By Alejandro Grattan-Domingez
(Reprinted by Request)
Prior to settling here in 1987, I had spent the previous 25 years laboring in the vineyards of the American film industry. Hollywood was then (and still is) famous for its colorful characters. However, as I already knew, Hollyweird (as it is known by some blue-nosed observers) had absolutely nothing on our own little corner of Mexico.
I first visited Lakeside in 1963. Back then it was a haven for hippies, one reason being that you could buy LSD in a local drugstore! The Queen of Lakeside was the famous actress Judith Anderson, who once while under the influence, had a chair placed on a barge, and as her anxious acolytes rowed like the slaves in the movie Ben Hur, serenely set forth for the south shore of the lake as majestically as Cleopatra must have appeared as she floated down the Nile.
Then there was Ray Rigby, once one of England’s top screen-writers. Having squandered his fortune, and now reduced to getting by on a pittance of a pension, he wrote in desperation to Margaret Thatcher, then the British PM. The letter purported to come from a “third-party,” and spelled out the depths to which Rigby had fallen. To my jaded eye, the note seemed something right out of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the only thing missing an infant abandoned in a snowdrift. The letter ended by imploring Mrs. Thatcher to either drastically increase Rigby’s pension or at the least grant him an Order of the British Empire. Ray asked that I personally sign the appeal.
Two months later, I received a letter marked “10 Downing Street.” It was from Thatcher’s personal secretary, advising that the PM, touched by the plight of one of Britain’s most illustrious subjects, would personally look into the matter. Six weeks later, Ray received notice from the pension department that “at the personal instigation of the PM herself, we have looked into your folder–and unfortunately find that we have been over-paying you for several years. Hence, we must deduct 25 pounds per month until the short-fall is made up. Sincerely Yours.” A short while later, Ray passed away. I still wonder if the two events were related.
Another Lakeside character was Ian, who often spent hours in the Ajijic plaza drinking wine from a goatskin. I once asked him why he drank so much. Peering at me as if I were a retarded child, he said, “Because when I drink, things look better to me. When I drink a lot, people look better. And when I finally get drunk, even you look a little better.” I never asked my friend another stupid question.
Then there was the gringo who announced that he was going to end his life by walking out into the lake. But a hundred feet into the drink, he became hopelessly entangled in the lirio and what had seemed a tragic suicide attempt instead became a slap-stick routine.
Or the grande dame, (formerly a ballerina in Russia) who at age 80 rented a huge theater to render a farewell performance. The audience stopped counting after she had fallen down for the eighteenth time.
Or the well-known actor who in the company of Ray Rigby was in the habit of crawling from one cantina to another. Once, told that Ray was again “thirsty,” the actor’s wife beseeched me not to tell her husband. She was tired of having them arrive at dawn on her doorstep “yammering like old Walter Brennan.” It seemed both men usually lost their false teeth over the course of an evening, and she was tired of buying her husband new dentures.
Today, Ajijic is much more respectable. But every now and then, I miss the good old days. Which were never really that good—but certainly a lot more colorful.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com