Archive for the ‘Hawaii’ category

SwanShadow Gives Thanks 14: As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

November 23, 2017

Each year, since this humble (in the classic sense of “low to the ground”) blog began in 2004, I’ve paused on Thanksgiving Day to take stock of the many things in my life and in the world about me for which I’m grateful. If I took the honest measure of my blessings, I’d be typing nonstop between Thanksgivings, and I’d never get much life lived. (Plus, these posts would get even more unbearably lengthy than they already are.)

So I hit upon the idea of choosing just 26 items, sorted alphabetically, to represent by means of metonymy the countless people and things for which I am grateful.

It’s been an interesting year. The Pirate Queen began a new job, which she enjoys, and where she is appreciated and fulfilled. I landed one of my most daunting voiceover projects this summer, survived a hectic busy season with my largest client, and checked a box off my career bucket list by booking a gig for one of the most recognizable companies on the planet. We traveled a bit, as we are wont to do.

The Daughter hit a pair of milestones: she, like the Pirate Queen, began a new job — one that she’s been chasing hard for a few years — and she and her beloved (formerly The Boyfriend, now The Fiance) got engaged. They’ll be married next May, prompting yet another nomenclatural change. The Daughter is  thrilled to begin these new chapters in her life, and I am thrilled — with a father’s wistful trepidation — for her. She wishes her mother was here to share her joy. I wish that too. But as the old saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. So walk on, we shall.

2017 will be forever remembered in the North Bay as the Year of the Firestorm. If you live hereabouts, you know — and perhaps lived through — the devastating wildfires that destroyed thousands of structures across Sonoma and Napa counties. The Daughter and her Grandma were evacuated from their home for a week. Many longtime friends and acquaintances don’t have homes to which to return. The city of Santa Rosa and the other hard-hit communities will rebuild, but the lives that were lost will never be restored, and the precious possessions of thousands of people will never truly be replaced. I can’t put into words the sadness I feel for those I know — and so many others I don’t know — whose lives were irrevocably altered, even as I also can’t express my relief that my precious Daughter’s life was spared.

Walk on, we shall, indeed.

But enough preamble. Here’s the fourteenth installment of my annual Thanksgiving list. Next year, should we all live to see it, I’ll have to add a whole new table in the Word document where I keep track of each year’s offerings. (The chart is seven columns wide, and this will fill out the second chart.) For now, here’s what I’m grateful for… among so much else.

Almond butter. The Pirate Queen brought a jar home the other day from Trader Joe’s. In a world awhirl with chaos, the simple pleasure of an almond butter and blackberry jelly sandwich is an amazing comfort.

Blue Öyster Cult. This year on LearnedLeague (the world’s toughest online trivia league, and why haven’t you asked me for a referral yet?), I was privileged to write a quiz about a band whose music I’ve grokked since my high school days. (Yes, we had music then, you young punk. With electric guitars and everything.) I’ve still got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.

Cabo San Lucas. Neither the Pirate Queen nor I had ever been to Cabo before our weeklong vacation there in February. We enjoyed our stay immensely. It’s not Hawaii — this was the first year in the last five that we didn’t visit my childhood home — but it’s lovely nonetheless. We’ll return, no doubt.

Draymond Green. He may be the third or fourth best player on the Warriors. He might also be the most irreplaceable. No one plays defense at a more intense level than Money 23. The Daughter has a picture of herself with him from a photo op before he rose to NBA All-Stardom.

Electricity. Thank you, Ben Franklin. (I’m still annoyed about that $100 bill question from Millionaire, though. Just so you know.)

Firefighters and First Responders. They couldn’t save every home and storefront in the North Bay, but they worked tirelessly and valiantly to save as many as they could, and to rescue and help as many people as possible. The community will never forget their efforts and dedication.

Gal Gadot. As a lifelong fan of Diana of Themyscira, I wasn’t fully convinced when the little-known Israeli actress landed the role. I’m convinced now. I’m glad Gal is our Wonder Woman. Change our minds, and change the world.

Hamilton. We had the opportunity to see the smash hit musical in San Francisco this summer. We did not throw away our shot. Few popular entertainments live up to their hype, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece gets as close as you’d imagine.

Ice hockey. I know, I know. I’m the guy who refers to hockey as “soccer on ice with sticks.” But thanks to the largesse of a good friend who’s a San Jose Sharks season ticketholder, we saw our first in-person game last season. It really is a heck of a sport to watch in person, in ways that don’t translate well on television. I’m a believer.

Jetways. I’m old enough to remember… okay, slow down; not the Wright brothers — but the days when you actually had to walk out onto the tarmac and climb a mobile staircase in order to board a plane at many airports. Give me the stretchable hallway any day.

