We are on the plane to Guatemala now after spending a few days in Atlanta as guests of friends that I have not seen for 14 years. Ged and Lynn were fantastic, they looked after us, drove us about (including to the airport at 4 am today) and with frightening powers of recollection revealed all my past misdemeanors to Jane ( thanks guys :-)). It was great to find that despite years living in Switzerland, Germany and now the US they were as warm, friendly, generous and funny as ever. We shall be keeping in touch from here on.
The week before in Lacombe Louisiana had been pretty special too. As already reported we’ve been helpXing at what the owner Tom fervently hopes will soon become a Mayan Indian heritage center. The house and grounds, although more than a bit chaotic and a long way from being finished are strongly influenced by Mayan culture. Diamond and octagonal shapes painted in vivid reds, blues , greens and yellows sit in and around exotic plants, shrubs and a Beautiful cypress tree overhanging a very large pond teeming with fish.
Tom is a driven man, despite having 80 years on the clock and dodgy knees, he has an extraordinary determination about him. His stated goal is to get the centre completed and in business ready for his adopted grandson to take over the reins. This is a tall order, his age, lack of finance and a grandson being stuck in Canada unable to get a US visa are all problems that would have made a lesser man quit long ago. Tom’s life has been a rich one, he served in the navy, trained as an Engineer, worked for NASA on Apollo missions, in film, TV and advertising, unsuccessfully ran for Senate as an independent and has been an active naturalist all his life. He is a warm and generous host, prepared to share his home both with travellers and those who need the space and calm vibe of the place. I sincerely hope that Tom fulfills his ambitions for the heritage centre and Matteo’s visa issue is quickly resolved, it would be only right and propper that he gets to harvest some of the fruit that he has spent so long nurturing.
Michael too is a driven man, a retired army captain who dropped rank to sargent in order to re-enlist following 9-11. Michael comes across as a man of some intellect, 4 graduate degrees and a military academy training combine to make him a compelling speaker. Having served in both Iraq wars, Afghanistan and later as a contractor in Iraq where he was kidnapped and held hostage for 91/2 months, he is a man who understandably carries injuries both psychological and physical . The former (that quite possibly pre-date that trauma) he treats by exhaustive mental activity, the latter he accepts stoically. His raison d’etre is a plan to provide free homes for veterans paid for from the proceeds of a bio fuel production plant to be built in the Caribbean. His clarity of vision, detailed subject knowledge and effortless use of statistics in support of this truly innovative scheme is almost overwhelming. But after a week in his company I found that Michael cut a slightly different figure, at full chat he is almost irrepressible, but at quieter, more reflective times one begins to see a different side, sadly I suspect that the one of the veterans this project is most needed for is actually Michael, he’s a man who must have a mission, needing to be “in the mix” and driving forward at all times for fear of the consequences of stopping. Without this project or something similar to engage with I think he would be more than a bit lost, not a good place for a man carrying his burden.
Last but not least, the third comanchero, Larry, the self proclaimed coon ass swamp hippy. He greeted us at the gate on arrival and immediately won over the two of us with a combination of genuine warmth and rough edged charm. Larry’s appearance (see his photo posted by Jane), complete with heavily strapped knee exactly matched the person within.
Larry has had an “interesting” life, apart from a spell living in Athens Georgia, he has remained within a cottonhead snakes length from the bayou, born and brought up in rural Louisiana. Traditionally this is a very tight knit community where folks look after their own kind and distrust outsiders, an environment where living was tough but at the same time natural resources were plentiful (for those with the knowledge and stomach) giving Larry with a sense of identity that he is enormously proud of. His many stories about living in the swamps, hunting and fishing were fascinating, as were his tales of his colourful life as a third generation decorating contractor, working on the wealthy folks houses, charming them despite their initial reservations on seeing his appearance.
His backstory could fill a book (he dearly wishes for this to happen, along with a TV series!), Larry has proven his party animal credentials, he was (and potentially still is) a heavy drug and alcohol user, is divorced, estranged from his kids and has served time in prison. After his last escapade that resulted in his having a shattered kneecap, homeless and unable to work, he was fortunate to meet Tom, who took him in. Larry does have prejudices that he is open about, some unfathomable bearing mind his avowed belief in God, but his openness and acknowledgment of them makes them almost forgivable. He is at heart a kind and caring person, who just maybe, is now finding a balance in life. I hope so, he’s a rough diamond but a diamond none the less and I can only wish him well. S