It was a long trip into Honolulu. Last Wednesday I flew into Los Angeles, where I had thought I would be spending the rest of the summer. D, whom I haven't seen in two weeks, had flown out of California less than twelve hours earlier. He had been told that his work was shifting him to the remake of Hawai'i 5-0 just a few days before, and had rushed to get everything in order at home. He doesn't know, you see, when he'll be coming back.
That's the way of Hollywood, I've learned. I don't get frequent holidays (barring the decadently long summer break), but I know when they will be months in advance, following the steady rhythm of the academic calendar. D, on the other hand, frequently calls me to say that he has gotten word of a couple of days off, and he will be in Canada tomorrow. So this is how it works: one day I am spending the rest of my summer hols squirreled away in the UCLA library, the next I am buying a ticket to Oahu. You don't see me complaining. I like a bit of impulse. (D, poor fellow, does not.)
I try to cram as much friend-seeing as possible into my 18 hours in LA. D calls to say that he is sending me a picture of the view from our balcony. "How is it?" I ask. "Meh. It's fine," he replies. I store that away, pickled in skepticism.
And right I was. Another six hour flight and I am in Hawai'i. Our room feels vast (to my relief, given that we will be here for at least six weeks), and sliding glass doors cover one whole wall of it. Here's what I look out on, even as I type this:
Meh, he says.
D rushed off to the set at the crack of dawn on my first day here, which is fine, because we are both up well before then, groggy with the feeling that the world is six hours off its axis. We try to calculate the magnitude of our jet lag, but we have been on so many flights between so many time zones that we find ourselves befuddled. A bit of arithmetical contortion determines that I am now twelve time zones away from my parents in London. Does that mean that I am exactly on the other side of the world?, I wonder fuzzily. I try to taking a dashing, devil-may-care stance. I scoff at time zones. This summer, I have spent significant time in five. Pshaw, I say. Pshaw.
I go out to explore the town, and get creatively lost. We are staying in Waikiki, which feels to me like a cross between Beverly Hills and Las Vegas, with the best qualities of neither. (Although, to be honest, I can't quite put my finger on what the best qualities of those two places would be. Elaborate burlesque performance? Opportunities to deride tiny-dog-carrying B-list socialites?) I don't feel heartened.
The weather is warm, not hot, but the sun beats down on me as I walk along the streets of Waikiki. I think of the long foggy winter in Halifax, and turn my sunglassed eyes upwards as I walk.
A muscular man with a practiced tan walks towards me, staring with a perhaps not entirely sober intentness at my neck and chest. Uh oh, I think. As our paths cross, he says something quiet, almost to himself. It takes me a moment to register what it is: "Beautiful skin." And then he walks on. That's it. No harassment, just a fascination with my pallor. What can I say? One man's pastily anemic is another's alabaster glow.
Still, every person I encounter takes one look at me and says "So, you just arrived in Hawai'i? Where from?" and then nods knowingly when I say "Nova Scotia." I try to buy some sunscreen, and the saleswoman takes one look at me and pushes the SPF 90 across the counter.
My exploratory goal that first day in Waikiki is a noble one, I think we can all agree: the fabled Puka Dog. I get my dog with papaya relish and Lilikoi mustard. That's right. Then I take it to the beach to eat. I wander lazily home through the surf. The Pacific is warm around my ankles. Even in a couple of inches of water, tiny translucent fish swim in schools past my toes. Besides the fish, I am - without a doubt - the palest creature on the beach.
I like to this of this as my Regency pose - preparing to have my silhouette cut, hair nonchalantly a-curl. Mind full of acerbic Austenian understatement.
It isn't on any account to be confused with this, which is my Napoleonic, chin up, eyes-on-the-idealized-future pose. The English mode vs. the French, you see.
Everything I know about posing for photographs I learned from historical romance.
When D gets back late that evening, the sun has already set. It does that earlier here than I am used to, since we are closer to the equator, and apparently don't observe Daylight Savings. We ponder the question of dinner. Suddenly there is a huge explosion over the lagoon, just outside our window.
I can only hope this is a regular Friday occurrence. What is a month in tropical paradise without your own weekly fireworks display? Nothing at all.
Satisfied that we are not suddenly and unexpectedly at war (Pearl Harbor and our innate urban anxiety obviously lurking at the back of our minds) and more than a bit in awe, we apply ourselves to our evening foraging. On the advice of the estimable Chowhound, which we consult like a Delphic oracle every time we travel to a new city, we decide on nabe (a Japanese noodle soup that you cook in broth at your table) at Ichiriki in Honolulu. This was a new venture for us, and thoroughly delightful. While the broth comes to a boil, the waiter brings a platter of raw ingredients to your table (I chose the mushroom nabe), leaving you to toss them gamely, one by one, into the bubbling brew.
I love a good piece of dinner-as-theatre interactivity.