Kilimanjaro. She rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.

Linseed oil. Also called flaxseed oil, it’s the stuff that keeps the insides of my cast iron skillets silky smooth and nonstick. Liquid gold, it is.

Monet and Munch. We toured a pair of spectacular art exhibitions this year: Claude Monet: The Early Years at the Legion of Honor, and Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed at SFMOMA. In general, I’m not especially partial to Expressionist art, but seeing the work of these two great masters up close was powerfully impactful. I’m already looking forward to the next Monet exhibition here in two years.

NextDraft. Every day, I check in with several news sites and aggregators to keeptrack of what’s going on in this crazy world. Dave Pell’s NextDraft stands as one of the best curated aggregators I’ve come across. Dave skillfully mixes links to the day’s hard news with items that are merely fascinating. Always topical, always informative.

‘Oumuamua. “Strange visitor from another world” used to just mean Superman. Now, it’s the first object officially identified by astronomers as having traveled into our solar system from interstellar space. A cigar-shaped asteroid estimated at around 500 feet in length, its Hawaiian name means “scout” or “messenger.”

Patek Philippe. I narrated the first-ever full-scale North American exhibition by the world-renowned Swiss watchmaker this summer. In the process, I learned a ton about the craftspeople who design and build these incredible (and incredibly expensive) timepieces that can not only tell time, but in some instances play symphonies, display lunar cycles, and calculate dates hundreds of years into the future — all using mechanical, analog functionality. No microchip, no battery, just precision clockworks.

Quesadillas. Because hot, melty, delicious cheese.

Red Special, the one-of a kind guitar built by Brian May in his garage when he was a teenager, and which has lent its unique tone to Queen albums and concerts for more than four decades. I recently saw Brian wield his legendary axe in person for the first time in 35 years, and both guitar and guitarist amaze me still as much today as they did back then. If Brian and the Red Special had never given the world anything besides “Fat Bottomed Girls,” it would have been gift enough.

My Steel Will 1505, a.k.a. the Gekko, has featured as my everyday carry pocket knife for most of the past year. Solid, sturdy, and wicked sharp, with its maroon Micarta handle scales and black D2 steel blade, it’s both a workhorse and a creature of quiet beauty.

Thumbtack. The online service offers access to all kinds of local professionals, from electricians to mobile disc jockeys to personal trainers. Plus, they keep the Pirate Queen gainfully employed, for which we are enormously thankful.

“Unwritten”
Feel the rain on your skin.
No one else can feel it for you —
Only you can let it in.
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips.
Drench yourself in words unspoken;
Live your life with arms wide open;
Today is where your book begins —
The rest is still unwritten.

Vision. Last night, I stood on a BART train next to a blind man accompanied by his golden retriever guide dog. Even with my acute myopia and astigmatism — easily remedied by contact lenses — I am blessed that, unlike that unfortunate gentleman, I can open my eyes and see the world. Today, I’m not taking that for granted.

Women — and I have some wonderful ones in my life: the Pirate Queen, The Daughter, her Grandma, and more treasured friends and colleagues than I can list, along with the memory of KJ and the three decades we shared together. Our culture is currently awash with a tsunami of women finally feeling emboldened to speak out against the abuse, harassment, and disrespect they’ve experienced, and I applaud and support them. Be heard, sisters. Your voices matter.

XTC. Quirky, edgy, and impossible to categorize, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and company formed one of the most underrated bands in the history of pop music. “Generals and Majors,” “Senses Working Overtime,” “The Mayor of Simpleton,” and the controversial “Dear God” — even if you didn’t understand all of the ideas (or didn’t agree with them), you had to admire the style.

Yeast — fueling bakeries and breweries for thousands of years. Except during Passover.

Zapper — that’s what I call my racket-shaped electric wand that strikes fear into the hearts of flying pests that dare disturb the sanctity of my abode. I’m perfectly content to let buzzing bugs buzz outdoors in their own environment, as long as they don’t attack me. But if you come into my airspace, critter, I’ve got some voltage waiting for you.

And as always, friend reader, I’m grateful for you, and the time you take to peruse my rambling prose. May you and yours find much for which to be appreciative on this Thanksgiving Day.

 

 

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SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Triskaidekaphobia Edition

November 24, 2016

Welcome to the thirteenth installment in my annual outpouring of gratitude. Each Thanksgiving since 2004, I’ve devoted this space to a reflection on some of the many people, places, and things that have graced my life. Because counting my blessings can become an infinite task once I get started, I’ve developed the device of choosing 26 representative items — one for each letter of the English alphabet — to stand as testament to the overwhelming abundance that I can only begin to address.

Without further ceremony, here are the things I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving 2016.

