O'ahu Diary: Days 3 and 4

When I woke up on my second morning in Hawai'i, I looked in the mirror and discovered how closely I could come to resemble little orphan Annie, given a little bit of humidity. Or possibly Harpo Marx.  Or maybe this orchid.

It was a slow day, all in all.  I lounged about on the balcony, gazing at the Pacific and feeling, well, pacific.

As evening wore on, it became clear that the performance space for an expansive luau is just below our windows.  As I read, the music floated up and over me.  After the sun set, I leaned out into the night air and watch fire dancers spin their flambeaux and toss them back and forth.

Some days later, I called my grandmother and told her about the sights to be seen from my private theatre box.

"May I tell you my own balcony story?" she said. "When we were forced to leave Baghdad*, we were staying in a hotel in Tehran, and our balcony looked out on the courtyard where many weddings - Islamic, but also Jewish and Christian - were taking place.  Everyone would make much of the bride and groom, but they were also making much of their guests.  At the end of every wedding, a beautiful car was driven into the courtyard, with every nook and crevice covered in flowers. The bride and groom would get into the car, along with the bride's parents, bid their guests farewell, and drive off.  And that was that."

The next day was D's first day off since arriving.  He's exhausted - the average workday starts between 6 and 7 a.m., and ends sometime between 7 and 9 p.m.  We headed off for some remarkably bland and greasy dim sum at Legend in Honolulu's Chinatown, discovering along the way that it was right next door to the Foster Botanical Garden.  Never ones to refuse a good botanical garden, off we went.

The Foster is the smallest and the oldest of Honolulu's botanical gardens.  Many of the trees were planted by a mid-nineteenth German botanist who had been given the land by Queen Kalama, and upon his departure the garden passed into the possession of Captain and Mrs. Foster.  Mrs. Foster, as it turns out, was the daughter of an English shipbuilder (there are some references to his having been shipwrecked on Hawai'i) and a descendent of Hawaiian royalty.  She was a close friend of Queen Lili'uokalani at a colonial moment when power was being wrested away from native Hawaiian social structures.  The queen herself was deposed and imprisoned. Mrs. Foster, like many of her peers, developed an interest in a particular variety of spiritualism (part Hawaiian mythos, part theosophy) that was at least in part an act of counter-cultural resistance. Eventually she became a practicing Buddhist, bringing a descendant of the Buddha's own bo tree to Hawai'i and planting it in her garden, where it still stands.

I smell the seeds of a brilliant piece of historical fiction. (More on seeds in a moment.)

The garden is looking a bit dilapidated, and traffic rushes too obviously by for it to be the oasis it could be, but it is filled with delightful moments nonetheless.  In Mrs. Foster's day, giant turtles she had been given as gifts by admiring sailors wandered the garden.  Today gangly white birds frolic in the sprinkler system like slippery toddlers:

The age and rarity of many of the trees is the major draw of the gardens.  Every variety of palm imaginable makes an appearance, including the only palm native to Hawai'i (!) and the Talipot palm, which blooms only once in its life before dying.  Quite a swan song.

But for me the real stars were the seeds and the fruit.  The cannonball palm produces masses of (naturally) ammunition-shaped fruit.  D, who had nearly been killed the previous day when a falling palm branch fell from forty feet up and landed a foot away from him, gave the cannonball palm a wide berth. The innards, we were told, contain an odiferous blue goo which attracts peccaries, pigs, and chickens.  Don't touch, the signs warn us.  I can't help but feel that the garden's owners have rather a low opinion of our porcine leanings.

Or consider the earpod plant.  "It has been placed on the endangered list since Apple introduced the iPod," I murmur to D.  The look he gives me says that he is considering joining the birds in a sprinkler frolic rather than listening to any more of my lies.

Some of the seeds are a gift to purple-prosed romance readers.

In that spirit, I give you this gourd-like piece of produce.

But the matriarchy can't be allowed to steal the show, you know.  It requires constant vigilance to ensure that phallocentrism doesn't fade from this earth.

Enter the sausage tree.
I don't think the reasoning behind the naming of this one requires much glossing.  If you remain perplexed, the sign says it all: sausage-like fruit used for external medicine.

You might notice that this sausage fruit looks a bit, I don't know, shriveled and dessicated.  Not to worry: on the tree the fruit is much more, um, turgid in appearance.

I may in fact have turned to D upon viewing the tree and said "You know, they are more like corn dogs than like sausages, strictly speaking."

He gazed stoically off at the butterfly garden.

You can see a few of these corn dogs growing, pendulous, in the picture below.  And, of course, this sight gave me the unique opportunity to cry, "There's a monkey in that sausage tree!".

After the botanical gardens, we set off with but a single goal: get out of Honolulu.  Several hours of aimless but increasingly desperate driving later, we were still tangled in strip malls and endless, tired suburban developments.  Utter exodus fail. After getting out of the car and breathing the ocean air, we turned for home.

Next time we bring a map.  This isn't Nova Scotia, as it turns out.  You can't just follow the ocean and see stunning things around every corner.  (Hear that, Hawai'i?  You're no Canada.  I bet no one's ever lobbed that accusation at you before.)

*Because diplomatic relations were severed in 1967, when my grandparents were serving in the Embassy.

One Response so far.

  1. JW says:

    This is fascinating -- never knew seeds could be grist for wit. Keep your O'ahu diary going for those of us stuck in (grin) London.

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