It’s about 12-degrees out right now and I’m thinking about having sex on the sunny beaches of Cebu in the Philippines.
Not right now.
I’m thinking about 500 years ago.
Regular readers of this blog know how fond I am of accounts of the godforsaken sailors of the age of discovery.
It’s almost unimaginable the hardships these brave souls endured. They took to rinky-dink sailboats in the 16th century to explore a world as distant and unknowing to them as the planet Pluto is to us.
They dealt with utter isolation, disease, and brutal death at the hands of tyrannical captains, violent storms, predatory sea creatures, war-like natives and even shipmates so overwrought with hunger that eating one another was always an option.
Why these grim histories so appeal to me, I do not know.
Perhaps it’s because, as a lonely blogger, I feel a sort of kinship.
I’m all alone in this tiny office for six hours. If it wasn’t for this cellphone, sketchy internet connection and a nearby bar full of convivial inebriates, the isolation would likely drive me insane.
Sometimes I console myself by thinking, hey, at least you’re not on board the Essex, a ship that in 1819 was destroyed by an enraged sperm whale leaving 20 men in three lifeboats where, one by one, they began to consume the next weakest boat mate. Only eight survived.
It puts it all in perspective, not to mention makes me happy I don’t have a cannibalistic office mate blocking my escape to the Happy Hour.
So now I’m reading Laurence Bergreen’s outstanding 2003 book, “Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe.”
And the book delivers. Magellan’s coming across as a messianic despot who from 1519-1521 tortured mutineers, slaughtered perfectly inoffensive natives for petty reasons and drove many of his scurvy-racked crew to death in his quest for spices, riches and new lands to be claimed in the name of Spain’s rapacious King Charles.
Why, besides often illusory riches, would men volunteer for this kind of duty?
Well, one reason is what I used to hear some straying men call “strange.”
Strange in this case were the natives on the tropical paradise of Cebu in the Philippines.
And what was going on with these natives is as strange a sexual practice as I’ve ever heard.
Now, I’m no kid. I’ve been having sex for as long and as often as willing women have let me. I’ve written about deviates for deviates at both Maxim and Playboy magazines. I’ve fathered two children so I know what goes where. And I still enjoy what’s best called meat and potatoes sex with my comely wife.
And meat and potatoes in this case isn’t a metaphor for carnal relations atop the dining room table. It just means basic sex.
It’s good for me and I know it’s good for my wife. She never fails to express her satisfaction by saying, “There, NOW will you re-tile the bathroom floor?”
Still, I’m forever curious about how others get their jollies so I never prudishly turn away. On the contrary, I often press my nose right up against the glass until the steam from my heavy breathing obscures the view.
Then I close my eyes and listen.
What I just read in Bergreen’s book is something I could never imagine and will now never forget.
Anyone ever heard of “palang?”
Don’t worry. I’ll get to it.
First, like any good romance novelist, let me set the scene.
Magellan and his sea-weakened and love-starved men (excepting the many situational homosexuals) rejoiced to land on the palm-lined sandy beaches of Cebu.
A key to the story is just how devoutly religious Magellan and his men were. Part of their mission included converting the many heathens they came across to Christianity.
So when the local natives emerged from the palms, Magellen must have been delighted to see scores of obvious heathens.
The men must have been delighted for other reasons. As described by ship biographer Antonio Pigafetta, the gals were “very beautiful . . . the prince had three quite naked girls dance for us.”
Strict religious principles prevented the men from carnal canoodling with the women, even though the natives practiced what hippies some 447 years later would describe as free love.
Why? No man was allowed to enjoy sex with a non-Christian.
What followed was a series of what could be called drive-thru conversions. Literally, within minutes these beautiful and quite naked women who’d moments before had worshipped things like coconuts were -- hallelujah! -- turned into Christians.
Let the games begin!
But what most fascinated Pigafetta, an Italian who admits to joining in on the fun, wasn’t the babes.
It was the men.
“I very often asked many, both young and old, to see their penis, because I could not credit it,” he wrote.
It was palang or genital stretching.
I’ll let the old Italian describe it:
“The males, large and small, have their penis pierced from one side to the other near the head, with a gold or tin bolt as large as a goose quill. In both ends of the same bolt, some have what resembles a spur, with points upon the ends, others are like the head of a cart nail. In the middle of a bolt is a hole, through which they urinate.”
It reminds me of something I saw in one of those Time-Life videos I once watched for tips on how to repair a leaky sink.
“When the men wish to have communication with their women, the latter themselves take the penis not in the regular way and commence to introduce it into (the female part) with the spur on top first and then the other part. When it is inside, it takes its regular position, and thus the penis always stays inside until it gets soft, for otherwise, it could not be removed.”
Intercourse involving palang lasted as long as a day or even more, Bergreen writes, as the lovers remained locked in an embrace of passion.
I confess I read the above description about five times and still couldn’t exactly wrap my head around what the heck was happening with all that genital hardware.
Pigafetta moralizes that these pleasure-seeking individuals were of a “weak nature,” equating pleasure loving as weakness. Then, of course, he boasts that the women preferred the Spaniards and their unadorned tools.
That may be. He does not, however, report scores of lovesick native woman jumping on board to beg the Europeans lovers take them along.
How Magellan managed to ever wrangle a crew back on board those stinking and rat-infested ships after this auspicious landing is a testament to his historic leadership which, incidentally, came to a bloody conclusion just 10 days later when he and 30 of his crew were slaughtered by a nearby “Make War/Not Love” tribe.
So now as the snows pile up outside, I’m left to wonder if the Cebuan natives and their days and days of lusty coupling had it right. Maybe such exotic additions would please my missus.
In fact, I’m going to ask her if she’d like me to undergo, purely for purposes of her pleasure, the painful and exotic steps necessary for us to bang in palang.
I’ll do anything to keep from having to re-tile that bathroom.