Antenna International. If you’ve ever toured a museum or other public attraction and used the audio guide, you’ve heard the work of this fine company, which specializes in the production of said audio guides. I recently had the privilege of narrating Antenna’s audio guide to Vikings: Beyond the Legend, an exhibition currently on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. If you’re in southwest Ohio or the vicinity, go check it out.

Beef Jerky Store. A highlight of my annual trip to Las Vegas is a pilgrimage to this downtown establishment adjacent to the Fremont Street Experience, where I load up my suitcase with tasty snacks. When I was a keiki (that’s “child” to your mainlanders) in Hawaii, we called a place like this a crack seed store — “crack seed” being the Hawaiian term for various kinds of dried fruits, nuts, and other dehydrated edibles. Visiting the Beef Jerky Store takes me back to those long-ago childhood days.

Comixology. This year, I officially transitioned my comic book reading from paper to digital. Comixology is the app for that. (It’s been an adjustment, but I’m resolute.)

DubNation. What a year we’ve had as Golden State Warriors fans! Our team set an NBA record for success with an unprecedented 73-9 record; missed repeating as world champions by an eyelash; then in the offseason added Kevin Durant, one of the greatest players in the game, to a roster that already featured three superstars in two-time MVP Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. After decades of wallowing in mediocrity and worse, it’s a grand time to be a citizen of DubNation.

Evernote. I don’t know where I’d be without this app. Certainly dinners at our house would be far less interesting, because Evernote is where all of my recipes reside.

Family. As always, I’m grateful more than anything for those who love me most — the Pirate Queen, The Daughter, Grandma, Studio Assistant Tazz, and KJ, whose memory lives forever in heart and spirit. My extended ohana also includes numerous friends and connections, both nearby and far away.

Graboids. That’s our household nickname for reach tools. They come in handy for picking up dog toys and other items that middle-aged backs and knees hate bending for.

Hillary Clinton. The election didn’t go her way, but I’m still proud that she earned my vote.

Inkwell Awards. Founded by longtime comic book inker Bob Almond, the Inkwells annually acknowledge some of the most important — but least heralded — artists in the field.

Juice. Because who doesn’t love juice? Make mine cranberry.

Kamala Harris. California’s attorney general will make an outstanding impact as our new junior Senator. I was honored to voice several of Ms. Harris’s campaign ads this season. I don’t think she got elected because of my work, but I’m not saying I didn’t help a little. Maybe.

Luke Cage. Just when you think that Marvel Studios and Netflix couldn’t possibly outdo themselves after the stellar Jessica Jones, they follow up with a series that takes street-level superheroics up yet another notch. Terrific performances by Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Alfre Woodard, Rosario Dawson, and Mike Colter as the titular Power Man made this a must-binge.

Mcusta. Two of the most attractive specimens in my folding knife collection come from this Seki City, Japan bladeworks. I could admire my Mcusta Katana and Tactility all day long. Some days, I do.

NewPark 12. The glorious IMAX theater in our new local multiplex even enthused the Pirate Queen — generally not a fan of the cinema experience — about going out to the movies. It’s the first time I ever sat in a theater seat that I wanted to take home to my living room after the film ended.

OtterBox. I dropped and shattered my iPhone this summer. (Thanks, AT&T, for the speedy and relatively hassle-free replacement.) The sturdy case on my new device will, one hopes, prevent future mishaps of a similar nature.

President Barack Obama. Thank you, Mr. President, for eight years of honorable service. I truly believe that history will be far more kind to your legacy than the obstructionist Congress of your second term has been.

Quatermass and the Pit. One of my all-time favorite weird sci-fi classics. You’ve probably seen it here in the U.S. under the title Five Million Years to Earth. Basically, we’re all the descendants of giant grasshoppers from Mars.

Ray’s Crab Shack. A local spot serving up mass quantities of delicious seafood. Don your plastic bib, glove up, and get your crustacean on.

Steely Dan. Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you, my friend, that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen got me through college, and many melancholy hours since. There are 66 songs on the Dan’s seven classic-period albums (beginning with Can’t Buy a Thrill and concluding with Gaucho), and not a single one of them sucks. I don’t know any other musical act about whom I can make that statement. 1977’s Aja ranks as one of the finest albums in the history of recorded music.

Treebeard. In my studio-office stands a gnarled walking stick that I acquired at a Renaissance Faire many, many years ago. It’s outfitted with a wrapped leather hand grip and bears the carved face of a bewhiskered wizard at its head. I call it Treebeard. I believe there may be magic in it.

