Thursday, December 8, 2016

Grey

No colour today. Seriously, it was a damp and monochrome day which would be dreary enough anywhere, but is especially a blight on the spirits in a place that should be blue and turquoise, white and green. We gamely set off on a drive anyway, to view the coast road, mountains to the right, sea and islands to the left – but really, it was just rubbing in what we were missing.

There were just a few bright spots in the day. Like eating garlic shrimps from Giovanni’s food truck, which were very tasty – and the prowling roosters, hens and chicks appreciated the left-over rice. And browsing the craft shop which specialised in turning sea glass – of which I have an obsessive collection at home – into rather pretty jewellery. 
And driving past a subdued Pipeline surf break to the picturesque little town of Haleiwa, where the road is lined with painted wooden buildings full of shops, cafés, galleries and surf-gear suppliers. It had a vaguely Wild West air, with added coconut palms – but, again, hardly looked its best in the rain. Finally, there was the Farmers Market in Waimea Valley, with more sea glass creations, fresh produce including actual yellow pineapples, and yummy sticky buns with caramelised macadamia nuts. There is also a waterfall up the valley that might have been more worth seeing because of the rain, if it hadn’t been for the rain… Sigh.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Infamous day

Remember Pearl Harbor, they say – and that’s what today is all about. On site, the day is full of events and ceremonies; and here in Waikiki the big memorial service taking place at the time of the attacks was broadcast on the outdoor screen at the top of the beach. The audience wasn’t huge, but those who were there stood solemnly for the anthem, and one man saluted.
At the Bishop Museum, in a splendid brick building from 1889, there is a small special exhibit telling civilian stories of the day, with a pretty resonant quote from a local woman, Ellen Bairos: “Yesterday seems centuries away.”
Earnest docent Ramona gave us a tour which focused on the royal family and included a huge cloak of tiny orange feathers, taken from the rumps of 60,000 native birds, “Catch and release” Ramona assured us, though she then had to admit they’re now extinct.

It didn’t take long to drive up the centre of the island to the northern coast where the surf famously rolls in – though not so much today, unfortunately. Arriving at Turtle Bay Resort, I immediately lost credibility with the concierge by asking if there was a surfing event on. Only the Triple Crown, it turned out, the Super Bowl of surfing. Local man JohnJohn seems to be doing well, to judge by the hand-written posters along the road.
At the resort, a big, neat and well-organised place (two golf courses) the thing to do it seemed was to sit at The Point bar and sip while watching surfers patiently waiting for a wave, and the sun sink. So we did. And then, at Roy’s Beach House, we ate Roy Yamaguchi food again (remember Eating House 1849? I do) which was absolutely delicious and memorable and has my mouth watering now at the mere memory. It included shrimp, ribs, macadamia-encrusted mahi mahi, creamed spinach and asparagus, chocolate soufflé, and upside-down pineapple cake with rum sauce and icecream in a brandy-snap basket. Is your mouth watering too now?

Remembering Pearl Harbour, minus 1


Honolulu traffic is surprisingly dreadful. Even before 6am it’s a thing, and then just gets worse. Still, we got to Pearl Harbor in good time to queue up for entry at 7am, and on hearing that yesterday the quota of 2,000 tickets had been allocated by 8am, the relief-cum-smugness was real compensation for the early start.

There’s a lot to see – we didn’t finish there till 2.30pm and that was by dint of rushing a bit at the end. Of course, it’s all so well presented, and the rangers and docents are so helpful and informative that you just can’t rush. We started with a movie about the attack on the harbour, along with a bit of history to set it in place. They even had footage of the bomb dropped on the USS Arizona, which was amazing.
Then we were ushered onto the boat for the short ride to the Arizona Memorial, passing under the immense bulk of the aircraft carrier Stennis which looked more like a starship than a nautical one, it was so breathtakingly huge. The memorial sits over the wreck of the battleship, still visible under, and above, the water, and still leaking oil after 75 years. The docent in the shrine described the interment procedure for the ashes of the crew’s survivors – two are being put to rest tomorrow – and it sounded very solemn and studied, the diver in charge dropping down under the water holding the urn above his head, so it’s the last thing to disappear.
All around the memorial gardens are plaques and storyboards for contemplation, though perhaps not always provoking the expected reaction: the more I see of such memorials and museums – and boy, I’ve seen a lot – the more dismayed I am at all the lives, effort, inspiration and money squandered on war; and the more I wonder how different history might be if it had been women in charge instead of men. Even Macarthur might have been dismayed: he's quoted on the Missouri as saying, "It is my earnest hope that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past - a world founded on faith and understanding - a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfilment of his most cherished wish - for freedom, tolerance and justice." Chew on that, Donald.
There’s a shuttle bus to the USS Missouri, the battleship where the Japanese surrender was signed in a 20-minute ceremony, the last man to write his name being Air Vice-Marshal Leonard Isitt for New Zealand – after whom our street at home is named. It’s quite something to stand on the very spot where it happened, under the big photo of the event. The Japanese tourists on board – and there are many, everywhere in Honolulu, right now – were particularly intent.
There was a pipe band, of course – when is there ever a vaguely military event anywhere that bagpipes don’t get in on? – as well as lots of setting up and rehearsing for tomorrow, choirs and youth groups parading around, and lots of veterans, including some from Pearl Harbor itself, being royally fussed over and signing books.
At the Aviation Museum there were some terrific stories and old planes, including a little civilian Aeronca that happened to be in the air on a joyride when the Japanese Zeroes arrived. Imagine that! I liked that the mannequin inside it looks rather startled. There was also a letter from an airman to his girlfriend written in 1939 saying not to worry, the only danger at Pearl Harbor would be from an air attack, and that wasn’t likely. One original hangar remains, still with bullet holes in its glass panels.
Finally, the USS Bowfin finished the air, sea and underwater trio – claustrophobic, naturally, and full of dials, copper pipes, brass wheels and challenging hatches to clamber through, though the polished brass tips on the torpedoes were a sight to behold (not particularly authentic, I’m guessing). The museum there had lots of interesting things too, including of course something about U-505, which I’ve poked through with huge interest in Chicago.

