EL OJO DEL LAGO
—In the beginning were the words
By Dale Hoyt Palfrey
(Originally published in September 1994)
In 1984, a new wave of foreign residents descended on the sunny shores of Lake Chapala. Among the new arrivals were June and Cody Summers. Curious to know more about the area, June asked local realtor Richard Tingen where she might find some historical information. “If you want a history in English,” Tingen told her, “you’ll have to write it yourself. And while you’re at it, why don’t you write a newsletter for Chapala Realty?”
In September, 1984, Volume 1, Number 1 of El Ojo del Lago rolled off the presses. A scant eight pages long, it featured the artwork of Angel del Palacio, who also designed the publication’s masthead, and included profiles of two of Lakeside’s most distinguished resident writers: Neill James and D.H. Lawrence.
With Diane Murray acting as Editor, the Summers’ researched and wrote El Ojo del Lago through its first year of publication. “The greatest reward,” says June, “was that it got us into the community fast. We went to all the local events, met people, visited local landmarks, and tried all the restaurants. It gave us a sense of belonging.”
It did the same for the throngs who came in search of the retirement paradise touted in books such as Tom McLaughlin’s The Greatest Escape. Through El Ojo del Lago they learned about “La Rusa” Zara, the Ratays, Helen Kiffland Manwell, Betty Kuzell and other colorful foreign pioneers. They were introduced to the area’s many talented artists. They got a crash course in Mexican history, culture and traditions. June gathered such an abundance of material that she was soon able to write her history, aptly titled Villages in the Sun.
In the decade since El Ojo del Lago first appeared, the area has undergone tremendous changes. In 1984 the Chapala-Guadalajara highway consisted of two unmarked lanes to the airport, and four lanes from there into the city. Chapala’s Avenida Madero was surfaced with dusty, crumbling tarmac, not today’s tidy paving stones. Power failures were frequent, and a two to three year wait for a new telephone was the norm. No one shopped on the strip at San Antonio—there were no shops. No Hamburger Helper, no Sara Lee, no Häagen-Dazs.
The Lake Chapala Society had just relocated its headquarters from Chapala to Ajijic. Lakeside Little Theatre was presenting plays on a tiny, improvised stage at the Chula Vista Clubhouse. The only place to go for a night on the town was the Posada Ajijic. And the newest trend in home entertainment was the Betamax.
As the Lakeside area has grown and changed, so has El Ojo del Lago. No longer an in-house organ for Chapala Realty, it has evolved into an eclectic journal with wide readership appeal, its content clearly reflecting the community’s unique cultural blend.
Significant modifications were introduced in 1988, the year Tod Jonson and Joyce Vath took charge of the editorial staff. They brought in new writers and added more pages. They enlarged the format to accommodate advertisers eager to reach the area’s English-speaking residents.
According to Richard Tingen, who remains as the periodical’s publisher, their greatest contribution was the creation of the annual El Ojo del Lago Awards. “Tod saw the necessity of recognizing people who selflessly give time and effort for the benefit of the community. He is still the brains and brawn behind the awards. Few people appreciate the extent of his work and dedication.”
El Ojo del Lago welcomed Rosamaría Casas as its new Editor in May, 1992. After retiring from the Mexican Foreign Service, she was delighted when the State of Jalisco awarded her the 1991 National Short Story Prize for her book Amor de Mentiras, a collection of 14 narratives. Eager to take up writing fulltime, she fled Mexico City for the serene north shore of Lake Chapala. She promptly joined the Ajijic Writers’ Group, seeking ideas and manuscripts from fellow members. The greatest dividend of her career as an editor, she says, has been “meeting so many wonderful writers.”
She is proud to have provided a valuable forum for local wordsmiths, and notes a few of the publication’s recent accomplishments: Jim Tuck’s column Inside Straight was picked up for syndication by Continental News Service of San Diego, CA. Clips from El Ojo del Lago helped Tuck seal the deal. Meanwhile, his book The Holy War in Los Altos is soon to be published in Spanish by the State of Jalisco, thanks to a review printed on these pages. El Ojo del Lago was mentioned in Michael J. Goodman’s September 20, 1992 cover story for Los Angeles Times Magazine, after staff members helped the sportswriter land an interview with the elusive Fernando Valenzuela (Ed. Note: Formerly a phenomenally successful pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers). And last year Casas received a letter from Dr. Dan Hazen, head of the Latin American-Iberian department of the Harvard College Library, praising the quality of El Ojo del Lago, and requesting a complete collection of the publication to be included in the library’s archives.
While long-time residents have witnessed many changes in the community in the decade since El Ojo del Lago commenced publication, they acknowledge that the area’s main attractions are still the same. Chief among these is its glorious weather. We continue living close to nature, and without costly climate control. Property taxes are still inexpensive, as are human services, especially domestic help. Publisher Richard Tingen points out, “Residents enjoy luxuries and comforts here they would never be able to afford in Canada or the States.”
The congeniality of the foreign community is another perennial plus, according to Tingen. “Anyone who settles here is different from the average Joe. You have to have adventure in your veins to come here in the first place,” he observes, adding, “Being a foreigner gives you an immediate common ground with others, so it’s easy to make new friends.” He extends heartfelt thanks to the friendly readers who for ten years have given purpose to the prodigious pursuit of publishing El Ojo del Lago.
(Ed. Note: Following Rosamaria Casas, the next editorial team came in during the latter part of 1994, and continues to this day.)