Kauai notes

There’s a very good restaurant in Poipu, in a house with a beautiful veranda opening onto a well-tended garden, on what used to be a sugar plantation.  The menu is full of Hawaiian ingredients, and the waiters of course point this out.  We could walk there from our hotel, so we came back three nights running.  I got to thinking about locavorism, and the line between celebrating what’s traditionally raised and eaten in a place, and saying no one in Ohio should ever eat a papaya.  Tyler Cowen recently cited a study arguing that contemporary foodies are a conservative force in the culinary world, because their locavore beliefs prevent them from appreciating innovation in cooking, if it combines ingredients from far-flung cultures, or is otherwise “inauthentic.”  Hmm…  Back on Oahu a few days later, we ate at a casual but ultra-hip nouveau dîner that was all about mashing up preparations and ingredients from different cultures, including at least one – Korean – that,  as far as I know, has no strong historical link to Hawaii.  Yet here too the menu and staff made much of the ingredients being local.  The study, at least as excerpted by Cowen, makes a point – some locavores can come off as tiresome and dogmatics, others as twee. But in my experience, locavorism is more of a jumping-off point for innovation than a barrier to it.

Kauai has a few towns and resorts, but seems to have more chickens than people.  Many – perhaps most – of these chickens are on t-shirts, posters, and bumper stickers. Oddly, there isn’t much chicken, or at least chicken isn’t much featured, on Kauai menus. The food, at least on the protein side, is all about fish and pork.  Especially pork.  I realize that celebrating the chickens has to do with seeing them as an icon of free-wheeling, slow-moving liberty.  They amble everywhere they want, living off the land and, with no predators and used to humans, never seeming to be much bothered by anything.  Still, I might put a pig on those bumper stickers.  Or a fish.

Hiking on the spectacular Napali coast isn’t really that hard, but if it’s been raining, there is a good deal of mud to slip and slide around in.  There are also, apparently, flash floods, with rivers and creeks that cross hiking trails cutting them into parts, and stranding people, sometimes for days, until the waters go down.  There was a maintenance worker at the trailhead who took great joy in buttonholing us and telling us about this happening, then scolding for being unprepared.  It was unclear how we’d prepare other than taking water, which we had, and being careful.  Also there is an unmissable sign at the trailhead, giving the same info and tips in a far less dire, and thus easier to digest manner.  In the event, the mud and one ford, across a waist deep, fast-flowing creek, holding a rope, with shoes tied together and hanging across a shoulder, were mild challenges.
We could see the small island of Niihau in the distance, off Kauai’s southwest shore.  It’s owned by a family, the Robinsons, who bought it in the 19th century.  The two Robinson brothers who run the island now have some out-of-the-mainstream ideas.  Or rather, they hold some mainstream ideas – modernity isn’t so great, we should honor the traditions of less-developed places and people, and be stewards of nature – that they take to extremes.  The are no paved roads or stores.  They discourage the locals from speaking English rather than Hawaiian, and leave them to subsist by hunting, but don’t let them use modern weapons.  There’s no electricity outside a solar setup on a school.  And save a few tourists who are helicoptered in, to hunt or snorkel on isolated beaches, there are no visitors who might bring modernity with them.  Perhaps the family is just too broke to build anything since its ranching business shut down, driving away most of the population, and too proud to let outsiders see what’s become of the place.  Anyway, there is something eerie about somewhere you can’t go, or at least can’t go to freely, because the people in charge of it don’t want you there.   Especially if that place is what I’d call a first-order geographic entity, and those in charge of it make much of its differentness, and the need to keep you out, to preserve that. The parallel is inexact, but looking at the sun set behind Niihau, I had something of the feeling I had, looking into East Germany from Checkpoint Alpha, when I was there as a college kid in the mid-80s.

Honolulu notes

We’ve come to Oahu a number of times in the seven years since our close friends moved here from Berkeley. Every time, I spend the first few days exhilarated at being in a beautiful, distant place that’s at once strange and familiar, and pleasantly slow-paced. I muse on the possibilities of moving out here and setting up a design agency, or working freelance, unless I could somehow pay a Honolulu mortgage working my dream job as a bartender at the Waikiki Elks Club. Every time, a few days in, I experience a moment of mild panic when I look out at the ocean and think about being thousands of miles from anywhere. The thought never quite leaves my mind for the rest of the trip.  There’s a Honolulu radio station that plays what it calls the “rock you live on,” and the phrase leaves me feeling uneasy.  Our friends talk about having bouts of island fever. I wonder if I would be particularly susceptible to it.

One of Honolulu’s many pleasures is an abundance of great Japanese restaurants.  I went to one with our friends, a family placr with a big dining room and one of those menus that’s like a book. To start, we ordered something called a Russian Roulette roll, just on the hunch that anything with that name would be good, or at least fun to talk about later. It was both, after a fashion, a setup of six pieces of tuna maki, with one, the waiter explained, hiding a huge chunk of wasabi under the fish.  There was a shot glass in the middle of the plate.  Anothet waiter arrived, carrying a large jar full of a yellowish liquid, with what was obviously a snake coiled at the bottom. He told us the stuff is a liqueur called habashu, and comes from Okinawa. It was obvious what you’re supposed to do if you  wind up with the wasabi bomb.  Both, and the both in combination, made for quite an experience, even if I didn’t taste much of what came after.

