I took two trips in November, one for business, one for pleasure. Spent a week in Mexico City speaking with people from various State Dept. sections and U.S. government agencies at the embassy in preparation for rightsizing U.S. Embassy Mexico City in early 2016. This involves examining present staffing levels and forecasting how they might change in the future given the Embassy’s mission as well as security and cost constraints.
Over the weekend I was able to visit two sites that created a lasting impression when I visited the city’s Chapultapec Park with my family back when I was fifteen years old. The first was Chapultapec Castle, with its ceiling mural of a young cadet plummeting to his death, looking as if he was about to fall on top of viewers looking up. He’s a Niño Héroe who, according to legend, committed suicide by jumping from the top of the castle wrapped in a Mexican flag rather than fall into the hands of the invading U.S. forces in 1847.
The second was the National Museum of Anthropology, one of the great museums of the world, with its collection of stone artifacts from Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage. The Aztec calendar stone was just as huge and amazing as I remembered it.
I was also able to meet up with our delightful toddler-age god-daughter, Livia, and her parents Borchien and Laura, friends from Seoul. Together we visited the home of Frida Kahlo, Mexico’s most famous female artist (she of the unibrow). I learned that she constantly struggled with physical pain from first, surviving polio as a child, and then, a streetcar accident when she was 18 years old where sharp metal perforated her uterus, broke her spine, and crushed her foot.
Talk about making lemonade from lemons: Frida wore long, peasant skirts to hide one leg that was shorter than the other, and started a fashion craze. She prettily decorated the corsets she was forced to wear to support her spine. And when gangrene set in and she had to have a foot amputated, she said, “Who needs feet when you have wings to fly?”
A week later, I went to London to speak at a conference about the Shakespeare Authorship question at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I talked about how time and again, Shakespeare favorably portrayed the Earl of Northumberland’s ancestors, even when his historical sources depicted them negatively. I theorized that Shakespeare liked the current, science-minded Northumberland, nicknamed “the Wizard Earl,” and talked about what the author of the Shakespeare plays and Northumberland had in common. Lastly, I discussed what Northumberland had in common with the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon (mostly nothing) versus what he had in common with other candidates for the authorship of the Shakespeare canon. The speech was very well received.
Most thrilling for me was that some great Shakespearean actors who also question whether the actor from Stratford wrote the Shakespeare works come and support us. Because I asked them to, the following players acted scenes during my talks: Sir Derek Jacobi (archbishop in The King’s Speech, Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac); Mark Rylance (the Russian spy in Bridge of Spies, Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall); Richard Clifford (directed recent production of Mary Stewart at the Folger which I had the pleasure to see, Richard Wattis in My Week with Marilyn); and Annabel Leventon (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Eve Fleming in Ian Fleming: Bondmaker). They were all approachable and down-to-earth. Rylance is currently starring in a production of Farinelli and the King on the West End, written by his wife Claire van Kampen.
I couldn’t see that because it was sold out, but I did see excellent versions of the musicals Billy Elliotand Miss Saigon. Visiting museums, dining with friends, munching on scones and clotted cream with jam and tea, what’s not to love about London? Only the strength of the pound, making things decidedly expensive…whereas in Mexico, the strong dollar made everything seem cheap.