February 2012

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Breakfast under the banyan tree

Breakfast under the old banyan tree at the Royal Davui.

There’s this scene in “The Big Chill” when Michael (Jeff Goldblum) wanders into the kitchen late one morning looking like shit and asks Sarah (Glenn Close) if another couple is still there. Sarah says the husband left but the wife decided to stay through the weekend.

Michael: “Oohhhh, interesting. What did Richard have to say about that?”

Sarah: “Michael, if you’re going to sleep this late, you’re going to miss a few mini-dramas.”

Michael: “I just hope you’ll wake me for anything really ugly.”

That’s kind of the way I feel. Every morning I get up hours later than I would normally, quickly throw on some clothes, and sleepily make my way along the jungle path to one of the tables set up beneath the old banyan tree at the Royal Davui. I’m certain I must be the last one up and I’ve missed all the morning mini-dramas. But you know what? I’m always the first one here in the morning. Even though it’s often after nine o’clock.

Yesterday, our little Katie wandered down just before noon. Siteri, sporting a red hibiscus flower behind her ear, asked Katie what she would like for lunch. Katie said, “Did I miss breakfast already?”

“Katie, breakfast was hours ago,” I told her. “Marguarite and I had breakfast with Christopher and his dad at eight.”

“What time is it now?”


“You’re kidding!”

“Did you have trouble sleeping last night?”

“Went right to sleep.”

“When was that?”

She shrugged. “Around ten, I guess.”

“You mean you slept for thirteen hours?”

“I guess I did.”

“Did you take a sleeping pill?”

“No.” Pause. “You know what it is? It’s so quiet here. No airplanes flying overhead, no phones ringing. You never even hear a TV.”

“That’s probably because there are no TVs.”

“Right,” said Katie. “No TVs. That’s what I’m saying.”

Siteri was still patiently standing there, waiting to take Katie’s order. “Could I just have some fresh fruit?” said Katie, handing over the menu.

“Yes, Miss Katie,” said Siteri. She started to walk away. “Oh, and a big glass of orange juice?”

Siteri nodded and slowly edged back over towards our table. “Anything else, Miss Katie?”

“Maybe some banana pancakes.”

“Certainly, Miss Katie.”

“With bacon.” Siteri started to walk away again. “Lots and lots of fruit,” Katie added. Siteri waved without turning around. Katie took off her sunglasses, ran a hand through her wet hair (her hair always seems wet here), sighed, and said, “That’s the other thing.”

I waited. When she didn’t say anything else, I said, “What’s the other thing?”

“I’m always hungry here.”

“Tired and hungry,” I said.

“Exactly,” said Katie. “Tired and hungry. It’s like I’m pregnant.” Then she put her sunglasses back on, tilted her lovely white face towards the sun, and quietly waited for her banana pancakes.

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Dinner on the beach

Dinner on the beach at the Royal Davui. Photo by David Lansing.

I haven’t talked about one other person in our group, Elina. She didn’t go river rafting with us the other day because…well, I don’t really know why. I get the feeling Elina likes to do her own thing. So while we were getting drenched from the waterfalls streaming down the cliffs reaching up from the banks of the Navua River, Elina was scuba diving. Which is pretty amazing. Because Elina doesn’t really like all that underwater-with-masks-and-snorkels routine. In fact, she doesn’t really like to be in the ocean, she told me. But here she was scuba diving—for the first time ever—and when I asked her about it at dinner she sounded like a bride who’d just discovered sex.

“Oh my god, oh my god,” she kept saying. “It’s amazing! Have you ever done it?”

Anyway, at dinner the other night, Grahame, the owner of the Royal Davui, sat at the head of the table, like dad, with Elina to his right and me to his left. Elina told Grahame that this had maybe been the best day of her life. She just couldn’t get over it. And you know what? I think she meant it. It’s like she’d found religion beneath the surface of the ocean. It was kind of fun to hear her go on and on about it. I think Grahame was as delighted about it as she was.

Grahame is a fascinating character. When he handed me his business card, printed on cheap stock, I noticed that it had a large photo of a tuna on the front of it. “I’m basically a fisherman,” he told me. The money to open the Royal Davui, he said, came from his success as the owner of the largest tuna processor in the South Pacific (most of which ends up in Japan as sashimi). He’s one of those masters-of-the-universe who are both cocky yet humble, demanding but unpretentious, and a marvelous raconteur. In short, a great person to sit next to during a long dinner.

We spent the evening talking about Hobie Cats (he’s a world-class sailor), fishing (he thinks the Chinese are devastating the fish stocks), and women (I’ll have to keep that conversation just between the two of us). Originally he was scheduled to head back to Suva, where he lives, tomorrow morning but he said towards the end of the dinner that he was having so much fun that maybe he’d just stick around for another day or two. Which seemed to make his son, Christopher, a little nervous.

“Are you sure, Dad? Didn’t you say you had a meeting in Suva tomorrow?”

“I can postpone it,” said Grahame, pouring me another glass of wine. Then he leaned in close to me and in a bit of a whisper told me what a marvelous job he thought Christopher had done as the resort’s marketing director. “I’ve been amazed at what he’s done,” he said. “But I don’t think he knows how good he is.”

“Maybe you should tell him instead of me,” I murmured.

