When I began this blog a little over a year and a half ago, it was with the intent of talking about how books and my life intersect. Sometimes I do some kind of interesting things that normal people would include in their blogs, but I don't write about them because books aren't involved. Take a couple of weeks ago, for instance. I was in Hawai'i, and the first few days I was thinking, "This is a delightful experience, but I can't share it with my blog readers (all two of them) because it has nothing to do with books." (Except it kind of did because I had a guide book with me, but I don't really count that because most guide books are about 80% guide and only 20% book, if you get what I mean, and also the guide book we used was out of date and annoying besides. I left it in the wastebasket of our motel room when we left.)
But finally, halfway through our visit, something happened that was connected to books. It all started the morning of Wednesday, 2 September, while we were taking a tour of 'Iolani Palace.
As we visited the throne room, Jan (our guide) said something that intrigued me. Besides the two thrones, there were perhaps half a dozen other chairs in the room. The other chairs looked shiny and new, but the seats of the two thrones looked a little shabby and worn. Jan explained that it was all original furniture but that the non-throne chairs had been reupholstered with period replacement fabric. The two thrones, however, had not been reupholstered because they (by which I assumed she meant the Friends of 'Iolani Palace) wanted to preserve the mana, or spiritual power, of King Kalakaua (I tried to use the kahako, but blogger didn't like the html involved) and his wife, Queen Kapi'olani, and later Queen Lili'uokalani, who had sat upon the thrones.
I thought that was a very interesting thing to say, and an interesting decision to make. I would have chosen to leave the original upholstery as well. I don't call it mana, but I think that's kind of what I'm looking for when I go certain places, like to see Shakespeare's monument at Trinity Church, or the letters of Robert Louis Stevenson at the Huntington Library, or Ginger Rogers' handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. To change the upholstery would eliminate the essence of their presence and the realness of the connection.
It reminds me of a comedian I saw once who said he had George Washington's axe, the very one he used to chop down the cherry tree. It had been passed down in his family. Of course, over the years there had been some deterioration of the artifact, so he had to replace the handle . . . and the head.
When the guided part of the tour (the first and second floors) was over, we were taken to the basement, where we were left pretty much on our own to look at the displays there. Besides the kitchen, some storage rooms, and several water closets, there were interesting displays like the royal crowns and swords, some ceremonial leis, and (can it be true?) King Kamehameha I's feather cloak that was passed down from king to king to queen as a symbol of Hawaiian royalty. Talk about mana!
And speaking of mana, one of the items they had upstairs on the second floor was a quilt that Queen Lili'uokalani and some friends of hers had worked on. It's kept in a climate-controlled glass case. The quilt was given to the Friends some while ago, it having been in the possession of a descendant of one of the women who worked on it. Jan mentioned that there were many items auctioned off during a 10-year period after the so-called provisional government illegally ousted Queen Lili'uokalani from the throne. Some items they have recovered from places as far away as Europe. Jan and the other Friends believe many other items still survive, and they hope to recover more of them. Among the things they're looking for are any of King Kalakaua's library books.* I had noticed, as we were shown through the library (also on the second floor), that there were only a handful of books there. I mentioned the paucity of books to Gary (only I didn't say "paucity").
Jan was down in the basement with us - probably to make sure we didn't try to make off with any artifacts - so I decided to ask her a question. Actually, people had been asking her questions off and on during the tour, and she was responsive and well-informed. She was also quite patient, even when one lady asked the Dumb Question of the Day: "When did Hawaiian become a language?" I would've given a more sarcastic response than Jan did. Probably something like "When did your mom become a language?" People like to tell you that there's no such thing as a stupid question, but it's just not true.
I had remembered, from reading Mark Twain's letters from Hawai'i, that when Princess Victoria Kamamelu Ka'ahumanu died, there were mourning ceremonies on the grounds of 'Iolani Palace for a month before she was interred. So if King Kalakaua had the present palace built in 1882, and Mark Twain was at 'Iolani Palace in 1866, what kind of palace was here before this one? So I asked Jan if there had been a palace on the grounds before 1882, and she said yes, the previous couple of kings had lived in it, but that it was a smaller wooden structure. When Kalakaua became king, he had it examined and found it had termites, and structural damage, and who knows what else, so it was torn down. When it's mana versus termites, I guess termites have the upper hand.