The beaches are everywhere and amazing. But for my money, the hikes are better. The other day,  I hiked up one of the volcanic ridges that extend into the center of the islans. I hiked up for an hour and a half, through clouds and mist, to a summit that gives a view out to Oahu’s western mountains in one direction, and up to Kailua, on the island’s windward side, in the other.  The trail was muddy from near-constant rain, and, in spots, only five or so feet wide, with what looked to be a thousand-foot vertical drop on either side. I wondered, if you fall, would your fall be cushioned or even stopped by the incredibly dense thickets of ferns, vines, and trees that cling to the sides of the ridge.  My guess is no.  I hiked up fairly fast, but came down slowly, so as not to slip. The wind howled the entire time. Wikipedia tells me there’s a Hawaiian wind god named Paka’a.  The article doesn’t mention it, but I’m guessing he’s given to bellowing fits.  I was alone on the trail the entire time.

Sunday afternoon, I sat in Nico’s, a fish restaurant and bar by the port, watching the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA finals. I grew up watching the Cavs, and setting them win was amazing and strange in about equal measure. I had a beer but stopped sipping it when they fell behind by 7 points. The bartender had such a deep tan and teeth so white, that had i seen her on the mainland, I’d have assumed both were artificial.  When Kyrie Irving hit the winning shot, I screamed. No one else seemed more than mildly interested.  I had the last sip of my beer, crying as I watched the players celebrate on a TV with the sound off.  Everyone around me had turned their attention back to their drinks and their phones, and their baskets of fried ahi belly and rice.  So many Clevelanders have scattered to so many places, I imagine I was one of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of tiny atolls in a global archipelago of half-lonely joy.

Who really cares

On the way to work the other day in San Francisco, I walked past a parking place that had a sign saying the lot was under new management, and the new folks are “passionate about parking.” I had a cup of coffee in one hand and my briefcase in the other, so I didn’t take a picture. But when I got to work I did a web search and found out that indeed there is an outfit, one Pacific Park Management, that declares itself passionate about parking, and it manages the 7th and Harrison lot I’d just walked past.

Does their passion make me more likely to park there? If parking really is the thing they not only do, but obsessively think about, and are proud of that, should it? And why do they bother? It’s so hard to park south of Market, they can’t really need a declaration of passion, or indeed anything beyond the most minimal effort—open the gate, swipe the cards, one after the other—to fill the lot from the minute it’s open until whenever they feel like closing it.

Or perhaps this passion is one they declare to win over the various whoevers who own the various lots they manage—if you’re going to lease out a lot to someone and everyone’s offering the same for it, why not go with the passionate bidder, even if that weirds you out a bit? Or perhaps, as I suspect is the case with many people who use “passion” in a context decidedly non-passionate, in the traditional sense—that is, to declare, oddly, to me, anyway, how much they love their work—the Pacific folks are engaged in equal parts marketing to others and marketing to themselves, convincing both, they hope, that whatever they do is indeed, ultimately, an exercise in self-actualization, and the better for it, for all concerned. I do wonder.

Not all artists are bohemians / not all bohemians are artists

What exactly is a “bohemian” environment? Many of us love the idea of living in such a place, and indeed make decisions about where to live based on an assessment of which place is the most bohemian, in the sense of most accepting of the widest possible variety of work and lifestyle choices. But the received definition of “bohemian” – and the one, disappointingly, accepted by urbanism maven Richard Florida – equates bohemianness with working in “the arts.” Certainly artistic activity is an important component of any bohemian culture, but hardly all artists are bohemians, particularly professional artists – including, notably, those who once counted as bohemians but whose mold-breaking has become a style or an affected life-tic. So, as Daniel Silver notes, contra RF, it’s not in LA and Nashville – filled with professional artists – that we should look for bohemia, and it’s not at what certain people do for a living, but at how the bulk of people, in a particularly area, live, all the time. Where, though, do we find his “concentrations of [certain specific] expressive practices?” He leaves the elaboration for another post, which I look forward to reading.

What Papua New Guinea is good at…

…or at least, has the most of, per capita. Same info available for every other country too, in the full-size, lightly interactive map at this link. Be sure to click through if you, like me, need another argument to convince your wife that the whole family, little kids included, should move to Montevideo.

In which Peter Stevenson is (briefly) Gay Talese, and Christopher Walken is Frank Sinatra

For me, the best non-fiction writing is the stuff that leaves you wondering, is the writer really that good, or the subject just so interesting, that anyone could write well about it? A case in point – and an indication that however by-the-(boring)-book its fiction, and political pieces, might be, the New Yorker is still worth reading – is Peter Stevenson’s account of his brief jaunt through Astoria with Christopher Walken.

Fantasy camp

According to Snopes, early on in his effort to turn Cuba into his personal fantasy camp, Fidel Castro created a more obvious predecessor of the US institution of the same name:

Cubans know that Fidel Castro was no ballplayer, though he dressed himself in the uniform of a spurious, tongue-in-cheek team called Barbudos (Bearded Ones) after he came to power in 1959 and played a few exhibition games. There was no doubt then about his making any team in Cuba. Given a whole country to toy with, Fidel Castro realized the dream of most middle-aged Cuban men by pulling on a uniform and “playing” a few innings.

More at the link above. I await photos of Hitler pole-vaulting in the 1936 Olympic trials, Stalin nailing a goal from the offside line, and Moctezuma dunking at the buzzer, at the end of a hard-fought game of tachli.

(Via the matchless Kottke)