by Maggie Van Ostrand
Someone was playing a Spanish radio station full blast in the car next to mine as we stopped at a red light in Hollywood, California. The cacophony of Mariachi brass, not a shy sound, bombarded my ears with alacrity. Before I knew it, there I was, not at Sunset and Vine waiting for the light to change in the year 2003, but back in Ajijic eight years ago.
It was 1995 again, in my beautiful hacienda in San Antonio Tlayacapan on the shores of Lake Chapala. I had decided to have a fiesta to thank everyone in Ajijic and surrounding villages for their warm welcome and enthusiastic friendship during my opinion-forming months in Mexico. The guest list was easy to compose. I just asked everybody I knew.
I turned to my first friends in Ajijic, the Eager Family, owners of the warmly elegant La Nueva Posada. Judy and Morley introduced me to their son, Michael, who managed the hotel at that time, and we sat down together to plan the menu for about 200,000 people.
Left to my own devices, I probably would’ve had scorched scorpion on stale tortillas, with a little cucarachamole on the side. Instead, Lorraine Russo, the Hotel’s inventive chef then and now, immediately removed from my shoulders the burden of menu decisions. She came up with Pico de Gallo, Guacamole con flautas, arroz Mexicana, Frijoles refritos, Chile relleno, pork tamales, Argentinian empanadas, chicken breast in mole, homemade breads, pastry buñuelos topped with fresh fruit and cinnamon creme.
The memory was so vivid, I could smell it in my mind’s nose, as I waited in Hollywood for the traffic light to change. I remembered how cleverly the food was kept warm, mounted in huge copper bowls atop stacked, flaming-hot bricks.
There was no question about hiring help, since Michael Eager supplied all of it, from cooks to bartenders to servers to clean-uppers. He even had a young man (handsome devil he was, too) just to help Iona Kupiec, the oldest living Ajijic resident (who was probably pushing 97), make her way gingerly across the patio to the seat of honor, the seat closest to the bar.
As for entertainment, I accidentally hired Los Flamingos, a quartet romantico. That turned out to be a fortuitous mistake on my part — I had thought they were flamenco, not flamingo, and that we would have Spanish dancing, complete with the clackers and heel stomping that traditionally accompany Jose Greco. But with Los Flamingos, it was even better; the guests did the dancing. Some of them were even vertical at the time.
To accommodate the fantastico Ballet Folklorico de Chapala, Michael just happened to have a hardwood dance floor in the bowels of the Hotel, which was assembled and installed in the garden. You might be asking, “Is there nothing he cannot supply?” No, there isn’t.
Because I am a firm believer in excess, flamingos and folkloricos were simply not enough. So we added Grupo de Tito Ninojoza, Mariachi, plus Banda de Caramela (the local high-school band in which one of my housekeeper’s sons played first clarinet).
In addition, we had an incredible fireworks display by Jose Zuniga, due to which people were recipients of sulphur raindrops as far away as Riberas for the next two months. I was particularly pleased with Sr. Zuniga’s fiery airborn version of the Mexican flag since I had painted the flag on my handmade invitations. At least that was my intention, but I made a mistake. Although I painted the right colors, they were in the wrong order, so people were invited to my Mexican fiesta with a picture of the Iranian flag.
Everything Michael Eager, Lorraine Russo, and their staff did was perfect. Everything the musicians and dancers did was perfect.
Everything the guests did was perfect.
The sole imperfection lay with the hostess. The first act was Banda de Carmela, who so loved to play, I had no choice but to pay them 100 pesos to stop. I do hope I didn’t hurt their feelings, but all the other hired musicians were queuing up, smoking, glowering over their mustaches, and otherwise finding ways to signal that they wanted to make music and they wanted to make it right now. Ahora, Señora!
Guests were far too polite to point out the fluorescent green areas on the grass where the hostess had earlier spray-painted over the brown spots where her dogs relieved themselves each day. Some people said that this sight caused a few guests to guffaw themselves into a state of unconsciousness. Others said their condition was caused by the Mimosa cocktails.
I can only hope that the next time I’m stuck at a light someplace, the man in the car next to mine has his radio tuned to the same station. I could use the vacation.