Universal Studios Hollywood. I spent a week there early this year, as an alternate contestant for a TV quiz show that ended up not requiring my services. But I got to stay in a nice hotel, tour a theme park, preview the then-unopened-to-the-public Harry Potter attraction, see a couple of movies, hang out for two days in the soundstage where The Voice is taped, and make several cool new friends — all at a TV production company’s expense. You could have a worse vacation.

Van Jones. The CNN commentator kept it real in the midst of insanity on Election Night 2016. Thanks for eloquently saying what many of us were thinking, Mr. Jones.

Waimea Canyon. As has been frequently noted in this space, I spent a goodly chunk of my childhood in Hawaii. Until this spring, however, I’d never visited the island of Kauai. If you’ve never stood on the edge of “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” you owe it to yourself to get there at least once before you die. (Going after you die probably won’t have the same effect.)

Xenozoic. Mark Schultz’s sumptuous adventure comic — best known to non-aficionados as the source material for the fondly remembered animated series Cadillacs and Dinosaurs — remains a classic of the medium. The collected omnibus volume is the closest book to my desk on my office-studio bookshelf.

Yoda. “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Live by these words, should you.

Zuckerberg. Thanks for keeping the Pirate Queen gainfully employed for the past year, Mark.

I am eternally grateful to you, friend reader, for your ongoing support of these random ramblings. May your life overflow with reasons to give thanks.

Comic Art Friday: Lords of Atlantis

September 23, 2016

I read today that Atlantis Resorts, the company whose commercials for its rather awesome-looking tourist destination in the Bahamas run frequently on TV here, is planning its first U.S. property in Hawaii. The new resort will be built in Ko Olina, the beachfront community on the northwest point of Oahu where Disney’s Aulani Hotel and the popular Paradise Cove luau reside.

None of which means anything, really, except as an excuse to feature this Atlantis-themed Common Elements commission by artist Stephen Sadowski. (Like Captain Sternn in Heavy Metal, I’ve always got an angle.)

Namor the Sub-Mariner and Arion, Lord of Atlantis, pencils and inks by Stephen Sadowski

When I first had the idea for a “Kings of Atlantis” Common Elements matchup, I was determined to avoid the obvious pairing of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and Aquaman — mostly because that connection is such a no-brainer I was sure that a lot of other people had thought of it already. And I was correct — searches on Comic Art Fans for “Namor and Aquaman” or “Sub-Mariner and Aquaman” reveal more than a dozen existing artworks featuring those two heroes together.

So, in the immortal words of Robert Frost, I chose the road less traveled by. Which, in this instance, has made all the difference.

Although he’s far less well-known than Aquaman, DC Comics has another Atlantean ruler in its arsenal. Arion, Lord of Atlantis, debuted in his eponymous series in 1982, toward the tail end of comics’ decade-long fascination with the sword-and-sorcery genre. Unlike the Atlantises (Atlantii?) of both Aquaman and his Marvel Comics opposite number Namor, Arion’s homeland was still very much above water, being set in a time period millennia before recorded history. Arion himself was a powerful sorcerer who used his magic to protect his fellow Atlanteans from enemies, chief among which was his own brother.

Perhaps Arion’s major claim to enduring fame derives from the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths, during which Arion was retconned as an ancestor of Power Girl — heretofore always a Kryptonian, as the alternate-universe version of Supergirl. Like so many comics retcons, this one didn’t last, and Power Girl went back to being one of the last survivors of Krypton after a while. Thus, Arion faded back into the depths of obscurity, from which we’ve plucked him in order to provide him his Common Elements spotlight moment.

As for Namor, I always liked this stylish costume he wore for a brief (no pun intended) stretch in the ’70s, more than the green swimming trunks in which he’s most frequently been seen. You’d think the Lord of Atlantis would be able to afford a proper suit of clothes.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Our Hawaiian honeymoon: Day three

June 29, 2012

[Catch up on what happened on the first day and the second day of our adventure.]

Day three began with breakfast at a joint called Cheeseburger in Paradise. We did not — repeat, not — have cheeseburgers for breakfast. We did, however, have a sweet view of Waikiki Beach through the restaurant’s open window.

Paradise. Cheeseburger not required.

In case you were curious, this outlet is part of a chain that is apparently unrelated to the similarly named chain owned by singer Jimmy Buffett, whose similarly named song clearly inspired both chains. Now you’re not curious, merely confused. Join the club.)

Appropriately stoked with high-protein, high-carbohydrate fuel, we were itching to break in the snorkeling equipment we’d purchased the day before. Thanks to a tip from a guidebook and a recommendation from our Cheeseburger waiter — whose name was not Spicoli, but could well have been — we loaded up our rental car and headed for the north shore of Oahu. Specifically, we aimed for a spot dubbed Shark’s Cove.

Shark's Cove: Just because we didn't see sharks, doesn't mean you won't.

