Thursday, January 29, 2009


Food, Oddities and Birthdays

I have very little experience with resorts.

What am I saying? I don't think I've ever stayed in a resort before, having always had a knee-jerk bias against them. And now I know why. A resort is pretty much designed to make you feel as though you haven't left home, except that the weather is better. And anyway, this version of home isn't one that I would choose for myself to begin with.

Note, for example, the photo above which came with my check at breakfast and informed all guests, regardless of country and language spoken, of the importance of leaving a tip.

This was then followed by a receipt which included the tip calculated for me at different percent levels since I, an imbecile, might not know to leave a tip or figure it out myself. I'll let you guess how much money I left. I won't eat there again.

I went to visit my father's old friend, Eddie Jose, who runs the conservation studio for the Honolulu Academy of Arts. I'd been in a funk all day, and seeing my father's friend and all the art pieces and the effort that was going into preserving paintings and screens on their last legs pretty much had me near tears the entire time. Some day maybe I'll figure out the right way to write about grief other than on a blog which is embarrassingly revealing. But, anyway, it was one of those days where I perpetually felt sick.

Eddie never did pose for a photo. He's sly and careful and charmingly subversive in that way I recognize a certain kind of non-white person to be. I enjoyed his company.

Despite my useless emotional state, I did manage to focus enough to see what Eddie and his team were doing--part of my novel concerns art restoration after all. Here, someone demonstrated a stencil pattern which would be used to decorate a piece of paper that will ultimately back a screen.

Here's the back of the screen. It was a nice rimpa style piece, but I got so involved in looking at the colors and textures, I forgot to take a photo. Ditto with the Sung dynasty painting hanging in the back. I kept forgetting to take pictures of all the things that I actually liked.

There was a period of my father's life where we were all absorbed by the question of how to find the perfect gold paper to repair the torn gold sections of standing screens. Dad tried unsuccessfully to blend gold paints together. I learned from visiting Eddie that the best way is to buy old gold screens--this one is a couple hundred years old--and just rip them up. Gold squares are taken off and reused as patchwork. No one, he said, can paint anything to rival pilfered old material.

My father also wondered how to fade too-bright silks once a painting has been remounted. Eddie said that he often dyes silks by using vegetable dyes. He even let me eat some of his ingredients--a clove, which I had to spit out while he giggled at me and passed me the trash can.

I asked Eddie where I could go to find good sushi. I was skeptical of all the recommendations I'd received so far; one restaurant was known for "attracting celebrities," which is not exactly criteria I would follow for food. Eddie said that Honolulu doesn't have a great many sushi joints, except for Mitch's. He warned me; Mitch's is a hole in the wall, but the fish would be good. So it was that in the evening we piled into a cab and found ourselves under an expressway and wedged in between car dealerships to enter a small room blasting Japanese pop tunes. Two Japanese sushi chefs were behind the counter, and Japanese tourists already gnawing on raw lobster.

It was really, really good. A top sushi experience. I may go again tomorrow.

I visited the Iolani Palace, where the last Hawaiian Kings and Queens lived. We had to cover our feet with these little booties. I couldn't touch anything or take any photos, so sadly I have little to share. Except. I think it is interesting to visit places that still mourn sovereignty. My generation is so far removed from kings and queens and it is hard to imagine living in such a world where royalty was common. But I wonder if the founding fathers would look at certain dynastic families in politics with skepticism; they more than anyone would have understood the dangers of dynasties. I mean, I am finding it wonderful and fascinating to read about the early days of Obama and all that has happened and the enthusiasm so many of us have for him must be something like the thrill of watching a new king in action. We still desire to have these figures in our lives. And some people are naturally kingly.

I went off to Chinatown ostensibly to find Maui onions. They kept showing up on the menu--fresh Maui onions! with Maui onions! sweet Maui onions! I asked a bus driver about the onions and he said that they are special because of the soil in Maui. Food, he said, changes once it comes to the islands. The macadamia nut originally had prickles, but no more--in paradise, prickles aeren't needed. The Maui onion, originally from Brazil, has evolved due to the volcanic soil. My hunt for Maui onions was on. But, said the bus driver, don't go to Safeway. They just carry food from the island--a shame when so much of what is grown on the islands is superior to the imports.

This mystery fruit fascinated me.

Later I cracked it open and ate it--it was like a lychee. (Gordon thought the pit was the nut and ate that too).

I found lots of wholesale florists hawking cheap leis. I didn't buy the cheapest one because I couldn't pass up the chance to wear one with tuberose. I think that tuberose might be my favorite fragrance as these things go.

At last! Maui onions!

I love the fruit stands. Here Honolulu reminded me of a tropical Berkeley--slightly disheveled, colorful and quirky.

My favorite friend followed me around.

For Gordon's birthday dinner, we went to a fancy place called Elua, which cooks Italian and French food, but using local ingredients--an important thing, if we want to support local farmers. He was happy with his card and his necklace and his present waiting back home--an out of print copy of Vogue French Cookery which I found via AbeBooks.

