LITERALLY LOST: 43

COMPETITION

This excerpt has been taken from a work of travel literature. Readers are invited to tell us: a) where is the action taking place? and b) who is the author? Blackwell's Bookshops will give pounds 30 of book tokens to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, "Independent on Sunday", 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.

If I hadn't been composing a sarcastic account in my head, I doubt that I would have got through the nite. My worries set in on the courtesy bus, when a pink jump suit said: "You guys going to the Cabin Nite? You're gonna have a great time! We went last night, only we didn't have our camcorder, only our flash camera. If we'd known what the entertainment was like, we'd have taken our camcorder. They said we could come back in tonight to film.' I thought: That bad, huh?

I only had with me my flash camera, but I didn't use it. Nor did I think of asking permission to return the following night with a camcorder. Mainly, in fact, I contemplated arranging to pay a second visit with a machine- gun. In a wooden hut, slung with mining helmets and fake-sepia gold-field maps, we were seated at long wooden tables. An inconvenient spare man, I was placed next to a big lady from Maine, who confided that she had once shot a moose. On my other side were two beaming Japanese. We soon discovered that we had not one word of shared language between us.

The performers - who were also the waiters and waitresses - wore gingham and frills. The head girl told us that her name was Fanny. She instructed us that, every time she shouted "D'y'all know what?' we were to scream back: "What, Fanny?' We had a practice. I sullenly mouthed the words soundlessly, like boys whose voices were breaking had been told to do in the second- form end-of-term concert. But the sound which bounced around the hut showed no sign of missing my contribution: "Wh-aaa-t, Fa-aaaa-nnn-eeee?' Even my Japanese neighbours made a brave phonetic stab at it. Some people were taking pictures of their spouses shouting.

Her being called Fanny was, I think, a small subversion inserted by the performers. Although the word is a more junior vulgarity in the States than in Britain, I suspect they had done it for the same reason that one of the performers at similar ancient, traditional, medieval tourist banquets in London usually has the Shakespearian soubriquet of Bottom. If you dreamed of playing Hedda Gabler or Willy Loman, and now you were stuck as performer- server at a traveller's snack-and-act, you too might find it cathartically amusing to have your super-annuated vacationers and Bible-belters yelling "Bottom!" or "Fanny!" every few minutes.

Literally Lost 42: The book was `The Jaguar Smile', by Salman Rushdie. The action took place in Nicaragua. The winner was Margo Magellan of Glasgow.

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