Then I said, "I have another question but I don't know if you can answer it." I said that, seeing as how there were several incidents in Hawaiian history when some foreign gunboat could sail (or steam) into town and force the Hawaiian government to do what it wanted, why did the Hawaiian government never build a navy?
Jan said she couldn't answer the question, but that it seemed from the history of various Polynesian islands that, even if the Hawaiian monarchy had built a navy, it would never have been big enough or powerful enough to stand against an imperialistic (my word, not hers) nation like the United States, Great Britain, or France. She said Hawai'i and some of the other islands were just too valuable. I mentioned Tonga and wondered how they had managed to keep their kingdom independent and intact. She said that's right, but she figured some islands were more strategic. I said yes, Hawai'i certainly was, militarily and for trade, since it was smack in the middle of the Pacific.
Jan said when the French took over Tahiti, they did one good thing. She said the Tahitians don't appreciate the French being there, but at least the French made it the law that only Tahitians can own land. She said the Chinese were smart: they married Tahitians and then they could own land! She said that, in contrast, the Great Mahele (the land reform in Hawai'i enacted in 1848) was a big mistake, where all the problems started. I guess so, if you look at it from the point of view of Hawaiian sovereignty, but it seems to me it was a step forward for the Hawaiian commoner, who, prior to that time, could not own land and could be evicted from the ahupua'a (a piece of the island extending from the mountains to the sea) at the whim of the chief who owned or controlled it. I think the problem (as it always seems to be) was greed - many of the chiefs leased or sold their land to foreigners in attempts to get rich. Well, it's probably more complicated than that.
So then Jan asked if I was a student of Hawaiian history. I felt flattered, and then I felt silly for feeling flattered. I told her I was self-taught, from reading books.* She asked what books I'd read. I told her I'd read Hawaii: An Uncommon History, and the one by Gavan Daws (I couldn't remember the title at the time. It's called Shoal of Time, but I was trying to say Reef of History, or something like that, only I knew it didn't sound right).
Then she said Gavan Daws' book was "tainted". I asked what she meant by that. She gave a vague sort of half-answer that I didn't really understand, and then recommended that I read Nation Within, by Tom Coffman.
I asked her then what she thought about the sovereignty issue. She said she understood that those who wanted sovereignty had some deep hurts, but she added, "We're Americans", and explained that she felt the best solution would be to have crown lands returned to the Hawaiians. She said that was the major issue: who would control crown lands. The state naturally wants to have them, but, in accordance with current law, can't. And she said part of the problem was the failure of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to make land available for Native Hawaiians. I asked her a couple of questions more about it, but couldn't quite get what she was saying. Our discussion ended with Jan once again recommending Coffman's book, as she felt that would explain things clearly. It was a fascinating and informative conversation, and I'm glad I was able to talk with her.
Then it was time to hurry back to our car. We had had to park about three blocks away, and the meter was good for only two hours, and that's how long we'd been gone. We had come in the front entrance to the palace grounds when we arrived, but as we came out of the tour, we noticed a gate in the back that would enable us to take a shortcut, cutting a whole block off of our route. So we started heading that way when suddenly we saw . . . parking for 'Iolani Palace! On the grounds! What?! What kind of guide book tells you to visit 'Iolani Palace but doesn't have the sense to mention the interesting, helpful, and essential fact that parking for the palace can be found on the selfsame grounds?! Stupid guide book.
Off we went, quickly, to our car. On the way, we passed Washington Place, right across the street from the palace.
This was the home of Lili'uokalani. She lived here while her brother, Kalakaua, was king (before she became queen), and she spent some of her period of house arrest here after being deposed.
Next, we passed the state capitol building, which has a statue of Queen Lili'uokalani standing in front of it. That day (2 Sep) happened to be her 171st birthday, and a group of Hawaiian nationalists had hung leis on her statue and were standing before it with solemnity as three individuals blew on conch shells. I almost didn't want to walk past or through their group, but we had to get to our car. As we passed through, I noticed one young woman watching the proceedings with tears in her eyes.
