February 2014

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Likliku, the most romantic resort in the world...unless you're alone. Photo by David Lansing.

Likliku, the most romantic resort in the world…unless you’re alone. Photo by David Lansing.

This is what the Likuliku brochure says: “Once upon a time across the bluest of oceans, an island was born of lava and sand—an untouched paradise whose heart was a turquoise lagoon of unimaginable beauty and tranquility. The first visitors came and explored. To honour the magic of the place, they named it Likuliku, meaning “calm waters.”’

That’s where I’m staying. Nice, huh. But just so we’re clear, there is no island named Likuliku in Fiji. There’s a lagoon called Likuliku but the island itself is called Malolo. I’m not sure what Malolo means but there’s another resort, on the southern end of the island, called The Funky Fish Resort, so maybe that’s what the first visitors really called the place: The Funky Fish (after all, these “first visitors” were warriors and fishermen).

But if you are the Ahura Resorts company, which owns Likuliku, and you’re going to spend a gazillion dollars to build 46 bures along a turquoise lagoon “of unimaginable beauty and tranquility,” including ten villas suspended over a coral reef in the middle of the lagoon, then you are not going to call your place The Funky Fish. You are going to call it Likuliku and tell people the word is from the ancient, and largely forgotten, Malolo dialect and that it means “calm waters.” Frankly, I think it really means “fuck like bunny” if my first day here is any indication of what goes on.

The place is swarming with couples, all doe-eyed and moony, who just tied the knot three days or a week or an hour ago. They come down for breakfast late, still sporting bed-heads, and hold hands while nibbling fresh pawpaw and watching the sandpipers and shorebirds scavenge for their own breakfast along what has to be the most placid lagoon in all of Fiji (hence the “calm waters”).

I’ve been here a couple of days now and have yet to meet anyone who wasn’t either on their honeymoon or at least pretending to be (which reminds me of a certain resort area outside of Acapulco frequented by wealthy Mexican businessmen who take their mistresses here for quiet, unobserved trysts, but that’s a story for later). If you think this makes me jealous and bitter, you are right. Still, watching all these honeymooners around me is kind of interesting. A bit like observing bonobo monkeys or mating whooping cranes. Sometimes I feel like I should be wearing a white lab coat instead of swim trunks and videotaping the encounters.

One observation: People who have just tied the knot jabber at each other constantly. I mean, they’re so new at this whole “mister” and “misses” thing that they actually still have things they want to tell each other, even if it’s just an observation—such as I heard at lunch yesterday—that the other person’s hair “smells really, really nice.”

That is just so adorable. And I am envious, of course I am. Because my hair smells of chlorine on a good day and even if I used the Pure Fiji coconut milk conditioner that is provided by the resort, which I don’t, I just can’t imagine anyone leaning over a table by the pool and telling me how fantastic my head smelled.That would just seem creepy.

The other really cute thing is that newlyweds tend to order drinks that they’ve never had before and will never have again, like a mojito made with coconut crème, the house specialty at the Dua Tale (which means “one more”) bar, and then toast each other. “Here’s to you!” “No, here’s to you!

When I see something like this I instinctively want to grab my camera and snap a photo of the joyous event and put them in little cardboard holders with the Likuliku logo on the sides and sell them as souvenirs at the front desk. Sort of like what they do with the horrified thrill seekers on Splash Mountain at Disneyland.

And wouldn’t that be something to have? A photo of you toasting your loved one, your sunburnt skin making you look like a pink glazed ham just out of the oven, your complimentary floral sulus wrapped around your waists (“Honey, what ever did you do with the sulu you wore on our honeymoon?” “I’ve been using it to wax the car for about nine years now.”), pleased as punch just to be sitting across from each other holding a rum and coconut crème drink with a little green umbrella listing on the rim? Back when you still had something to say to each other?

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Songbirds of Tokoriki

A myna bird waiting for breakfast and a song at Tokoriki. Photo by David Lansing.

A myna bird waiting for breakfast and a song at Tokoriki. Photo by David Lansing.

