I’m standing in Frida Kahlo’s house. Skeletal marionettes hang off the end of a bed, grotesque grinning skulls. Paintings of Diego Rivera, squat tribal statues lining the top of a bookcase stuffed with books and pottery.
A cushion embroidered ‘Desperado Corazon Dormido’: Awaken Sleeping Heart’.
I wander over to her desk, overlooking a blue-walled courtyard with bright purple bougainvillea. It’s a creative laboratory with mortar and pestle, bottles of every shape and size, thick heavy paintbrushes and surgical instruments. Her wheelchair sits to one side.
I’m an apparition — not really here. I’m stuck at home in Australia, wearing pajamas in front of a computer screen, in lock-down.
Out the window is grey and rainy.
Thanks to this guy, I’m on a virtual tour of Mexico on Google Street View. Like the Mighty Boosh: A journey through space and time.
Mexico is a place vivid and wild in my imagination, teeming with bodegas and motorbikes. I’m too scared to go, I assume shortly after you arrive you get bundled into the back of a van by drug-lords after your kidneys.
But as I wander around, swooshing pixels as one scene melts into the next, I’m struck not by the exoticness of Mexico, but the sameness.
I encounter so many familiar scenes. A man on the beach in board shorts stands in deep reverie, eyes closed facing the sun. A lifeguard nearby is putting up a sign, the bright yellow and red uniform universally recognised. A grandma sitting near the shallows as her grandson splashes around. Beach walkers holding shoes in one hand.
I jump from coastline to jungle to desert to city.
There’s a guy selling colourful knick-knacks, Nacho Libre masks and SpongeBob SquarePants balloons on the street. I step into ‘Mojito Room’, a warmly lit bar with succulents bursting from the roof, stools and tables scattered in front of a stage. Behind the bar are rows and rows of Tequila.
I wander the streets packed with ancient architecture, iconic churches with bell towers and crosses plonked on top like a star on a Christmas tree. One building is painted in such dramatic hues of orange, it could be the sunset. There’s a pavilion with stain-glass sky-light twinkling like a multi-faceted opal.
It’s exhilarating. I’m free of the confines of the house. My imagination fills in the blanks, conjuring up sounds and smells.
Early explorers could only dream of this bewitching technology, a click of a button and whoosh you’re standing in ancient Roman ruins.
Alain de Botton writes, ‘the pleasure we find in new places perhaps depends more on the mentality with which we travel than on the destination’.
In my twenties, I traveled as often as possible. My biological clock was screaming: go now!
I gorged on it, took in new experiences greedily, rarely acknowledging the supreme privilege of it all. Hundreds of photos sit taking up space on old computers and cameras. Hardly revisited.
It was always the next thing. The next place.
After I had my daughter a year ago, I felt a pang of loss that travel wouldn’t be part of my life for a time. I came to accept it and channeled my desire to explore into smaller pursuits.
Now we’re all in this isolation boat together (separately), there are posts flying about on things to do in lock-down. Live shows, museum tours, zoom parties, dance classes.
Technology has enabled so much.
I spend so much time exploring Mexico; taking screenshots of my favourite places, writing down details, closely observing people. I wonder if I would have taken this much care in previous trips.
Lock-down is a time to cultivate gratitude; to stop and look around at everything we have and pause the pursuit of gaining more. More stuff, more experiences.
I may never go to Mexico City, but I’ll carry the memories of how this colourful place brightened a dreary day in Australia during a difficult time, and that’s worth more than a plane ticket.
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