Mars for Beginners, Part Two

 

You know, I would have loved to call these entries “Martian Chronicles”, because that’s what they are, dammit, but some guy got there first. Cheers, Ray.

 

We spent just over a week on Mars and, on balance, I can say it was an interesting experience but I don’t think I’ll ever bother going back there and neither do I think Mars will ever take off as a tourist destination. Once you’ve seen the canals, there is really very little else to “go and visit”. There are a few decent hotels, with swimming pools and all that, bars, night clubs, restaurants, etc., but Martians’ idea of entertainment is, shall we say, somewhat limited. The most interesting thing for me was just to sit and talk to the locals and let them tell me about a place I had no idea about. I learned heaps of stuff but I got the impression sometimes that the Martians were having me on, telling me very tall tales which I had no way of verifying.

 

So if there are any parts of what I write that you think are completely false, you may be right, I don’t know, I am just telling you what I was told.

 

I should point out at this stage that there are two main languages on Mars – Ekobeko and Uzifuzi. These correspond to the two main ethnic groups, of the same names. Apparently, these “tribes” used to be at war practically all the time, but nowadays they’re a bit more civilised. I got the impression that the Ekobeko consider the Uzifuzi to be backward provincials, and the Uzifuzi see the Ekobeko as arrogant centralists. To get round the fact that both languages are mutually incomprehensible, Martians declared English as their official language in 1972, when they were sure that a NASA space ship was about to land and they would become an American colony. (They didn’t see this as any great threat – Martians were never going to put up much of a fight, as their constitution forbids an army – and they were quite prepared to kiss the star-spangled banner or, indeed, the hammer and sickle if the Russians got there first. You still find some old Martians who speak Russian.)

 

I was amazed that Martians speak English so well. This is due to the fact that they watch the BBC practically round the clock since they are born. There is no Martian TV apart from News bulletins. All schooling for Martian kids is in English, and in fact there is a backlash now mainly from Uzifuzi nationalists who insist on a bilingual education, lest the new generations should forget their mother tongue. Most young Martians use English to each other; you hear both Ekobeko and Uzifuzi being spoken but everybody is quite happy to switch to English when in the presence of a visitor. Most of the visitors to Mars are from a place called Yoryhna, which I could never make out – they showed me it on a map of the galaxy but it made no sense to me. They get some tourists from Earth, too, mainly Chinese businessmen and American hippies, but they don’t seem to mix with the natives at all. I asked if there were any mixed marriages, and that made the Martians roar with laughter, because there was something I didn’t realise for a few days: all Martians are hermaphrodites.

 

The whole idea of sex to a Martian is completely foreign. They can all have babies and they have no concept of sexual attraction. They have friends, families and even love, but their lives are totally eros-free. The fact that Sheen and I were opposite gender twins was intriguing to them and they kept mixing us up.

 

One thing I was particularly interested to learn about was Martian music, and I got a big shock to discover that Brazilian music is so popular. All nightclubs and discos seemed to play samba, and Martians sort of dance to it, swaying and swirling, sometimes singing along without understanding the words. I translated some of the lyrics of the most famous songs for them, but they weren’t impressed. It’s the music they love, not the words. I was pleased that one of my favourite sambistas, Zeca Baleiro, can be heard all over the place. A waiter told me that Zeca had actually performed on Mars once, but this was denied by everybody else I spoke to. Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso are household names, too.

 

Martian music, at least the little I heard, was vaguely reminiscent of Celtic music. I was assured that bagpipes are a Martian invention. I challenged this, but to no avail.

 

I wanted to buy a CD of Martian music, but of course they don’t have CDs. They use a format called Mars Tempo Nine (MT9), a compressed digital format similar to mp3, which was incompatible with anything we had. Apparently, they’re trying to sell this technology to a Korean firm. (Remember, you read it here first!)

 

We went to a concert by Ojihoji Piutyzwa, who was supposed to be one of the greatest Martian singers, but we were a bit disappointed that he (or she) sang in playback, and sounded suspiciously identical to Gal Costa.

 

Martian food is dreadful. Honestly, it is rubbish. It consists mainly of watery soups and broths, practically transparent, with some biscuity things called rtaff, a bit similar to those Japanese rice crackers that taste of seaweed. Sheen and I lost several kilos on Mars, thanks to the vile diet imposed on us. Fortunately, we’d smuggled some chorizo de Cantimpalos in our luggage, and I was able to buy some apples on the black market, otherwise I’m sure we would have starved to death. Foodies, be warned: strike Mars off your holiday list!

 

They do have some interesting drinks, though. One we quite liked was a tea called nicxsx, and there was something called aydr which we were told was “Martian beer”, but it was a far cry from good old Ambar.

 

Probably as a result of their cuisine, all Martians are extremely thin.

 

I have to say they are also very polite and hospitable. “Friendly” is a word I wouldn’t use to describe them, although they smile a lot and like to chat. I found them non-committal, unassuming, passive, and lethargic even to the point of being lazy. They spend a lot of time just wandering around, smiling, idly chatting to each other. They read very little, and show little interest in the outside world.

 

I discovered that Martians hardly ever sleep, and very few of them have houses. They are quite happy to float around all day and night, occasionally drinking some soup, talking to their friends, watching TV which is shown on big public screens all over the planet, listening to samba, etc. I never saw any violence at all, or heard a shout.

 

Martians play no sport at all, and can’t understand how Black and Whites (their way of referring to inhabitants of Earth) can get so worked up about it. I asked if there was any way I could see any of the Beijing Olympics, and they just smiled and shook their heads.  

 

Overall impressions, then: Mars is an interesting place to have a look at, but you will get bored after a few days. The people are polite, but rather dull. You will feel very cut off from home; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means you will have no way of finding out anything at all and you are bound to miss some of those creature comforts you never realised you couldn’t do without. If you want to do the hermit thing, or perhaps just learn the language, maybe it’s the place for you. Otherwise, stock your suitcases with food and books, and enjoy the scenery. I’ve been to worse places.

 

At this point I must confess something terrible. We have no photographs of our time on Mars. Obviously we took dozens but none survived, for reasons which will be revealed in Part Three of our Chronicles.

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