We did not — repeat, not — see any sharks. We did, however, spend a couple of joy-filled hours swimming with a variety of gorgeous tropical sea life, including an array of colorful fish that would do justice to any aquarium. In fact, snorkeling at Shark’s Cove offered a taste of what it might be like to swim in an aquarium, were one thus inclined.

A few tips we’d pass along to other snorkelers who make the trek to Shark’s Cove:

  • Get there early in the day. Parking is limited, and somewhat challenging to negotiate.
  • Leave your flippers in the car, or better yet, at your hotel. The rocky seascape here renders fins useless — or worse, makes them an encumbrance. Unless you’re venturing well out into deep water — which we would heartily advise against — flippers won’t benefit you in this environment.
  • Do, on the other hand, wear water shoes. The reef and rocks at Shark’s Cove are razor-sharp, as the numerous gashes they ruptured in my knees will demonstrate.
  • Currents here can be very powerful. As alluded above, it’s easy to get beaten up here by waves dashing you against the rocks. It’s easy to imagine that if you venture out beyond the relative shelter of the cove, fighting the motion of the ocean could quickly develop into a losing battle. Be careful out there.
  • Take a cheap waterproof camera. We didn’t, and wished we had.
  • As is true anywhere in Hawaii, don’t leave anything of value visible in your car. Predators abound. We didn’t encounter any problems ourselves, but all those signs posted everywhere warning you about thievery are there for good reason.

We give Shark’s Cove high marks as a snorkeling venue. It’s well worth the drive around the island from Honolulu to check it out.

On our way back into the city, we stopped for lunch at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck in Kahuku. There are probably a couple dozen food trucks and shacks of every description as you drive through Kahuku on the Kamehameha Highway, all specializing in freshly caught local shrimp. (Imagine if Forrest Gump and his pal Bubba had moved to Hawaii and chosen the slacker life, rather than opening that gaudy chain of touristy restaurants.) Of these, Giovanni’s enjoys the most widespread reputation — a reputation we found well deserved.

We shared a plate of the hot and spicy shrimp; they were indeed as volcanic as advertised (a sign cautions that they don’t offer refunds if you find the dish too hot) and quite delicious. Or, to say it local-style, “Da shrimps stay so ono, broke da mout’! Chee!”

Giovanni's hot and spicy shrimp: Local-kine grinds... so ono!

Giovanni’s surrounds its truck with a nice permanent set-up, featuring picnic tables shaded by an open-air roofed structure, sinks for postprandial hand-washing, and indoor restrooms. There’s also a shave ice truck on site in case you need help cooling your mouth after downing the shrimp.

Appetites sated, we continued on to Valley of the Temples Memorial Park in Kahaluu. This multicultural cemetery features a half-scale replica of the ancient Byodo-In Buddhist temple in Uji, Japan. It’s a stunning building nestled in a lush, serene location at the base of the Ko’olau range.

Byodo-In Temple, Valley of the Temples Memorial Park

We spent a blissful hour wandering through the temple and its grounds, soaking in the quiet, admiring the architecture, and watching the fog creep in over the mountains. The Pirate Queen enjoyed seeing the massive Buddha statue inside the temple (she’s seen me shirtless often enough that you’d think this wouldn’t be much of an attraction, but apparently it was) and ringing the colossal bell in the courtyard.

I watched as a black swan scudded along the surface of the pond. I think she and your Uncle Swan shared a bonding moment.

When a swan meets a Swan, coming through the rye...

Our next stop, Nu’uanu Pali, offered a breathtaking view of the windward shore of Oahu from 1200 feet up the side of the dormant volcano. When I say “breathtaking,” I’m not speaking hyperbolically. The wind rips through the mountain pass with gale-like velocity, producing sufficient chill to make you forget for a few minutes that you’re in the tropics. Despite the briskness, the view is nothing short of incredible.

The view from Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

One can see all the way to the offshore island called Mokoli’i (“little lizard” in Hawaiian), also known as Chinaman’s Hat — or, as we might put it in these more ethnically sensitive times, Asian Person of Chinese Extraction’s Hat. We were, however, eager to get back into the cozy, cyclone-free confines of our rented Toyota in fairly short order.

Safely back in Waikiki, we ventured across the street from our hotel for dinner at Sansei. The Waikiki branch of a local chain of upscale sushi restaurants, Sansei serves up an intriguing spectrum of dishes, some of which can best be described as “experiments in seafood.” Some of the experiments work better than others — one or two of the combinations we ordered seemed to be outré for the sake of outré -ness — but on the whole, we enjoyed the dining experience, bizarre flourishes and all. It was pleasant to relax on the restaurant’s third-floor lanai in the relative cool of the evening, tucked around the street corner from the bustle of the main drag. Plus, there were those mediocre Hawaiian-tinged cover tunes wafting across from the tiki bar to serenade us.

