Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Perfect Day in Travel

Singapore, July 28th is about 930 AM and it is already 88 degrees and feels like a Turkish Bath....

RARELY does a day happen when one is far from home which is truly perfect and I want to report that such a day happened to me yesterday, one which could have been fraught with unpleasantness.

At Auckland, dear Chris (the transfer man in his rather bizarre Cadillac with the right hand steering wheel) called for me on a gorgeous Auckland winter morning, about 50 degrees and clear.....whisked to the quite pleasant Auckland Airport and into the VIP room at Air New Zealand. They have done away with First Class but their business is A+, absolutely up to what First Class used to be (though never WAS on American carriers) minus only the Beluga.....the flight to Singapore was a daunting 12 leaves azure-green NZ and flies across the Tasman Sea for three hours...Brisbane and (even from the air) its ghastly looking "Surfers Paradise" coast south (ala Cancun)....and then astoundingly for 5 straight hours, roughly the distance from Miami to Seattle, the outback: infinity to the horizon..looking from the air like those hideous parts of Wyoming short of the Tetons...but going on for bloody EVER...perfection: a window seat to myself, a steward and stewardess devoted to the 24 Business Class seats on the Boeing 767....only 15 passengers up front, back jammed....

Meal number one: lunch out of Auckland:
a platter of smoked snapper, lightly seared tuna, tiger prawns a feta...
a braised duck with star anise
a coconut panna cotta
lots of fruist
lots of NZ cheeses

and 12 bottles of NZ wine to choose from...I went with a lovely Chardonnay to a very good pinot noir to a local port which wasn't half bad....

then Australia....the whole damned panorama of it.....

we crossed the coast heading towards Lombok and Bali...Lombok clear and we could see that massive volcano which had been occluded the whole time Ellison, Tony, Joe and I cruised around that blessed island....

then dinner: a venison and veal terrine
a onfit of chicken with pureed kumara, warm leeks and water cress salad an apricot bavarois more cheeses more great wine....I ran the gamut.....

and in between they served tea with pretty little tidbits...

Arrived Singapore....first off plane and at passport the inspector (Indian) gave me a pepppermint (mmmmmm....?....) bags off plane FIRST (priority checking in business) and in exactly 14 minutes from step off-plane to being whisked by the Goodwood Park driver into their hugely air conditioned big mercedes.....

through outrageously well landscaped city....sweltering of is ALWAYS Houston-New Orleans the Goodwood Park, one of my favorite hotels on planet earth....the old private club where Ellison-Tony and I stayed..(the joyous upgrading ith lots of light, a new pool...and Fred upgraded from a standard to a supernal poolside suite with enough rooms to ask 40 people in for drinks (if I knew 40 people here)....I know that Singapore which spreads around me is one of the most massively boring cities on planet earth (read Paul Theroux on the subject...he lived here for years)....but I am off in a minute to see that fabulous jade collection and to walk in the botanical garden...

You see....perfection in travel!....and today something just must happen which isn't.....though I haven't consulted by horoscope.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Goodbye from Auckland

Auckland, Jul 27th, 63 degrees, sunny and blinding

Sam Porter returned yesterday from Queenstown...having smoothed the feathers of a VIP client. He then devoted a wonderful day to me, taking me to his birth house in Parnell (ultra poshy....a bit like Vancouver near UBC), then for an anthropological jaunt to the with-it quarter called Ponsonby (lots of counter culture-gays-trendy boites etc) then to a marvelous volcanic caldera overlooking the city with astonishing views all furrowed with former Maori fortications. Remember the Maoris fought brutal intercine wars long before the Anglos arrived. Then we went to lunch at the OCCIDENTAL, a wonderful pub off Queen St (the main drag) for spectacular mussels - huge ones the size of marshmallows at home done in garlic and something which tasted vaguely like fenugreek. Ultra down-home atmosphere, great Steinlager beer (or boutique belgian brands). Sam showed me Auckland Univ. which is the poshest currently...all spread about through the city a bit ala Harvard.