Well, we made it back to our car with no time to spare. Indeed, the meter had expired. Fortunately, no traffic cop had noticed (there wasn't even one around), so we hopped in the car and drove down to Kapi'olani Park, where Gary dropped me off before going over to the swap meet at Aloha Stadium. I had originally planned to go to the Bishop Museum, but all this talk of mana and books and stuff had decided me to check out the connection of Robert Louis Stevenson* to the area. I was hoping to find his mana at Waikiki, as outrageous as that sounds.
I began with the Waikiki Historic Trail, which starts at the corner of Kapi'olani Park. This section of the trail consists of four areas of interest: the park itself, the Outrigger Canoe Club (started in 1908 to revive and promote surfing and canoeing), Queen's Surf (a famous nightclub during the 1950s and 1960s, but torn down in 1971), and Sans Souci.
It was this last area that interested me most. Sans Souci was a small hotel that opened in 1893 and is also the name of a small stretch of beach along Waikiki. I don't know if the hotel gave its name to the beach or vice versa. Anyway, in that same year, Robert Louis Stevenson was a guest at the hotel. He had been in Hawai'i once before, in 1888, for about six months with his family. His 1893 visit lasted only about five weeks.
The San Souci area was, sad for me, on the Diamond Head end of Kapi'olani Park. So off I trudged. Halfway there, I realized I had failed to put sunscreen on before leaving the car. Oh, well. As I walked along, I noticed a distinct odor of urine. At first I thought it might be from lazy beachcombers, too indolent to walk to one of the public facilities, but then the frequent cry of primates echoing from the zoo across the street led me to think that actual apes were more probably the source of the unpleasant odors.
The Sans Souci area is supposed to offer the best swimming in all of Waikiki because it has the smoothest water. Well, that may be, but I didn't know then if I'd ever want to come back and try it out. The area had a run-down look to me. The nearby hotels looked kind of seedy, and I was reluctant to take a closer look. If Robert Louis Stevenson was here, I thought, or his mana, it had long departed with him.
I was soon to find out I was wrong.
I walked back up the beach the way I had come, looking at the various statues and other points of historical interest, until I came to Ka'iulani Street where it intersects with Cleghorn and Tusitala Streets. Cleghorn is named for Archibald Scott Cleghorn, a former Governor, the husband of Miriam Kapili Likelike, and the father of Victoria Ka'iulani. Robert Louis Stevenson was a frequent guest at the Cleghorn estate (called 'Ainahau), where he befriended Ka'iulani during his first visit to the islands in 1888. Tusitala Street is named after him (the Samoans called him Tusitala, which, if I recall correctly, means "teller of tales"*).
I hung about a bit, looking at the sign and the surroundings, and thinking about Stevenson sitting in the garden, talking with Ka'iulani. Here, on this slightly quieter side street, I think I felt a little something, some sense of the author, although how I ever managed it in the midst of all those high-rise hotels is a bit of a mystery to me.
My reverie was interrupted by a phone call from Gary saying he was on Beretania Street and was on his way to pick me up.
I said, "I'll be at the corner of Ala Wai and Ka'iulani." Which is where I was and I figured I'd stay put since I was pretty tired of walking by this time.
"I don't know where that is," said Gary.
I explained how Kalakaua Avenue ran one-way to Diamond Head and Ala Wai ran one-way the other direction, and if he came down Kalakaua to where he dropped me off earlier, he could then go a couple of blocks and turn left at Ala Wai.
"Okay," he said, and hung up. He lied. It was not okay.
A minute later, it occurred to me that Ka'iulani is one-way toward Ala Wai and that Gary wouldn't be able to turn there. So I called him back.
I explained about the one-way streets and then said, "I'm going to walk a block to Kanekapolei."
I did. And added, "It's the street right after Ka'iulani."
I did. We hung up. I waited. And waited. And waited. Really, there are a lot of small white cars driven by grey-haired men in this town. I thought Gary had arrived 10 or 15 times, but it was always a false alarm. My disappointment deepened with each one.
My phone rang.
"I'm not sure where I am," said Gary. "I can't find that street."
"Where are you?" I asked.
"Almost to Diamond Head."
"Then you missed the--"
He said something I didn't understand. In retrospect, I think it might have been "hold on".
