Saturday, November 3, 2012

With Halloween, the Holy Days Have Begun

Now that Halloween has come, I feel that special loving happiness that I feel during the holidays. I realize that for me, the holiday season begins with Halloween (and doesn't stop until after Valentine's Day).

I really do enjoy having trick or treaters. I've probably said this before, but here is my perception: It must be amazing for children to have the understanding regarding Christmas and Santa Claus that there is a being whose entire purpose in life is making and delivering toys to children. The implications of that are huge, in my opinion. I think it opens children up to the concept of a benevolent universe that CAN work to support, provide, and love them. Of course, then, later they learn that that "Santa Claus" was a myth, that it is the parents who do it all. But myths really are symbols of a deep reality, so the Santa Claus myth is actually the truth,
and it is the PARENTS who support, provide for, and love the children, and that the entire created beingness of the Universe is an entity filled with love and wonder. In every way parents (the good ones, anyway) are Santa Claus, and so all this wonder and love begins in the home, and then can go forth out into the world from there.

I realized that Halloween in our culture is like an appetizer for Christmas, which is why I view it as the beginning of the "holidays", and I consider what must it be like for children to realize that on one day a year, they can dress up according to their fantasies and go around knocking on people's doors and the people in there will give them candy! Willingly! In my view, this supports the idea of a welcoming, accepting, giving, and generous neighborhood, something we want there to be for our children (and for us). So, in a way, Halloween brings the neighborhood together, if only for one brief night, but it is hoped that it can continue, and expand, on from there. How are the children treated there, by brightly lit houses, fun decorations, doors opened wide by smiling adults, and delicious candy proffered? Or darkened streets, scowling neighbors, a "get out of here" attitude, or a stingy demeanor? Or maybe one might wonder how certain people are then viewed--THOSE people are NICE, whereas THOSE people are MEAN. I think all this makes a difference in how children feel about the place where they grow up, and where they live, and about their culture as a whole, which is something I think we want them to care about and feel a part of.

All this is a positive spin on it, which I know that many others don't share. As loving as he was, my father didn't share in it, for example. He viewed it as something forced, and unhealthy. "If I had my way," he'd say, "Halloween would be eliminated." Huh? And yet I remember being a little boy, having so much fun when he took me out trick or treating Halloween night, creeping around in the delicious autumnal dark, smelling the smell of the fallen leaves, seeing the warmth of the invitation of the various houses, being with him on that special night. I don't even really remember the candy, were we even allowed to eat it? But what I was getting out of it was not the candy, but everything else. So when, and why, did Dad turn into such a humbug?

Others just see it all as unhealthy--"Children shouldn't have so much sugar." Others see it as "unChristian" (even though it actually has very Christian roots), "Idolizing zombies and monsters and other evil things." Others see it as supporting an "entitlement" mentality..."What, if we don't hand out the candy that we are forced to buy, what will they do, damage our house?" Then there are those who see evil everywhere out there. "The child molesters will be out on the prowl. In costumes, people can hide. Be careful of the things people give you--poisoned candy; laxative, or needles, or other hazards baked into cookies, don't take
anything that hasn't been commercially produced and wrapped and sealed."

Then there is the fear on the other side. I know someone who told me that she and her husband turn out almost ALL of the lights and hover in the farthest back room in the house. "We don't want anybody knocking on our door, we pretend to not be at home, you have no idea who is standing there and what they really want." You know, casing the joint, or they will bring out a gun from behind the folds of a ghost costume and come into your home to rob, rape, or kill you. I even felt MYSELF being a little afraid (although it didn't stop me at all and I didn't even peek through the little scope in the door before opening it...what would that have shown me, anyway?), imagining the possibility of a crowd of 20 teenagers suddenly flash-mobbing their way into my apartment and taking away everything valuable they could carry like how gangs of teenage blacks have done to 7-11 stores in Washington, DC and Las Vegas. Sure, that COULD happen, already society seems on the brink of ripping apart at the seams, and a sure sign of that total breakdown IS something like that person hovering in a hidden back room on Halloween night. But I still believe in "what my actions will manifest" and so far, I want my actions to support a loving, cohesive society, not people cowering in fear.

A couple of years ago, I read a book on "The Coming Race War", where "the color of your skin will be your uniform". While the author's arguments seemed to have a lot of validity (mostly based on how differing cultures tear themselves apart elsewhere in the world, and particularly in Africa which is, of course, continuously happening all over that continent), I didn't happen to believe that our American culture would fall to that. Sure, a hundred and fifty years ago we had slavery, but we also had the
Underground Railroad, and the Emancipation Proclamation, and then in the 60s we had the Civil Rights movement, which wasn't "blacks forcing civil rights on the rest of us," but "our culture indicating that the time for this was way overdue", and thus, we now have it. "But if it DOES come to a 'race war'," I said to myself, "then I guess I am dead, because there is no way I can see myself walking down the street and seeing a black or Hispanic person and automatically pulling out a gun and shooting them. So maybe they will just shoot me first." Of course I decided that my actions
would not support the manifestation of a race war, but will support, instead, that such a thing is ridiculous. [What actions would support the manifestation of a race war? The author's advice was to prepare for it by moving to safety right now away from the areas that would become the post-war Hispanic country (California and the Southwest), the post-war Black country (the South) (the two areas that I like best in the continental U.S.), and live, instead in the post-war White country (Christians in the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest, Jews in the Northeast--yeah, put all the white people in the cold, rainy, unsunny north zone), but I appreciate attempting to understand the points of view of all different kinds of people, and anyway, I am always interested in reading about geography!].

So, to me, Halloween is a kind of holy day and I do my part by getting
into it.

My apartment was clearly welcoming, I had all the blinds open and all the lights on, I had beautiful holiday lights strung along the railing of my balcony (they were purple when I bought them last year, at a Halloween store, because I figured I could leave them up after Halloween and turn them on for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and whenever I have a party...but being outside all year, the purple color faded off so now they are just white, or clear, but that is fine), I had a large plastic half-pumpkin face that fits over the outside light that is next to my door and glows invitingly, and I had a skeleton poster on my door that said "Trick or Treat!". So it was obvious even from the street this place was open for business. And then when it was time for me to go to bed, I took down the pumpkin and the poster and turned off all the lights and shut all the blinds. Now closed! Actually, I had no more trick or treaters after about 9:00.

I did have one kind of peculiar and possibly scary visitor, my very last one, actually. He had a rather cute rhythmic knock, like he was playing a tune, and when I opened the door, who should I see standing there but one lone adult male, not even in costume, or it didn't look like a costume (who knows how he normally dressed)...he looked kind of like a rock star, very skinny, probably stoned. He was standing, smoking a cigarette, and acted kind of embarrassed. What on earth was he doing? Well, the only legitimate reason that I could see was that he was trick or treating, maybe he had nostalgia for his childhood Halloween, or maybe he just wanted to get some free candy, or was suffering from the munchies from being stoned (I am sure he WAS stoned). Anyway, while he did seem kind of embarrassed, like he needed to explain himself but just couldn’t quite, so he mumbled something I didn't get, it didn't matter to me; in my mind, he had a perfect right to go trick or treating like anybody else and if he wanted some candy, why not? So I said, "Hi, trick or treat, here," and held out my candy bowl like I did for the kids, "you can choose five of your favorites," and he carefully studied them and picked out one by one his five, nodded his thanks and then went on his merry way. He certainly wasn't casing the joint, he hardly even looked past the threshold, I think he was simply legitimately out there getting himself some candy. And, honestly, I like that...I like it that he felt free enough to participate in this thing.

Reading on Facebook later that evening, there were some Facebook friends complaining about adults carrying a candy bag of their own. These Facebook friends thought that that was ridiculous, that the candy was only for kids. With me, I offered my candy to the adults, too, not one of them assumed that they could have it, though, until I offered it, and very few took me up on it (but those who did were happy about it). Halfway through the evening (when, unfortunately, it was too late to do anything about it), I came up with an idea that I would like to do next year, and that is to specifically have something to hand out to the adults accompanying their kids: a bowl filled with a huge variety of those cute single-drink-size liquor bottles like you get on airplanes or have in hotel mini-bars. I happen to really like those, myself (but, you know, I admit that I like liquor and no, I am not an alcoholic), so I think it would be very fun to offer those to the adults, "Choose your favorite, or something new to try, for yourself." But I don't know, maybe that would be a bad idea for various reasons, I will have to think about it. But so far, I like that idea.

It was interesting to experience the behavior of the kids. Almost all of them were polite and appreciative, except for just one, maybe two cases.

The very first group of trick or treaters I had were loud, noisy, and energetic junior-high-aged boys. I had heard them shouting boisterously and running around in the complex before they got to my door. They were obvious residents of the complex, because residents were the ones who started early, and also were the ones (at that age) who were not accompanied by adults. My personality is such that I LIKE that exuberance in kids rather than despising it; they are kids being kids, which in my view is how they are supposed to be. If I didn't like the reality of that, then I wouldn't live in an apartment complex that is mostly composed of families (nor would I work in a school). Heck, at this stage in my life, I could even live in an assisted living complex filled with nothing but fuddy-duddy over-the-hill types, but, no....

Anyway, I opened the door and saw three "faceless" boys standing there, two in those full head-to-toe "blue man" body-stocking costumes (with other stuff over that) and one of them with a very bloody, fanged wolf-man kind of mask on. They were kind of a shock to see when I opened the door, which I knew they wanted it to be, and I shared that with them, "You guys really ARE scary-looking, wow!" I then held out the candy bowl, saying that each one could choose five of their favorite ones. The tallest of
the boys said, "FIVE, are you sure?" "Yes," I said, "five." "Wow," he said, and then he carefully sorted through them and chose five, counting them out, "One, two, three...." Another of the boys sprang at one of them, held it up, and said, "This one is my FAVORITE kind!" They were actually SO nice and polite, and I said to one of them in the full-on body stocking, "Isn't it scary to wear that? I think I would feel claustrophobic inside there." You know, it's like being shut up inside a hood. He gave me what in my world-view is a true hero's answer, instead of a fake one, "Naw, it isn't scary, you can completely see through it, it doesn't make you feel shut up." The fake hero answer would be, "Yeah, it's scary, but I can handle it." True heroes tell you how YOU can do it, don't set themselves up on a pedestal. So those boys were winners, to me.

Interestingly, counting out five was kind of difficult for some of the kids, especially if they were very young. Their mother or their older sibling had to encourage them each step of the way. "You've now taken one, you can choose another one." And that would continue all the way to the fifth one. But even for some of the older ones, it was kind of like the difficulty of walking and chewing gum at the same time...they had to both CHOOSE and COUNT this to five. Everyone seemed to want to make sure that I saw each one as they chose them, like I was a policeman watching to make sure they took only FIVE (if I paid any attention at all, it was to make sure they got their entire five, which some of them seemed to not believe they could get). One girl got kind of messed up and after choosing three, ended up simply grabbing a handful in frustration, and then after she did it, looked up at me in shock and said, "I just took a whole handful!" and started to put some back, but I stopped her, "No,
that's okay, you keep them!" She seemed grateful that I didn't yell at her or something. I didn’t care, I just wanted them to be happy.

