Sunday, March 13, 2016

I met a traveller from an antique land

I had been having a rough week.  There had been a lot of frustrations with my various projects, and I was facing a bout of isolation and loneliness in my little Antiguan bubble.  Writing is tough work, especially when I wasn't feeling creative but rather just a bit blue and grey. But I was slowly working through it, finding ways to skype past my isolation.

On Saturday, my otherwise empty guesthouse filled up considerably.  Groups of German hikers, and Guatemalan couples began filling up the place.  There was an older English fellow with a long white Gandalf beard and long white hair in a little ponytail-wrapped infinity knot.  We got to chatting, and immediately had much to discuss.

Malcolm was from Britain.  He had been a laborer in Southern France, and in Greece.  He would work for six months in the orange or apple or melon fields so he didn't have to work for six months in eastern Turkey or India.  He had been on the road since 1981.  He was now a birdwatcher, and had been living the last 7 months in Central America.  He had been a bird-watching guide in the highlands of Honduras, and was now traveling through Guatemala.  He lived on his pension, his guide work and savings he had from over the years.

The best way to describe Malcolm was as a "hippy Allen Quartermain."  He reminded me a bit of an alchemist I once met, but he was more earthy--more of a wizard's aura.

It was a fascinating coincidence that he was even at my guesthouse.  He was staying at another guesthouse for four days in Antigua before he headed back to Britain.  But the guesthouse made an error, and did not have room for him on Saturday so they refunded his money that day and he needed to find alternative accommodation for just one night and could return on Sunday for the rest of his stay.  He had been to dozens of places that Saturday morning, unable to find accommodation for the night because Antigua is filled this weekend with people in town for the pre-Semana Sancta processions of cucuruchu--penitents dressed in purple.

We spent the morning chatting about the intricacies of India and Central America.  I took him out for lunch at a hidden cocina spot I knew up the street for some caldo de gallina.  We spent the afternoon further chatting over bowls of hen soup filled with boiled potato, carrot, squash and corn, and sipping Negro Modelo oscuro--dark Mexican beer.

After a trip to the market, we re-grouped on my terrace for a sundowner of Cuba Libtres, with some good Botran 8 year rum he had.  Ice cubes and lime make all the difference.

We spoke of the works of Somerset Maugham and Borges.  Of László Bíró, the Hungarian inventor of the ball-point pen.

He said something to me that really resonated:

"We were the last generation who really believed we could change the world...but it all an illusion."

He spoke of Britain in the 1980s, of being filled with two types: yuppies and self-destroyers.

As dusk faded across the cities, he spoke of white swimming cats of Lake Van.  "One of those special, magical places," he said in describing Lake Van and its boat-ferry that shuttled trains from one end of the lake to the other.   "Epic to man is Lake Van, where the ark came down in Noah and the Epic of Gilgamesh," he commented.  It was sacred space.

We spoke of Zorastrians--fire worshippers, and of the Shelleys.

I met a traveller from an antique land...

We were getting hungry, so I took him through town to an excellent local spot I knew called Rincon Tipico, a giant hall where you can get incredible pollo asado with salads for 30 quetzales.  I had that with ensalada russa--russian potato salad with little green bean shoots.  My chicken was perfectly roasted.  Malcolm had longaniza, squat little Guatemalan sausages with the ensalada russa.  We chatted over the empty plates until we were the last ones left in the restaurant.

We walked out into the bustling night, under an orange sliver moon.  We returned to my balcony, to sip black Moza beer and spoke of the night.

Malcolm talked of working the night shift in the rusty old days in the UK: "If you were on the night shift, you were either stoned, drunk or stupid."

We chatted about moon crazies--luna-tics.  I finally pieced together the etymology.

He spoke of the curious case of Richard Dadd.  It worked in a ditty:
Richard Dadd
went mad
and killed
his father.

He ended up
in Bedlam,
where he 
his paintings.

The Fairyfeller's

The morning continued the general warblings over mint tea.  We chatted of castes of ants, and of wrens, and admired the Jade de Guatamala, the green flowers that looked like mini green birds-of-paradise that dotted the lovely garden.

It is rare that I find such souls I can connect with, especially at a time when I really needed some connection back to the tangle of this world.  

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