I can’t believe we’re into September already; as usual the summer has flown by and I’m facing the looming spectre of going back to work and wondering what I did with my time! (Well – I read a lot and amassed more books, amongst other things, so not much changes…) Anyway, I *did* manage to have a lovely day out on Saturday when I popped up to London to meet up with my BFF J. to take in a very special exhibition. Mind you, ‘popped’ is the wrong word – as there were hideous rail replacements, which meant I had to do a train-coach-train kind of journey and what normally takes an hour and a quarter took two… It was also fairly unsettling as not only can I not read on a coach, but I managed to forget my phone! I didn’t mind not having social media and the like, but I felt a bit insecure not being able to call anyone in case of problems; and I was also very cross at not being able to take photographs. Oh well…

c. V&A Museum

Anyway, this is the rather wonderful exhibition that J. and I were off to see. It’s a show that’s garnered a lot of media attention, and basically the story is that when Frida died in 1954, Diego Rivera (her husband) ordered all her things locked away. In 2004, 50 years later, they were opened up and clothing, cosmetics, corsets and all sorts of personal effects were found. The exhibition is drawn from these, with the clothes taking centre position, and this is apparently the first time these objects, intimately connected to Frida, have been seen outside of Mexico. Of course, as Frida-lovers, both J. and I were desperate to see the show, but it was impossible to get tickets for 21st July (when we had our early summer meet up) so I suggested 1st September as a treat before I went back to work. I just wish I’d checked the trains beforehand…

Anyway, J. booked us entry at 10 a.m. and so we rocked up at the V&A promptly. It was busy – a lot of people were queuing for the limited tickets left for the day, so I was very glad J. had booked. And the exhibition was worth any amount of (minor) hassle getting there – it was absolutely stunning! The initial sections of the show had photographs, images and videos which gave an outline of Frida’s life, including some marvellous footage which I’ve seen online of Trotsky with Frida and Diego, as well as some family background. We were gently led through to the first of the costumes, in a display case set up to resemble her painting “The Two Fridas” as well as some of her collection of shawls; and then into the first of the main parts of the exhibition, that of her personal effects.

The display cases were constructed in the shape of four-poster bed frames (modelled on Frida’s own, I believe, a bed that was a central part of much of her life). Spread through these were a most touching and moving collection of items: her comb, her sunglasses, her nail varnish, a variety of plaster and leather corsets and casts which helped to support her during her life; and heartbreakingly, the prosthetic she wore after the amputation of part of her polio-damaged leg towards the end of her life. Seeing these small, personal objects – often decorated by Frida herself – really brings you close to the woman herself, and of course with Frida (who constructed her own self image daily) the person and the art are inseparable.

The final room of the exhibition contained the centrepiece – a huge display case full of Frida-type mannequins wearing her outfits. They were, of course, stunning as she had such a personal sense of style. Both J. and I had our own favourites, and again it was moving to consider how she chose her clothes for the practical reason of covering her corsets, supports and wounded leg, and yet insisted on creating such a beautiful personal style for herself. The room (and indeed the whole exhibition) was enhanced by the wonderful photographs on the surrounding wall which showed Frida wearing the outfits and jewellery on display, and the colour ones were particularly striking – have a look at the postcards I bought (above) for example.

Obviously, I can’t recommend this show highly enough; definitely one of the best put together I’ve seen and I came out of it stunned and a bit emotionally drained. In fact, I  have to say that the culture shock of stepping out of what was a  profound and moving experience into the gift shop was quite alarming; the latter was stuffed to the gills with souvenirs that frankly at best were tangential and superficial, and at worst could be seen as exploitative – a paper dressing doll book with a Barbie-shaped Frida with ‘perfect’ limbs actually struck me as a bit offensive. I suppose organisations have to make money to be able to put on exhibitions, but the commodification of tacky fake flower headdresses sat a bit uncomfortably with me. And if I ever decide to channel my inner Frida I hope I would do it by constructing my own personal items and spin on her style. Hey – that’s a cool idea for a back-to-work look….. ;D

Anyway, after a couple of emotional hours in the company of Frida, we felt in need of sustenance and decided to head off in the direction of the British Library. On our previous visit to the area, when we discovered the lovely Judd Books (more of which later), J. remembered seeing several eateries. Unfortunately, we incorrectly remembered Judd Books as being in Judd Street and ended up at the Brunswick Centre… Fortunately, there was an Itsu which came to our rescue with several vegan options (and I was getting a bit desperate as breakfast had been early because of train-coach-train meaning a very prompt start today). And it would have been rude not to visit Skoob as we were in the area (and we eventually rediscovered Judd Books in the parallel Marchmont Street where there are indeed plenty of eateries!) I was priding myself on having a very restrained day, despite the infinite temptations of both bookshops:

The small book is from Skoob and is another Penguin Modern Poets I didn’t have – two in a week must be good! The Anna Akhmatova book was from Judd and was a no-brainer – it’s by Elaine Feinstein, who translates Tsvetaeva so beautifully, and so I really had to pick it up. And restraining yourself in Judd Books is difficult – they have a *lot* of second-hand stock, but also what I imagine is remaindered stock of US books and there were some wonderful temptations. However, I was priding myself on doing so well and turning to leave when I spotted something that I really could *not* leave behind:

This behemoth of a box of books came out in the USA: a beautiful, three hardback set of Primo Levi’s complete works. I coveted it like mad when it was first issued, but couldn’t justify the £100 upward cost plus postage, especially as I have a lot of  his works already (albeit in different translations). But it’s too long since I read him, and I *did* really covet this set. Well – it was in Judd and I had to stare in disbelief, because it was £17.95. Yes really – £17.95!!! J. looked a little disbelieving when she realised the weight, but as I told her this was not negotiable – I wasn’t going home without it. I had come armed with rucksack this time as we were exchanging books (and I ended up carrying more than J. did!) but this wasn’t going to sit comfortably in there, so the trusty and very sturdy KBR tote bag sprang into action and did the job!

*Definitely* the most useful present Middle Child ever gave me, and I certainly don’t think I could have lugged that set of books round London in any other bag!!!

By this time, our endurance was rather coming to an end so we bused back to Foyles via Tiger in Tottenham Court Road for a welcome browse amongst the poetry and tea in the cafe (whilst taking it in turns to hold/guard Primo) – the Foyles cafe is *such* a lovely place. After that we went out separate ways to negotiate the complexities of the journey home (train-coach-train was *not* fun when loaded with books and surrounded by football fans manspreading everywhere). I’m pleased to report that Primo and I arrived home safely (if exhausted and footsore) and OH seemed surprisingly understanding about the reasons why I had to have this particular box of books (although he did express vague concerns about shelves of books falling on us while we sleep….)

I haven’t been able to put many photos in this post because, dammit, I couldn’t take any and I don’t want to pinch anyone else’s. However, if you have a quick search online you’ll find plenty up there which will give you an idea of what’s in this exhibition. It really is stunning, a kind of once in a lifetime chance to see these items, and it’s running until November. If you get a chance to go I urge you to do so – J. and I certainly had a wonderful day out encountering the presence of Frida Kahlo!

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