Sam was a GREAT and NZ-known athlete: rugby (all national team), tennis, windsurfing champion and on and on. He was competing in a tennis final at the Royal Auckland Tennis Club last evening. It is such fun to be with a great jock in that everywhere we went everyone wanted to speak with him....perhaps the equivalent of a minor Lance Armstrong? THEN Sam broke his leg and decided to go into travel instead of into sweats.

We then drove through a marvelous forest of indigenous trees and ferns to Phia...a wild beach where the film THE PIANO was shot where despite the temperature and yesterday's rains there were tons of surfers out...glorious day.

They are about to call my flight to Singapore....11 1/2 hours of it. I hope it is clear over New Guinea and Borneo! I leave NZ having accomplished rather a lot. It is maybe the best country in the Pacific if one is into the outdoors. Less good for those who find their joys within walls. The utter jock nature of the place is rather amazing.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More from Auckland...

Auckland, July 26th AM, 57 degrees and blindingly sunny

I had a chilly breakfast on my balcony overlooking the pretty harbor (kiwi fruit here has essentially the same green taste per home) and now await the arrival of our friend, super-agent Sam Porter to romp someplace for lunch.

I have had good peaceful times, a great deal of them spent in the world class Auckland museum, a rather stolid (it looks like the Albert Pike masonic temple in LR although is vastly larger) Auckland the city's DOMAIN, the equivalent of other brilliant city parks such as Central in NY and Stanley in Vancouver. Knockout Maori stuff....maybe too much of enormously touching pantheon for all of those New Zealanders lost in so many the now almost forgotten Boer War (why in God's name these locals were pressed into action there defies logic) onwards. The exhibits all start with the civil wars with the Maoris in the 1850s and 60s...for those English emigrants, often "second sons" as opposed to the early settlers of Australia (it shows today) who arrived with their own feeling of manifest destiny. The Maoris were fierce warriors, more bellicose than their rather more languid polynesian cousins and even today one sees amazing physical types. There honestly seems to be a working biracial society if I can judge by that most key factors: school kids and the peers they choose to hang out with....seemingly color blind here.

Later, just for the hell of it and just because I love trains, I rode the commuter line south for an hour or so from Auckland's dramatically modern new rail-centrum.....a few miles of ticky tacky houses, suburbs which seemed largely Maori, then that brilliant green countryside with the oh-so-bright skies which almost blind. NZ seems to be a paradigm of good ecology. Visiting with the conductress (Maori)and the brakeman (Punjabi) I am struck by another lovely part of life down here: I believe the New Zealander is the gentlest of all English speaking people. He is famous too for being the best read and a remarkable number of passengers had serious looking books. The English used is a treat...and we so often forget that great gaps in our language have gone into desuetude in America.

So it is off to an oyster feast with Sam...then an 11 hour flight on Air New Zealand to Singapore....and a few days in a well run dictatorial turkish bath. Singapore does have the one plus of being utterly safe (like dictatorships usually are) I am sure Pyongyang is.


Monday, July 25, 2005

A first word from Auckland

Auckland July 25th 845 AM....56 degrees and chilly...pretty day

It was sad to leave Papeete and I have developed a sort of affection for the place. Royal Tahitien very good to me. The flight out at daylight (Air New Zealand was 4-5 hours late...but their employee slowdown appar. is ending) was oddly a plus: I got a little more sleep and got magnificent views of Moorea (it is pronounced Mo-O-rea by the way...) and Bora Bora at a distance...landed at Rarotonga, a happy little airport on that pretty volcano (with a reef around it) which I had visited 25 or so years ago....trio playing Cook Island music at arrival...festive. The plane then flew on to Auckland absolutely jammed because Rarotonga is where New Zealanders in their winter (now) glom.....

