A single metal chair stands askew by the staircase opposite the front door. Apart from this the room is empty. It is what Londoners would call a mews house, but despite this the entrance hall is quite large, with an elegant black and white tiled marble floor.
Between the picture rail and the ceiling, the owner, a theatre director, has had portraits of his artist friends painted naked in positions that rather awkwardly recall the Sistine chapel. Each one clasps the instrument of their muse, such as a book or a video camera, as they fly around the room through minimal drapery, delicately rendered in grey and green acrylic.
During our stay in Mexico City we will be visiting a number of possible contributors to a proposed festival of Mexican arts and culture in London. There will also be a photography exhibition featuring portraits of the participants, for which we will need to recce a number of locations for the shoots, such as Churubuscu film studios and Frida Kahlo’s garden.
However, our first visit is to Sabina Berman, one of Mexico’s best known playwrights and a well known cultural figure in the city. She has been asked to put one of her plays into the imagined festival and today the director is visiting to discuss the play, which is about Molière. The flat is a comfortable jumble of books and sculpture.
The festival’s producer, whose name is Carmen, starts the proceedings: First of all I want to say how happy we are that one of your plays is going to be in the festival – we’re very excited. However, I should tell you that the board has got one or two minor reservations about the choice of play…
What kind of reservations?
Well, it’s just that it’s a festival of UK/Mexican culture and the play is about Molière
What difference could that possibly make?
Well, I think they were hoping for something more… Mexican
It is Mexican. I have Mexican passport – It’s a play written by a Mexican in Mexico
Yes, that’s true – but it’s about a Frenchman
Yes, it is. Shakespeare wrote plays about Danes and Venetians and yet you never tire of reminding us how English he is
…you’re right, of course
Yes I am
Perhaps I should go back to the Board and get them to see sense over this
No – don’t worry, I’m thinking of writing something else
… something especially for the festival…
Really? that would be a real coup for us – can I ask what it would be about?
It would be about predjudice
We leave things with the theatre component of the festival looking a little fragile. On the route back into town we drive along an elevated section of the ring road, passing through sections of metal ribs which look like they might belong to the skeleton of a giant metal armadillo.
Carmen points up through the sunroof of the VW beetle. A huge flagpole bearing the national flag, which must be fully 30 metres along its longest side, flaps menacingly nearby, the noise from the car engines strobing through the metal supports of the flyover.
When it got windy the flags used to flick the cars off the road, she shouts through the traffic noise, trying to control her hair in the sun and wind, – so they built those cages.
When we get to Frida Kahlos House all is still and quiet. The garden, in which the painter once strolled with Leon Trotsky, is surrounded by a wall painted a deep violet blue, the strong afternoon light creating an intensity of colour that would defy any attempt at representation. In front of it, orange and pink poppies vibrate on hairy, convoluted stalks.