When we get closer to Queretaro it is clear that it is a big industrial centre: large factories and sprawling dirty looking streets full of smaller workshops and businesses appear along the route. Closer to the city a modern American-style commercial centre, with Wal-Mart, Sears and big Mexican chains, line the road that runs along the city centre towards the Central de Buses. The taxi brings me for a fixed price to the city centre that also looks dirty and busy and generally unappealing, as does my hotel on the Jardin Zenea. I consider my options, but it has the basics I need, so I decide to stick it out for the two nights I will stay here.
When I come back from dropping off my laundry, I happen to walk past the Regional Museum (on my list for tomorrow) and note the sign that says it will be closed for renovations as of tomorrow, so I pop in, only to find out that beyond one room of well displayed Pre-Colombian it is closed already anyway.
The first impression I had of the city centre proves entirely wrong when I walk around the city centre later that evening. The pedestrianised streets leading up to the Plaza de Armas and the square itself are quite nice and lively with people and music this Saturday night. From the square walking tours start that tell you about the stories connected to buildings and places in the centre. In a typical Mexican restaurant I try Pozole, a semi-spicy soup filled with beans and pork, and I survive.
Old convents make for ideal museums and Queretaro has several. The old Capuchin Convent houses both the modern art museum and, next door, the Museo de la Restauracion de la Republica. This is the convent where Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg was held while being tried in the Teatro de Republica, a few blocks down and from where he was taken, with two of his generals, to be executed in 1867 by firing squad, at only 35 years old. Napoleon III did not intervene on his own, initially also Britain and Spain sent troops and occupied Veracruz in response to Benito Juarez' decision to halt payment on Mexico's crippling foreign debt after the Mexican War of the Reform. However, Napoleon III was the only one to continue after Benito had promised to resume payments again. The Mexican conservatives having lost the war against the liberals for which Benito was the President, saw a new chance and offered the emperorship of Mexico to the Habsburgs and that's how Maximilian found himself in Mexico. Maximilian turned out to be much more liberal than his conservative backers liked and after the French withdrew because of the growing threat of a war with Prussia, Maximilian found himself with only a handful of troops when he made his last stand in Queretaro.
The Museo de Arte, in the former Augustinian Convent, has interesting collections of Pre-Colombian art, Spanish colonial mannerist paintings and catholic religious objects including some beautiful polychrome relic receptacles, but the real and unexpected gem is another chapter in the Diego and Frida story. If the Casa de Diego Rivera in Guanajuato was about the Diego side of the story, the "Heart of Frida Exhibition" is from a very personal Frida perspective. Some fifty years after her death a small wooden inlaid box surfaced containing 27 notes, 8 letters, 2 postcards, some drawings and some other objects, all very personal and intimate. On the outside of the box it said F.K. and hand painted on the inside of the lid "Coyoacan, Frida Kahlo, 1950". The affidavit testifying to the authenticity of the contents, given by Arturo Bustos, a former student of hers and now a well known Mexican painter in his own right, dates from 2006. The notes are very well presented, blown up photocopies over the case with the originals, complemented with a Spanish and English rendering of the text and some with additional comments to clarify connotations of the wording she used (no photographs allowed and the guards are keeping a close eye so I can only manage two).
One of the postcards, written in Paris, shows a gargoyle of the Notre Dame, the gargoyle reminds her of Diego and she writes about him to her first love, but never sends the card. There are also 6 drawings on the back of discarded lottery tickets and yellow scrap pad paper, one of herself as a butterfly. The notes are on the same yellow scrap paper and show her private thoughts (read Diego the Lion) about her relationship with her lying, cheating and babbling Diego, who nobody believes anymore, but for whose love she still craves. Some are very intimate and on her sexuality and others again on her political beliefs. They were written between 1950 and 1954, the year she died, and some notes lament her suffering body, the agonising pain she suffers from her crushed spine, the leg that is now entirely useless, the butterfly wings with which she used to escape the earth are gone now and worst of all, there is nobody anymore to love...