I did begin to worry that I might run out before the evening was over, for if a group of say, six, came to my door, they would then walk away with 30 pieces of candy. I had gotten one bag that said it had a 100 pieces and two other bags each that said they had 40. But at the rate of, say, "30" with one group, I would have only enough for about six of such groups. Of course, most "groups" weren't that large (composed of just two or three kids), but some of them were. So at the point (briefly), I cut it down to three pieces, and while all but one of those kids seemed quite happy with the three, one slightly older girl, my one clear rude visitor of the evening, said, "The people downstairs are giving out five." Imagine! But she succeeded in making me feel bad, because I had been giving out five, myself, before this group came. But
if she felt that her comment was going to make me give her more, it didn't work; her rudeness made me adamant that she was lucky to even get the three. But I did want to give two more to the nicer girls who were with her, but no, they all got only three.

As it turned out, the counts on the packages were inaccurate (or falsely indicative), and there were way more in those bags than what they said (which would have had the effect of making you buy many more bags). Maybe by "pieces" they meant some kind of a "serving", such as maybe "three" counted as a "serving", so the actual number of "pieces" was 300, or they were counting a certain weight...I really don't know (I probably should have figured it out). But I ended up counting how many I had left and realized that I was highly unlikely to run out with giving out five, so I went back to that.

It ended up that I had had WAY more than I needed. When Halloween was over, I still had nearly half of them left. So now what do I do with them? While it would be nice to "keep" them for next year, I knew that would be impossible; one way or another, I would end up eating them and I did not need to do that (proof of that, this morning, I found myself wishing that I had kept around a few of them, but I am thankful that I had not). And I wasn't sure if they even would be any good, kept around for a year. So I took them to school the next day, and divided them into four shares that effectively got rid of them. One share I put in a bowl in our building's kitchen for administrative employees to have, and that bowl was emptied within the first thirty minutes. Two other shares I gave for the stash of two teachers I know, one of whom keeps them in a teacher's workroom where the teachers in that group carefully enjoy them one at a time during breaks (I admire their control), and the other of whom has
a secret stash that she uses, shhh, to reward her students from time to time. The fourth share I put in our school's "left-over Halloween candy drive" bin, which either goes to disadvantaged children or maybe is sent to the troops overseas (I'm not really sure WHERE it goes). Anyway, that candy will find good use outside of my home.

So now I have Thanksgiving to look forward to, which has its own special charms that I enjoy. The weather outside has joined in the celebration, giving me that feeling of cozy comfort (fireplaces, candlelight, and sweaters or jackets) and the feeling of being embraced by a force bigger than I am. While it pulls you within, it also directs your heart to outside of yourself, so I am appreciative, thankful, and grateful for all that we have.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


It's been a while since I have been sick like this, but now it seems like I am making up for lost time. I feel sick everywhere. One thing good...I for sure will call in sick tomorrow. For some reason, those stolen days seem more delicious than normal days off, like they are somehow illicit and I am getting something extra that I normally wouldn't be entitled to. Of course, it is also good to pamper oneself. I think no matter how self-indulgent we may be, we rarely really ever pamper ourself, at least, not without guilt. But if you are sick, you HAVE to, since you want to get well, so no reason for guilt.

Apparently this started with diarrhea, which I still have. It came upon me three weeks ago, which I think is a long time to have diarrhea last. It made its awful presence known my final morning in French Polynesia, not entirely ruining the last day of my wonderful trip, but pretty close. I think I know where I got it, but maybe not. As I was suffering having to go to the toilet every half hour, I had plenty of time to think about how I might have gotten this, when I suddenly realized that I been "lured" into drinking tap water in the hotel in Papeete. I was wanting to enjoy everything my hotel room had to offer, and there was a rather intriguing-looking coffee-making thing in the room. It looked more like a steam locomotive, was more horizontal than vertical in shape and design the way coffee makers are in American hotels. This made coffee from little capsules. It had two pages of instructions, all in French, but fortunately the drawings illustrating each step were more or less clear. And one of the steps was filling a hopper with water, which, without thinking, I filled from the sink the bathroom, just like I would with a Mr. Coffee coffee maker in any American hotel room. It's funny how deeply-set habits are just repeated automatically.

Well, I had had no warning that drinking the tap water in Polynesia was bad (if, indeed, it is, which I am not sure). Not like Mexico, which everyone knows, or St. Petersburg, Russia, which well-read travelers will know. The fact that I had been served water in bottles everywhere I went in Polynesia (and they even had them in the hotel room) did not compute in my mind; that would have been only one vector in my awareness, that required at least one other axis in order for the principle to be pointedly clear...which I guess getting three weeks (and counting) worth of diarrhea provided that other vector, and so now you have heard that, here. Don't drink the tap water in Polynesia, it will apparently be WORSE than the water in Mexico.

My brother questioned, "But wasn't the water heated when it made the coffee?", but it wasn't BOILED, and not for so many minutes. It surprisingly quickly heated to a mild coffee-drinking temperature, nothing that would generate a lawsuit against McDonalds if I had spilled it in my lap. So I still think it had to be that hotel tap water.

This case has been surprisingly severe. When I got Montezuma's revenge in well-known "don't dare drink the water in Mexico" (from having a Margarita in a luxurious restaurant in San Miguel Allende--it's the luxurious places that get me--was made from a chipped block of ice, which may as well have been made with sewer water), I was sick for less than a week, and that was while traveling a long way away from home. Not three weeks, like this, and with me doing everything I can at home to fix it, such as taking the antibiotics that came in a traveler's diarrhea kit that I bought last year from the place that gave me all the innoculations for my trip to Palau, and when those were all gone, swallowing charcoal pills(supposed to absorb all the bugs), drinking diatomaceous earth (supposed to cut to ribbons all the bugs), and doubling my probiotic doses (the good bugs fight the bad bugs).

Finally today I called my general practioner, requesting an appointment and, I hoped, a prescription for something extremely powerful. However, all he did was recommend the BRAT diet, not one item of which is allowed on my weight-loss diet--bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast--all carbs carbs carbs and I am already going to be in trouble when I see both my weight loss doctor and my cardiologist tomorrow, who freak out whenever I gain even two pounds and, unfortunately, after my trip to Polynesia and then during the remaining weeks of my vacation AND in-service week at the school where we have been fed every day (attendance at those meals has been mandatory), I have gained something like ten.

However, I am successful at losing weight but so far haven't been at curing my diarrhea, so I bought all the BRAT stuff anyway, although for the life of me, while I was at the store, I absolutely could not remember what the "B" stood for, so I failed to get bananas. My mind seems to be going, as well, and that is due to the distraction of all the aches and pains I feel in my body, my constantly runny nose that is its own little waterfall, my chocking cough, and the feeling that the whole inside of my throat is crawling with creepy-crawlies (maybe they are the diarrhea bugs making an upstairs escape). Where did all that stuff come from? I really have no idea, but we did have half a day's first aid and CPR training yesterday with other sick people in a room that was ice-cold. The school continually harps on attemping to be "green", yet the air conditioning in the gymnasium was on so high that several people were shivving the whole time, while others wrapped themselves in blankets. (This with it being 108 degrees outside.) As for me, as soon as I got home, I sat outside on my sweltering balcony so that I could thaw out. So maybe drafts actually do make one sick (sicker).

I'm really not happy about having two doctor's appointments tomorrow where I am going to be berated for a ten-pound weight gain when all I want to do is OD on Nyquil. I definitely don't deserve this treatment and wonder why I am even in this mess in the first place. Because I have to admit that it has been a year, now, during which I have not progressed or improved my body one iota. I never ever got thinner than 170, even though I had quite easily and painlessly managed to lose over a hundred pounds in the ten months prior to that. I should have been able to slide on down to the 160s, maybe even the 150s (but needed to go no thinner than that) with absolute ease.

So in my misery today, I was thinking about that "failure", too (although it is hardly any kind of a failure to have stayed as thin as I have for a year, where I have maintained male fashion model stats), and realized it is all because of the braces. Seriously.

Since I had done so well with my body last year, this got me to wanting to work on other things that needed to be done, and the next thing in line happened to be my lower teeth. I had had braces when I was in high school, but during my freshman year in college I got so I wouldn't wear my retainer (which was required at night), because it made me talk with a lisp which was not something I wanted to have happen while living in a dorm my first year away at college.

But I am paying the price for that, now, because slowly but surely, my lower teeth began to crowd forward until the two teeth in the center began to attempt to move on past each other. So I had one central tooth in the lower jaw that had almost turned completely sideways and had become like a leaning Stonehenge pillar. Fortunately, my upper teeth stayed where they had been put (are 99% perfect, according to my orthodontist), so I needed only serious work done on the lower teeth.

However, it has been a miserable experience. These metal "brackets" that are glued onto the front facing of each lower tooth feel to me like "diamond mounts" in an engagement ring--without the diamond, only the waiting sharp prongs. So it is like having a row of sawteeth (four per tooth) rubbing against the inside of my lower lip and cheeks.

Even worse than the diamond mounts are the outer ends of the wire that is used to pull each tooth in whatever direction it is supposed to go. Somehow they have to come up with a better idea than what they have been doing, because what I end up with is like the point of a pin or a needle at the back inside my mouth next to the last molars, sticking there to get caught on by the inside of my cheeks with nearly every movement of my mouth. If I reach into my mouth to test the wire ends with my index finger, I nearly cut a slice down the pad of my finger. (My regular dentist began to wonder if I was heading for a case of oral cancer, and even sent me to a oral cancer surgeon for an evaluation.) So how would you like to spend a year with all that in your mouth? Not to mention the nearly constant ache of the teeth being torqued into position.

But even worse than those sufferings is eating with all these pointed metal things inside the mouth. Fibers of spinach wrap around each appliance. Meat is even worse, as it hunks up behind the wires and somehow crams into the spaces between each and every tooth, which I feel as if I had sand pebbles between all my toes except it's my teeth (one develops a phenomenal respect for the sensitivity inside the mouth). Fish is an immense violator, secreting its rot and fish stink into every fissure, making it essential that I laboriously brush my teeth after every single encounter with food or I will go crazy. And I can only imagine what my breath is like, although with my constant furious cleaning, I may actually smell better than ever, but who really knows?

There has been, quite seriously, a long-standing recommendation for airplane travelers to save their life by being sure to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste onboard in their carry-on bag. Apparently studies showed that during the heyday of the "take me to Cuba" airplane highjackings, the people who would be selected each day to be shot as the means to show the authorities that the hijackers were serious about their demands were always those who had been stuck there on a hostage plane and had been unable to brush their teeth. There is something about feeling a mess in your teeth that makes you aggressive, or uncomfortable, or irritable, and this aura of unease made these people noticeable to hijackers, as in, "here is one we can kill".

Well, my life has been in danger like that every single moment since a year ago when I had these braces put on. Because no matter how hard I work on my teeth with brush picks, threader floss, Oral B electric toothbrushes, tongue scraper, Listerine mouthwash, and ACT cleansing rinse, I never ever fully feel that my teeth actually ARE brushed. I even feel paranoid that bacteria is filling up the spaces next to, behind, or inside all these metal rings and appliances, so that once I actually DO get the braces off, that my teeth will end up being so rotten anyway that all this nice orthodontic work will have to be extracted and replaced by artificial implants.