Thus ended our third day in the islands. I’ll regale you with tales of Day Four soon.

Our Hawaiian honeymoon: Day two

June 15, 2012

[If you missed what happened on the first day of our adventure, read about it here.]

Our first full day in Hawaii — and all of our days in the Islands proved remarkably full — began with breakfast at LuLu’s Waikiki, conveniently located just around the corner from our hotel. With its spacious open-air dining room and decent food, LuLu’s quickly established itself as our go-to spot for morning fortification. (The popular breakfast choice on the Waikiki strip is a joint called Eggs and Things, centrally located in the hotel district, but we never saw a morning where that place didn’t have a line out the door. We didn’t fly all the way to Oahu to stand in an hour-long queue for an omelette.) LuLu’s is primarily a sports bar — judging by the decor, the owners are major Boston Red Sox fanatics — but they dish up a perfectly acceptable breakfast, and we never had a problem getting seated quickly so we could speed along with our touring.

Iolani Palace: Not the actual home of Hawaii Five-O.

Appetites sated, we headed for our first sightseeing stop: Iolani Palace, former residence of the Hawaiian royal family and the only royal palace located on U.S. soil. Iolani was high on the Pirate Queen’s list of must-dos, and she was duly impressed with the spectacle on display. After donning handmade cloth booties that fit over our shoes (to protect the palace’s vintage hardwood floors from thousands of clumsy tourist feet), we joined our docent, Cousin Tino — everybody’s your cousin in Hawaii — for a guided tour. You can’t take photographs inside the palace, but trust me when I tell you that you’ve never seen a house quite like this one.

Iolani Palace: "The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness"

Between the opulent furniture, museum-quality artwork (mostly portraits of the Hawaiian royal family, and other monarchs whom they befriended), and fascinating history, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Cousin Tino made the time both informative and entertaining (we were his last tour of the morning, and a relatively small group, so he treated us to an extended stay with “extra stories”).

Ali'iolani Hale: Also not the actual home of Hawaii Five-O.

Following our stroll around Iolani Palace, we ventured across the street to check out the exterior of Ali’iolani Hale (“House of the Heavenly King”), the building that formerly served as the seat of Hawaiian government and today houses the state’s Supreme Court. It’s most recognized for the familiar statue of King Kamehameha I that decorates its courtyard. If you watch the current version of the TV series Hawaii Five-O, you might also recognize Ali’iolani Hale as the headquarters of Steve McGarrett and company. I regret to inform you that the Five-O team does not actually work here, and in fact, does not exist. Sorry… fiction. (Viewers of a certain age might recall that the original Hawaii Five-O used shots of Iolani Palace as the team’s home base. Sorry… also fiction.)

Kamehameha the Great: Not the original statue.

Ali’iolani Hale’s Kamehameha statue has a rather amusing back-story. Commissioned in 1878 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s arrival in Hawaii (an arrival that didn’t turn out all that well for the captain), the Kamehameha statue was designed by Thomas Gould, an American sculptor living in Italy at the time, and cast in bronze in Paris. Unfortunately, the ship carrying the statue from France to Hawaii sank off the Falkland Islands, and the statue was thought lost to the Atlantic. The forward-thinking Hawaiian government had taken out a hefty insurance policy, the payout from which paid for a recasting of the statue, which Gould promptly shipped. But wait! Enterprising local Falklanders recovered the original statue and sold it back to the wrecked ship’s captain, who in turn sold it to the Hawaiian government. Finding themselves with two identical statues, the Hawaiians installed the original on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, near Kamehameha the Great’s birthplace, and mounted the replica — which you’re looking at here — in front of Ali’iolani Hale.

Next, we made a stop at a Wal-Mart to purchase snorkeling gear that we’d use during the trip. We scored complete sets of equipment — snorkels, masks, fins, and water shoes — for a relative pittance. Wal-Mart in Hawaii is pretty much like Wal-Mart on the mainland, only with more aloha shirts and macadamia nuts, and with an L&L Hawaiian Barbecue concession instead of a McDonald’s.

National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater

Our travels next took us up into the hills overlooking downtown Honolulu, to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Puowaina. Lodged in the lush green concavity of an ancient volcanic crater (hence the nickname “Punchbowl”), the cemetery houses the remains of thousands of military veterans. Punchbowl is also home to a group of ten marble memorials to Service personnel from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War whose remains were never recovered — “whose earthly resting place is known only to God.”