Auckland Airport is tremendously civilized and it is fun to hear the Kiwi inflections again. The clue (and listen for it) is the letter "e" making "Fred" FRAY-ud)....Sam Porter's great transfer man met me in a classy ancient cadillac....from the air NZ looks so pastoral, neat...almost as pretty as a Cotswold scene.....on the drive in, through rather poshy parts of Auckland (now population 1 1/2 million) reminds me of Vancouver (though it is granted utterly detestable to be someplace and say it reminds one of another)....Downtown has been completely, radically are located on long piers into the harbor...and the Hilton is actually rather a boutique type hotel with water on 3 sides....Sam was right: it is a room has a large balcony with uninterrupted harbour view...a view lovely though rather a far cry from the best. Took a long nap, walked some deserted Sunday streets, liked the feel. The city still seems at first impression to have one foot in the provinces and another in the world.

The Hilton has a wonderful wine bar (had a magnificent local pinot noir)...Trevor, the head barkeep gave me a couple of tastes too including a world class Chardonnay, a wine I usually detest which which was delicious. Dinner was an avocado and chicken sandwich and then to bed for 9 uninterupted hours...bliss. The room is comfy, large, bright (but with good black out curtains), view as mentioned lovely....breakfast very positive in the Bristol Hotel Wien tradition with succulent smoked salmon and proscuitto...grand breads....

I have a feeling that Auckland (having done my homework) is not a city in which one would dig up many layers if one tried although it IS biracial and the Maori presence is pervasive. Rather, it strikes me as infinitely livable. I have the feeling that tourists shouldn't come to NZ unless they are somewhat passionate about nature, tidiness, lovely manners....but with some anthropological interests (the Maori again). I like it enormously really but admit that Peter Lorre, Paul Muni....
Eric Ambler and John le Carre....Gaugin or Derain or Rothko are NOT all lurking around the corners unseen.

That's it for now.....I can see why some find the city a tad IS....but sometimes dullness is terrifically salubrious when you think about it. Will write again with more balanced impressions...


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Fatu Hiva

Fatu Hiva is the only populated Marquesan isle without an airport....but internet is everywhere...and as I type this two dogs (one vaguely looking Newfoundland, the other rather like a hyena) are at my feet. It is about 75 degrees and on the whole trip it has not gotten warmer than 83 nor cooler than 74...pretty sublime!

I hope not to repeat myself with my budding Alzheimers!.....The voyage continues to be very interesting for me. The people of the Marquesas had a definite caste system until Christianity intruded. Even today one can see the physical differences between tall, rather aquiline, stunning looking (to our eyes) people....and heavier, more ursine types with rather squashed faces...seeimg almost inuit (Eskimo)....

They developed interestingly in the arts: rock carvings abound (petrographs), figures on tapa cloth, and, perhaps in the absence of real paper and real paint (even locally produced paints seem almost absent), tattoos are HUGE....when there was no canvas, there was the human body...and the highest castes have the most all encompassing and vivid tattoos...quite hideous to my eyes...but body mutilation (and I am sure they call it adornment) has never been my thing. I think of all of those young women with tattoos when they are grandmothers...but in the MArquesas most older women have a good many of them. I watched tapa cloth being made....the second bark of a readfruit tree is pounded for about 3 hours, constantly dampened and then allowed to dry. Some of the tapa (which was used as clothing as well as for art figures) is pretty with a pleasing texture. The people came to the Marquesas it seems from Taiwan and SE China...via Borneo thence Papua New Guinea and the Solomons, starting to develop the Polynesian features much later. IT is estimated that the MArquesas, the farthest island group from ANY continent (an interesting fact I think) came about 2-300 BC...astounding I think.....

The islands are hugely irregular with erose countryside, many crevasses and startling bay here on Fata Hiva is called "the bay of Phalluses" and when you see my few photos you will see why. The missionaries changed the name to the "bay of Virgins"....I feel that the folk have taken up catholicism rather half heartedly but the church dominates in a way and has incorporated many tiki designs and patterns from tapa into their culture. The statue of Jesus in the cathedral on Nuku Huva looks very much like Don Ho.

The FLOWERS of these islands are almost astonishing in their variety....hibicus are used often as hedges and bloom in at least a dozen colors. Bougainvillia, frangipani, ylang ylang (this island smells greatly of vetiver), red ixoras, red ginger (vibrant!) and jasmine prevail plus lots of varieties which I have never seen. People use the flowers almost supernally....with flower crowns, leis, with flowers to stick into every possible visible orifice - it is social and pleasing!

