22 May 2007

Aloha and talk story from Kaua'i

We're down to just three more full days on Kaua'i, and I'm a whole lot mellower, to put it mildly, than the last time I posted. Ah, the healing power of the islands, even in the face of inadequate drawer space. Who gives a damn where the clothing goes? All I know is that I brought too much, as usual. Note to self: Do not pack entire tropical wardrobe every time you go to Hawaii.

One major factor in my de-stressification was the lomi lomi massage that Rita arranged for the Monday after we arrived. She and Carol had done it before, but I was a lomi lomi virgin. Oh my. First the sauna, then the salt-scrub, then a deep and thorough four-hand massage. Now I understand where lomi lomi salmon gets its name. We have another session scheduled for later this week.

A couple of nights after we got here, the six of us decided to check out the latest incarnation of the restaurant next door. Locals and long-time visitors still know it as Charo's. Now it's the Mediterranean Gourmet. (I know, I know; beware of restaurants with "gourmet" in their name.) Our dinners were actually pretty tasty, once we'd navigated through the rocky shoals of the "market price" section of the menu. A $60 bouillabaisse? Glad I asked. But then the maitre d' (and apparent proprietor) got into an argument with a customer at another table who'd complained that the bouillabaisse was too hot -- hello? "bouille" means to boil -- and claimed that it must have been microwaved. The ensuing sound of dishes being smashed in the kitchen added nothing to the ambience. Nothing good, anyway.

A much more enjoyable dinner was one we cooked at home for an acquaintance from The WELL who maintains radio towers and equipment throughout the islands. Don is an old Kauai hand and a master at talk story, the Hawaiian equivalent of schmoozing.

Another day, we hung out for a while at a tiny recording studio in Anahola while David sang and played two or three locally made guitars. Rita, Carol and I did talk story with Tracey, who lives upstairs with her husband Jim in a simple but elegant Hawaiian-style house. One story led to another, and Tracey ended up lending us a DVD documentary about Taylor Camp, the long-gone hippie commune at the end of the road, not far from where we're staying. Our dear friends Victor and Sondra were among the original settlers, and we visited the site with them on one of our early visits to Kaua'i.

Thanks to one of David's connections, a programmer at KKCR who also runs an orchid nursery, we got a quick education in island agriculture, plus the opportunity to ooh and aah at dozens of exquisite blossoms -- and a whole lot of talk story, of course.

Sandy and Doug McMaster are talk story masters, too, as well as accomplished slack key musicians. They play uke and guitar, respectively, and perform regularly in and around Hanalei. I've been getting their email newsletter for a couple of years, and Jer and I finally got to attend a concert last Friday. It was delightful; they imparted so much Kaua'i lore along with the music. We're hoping to catch them once more before we go.

Another of Rita's inspirations was signing us up for a tubing trip with Kaua'i Backcountry Adventures. You float through a series of irrigation ditches and tunnels, hand-built in the 1870s, that were once part of a sugar cane plantation. This is more scenic than it might sound, with fern- and flower-bedecked stone walls inches away, and lush jungle and mountain views everywhere you look. Every now and then you hit a mini-waterfall or a tight curve that makes for interesting navigation and occasional fun jam-ups. Our main guide, T, was a sharp and funny dude with an amusing spiel and some awesome tattoos.

My brother Larry and his girlfriend Kate flew over from Oahu, where they live, for a couple of days. We took them snorkling at Tunnels, and to Limahuli Gardens with Carol and Art, and out to dinner at Postcards in Hanalei. It was good to spend some time with them.

I've put up a few dozen shots, including most of these, on Flickr.

The single most magical moment of the trip so far, as far as I'm concerned, was Sunday's turtle sighting. I was hanging in the water at Tunnels, mesmerized by a huge school of Bigeye Scad (their Hawaiian name is akule). There were thousands of them, all moving as one. I felt as if I was in the middle of a slow, cool, silver fireworks explosion, over and over again. Then I glanced down and saw a turtle in the sand below. She was motionless except for an occasional slight head-nod or flipper-wave. I hung over her for about 15 minutes, knowing that she would eventually have to surface to take a breath. Eventually, she loosened from her moorings like a hot air balloon and floated up up up, right next to me. I had to move back a bit to avoid a mid-ocean collision. She stayed close, swimming up and down and around me. I could have reached out and touched her at any point. I've swum with turtles before (and since; two more came by when we went back to Tunnels this morning) but this encounter was long and intense and felt profound, somehow.

13 May 2007

A crabby check-in from paradise

We're on Kaua'i again, in the spot we've been coming back to for more than ten years. It's right on the beach, in one of the most glorious locations on the island. We can see both sunrise and sunset and, over the years, we and our friends have developed appropriate rituals for greeting both.