Dedication stone, Court of the Missing at Punchbowl Cemetery

It’s a touch ironic, I suppose, that in a place as teeming with tropical life as Oahu so many of the attractions that draw attention are memorials to the deceased. Having grown up in a military family, however, I’m acutely conscious of the sacrifices our Servicemen and Servicewomen are called upon to make. For that reason, it was important to me to take the drive up to Punchbowl with the Pirate Queen, whose father was a sailor during the Second World War.

Statue of Columbia at Punchbowl Cemetery

Overseeing Punchbowl from the head of an enormous staircase is a statue of Columbia, the mythic female figure who personified the young United States in the 18th and 19th centuries — hence the name of the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia. (Moviegoers know her better as the logo of a popular film studio.) Columbia pretty much got shoved aside in American symbology in favor of Lady Liberty around the turn of the 20th century, but when Punchbowl was dedicated in 1949, she received her corner in the limelight.

All aboard for Paradise Cove!

Our day transitioned from reverence to revelry in the late afternoon, when we and a few dozen of our new closest cousins boarded a bus bound for the Paradise Cove Luau. When planning our luau experience, the Pirate Queen and I had debated driving our rental car out to Ko Olina on the far western edge of the island, where Paradise Cove is located. Our decision to take the shuttle instead proved perspicacious, as the slog through Honolulu’s rush-hour gridlock took nearly two hours to traverse. Much better to relax in air-conditioned comfort while letting a professional manage the stress.

Now, you might be thinking, “Isn’t a commercial luau all touristy and whatnot?” Um, hello… we’re tourists.

Paradise Cove's dancing cousins... well, probably not actual cousins.

Never having been to Hawaii before, the Pirate Queen wanted to take in a few of the classic essentials: see the kalua pig rise from the imu (the underground fire pit in which the pig is roasted); taste some poi; get a temporary Polynesian tattoo; watch some hula and a fire knife dance. Paradise Cove delivered on all of her expectations, in fine style. We scored front-row seats for the imu ceremony. The Pirate Queen was chosen as one of the audience participants in the always hilarious poi tasting (a culinary undertaking she will not eagerly repeat). She got a lovely flower drawn on her arm by a handsome, shirtless young Hawaiian gent. (She had mostly perspired through the tattoo by the time we got back to Honolulu.) We had a pretty fair meal and a great view of the entertaining show, complete with the requisite hula and fire knife dancers. We shared our table with a nice young couple from Australia, from whom we learned that Burger King franchises Down Under are called Hungry Jack’s (hey, you never know when trivia like that might come in handy) and whose accents I struggled to commit to memory for future voiceover projects. And, we saw an amazing sunset over the Pacific.

Sunset at Paradise Cove

All in all, we enjoyed a delightful evening of stereotypical aloha.

And that was our second day on Oahu. I’ll regale you with the Day Three doings next time.

Our Hawaiian honeymoon: Day one

June 8, 2012

Some of you have been clamoring for information about our little Hawaiian excursion. Well, for that subset of this rowdy crowd, this is your lucky day. That is, the first of your lucky days. This is going to take a few posts.

Our adventure began in the predawn hours of a chilly San Francisco morning… but I repeat myself. After being ferried to SFO by an upstanding member of the taxi-driving fraternity Hakka Cabba Dei, and thorough cavity searches performed by the ever-charming staff of the Transportation Security Administration, the Pirate Queen and I boarded a spacious Hawaiian Airlines Airbus and winged our way across the Pacific – a third of the way across the Pacific, at any rate – for the Land of Aloha.

With our suitcases crammed into the rear of our rented Toyota, we traversed the traffic-choked streets of Honolulu toward our Waikiki hotel. That’s far less easy than it sounds, because Honolulu currently holds the title of Gridlock Capital of America. Seriously – you can look it up. Driving in Hawaii’s largest city – okay, Hawaii’s only large city – involves navigating excruciatingly narrow roadways laid out with the organizational linearity of a bowl of spaghetti in the company of nearly a million people in no great hurry to get anywhere. Factor in the presence of tens of thousands of clueless tourists buzzing about blindly at the mercy of GPS or wandering blithely across intersections in flagrant violation of traffic signals, and you’ve got a prescription for automotive apocalypse.

But we got there: Waikiki Beach, U.S.A.

Waikiki Beach... you know you want to be there.

Upon our arrival at our hotel, we found ourselves confronted with a conundrum: What to do with our fine rental vehicle? The entrance to what appeared to be the parking area was rendered inaccessible by a massive delivery truck dropping off the day’s linens. We could spot no valet to whom we could hand over the keys. After several circuits of the crazily designed block, complicated both by one-way streets and hordes of fellow visitors, the Pirate Queen bailed out to seek aid in the hotel lobby while I sat in the blazing sun praying that the local gendarmerie didn’t happen by and cite me for double-parking. Eventually, the Pirate Queen returned with two fresh-faced young chaps, one of whom cheerily loaded our belongings onto a cart while his compatriot whisked the Toyota away for safekeeping. (Or joyriding. We didn’t really know at that point.)

