i was doing some random browsing in the LIFE image archives when I came across these images titled “Americans Abroad – Chapala, Mexico” photographed by Leonard McCombe. After a bit of digging I discovered they formed part of an article from a 1957 issue of LIFE Magazine called “Yanks Who Don’t Go Home: Expatriates Settle down to Live and Loaf in Mexico“. Rather refreshingly scathing for the 50s, I thought!
A great many Americans abroad are not there to build dams or swing business deal but to live and enjoy it. For these people one favourite country right now is Mexico, where some 40,000 of them find retirement pleasantly cheap and comfortable. In all Mexico no place provides a better balance between cheapness and comfort, civilisation and unspoiled surrounding than the twin towns of Chapala and Ajijic (pronounced half hiccup, half sneeze: Ah… hee.. heek!).
Haha oh my! It gets better:
The bohemians of Ajijic include writers, musicians, painters and dilettantes, divorcees investigating the idea that they have been stuffily brought up and need to express themselves, and a sprinkling of international vagabonds. In guaraches and dungarees, they set up easels in the streets, argue esthetics in the cantinas (drinking joints) and amaze the Mexicans with progressive jazz by night. At their parties they read poems and play guessing games and charades as well as gossip.
But my favourite part:
Incorrigible John Langley, English-born but sometimes a US resident, is a nine fingered violinist who says that he subsists on the insurance money from finger number 10 which he blew off in a hunting accident.
It all sounds like if The Talented Mr Ripley was set in Mexico, with sprinklings of Wes Anderson. The images themselves are very beautiful, so delve into 1950s expat Mexico as seen through the lens of Leonard McCombe…