Saturday, January 28, 2012

Scenes from O'ahu: the Countryside (Part Three)

The state flower is the hibiscus--the yellow hibiscus.

It turns out that the Hawaiian islands are the most isolated in the world.  California is 2,390 miles away, Tahiti even farther, Japan 3,850 miles.  You definitely feel in the middle of nowhere, grateful for dry land as the Pacific sweeps around you seemingly forever.  The western half of O'ahu, the leeward or drier side, is the more populated ... the windward is the wetter, lusher.  A spiky mountain range (that's not really so very high) divides the two.  Wanting to see the rural areas--the rain forests, cane fields, fishing villages--I took a circle tour by bus one day.  I was eager to see small-town O'ahu with its ever-present seascapes and abundant greenery.

Leaving Honolulu and approaching the windward side of the island.
A windward seascape.

As for features, except for the Pali Lookout where 18th century warriors had been driven over the jagged cliffs in King Kamehameha's attempt to unify the islands, the history we were shown seemed to center around the film and television industries. Here was the beach bungalow where Tom Selleck lived when he was making Magnum P.I.  Here was where Jurassic Park was filmed.  This was the beach in Elvis's Blue Hawaii ... and this the one where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr had the famous kissing scene in From Here to Eternity
The  From Here to Eternity beach.
The windward side, looking toward Kailua and Kane'ohe.

I love this view of the sharp peaks and craggy cliffs.
I can't identify this vegetation but appreciate its tropical look.
Hawaii's flag is a blending of British and American.  As for the Union Jack in the top corner, King Kamehameha thought it would honor his friendship with Britain.  The stripes (white, red, and blue) denote the eight main islands.
Byodo-In Temple was built (without nails) in 1968 to honor the first Japanese immigrants.  It's a scale replica of a 900-year-old temple in Japan.

After skiddling up the two-lane windward-side coast road (part of it in the rain), we topped the island and turned back to the leeward side where the rain promptly stopped.  This was the North Shore, the hot-shot area with such fabulous surfing beaches as Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline--the latter named for the curl of water the waves create, allowing surfers to sweep along as if inside a pipe.  I looked off, north, realizing that there was nothing between Alaska and me as the Pacific's stormy swells accumulated, swept down, and came crashing in, producing some of the world's highest waves.

Sunset Beach--a surfer's paradise on the North Shore.

This North Shore visit took on a personal note.  When I was in college in the '50s, my brother was stationed with the army at Schofield Barracks in the middle of O'ahu--the same that was strafed by the Japanese and that was filmed in From Here to Eternity.  He had a weekend cottage on the northern shore where there was a good beach, he wrote, ti trees, coral.  As it turned out, my parents had scattered and I had no (California) home address.  My college registrar kept saying she needed something for her records.  So my brother offered me his beach address.  There I was (and probably still am) listed in my college records with an Hawaiian address.  I thought it wonderfully exotic.  I never did get there and it was only now, some fifty years later, that I finally saw the area.

I would have liked to have stopped and walked along the beach that bounded that old cottage.  But the bus pulled into the Dole Pineapple Pavilion, instead.  A few Hawaiian fields remain but most of the pineapple production has moved to Central America.  Hawaii's foremost agricultural crop now is GMO corn.  That's right, genetically modified corn.  But because pineapples make better copy than GMO corn, the Dole place--once a large cannery--is now quite the showplace.  Rather like Southern California's still being portrayed as filled with citrus groves, most of the pineapples may be gone, but their cachet lingers on.
The Dole Plantation Pavilion sells pineapple in just about any form you can imagine.
Part of the demo garden.

Before returning to Honolulu, we skirted Schofield Barracks, now an historic district with its art deco, craftsman, and mission-style architecture.  Of course, we didn't stop there either, but I was glad to finally glimpse this spot where my brother was once stationed.

O'ahu, I found, means The Gathering Place.

