There’s always a bit of awkwardness when you walk into a friend’s home for the first time, a tension I find myself defusing by looking for something to compliment, fast. Ooh I like that rug where’d you get it? A home is not just a place, after all. It’s a giant chunk of someone’s life. And one of the richest opportunities to learn more about it. I felt this in a big way last week in the home of renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Frida wasn’t there to show me around her beloved “Casa Azul,” of course. She was born in one of the first rooms you step through and died upstairs in 1954. Still, I saw Frida everywhere. In the photographs and self-portraits hung on the walls, yes. But more playfully in the old glass cosmetics bottles that hold her art supplies in the studio; the shelved books I stooped to identify while trying not to feel rushed by other visitors; the tiny cups she arranged to spell her and her husband’s names on the kitchen wall — “Diego” to one side of the stove; “Frida” to the other.
A display in the garden quotes a friend who swore the couple were never without houseguests. I imagined, reading that, what I would’ve said if Frida in her long Tehuana skirts had invited me here. What I would’ve asked. Then I looked up, looked around, blinked a few times, and gave myself the same invitation I’m now giving you: Appreciate the power of people’s places. Over time, the spaces we’re at home in hold us, and bear witness to who we really are. Want to have a tough conversation to try to understand someone? Welcome curiosity by having that conversation in a space they’ve made their own… and seeing what it shows you.