So, with all this, some of my teeth actually HAVE been hurting almost at toothache level, and I can't determine if something truly IS wrong, or is this a kind of tension hysterical emotional reaction.

Needless to say, for a year I haven't enjoyed a single bite...eating either hurt too much (saw-blade and needle-cuts inside my mouth) or felt too creepy (particles of food stuffing between every tooth as I ate) or played my paranoia like the keys of a pianola, and I swear, the body has a limited capacity for feeling so in the midst of this symphony of negative sensation, I don't think I have been able to detect a single delicious taste. How can one "taste" anything in the midst of this sensual cacaphony? Well, I sure haven't...I hardly can even CHEW my food, let along taste it.

So whereas two years ago I could enjoy and feel full and satisfied from all the delicious tastes of healthy, weight-losing food, this past year I have felt hungry and unsatisfied no matter how much I have stuffed down my gullet. So it has been a battle to maintain, both my weight loss and my insanity.

So now, today, it has all come to a head, so I will go to bed early and then go to bed again for a whole day after my punishing doctor visits tomorrow morning. Surprisingly after all this heat outside, the weather report for tomorrow calls for potential rain storms, which in Los Angeles, is "winter" weather. Actually, that will play perfectly with me being cozy and resting in my bed, almost as if Mother Nature herself has come to my rescue. I love sleeping when it is rainstorming outside. So I imagine that after a day or two of that, I will be as good as new and maybe will be able to venture a bit beyond bathroom vicinity. Wouldn't that be nice!

But eating will still not be enjoyable. The metallic barbed wire inside my mouth is slated to be around for another two or three months. But you know what, that's just about how long a summer is, and we all know how fast THAT flew by. So, before I even know it, it's going to pearls and no more swine (between the teeth).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rejected TripAdvisor Review of Raimiti, Fakarava


Below is a careful, thorough, honest, and, I feel, helpful review of where I stayed in French Polynesia on my vacation this summer.  I wrote this for the website TripAdvisor, which I liked and have written several reviews for, until they rather insultingly rejected this one for reasons that I don't accept, but that very clearly let me know that from now on, they are not for me and I am not for them.  In fact, I would actually like to remove all the reviews that I have posted on their site, as the thought of my words (which always remain as a precious part of myself) present there now makes me rather nauseous (but there seems to be no way to remove them, of course).

I have noticed recently that TripAdvisor has a tight tie-in with Facebook, whereby a review or two of mine automatically ended up on my Facebook page by default.  If you do not want this to happen, you have to carefully hunt for a box to UNCHECK.  I am uncomfortable with so many things now automatically being posted on Facebook when you have not actually logged onto Facebook for the purpose of posting those things.  Things I want on Facebook, I can easily go and post them there directly.  Is Facebook going to rule my whole presence on the Internet?

So many independently-created websites that become popular get swallowed up by larger sites, so that among entities like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, YouTube, eBay, Paypal, Amazon, Facebook, and so on, it is hard to know which ones own the other ones.  In my view, this has become all too "corporate", and TripAdvisor's recent attitude toward me is a clear sign that they are operating this way, now, too.  

As I write this, I decided to see who actually owns them, and discovered that either they are currently, or were previously, owned by Expedia...hummm, that's a nice people search for reviews of places on TripAdvisor, this is giving "price negotiating tips" to Expedia, which I have never liked because their prices are always higher than the others.  I think maybe their having a hint that I have a strong desire to go to some place (based on the quantity of time reading reviews on TripAdvisor) makes them elevate the prices to that place.  Could be.

But, apparently Expedia got to the point where it wanted to "spin it off" (not quite sure what that means...sell it?) and there are on-line rumors that it will (or has already) become part of IAC, a multi-media and multi-internet conglomerate that I had not heard of until this moment, but which defines itself as the world's sixth largest network.  So yes, I now see, all these things truly are "mainstream", which is to say, more powerful, and therefore more corrupt and less good for the user.

Here is the (what I consider) insulting rejection notice from TripAdvisor (along with all the painted-on clown smiles, which is how I view their various exclamation marks and statements of "how they value" my contribution that they don't value at all):

Dear Reviewer,

Thank you very much for taking the time to submit your review! We value your contribution, and would like to be able to post it to the site. However, we're only allowed to post reviews that meet specific criteria and your review must meet the guidelines below before we can post it. If you'd be willing to edit and resubmit your review, we'd really appreciate it, and so will your fellow travelers! Your original review is included below so you can easily copy and paste it into the review form and make the necessary edits.

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(No content that is irrelevant and unhelpful to tourists. We are not a forum for general political, ethical or religious opinions. We will not post questions or comments directed to property representatives or questions/comments directed to, or about, TripAdvisor staff or other TripAdvisor members.)

We appreciate your contributions to the TripAdvisor community.

Best regards,

TripAdvisor Support Team

I wrote (but did not send) a nasty e-mail back to them, since I feel that their objections to my review are incorrect (I do not own up to what they are complaining about) and especially since I viewed their implication that my review contained content that was "irrelevant and unhelpful to tourists" to be not only grossly incorrect, but immensely insulting...they aren't PAYING me for my efforts, so why should I jump through hoops for them?  (Their little "reviewer ranking" titles and "badges" are irrelevant rewards if they control what you write.)  If they had given me some specific examples of what they didn't like instead of making me have to guess, I might have attempted to accommodate them, but since they didn't, what's in it for me?  (Especially now that I know they are so corporate.)  

Instead, I won't even bother to respond to them at all.  Because now I have gotten their number, and no longer care about them.

So, here is the review they rejected.  I have not changed a word.  If you are actually interested in the French Polynesia island of Fakarava, and especially are considering a stay at Raimiti, you might appreciate this review.  I notice that there is NO review of Raimiti on the TripAdvisor site more recent than last January.  Not a single one from this most recent high season.

------original review-------


Thinking back over my experience of Raimiti, I realized how very unusual, and yet deeply magical the whole place was.  I have read every review of Raimiti on this site, and I feel that every single thing said by anybody is true, whether good or bad, and I felt, myself, nearly every one of the things that other people said, plus many things of my own that nobody else has said.    I would say at the outset that you must carefully read the Raimiti website so that you will have a full understanding of what is on offer there.  I think once you read those words and understand what they are saying that you will feel in your gut whether you want to go to Raimiti or you do not.  What you see on the website is what you get...look at those will be there in that place, and it will look exactly like that.  There is no fakery in those photos nor are they the product of photo-shopping genius.  I, myself, took hundreds of pictures that look just like that and all I do is snap and shoot.

Your own body and soul knows what it is that you hope to get out of a stay at Raimiti, and what you want may be different from what some other reviewers wanted.  For example, many spoke of quiet relaxation and solitude, but I am not one who gets relaxation by doing nothing (I can, and do, read at home, and I can't stand lying still sunbathing), nor is solitude, per se, any special thing for me since I am quite able to be solitary at home.  I know how to relax in even the most frenetic urban environment.  But I found that what I could absorb from Raimiti that was infinitely relaxing to me was taking in that amazing blue color of the lagoon, or hearing the sound of the water lapping in what I thought of as "my tide pool" right outside my fare's front curtain (there is no closing door, and I didn't need one), or feeling the delicious shifting breezes blowing against my skin, or the motion of whatever boat we rode in as it sped across the water past perfect private white sand beaches backed by coconut palm forests.  Instead of a place of solitude, Ramiti was a place for me that brought wonderful people together--from Italy, from Switzerland, from France, (from, people of sophistication, intellect, sensuality, artistry, but, most of all, heart, which, if they were drawn to this place, that they surely have. Beyond the charms of Raimiti's beauty and setting, it was these people (two newly-wed couples in particular!) who made my experience there the magnificent thing that it was.  And if these same kind of people were in a large resort, one might not ever know it or ever have the chance to know them.

So at this point, if your study of the Raimiti website makes you feel within you a "yes", then here are some hints that might make your enjoyment even more assured.

Times are hard on the island of Fakarava (a rectangular ring of somewhat separated motus around a clean, gorgeous lagoon), like they are around the whole world, making things more difficult for pension owners.  Transportation seems to be a difficulty (lately, or maybe always), maybe fuel costs have increased or it is expensive to maintain boats, but there now seems to be a sharing of boats and "captains" so that there is no such thing as a "boat from Raimiti that will meet you at the airport for an hour and a half ride down the lagoon to Raimiti's motu".  Instead, when you arrive, don't expect someone to be waiting there for you with a sign that says "Raimiti" on it, or perhaps your name (even though you will see that for some of the other, I guess larger, pensions).  Instead, you will need to exit the airport with your luggage and go out to where vans are lined up and ask one of the drivers if he knows where the van is for Raimiti.  That van may (will) have the name of some other pension on it, but it will be filled with people who will be dropped off at various pensions and guesthouses along the way.  Even though there is actually a boat dock right there at the airport, nobody seems to use it for some reason.  Instead, you will be taken to what seems to be the end of the only road on Fakarava, where there will be a small dock and from there you will be taken to Raimiti.  On the boat, of course, will be the others who flew in on the same plane who are also going to Raimiti, but there also may be other visitors taking this boat who are going to pensions further down the lagoon from Raimiti.  I recommend asking on the van who all is going to Raimiti so that you can already gain a familiarity with the other visitors who are going there with you.

One other thing about this transportation...your departure from where the van drops you off may be delayed due to waiting for another plane that will arrive after yours, that is either bringing in some needed supplies for Raimiti, or, perhaps more likely, the arriving flight for visitors going to a pension beyond Raimiti.  This is all to make this journey from the airport to the southern Fakarava pensions cost-effective, and the very boat you are riding in may actually be owned by one of those southern Fakarava pensions.  

A hint about bathrooms:  the Air Tahiti prop plane you take to Fakarava DOES have a bathroom on it (hidden at the very rear of the plane); please be sure to use it before you land at Fakarava.  The bathrooms at the Fakarava airport are not likely to be working, and you will not have a bathroom available after that until you get to Raimiti.

If you understand these transportation conditions going into it, then you will not be upset when it happens.  Disappointment comes when the reality does not meet the expectation; well, don't be disappointed.  Let this be part of the whole adventure, HOW they need to do things on this isolated coral atoll.  Make friends with your fellow visitors, who chances are will be wonderful.  You're in this beautiful place, already, so you can enjoy it.

When you book your trip to Raimiti, you have a choice in bungalows, the "Robinson" ones which (as near as I saw) were all on the lagoon side, and the "Crusoe" ones, which were all on the ocean side.   There is some difference in the bungalows themselves, as you can see from the website, but conditions-wise, visitors say that the ocean side may be breezier (which some like and some don't--it's an advantage when there are mosquitoes), but also noisier.

The way I look at it, the Robinson bungalows, while private, are more central to the action--the dining room is on the lagoon side and the boats operate from the lagoon side.  This is like the "front yard".  Also, you can swim in the lagoon and kayak on the lagoon.  The lagoon is the sunset side, so it was wonderful to be located over there and enjoy the sunsets from the front of your bungalow.