I think Penioni has decided to adopt me. Perhaps because I seem to be the only one at the resort by myself. This morning I pulled myself out of the ocean (I love going for a swim just as the sun comes up), wrapped a towel around my waist, and plopped down in one of the wicker chairs around the pool for breakfast. Before I could ask Niumaia for a pot of coffee and some fresh fruit, Penioni had pulled up a chair across from me. As if we’d arranged to meet for breakfast this morning. Which I’m pretty sure we didn’t.

It was odd. He didn’t say anything. Just sat down and folded his hands in his lap, staring down a myna bird, an island interloper from India, sitting atop a chair and waiting for someone to ignore their piece of toast long enough for him to make off with it. The bird, not Penioni. Penioni made a small hissing sound and the myna cocked his head in interest but refused to budge.

A couple of the boys in the water sports shack down below us on the beach, hosing down snorkel gear and pulling kayaks on to the beach, started singing. Penioni, locked in a blinking contest with the myna, joined right in. He sang carefully and with emotion. As if the two of us were in some sort of Fijian version of South Pacific and Rodgers & Hammerstein were directing him from the wings.

It was fantastic and upsetting for some reason, having a stranger sitting at my table, warbling like Rossano Brazzi, while I drank my coffee.

When the song was over and the boys went back to hanging up the wet suits to dry, I didn’t know what to do or say. I felt sort of embarrassed but I didn’t know if it was for Penioni or myself. Because the sudden silence was making me uncomfortable, I said, “Penioni, do you sing often?” What a stupid question.

But Penioni didn’t seem insulted. He shrugged. “All Fijians sing,” he said. “It’s what we do.” And then he got up and without saying so much as See you later, went and sat at one of the other tables around the pool, this one occupied by a young couple showing all the signs of being honeymooners (holding hands, glowing, guffawing when a myna bird stole their brioche). I felt certain that if Penioni broke out in song midway through their breakfast, they’d find it enchanting. And something they’d tell their children fifty years from now on the occasion of their Golden Anniversary. “We were on a little island in the South Pacific called Tokoriki where this little man who managed the resort—What was his name, Dolly?—would sit down with you at breakfast and just start singing like a song bird. Damnest thing we’d ever seen.”

And it was.

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Dinner with Penioni

Is reading in a hammock suspended between coconut trees a wise thing? Photo by David Lansing.

Is reading in a hammock suspended between coconut trees a wise thing? Photo by David Lansing.

Penioni, a heavy-set, balding manager at Tokoriki Island Resort, claps his hands and a young woman in a fuchsia pink sulu brings me a tall glass of island punch made from a blend of pineapple, papaya, and mango juice with a dash of grenadine. I pull out an airline-sized plastic bottle of lemon vodka from my camera bag and add it to the fruit juice. After several hours of transport aboard first a catamaran and then a speedboat, I have arrived at this, the only resort on Tokoriki, just in time for dinner.

Penioni directs me to a table near the edge of the infinity pool beneath—I swear to god—swaying coconut trees. So here I am, looking out at the fantastically blue water, wondering how often a coconut actually drops down on one of the dining tables by the pool. Just to make small talk, which I’m not very good at, I ask Penioni, who seems a little bit bored, what I should do tomorrow. He brings his hands up under his chin like a professor waiting for an unruly class to settle down, and says, wistfully, “There’s nothing to do here.” And then he shrugs the way Italians do when there’s simply nothing to be done about the situation. I don’t believe him, of course, but even if it turns out he is right, that would be just fine with me. A little bit of nothing sounds fairly enchanting at the moment.

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Fiji: Drop me in the water

Drop me in the water. Photo by David Lansing.

Drop me in the water. Photo by David Lansing.

It is 5,536 miles, more or less, from Los Angeles to Nadi on the western side of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. I leave L.A. on a cool, brisk January evening and arrive in Fiji before dawn two days later in February—talk about leaving the old year behind—where the first thing I notice getting off the plane after my ten-and-a-half hour flight is the smell of moist, slightly floral, earth.

From the airport it’s a 20-minute taxi ride in the darkness to the Westin Denarau Island Resort (which my driver insists on calling the Sheraton, its old name). By 6:15am I’m in my air-conditioned room. Ready to go to bed just as the sun begins to make a pink-and-orange appearance over the water. Having pulled an all-nighter, unable to sleep, I’m as buzzy as a Vegas gambler after an evening at the craps table, but what the hell. I might as well go for a swim in Denarau Bay. What better way to start the New Year than gliding on my back in warm tropical water as the sun slowly rises behind me?