I like the banyan trees.

Edited to add: It occurs to me that I'm being disingenuous when I say I have little experience with resorts. I have lots of experience. I worked in them. Summer after summer I earned money to use while in college by taking cocktail orders and filling in for the bartender when his cocaine habit beckoned. I grew up in a resort town. I know what it is to wait on people . . . like me! I was befriended by the Mexican and Phillipino workers who came to my part of the California expressly to work in a resort, and to send their kids to decent schools. That's probably part of why the whole resort-in-Hawaii thing freaked me out. It's weird to be on the other side of the table or bar or hotel counter.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Birds and Flowers

The vegetation and birdlife on Hawaii are unlike anything I've seen anywhere else--which makes walking around a lot of fun. I was startled by this gorgeous little bird on my hike yesterday and spent a lot of time trying to take his photo and wondering who he was.

Eventually, a sign displaying nature information gave me the answer.

I also love the ubiquitous and adorable zebra dove.

I'm pretty sure this is a papaya tree. Before coming to Hawaii, I anticipated eating pineapple every day. And, yes, I am eating pineapple every day. But I've also discovered just how good fresh papaya is--and I mean truly fresh and ripe and sweet and soft. We do not get such good papaya on the mainland.

Below, various flowers I've snapped while walking along. I know I'll see more as the week goes by.



I gave up the chance to upgrade my seat on the plane because I would lose my window. As we circled over Waikiki and a hush came over the cabin, I was so glad to be able to take this picture.

And this one, of the western side of the island.

I am sort of mystified by how warm it is here. And light. We have an extra hour of sunshine. I can't say I really like Waikiki all that much. But I think I am going to be very happy once out on the island and exploring.

It can be difficult to get Gordon on a plane (even on a work-related conference to Hawaii). But there is no one else I would rather travel with. The good thing is that once he is in a new location, he's a wonderful and enthusiastic traveler who buries his nose in the guidebook and begins to plan the day. I have a series of "Gordon and guidebook" photos taken around the world. Later in the day, after hiking around, his face turned quite red. He will not be this pale again for a few weeks.

I've long had an idea for a novel set partly in Hawaii. So it was that we set off for the Pearl Harbor Memorial, which I would encourage anyone to go and see. This shrine/memorial structure is placed over the sunken USS Arizona, where the remains of hundreds of soliders still lie.

A ferry takes out a pre-determined number of guests. Inside, there is information about the Arizona and how it lies on the ocean floor. Fish swim without concern through the water, which is still soaked with oil seeping out of the wreck.

The inside of the shrine lists the names of the dead. In some cases, survivors have asked to be buried along with their crew-mates. Their names are listed as well. Having lived through 9/11, I can see how surviving Pearl Harbor would be a life-changing and life-determining event.

I would imagine that the museum displays have changed over time. While the narration does not leave out who the attackers were (the Japanese), and certainly does not shy away from making clear who the victims were, the exhibits also do a good job, I think, of showing the complexities of war. The Japanese general Isoroku Yamamoto, for example, did not want war with the US because he knew it would cost his country, and that Japan would ultimately lose. What a terrible thing to truly be so caught up in events you cannot control, when your intuition warns you of danger.

In other exhibits, we are shown the distress inflicted on ethnic Japanese stuck in Japan during the war, or those who grew up in Hawaii, but ended up fighting on the Japanese side. Questions like this--identity, loyalty, love and the near madness that descends when someone isn't able to see clearly through all these things--have the makings of great fiction.

Later we hiked up Diamond Head Crater for a spectacular view of the city.

Since I've been here, people have assumed I am from the islands. One man spoke to me in Hawaiian and ended with the word "Hapa" so I smiled and said yes. He then told me a bunch of places to eat. I asked him where we could take my husband to eat good food and hear good slack guitar, and he sent us to Chai's Bistro, which was wonderful. He also told me to take some bus and to sit in the bus until the driver just turns off the engine. "Then you get out with him, and go see where he eats. That will be real Hawaiian food." I think I might try this, vague as his directions were.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Hawaii Bound

I've long had fantasies about going to Hawaii, and not just because it is supposedly a place where so many people look like me--it's from Hawaii that the term "hapa" originated, after all. When my husband invited me to tag along with him to Waikiki for a conference, I couldn't exactly resist.

For a number of years, flights to Japan always refueled in Honolulu. As my mother spirited me off to her magical country, I wanted badly to stop off in this place that kids in school were always bragging they had visited. In school, conversations generally took the form of an argument over which island was superior, while those of us who had never been to Hawaii stood and watched.

Once, while my mother and I waited in the airport lobby of Honolulu airport to be allowed back on the plane as it was getting gassed up, my mother found a tour group lining up to exit the terminal and board a bus (security was much more lax back then). She put me in line with her, and we both received leis, before ducking out of the line. She was thrilled--a free lei--and I begged to be allowed to join the tourists on their way to the beach. "We are going to Japan," she said firmly. I don't think I really believed she could have changed our itinerary, but then adults seem capable of nearly anything when you are small. The leis went with us all the way to Tokyo. I don't remember their ultimate fate, but I'm sure I was exhausted and unreasonable by the time we actually made it to Japan, and resisted being parted from the lei.