What Makes January January

Snowplows ever-ready on pickup trucks around town
Mud rooms filled with parkas, scarves, mitts, boots
A black, white, and grey world
Home-made soup steaming up the kitchen

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Scenes from O'ahu: Honolulu (Part Two)

Here is the high-rise part of town taken from the 10-story Aloha Tower which used to be the tallest building ... right where one docked back when one could sail to Hawaii.

This gives a good view of the mountains behind Honolulu ... plus part of the Manoa residential area not far from the University.

When I was there for a few winter weeks in 2010 and 2011 (see last week's posting), I found Honolulu an appealing city.  Writing about his 1866 trip in Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands, Mark Twain said that the houses in Honolulu were made of "straw, adobies, and cream-colored pebble-and-shell-conglomerated coral, cut into oblong blocks and laid in cement; also a great number of neat white cottages, with green window-shutters."  Using coral made for a better air flow.  (Coral was also used for filtering drinking water.)  As for the population, he put it between 12,000 and 15,000.  Today, it's somewhat less than 400,000.  I was intrigued to learn that there is no "majority" population.  The man who told me, a native Hawaiian, said that because of the balance in numbers, everyone in Hawaii was an ethnic minority whether they were Asian (mostly Japanese, Chinese, Philippine), Caucasian, or native islanders.  I liked that.  I liked being part of a cultural mix--and one in which I could still understand the language.

I found the city quite attractive too, all snuggled between the ocean and mountains.  Whereas the higher elevations (which weren't all that high) were often shrouded in cloud or rain, those of us down below were in our sun togs.  Rainbows often popped out during the day ... and are even pictured on Hawaii's license plates. 

Rainbow time.  The particularly excellent Bishop Museum (not pictured here) which highlights various Pacific cultures has a carving with the words, "Rainbows are the gods looking down on the chiefs."

To my mind, the weather was often perfect.  The trade winds kept the days fresh.  And coming from a place where the difference between summer and winter temperatures can reach 110º, I found it exceptional to discover that the average high in July is 82º ... and 72º in January.  Locals did occasionally complain about the "vog," however--the volcanic ash/gas smog that drifted over from ever-erupting Kilauea on Hawaii's Big Island. The trade winds usually kept it away from O'ahu but when the wind shifted and blew up from the south, up from the Big Island, the vog came with it.  You could see the vog (I was told) because the days were not crystal clear.  And you might get a headache.  Personally, I never noticed.

Other than right downtown, Honolulu is what I might call "a low-rise city."  It's filled with bungalows, little apartment buildings, mom-and-pop stores.  There are excellent museums, pretty places to walk, a wonderful variety of Japanese grocery stores, Chinese eateries, public gardens, changing light.

Iolani Palace, the only royal residence in the U.S., once housed Hawaii's last reigning monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani.  It's now beautifully maintained though was almost turned into a parking lot.

The capitol building.  The interior design is said to represent the formation of the volcanic islands.

Chinatown is a viable part of the city.  This building was opened in the 1880's.

This is the Hawaii State Art Museum--opened in 1928 on the site of the original Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  It's modeled after a Florentine palace and housed military personnel during the war.
I took this outside the Honolulu Academy of Arts, a world-class collection of Asian art with a good Western collection as well.  You can get an elegant lunch and glass of wine in its courtyard cafe.

Inside is a particularly beautiful 11th century Chinese painted-wood statue (67" high) of Guanyin which I sketched.

These ever-interesting banyan trees are all over the place.
The Foster Botanical Gardens features a wide variety of trees including this baobab.

Downtown Honolulu has many attractive open spaces.

An especially intriguing spot is Shangri La, once the home of Doris Duke, the philanthropist who lived from 1912-1993.  To my mind, the name Shangri La denotes a Buddhist setting.  But Doris Duke picked it to showcase her exquisite Islamic art collection which fills every room in the house--painted ceilings from Morocco, Iranian tile work, Turkish textiles, lattice window-screens.  And the location is splendid--just next door to Diamond Head with waves splashing up her sea wall.

Here is a particularly beautiful display of Iranian tile work.

