He was now so caught up in the colonial atmosphere that he was drinking gin and tonic-something I didn't know he liked. The sun was hot, but there was a breeze; we could hear the shallow water of the reef lapping at the edge of the hotel garden.
Across the bay clouds hovered over Joske's Thumb, which the locals say looks like a man trying to claw his way out of hell. Paul Joske was a German who came to Fiji with the Polynesia Company in 1870. Between 1873 and '75 he operated an unsuccessful sugar mill where Parliament now stands. The mountain was originally called the Devil's Thumb, but after a scandal involving incest and Joske's suicide, the German took Satan's place in the hills.
"That's a Korean fishing boat," Derek said, pointing to a line of surf and the rusty hulk of a boat high out of the water just below the horizon. "The captain drove it up on the reef one night last time I was in Fiji. Full power, drunk as a skunk."
Our drinks were brought not by a vaguely hostile Hindu but, by an uncharacteristically androgynous Fijian wearing a white sulu, green cummerbund, orange shirt, and a hibiscus flower in his hair. The beer and gins were fine, but lunch had confirmed Maugham's opinion: the food was still very bad. For supper we walked the half mile north along Victoria Parade into central Suva.
We were attracted to the Star of India restaurant by a chicken painted on the window with the words SEE ME EVERYWHERE, EAT ME HERE! We entered
through a bamboo curtain, and it took a minute to adjust to the dim glow seeping from paintings of Indian village life done on back-lit plastic panels around the walls. I had a Tandoori chicken, tasty but undercooked. Derek had a chicken curry."I should have remembered not to order this," he said. "I forgot about Fiji butchering-they just lay the chicken out on a slab
and hack it to bits with a cane knife. You get slivers of bone in everything. There's really no need to do it that way."Seated at the next table were two Australians who had apparently made the same mistake. I overheard:
"Wot's this then?"
"Call this chicken? This ain't chicken. Wrong colour for chickenit's a seagull or somethin.' Just give me a good stike anytime, and I'm roight."
Photos (top to bottom) courtesy of Jane Resture, Javier R. Miro de Mesa and Fiji images
Historian, novelist, and essayist Ronald Wright is the award-winning author of
nine books of nonfiction and fiction published in 16 languages and more than 50 countries. Much of his work explores the relationships between past and present, peoples and power, other cultures and our own.
On Fiji Islands, was published in 1983 to critical acclaim. He has graciously allowed Fijiguide.com to serialize his work for your enjoyment. We welcome your comments.
(For more information visit http://www.randomhouse.ca/newface/wright.php)