February 2013

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Billy don’t like poke

I went over to Kailua yesterday to watch Blaine Kia’s hula halau or dance group in an informal rehearsal and since I got over there a little early, I decided to kill some time at the Kailua Palace, the sort of dive frequented by Oahu’s Charles Bukowskis.

photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing

Nancy, the 60-something bartender, brought me a Bud Light and some poke. Billy, who was swaying on the stool next to me, leaned over to have a look at my food and wrinkled his nose.

“You like poke?” he said.

I told him I did. He shook his head in disgust and took a big swig of his Jack Daniels as if he were rinsing some foul taste out of his mouth.

“I’m Hawaiian, fo’ sure, but I don’t eat Hawaiian food,” he said proudly.

“You don’t eat poi?” I asked Billy.

“Sure I eat poi,” he said defensively. “Everyone eat poi.”

“Kalua pork?”

“Sure, what you tink?”

“Lomi salmon?”

“Dat lomi good stuff.”

“Sounds like you eat Hawaiian food to me,” I said.

Billy grunted. “Well, I tellin’ you, Billy no eat da poke. Dat what I’m sayin’, brah.”

So now you know. Billy no eat da poke.

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The God of Aloha

If I took the pineapple wedge out of my mai tai and chucked it off my lanai on the 27th floor of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki (which, of course, I would never do), with just a little luck I’d tattoo the bronze head on the lei-draped statue of Duke Kahanamouku who, it seems to me, holds more mana, or spiritual power, than any kahuna, past or present, in all of Hawaii. Despite the fact that The Duke, known as the “father of modern surfing,” died 31 years ago last month.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

It’s amazing how many people I’ve watched sidle up to The Duke and touch his bronze legs shyly or lewdly or reverentially, depending on their persuasion, just about every hour of the day and night.

When I first saw the throngs of people having their photo taken while standing next to him, I figured he was just the Mickey Mouse of Honolulu; a popular icon whose photo proved to the folks back home that they’d really been to Waikiki.

But I think there’s more to it than that. The Duke is the real “Ambassador of Aloha.” Not the aloha of hello and goodbye but the aloha of love, compassion, kindness, grace—the aloha of life.

That’s why you see so many people—particularly women—bring fresh flower leis every morning and put them on his outstretched arms. That’s why every Gidget and Grem from Toledo wants their mom or dad to take a photo of them standing next to The Duke.

He’s not a Hawaiian Mickey Mouse; he’s a Hawaiian god. The god of aloha.

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How does a coconut bra work?

When I went to check in to the Hyatt Regency Waikiki late yesterday afternoon there were hula dancers and fire-eaters in the lobby. Is this an everyday occurrence? I have no idea. But it was kind of cool. And mesmerizing. I mean, how do those hula girls keep everything safely inside a couple of glossy coconut shells? And doesn’t it chafe? It just doesn’t look really comfortable, you know? But definitely intriguing.

I made the mistake of giving a big smile to this one beautiful Hawaiian hula dancer who smiled back and then came over and grabbed my hand, trying to drag me over so I could join in a group hula lesson.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

Not happening. As cute as she was, I wasn’t going to stand in front of a bunch of tourists from Des Moine and let her show me how to make figure eights with my hips.

So I made my way over to the fire-eater thinking if he wanted to show me a few tricks, I’d be game. Who doesn’t want to learn how to eat fire?

This guy was awesome, not even blinking when he dropped the fire stick on his foot and the little grass spurs on his legs caught on fire. But what I thought was really cool were his tattoos. Loops of script running around his neck and elaborate patterns covering his back and then swooping down his love handles towards his private areas. That’s got to hurt, right?

But the poor guy got no respect. Eating fire just pales next to a young girl with very long dark hair shaking her coconuts. Literally.

Like everybody else, I just stood there staring and smiling until the show was over. I just wish I’d had the courage afterwards to go over and ask her how they worked.  

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Aunty’s poi at Ono Hawaiian Foods

I’m in this surf shop in Honolulu buying t-shirts when I start to feel a little hungry so I ask the two Gidgets working there where I should go for dinner, telling them I don’t want any fancy tourist place, but someplace simple. And local. A place, maybe, where they eat all the time.

“Oh, I know!” says Gidget One. “There’s a Subway a block away.”

No, I tell her. Not a Subway. “Someplace with Hawaiian food. But not a tourist joint.”

Gidget Two says, “Pizza Hut across the street has a Hawaiian pizza.”

Screw it. So I did what I usually do. I just started walking. Away from Waikiki. Past Kapiolani Park and the zoo, up Kapahulu Avenue, looking for someplace, anyplace that looked half way interesting.

