Excerpt: The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

sexlivesofcannibalsMy friend David, who is living in New Zealand these days, sends this clip from  The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific

I packed thirty-odd discs that I felt could comprehensively meet any likely musical desire…[but] I forgot our CDs in my mother’s garage in Washington, thousands and thousands of miles away…

..I was thinking about these CDs a few months later, when once again I was being driven to the brink of insanity by an ear-shattering, 120-beat-a-minute rendition of “La Macarena,” the only song ever played on Tarawa. It was everywhere. If I was in a minibus, overburdened as always with twentysome people and a dozen fish, hurtling down the road at a heart-stopping speed, the driver was inevitably blasting a beat-enhanced version of “La Macarena” that looped over and over again. If I was drinking with a few of the soccer players who kindly let me demonstrate my mediocrity on the soccer field with them, our piss-up in one of the seedy dives in Betio would occur to the skull-racking jangle of “La Macarena.” If I happened across some teenage boys who had gotten their hands on an old Japanese boom box, they were undoubtedly loitering to a faint and tinny “La Macarena”…

…As I continued to be flailed by “La Macarena,” I took small comfort in the fact that at least no one on Tarawa had ever seen the video, and I was therefore spared the sight of an entire nation spending their days line dancing…

…What finally brought me to the brink was the recent acquisition of a boom box by the family that lived across the road… sometimes for hours at a time, and I would be reduced to an imbecilic state by the endless playing of “La Macarena.” It was hot. My novel—and this is a small understatement—was not going very well. My disposition was not enhanced by “La Macarena.” I wondered if I could simply walk across the road and kindly ask the neighbors to shut the fucking music off… and I asked Tiabo if she thought it was permissible for me to ask the neighbors to turn the music down. “In Kiribati, we don’t do that,” Tiabo [the maid] said. “Why not?” I asked. “I would think that loud noise would bother people.” “This is true. But we don’t ask people to be quiet”…

…As the months went by and “La Macarena” was etched deeper and deeper into my consciousness, I became increasingly despondent that our package of CDs would never arrive. Then, one day the stars aligned, the gods smiled, and as I rummaged among the packages I saw with indescribable happiness my mother’s distinctive handwriting. Oh, the sweet joy of it. I claimed the package, stuffed it my backpack, and biked like the wind.

“Tiabo,” I said, full of glee. “You must help me.” She eyed me suspiciously as I plundered through our box of CDs. “You must tell me which song, in your opinion, do you find to be the most offensive.” “What?” she asked wearily. “I want you to tell me which song is so terrible that the I-Kiribati will cover their ears and beg me to turn it off.” “You are a strange I-Matang.” I popped in the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head. I forwarded it to the song “Gratitude,” which is an abrasive and highly aggressive song. “What do think?” I yelled. “I like it.” Damn. I moved on to Nirvana’s “Lithium.” I was sure that grunge-metal-punk would not find a happy audience on an equatorial atoll. “It’s very good,” Tiabo said. Now I was stumped. I tried a different tack. I inserted Rachmaninoff. “I don’t like this,” Tiabo said.

Now we were getting somewhere. “Okay, Tiabo. How about this?” We listened to a few minutes of La Bohème. Even I felt a little discombobulated listening to an opera on Tarawa. “That’s very bad,” Tiabo said. “Why?” “I-Kiribati people like fast music. This is too slow and the singing is very bad.” “Good, good. How about this?” I played Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. “That’s terrible. Ugh . . . stop it.” Tiabo covered her ears. Bingo. I moved the speakers to the open door.

“What are you doing?” Tiabo asked. I turned up the volume. For ten glorious minutes Tarawa was bathed in the melancholic sounds of Miles Davis. Tiabo stood shocked. Her eyes were closed. Her fingers plugged her ears. I had high hopes that the entire neighborhood was doing likewise. Finally, I turned it off. I listened to the breakers. I heard the rustling of the palm fronds. A pig squealed. But I did not hear “La Macarena.” Victory. “Thank you, Tiabo. That was wonderful.” “You are a very strange I-Matang.”

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