My father had visited Hawaii plenty as a child and young adult, and always spoke of Kuaii. He said he would take us some day. In the interim, I read up about Hawaii and what women wore, and went through my mother's closet trying to assemble the closest thing I could to a Hawaiian skirt. I went to the library, and read about flora and fauna, and constructed "Hawaiian flowers" out of paper and taped them to the hallway. I made my own jungle. My parents had a dinner party in the middle of my project, and I dressed up as "a Hawaiian" and explained that I had brought Hawaii into the house.

The closest I really came to visiting Hawaii was the "Joban Hawaiian Center" in Yumoto, Japan, a theme park built in an old coal mining town utilizing natural hot springs to recreate "Hawaii." I remember being in awe of the place, with its pools and flowers and ukelele music, though it was probably very kitschy. A film, Hula Girls, was filmed at the Center, and tells the story of two girls in the small coal mining town trained to dance the hula.

I've a Kaytie-annotated guidebook, the internet and a week to explore Hawaii. It's the first time in quite a while that I'll be somewhere new. I love going somewhere new.


Moonrise, Sunrise, Neon

I only had time to pull out my iPhone to take this picture, and while I love my iPhone, it isn't really blessed with the best camera. Still, you can sort of make out what I saw as I flew out of JFK: a blue-black sky, the dark water, dark red from the approaching sun, a new moon and the land scarred with neon.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Demons, Daemons and Muses

I've started reading Francine Prose's book: The Lives of the Artists: Nine Muses and the Artists They Inspired which examines the relationship between Suzanne Farrell and Balanchine, Lou Salome and Freud, Rilke and Nietschze and other artist/muse combos. Prose's tone suggests she's a bit put off by the notion that a woman would subject herself to a man's creative process; early on she raises the point that a muse today is more likely to be a place--New York City, the wild west, the Sahara--than a person. Still, she notes that the actual genesis of creative material still contains a touch of mystery; it's much easier, for example, to explain how a magic trick is performed than it is to pinpoint from whence a piece of music flows. We can read and read about Alice Lidell and her relationship to Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), but that still doesn't explain how Dodgson took the first step to building his Wonderland--and it doesn't really tell us how others can and will succeed in doing the same.

Once upon a time, Prose says, the muse was actually the Muses (there were nine and each one inspired a different art form).

Homer's The Illiad starts off (as every Columbia grad knows):

"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy."

Shakespeare starts Henry VI thus:

Chorus: O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

And so on. The Muses have had many contracts throughout history. But, says Prose, when the pagans fell, and Christianity took over, the Muses went away, chased off by the monotheists, and the troubadours had to find something new on which to pin all their creative anxiety. Enter the Perfect Woman. Dante, anyone? Or maybe, the not-so-perfect woman. Writers are always meeting fascinating people, and retelling and refracting these experiences through fiction.

But, asks Prose--and she asks the same thing I did--does a female artist have a Muse? Do we girls go off in search of inspiration and find it in a person? So far she doesn't seem to think so, though I don't see why we wouldn't.

I was thinking about this today, and remembered Robertson Davies's novel "What's Bred in Bone" in which the eccentric painter, Francis Cornish, lives out his life under the observation of a personal daimon and an angel. Daemons are described as many things: demigods whose power has been diluted since the rise of Christianity, intermediaries between the worlds of humans and the gods, and an inspiring spirit (Socrates claimed he had one).

In Davies' novel, the daimon gives the character Francis plenty of hardship along the way, because he believes that difficutly is what forces his subjects to grow. Throw in some personal tragedy and heartbreak and Francis will be an artist, says the daimon. Taken in this light, I'd say that the daimon, as Davies views him, is a kind of Muse, but one that doesn't blow inspiration in a writer's ear, but puts him through some heartbreaking paces. More recently, the term daimon or daemon was used by Philip Pullman in his Dark Materials trilogy. Here, a daemon represents the personality, and the inner life of a character.

Muse or daimon, I don't know which one I would rather have, frankly. A muse sounds like a much more pleasant experience, but a daimon more realistic. Speaking objectively, I'd say that my life has had more daemons than muses, and they've come at critical moments--even if I have not wanted them to be there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Obama Ushers in New Era of Cooperation and Brotherhood

Such peaceful coexistence has never happened before. Admittedly, this morning they were fighting again. But that was because I made them wait too long for breakfast.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Visual Obama

From the LA Times, the speech as a graphic, with the most frequently mentioned words appearing in large type.

Erica Alexander's inaugural poem will be available for sale on February 6th.

Despite my inherent objection to the idea that Obama's election makes me a better person more deserving of respect, the theme that we should act from courage and love and not fear strikes a nerve.

"in today's sharp sparkle... anything can be made, any sentence begun"

Edited to add: EdAss writes a letter and demonstrates why I adore her.

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