Friday, October 08, 2010

El Buró por delante

My first week back from Costa Rica has been one of positive change, not least in the weather here in Antigua.

Firstly we have acquired a new housekeeper in the person of Doña C. She is in fact the resident wachiwoman at one of the bigger properties in the neighbourhood and we've had dealings with in recent months, such as buying herbs, fruit and other stuff direct from her doorway. (Including the impressively large lime in the pic above.)

A couple of weeks ago she came to V and asked if we needed any help at home because she needed to raise a bit of extra cash. We were happy to agree to an occasional arrangement as we'd already had plenty of evidence that Doña C was intelligent, well-trained and of good character (V quickly disposed of all my empty latas when the chatarra van passed in case the fervently evangelical Doña C were to draw the wrong conclusions), and it has actually been fun to have her cheery presence around the place this week.

I'm fortunate not to have any commercial interests in Antigua which frees me up from the need to 'network' with ex-pats and transients. My wife and I are very private people in fact. We don't get out all that much and we don't much care for prolonged invasions of our space. The half dozen or so houses around us are all owned by members of her family and this provides about as much opportunity for sociability in any given week that we can normally take.

Which is one reason we find it a bit tiresome when we need to have an albañil on site and why we haven't generally employed people to help us with the housework. On the one hand, we argue to ourselves, how much mess can the pair of us make? On the other, there are still entire rooms filled with unopened boxes from our original move and every time we cook, we seem to have to juggle food preparation with clearing up from the last time.

Home life has felt like a bit of a rearguard action this invierno, with leaks springing up in unlikely places and a background level of disorder that I now realise has been disordering our ability to be completely positive and organised on other levels. Anyway, Doña C's intermittent presence this week has been a great help and indeed a pleasure, and she in turn has no doubt been pleased to discover that anyone who assisting V with the chore of those boxes tends to go home with at least some of the contents.

The second important development is that a descendent of famed conquistador Bernal Diaz and a member of a clan sometimes (somewhat erroneously) referred to as one of the 'five families', has offered to lend me her private mechanic. This can be chalked up as a lifestyle improvement because the nearest Chrysler dealer is on the outskirts of Guate. And the individual in question is nothing less than an uncannily adept tracker of car parts. Hand him any chunk of rusty metal from under the bonnet and he'll give it a sniff, vanish off to the hueseras, and promptly return with exactly the replacement required.

Lastly, I suppose I feel obliged to mention that this has also been the week when Antigua lost a notorious blogger to the long arm of the FBI, and the local chattering classes were forced to wake up to the fact that people who commit fraud are quite often fascinatingly fraudulent themselves, with regards to friends, acquaintances and even the principles they profess to live by.

I knew several things about 'Don Marco' almost from the moment he started to take occasional pot shots at my blog*.

These were a) that he had ten children b) that he went out of his way to attend Mass in Latin and c) that his real name was not Mark Francis.

I reached my own conclusions about the purpose of his stay in Guatemala, but didn't pursue my curiosity any further online, which might have been revealing of course.

'Mark' added me to his Shelfari contacts list and after perusing his bookshelf I further concluded that he wasn't really from Phoenix AZ, but more probably hailed from one of the original slave states of the south, such was the apparent depth of his interest in reactionary themes in both politics and religion.

Now that he has been arrested and deported it intrigues me how the Chapin grapevine chose to feed me very specific gobbets of information about him....indeed, very specifically the kind which featured prominently on his wanted poster back in TN. It would be ironic indeed if there were well-placed people in Guatemala who knew the truth about Jeffrey Lyn Cassman at least a year ago.

'Don Marco' always seemed a little rattled by our determination not to throw ourselves at the web he'd been spinning around town. One of the few close physical encounters we had — which turned out to be the last — was when he treated us to a rather childish (and pique-ish) demonstration of his machismo by overtaking us in his grey Merc laboriously, noisily and truly unnecessarily one evening **

I have been oddly saddened by Cassman's denouement. In spite of all of his gripes I felt he'd come to appreciate if not respect this country, and knowing how much we two love our life here, the notion that it could be taken away from us at a moment's notice by agents of a distant state is actually disturbing. Jeffrey and I are very different kinds of libertarian; my anti-authoritarian streak is perhaps less pronounced and ultimately more even, largely because I don't have the monkey of absolute truth on my back.

* It was always clear to both Rudy and me that these digs were a form of search engine marketing on the part of GuateLiving. Links to Rudy's site are especially valuable in terms of sucking up to Google's indexation algorithm! Here goes...

** V was not impressed. She long ago decided that this particular gringo was operating close to an edge of one sort or another, and was most likely properly dangerous.


Miss Trudy said...