Grahame smiled. “That’s not really the way we do it,” he said. And with that, he stood up from the table: Dinner over.

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Waiting for Grahame

Awaiting dinner with the owner of the Royal Davui in Fiji. Photo by Christopher Southwick.

Marguarite, who reminds me of a curvaceous Farrah Fawcett (in her “Charlie’s Angels” days), has her eyes closed and looks like she might be either napping or meditating as I gently ease myself into the poolside chaise next to her at the Royal Davui.

Without moving a muscle or opening her eyes, she whispers, “Do you think we should get some champagne?”

How did she know it was me? (Or am I being presumptuous? Perhaps she’d have said the same thing to whoever sat next to her.)

“You know my feelings about champagne,” I murmur.

“I do,” she says. “The same as mine.”

Before either one of us can lift our bodies off our chairs, here comes Siteri, carrying an ice bucket with an unopened bottle of Veuve Clicquot. “Bula, Mr. David. Shall I open the champagne?”

The evening is fine. Windless, tropical. As Siteri is opening the bottle of Veuve, a coconut drops from a tree not fifteen feet away. The ripe nut lands with a heavy thud, startling us. “Oh!” exclaims Marguarite.

Siteri pours Marguarite and I a glass of champagne, deposits the bottle in the ice bucket, and walks over to pick up the coconut. “For cocktails later,” she says before walking up the stone path to the open-air restaurant and bar spread out beneath the sprawling limbs of a 150-year-old banyan tree.

Christopher Southwick, Royal Davui’s marketing director (and son of the owner, Grahame Southwick), comes down to the pool to join us.

“I see you’ve gotten into the champagne already,” he says. He pours himself a glass and plops down beside us. “Marguarite has you sitting next to dad tonight,” he says to me. “That makes me nervous.”

“Why?” I ask him.

“You’re too much alike. I’m afraid you’re both going to get into trouble.” He takes a sip of his champagne. “It scares me to think about.”

One by one the others in our group arrive. Cindy, carrying a plastic disposable camera which she uses to take photos of our beautifully-set table down by the beach, and Katie, her wet hair pulled back into a tight bun who ignores the champagne but goes straight for a platter of crudités spread across taro leaves. “I’m starving,” she says, dipping a celery stalk into the olive tapenade.

The Veuve runs dry. Christopher asks Siteri for another bottle and then, as he’s refilling a glass, nervously drops a flute on the flagstone pool deck. When I spring up to help him pick up the shattered glass, he puts his hand out like a stop sign. “Don’t move!” he says. “You’ll cut yourself. Let me do it.” He curses under his breath and then calls to Siteri to bring him a broom and dustpan. Christopher regains his composure and, smiling, looks at the five of us sprawled over our chaise lounges, drinking our champagne and waiting for his dad’s arrival for dinner.

“Look at you,” he says. “It’s like Dave’s harem.”

And it is, in away. Four beautiful women around me. A tropical evening. Champagne.

“I need to get a picture of this,” he says. And so we smile and he takes our picture. And then pours more champagne into our glasses. As all of us—even Christopher—nervously wait for his father’s arrival.

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Behind the scenes at the Royal Davui

Here are a few shots that wouldn’t normally make it into the blog because there’s no real story behind them. But I like them anyway. The first one, below, is of three like kids who were standing along the banks of the Navua River when we ended our whitewater river rafting. They were quite interested in us and obviously adorable but what really caught my attention is the way the three of them moved together in unison. It was as if they were literally connected at the hip. So as we started carrying our gear up the hill to a little farming village where the trucks were waiting to pick us up, these three kids shyly followed in lock step.

The next shot was taken by Christopher Southwick, the marketing director for the Royal Davui. This was during our visit to the sand quay which is a tiny little spit of sand out in the middle of the ocean that is only visible during low tide for about an hour. This was towards the end of our visit and you can see that the tide is starting to come up and we’re losing our island. So the three of us–Marguarite, Katie, and me–were furiously taking pictures. Meanwhile, Christopher is taking pictures of us taking pictures. Classic.

This last shot is the view from the living room of Villa 5, which just happens to be mine. I took this at about 5 o’clock one evening. I’d been sitting out there on that deck trying to read a book but I just keep reading the same paragraph over and over, looking up and taking in this incredible view every two minutes. Finally I gave up, got dressed, and headed down to the Banyan Bar for a cocktail.

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Friendly hippos

Untitled from David Lansing on Vimeo.

When Marguarite first told me we were going whitewater river rafting in Fiji, I thought, Whitewater? In Fiji? Really?

But, you know what? It was very cool. The rapids were no big thing (Class II-III, if that) but the scenery was beautiful. All these fern grottos and massive cliffs with waterfalls cascading down them and strange tropical birds squawking in the rainforest. It was like the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland (“Feel that mist on your faces…Don’t worry, that’s only the monkeys in the trees”).

I kept half-expecting to come around a bend in the river and see some hippos. (“Don’t worry folks, they’re only dangerous when they blow bubbles and wiggle their ears…Uh-oh, looks like that big fella is going to attack us! Watch out! Bam-bam-bam!”)

Anyway, here’s three minutes of video I shot to give you a sense of what it is like. See if you can spot the hippo.

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