The island handicrafts are predictable: carvings (I wonder what those people from Reims are going to do with a 4 foot high tiki when they get home?), rather pretty and sometimes elaborate bone carving (most of the bones are from cows...shark bones are rare, whale bones non existent)...they do some rathe pleasant super crafty looking jewelry....those ubiquitous black pearls again..rather alot of it is rather meritricious..printed tapa cloth and cotton yardage which is locally designed and printed and which can be pretty. Most women and most men wear a one piece "paro" (a sort of sarong) wrapped in a dozen different ways.......the island dancing (at almost every port kids are trooped out to perform) is as rather tedious as most folk dancing...though on a slightly higher level than that I remember at Nome where old ladies shuffled about for an hour of dada....the dancers though have a good time and are fun to watch with their unisex palm frond skirts. On the other hand, the best dancers seem to be obese 60 year old ladies and they are a joy to behold because they are having as much fun as the born again at a revival meeting.

The ship continues to be very satisfactory and of course I have made a few friends whom I think I will nurture and keep: Dacre and Jenny Smyth from Melbourne (I may have written about them...he is the former admiral of the Australian navy...she a SYMES which is one of the oldest names in Australia, a family which published the AGE which is rather a national newspaper....Jenny's best friend is Rupert Murdoch's mother) and they were friendly with Louise and Graham Hall once upon a awfully nice guy (Uwe Rahn) from Hamburg (I list these names which I know must bore you because I want a record of them), two terrific women from Sullivan County in the W, Janice van Nostrand, was heavily in interesting guy born in London on a Canadian passport managing circuses and has worked all over the world and comes from a Georgian jewish background...A couple of super pleasant French families, one resident in London (ex Bronxville of all places) and another in Dubai..

Food is very decent....and, considering that it is cooked for 125 passengers plus crew, rather inspired...last night, a lovely poisson cru (the best food in these islands), a magret of duck, a flows gratis...acceptable bordeaux, rather horrid merlot, rather bad chardonnay....the bordeaux gets one through the few turgid menus....there are pretty good lectures, a happy cocktail hour (at wretched Tahitian prices and the Europeans drinking all manner of elaborate vile looking libations made with 3-4-5 liqueurs and potions.)...oddly most fruit juice is tinned, save lovely pampelmousse and pineapple...we don't starve.

It is a healthy routine, up for 700 AM breakfast after dinner until about 1000 PM and early to bed. My stateroom has a TV but I have never turned it on....getting into the whale boat (which carries us for wet landings at some anchorages), I hit a wave wrong and scraped my shins pretty badly...though nothing alarming: the doc on board is a terrific young guy from Toulon (half Corsican) who insist on giving me alot of attention and demanding that I stay out of the water (a bummer)...the crewmen who assist people in and out of boats were so alarmed...but it was not their fault...getting ME in and out is sort of like landing a rhinoceros.

So all goes well in paradise...and I am so happy to be here...


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Nuku Hiva

Thank GOD an AMerican keyboard! NUKU HIVA the largest of the Marquesas...with a total population of is July 12th and it is about 845 AM and already 90 degrees...but the wind blows...sometimes.

