House In The Sun
By Dane Chandos
Book Review by Alice Hathaway
(Ed. Note: This book was the second follow-up to one of the first and still the most popular books ever set at Lakeside. We run this review periodically to introduce newcomers to a charming time of not so long ago.)
Remember chatterbox “Calenderia,” the Mexican cook who scampered around her immaculate kitchen preparing delicious meals, no matter how many guests showed up? And remember “Cayetano, el mozo,” sniveling “Aurora,” the washerwoman, and tobacco-brown “Nieves,” the maid in the Ajijic household of Dane Chandos, author of Village in the Sun and Calendria’s Cookbook?” They’re all back, still coping, gossiping, working overtime at the inn his House in the Sun has become.
There are more characters, including an eccentric German engineer who requires an oven near his cottage for baking his pumpernickel, and a beautiful 19-year-old widow with a 2-year-old son whose loving husband is killed on the plaza by a rampaging bull who got away from the butcher. First published in the 1950’s, when there was not a single real estate office in Ajíjic, the ever-popular books by British author Dane Chandos describe life in Mexico as it was back then. The lakeshore from Chapala to Jocotepec was already changing. Land had been bought away from the Indios by urban Mexicans and foreigners.
This book has more descriptive detail about Mexico than the former one as Chandos sometimes takes his guests on sightseeing trips. They take in the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Zapopan and a canoa trip around the lake. With a professor from the States, he drives to Uruapan and to the still-erupting volcano at Paracutin.
“It was a fantastic sight. As though it were breathing, the volcano gave off resonant explosions, and with every breath there arose a shower of incandescent rocks. The larger ones were hurled out of the crater. The smaller, thrown straight up in the air, fell straight down again, but the volcano’s agitated breath came so short that almost always, before they dropped again into the boiling depths, a new breath caught them, so they bounced up and down like celluloid balls in a shooting gallery.”
Familiarity with Spanish and the writer’s keen ear gives literal translation of the dialogue a fresh, local, and often funny Mexican flair. Cayetano asks, “And I was wondering, senor, if you know where the key is?”
“The English key.”
“Yes, you left it here last night. What do you want it for?”
“To fix the key.”
“To fix what key?”
“The key on the verandah, senor.”
“The key you wanted me to fix on the verandah. I want the English key to fix that key, pues.” We went on like this for some time. In Spanish, apart from the key you use in the door, a wrench is a key, and a faucet is a key, and for some reason an adjustable wrench is called an English key.
“I want the big little English key that arranges itself,” said Cayetano, getting pink in the face and shouting, “in order to collocate on the verandah the little key of water, like you said.”
It is a fun book, a nostalgic look back into this area’s past. Your pesos will be well spent.