I’ve been to the Leon Totsky Museum in Coyoacan three times. The first was in the summer of 2003, but I came away with just one photo, of his mausoleum, because in those days memory cards for digital cameras were prohibitively expensive, so I packed just 256mbs, on which I had to try to capture as much as possible of a nearly 3 month long backpacking trip across Mexico and the US. I’ve since lost that photo I think. My second visit was in the summer of 2005. I had to return for more snaps. But sadly a few months later my harddrive self destructed and I lost months worth of photos, including the Trotsky shots.
I may have come away with just the one photo in 2003, but I loved the museum and the fact you could walk through his house, left largely as he left it. There is an atmosphere in the place that reeks of history and a sense of occasion, and the story of his few years in Mexico City was almost as dramatic as the story of his life in Russia. Political intrigue was only the start. His affair with Frida Kahlo added some romantic spice, which was followed by a close call with death at the hands of the famous Mexican muralist Siqueiros and his band of gun toting Stalinist assassins. The bullet holes are still very evident in the walls of his bedroom.
Eventually one of Stalin’s hitmen did succeed. With an ice axe, buried into Trotsky’s skull. I’ve looked around the office for blood stains, but it would appear they were cleared up. So the place hasn’t been left exactly as Trotsky left it. He didn’t die immediately either, so one imagines he must have dripped a fair bit of claret around the place. It wasn’t the best of blows, and Señor Leon fought him off, and spat in his face, or so the story goes. But the wound was severe enough, and he died the next day.
I know, I’m reciting history, and I could have simply provided a link to a web site with a fuller, more accurate and perhaps more articulate account of the facts. But that’s the point of this museum. It really urges you to find out more, look into what happened at Number 45, Avenida Viena all those decades ago. Not all that many museums have such an effect on me. It has to be said though, that I love history, and this sort of history in particular. The ancient Greeks were all well and good, and very interesting, but I can relate to Trotsky. We shared the same century, albeit at differing ends of it. We shared the consequences of his Russian Revolution, even if that meant an ice axe in the head for him, whilst I got to watch Protect and Survive adverts run by the government in the 80’s in preparation for nuclear holocaust. And we’ve shared steps across the same creaky wooden floor boards, in a time capsule of a house in Coyoacan, Mexico City.
I don’t think you need to be a communist to appreciate this bit of history – I’ve never leaned much in that direction myself. But Trotsky, formerly known as Lev Davidovich Bronstein, looks such an amiable chap. The sort you’d like to think of as ‘grandpa’. You’d trust him to look after your kids. And even if you don’t think there is such a thing as an ‘agreeable commie’, there are certainly some who were more disagreeable than others. I think the Soviet Union might have been better of with Grandpa Leon at the helm than Uncle Joe, but who can tell for sure? One thing I do know, is that this time, I made sure to take plenty of photos, and back them up on Flickr, before any disaster can strike. Click here to go see them.