"You missed the turn," I finished. There was no response. "Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? Hello? Are you there?" I hung up and tried calling him back. Three times. Each time I got his voicemail. My disappointment warped into frustration a little more with each time.
Then he called me back.
"Where are you?" I asked.
"I can't find a road that takes me back to Honolulu," he said.
"Where are you?" I asked again.
"Down by Diamond Head."
"You need to find Ala Wai and come back this way."
"All these one-way streets are very confusing."
"Did you hear what I said?"
"No," said Gary. "The speaker on this phone is lousy and I'm trying to not get pulled over for driving while using a phone."
"Go to Ala Wai," I said, "and go as far as Kapahulu." I realize now I should've said Paki Avenue, which turns into Ala Wai, but it didn't matter. I could've said go as far as Mars and it would've had the same effect.
"I don't know where that is," said Gary.
"Maybe you should look at the map in the glove box."
"There's nowhere to pull over."
"Well, it's where you dropped me off and went up to the freeway."
"Well, I didn't see any sign that said--"
"Who cares?" I said, losing my temper. "Just go down Ala Wai and I'll start walking toward Kapahulu."
". . . can't read any street signs. There are no signs."
"Did you hear what I just said?"
"And Ala Wai is one-way toward Diamond Head and--"
"Did you hear what I said?"
"There are all these one-way streets."
"Gary! Can you hear me?"
"Can you hear me?"
"CAN YOU HEAR ME?!"
"I can't hear you. This speaker is lousy."
"Then why am I talking to you?"
I hung up and started walking down Ala Wai, back to where he had dropped me off. My frustration was about to deepen even more, but then I had a bright idea. I called Gary.
"I'm on Kalakaua now," he said before I could say anything, "going toward Diamond Head."
"Do you know where the zoo is?"
"The Zoo. The Honolulu Zoo. That's Kapahulu; that's where you turn."
"What? I can't hear you."
"The Zoo. Did you pass the Zoo?"
"The Zoo! The Honolulu Zoo!"
"Zoo! Zoo!! Z - O - O!!! Zoo!!!"
"I can't hear you."
I hung up, thoroughly frustrated. There was a woman walking toward me and I wondered if she had heard my bizarre little spelling bee performance. It would've been hard not to. Well, I decided, I'll just walk to where he dropped me off and hope for the best. By this time my feet were really frustrated, too. I'd been walking pretty much solid for the last two and a half hours.
I got to Kapahulu and was halfway down the block before I saw a white car (the 327th since that first phone call) and heard its horn beep. Gary stopped at the red light on Ala Wai and I had to run back to the corner. I made it seconds after the light turned green, so I don't think the people behind us were too enraged.
"Well, that was frustrating," said Gary.
"I don't want to talk about it," I said.
Later, after some food and a cold drink and a chance to calm down, we decided to take a stroll through downtown Waikiki. When we got to the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, we went into the Borders Bookstore and I bought a copy of Nation Within.*
The day, which had started so well and then deteriorated through the middle, turned out to have a fairly pleasant evening until, back in our motel room, I googled Sans Souci and discovered that there is still a hotel there called the Sans Souci. What is more, next to the Sans Souci is the Kaimana Hotel and on its lanai there are two very old hau trees, the very same trees under which Robert Louis Stevenson used to sit and relax. This information filled me with consternation. It was the one actual and relatively unchanged place associated with Robert Louis Stevenson on the island of O'ahu, and I had come within 50 feet of it and then, because I thought the hotel looked seedy and because the odor of chimpanzee urine was off-putting, I had pronounced it run-down, after which I turned on my heel and walked away. This to me was more frustrating than having to spell "zoo" multiple times.
Two days later, I asked Gary if he would mind going back to Waikiki. I knew it was no longer his favorite place to drive around in, but he was kind and said he didn't mind. So we drove down there, parked by the Kaimana Hotel, walked around to the beach side, and there before us was the Hau Tree Lanai, complete with trees. The lanai, which doubles as a restaurant, was unoccupied at the time, it being 30 minutes before the lunch hour. Under the cool shade of the hau trees, I could picture RLS sitting, enjoying the breeze. Here at last was the sense of presence I had been looking for.*
The following day, I left Hawai'i a happy woman.