House In The Sun
By Dane Chandos
Book Review by Alice Hathaway
(From the Ojo Archives)
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,” the 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 two-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 1950s, 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 both Mexicans and foreigners.
Down at El Chante, a hamlet long noted for its thieving inhabitants, there had sprung up a colony of weekend houses for the rich of Guadalajara. In Chapala and Ajijic, more houses were built and more foreigners arrived, many of them artists and writers. Motor launches cruised the lake, providing transportation from the railhead to piers at various villages.
Whenever a launch was heard coming down the lake, “Cayetano” rushed down to the beach to see if it was bringing guests to the inn. “For,” said Cayetano, “if I were not there, somebody else would tell the Señors about the posada, and if he did not get a tip from them, then he might ask us for one, or at the worst me, and that would not be good.”
This book has more descriptive detail about Mexico than the former ones as Chandos sometimes takes his guests on sightseeing trips. They take in the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Zapopan and a canoe 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.”
“I don’t understand. To fix what key?”
“The key on the verandah, senor.”
“But I don’t want a key there. Which key?”
“That yes no. 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.”
House in the Sun is the third of the popular Chandos books republished by the Tlayacapan Press in recent years. It became available to the public for the first time at a recent Book Fair sponsored by Oak Hill School, and can be purchased for the Christmas season and thereafter at Portalibros, the Lake Chapala Society, Libros y Revistas in Chapala. It is a fun book, a nostalgic look back into this area’s past. All proceeds go to a scholarship fund for needy children in San Antonio Tlayacapan who wish to continue their education in secundaría and colegio schools. Your 120 pesos will be well spent.