After all this time we feel as if we own the place, which I realize has everything to do with my pissy attitude at the moment. What used to be a cluster of funky cottages is, under new ownership, in the process of upscaling. Our unit now has marble floors, dark brown West Elm-type furniture that would be at home in a trendy loft in the Pearl or Soho, a Viking range, a two-person soaking tub, and a Euro-style shower with multiple adjustable jets. Our friends Rita and David have a bidet, for god's sake, in theirs. There are sconces and uplights, giant pillar candles and tea lights everywhere you look. The soap, locally made and charmingly wrapped, spa-style, has chunks of stuff in it; I honestly couldn't tell, during my post-snorkle shower this morning, whether I was washing the sand off or rubbing more on.

Plus, we have art: in the living room, a tall urn holding three thick bamboo stalks and a basket of carved wooden balls that suggests a giant Polynesian game of cricket. Or maybe croquet. Or golf. Also a pair of Giacometti-esque figures -- I've dubbed them Anorexic Barbie and Ken -- that are just so evocative of island culture. And, in the kitchen, for some reason, a set of spears.

What we do not have, anywhere on the premises, is a single goddamn drawer for clothing. Everything resembling a bureau or dresser has been stripped from the cottages. We're here for two weeks, paying luxury hotel-room rates, and have no place to store our underwear.

I finally resorted (no pun intended) to taking the bath towels out of their chic little baskets, stashing them under the bedside tables, and using the baskets to hold our clothes. It's not an ideal solution, but it's better than piling shirts and shorts and whatnot on the closet floor.

Speaking of closets, in the course of remodeling, the handy "beach stuff" cupboards were eliminated; there's no longer a spot to store damp, sandy gear. But we do have a Viking range. And some bats and balls to amuse any giant Polynesians who might show up.

Okay, I'm aware that far worse problems exist in the world; I'm just venting. The lack of storage space won't ruin our vacation. We do, after all, have wi-fi.

And the people who bought this place are doing their best; they've improved the grounds tremendously and obviously poured a lot of money into the upgrade, inside and out. They have an absolute right to refashion what we thought was already paradise according to their own vision. But it's clear that our expectations don't mesh with theirs. It's sad to have to admit that, after all these years of what seemed like a perfect relationship with our little patch of tropical paradise, we've grown apart. Aloha.

10 May 2007

Rock On!

It's been a dramatic day on the landscaping front. Early this afternoon, a gargantuan truck with a huge crane delivered the rocks -- significant rocks; we're not talking pebbles -- for our garden-to-be. The driver, to our great relief, was an absolute pro. He didn't snag any overhead wires (a strategically-applied push-broom helped) or destroy personal property in the process, a significant possibility when you're swinging around half-ton potential projectiles.

Under Grace's direction, Micha and David eased each boulder into its pre-dug, pre-assigned crater, and then guided the pallet of flagstones onto an empty spot on the rapidly-disappearing lawn.

By the end of the day, the path was in place, and the sparse grassy patch in front of Casa Jereva well on its way to transmogrification.

Each little (a relative term) boulder is a thing of beauty. Grace put a lot of thought and care into choosing them. The shapes and colors are entrancing. One roundish stone with a concave top will surely become a natural birdbath.

It's so cool to glance out and see a curving flagstone path to the front door. This is exactly the way it should be.

I'm sitting in the living room, watching the shadows cast on the contours of the basalt column by the evening sun. Soon these massive stones will be accent pieces, surrounded by plants and eventually, perhaps, covered with moss. Right now, though, they're the main event.

08 May 2007

Seven Things

I encountered one of these "Seven Things" posts on somebody's topic-oriented blog a few months ago and thought "weird; why's this guy talking about himself all of a sudden?" Now I know; Terry tagged me, which means I'm it, and I get to post seven random but revelatory and perhaps entertaining things about myself. Forgive me if any of this is old news to you:

1. I used to dance on American Bandstand. I'd take the subway downtown after school, and the El to the WFIL studio at 46th and Market in west Philly. When Dick Clark was going to be out of town, we recorded several shows in advance, usually on a Saturday (I don't recall Bandstand ever having a substitute host). The girls always brought a variety of outfits, or at least a change of tops, so that, when the individual programs aired, it didn't look like they were wearing the same thing, heaven forbid, all week. The second photo is of me and Bobby Rydell at the autograph-signing station on the Bandstand set. I carried this picture in my wallet for years; you can see the creases. That sweater was multicolored and, in retrospect, deeply hideous, as was my hair at the time.

2. I have a tattoo in roughly the same place that George Schultz, Reagan's Secretary of State, is reputed to have one. I got it for my 40th birthday, at Lyle Tuttle's studio in San Francisco. The subject matter is similar to George's, too. His is a Princeton tiger; mine is a generic housecat that actually looks a bit like Stella Luna.

3. In college, I wrote my Honors English thesis on Samuel Beckett's novels. Not the plays, like Waiting for Godot, for which he's known. Nobody but English lit majors reads Beckett's novels. For the record, and from memory, they are: Murphy, Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable, and How It Is.

