Travel Piece

At the Frida Kahlo Museo, Playa del Carmen

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She was dying her whole life. —Andrés Henestrosa

A day spent chasing our equilibrium, driving into this new city unsure of where to go, who gives way to whom; a half hour search and the rental squeezed into a space a foot larger than the car; everything loaded into the trunk, we make our way to the strip, slipping into the tidal pull of bodies, the cacophony of the city flowing over us. Avery disappears through a curtain of blaring hip hop; Ali’s in search of a jewelry shop. I order a lunchtime beer, watch the sewage truck suck up its week full of slag and muck; it blasts an airplane roar, a dirge note in my brain. When it finally quits, I can hear chimes from a second story, a pair of birds up in a tree, and the whistle of a young man on his bike calling a friend forward. Ali returns with news of a museum just few blocks up; Avery wants to find the vape store passed on the way in, hoping to buy a glass bong that will surely break on the trip home. Like a dog watcher stretched opposite directions by stubborn noses, I stay floating in the middle—needing out of this searing sun—before making my way to little side-street museo. It takes a moment to focus on the wall up front, a life-size image of Frida staring out, one of her early self-portraits with monkey. And a few more to realize this show is homage dressed up in the garb of natural history. Which feels perfect for Frida. The story of a heroic life—a little Joan of Arc, a dash of Warhol chic, and a whole lot of duende. Still, it’s hard to settle into the flow, not with Avery out floating in among the bad-things-happen possibilities, looking to score weed on 4/20, desperate for adventure not sanctioned by the tourist board. Even when he shows up in the lobby armchair, hunched over phone, all teenage smolder, I struggle to slow down and just look, drifting through the exhibit—checking in with Avery, checking with Ali. The best I can do is take snapshots of the captions and look at the posters of the later paintings. It’s when I come upon the tragic accident that almost kills Frida that I wake up out of my stupor. The text on the wall, Many have said that her accident was fatal, but she didn’t die because her destiny was to survive, and thus endure an ordeal of pain. Which would sound like a load of bullshit if not for my own accident and its shadow fatality, my own survival and the attendant pain that comes along for the ride. I know—my body knows—exactly what the curators are getting at. The caption tells of young Frida being javelined by a metal pole while sitting in a trolley car, pinned to the ground. Like colliding head-on with another car, or being struck by lightning, as I am now, here in this cool aquarium. Her words: The crash thrust us forward and the handrail went through me like a stake through a bull.