Part of the Shangri La property, this "Playhouse" is a modified copy of the Chehel Sutun Palace in Isfahan, Iran.  Diamond Head is on the left.

 Finally, there's the site most people want to see when they visit Honolulu:

Pearl Harbor.  The Arizona Memorial, built over the sunken ship, is to the right.  Apparently, oil still seeps out of the ship.  And the Battleship Missouri, on which the Japanese signed their surrender in 1945, has been brought in and positioned there to the left, thus juxtaposing the beginning and ending of the war. 

Scenes from O'ahu:  the Countryside (Part Three) will be posted next time

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Scenes from O'ahu: Waikiki (Part One)

Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  My guide books says:  "Occupies 10 acres of land in a former coconut grove where Kamehameha V built a summer cottage in the 1870's."  One of Waikiki's two historic hotels.  Opened 1927.

This time last year (and the year before), I was in Honolulu (on O'ahu, Hawaii's most populous island) where I spent some weeks in Waikiki--a place that once supported only fish ponds, taro patches, and rice paddies but, of course, now features high-rise accommodations, surf boards, and convenience stores with shell necklaces, fridge magnets, and macadamia nuts.  Dry-roasted, honey-roasted, chocolate-covered.  This was not really a vacation--though it was obviously a very pleasant place to be.  I thought of it more as "a health stay."  A time to get away from the ice, snow, and debilitating cold that characterize winter in my part of the country.

In picking a destination, I was quite systematic.  I wanted plenty of sunshine but not insufferable heat and humidity as I found in Bali one year.  I wanted a flat enough terrain to get in some good walking since walking around my home territory in winter can be dicey (read "icy") and elicit cold-weather-onset asthma.  Since I'd be on my own, I wanted a big enough population base to provide museums and cultural events.  Plus a good bus system so that I wouldn't have the added expense of renting a car.  Honolulu seemed the answer.  77º weather.  Trade winds.  A top-notch bus system free to seniors after paying an initial $30 for a long-term bus pass.  And an organization where I could (and did) tutor English as a foreign language on an individual basis.  (My students were from South Korea, Taiwan, and the Truk Islands.)

You can walk along here for a good long stretch--Waikiki's Kuhio Beach Park on Kalakaua Avenue.
Evening at Kuhio Beach

Thinking it too touristy, I hadn't actually planned on staying in Waikiki itself but found that the only non-Waikiki hotels were upscale resorts that charged a kazillion dollars a night.  (And Waikiki condos were easier to find.)  Waikiki is, of course, part of Honolulu--the part that borders the beach just near Diamond Head.  Since it's only 2 miles long by maybe a half mile wide, I found I could walk it in a couple of hours.  Or, if I got worn out, I could hop on a bus (free with my pass) and ride the few blocks back to where I was living.
A few of the older hotels remain.
Smack in the middle of Waikiki on Kalakaua Avenue.

I donned straw hat and sunscreen and went on several constitutionals a day.  I explored, took photos, people watched.  Those in Aloha shirts carrying a ukulele were going off to a class.  Those with sandy feet bopped across the street from the beach for a Big Mac.  Not resorting to over-sized T-shirts and cargo shorts, the Japanese male tourists looked trim and neat in clothes that actually fit.  And the Japanese women seemed particularly charming in pretty shoes, belts, filmy fashions, and designer hair cuts or even a simple hair ribbon.

I joined the Waikiki Community Center and took hula classes which I found befuddling but fun.  (Everyone else had been at it for weeks.)  I checked out the latest laptops at the Apple store.  I bought papaya and strawberry non-dairy smoothies at Ruffage.  I got take-out barbecued Korean pork at one of the (mostly Asian) food stalls ... shopped for groceries at the Food Pantry where a half dozen eggs cost $3.09 and tea bags something like $8 a box ... and (besides the take-outs) lived on yogurt, guava juice, rice cakes, nut butter, and bananas. 

I had no luck finding a New Yorker, however.
"Do you sell The New Yorker?"
"The what?"
"The New Yorker."
"The Squire?"
"The New Yorker.  I guess you don't ..."