I loved my Robinson bungalow that happened to be the very first one after the dining room.  I slept like a baby in there and woke up early, feeling fully refreshed.

Showers were good...each bathroom has its own solar-heated water heater.  I had gotten the good advice from Tripadvisor reviewer Cass, who suggested using "sailor's" shampoo since the Raimiti shower water could be slightly salty.  I ended up getting Kirk's Castile shampoo, conditioner, and soap and it worked perfectly (this actually could have been used in the lagoon, itself, since it was biodegradable, but that wasn't necessary!).  I always felt completely clean and refreshed.

I am pretty sure that while I was there, no one was staying in any of the bungalows on the ocean side.  (By the way, you do not swim in this ocean crashing on this reef, which is too rough.)  While I was happy to have my bungalow on the lagoon side, my favorite special place was over in the isolated, empty, almost alien landscape of the ocean side, where I never saw another person.  I liked to go over there early in the morning and see all the crab tracks (what I called "crab crossings") in the soft sand.  Those crabs were partying during those nights!  This was the sunrise side.  But my favorite thing about visiting over on that side was what I called "Monument Valley"--hundreds, if not actually thousands, of rock and coral piles, statues, or monuments, some of them rather high, all of them unique, beautiful, and somewhat ominous in a way, as if the whole immense compound of them as far as the eye could see in either direction up and down the shore were part of an ancient "marai" honoring Tahitian gods, ancestors, or some other beings.  When I first saw them, they were an amazing mystery, but actually, it really was no mystery--these had been built by visitors to Raimiti over the years as a way of keeping their spirit there in that place.  So, I, too, made one.  Those "memorials" were probably my favorite thing about Raimiti, maybe because they were so unexpected, mysterious, and full of careful artistry.  If you go to Raimiti, you must check these out and then build one for yourself!

There will be no electricity in your fare or its bathroom (either a separate building right next to it if you are on the lagoon side, or inside your fare if you are on the ocean side).  Your light in your fare (and also on the steps in front of it) will be romantic blue kerosene lanterns, which Eric will give you the easy instructions as to how to use.  However, you are are also given solar-charged flashlights for use during your stay.  Flashlight headlamps are recommended for those who might want to read in the vicinity of their fare after dark.  There are solar lights around in the compound so everything will have a soft, lighted glow.  You won't be in the pitch black dark!

In one of my favorite movies that comes from France, "My Father's Glory", which is autobiographical of the childhood of Marcel Pagnol, the family spends delightful summers in a house that they rent in Provence and the young Marcel romanticizes the kerosene lantern that they hang from a tree over their outdoor dinner table and lights the family's doings outdoors every evening.  There on Raimiti with my blue kerosene lantern on the steps of my fare, I thought to myself, ah, yes, I have Pagnol's summer kerosene lantern, now.

Meals at Raimiti (delicious, healthy, and beautiful) are breakfast at 8 AM, lunch at noon, and dinner at 8 PM.  They will blow a conch shell horn to announce when the meal is ready.  The conch will be blown before a boat leaves for excursions and for airport departures.

When I was there, it was the wonderful Moe (pronounced "Mo-ae") who helped prepare and serve the meals and she was especially sensitive to and aware of the social dynamics within the dining room which I greatly appreciated, which had to do with which and how tables were set, and for whom, and in what combination of guests.  I always felt cared for.

Excursions may be variable depending upon various factors.  Also, the conditions at each place may be variable, as well.  It is best to take these as they come and presume that Eric (the owner of Raimiti) knows best.  During my visit, we went on five excursions:  twice to our group's favorite white and pink sand beach, once to the area of the village near the south pass, once to a protected bird nesting motu, and once to a "hoa", which is a shallow reef place where water from the ocean is flowing over into a lagoon area and has interesting shellfish embedded in the coral.  You get to all of them by boat, although the favorite beach area could be reached by visitors on a kayak.

In order to enjoy these excursions, I highly recommend that you bring a beach bag into which you can always carry reef shoes--I happen to like Salomon Techamphibian water shoes that worked really well when I thought to bring them--(thongs will not be sufficient because they are too slippery) or, alternatively, scuba-diving booties, snorkeling gear (mask, snorkel, fins, and booties because those fins are likely to gouge slices across the top of your feet if you aren't wearing protection), a beach towel, sunblock, and your camera.  You will take hundreds of pictures.  (I took about a hundred each day.)  If you do not have reef shoes, you will be unable to enjoy much of the charm of each place you will be taken.  For example, at the beach, you are likely to want to walk out through the water to an alluring distant sand bar, a walk that will really hurt your bare feet.  The nesting bird motu does not have a sandy beach, but is made up of what I think of as "coral gravel".  Worst of all was the "hoa" that  (for some stupid reason), I did NOT bring my reef shoes, but instead, had on only thongs, which were all but impossible to use to walk across the jagged, broken-glass-sharp dead coral bottom.  To show you how sharp that coral bottom was, I (also stupidly) jumped off the boat wearing my glasses, which, of course, gently floated down through three feet of water and rested on the jagged coral bottom.  That mistake will cost me over a thousand dollars to replace the too-deep-to-fix scratched three-levels-of-correction progressive eyeglass lenses.  All the glasses did was gently REST on that bottom and the lenses were ruined.  What was happening to my hands and knees and legs...blood city.  Fortunately, there were no black tipped sharks around to test their normally-not-interested-in-humans nature.

One never seems to know when the snorkeling will be good or bad, despite what we are told.  There was virtually no snorkeling at all at the beach, although there were some curious snakey-like fish, but that was all.  We were told that snorkeling would be good in "the pool" in front of the village, but it wasn't really all that good, although there were some pretty yellow and also some beautiful blue fish.  However, there were black-tip reef sharks which we cautiously swam with.  While I had hugely hoped to have calving whales, dolphins, sea turtles, or manta rays, we never saw any of those ever, but at least we were in the water with sharks, so those became my memorable "big sea life" of this trip.

To me, snorkeling was best of all at the nesting bird island, where there were lots of examples of purple and other beautiful coral and several different species of fish.  It was there that I got into a relaxed frame were I simply wiggled my fins and gently moved along peacefully, enjoying all the underwater sights.  That ended when suddenly a fish shot past me in a panic and then I saw a black tip shark swim over, larger than the ones I had seen near the village.  I figured that maybe I would feel more comfortable closer to the shore, so I purposely made my way away from the shark, not in a panic, but just wanting to be on the safe side.  I would have liked to have photographed it with my underwater camera, but I used my energy to carefully move away, instead.  But that was a great experience to have under my belt.

Interestingly, my favorite place to swim was in the lagoon right there at Raimiti, and it ended up that there were thousands of a long, thin, blue fish right there around Raimiti's dock.  So "home" maybe had the best snorkeling of all, after all, even though some reviewers found none there at all when they were there.

One thing that I for sure expected us to do we did not do, and that was snorkel the south pass.  However, the newlywed couple from Switzerland did scuba dive the pass and didn't find it to be all that impressive.  The fantastic pass diving (and snorkeling?) experiences probably happen only at the peak in-coming tide times.  Looking at some tide tables, I see that, of course, these peak times slowly progress day after day around the clock and at the time you are there, the peak tide time may be in the middle of the night or at some other time that does not coincide with excursion times.  So this is not the fault of Raimiti, but conditions astronomical.  If this particular experience is essential for you (especially if you are a scuba diver and are going to Fakarava particularly for this purpose), you might want to consult some tide tables or communicate with TOPDive about this issue and select your trip time accordingly.

One dinner at Raimiti while we were there involved a fish barbecue right there at Raimiti, so that was a special activity that happened at Raimiti instead of on a distant motu.

At Raimiti, of course, like at any hotel, guests arrive and guests  depart.  What isn't typical, though, is that if you have had any interaction with the guests at all, perhaps at a meal, or along on an excursion, you will then feel sadness when they leave. And then it will be time for you to leave, when you will be sad for yourself, but there are people there who will be missing you!  It feels good, though, to feel a loss after the departure of a person whom you maybe knew for only a day, and I think that indicates the strength of what Raimiti really has to offer that I didn't see many (if any) reviewers talk about.  And, of course, all those hundreds of piled stone and coral monuments stand in mute testimony of something important, too.

There was only one bad, or problematic thing about Raimiti, and that is the language situation.  While I had completed Pimsleur's French I language course (so one cannot accuse me of being the kind of American who expects everyone to speak English), it wasn't nearly good enough, for Eric was very "French" on this subject (of perfectly executed and preferably fluent French being expected and almost required), but who did know English, while few of the staff members had the slightest clue about English, although one could have some communication with Moe.  This was not a total handicap for me thanks to three of the four newly-wed friends being quite good in English (one of whom worked professionally as an English/Italian translator of contracts and other legal documents, and another of whom actually taught English, as well as Latin and history), who kept me thoroughly abreast of the goings on that were not otherwise fully communicated to me.  Throughout my stay at Raimiti, there were 12 visitors being there at various times; two were from French-speaking Montreal, six were from France, itself, two were from Geneva, Switzerland (where French is the language), which left only two of us who did not know French fluently.  If you, yourself, are not fluent in French, I would not cause that to prevent you from going, but be prepared to feel somewhat isolated unless you have the experience I did of making friends with people who were fluent in both French and English (or whatever language it is that you speak), and who are generous in interpreting for you.

I think I did not fully appreciate Raimiti until I was putting together a Shutterfly hardbound photo book of my trip.  The page that got me emotionally was the last photo of the deep blue Fakarava lagoon at the airport before I got on my flight back to Papeete, and then home to Los Angeles.  The sudden grief I felt showed how deeply the experience had embedded itself into me.  I hope that you will find yourself having this same depth of experience with the place.  And I hope that the friends that may make there become lifelong ones.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Cacao Grove

I wrote in a previous entry how from time to time I’ve wanted to reproduce some descriptive writing written by others that has impressed me for various reasons.  In my previous entry, I presented Willard Price’s description of the Polynesian body of the 1950s.  Here, now, I am presenting something else from a generation ago, but that may still be true today.  This is an excerpt from James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific.  Probably everybody knows the movie, South Pacific, and the story of Ensign Nellie Forbush, the World War II nurse from Arkansas who met and fell in love with and ultimately married the French planter, Emile de Becque, whom she meet there.

Tales of the South Pacific is based on pieces of reality experienced by Michener when he was in the Navy, stationed in the South Pacific during World War II.  Others have since gone to the places where Michener had been and sought to discover the reality of the people and places whom Michener had used to fashion his tales, and they have found them.  If there really were no exact “Ensign Nellie Forbush” and no specific “French Planter Emile De Becque”, there absolutely WERE nurses stationed on South Pacific islands during the war and there certainly were French plantation owners.  In fact the mystical island of “Bali Hai” was actually a real place (although that is not its name), but how it figures is less than “mystical”—it was where the French planters safely secreted their women, especially their young beautiful daughters, to protect them from being raped by the American sailors.

I very much love this passage from the book about De Becque’s lifestyle, and particularly the description of his cacao grove.  It refreshes and inspires me to think that something like this maybe still exists.  This occurs at an occasion when De Becque invites Naval doctors and nurses from the base hospital to come to his home for dinner.  Nellie Forbush was at that dinner, and De Becque took a special interest in her.  It's all wonderfully beautiful:

The long room with its deep veranda faced south, and from it one could see four lovely things: the channel where the great ships lay; the volcanoes of Vanicoro; the vast Pacific; and an old Tonk’s flower garden.

