“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.” ― Frida Kahlo
While in New York, I could not pass up the chance to visit the New York Botanic Gardens to visit the Frida Kahlo exhibition…not quite knowing what it was all about but knowing that it was an unmissable event while enjoying my time in New York. So, off we went, my trusty friend Sue and I. We checked in at Grand Central Station, all the while me, staring up at the incredible ceiling, and saying “wow”and “Oh my God” a lot, sort of like a bit of a crazy woman-I mean who does that? I can hear my 15 year old daughter saying “Mum, you are Sooo embarrassing” luckily Sue is much kinder…Anyhoo, found the ticket booth, walked through a small doorway to the platform, where we took the Harlem line to Botanic Gardens stop-right outside the main gate of the gardens, it couldn’t have been easier. The train was clean and they had an actual conductor, remember those guys? He checked tickets, smiled and was a bit like the Fat Controller from Thomas the Engine, portly and efficient with his smart grey uniform and cute peaked hat, as he took our tickets and clicked them ever so swiftly with his little metal clicker and popped them into a little slot behind our seats so presumably everyone on the train then knew that Sue and I had paid.
The gates to the New York Botanic Garden are quite grand and long swathes of cool, verdant green lawn say “Come in…the party is here” we queued for a bit at the ticket counter where one guy told off another guy for trying to jump the queue and after a quiet but earthy exchange one said to the other “so, you’re that guy are you?”. Well as it turns out we followed mister queue jumper for the rest of the day and every time I saw him I couldn’t help hearing those words…so, you’re that guy, are you?…still puzzling as to what “that guy” is, maybe it’s a New York thing.
After our train trip and the entrance queueing we decided that it was time for a bit of a sit down and a bite to eat…so Frida Kahlo is a brilliant artist from Mexico best known for her self portraits and those eyebrows-you know who I’m talking about and the NYBG took this opportunity to shine to the extreme-Boy, do they do things well here. The restaurant was themed Mexican and we sat outside in the alfresco enjoying a sandwich purchased from a sweet cantina and staff dressed in Mexican gear, then a quick explore of the shop again filled to the brim Mexican style complete with stunning potted succulents in Mexican planters -all for sale-alas we could not purchase these.
…time for some plants… so as the sweet sounds of Mexican music played, we headed towards the Ladies Border and the Conservatory, I was absolutely 100% joined in spirit by my dear friend Margy Clema, who lost her battle with cancer not so long ago. Margy was sitting on my shoulder as name after botanical name came into my head as I shared the stunning perennial plant borders with my friend Sue. The salvias and lagerstroemias were in full bloom despite the lateness of the summer season and approaching fall. A superb formal herb garden with showy clipped box hedging filled the air with heady fragrances of rosemary and thyme. Keeping our eye on the prize, we followed the themed signage to the Conservatory…poor Sue had to endure over an hour of more ooohs and ahhhs from me and lots and lots of Kodak moments as we wandered through the re-creation of Frida and Diego Rivera’s private garden complete with all the plants in terracotta pots and brightly coloured garden ephemera and Frida’s painting table set out with paints, brushes and pots of stunning colour as well as a few half drawn sketches, It was truly as if she had just got up to go and pour herself a sneaky tequila before coming back to finish something off. The plants were absolutely spectacular and everywhere, just everywhere, hanging in trees, hanging from the ceiling, in pots, planted in the ground just everywhere-a complete sensory overload and still we had not seen a single painting created by this great artist. For in that moment as I breathe in the fragrance of the biggest gardenia I have ever seen, I close my eyes and I am actually in the Casa Azul in Coyoacán…as Oprah might say a bit of an Ahaa moment…just with plants!
There is a huge program of events associated with the Frida Kahlo experience at the NYBG, this is not just an exhibition but a giant fiesta celebrating this great female artist who comes to life in the gardens, there is live music and dance on the weekends, a film festival, weaving and gourd carving, talks by anthropologist Marta Turok a beautiful poetry walk and then there is the food and the shopping….and now for the art…now there settle down I hear you say it can’t have been that good..well it was! The Library at NYBG is a huge old beautiful white building and is the venue for the artworks and one is allowed to get up close to and study things in great detail-these works are very precious indeed. I loved the sense of whimsy and great thought which is palpable standing there enjoying these pieces. The skill of the curators who have brought this all together is outstanding.
and yes, we did go back to the shop….
and so I say, Thank you Frida, for your art, your writing and your passion for plants and Thank you to the NYBG for making this day so very special….and now come on Sue, we’ve got that train to catch!
Frida Kahlo July 6, 1907-July 13, 1954 still as relevant today as she ever was.
“I tried to drown my sorrow, but the bastards learned how to swim and now I am so overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling” – Frida Kahlo