ARANUI: She is comfortable...the passenger list is not what I had expected at all: 130-odd French, about 20 AUstralian, 8 Germans, 7 AMericans, 4 ITalians, 2 Austrians and one Swiss (from Lausanne who knows the Lobkowiczes well and who went to their fancy dress ball when they regained ownership of their castle at Melnik!)...small world...wear clean underwear. The Americans consist of 4 women traveling together, two from Sullivan County NY, two from St Louis and 1 school teacher, a plucky lass from South Bend...all nice, very nice people....I have teamed with the Australians one German (from Hamburg) more often...Dacre ("acre with a d") is the retired admiral of the Australian Navy and is an amateur and quite good painter and his wife Jenny is a love, very Melbourne and pukka sahib....My cabin is nicely large on the very top STAR deck...meaning a fair amount of motion but that is not entirely has a huge TV (which I have not watched), a large head with a tub and hair dryer and other modcoms...a queen sized bed...a tiny balcony...a big picture is first rate...the dining room is nicely decorated, lots of fresh fresh flowers (bird of paradise which I think terrifically ugly and some different kinds of orchids and some flower which looks like a chenille bedspread)....the cuisine is admirable...a pleasant breakfast with lovely flaky croissants, eggs to order, odd cheeses (including very good braunschweiger which may not be a cheese at all)....lunch and dinner both resolutely 3 courses, appetizers (terrines or soups or anti pasto) a main course (often nicely cooked fish...last night en papilotte (sic?) and especially delicious.....a good desert (last night ile flotant and I had two) wines, decent bordeauxs or curses of curses merlot (which the flick SIDEWAYS makes me loathe perhaps), a decent chardonnay.....not THAT much better than our Arkansas POST Chardonnay which believe or not is drinkable!

The reason for this trip in French Polynesia is certainly not the ship, the hearty ARANUI, its affable staff or the very decent is the Marquesas.....

Our first stop out of Papeete was in a group of atolls called the definition low-lying with a barrier island around a their case, a huge lagoon...the industry of the atoll is the black pearl: the Polynesians stole the craft of creating these from the Japanese (lovely that SOMEONE stole technology from them rather than the usual vice versa)...the resulting pearl comes in shades from Beluga-caviar-grey to coal black...the very best ones have an inner essence a bit like an opal (which they look not a thing like) and are prized....most of the women on ARANUI have bought one...or more.....I sort of wonder why.....I swam in the lagoon (very few fish)...and then pondered the rather vacuos life of the locals)....on board the ship we have a French artist who seems rather respected though I haven't really caught his name.....he lectured yesterday on Matisse...and what he said was interesting.

Matisse came to Papeete in 1930 (sort of in the steps of one of his mentors, Gaugin, who by then was dead) to paint. Matisse was already a rich man, famed etc.....and he simply could NOT paint in Polynesia saying the light was vastly too bright, the colors possessing no nuance etc....he only did a couple of drawings, illustrated some letters to his wive and did a minor painting...yet on return to France showed the influence of Tahiti for the rest of his life.

Curious. Our on-board painter echoed some of the same thoughts more or less saying that French Polynesia was so in-one's-face obvious and the sky is SO bright that one is robbed of creativity. I feel somewhat the same: my analogy is like a lump of dough which has been kneaded once, has risen, but still isn't right and needs to be kneaded again and again. The mind tends to go to sleep, not uncomfortably in the last.....the torpor is rather delightful.....but choose someplace else (Greenland?) to write the great novel. Perhaps this is why I find the Polynesian novels of Melville so tedious and without flair.

The Islands are astoundingly different...great erose peaks and needles, a sense of a precocious land, nothing looking quite like anyplace else. The villagers are friendly and a bit shy but their faces (much like Turks) break into great smiles upon real contact.....speaking of locals I met a youngish guy at the bar on the Aranui last night....he had wandered the world, had help build the second Bosphorus Bridge at Istanbul of all things and we spoke limited Turkish together.

I have not quite gotten the rhythm of the islands yet....I know there IS one....everyone talks of manana and that sort of thing....not unexpected.....the staple foods are breadfruit and taro and pork....sort of like eating bacon with mush and tapioca...not inspiring. But the islands are so outrageously beautiful that any complaint dims. I think there is nothing on earth QUITE like the MArquesas, these islands settled early on by the Polynesians but only discovered in the 16th century by Europeans...

The only word I can find which COMES from the Marquesan is "tabu".....but very little seems tabu as I watched the locals who were commuintg from Ua Pou to Nuku Hiva last night on board dance....pretty sexy....quite awfully innocent: I guess most sex least if it is by mutual assent.

With that odd thought I say goodbye and hope everyone is in a great way.


Monday, July 11, 2005

From Ua Pou

This message has been decoded by from mumbo-jumbo written on a "diabolical keyboard".