Nellie thought she had never before seen so florid a garden. There were flowers of all kinds, azaleas, single and double hibiscus, hydrangeas, pale yellow roses, and types she did not know. About the garden were flamboyant and bougainvilleas, red flaming bushes. And everywhere there were capriciously placed frangipani trees. De Becque pulled half a dozen branches for his guests and showed them how native men wear the four-leafed, white and yellow flowers in their hair. The nurses smelled the flowers their host gave them, and were delighted. The frangipani was the odor of the jungle. It was sweet, distant, and permeating. In addition it had a slightly aphrodisiac quality, a fact which natives learned long ago.

De Becque’s dinner put to shame any the doctors had ever offered him. It started with soup, grilled fresh-water shrimp, lobster and rice, and endive salad. Next came in succession three courses: filet of porterhouse, lamp chop, and a delicious concoction of rice, onions, string beans, and black meat of wild chicken. Then De Becque served the “millionaire’s salad”, consisting of tender shoots of coconut palm sliced wafer-thin and pressed in olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cup custard with rum, small cakes, coffee, and a choice of six liqueurs ended the meal. And this was on the edge of the jungle, 550 miles from Guadalcanal!

To say that the hospital staff was astounded would be an underestimate of their reactions.

“Where do you get the lobsters?” a doctor inquired.

“We catch them here by various means. Out in the deep water.”

“How about the wild chicken?”

“Those black men you saw by the gate when you came in. They shoot them with arrows or with .22’s. They are wonderful shots, I think.”

“I think so, too,” the doctor replied. “But where do you get such big shrimp?”

"Far up the island rivers. You see, my friends, we don't eat this way every day. That's obvious. Not more than once every two weeks. You see for lobster I must tell the men five days in advance. For shrimp a week. For wild chicken, two days."

. . .

After dinner, the guests sat in the screened-in veranda. A doctor had brought along two mosquito bombs to keep the pests away. Their host served whisky, beer, coke, ginger ale, root beer, and rum. As the evening wore on and a fine crescent moon rose into the midnight sky talk turned to the islands.

“How can a man have stayed healthy here,” one doctor inquired.

“Hard work and temperate living,” the Frenchman replied. “I serve a great deal of alcohol but use it sparingly, myself. I have tried to do all things in moderation.”

The nurses wondered what “all things” covered. "Do you think other white people could live in the tropics too?" one asked. That is, as well as you have?”

"They do," he said. "I think will power has a lot to do with it. You take the island of Malaita in the Solomons. Oh, what a place! Yet a man I know well, fellow named Anderson. He found life there quite successful."

"Tell me, M. De Becque," a nurse asked. "Is it true that most white men in the tropics are running away from something?"

The Frenchman turned in his chair to face his impertinent questioner. She was a young girl, so he smiled. "Yes," he said, "I believe that is true. Suppose I was running away from something. Where could I find a lovelier spot than this?"

He swept his hand across the front of the veranda and pointed toward the silent peaks of Vanicoro. "As a matter of fact" he said in a quiet voice, "is not each of you running away from something? You were not married yet, your lovers were at war, or your wives were beginning to bore you. I don't think it wise to inquire too closely into reasons why anybody is anywhere!" He smiled at the embarrassed nurse.

“Oh M. De Becque,” she said. I didn't mean it that way!"

“I know you didn't, my dear! But that's the way I understand the question. It's no good to think that all the men in Marseilles are normal and happy without secrets and everyone out here is a fugitive! That sort of thinking is foolish in today's world. I wonder how many men and women in Marseilles envy me right now?"

It was after midnight, and the nurses had to return. They were reluctant to leave the plantation. At the gateway where the jeeps were parked M. De Becque detached Nellie from the group. She had stood so that he could if he were so minded. “Ensign Forbush," he said. "You have shown great interest in my home. I would like to have you visit the plantation again.”

“I should like to," Nellie replied frankly.

“With your permission I shall stop by for you one afternoon. You would enjoy my cacao grove."

Three days later, in the cacao grove, Nellie admitted that she had never seen anything which so impressed her with its natural, unexploited beauty. Within that grove she was to spend many of the happiest hours she would ever know, and one of the bitterest.

Plantation owners in the tropics usually plant their coconut trees in stately rows along the ocean front and inland for a mile or two. Grass is kept closely cropped beneath the trees so that fallen nuts can be gathered without difficulty. Most coconut groves look very neat. The tall palms appear like thin ballet dancers with fantastic headdresses. But a cacao grove grows haphazardly. It usually forms the boundary between plantation and jungle. Trees spring up helter-skelter from year to year, and around them jungle brush proliferate. At times it is difficult to tell where cacao trees end and violent jungle begins.

At the point where his cacao and coconut met, De Becque had long ago built himself a pavilion big enough for two or three people. Its base was teak wood in eighteen-inch planks, its half-sides of woven coconut palm, and full roof of heavy thatch. Two benches of mahogany and two massive, comfortable chairs of teak were the only pieces of furniture. Four grotesque rootoos, native masks carved of coconut log decorated the four corners. Two were incredibly long-nosed jungle gods and two were native views of white women, with red lips. The masks gave color to what might otherwise have been a barren pavilion.

It is doubtful, however, if anything could be barren within a cacao grove. As Nellie waited in the pavilion while De Becque talked with his natives, she could hardly believe that what she had thought of as the montononous jungle could be so varied. Above her flew an endless variety of birds. White, green, red, purple, and yellow lorikeets more beautiful than any bird except the quetzal swirled and eddied through the grove. Their harsh cries were modified by the delicate chirping of a graceful swa1lowlike bird that flew in great profusion among the cacao trees. This gracious bird was sooty black except for a white breast and belly. Gliding and twisting through the shadows it looked like a shadow itself. Then, bursting into the sunlight, its white body shone brilliantly.

At times sea birds flew as far inland as the cacao grove, and occasionally a gaunt hawk from the distant hills would settle there for a day and drive the darting swallows away.

But it was the cacao tree that won Nellie's admiration.

The cacao is small, hardly more than a bush, reaching at most twenty feet in height. It has a sturdy trunk, thick branches about five feet from the ground, and grows symmetrically. Its leaves are brilliantly glistened like poison ivy, only more shimmering. And they are of myriad color! Some are pale green, others darkest green, some purple, some almost blue, or gray, or bright yellow. And on most trees at least fifty leaves are brilliant vermillion, shading off to scarlet and deep red. Each leaf is iridescent, and dead leaves drop immediately from the tree.

A cacao grove, in rainy weather, is a mournful and lovely place. In bright sunlight it is a hall of mirrors, and at dusk it has a quality of deep jungle quiet and mysteriousness that is equaled nowhere else in the tropics. In large measure these attributes are aided by the beauty of the cacao pods themselves, They grow in fairy-tale manner. In late January and February the cacao puts out buds that will later grow into pods. They appear without reason at the strangest places! Two inches from the ground on a barren, stiff trunk, a pod will suddenly appear. On one branch there may be a dozen pods. On another, none. In the crevice formed where a branch leaves the trunk a cluster of pods may appear and the branch itself may be bare. A mature cacao in full season looks as if someone had stood at a distance and flung a huge handful of random pods upon it.

At first the miniature pods are light purple. Then as they grow to full size, they become a weird greenish purple, like the paintings of Georges Bracque, Next they are all green, and from then on they become the chameleons of the jungle.

On one tree mature pods, which now look like elongated cantaloupes seven and eight inches long, will be bright green, golden yellow, reddish yellow, red, purple, and greenish purple. And on each tree a few will be dead, charred, black, ugly, with small holes where rats have eaten out the sweet seeds, which, when toasted and ground, become cocoa.

While Nellie waited for De Becque to finish the work he was doing, she studied the grove and mused upon the perverseness of people whereby cacao in French becomes cocoa in English. The multicolored lorikeets, the iridescent leaves, and the flaming cacao pods formed a superb picture for a hot afternoon. Later, when her host appeared, tall, stooped, and breathing hard, she asked him to sit by her.

"Why did you build this pavilion?" she asked.

"1 like to be near the jungle," he said, remaining in the doorway.

"Do you come here on rainy days? Is it nice then, too?"

"It's best on rainy days," he said. "But it's strange. The place serves no purpose. It's too far from the kitchen to eat here. There’s no bed, and it isn’t screened in. Yet I think I like it better than any place on my plantation.”

“I was looking at the cacaos,” Nellie said in a sing-song kind of voice. To herself she was saying, “I shall marry this man. This shall be my life from now on. This hillside shall be my home. And in the afternoon he and I will sit here.” Aloud she continued, “They are beautiful, aren’t they.”
–-James Michener, 1946

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Body of the Unspoiled Polynesian

My favorite writer is Willard Price, whom I am sure I have written about before.  I discovered him through his Adventure series of books for boys, which I loved, and from there moved on to appreciating his adult travel literature.  One of these books is the volume, Adventures In Paradise:  Tahiti and Beyond.  The four countries he describes in this book are French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Fiji. I have been to French Polynesia and Fiji.  The Cook Islands, which for sure I would love to go to someday, I did walk on their ground for half an hour...the flight from the South Pacific back to Los Angeles had a stop at the Cook Islands, and we all got out.  I bought several sheets of gorgeous stamps, there.  But I guess I can't really say that I have been to the Cook Islands, not from a half-hour stop at the airport.

I read Willard's book, which he published in 1955, this past autumn.  Of course he is describing places that don't exist nowadays the way they did in 1955.  He traveled to these islands via freighter.  Commercial air travel to these islands was not the norm at that time, so tourism was still rare. He is describing places that had not yet been "spoiled" (although he felt that Papeete, the capital city of French Polynesia was spoiled.  People love to denigrate Papeete, and I guess have been doing so for a long time.  As for me, I rather enjoyed it).  To me it is fascinating to obtain an understanding of places like this from "a dimension back", for while they may not be exactly the same, now (after all, people here in the U.S. are sometimes nostalgic for our own 1950s), it still does help understand some of the "roots" of a place, and to emotionally connect with a time that people can yearn for yet still see some of those elements remaining today.  I definitely have a South Pacific dream, myself, which I have carried in me ever since being a child. I am thankful to have been able to go to the Polynesian islands of Oahu and Kauai in Hawaii, North and South Islands and Stewart Island in New Zealand, and Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora in French Polynesia, the Melanesian Islands of Fiji, and the Micronesian Islands of Palau.

And this summer, as described in my previous entry, I am going back to French Polynesia, but this time, to Fakarava, an unspoiled coral atoll in the Tuomoto archipelago.  I am sure that my reading of Willard Price's chapters on Tahiti planted the seed of my going back to French Polynesia, but in search of a Polynesia that was more in keeping with his experience.

Part of that desire is a special admiration for the Polynesian people, well-known for their beauty, but much more for their daring, adventure, and skill as oceanic navigators, to have covered half the globe's surface, which is the Pacific Ocean, via outrigger canoe, discovering every little pinprick of land in all that watery immensity.  The Polynesians spread themselves out in a triangle that can be drawn from New Zealand to Easter Island to Hawaii, and all the Polynesian people in that triangle speak essentially the same language, which is, fundamentally, Tahitian.