Interesting post. Yes, we all had our dealings with Mark, even me living in downtown Guate. city. He tried to get me interested in doing business and meeting up for a while, but I am not as gregarious and sociable as he is and haven't been drawn to socialize with people I don't really know. It seems many are shocked, that being so charming, he turned out to be a fraud. But they forget that con men need to be charming in order to spin their webs. I deplored Mark's mean contempt for Guatemala and its people and didn't visit his blog often, but the guy was very likable and I do think he will be greatly missed. I just wonder what his poor wife is going to do stuck here with all those kids, I hope he made some sort of provision for this. Either way, he is not the first nor the last man on the lam to be caught in Latin America. He might have gotten away with it, though, had he kept a much lower profile and gone somewhere with less expats. By the way, what is Selfari?

GC said...

It's a social network for readers.

'Mark's' page included revealing titles such as 'Catholicism for Dummies' and 'The south was Right!'

Nic said...

I'm fascinated to know more about your detective work on Jeffrey. Within five minutes you knew more than people took 18 months and a high-profile arrest to work out.

Clearly those that were friends are still in shock, the acceptance comes later.

Between yourself and Trudy you are the only two that have connected snitches to the case. Incredible how slowly those informants' information took to be processed.

As far as I know this is not the first time someone on the most wanted has laid low in Antigua. Not sure if the handyman that did a runner was one of the top 10 most wanted and if so there's only 3 people it could be.

Anyway, blogger down, Kara & Brad on their way to Cali, Antigua's cyber network taking a big hit in the last week.

Miss Trudy said...

It would be interesting if somebody purchases Mark's blog. It would definitely help the kids and it is very popular, might make good business sense for somebody. The US Embassy keeps informers, and I don't mean CIA, just you know, regular citizens willing to keep them posted on people and events. All embassies do and they are smart to do so. With how Mark carried on, it was just a matter of time. He fits the profile of somebody who believes himself smarter than the rest and that may have driven him to be so visible or else, he just likes to take big risks. Or both. Either way, life goes on in Guate, and in a couple of days he will be yesterday's news. I, personally, wish his family to get over this and get on with their lives the best way possible, specifically for the children. LOVED going through the Sarfari reading list. OMG! Priceless. Well, weekend here, y'all, hope you have a good one. Ta-ta!

Nic said...

There's two problems with purchasing the blog - Jeffrey took a 400Q tab per advert, someone taking that may not want the same deal.

Secondly, why purchase a blog with such an individual voice? Unless there's more ultra religious, conservative expat fathers of 10 in Guate who knows how many stats you'll lose without Mark's voice.

Blogging is an individualistic profession plus there is a scarcity of bloggers in the country that would be interested in it. I'm not saying it won't be sold, I just don't see it as a viable business.

Most embassies clearly keep tabs, depending on their organisation they have wardens per major city that are at least a source of gossip. However, in somewhere like Guate where the flow of people is constant I'm not sure how much the embassies can filter the useful from non-useful, perhaps hence the delay in Jeffrey being captured.

There's already been a night for Jeffrey's family planned, I would assume they would look to return to the US now, perhaps it's worth someone getting in touch with an airline to see if that can be facilitated. Given the circumstances, sadly, it's unlikely they'd want the PR but certainly would be the humanitarian thing to do.

Sonia said...

Like Nic, I am impressed by your sleuthing skills. How did you know his name wasn't Mark?

I think part of what captivates me about this story is my own realization that I fell for his story, but not everyone did. It seems that some people like yourself and Rudy distrusted him from the start; others took his story at face value (although strongly disagreed with him sometimes). I certainly thought it seemed crazy that he dragged his wife and brood of children down to Guate--but it seemed no more crazy than the rest of his story: 10 kids; a wife who accepted her role in the home unquestioningly; his insistence on clinging to his belief in weak governments despite the obvious evidence in the chaos all around him. His crazy story fit into that package.

I agree with Nic that with Mark gone the blog will no longer have its addictive quality, unless the person who takes it over can maintain the controversial posts that keep libs like myself coming back for more punishment. However, even if it is taken over by someone very boring, the archives of the blog will remain interesting/provocative to people who do searches on living in antigua, read a couple posts, and click on an ad.

I am looking forward to a bit of quiet on the blog front because I have spent far too much time in virtual Antigua these past two days. Work and chores have suffered.

Anonymous said...

How did you know his name was not Mark? In my case, I got an email from him signed Mark Lassman, when previously it had been Mark Francis. At the time, it just seemed like he used his middle name sometimes, instead of his last name, though it did make me take a step back.
I'd like to think that maybe he was ready to repent and start a new life here in Guatemala. Repentance is, after all, the main condition for receiving absolution of our sins, for us Catholics.
I feel sorry for the kids, but not so much for the wife. Of course, a machista's wife can only be someone who is willing to obey and believe everything her husband says, almost in an innocent childlike way. The problem is, as a mother, you have to decide according to your values and in your children's best interest. I know a couple of women who are too scared to leave their husbands, even when they know that in the long run, not doing so could be the most dangerous decision of their lives. I hope Mrs. Cassman will find the strength to reconcile herself with her extended family and start a new life, for the sake of her children.