The small tattoo on the inside of my right ankle was supposed to be a reminder of a Polynesian paradise, not a thumbnail of the flesh-eating zombies who walk among us.
Since mid-October, it seems paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and autumn? It has a whole new flavor to it.
This time of year, like no other, ghouls, giblets and gridiron are all mulled together like a bubbling cauldron of stew . Come autumn, we Americans feast on our fright, our food and our football — with no apologies. It’s tradition.
But, this year, as your palate gorges on Candy Corn and Butterfingers, and prepares itself for that inevitble snap decision between white and dark meat, it’s all the McLovins can do to keep their Cheerios down.
This household’s lost appetites didn’t arrive with the food-borne illnesses of late summer, of August’s ground turkey salmonella and September’s cantaloupe listeria. Our will to eat was lost in a single news item about the south Pacific island where, 18 years ago, a budding romance soared to a new level — the marriage proposal.
“Massive hunt for cannibal suspect, local guide Henri Haiti,” came the next.
“What was that guide’s name who drove you across Nuku Hiva?” McLovin asked.
McLovin was the guy who sailed 2800 miles from Morro Bay to the Marquesas Islands on a 30-foot sloop with two Brits from South Africa and a longtime friend from the states. I was the lovestruck girl who boarded three planes, a motionless ferry and a Jeep to get to the southeast shore of Nuku Hiva to await my boyfriend’s unlikely arrival. In the vast south Pacific Ocean, Nuku Hiva is the first landfall for yachties sailing west from California. The biggest fear is missing the Marquesas Islands altogther.
I never caught the name of the tattoed Marquesan guide, but he drove me and two local men by Jeep through drenching rain from Nuku Hiva’s remote airport over steep, slippery slopes covered with suffocating lush green vegetation on a narrow mud road to the Keikahanui Inn on the other side of the island. The ferry had been canceled because of rain. By strange coincidence, McLovin and I arrived at the inn at the same time.
Before the “cannibal incident,” a plan of returning to the island of Nuku Hiva was on our serious list of travel destinations someday.
Nuku Hiva is an island where days are warmed by a south Pacific breeze and night falls under the Southern Cross, where grapefruit needs no sprinkles of sugar, where a warm baguette and a Coka-Cola warrant a long, lazy walk into Taiohae village — where, from behind a bungalow in a maze of small alleys, you can have a ukelele intricately carved and strung before your very eyes. It is an island where locals live quietly, except for the festival that might sprout up in early July. Then, waiting to greet visiting dignitaries, children line the main road wearing skirts, garlands and headdresses of lucious green and yellow foliage of their tropical paradise. Drums, dancing and singing thunder through a village that hours before lay sleeping.
For the McLovins, it seems impossible to reconcile such paradise with the unthinkable practice of cannibalism, a practice said to have died over a century ago. Very little internet digging unearths Nuku Hiva’s ancient practice of cannibalism — first, the breaking of a victims kneecaps so they cannot run, then their arms, so they cannot fight, then the dangling of live entrees from trees until the next meal.
And while much of what happened to the German yachtsman has been fueled by tabloid speculation, his dismembered remains were found in a campfire in the remote valley where the guide had taken him to hunt goats.
But, as you behold Uncle Fester this Thanksgiving, licking his thumbs while gnawing on a turkey leg, is it much less appetizing?
And, after Jeffrey Dahmer’s palatial cravings went 13 years undetected, can we honestly say we have no zombies walking among us?
Nuku Hiva is the island where an ink drawing on the body was given its own word — tatau, or as we English speakers call it, tattoo.
My tatau has faded and, with this broken memory, can only return to Nuku Hiva for fixing. And, this Thanksgiving when asked, I’ll vehemently answer, “Dark meat, please, with gravy.