Why have Europeans, and people from elsewhere in the world, wanted to leave their highly developed societies for life in a more "savage" Pacific?  (By the way, there are way more French living in French Polynesia than there are Polynesians living in France.)  For one thing, flaws in civilization glare brightly when compared with a way of life of a people whom, while certainly suffering problems of their own, did not make the same mistakes.  I wonder, who, if given the chance, wouldn't want to become one of these people, if it is possible to do so?  For example, on the subject of human beauty (and also physical abilities), here is an impressive description by Mr. Price that I found inspiring, in that he is clearly describing what I think of as an ideal, but one that had existed in actuality.  Can that be achieved again with cleaner and more natural living?  Unfortunately, much of that Polynesian beauty that he describes does not exist now.  Instead of fresh fish from the sea, the average Polynesian would rather eat canned meats imported in, such as Spam.  Travel writer Paul Theroux lamented that a constant favorite in some Polynesian country, I forget which one, was bag-fulls of Cheese Doodles stuffed in the wide-open mouth by ham-fisted hands.  Of course those people were obese, which has become a Polynesian standard.  However, where I am going, I imagine that there may not be an epidemic of Spam and Cheese Doodles.  But we will see.

I often want to reproduce in my blog passages from a book that have impressed me, so here, for the first time, I am doing just that.  Meet the Polynesian of only about 60 years ago:

The unspoiled Tahitian is a Greek god in sepia.  The less money he has, the better his physique and health—for then he cannot afford imported white flour, jam, coffee, sugar and whisky, but must live as his ancestors did on coconuts and breadfruit, yam, taro, bananas, mangoes, pork, fowl, and fish.

All these are fresh and always fresh because he has no means of refrigeration and no need to preserve food against the winter in a land where winter never comes.  And they are abundant.  No Tahitian goes hungry.  If he's unable to gather his own food because of sickness or age, his neighbors will gather it for him.

Thanks to good food, equable climate and an outdoor life, the Polynesian is a strong man, a born football player, wiry, slippery and quick. When two cars locked bumpers a Tahitian rose from his rest under a breadfruit tree, ambled over, lifted the front end of one car and moved it three feet. Then he yawned and returned to his tree.

The women are strong too. We saw a woman pick up a sick man considerably heavier than herself and carry him to a relative's house a hundred yards down the road.

And I remember reading that when the explorer Wallis was ailing, a Tahitian princess took him up bodily and carried him like an infant. Another Tahitienne stole the great anvil from the Spanish ship Aguila. It has frequently been recorded that a Polynesian woman has been back at her work within half an hour after bearing a child.

But Tahitian muscles do not bulge. They lie quietly under the skin, as invisible as the muscles of a cat. Nor is the Tahitian unusually large, but his proportions are excellent. His torso is shaped like a lyre, narrow at the waist, broad in the shoulders. His head is properly set and his legs are those of a dancer. (True, his feet are too large, and flat.)

His greatest charm lies in his eyes. A French traveler says of him: "His eyes are the most beautiful in the world, at least in the human world: I know none more velvety, more seductive, except among the antelopes."

The pupil and the iris are usually quite large and the white delicately tinted, giving the glance the sweetness of a caress. The beauty and mystery of the eyes are enhanced by the shadow cast by remarkably long black lashes.

The mouth is generous and the lips full, but not thick; they part in a smile that for richness and warmth cannot be matched by the residents of colder climes. In the case of the town Tahitians the smile may be marred by blackened or missing teeth. Natives who have not had access to the refined foods of civilization are likely to have strong white teeth.

The Tahitian nose is Greek. It strikes a happy medium between the squashed nose of the Mongolian and the "canoe" nose (as the Tahitians call it) of the Anglo-American. The nose of the Polynesian is one indication that he is a blend of Caucasian, Mongolian and Malay strains. In the process of blending he has happily avoided the extremes of all three.

The Polynesian skin is golden brown, of exactly the tint most zealously coveted by bathing beauties on American and European beaches.

The attractiveness of Tahitian women has become a legend. We now see that it is a legend founded upon fact. Not that they are all beautiful--far from it. They age quickly. The men seem to stand the ravages of age better than the women. Old men, especially the chiefs, often take on a dignity of bearing that makes them seem even more handsome than the young.

Captain Cook wrote of the Polynesians that they were not only the finest race in the Pacific but probably surpassed in appearance any other people in the world. We don't need to go that far. It is enough to say that the Polynesians are as beautiful as their islands.

Their beauty is functional. Their bodies look well because they work well. Polynesians seldom wear glasses. They have binocular vision. In fact I have failed to see with binoculars objects that were plainly visible to the naked eye of the Polynesian.

His sense of hearing also is acute. His ears are full-blown and incline forward like those of a dog. He picks up sounds out of what appears to be complete silence.

A man of the city has little use for the sense of smell and it has largely atrophied. The man of the mountains and the sea depends almost as much upon his nose as upon his eyes and ears. In the forest he can smell his way to plants and herbs concealed in the brush. He can identify many animals and birds by smell. He recognizes human beings also by their odor. That is one reason why he makes such a point of personal cleanliness.

Polynesians often complain of the odor of white people. They amuse themselves by inventing smell-names for their white acquaintances. A visitor learned that he was called Tohe-repo and was quite pleased with his Polynesian name until he learned that it referred to a portion of his anatomy which he did not keep spotlessly clean.

The Tahitian is dissatisfied if he cannot bathe twice a day.

Even in a close-packed native crowd under a hot sun there is no offensive odor. A man's first thought upon returning home from work is to bathe under the shower or in the river and put on a fresh pareu.

A Tahitian father was asked by the French writer, Serstevens, why he had withdrawn his daughter from a boarding school of the Sisters of Atuona. He answered:

"Because they are dirty. The sisters allow the little ones to wash only two times a week, and then not all over but only here and there so as not to show their nudity."

The cleanliness of the Polynesian extends to his house and garden. The Tahitian woman, in spite of her devotion to love, conversation and dancing, finds time to keep her house clean enough to satisfy a Dutch housewife. Some communities have instituted periodic inspection of houses: a fine of fifty francs is exacted from the owner of the worst-kept and awarded to the owner of the best-kept.

We took for granted the clean gardens until we realized the amount of labor it must take to keep them clean. In this land of eternal autumn wedded to eternal spring, leaves are always falling. Many of them are large--the breadfruit leaf is a foot or two long, a banana leaf may be six feet long, a palm leaf, from ten to twenty feet. The natives have a phobia of fallen leaves and every day one of the chief tasks of the children is to pick them up and carry them away to be burned. If the Tahitians were as lazy as they are painted, this work would be the first to be neglected.

A lot of nonsense has been written about the laziness of the Pacific islanders. As we have seen them in Micronesia, Hawaii, the southwest Pacific, and now here, they seem to have a sensible attitude toward work.

They will work hard and long to make a canoe, build a house, catch fish, gather coconuts. As Furnas says in “Anatomy of Paradise”, they cheerfully perform backbreaking jobs "that would make an Irish railroad gang go on strike."

But when their work is done, they quit. They see no point in working merely for the sake of working. If there is plenty of food on hand, and no needs unsatisfied, they relax and enjoy life. Nervous disorders are practically unknown and a psychiatrist would starve for lack of patients in the brown Pacific.  --Willard Price, 1955

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Deciding Where To Go This Summer

This year, rather quickly, after only about a month of effort, I luckily stumbled upon what I want to do and where I want to go for my summer trip.

For the past several vacations, I have been searching for the “perfect” white-sand-blue-water tropical beach paradise and had been almost totally unsuccessful. Many people that I know like to go off to some cultured dense urban location-—Berlin, New York, Paris, Prague, London, Madrid, Tokyo-—but I already LIVE in a dense urban location, which I can enjoy all year around, and especially during the summer, as well, and I do enjoy it.

And here it is also known as almost the consummate “beach” location, but I guess that at this point I am rather “snobby” about that. I can hardly ever drag myself to the beach around here, which involves a long drive through traffic, fighting even heavier traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway, paying what I think is too much money to park (which is especially galling when I am still so paper-white-pale that at first I can’t even be at the beach more than half an hour without being turned into a red lobster, so why do I want to pay for a full-day’s worth of parking?), only to go to not particularly attractive brown sand, greenish-brown water that in Los Angeles County, at least, is somewhat polluted, and that is also ice-cold? As far as the LA County beaches go, swimming in the water is generally miserable in that all the beaches have a precipitous slope down into the water that causes there to be waves that don’t really break smoothly, but instead pound down so hard on top of you as to smash you down into a swirling “washing machine” of seawater while the undertow or riptide threatens to drag you far out to who knows where?

I think much further out there, where the surfers line up (covered neck to toe-tip in heavy wetsuits), the waves break much better and can carry them in for a thrilling ride. But closer in to shore where I and 90% of the other people at the beach feel more comfortable, it is a mess. Very few beach-goers here actually go into the water for more than a quick wetting of the feet. I don’t know if that is due to the cold temperature of the water, or the uninviting wave action (or both), but basically for the non-surfer, the beaches here seem to be for sunbathing on the sand, playing volleyball, or throwing the Frisbee. Little kids enjoy making sandcastles on the water’s edge.

Beaches beyond Los Angeles County are better. Many like the beaches of Santa Barbara; others like them in Orange County. And those are better, it is true. As for me, I prefer the beaches of San Diego County, especially liking Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, where I truly enjoy myself body-surfing, and San Onofre, which actually has warm water due its proximity to the nuclear power plant. I BELIEVE that the ocean water there flows through pipes in the power plant to help cool the reactor (although for sure I don’t really know or understand the process) and when it comes back out again, it has taken on the heat from the reactor. And no, this doesn’t carry along with it dangerous radiation, just nice semi-tropical-feeling ocean water.

But either San Diego County beach destination is a three-hour or longer drive from here, so good for a three-day weekend trip. When I hated the apartment where I used to live, I was looking to escape from it every chance I could get, so I was a pretty regular visitor to Encinitas and Moonlight Beach. I would stay in a hotel that was only a few blocks away from the beach. But ever since moving into THIS apartment, I haven’t felt the need to escape, so I haven’t been to Encinitas since.

So, any escaping I want to do is from Los Angeles, itself, so, back to the “snob” in me, when I want (or hope) to go to a great beach now that I live here, I have gone to Florida, Mexico, Honduras, Belize, Hawaii, or Micronesia, NOT Southern California.

Key West, in Florida, was disappointing, beach-wise. Any white sand there is not native to the island, but shipped in from the Bahamas and poured into “sand boxes” along the shore of expensive resorts. Also, there are yards of seagrass along the shoreline that is pretty creepy to wade through to get into the water, which is why most of those resorts have piers that extend far out into the water to provide access to the water beyond the seagrass. It’s okay, I suppose, but not my idea of what I wanted. Key West is more for tootling around the cute town on a rented motorscooter, rocking relaxedly on covered verandahs during the heavy summer showers, enjoying delicious meals outdoors on southern patios, and barhopping throughout the warm summer evenings. Going to the beach, not so much. Miami Beach was much more appealing when it came to the beaches and I would go back to Miami Beach in a heartbeat.

