Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book 125, Turks & Caicos Islands: "Food Plane Soup" by Ron-Luc Nickell

Once again, I've eschewed a domestically-written book: Charles Palmer's Living in the Turks & Caicos Islands: From Conchs [sic] to the Florida Lottery. Hard to access, and most indicators suggest that it's written very badly.

In its place, I've downloaded something from the Amazon Kindle shop: a memoir by a Texan guy who spent three months on the island in 2001. Sounds spurious? Perhaps so, but it's more than decent reading.

It's not unlike my own soon-to-be-published university memoir, Diary of a Stone Monkey. It's made up of a series of letters by a young Austin computer programmer who got retrenched in 2001, and ended up offering to be an assistant to a friend's retired dad on Grand Turk.

Nickell ended up staying on the island for three months. Rather than writing back about the pleasures of tropical living, he found himself gripped by culture shock. He was lonely, and hated the litter-filled streets and the noisy children and the bars and aerobics classes that played nothing but bad Jamaican remixes of 1980s American soft rock. He even got sick of the food - of course there was conch and coconut, but almost everything else had to be flown in on special market days, hence the title: food plane soup is the soup you make on the day the food plane arrives.

What makes this more than just a bag of whines is Nickell's writing style: a former film major, he's endlessly eloquent (and a little hysterical to the point of surrealism) in his acerbic descriptions of the world around him, And not in a neo-colonial way, either - he mocks himself, racked by flu and food poisoning and isolation, as much as he does the bad taste of Cockburn Town. And when 9/11 happens while he's off course, he's flabbergasted and disgusted at the US's draconian response (which would only get worse, over the course of the 2000s). Feels the tension in the air at immigration, when he finally checks back into the US, Greyhounding his way back home.

I'm still working on essays, so won't say much else. Brief and niche, but not a bad read at all, I'd say. His profile on Google+ suggests he's decent-looking, too, in a weird ageing hipster way.

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Representative quote: My oft-lamented misgivings concerning the state of Caribbean Popular Music continue to amaze and confound me. In a revelation that surprises even me, I've found that the Cher song doesn't even come close to the aneurysm-invoking potential of the ubiquitous "If Loving You Is Wrong" remake. In fact, I find that I will happily take ten of the Cher songs over one listen of this never-ending travesty. And here's why: the Cher song is only played at the rec center. I cannot, however, escape the latter monstrosity. It's as if my ears have been forced open with clamps and granny's hearing aid megaphones jammed into each canal, whereby I'm subjected to a sort of Ludwig van/ultraviolence sensory onslaught and sent staggering out into the streets with the appearance of a ram that sleepily put his horns on backward one morning. The song oozes and slithers from every window, doorway, car stereo and bar loudspeaker on the island, seeping into my every pore and distressing the jangling nerve endings of my largest organ. Indeed, I am the unwitting victim in a "Conchwork Orange" nightmare. In my peripheral vision I spy a horse by the side of the road. Is she merely involved in the mastication of grass, or do I swear I see her mouthing along with the words? Suddenly, I get the distinct feeling I may snuff it.

Next book: Wendy Coakley-Thompson's Triptych, from the Bahamas.

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