So that’s Pearl Harbor done. Tomorrow it’ll be heaving, with big and little ceremonies happening all over the place, all day long, and a parade through Waikiki later in the afternoon. By then we’ll be gone, heading north, having done our serious duty and ready for a bit of R&R.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winding around, also up

Gary Sinise and me, we’re like that, you know. Near enough. I once sat in his chair on a NCIS-NY set that I came across in Brooklyn and watched him do a scene (inspecting the body of a drowned mermaid). I helped myself to a banana from the snack table too – at the invitation of an extra, so it was pretty much official. And now here he is again, performing with his band on the beach at Waikiki tonight, giving a speech about supporting veterans, asking how many people had been to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans – not many hands went up, apart from mine – and getting excited about being MC at the 75th Commemoration of Pearl Harbor on Wednesday. I tell you, with vets being wheeled away by young servicemen in fatigues, everyone standing and applauding, and then all singing along to some nationalistic song that I didn’t recognise, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house (apart from mine, natch).

Sitting on the sand listening to the music in the warm dark, part of a mixed and friendly crowd, waves breaking nearby, planes blinking overhead past a young moon, skyscrapers lit up all along the beach behind, eating sticky (and sandy – oops) ribs… it was a nice way to end a moderately busy day.

This afternoon we went on a half-island tour with E Noa. Our driver, "Cousin Brendon", chattered all the way round – literally – but he was pleasant and keen to please, and interesting enough. Hearing that the houses on the peaks command prices up to $25 million, I understood about the Gucci, Prada, Tiffany etc shops I never broke stride for this morning as I explored Waikiki (ABC Stores are more my level – and my! What a lot of them there are!)

We slipped around the coast beneath Diamond Head; oohed over the shallow clear waters of Hanauma Bay, famed for its snorkelling; watched the surfers at Sandy Bay, Obama’s favourite beach; stopped at Waimanalo Beach to eat Dave’s delicious icecream (coconut and macadamia, though it was hard to choose a flavour); and climbed up to the lookout at Nu-uanu Pali, where the slopes are precipitously steep and the views extensive but more astonishing is the sign warning of bees in high winds – because they become like bullets then, apparently. We completed the circle through Honolulu, passing its glass towers where all the white-collar work happens, and the busy port.


Things are hotting up in preparation for the big event on Wednesday. Let’s hope the weather is too.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Aloha

You’d think, second go at something, you’d be better at it. But December 4 was, for various reasons, a bit of a crabby day when I had it in New Zealand, and then, second time around, it was snitty in Honolulu too. 

Mainly, here in Hawaii it was because of the weather, which is rainy with low cloud – not at all what you expect in the tropics in what is the first month of summer in New Zealand. Yes, yes, I know it’s a different climate, but some things should be inviolate. Central Pacific/December/summer. I can’t decide here whether the shops at the huge and high-end Ala Moana mall being full of coats, jackets and long-john pyjamas – as well as keeping the aircon cranked up (down) - supports my case here or destroys it. Maybe both.

I can’t decide because I’m still adjusting to Hawaii-time. Twenty-three hours, people! Ok, so that’s only one hour (minus a day) – but the travel on its own takes it out of you. Mind, leaving sometime after midnight and sleeping throughout the 8-hour flight is a pretty easy way to swap countries.

So, Hawaii. I was last here in 1992, I think, so that makes it almost never. Under low cloud, in drizzle, it looked at first a bit dreary and Takapuna-ish, but at night with all the lights on and the shops glitzy and Christmassy, and the restaurants full of people enjoying themselves, it improved immeasurably. Inside the malls, of course, time and weather do not exist, and even tiny girls learning to be sexy, traditionally, seems unobjectionable.
Food helps, too – that amazing Food Hall at the Ala Moana Shopping Centre is a marvel that went totally to waste, me-wise, I’m sorry to say. The timing was wrong; even so, I think just breathing all that delicious fat- and sugar-infused air was enough to add a few centimetres to the waistline.


And Eating House 1849 - chef Roy Yamaguchi - on the top floor of the very fancy International Market Place featuring a branch of Saks is highly recommendable. Just ask the homeless man recumbent on a park bench on the way back to the hotel what he thought of the doggie bag – it was certainly the best (and hugest) steak we’ve tasted for a very long time. And I’m going to regret that foregone crème brûlée with toasted coconut and macadamia nuts forever, I reckon.

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