Cozumel, Mexico, had some pretty nice white sand, warm water beaches. Terrible snorkeling, though. Some hurricane or other apparently wrecked the snorkeling down there, at least, that was the excuse I kept hearing. There was nothing wrong with Cozumel other than it was for me a cruise ship destination and all that entails, probably the worst of which (to me) is the fact that you are going to be there for only a few hours. So while I enjoyed Cozumel for those few hours, it wasn’t really a full and deeply abiding experience. You’re mostly just lured into shopping.

The same could be said for Cancun. Not so enjoyable from a cruising-in-by-ship perspective, but I could see myself going back there for a longer stay at a large resort. Mexico's not so high on my list these days, though, thanks to the drug wars and so on.

Ensenada, another Mexico cruise-ship destination for me, was inferior beach-wise, really like just going to a California beach except that you are constantly bothered by people hawking jewelry and hair braiding. At least in California you are left alone. I did not go into the water, there, because I had already gotten too sunburned on the ship and the idea of the salt water made my skin crawl. I was the only one of my group who did not go into the water and I was the only one who did not get sick-—a sort of Montezuma’s Revenge that I guess is absorbed through the skin. Instead of “don’t drink the water” (which still holds), it was “don’t get INTO the water”.

When I was doing background work on films the first year I moved back to Los Angeles, I met a ton of people who had been extras on “The Titanic”, which had been filmed at Cameron’s studio in Ensenada where there had been constructed a 1/3-size tipping scale model of the ship. This was around the time that movie had come out, so if I had moved to L.A. about half a year earlier, I would have been able to have been in that movie, too.

At first I was envious, the fact that they got a free trip to Ensenada for the filming and were in that phenomenally popular movie, but they all said that it had been a miserable experience, just floating around in the water for hours and they ALL got sick. So I view that as an incontrovertible fact, now, swim in the polluted ocean at Encinitas and you will get sick. So no, that one is out.

The island of Roatan, Honduras, was a beautiful place loaded with gorgeous beaches. Again, it was a cruise-ship destination with all my typical complaints of going there by ship. But I am quite sure that I will go back to Roatan sometime, again, to stay on land there and find a deeper enjoyment of it.

I never saw the beaches in Belize, because, you guessed it, that was yet another cruise-ship destination. For Belize, I chose an eight-hour inland excursion to see the pyramid at Xunantunich and it was well-worth it. I climbed up to the top of it and could see over into the jungles of Guatamala. I studied Mayan culture before I went on that trip, which helped me all the more appreciate and enjoy what I was seeing. Belize definitely has a reputation for having very good beaches, so I will have go back there someday to experience that, although the attraction in Belize that interests me more is cave-tubing (so I would do both).

Without a doubt I love the Hawaiian island of Kauai and for sure very seriously plan to return there. I want to kayak the Na Pali coast and camp on those isolated beaches in the Na Pali Wilderness. I was a millimeter close to going there this summer, but learned that camping permits for that region usually fill up over a year in advance. So, some other time.

Beach-wise, though, I have never been to a place that was more “dangerous-beach-warning-centric”, to the extent that even beaches that LOOKED okay (and had some people swimming in them) nevertheless kept me enough on edge that I couldn’t enjoy them. It’s funny, though, because clearly THE MOST DANGEROUS BEACH on Kauai, and maybe in all of Hawaii (excluding the North Shore beaches of Oahu during the winter), that was constantly warned against, was Hanakapiai Beach, two miles into the Na Pali Wilderness, and in 1975, I spent one of the most enjoyable days of my life body-surfing Hanakapiai Beach, totally naked, I might add, for several hours, all by myself. I had no idea that it was supposed to be so dangerous, so I had no fear, only an amazingly great time. Was I lucky, or was this fear-mongering just so much the way life is, now, in the 2000s, where every American is meant to be scared to death of any and everything and the cherished status of becoming a victim is always just around every corner? I don’t know, but as wonderful as Kauai is, to me, it is not a place for great beaches, now.

Palau is mostly “photographic hype”, looks like the most wonderful place on the planet, and I imagine that all those hundreds of beaches and hidden lagoons in the Rock Islands are as fantastic as you’d expect them to be, if only it would stop raining! I never thought to check out the weather pattern in Palau, assuming that like every other tropical destination I was familiar with, that when it rained, it would be an immense and gloriously exciting tropical downpour that would be over in half an hour, once a day. This is something that you WANT to have happen. But in Palau, as I am sure I have said elsewhere, it rains, on average, every day but four out of every single month. So a beautiful beach in the midst of a constant tropical downpour is anything but a vacation pleasure.

Another odd thing about Palau, for a place that I would expect would be wedded to the sea, and especially with the awesome treasure of the labyrinth of the Rock Islands, there would be more boats than Los Angeles has cars. But there were hardly any boats at all in Palau, and any that I saw belonged to the touring companies for the purpose of trucking boatloads of tourists in and out of the Rock Islands region. (Not even any private yachts were seen, which I for sure expected to see a lot of.) This gave me the impression that the only people who ever went into the Rock Islands were tourists who were paying money to formal excursion companies for organized and standardized trips. And from my driving around everywhere on the main island of Koror, I found basically only TWO non-commercial beaches on that island. By non-commercial, I mean a beach that isn’t owned by a very expensive resort hotel (to whom you must pay for day use if you aren't a guest there). There was a beach that was owned by bar and restaurant that was owned by a scuba diving company, that charged an admissions fee for their tiny beach.

The two “free” beaches that I am referring to were one kind of polluted one in a formerly industrial area near an old ice plant, and another one that I would have been quite happy to use that was in the vicinity of the large bridge that connects the island of Koror with the island of Babeldoab. It had white sand and beautiful water and was on the “lagoon” side of the bridge instead of on the “ocean” side of the bridge. I saw some local men fishing there, and asked the man at the car rental place about it, who confirmed for me that that was the beach the locals use and a good beach that few tourists even knew about.

I think a possible rule of thumb about beaches, which I apply to Palau and I believe also holds true for Kauai (or anywhere else), is that one ought to go to the beaches that the locals use, because who would know better which beaches are the best? There are only two potential ticks against that idea, though. One is that it is possible that the very best beach areas were co-opted by the wealthy international resort builders who came in, scoped out the best locations, and wrested them away from the locals. So that would mean that the locals were pushed onto having to use beaches that were not their chosen ones previously. I don’t think that is true of Kauai, though. For one thing, what had been the most famous and glamorous resort in Kauai prior to its being destroyed by Hurricane Iniki was the Coco Palms Resort, which I noticed was ACROSS the Kuhio Highway from a beach that the LOCALS used. One would think that the Coco Palms would have to be ON the beach (al la Miami Beach resorts, for example), but no, a popular and extremely-well-used locals’ beach was left undisturbed. Maybe there were protections in place for the interests of the locals?

Interestingly, the captain of the zodiac raft I rode in the Na Pali Coast excursion I went on on my last trip to Kauai, who was born in Kauai and never has been anywhere else in his life, told me that HIS absolutely favorite beach, and where he and all his friends go every chance they get (so they never get tired of it), is Polehale, a very long beach on the west side of the island, the last beach before you get to the south side of the Na Pali Wilderness. Next to Polehale is Barking Sands beach, controlled by the military and available only for those in the military. So here you have the United States military claiming a beach, but they left Polehale alone. The closest resorts to Polehale are the south shore resorts, further away, in the area of Poipu. Whether the locals preferred Poipu long ago, I don’t know, but according to this guy and his friends, you couldn’t possibly do better than Polehale.

The second potential tick against going to a locals’ beach is what the reaction of those locals might be when tourists come in. Some people have reported violence. I definitely would NOT fear violence at that locals beach in Palau that I found. But a locals’ beach on the east side of Kauai, Anahola, I might worry about (there have been some negative reports), but my guidebook, written by a local, describes this beach as a “Designated Homelands” (I’m not sure what that means, but I think it refers to something that is reserved as native land). But he says that while few tourists ever go there, tourists are “certainly welcome”. And of all the beaches I saw in Kauai, this one was absolutely the one that was the most used. And that generally has been true of all local beaches I have seen, such as in Fiji or in French Polynesia. I did not go swimming at Anahola, although I do plan to go there next time I go to Kauai.

I think whether a tourist is accepted or not has to do with attitude. Are you an “ugly American” (although I think the “ugly American” was replaced by the “ugly Japanese” in the 80s, only to be replaced by the “ugly Germans” in the 90s, and now THEY have been replaced by the “ugly Chinese” in our current time), or are you respectful of the culture you are visiting and of the people who live there?

There is a kind of a “trick” useful in entering a realm of the locals, and by that I don’t mean “fooling” them, but by being sincere in your respect of them as having “ownership” of the space, a kind of “asking permission”, and that can easily be done, by, for example, coming up to an obvious local, let’s say the biggest, strongest, most “alpha” guy you can find there (who, in a culture like the Hawaiian, will be a sight to behold, believe me), greet him with a broad smile, and say something like this: “Wow, what a beautiful beach this is! I sure would love to go swimming here, can you tell me, is there a good place to body surf, I am kind of afraid of undertow, so can you point me to where maybe I could go?” I did that at a beach on Kauai, but instead of asking about body-surfing, I had my rented snorkeling gear with me and I asked a local about a good place to see a lot of beautiful fish. The guy smiled back broadly and said, “You’ve come at a great time, the fish seem to be back right now and the best place to see them is over there near that spit of land, see, it’s not too far, and a lot of fish gather there to feed. But be careful, don’t go too far around that tip, because that’s where the tide comes in and out and the current might be a bit strong.” I thanked him sincerely and went exactly where he told me to go and the fish out there were quite numerous and they were all eating madly, something I had never seen before snorkeling elsewhere! His guidance was perfect. I had hoped to see him again when I came back to shore so that I could tell him how great his idea had been for me, but he was gone. Still, what I had done WOULD make anyone welcome, I think, because I had legitimately positioned the local man as the expert and the one who “belonged” and I was clear about being the “stranger” seeking help. And if there had been some resistance to my presence there, I think it would be clear from his response. For example, he could have spat, or looked at me angrily, or actually said, “You shouldn’t come here, you’ve got other places where you could go.” But, no, he tells me exactly the perfect place to see what I wanted to see and what danger to watch out for.

I think what angers locals against tourists is that the tourists feel that THEY own the place, and with that ownership they are demanding—they want the weather to be good, the conditions to be picture-postcard perfect, they want bathrooms and showers and plenty of parking and maybe a snack bar, and somehow it is the fault of the residents that things aren’t “right”. Yuck!