So now I’m standing up to my knees in water warmer than baby’s formula watching the sun as it sneaks through the palm trees lining the beach. I am the only one in the water. In fact, the only other person out and about this early is a tall, handsome Fijian man in green khakis singing softly to himself as he rakes up small piles of sea grass along the beach. His singing is beautiful. A falsetto voice singing what sounds like church music. Not gospel, mind you, but church-y somehow. Music, sung in Fijian, that makes me think of sinners and absolution. Like a Fijian version of the old Talking Heads classic, Take Me To the River.

And as I walk out deeper into the water, I start humming the song to myself. Not the Fijian song. The Talking Heads song.

I don’t know why I love her like I do. All the trouble that you put me through. Take my money, my cigarettes. I haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

How to explain this without sounding dramatic….It is my first morning in Fiji. My first hour really. And I’m belly-high in warm water, the rising sun illuminating my face, listening to a voice—on the shore? in my head?—that seems to be beckoning me to do something. But I have no idea what.

I cross my arms over my pasty chest and slowly, like in a movie, fall backwards into the warm water, my head slipping below the surface.

Take me to the river (Take me to the river). Drop me in the water (Drop me in the water).

When I come up to the surface, perhaps a minute later, the tall man in green khakis is standing silently on the shore, his rake in hand like a staff, looking at me in a satisfied way. He smiles and nods without saying anything. Then he turns around and walks up the beach, disappearing into the grove of palm trees.

It is perfectly silent. Not a rustle in the palm fronds, not a chirp from a feeding shorebird, not the lap of a wave. Perfect silence. Except for the noise in my head.

I don’t know why you treat me so bad. Think of all the things that we could have had. Love is an ocean, I can’t forget. Take me to the river. Drop me in the water.


Boobs on Parade

Dinner and a show. That’s what I needed last night. A big hunk of meat and some dancing showgirls (not at the same time, of course). Showgirls with sequins and feathers and not much else. So I dined at Bellagio’s Prime where my waiter graciously proffered his opinion on the culinary differences between a porterhouse and a filet, a peppercorn New York and a roasted rib-eye while I quickly sucked down a Manhattan Bella—Knob Creek bourbon, sweet vermouth, Dubonnet, and a brandied cherry—hoping I could order another round before the waiter was done with his spiel.

The steak was huge. The Manhattans wonderfully potent. Thoughts of my gambling debacle started to fade. And just as I was starting to feel better about myself, the fountains in the 8-acre lake fronting the restaurant exploded in a dancing flurry like enchanted straw brooms from Fantasia. A chorus line of frothy water towers, like long lithesome legs, swaying left, right, kicking straight up into the air. Lovely. Erotic. By the time the water show finished, I was ready for the real thing. Time for Jubilee! at Bally’s.

Here’s what I don’t understand about this classic Boobs on Parade revue: Why do they literally flesh out the entire show in the first five minutes? It’s too much. Too many—way too many—boobs. The theatre is just barely dark when wave after wave of spangled and beaded showgirls—those “scintillating beauties,” as my program calls them—assaults the audience from every angle. They crowd the stage, the opera boxes, and even drop down from overhead the audience.

Everywhere you look, topless women. Ten, twenty, a hundred of them! It’s sensory overload. And then poof! They’re gone and the show settles into a mixture of special effects (the Titanic sinks once again), dubious historical vignettes (Look! It’s a newsclip of doughboys shooting Huns in Armentieres and here come some naked showgirls to the rescue!), and crowd-pleasing illusions as a magician makes tigers and cars vanish in thin air.

But here’s the thing that really stumps me: You’ve got something like 50 bare-breasted women strutting back and forth across the stage in these enormously over-produced vignettes and yet every single boob you see looks the same. Even the nipples are the same. Ever woman looks to be about a 32 or 34B with modest nipples the size of raspberries. There’s no real jiggling going on here because there’s nothing to jiggle. And the conformity, in the end, is monotonous. It’s safe to say that once you’ve seen one pair of tits in this show, you’ve seen them all. And what fun is that?


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