Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mr Canute

It used to be that Doug reminded people of Crocodile Dundee, at least while he was wearing his straw Shady Brady. After maybe 10 years of regular use, that hat is decorating the head of a mule somewhere, perhaps. Doug's current brimmed hat has mesh crown sides and a tight stitched cloth brim. Maybe that's why he now looks like a man known in Bonaccatown, Guanaja, Bay Islands, as Mr. Canute.

His real name was Mr. Norman Knudsen, and we learned more about him from a pair of men sitting in plastic chairs in front of a hardware store on the main sidewalk/drag. "Hello, Mr. Canute", they said. "Good day" replied Doug, not sure what they had said or (in the Bay Islands it's a reasonable question) which language they were speaking. "Mr. Canute?"

They said that Mr Canute built a house out behind Dunbar Rock. He was an American from New Orleans, who had come to Guanaja for many years, and he liked white bread and beer. Turns out that Doug even walks down the street like Mr.Canute. "The younger Mr. Canute, of course."
On the other side of the bay, in the little German bar behind the containers on the beach, I started to tell this story by mentioning Mr. Canute, and the first thing the German and a local customer said was "As soon as I saw him coming in the door, I thought that was Mr. Canute."

Unfortunately, at least for the real Mr. Canute, he's dead. His wife or daughter still comes down to the house, but isn't there now. Still, it's interesting, especially in such a small place, to be mistaken for a popular, or at least known, character. Makes me wonder how often it happens unbeknownst to us, and how Mr. Canute would feel about his white-bread-and-beer legacy. At least he's fondly remembered.

Or so I thought. Next night, at a party, someone asked me if I was with the man who looked like Mr. Canute. Yes, I am, I said. What can you tell me about him?
Oh he was a real pirate.
Do tell, I said, come sit with me.
My informant was an inebriated German, so he submitted to my grilling about the life and times of Mr. Canute.
'Maybe it was in the 1960s when Mr. Canute came to Guanaja. At that time you could stake out land for cattle-grazing simply by driving stakes in the ground and registering it with the municipality. Nobody cared what you did. You could buy acres and acres for $500. Mr. Canute took lots of land. Then he started selling the land. The buyers started having problems with the papers, but Mr. Canute had the money. But all this it is okay with the locals, because they are pirates too!"
UPDATE: another story about Mr. Canute, told to me by a diver who's been here since the 1970s. "Mr Canute was one of the early sat(uration) divers on the oil rigs. There were a couple of them around here back then, and one day I heard a conversation between two of them. He said "I met you at a bouray in New Orleans a couple years ago. In fact, I'm the one who won your Cadillac in that poker game."
For an update about the dangers of containers, as mentioned in the Kersti post of ?Dec. 1, check this link:

1 comment:

Krystall said...

I'm actually his granddaughter. My email is email me. I'd love to talk to you.