Despite those frustrating first few moments, Hotel Renew turned out to be an excellent choice of lodging for our purposes. Located near the south end of Waikiki Beach, it’s far enough away from the major portion of attractions to be reasonably quiet – except for first thing in the morning, when the garbage trucks come clattering through the block – yet close enough to the beach that one can be sprawled on the world-famous sand after a mere two-minute stroll from the front door.

Hotel Renew... stay here, and get all renewed and stuff.

The Japanese-influenced décor, all straight angles and darkly painted wood, makes a soothing change from the typical chain hotel, and the staff is uniformly friendly and polite, if not always as Johnny-on-the-spot as they might be. The Pirate Queen, who’s known to be fussy about where she sleeps, found the bed and bathroom to her liking, while I was relieved to discover the in-room safe capacious enough for my mammoth laptop as well as all of our other valuables. All in all, we were glad we selected it.

Having settled into our accommodations, we launched ourselves on a leisurely promenade along Kalakaua Avenue, the street that traverses the tourist district. It had been 23 years since my last trip to Waikiki, and as KJ was heavily pregnant at the time, we didn’t do much extended walking. But I remembered traveling this stretch, and I was surprised both at what had changed in three decades and at what remained pretty much the same.

Waikiki Beach... smell the coconut oil on the sunbathing tourists.

What hadn’t changed:

An ABC Store on every corner, and sometimes two or three within a block. For the uninitiated, the ubiquitous ABC Store is Hawaii’s native mash-up of convenience store and touristy gift shop, and they are almost literally everywhere. I kept expecting to walk into a public restroom only to discover that they’d put an ABC Store in one of the toilet stalls.

This weird tree. This ginormous banyan should be transplanted to the grounds of Hogwarts. It’s freakin’ creepy. Albeit in a cool way.

Chinese music under banyan tree, here at the dude ranch across the sea

The crowds. We actually visited during one of Hawaii’s least jam-packed windows – the fallow period between the end of spring break in April and the start of summer travel season on Memorial Day weekend. But even in a traditional down time, Waikiki attracts tons of guests.

The International Marketplace. Imagine every cheesy jewelry, T-shirt, and souvenir shop in every tourist trap in America crammed into a colorful labyrinth of carts, stalls, and stands that winds along seemingly forever, and you’ll get the general picture of the International Marketplace. No wallet is safe.

Tall buildings. Did you know that Honolulu has more skyscrapers than any American city outside of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago? Just a tidbit of architectural trivia from your Uncle Swan.

This is a tall building. In case that wasn't obvious.

What was new:

Panhandlers. Having lived around, and now in, San Francisco – Mecca for America’s down and out – for 35 years, I’m no stranger to homeless people cadging change on street corners. I was startled, however, to see so many mendicants on the sidewalks of Waikiki. I understand how so many homeless folks get to The City; Greyhound offers a dirt-cheap bus ride from almost anywhere in the contiguous United States. But if you’re flat broke, how the heck do you get to Hawaii? I’ll say this, though — if you have to sleep outdoors, better to do it in balmy Honolulu than in the Arctic chill of San Francisco.

Upscale shopping. The spending experience along Waikiki has always been pricey, but it used to feature much more local flavor. It’s kicked up several notches now with the presence of numerous internationally renowned high-end retail stores. I’m guessing this marketing strategy must be successful, but I question the logic. Does anyone really come to a tropical beach town to buy a Coach bag or a Rolex?

Insane traffic. I mentioned this earlier, but it warrants repeating. Honolulu totally sucks if you’re behind the wheel of a car. I don’t remember it being anywhere nearly this wretched in decades past.

Tiki's Grill and Bar: Be sure to tip your waiter.

We consumed our first Hawaiian repast at a restaurant called Tiki’s Grill and Bar, conveniently located on the third floor of the hotel right next door to ours. The place features an extensive menu of vaguely tropical themed cuisine, most of which was reasonably tasty; a killer view of the Waikiki sunset; live music in the evenings – Honolulu is the universal nexus of lame cover tunes performed on public stages by guys wearing aloha shirts – and yes, oodles and oodles of tikis. A roving photographer snapped our photo (which we were able to purchase for a nominal fee, because there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch in Hawaii) to commemorate the event.

And that was our first day on Oahu. I’ll tell you about our second day in my next post.

Sunset on Waikiki Beach. Just say "ahhhhh."