One place I definitely hope to go to someday, but I just wasn’t ready for it this year, is the Solomon Islands. Now there they take this idea of the “locals” to an extreme that gets to be kind of tricky (and a little beyond my current expertise). You go to the outer islands or even go for a hike beyond the more populated or “civilized” places and you come to regions that are as primitive as anything from a couple of hundred years ago. There you will encounter “kastum” people who for centuries have been shrugging off every manner of westerner, European, missionary, colonist, or technologist, who continue live close to the way they have done since forever. They have a sense of “communal” ownership of the land and of everything, and that includes the trail you are walking on, the waterfall from which you might drink, the forest from which you might pick a fruit, the rock you might sit and rest on, the shore you might land your kayak on, and even (or especially) the lagoon that you have been paddling on. So anyone you encounter may demand (or request?) a payment from you of what you have used. This “payment” will be in money (a sense of “valuable exchange” is actually a pretty ancient concept), probably measured only in cents (from our point of view), or maybe a very, very few “dollars”, but it will involve a brief but tricky negotiation (especially if one does not understand this and attempts to refuse to pay something) and sometimes violence has come from that. Frankly (although it may just be my own fear, not a true understanding of the situation), I feel that such a situation is absolutely rife with danger, because there you are, the white-skinned stranger, utterly alone out in the middle of “nowhere” and they know you have a pocketful of money yet are restrained and fair enough to ask for something quite reasonable, and yet, what is preventing them from slicing your head from your neck and taking it ALL? Who on earth would care about you out there at all? And while I am not afraid of cannibals, it doesn’t hurt to remember that these people WERE cannibals in the not too distance past, and some government officials think that they actually still are in some of the more isolated villages. I mean, if “kastum” means that they live in the traditional ways, then it's not inconceivable that they still might also continue to practice cannibalism.  Of course, though, they have been exposed to a wider perception of the matter, so who knows how their attitudes and customs may have changed.

And associated with all this is a fascinating concept that I had never thought of before, and that I feel is alien to our own way of thinking, and yet, it does make perfect sense. To them, only THEY are “people”. Every other living thing is something else, NOT people. So a white man from California walking through the forest is an animal, different from, say, a pig, only in that the “value” of that white-skinned animal is different from the “value” of the pig. The pig has really good meat, but no money in its pocket. But we all know that to a cannibal, the two-legged animal has quite delicious meat, too, rather on par with the meat of the pig. So anyway, that wasn't a situation I was ready to just jump into.

But travel writer Paul Theroux was able to go there and discuss religion and customs with tribal chiefs and go on fishing trips with villagers and presented himself in such a way that the people there found that he had a value to them other than “meat” or “money”; such as, he was different, he was interesting, he was a curious oddity that made the day special, and he wasn’t irritating. He also was clearly there with a genuine interest in who they were and how they thought, which I think is a great sign of respect, maybe the greatest sign of all. The people were very helpful to him, and guiding him further on his way toward others whom they thought he would like, people who were just like them, which I think is quite cute, and I think he thought so, too. To me, it indicates that he had found a “home” among them, was welcomed as a kind of “almost them”. How could any traveler do any better than that?

So, here I entered into the spring knowing full well that I still had that unfulfilled “white sand beach, warm blue water, tropical island” desire and was mucking about through travel books and magazines, and the Internet, trying to figure out a great place to go, and spending most of my time attempting to fashion a trip to St. Lucia in the Caribbean, or to Vanuatu or the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, but none of it was gelling. I did, however, realize something, and that was that if I (for some reason) really wanted a white sand beach, what I wanted to go to was a CORAL ATOLL, not a VOLCANIC ISLAND. Now, it may be possible to find white sand on a volcanic island, although I would venture to say that 99% of the time, that white sand is artificial; that the true sand of a volcanic island would be black or brown sand, because it would be made of lava. WHITE sand is coral sand.

This was a very important revelation, because having this understanding helped me to track my desires down deeper. Mostly where people go is to volcanic islands, and they are certainly phenomenally beautiful, with their high green mountains lush with waterfalls. Probably the best example of that kind of beauty may be the afore-mentioned Kauai, but certainly also Moorea and Bora Bora and Tahiti are three well-known amazingly beautiful volcanic islands that people yearn to go to. I have been to them, myself.

But still, the most beautiful place I have ever been is the Yasawa Island Group of Fiji, which anyone who has ever seen the movie, “The Blue Lagoon”, has seen it, because that is where that movie was filmed. I visited the islands via a small cruise ship line called “Blue Lagoon Cruises”. Very wonderful (and very expensive). They took us to some of the most wonderful beaches I have ever been to, and then (like almost all cruises), took us away from them far too quickly. So THAT’S what I had been looking for, to stay on a “Blue Lagoon” type of island for more than a few hours.

But that whole Yasawa Island Group is really pretty far out of my price range, and is at this point not a particularly “rarely-trod” tourist path. I unreservedly recommend it to anyone, but I wasn’t too sure that I wanted to go back there, myself. I wanted something like that, but something kind of OFF the normal tourist track, but still someplace I had to be able to get to, of course, since I don't have my own sailboat.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a desire to go back to French Polynesia, but not back to the islands that I had already been to. French Polynesia is HUGE, with several different island chains spread out over an immense amount of Pacific Ocean. Where “everybody” goes when they want to live out their Tahitian fantasy is the Society Islands chain. I had been quite curious about another Tahitian island chain, the Marquesas, but they are all volcanic islands, and while they look phenomenally spectacular as seen from the sea, they aren’t really all that great to stay on. At any rate, they weren’t what I wanted.

It was my very, very great fortune that I happened to stumble upon the website of the perfect place. A “pension” (think “bed and breakfast”, Polynesian style) called Raimiti on an island in French Polynesia’s Tuomoto islands chain, coral atolls, between the Society Islands and the Marquesas. (If you check out their website, please be sure to click on the 360 degree virtual tours...fantastic!) The Tuomoto chain is somewhat dangerous for ships to sail in and around due to all the reefs, so they have remained somewhat isolated, which is a good thing, I think. But they ARE accessible via Tahitian Air, at least, Fakarava is, the island that I am going to.

The island of Fakarava has only about 250 residents. No roads. The whole island is like a snake formed into a rectangle, surrounding a gorgeous lagoon, and is only about 36 miles long down one of the longer legs of the rectangle. You fly in from Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia (direct flights from Los Angeles on Air Tahiti Nui, an international Tahitian airline that is different from the local Air Tahiti), and are met by the owner of the pension, who takes you to his place via an hour and a half boat ride down the blue lagoon.

There you find an island paradise, all virtually hand-made from woven palm fronts. What electricity they have, they generate from solar panels. The guests sleep in individual bungalows on either the ocean side or the lagoon side, with each bungalow’s bathroom being a small building next to the bungalow. The bungalow that I will have is the smaller of the two sizes available (there are only 10 bungalows in all), for one or two people, and the shower for my type is an outdoor one, surrounded by a curtain. In my dream house, even if it were a multi-million-dollar house, I would have at least one shower outdoors (which I think is so sensual). I would also have an open-air bedroom in which to sleep, that is exactly how these woven-palm-frond bungalows are, with no glass windows or wooden doors, but instead, a woven screen that can be closed for privacy, and a gaily colored Tahitian cloth curtain at the door. You sleep caressed by the perfumed breezes. They also provide a mosquito net, but mosquitoes are only a problem in the rainy season, but I am going in the season that has the least rain (after Palau, that is how it would have to be!).

The bungalows have no electricity; light in them is provided by candles and kerosene lanterns. Very romantic.
All meals are provided and even in the few on-line reviews by people who did not like this place (because they wanted a more structured resort) the people revealed that they loved the food, which will be the largesse of the sea and the tropical wonderland cooked up in the French style.

There is total freedom to simply be left alone Robinson Crusoe style to allow all tension to be sucked out of the body (which is how I felt simply looking at their website), to go walking along the beach (there are no roads and no motor vehicles, only boats), swimming in the delicious lagoon or the ocean, enjoying spectacular snorkeling right there at your doorstep, and kayaking wherever you want to go in the lagoon, such as across the water to a vacant “motu”. What I love is the idea of being able to swim in the lagoon or ocean day or night-—at night under the brightest stars one has ever seen, and they say that sometimes dolphins come swimming over, and even whales that have come to the Tuomoto islands to give birth have found their way into this lagoon with their newborn babies (and I'll be there during this "season"). After my enjoyable experience with the dolphins in Palau, I crave to swim with wild dolphins, and the idea of maybe even swimming with a whale, if it happens, is spectacular.

There are organized adventures, too, all at the whim of the owner whose personal guest you are. You do whatever he feels like doing that is a good idea of something to do that day, including any of the following: a picnic on a pink sand beach, fishing (huge fish!), visiting the small town, visiting a pearl farm, snorkeling at a particularly interesting place. You can go along on these, or not, as you wish.

One excursion that is fantastic to do is snorkeling the South Pass. You can scuba dive it, also, but if you want to do that, you contract with the dive shop that is on the island.

The tide flows in and out of the lagoon via two different passes, the large North Pass and the smaller South Pass (Raimiti takes people to the South Pass). Every manner of sea creature is there during these tide changes to take advantage of the concentrated food supply. Not only are tens of thousands of every kind and color of fish there, but also huge fish, such as the Napoleon Wrasse, and also schools of dolphins, manta rays, sharks, and sea turtles. The sharks are (apparently!) the kind that are not apt to attack humans. The way I have doped it out is that some sharks absolutely do NOT attack humans (such as Nurse Sharks), other sharks absolutely DO attack humans (such as the Mako or the Great White), but there is third category that never really attacks humans (such as the Black Tipped, which is what I think these sharks are), but MIGHT if molested. A magazine article I read about the favorite tourist thing to do in these islands, dive the passes, warned that it was dangerous to touch the sharks, but that they otherwise were safe. My guess about them is that they have more than enough food to fill their bellies without any trouble at all, so there is no need to go to the effort of attacking something large and weird like a human. Just leave them alone and they will leave you alone. At any rate, these sharks are considered a definite attraction, not something to fear or avoid.

What I would fear more is the current, itself, and, again, magazine articles warn to NOT dive these passes when the current is going OUT of the lagoon into the open ocean, and the reason is that they cause tornado-like whirlpools in the ocean that can suck divers and snorkelers down very deep into the watery depths…into “oblivion” as one article frighteningly described it. You don’t have to tell me twice. After all, I realize that a whole “reservoir” of water is flowing out through a very narrow nozzle and you're just a floating leaf in the immensity of it all.

The tide coming IN, though, does not generate those whirlpools, but the riding of this current is like riding a locomotive and is quite a thrill, well worth flying halfway across the Pacific to get to experience. So, I am sure that one of the days that I am there I will be able to do this. Good thing I have a Casio Gulfmaster watch that reveals the movement of the tides, though, just to be on the safe side!

The experience of being on an atoll is the pure stark closeness to the oceanic elements (I mean, really, when a whale can just pop her head right up and look at you sitting on the step of your thatched bungalow…!). You are on a beach, flat down near the surface of the ocean and the lagoon, in the middle of an ocean that covers one half of the entire planet, no tall valleys to hide in. I love the idea of that. No hiding from nature, no hiding from our own selves.

I think the way Raimiti is set up is exactly what I want…just the right combination of activity with others and opportunity to be at peace and quiet with paradise. One couple who wrote a five star review of the place had planned to spend two days there, but ended up staying for seventeen days! I won’t have that luxury, but I love the idea of somebody being taken by a place to that extent. Maybe that means I will love it, too, as I expect to. I may not want to ever leave, but at least I could always go back. I imagine that IT will stay with ME forever.