The Aranui is cabin is large and very comfortable with a queen sized bed and plenty of storage space...a very nice bath with a tub and a shower...the passengers, as it turns out are 80% French; 10 Australian only 7 Americans; Canadians, Germans and Austrians....

I have simply got to find an English KEYBOARD...but just to know I am alive and well and Ua Pou is lovely....will try at the next port to find an American keyboard...


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Papeete v. II

Papeete July 6th 1000 AM

I rode "le truck" downtown (these are flatbeds with seats and serve as the prolish transportation around the island) deposited in a steamy Papeete near the market which I so remember from many years ago (though now it is rather sanitized and even boasts an escalator)....stopped in the RC cathedral to cool off (most would disgrace a small town in Louisiana)...but like the spirit of the streets: people saying hello, people smiling though not stupidly (the Russians could never understand why we smiled all the time) oppressive.....

More about the circle island business: the island is shaped like a schmoo which those of us old enough to have read Al Capp remember....essentially a little circle on top of a big circle with almost no neck (a copy of T. Williams' NO NECK MONSTER?) goes around the BIG circle...but ala Kauai there is no road around the little one. My driver, William, is a buddha shaped man (most men here have terrifically thick prolish ankles), a man who loathes the French, loathes the present government, loathes Tahiti (he is a native...father was a German jew, mother Tahitian and he said something about an irish admixture...typical of the flotsam and jetsam which prevails in this port. He adored Elvis Presley. The driver around the island is at times distressing (because it is shocking how little the French have done to enhance the scene: NO good museums, a kitschy privately owned aquarium etc)....there is literally nothing but nature and nice people and riots of flowers, at times so abundant that they look ever so slightly lascivious......still there are lovely stretches including the light house point (named Point Venus) where Cook landed....Lots of houses fly a blue flag which is the sign of the independence-from-France movement...and the French, who make up something like a 38% shortfall in the Tahitian budget, seem actively disliked by the masses. It is sad somehow because said masses have largely taken up a French persona....

One shops here madly for black pearls. I think that they are moderately pretty....prettier at least than a similar sized ball bearing. Isn't it curious how people seem fixated on buying local things here and there around the world which they then display with a bit of embarrassment? Think of all of those matrushka dolls from Russia (though I saw a wonderful Blessed Virgin Mother once who disgorged various stages in the development of the baby jesus)....think of all of those camel saddles from Morocco, alpaca odd wraps from Peru, third grade opals from Australia, petit point bags from Vienna and, perhaps the worst of horrors, those vile little Hummel figures from Deutschland... No French tourist leaves Tahiti without black pearls often displayed in slightly rather ugly settings.

I am sorry to prate on so much...but when one travels alone in a land where English is not spoken, I think one has a tendency to prate....and also, alas, to divigate!

I am liking my hotel is about 15 minutes from town, a good distance (although Papeete has its moments) and the staff is very kind to me. The bar, all open air and playing that nasally Polynesian music with lots of amplification, is pleasant. The dining room is rather accomplished. Last night with a pichon of decent Rose I had a cerviche (or whatever the name for that dish is in Polynesian), a magret of duck cooked wonderfully with grapefruit (I ordered it because I love to say pampelmouse).

A few things here ARE distressing: There is an accomplished tourist center built in pre-European-like buildings (rather ala R. Crusoe) with a lovely staff....but what IS sad to me is that they have so little to talk about other than what is in the water (a life time of study albeit), flowers (another life's work) and the like. Where is the so-called "human culture?" Papeete is about on the level of Malvern, Arkansas when it comes to glorifying human beings and what is sad is that the Polynesian is SUCH an interesting person! Those people who apparently spilled out of SE China and Taiwan in prehistory came LATE to Tahiti....they were almost a THOUSAND years earlier in the Marquesas, the islands I leave for tomorrow which are only 800 miles away. The language utterly beguiles in my opinion and, a bit like Serbo Croat, it seems remarkably easy! The locals have a finely developed sense of color, of carriage, of design at least in simple things. OH there needs to badly to be one of those Canadian-like museums of the common man here! Perhaps the French are too haughty. Perhaps their own manifest destiny precludes such an idea?
Should someone come to Tahiti? At least to the specific ISLAND of Tahiti?