Statue of Duke Kahanamoku, "Father of Surfing," Kuhio Beach.  (Duke was his first name, not a title.)

The open-air International Market Place occupies a city block.
The stalls there feature anything from this sort of jewelry to funky key chains, candles, and Aloha skirts to wear to your hula dance class.
The Waikiki Aquarium is situated on the beach at Kapiolani Park just below Diamond Head.
And the Honolulu Zoo is just across the street.

And then around 6 p.m.--no hat this time--I liked to walk out my door and head for the beach.  It only took seven minutes to reach the wide-open Pacific where I joined the parade of people at Fort DeRussy Beach Park--all of us there to witness The Big Show.  Some stood out on the sand, looking west, cameras ready.  Some sat on a low wall near one of the outdoor eateries where a singer crooned Time After Time.  Others simply kept up a slow pace.  Then ... as if watching the Mothership coming to take us away, everyone stopped, faced the same direction, and gazed out to sea, mesmerized, as the bright orange ball gradually lowered, touched the horizon, and then slipped away ... gone.  No gloaming here--by the time I got back to my abode, it was night.

Boys catching the waves.
Watching the Mothership at Fort DeRussy Beach Park
Sailboats get their last view and a plane-load of tourists (upper right) say goodbye.

Scenes from O'ahu:  Honolulu (Part Two) will be posted January 21
Scenes from O'ahu:  the Countryside  (Part Three) will be posted January 28

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Best Reads of 2011

I'm always reading something.  Usually, I go to the library and look over the new acquisitions.  Or I check out The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books.  Or I go to the bookstore and prowl around.  Of course, I read my book club's selections.  And sometimes I pull a book off my shelf to re-read.

This past year, I read 56 books.  (Half fiction, half non-fiction.)  Since I'm always looking for a good book, I decided to pick my favorites with the thought that you might want to look through the list in case any appeal to you.


1.  Gerbrand Bakker, The Twin  (Beautifully written award-winning novel by a Dutch writer about a farmer who carries on with the quotidian duties of his life but who only feels half of himself as he redefines his relationship with his father and twin brother.  Very descriptive, poetic.)

2.  Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky  (A married couple and their friend--calling themselves travelers, not tourists--delve deeper and deeper into the Algerian Sahara as, psychologically, they delve deeper and deeper into escape, isolation, illness, release.  Edgy, engrossing.)

3.  Harriet Scott Chessman, Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper (A fictionalized but historically accurate account of Mary Cassatt's sister who, though terminally ill, sometimes posed for her.  A good sense of the times.)

4.  Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard  (The classic based on the life of the last prince in Sicily when Garibaldi unified Italy thus ending the aristocracy.  Includes a beautifully written death scene.)

5.  Virginia Ironside, No!  I Don't Want to Join a Book Club:  Diary of a 60th Year  (Pure fun and whimsy.  What's the matter with getting old, the protagonist asks, finding it's a great relief to decide you don't have to want to bicycle across Mongolia or attend Open University.)

6.  Anne Lamott, Imperfect Birds  (Seems an excellent description of what it's like to have a substance-abuse teen and to come up with excuses for why she isn't.)

7.  Penelope Lively, Consequences  (Wonderful novel set in Somerset, blitz London, and then post-war England as seemingly incidental events impact the lives of three generations.)

8.  Paula McLain, The Paris Wife  (Fictionalized but historically accurate rendering of Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley's, marriage and life in Paris.  Splendid.)

9.  Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore  (A bizarre, time-warp, vision-quest puzzle about a 15-year-old who thinks he may have killed his father and made love to his mother.  Alice in Wonderland meets Close Encounters, Avatar meets Henry Miller, Ghostbusters meets Brigadoon.)


1.  Susan Cheever, American Bloomsbury:  Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau - Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work  (The geniuses who lived in Concord, Massachusetts, in the early-middle 19th century.  See my November 26th blog.)

2.  Firoozeh Dumas, Funny in Farsi:  A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America  (The sub-title says it all.  It had me chuckling the whole time.)