4. I went to an all-girls high school and was part of a smartass cohort that a gym teacher dubbed "the rotten 10%." Of course we proudly adopted that as our name. It was more like 40%. I'm still a member; perhaps you are, too.

5. The only time I ever cut school all day -- as opposed to just a class now and then -- was to stand in line when Beatles tickets (Philadelphia, 1964) went on sale. This photo isn't from that era, but from about 5 years later, when I first moved to Berkeley. It's taken near Isadora Duncan's Temple of the Winds. I think of this as my Joni Mitchell era. At 118 lbs., I was willowy; I had cheekbones. I made the striped pants, and the jacket is the suede one I appropriated from my mom and eventually sewed into her Celebration of Life quilt.

6. My mother left Germany in 1933, when she was 17, lived with relatives in Chicago and graduated from high school there. My grandmother Rosi emigrated the following year. They were lucky to get out when they did. Mom met Dad on a blind date; after they were married, she had Granny dye her velvet wedding dress -- it was a December wedding -- royal blue so she could wear it on other occasions. I have it now. Last time I tried it on it fit, though I haven't worn it anywhere; it's hard to come up with an appropriate occasion in Portland. Incidentally, Granny was a dressmaker and made both Mom's wedding dress and mine for my first wedding. Here's Mom and Dad, visiting California in April 1982.

7. Speaking of which, I've been married three times. So has Jerry. That makes five marriages between us. Third time's the charm. It seems to be working so far; April 17th was our 25th anniversary.

Okay, that was the easy part. Now to come up with seven blogging friends who haven't already been tagged and whom I know well enough to torment...

Lawn time comin'

Work got underway this week on transforming our scrabbly front lawn into some kind of horticultural paradise, or at least an attractive garden with interesting and sustainable plants. Here's how it looked at the end of the day yesterday. The new path defines the route that most people already take to and from our house. It'll be flagstone, and the pavement in front of the stairs has been stained a subtle terra cotta to go with the warm colors of the stone. The project will probably still be in high gear when we leave for Kauai this weekend; our friend who's house-sitting will have a front-row seat as the landscaping drama continues to unfold. All going well, Jer and I will return from the Garden Isle to a new garden of our own.

Speaking of tropical flora, a particularly weird and gangly rescue cactus I took off a friend's hands at Sea Ranch has bloomed spectacularly, proof that the sun does shine in Portland.

And speaking of vacations in Paradise, I've been meaning to blog about my soujourn on the coast a couple of weeks ago with five of my art quilter friends. It was new territory for me -- Oceanside, OR, a few miles from Tillamook -- and I really enjoyed seeing the ocean again, as well as getting better acquainted with these interesting and creative women. I posted some of my artsy beach photos on Flickr, but I can't add much to Gerrie's and Terry's excellent accounts of the weekend itself.

01 May 2007

I might never eat again. Yeah, right.

This has been an eat-ier than usual time for me. I spent a few days at the beach last week, on retreat with some art quilt friends. I ate a substantial breakfast and dinner every day we were there. Three days out of four, I had two scoops of Tillamook ice cream -- at the creamery, which made it taste even better -- for lunch. I'd intended to stay off the scale til I'd gotten back into more normal eating for a few days, but curiosity and habit got the better of me. Gulp.

And yet, one more indulgence loomed: Last night was Taste of the Nation, a fundraiser for Share Our Strength, an organization that deals with ending childhood hunger in America. The ballroom and foyer at the Convention Center were filled with food and drink booths. We sampled dozens of fine wines and uncountable bites of unusual and delicious snacks prepared by top local restaurants. Many of the chefs were there, prepping and presenting. It was exactly the event that we'd hoped last summer's way-too-corporate Bite of Oregon would be. We justified the ticket price because it was a benefit, with most of the proceeds going to SOS. If it were simply a culinary pigout, I doubt we would have indulged.

The truth is that, even when we're eating "normally," we eat very well. Starting in late afternoon, Chef Jerub toils quietly and uncomplainingly in the kitchen, prepping culinary delights both casual and more refined. Here we have half a turkey burger garni, catfish with a cornmeal crust served with lentil stew and fruit salad on the side; salmon piccata with asparagus and a tart filled with layers of caramelized onions, sauteed spinach, and chevre; a spicy Thai shrimp and rice dish with a side of Israeli couscous pilaf (two intensely flavored dishes that played off each other nicely) and a simple green salad for relief. The motto around our table is "nobody eats like we do," and I'm convinced that that's true. It's our version of saying grace.

While I'm on the subject of food, here's a photo of a batch of rugulach that was my contribution to an Easter-Passover potluck, just because it looks so pretty. Ditto the festive-looking drinks, which are grasshoppers that Jer whipped up to celebrate St. Patrick's day. They're made with green creme de menthe, of course.

Starting tonight, we'll eat more sanely. This is not a sacrifice if you dine at Casa Jereva.