A Dinner Party in the Jungle That Changed My Life
No place was like Luis Felipe’s and Molly’s. Hardly a year went by after my first visit to the jungle without another. Over the years their home on 600 acres of undeveloped land bordered by the sea had become a magnet for friends and Luis Felipe’s clients from all over the world; businessmen and creative types, artists and well-heeled intellectuals. Guests were invited to arrive at mid-afternoon for dinner, and most stayed well past midnight.
Dressed in a flowing skirt or palazzo pants, her hair swept up in a chignon away from her pear-shaped face, her olive-colored skin without need of make-up, Molly was a natural but shy beauty. She greeted guests and set out appetizers in pottery bowls on the patio, but then quickly disappeared into the solitude of her kitchen to finish cooking, which she far preferred to making small talk with strangers. When it was time to eat she would emerge carrying two entrees to the table, one of meat, the other of freshly caught fish. I would help put out the endless array of side dishes, beans. rice and vegetables she had prepared, many of which were traditional Mexican recipes handed down from Luis Felipe’s mother who had been a gifted cook when she was alive.
One night twelve of us were gathered around their enormous wood and marble table in the outdoor dining room, seated under a soaring palapa roof, eating and talking. Green tendrils of bougainvillea stems with pink flowers sneaked through a crack in the skylight, as though the branches had been trained to grow that way. Romantic guitar music played softly in the background. The conversation about politics and art and philosophy flowed easily from Spanish to English to French and back again to English for guests from France, Canada, Spain, the US, and Germany. By 10:00 I was light-headed from the food, the dizzying conversation and the wine when Charles, Luis Felipe’s friend seated to my right, mentioned a house on the property that was for sale. Immediately I felt as if the electricity in my body had just been switched on, and I fairly hummed with an energy I had long since forgotten.
“I didn’t know there were other houses here,” I said, stunned. For all the times I’d visited I’d never seen another building on the property.
“If you follow the dirt path to where it forks, take a right and keep going, you’ll come to a clearing with four houses on it. The first one wasn’t originally a house, it was just a concrete square made to hold the generator that worked the windmill that brought electricity to the property. When the blades of the windmill blew off in a storm a few months later, Luis Felipe ditched the generator, brought electric lines to the property, and turned the storage room into a two-story, three bedroom house. But nobody’s lived in it for seven years. It’s a total wreck. There’s animal scat all over the marble lilving room floor.”
I didn’t care what shape the house was in. The hook was set. Sight unseen, I wanted that house. Luis Felipe's masons would fix it up for me. I would become the woman who owned the house in the jungle with its own story, down the dirt path from Molly. I could visit anytime I wanted and stay as long as I could afford to be away from work. One day I’d retire and move there. Meanwhile I would try out Yucatecan recipes in my own Mexican-tiled kitchen, learn the names of the trees and the animals and the Mayans who lived in the jungle. Warmed by the sun, with the voluptuous scent of flowering trees blooming in my garden, I would need nothing more.
But the jungle had other, more immediate plans for me. As Far As the I Can See is my soon-to-be-published book about the mystery that unfolded when Molly called and asked me to get there right away.