3.  Jeanne DuPrau, The Earth House:  Two Women Set Out to Remake Their Lives by Building From Without and Within  (A California Sierras Zen memoir.  Very accessible.)

4.  Alexandra Fuller, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness  (The companion book to Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight--this, a fabulous memoir filled with humor and poignant descriptions detailing her parents' life before, during, and after Rhodesia's upheaval.  A particular favorite.)

5.  Adam Goodheart, 1861:  The Civil War Awakening  (Actually, events from October 1860 to July 1861 focusing on some of the lesser-known participants from East Coast to West.  Well written.)

6.  Conor Grennan, Little Princes:  One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal  (The American son of Eamon Grennan, the Irish poet, goes to Nepal only to discover that many of the "orphans" he's working with were children trafficked during the Maoist uprising.  So he returns to help locate their families and establish his non-profit, NGN, Next Generation Nepal.)

7.  Harriet A. Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself  (A gripping factual account of a North Carolina slave who manages to escape after spending seven years in hiding in a space so small she cannot even stand up.)

8.  Kristin Kimball, The Dirty Life:  A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love  (A young couple turn 500 acres in upstate New York into a CSA farm--Community Supported Agriculture--where they produce meat, milk, vegetables, and grain to sell using only draft horses.  A hard life, engagingly written.)

9.  Lillian Schlissel, Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey  (Her summary of some 90 diaries.  See my May 14th blog.)

An aside by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Readers may be divided into four classes:
1.  Sponges, who absorb all that they read and return it in nearly the same state, only a little dirtied.
2.  Sand-glasses, who retain nothing and are content to get through a book for the sake of getting through the time.
3.  Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what they read.
4.  Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by it also.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hang Onto Your Hat, It's 2012

Wasn't there one of those schlock-buster movies recently about this now-current year in which moviedom's computerized special effects show end-times stuff with the hope that thrilling (or scaring) the bejezzus out of everyone will boost ticket sales?  Something with lots of explosions and vehicles smashing up?  So who needs that!!  A friend told me she'd been down to Mayan country recently where one of the residents said that the Mayans were still there--they just hadn't done any calendar updates lately but it was time to get busy since people were starting to fidget.

Actually, if you think about it, 2011 was a pretty wild ride in its own right.  Every week another part of the world dominated the news.  New Zealand (earthquakes), Japan (tsunami), Philippines (flooding) ... tornadoes in Missouri, fires in Arizona, flooding in Vermont ... financial failures here, there, and everywhere, riots in London, near fisticuffs in Congress, the whole Arab Spring thing.

Though some of today's pundits would have us think so, especially about the economy, to my mind, this isn't a blip on some chart with things "returning to normal" one of these days.  Things aren't going back; they're going forward.  Not to cash in on drama-queen stuff (which really isn't my style), but we can all see what's happening.  And what I see is that people are finally waking up!  I used to think it wouldn't happen until the grid was impacted or suburban dwellers couldn't buy gas to get to work.  But, conditions are ripening.  Peak oil.  Climate change.  Solar flares of the sort to make NASA take another look.  Financial meltdowns and capital formation failures.  Social unrest.  Shoveling money from outsiders to insiders.  You can articulate it as well as I. 

Sounds like it's going to be time "to roll with the punches," as my mother used to say.  And in doing so, to think of this as a very creative time.  (Even in the Shiva dance sense of creation ... destruction ... creation.)  It might also be helpful to remember what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said:  "Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news."  This seems more like Big Picture stuff, but we can tap into that sense of "good news," that creativity if we need to come up with innovative solutions ... not forgetting our sense of humor along the way.  Plus doing something as sensible as strengthening and modulating ourselves.  (You know--scheduling some quiet time.  Getting out and moving--taking a walk, a hike, a canoe ride.  Listening to the wind, feeling the sun.)  Plus letting any "externals" tumble as they will (banks, institutions, whatever) and concentrating, instead, on such "internals" as community, family, cooperation, camaraderie, trust... and, of course, flexibility!

Experiencing some quiet time.