There were a couple of sushi places that looked promising but I wasn’t really in a sushi mood. So I just kept going. Past a barbecue place that would have been a contender if it hadn’t been closed (I’m a sucker for barbecue). Until I came to this total hole-in-the-wall joint called Ono Hawaiian Foods.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

The place was cramped and crowded (though it was only 5:30) but I got lucky because a couple had just finished their meal when I walked in. So I grabbed their spot. The place was fascinating. The walls were plastered in headshots of mostly forgotten Hawaiian performers and beauty queens as well as stuff like a poster for “The Ultimate Honolulu Event,” a concert back in the 80s by Sammy, Liza, and Frank “in person at the Blaisdell Arena.”

On one side of me were three Japanese women taking photos of each other as well as every dish brought to the table by a waiter wearing a soiled Honolulu fish canning baseball cap. On the other side were a couple of GenX backpackers, the guy wearing a rainbow tie-dyed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert t-shirt.

Basically, unless you ordered ala carte, it appeared there were only three choices at Ono (which is Hawaiian for “delicious”): the Chicken Long Rice Plate, the Laulau Plate, or the Kalua Pig Plate (you could also get a combo plate but that just seemed like cheating).

Still thinking about the barbecue place I’d passed that had been closed, I went for the kalua pork which also came with some pipikaula, a sort of Hawaiian beef jerky, lomi salmon, and either rice or poi. Had to go with the poi. Aunty brought my food, dished up in old melamine bowls and plates, out of the kitchen on a cafeteria tray. It felt a little bit like being back in junior high school.

I asked her if I could get a beer. “No beer,” she said, “only Pepsi.”

“Okay,” I told her, “I’ll take a Coke.”

“No Coke. Only Pepsi.”

Frankly, I’m not crazy about poi but, as you know, I have this philosophy which is Wherever you are, you have to eat the goat. The goat in Honolulu is poi. Despite the name of the restaurant, the purple-gray poi served at Ono was not delicious. It left my tongue feeling kind of tingly. Like when you were a kid and you’d stick a D battery on your tongue (surely I’m not the only one in the world who used to do that).

Seeing that I had pushed my poi to the side, Aunty came over. “You don’t like my poi?” she said.

Now she was making it personal. It was her poi.

“It’s good,” I lied, “I’m just really not a big poi fan.”

“Ah,” she said, somewhat satisfied. “How long you in Honolulu?”

Two, three weeks, I told her.

She shook her head in discouragement. “Not long enough to learn to like poi,” she said, walking away.

She came back a few minutes later with a bowl of haupia, a type of coconut pudding. “On the house,” she said, sliding it across the Formica table at me.

I thanked her and dug in. It was worse than the poi. But I ate it all anyway. Just so Aunty wouldn’t bring anything else out to the table. 

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Honey Boo Boo and Our Lady of Lebanon

A very tired Virgin in Lebanon. Photo by David Lansing.

The Pope is quitting. He’s had enough. Enough what? I don’t know. Maybe he’s tired of having to wear all those funny hats.

Actually they say the Pope isn’t doing so good these days. Almost deaf, blind in one eye, and losing weight so quickly that one insider says “His body had become so thin that the tailors had difficulty in keeping up with newly fitted clothes….I’d never seen him so exhausted-looking, so worn down.”

If he were a dog, they’d put him down. Instead, they’re sending him off to an empty nunnery.

They say one of the reasons he’s quitting is because he just can’t travel anymore. It’s too damn hard on him. One of the last international trips he made was a three-day visit to Beirut back in September. I can’t imagine what the security must have been like for the Pope. Can you imagine if he was assassinated in Beirut? Jesus Christ. All hell would have broken out.

While he was here, he made a visit to the pilgrimage site of Our Lady of Lebanon, the patron saint of Lebanese Christians (who make up about one-third of the population) in the little village of Harissa.

From Wikipedia: “In 1907, the French-made, painted in white, 13-ton, bronze statue of the Virgin Mary was erected on top of a hill, 650 meters above sea level, in the village of Harissa, 20 km north of Beirut, in honor of Our Lady of Lebanon. It was made up of seven sections that were assembled on top of the stone base, which had a bottom perimeter of 64m, an upper perimeter of 12m and with an overall height of 20m. The height of the statue is 8.50m while its perimeter is 5.50. The statue and the shrine were inaugurated in 1908, and since then it has been a major pilgrimage destination in Lebanon.”

So I went to visit Our Lady of Lebanon this weekend. She looks like she’s perched atop an odd stone lighthouse. Or maybe a bee hive. If you want to get close to Our Lady, you have to stand in line and wait your turn to climb the hundred-plus steps up the circling staircase. Sort of like climbing the stairs to get to the Blarney Stone in Ireland. And when you finally make it to the top, what do you do? You take a photo. And take a look at the Virgin, who has been standing here like this for over one hundred years. She looked tired, Our Lady. And a little bit sad. Sort of like the Pope. And if she could, I’ll bet Our Lady would quit her job standing on top of this hill in Harissa and move to an empty nunnery. Where she would probably put her tired feet up on the coffee table and eat bowls of chocolate ice cream while watching Honey Boo Boo on TV. Why not? When you get to be this old, you can do whatever the hell you want.

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