Friday, April 6, 2012

Time Zones

Every weekday I wake up at 4:30, walk the same route, eat the same breakfast, drive Spuds hither and yon, work and return home to make dinner and set up my coffee on a timer, and dole out the many vitamin supplements I take into a chipped shotglass that says “Janet” which Himself picked up when he gave a paper, my mother's affected naming of me forcing him to resort to my middle name. Then I lay out the implements and ingredients for my morning meal, fall asleep reading with my glasses on and then wake up and do it all again. It is exhilarating but a bit unsettling to be in a different time zone and stripped of this routine. My friend Randi is on a short term assignment in Honolulu and finding a cheap fare I take her up on her invitation, which may have been merely polite, to spend a long weekend.

It has been over 40 years since I've been to Honolulu and I remember primarily the Dole Pineapple Plantation, the Kahala Hilton Hotel and the Ala Moana Shopping Center. I am greeted by Randi with a tuberose lei. The aroma makes me nearly delirious and I sleep with it next to my bed on the twenty fifth floor, overlooking Magic Island. The condo is across the street from the behemoth Ala Moana mall which I remember as being much smaller. It seems like 90% of Honolulu's commercial property is retail and it is hard to tell where one huge crowded shopping center ends and the next one begins. The population of Honolulu is under a million yet there are six Coach stores and a lot of folks must be forking over for spendy handbags.

We skip the pineapple plantation but have dinner at the Kahala Hilton, now known as the Kahala resort. I expect it will trigger some memories but nothing is familiar. I ask to see any old photos and am led to a wall adorned with pictures of celebrity guests posing with management. There's the Obamas, Burt Reynolds, Michael Jackson and Jim Nabors seems of have been a very frequent visitor. Disgraced Alaska Senator Ted Stevens appears embracing Hawaiian Senator Daniel Inouye but there is no photographic evidence of Imelda Marcos who decamped there after her exile from the Philippines. Out back there's a small pool with dolphins which I must have seen 1969 but I have no recollection of. The most expensive rooms abut this pond which seems so tiny I'm surprised there isn't a 24 hour PETA vigil.

We order tropical drinks on the beach at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. It is gorgeously restored and every surface, uniform, curtain and linen is pink. There are a number of lady guests who promenade about in pink muumuus and straw hats. We tour Shangri La, repository of an astonishing collection of Islamic art, the Hawaiian retreat of heiress Doris Duke. Miss Duke outbid the Metropolitan Museum of Art on several items. Bold colors and the intricate symmetry of ancient tilework and painting are set against an extensively tended tropical garden, overlooking the turquoise sea. This is one of the most spectacular dwellings I have ever seen and it is beyond the realm of my imagination that the owner went for as long as ten years without visiting the property.

We have to put on tissue booties to enter the Iolani Palace, which is particularly tacky when compared to Doris Duke's masterpiece. Many of the Hawaiian royals visited Europe and there are photos of garden parties with guests wearing top hats, ballgowns and the other trappings of a much cooler climate. The Palace is done up in gaudy imitation of European glitz and its creation threw the Hawaiian kingdom into great debt. Until the 1890s, the Kingdom of Hawaii was an independent sovereign state. On January 17, 1893, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Lili'uokalani was deposed in a coup, led largely by American citizens who were opposed to her attempt to establish a new constitution. We visit the room where the queen was imprisoned at Iolani Palace. There's a spectacular quilt she made during her confinement, quilting a craft brought to Hawaii by Christian missionaries.

Across the street from the Iolani are the contrastingly austere Mission Houses. In the early 1800s Henry Opukkahai'ia, a sixteen year old Hawaiian, joined a sailing expedition and ended up in New Haven Connecticut where he learned to read, attended Yale, converted to Christianity and published an inspirational diary. Opukkahai'ia died of typhus at age 26 but his life and work inspired a group of 14 other missionaries to sail and carry on Henry's vision for his homeland, then called the Sandwich Islands. The Mission Houses could have been transplanted from Connecticut, with tiny windows that provide no cross ventilation. Visitors introduced influenza, smallpox, and sexually transmitted diseases to the native population. During the 1850s a fifth of the Hawaiian people were killed by measles. Yet, the missionaries also brought a printing press on which the first newspaper published west of the Mississippi was published. The founders of the Mission House community devised the first written Hawaiian language and two decades later Hawaii had the highest literacy rate in the world.

There is a casualness and easy warmth, even in the commercial district and among the many haole (non-native Hawaiians). I am on a very crowded bus, navigating heavy traffic. There is a violent scream from the rear, “Move it bus driver!” and I expect the bus will stop and there will be a big scene and perhaps the police will be called to remove the out-of-control ranter but the passengers laugh, the screaming stops, and we continue through the jammed streets. Most men wear aloha shirts and a suit and tie is a rare sight even in the downtown area. I visit Baily's , home to about 50,000 aloha shirts, many spectacular and some priced as high as $7000.00. Like the Kahala Hilton, there is a wall of photos of celebrities partaking of local culture, the most recent being Anthony Bourdain.

We eat a lot of sushi and have our nails done and everyone is nice to us. We climb Diamond Head, the path jam packed with tourists, some loud mouthed. There is an old lookout carved under the rock from the WWII era and the view of Waikiki is mind blowing. We cruise Waimea, a major surfing drag and pass shrimp trucks and long lines of tourists waiting for shave ice. We hike through an botanical preserve up to a waterfall. I adjust to the time change on the last day, having finished reading a memoir and a novel on the previous ones. Returned to Los Angeles I just want to sleep but Spuds and I are off for a college tour in New York and I will probably just be over my Hawaii jet lag when I arrive. I expect to be utterly thrashed by the time I return from the second trip and it will be a comfort to resume my rigid regular schedule. But the scent of tuberose and prowling Manhattan with Spuds will stand out vividly from the long blur of setting up the coffee timer and frying an egg.


FionnchĂș said...

Fact of the day: the literacy rate thanks to the missionaries. The state's the only one to have two official languages, although only 0.1% are native speakers, mostly I assume on Ni'ihau. Reminds me of Irish, alas, but at least the natives on that smaller island want to continue speaking it on their own and not via schools, although I hear that it's making some comeback in education, as it is in Ireland to a small degree in school choice.

I wonder if it is easier for Hawaiians to learn their own tongue as their language has approximately only eight "consonant phenomes"? It has no cognates with English, showing its isolation from the West--and from the East, given it's the farthest inhabited place away from any mainland in the world.

End of mini-lecture. Certainly you had a great time, if blistered for all your enthusiasm. Why did Doris D. build an Islamic place in Hawai'i? I guess if Getty could build a Roman villa in Malibu, or Hearst his sprawling spread up the coast on the other side of the Pacific, why not? Despite the limited photos, it looks splendid and I am sure many a pasha would envy its cool breezes and restful, blue views compared to the sands.

I am not sure what altered state you will find yourself in during Pesach in NYC, a week after sushi, but Spuds assures me "hey, it's New York. Hot dogs." That in response to my parental concern over kosher.
Chag sameach, another year. xxx me

harry said...

Great evocation of Paradise Hawaiian style... And happy Passover to you, was it Colombia? NYU?

About ten years ago when I went on a WASC visit to Maui Adult School we visited a duel-immersion elementary school English-Hawaiian. The adult school had classes at night for the parents in Hawaiian so they could speak it at home with their children. They had lost the language. Th e class was packed with parent practicing.