for a “temporary” exhibit that rivaled a set in a B horror film or something by the Mexican director who did The Shape of Water.

It was a surprise as so many other things in this city are—like the Russian influences ( both modern countries date back to 1917) and some of the things we saw in the anthropological museum.

As you can see below:

A cold, sterile white-tiled wall, like something you expect in a morgue–was constructed as a backdrop for the braces—in all their creepy glory—which Frida wore most of her life after being impaled in an accident when she was young.

The story here is Diego Rivera stashed them behind a locked bathroom door, they were discovered, and now the museum shares them with the world.

Then we headed to a place I had long wanted to visit—Leon Trotsky’s home. It was the place he lived when an ax was buried in his head by a Spaniard duped into carrying out the assassination by a KGB agent who hatched the plan in Santa Fe, NM according a book about spies in our area published a few years ago.

Though only blocks away from Frida’s, few took the walk to the home of her one time lover. I wasn’t surprised to find it was located at the edge of the colonia next to a busy highway minus any of the refinement found in the rest of the area.

As a former Communist sympathizer in my youth, I still revere Leon Trotsky for the fact that he epitomizes the classic view of the worker-intellectual. I’m reminded of the Jewish relations of an old girlfriend in Los Angeles who lived by a similar credo back in the late 60s.

Although the grounds of his compound were pleasant—trees, flowers, sunny:

Picture of the author in Trotsky’s garden.

The inside was another story. Unlike the Trotskyites I knew in college and the ANTIFA of today– the house was Spartan. Left as it was when he died—the atmosphere that remains–reminds me of a large jail cell—minus marks of time on the walls or even pictures.

Gray. Austere to my senses. Cold and uninviting. It reveals a man who walked the talk. The only daylight entered through widows high up by the ceiling of the towering walls. Maybe he was trying to recreate the gray skies of the homeland he was exiled from.

The amazing thing to me is although this intellectual for the masses–who mobilized the masses when the Bolsheviks took control after the first and only free election in Russia—he didn’t act like your garden-variety fundamentalist.

He had a great love for art and its romantic associations —seen in his friendship with Diego and Frida. An unusual revolutionary fusion of sensibilities.

The next day we made the obligatory trip to the “pyramids” by which everyone means the Teotihuacan complex about an hour out of the city. Last occupied by the Aztecs–no one knows who actually built the man made mountains of the Sun and Moon and supporting temples.

You have to imagine the complex’s old days– rituals of beating hearts being torn out of sacrificial victims from structures decorated with figures of their sacred animals–because the authorities have removed everything of value. They make some of best examples available for viewing in the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia the magnificent complex of buildings in Chapultepec Park –housing artifacts –even replicas of temples—devoted the various indigenous cultures of pre-colonial Mexico.

Here we saw skeletons of sacrificial victims laid out in dirt—the way they were found at the ancient sites.

And the famous so- called “Calendar” stone of the Aztecs which is actually now known as a sacrificial slab where warriors were ritualistically killed. It’s the most popular place in the museo for Mexicans to take photos of themselves

But the most startling find here was…the cannibals. The museo has a diorama of cannibals feasting on another human being while children play in the background. I’ve never seen anything like this in a regular museum. The details in the depiction blew my mind. It’s both gruesome and fascinating—like a car accident you can’t look away from.

Cannibals feasting.

The final leg of our web of pilgrimage paths took us to 122 Monterey, an apartment building sandwiched between light industry and non-descript buildings in the Colonia Roma area…about a mile from our place in nearby Colonia Condesa.

This is the location of the apartment in which Beat icon William Burroughs—pulled a William Tell performance piece with a pistol and an apple on his wife’s head. It turned catastrophic when he missed. And killed her.

I knew about the incident but never knew where it happened until we found a small note in a guide book someone gave us. None of the Mexican people we spoke with had a clue about it.

The door at 122 Monterey.

When we got there we found no plague. No nothing about what had happened here many decades ago. Just a black door a workman was painting on a building that was for sale. That’s Mexico City.

Dean Balsamo

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