This is not a resounding affirmation I realize and perhaps by the time it is all over I will do a big volte-face... I know that Tahiti is NOT Polynesia but it is where I am now....and it ain't half bad.


Hello from Papeete

July 5th....Papeete.....635 PM about 75 degrees

Dear Ones: Who knows how many odd keys there are on a French computer...we will see......

Air New Zealand (when it finally left) was good....even though we departed a bit after 130 AM, they served a full dinner on the flight to Tahiti:
I gave up after the bay scallop salad...moved on to some great NZ cheeses and a glass of port and wafted to the land of nod.....seats ok, not great...but of course infinitely better than in steerage (the orlap deck?)...Dawn brought me awake with a sky the color of the right hibicus on my terrace...sort of pinkish, voluptuous and ever so slightly vulgar....then landing at Faaa (every vowel pronounced), a happy little airport looking like a series of A-FRAME buildings...customs a breeze and the nice guy from Tahiti Nui met me....and began to catch me up on the few people I remember from the momentous days here. A lovely drive through a totally changed, almost transmorgified Papeete for FAAA is on one side of the town and Le Royal Tahitien out on the other.....The hotel is perfectly ok and a bit better...a sort of twisting two storey motel built around a wildly lovely garden, a pool with a sexy waterfall, a stretch of ugly black sand beach looking across to beguiling Moorea (which is pronounced mo-OR-AY-a please).

I crash into bed to be awakened local time about noon by a guy in a strange looking uniform (a bit like that one Nixon designed for his Marine guards in those awful days before the current awful days): said stalwart hands me an invitation with great aplomp: the president of French Polynesia, one excellence Oscar Manetehi Temera is requesting my presence at 700 that evening for a reception in the garden of the presidential honor the American national day and the innaugation of Tahiti Nui Airline's nonstop flight to New York.....I thought I was having DTS...but accepted...and was picked up at 545 PM in a limousine (along with 3 people already in tow) and driven to the palace.

Said palace is a lovely colonial heap, looking somehow whimsically New Orleans-Jackson Square-like...the garden is alive with a sound show with American flags playing around the palms and exotic plants...a hundred blue and red balloons are festoning the high palms, a group of 20-odd dancers (the women all dressed up in what looked vaguely like Mormon going to church clothing, the men in tux shirts and black tie)....the group from the Tuaomotos danced and danced and champagne was passed around and then a lavish buffet was unveiled (the people did not rush it like I remember certain buffets being rushed during carnival season in Vienna...everyone very decorous)....The president, a fellow who looked like he might be a phys ed instructor in the Rio Grande Valley (one with a very retrousse nose) spoke for a while....I don't remember much of what he talked about but he did let everyone know he loved American because he was mad about playing golf in Oregon.....yes, the whole evening (with my jet blahs) is greatly Alice -down-the- hole...I look dolefully at my plate of glorified puupuus and just as the American consul general starts speaking (he looks like the the late bandleader Kay Kyzer (sic?).

I can't take another moment of the pageantry and leave, telling the guards at the gate I was not well (I think the jet blahs qualify)....and flee down the street to find a taxi a mere 10 blocks away....I treading gingerly in my expensive Zegna yellow shoes feeling a bit like Cinderella though one who walked out in slippers....odd all of it...very good.....the strangest first day I have ever spent anyplace. How did they find me and why?

At any rate, I slept in, had a lovely breakfast this morning looking at Moorea on a terrace over the ugly beach, did a circle island drive (much like Tina and I had done oh so many years ago)...and all is right in the feels like about 650 PM and it is 645 PM......My impressions of Tahiti are odd at this point...I am struck by the many androgynous waiters (?) not only in my dining room but also at a place we stopped for coffee...perfectly cheerful types who are greatly more feminine than any woman....they put the Gabor sisters to shame......The population of the island has grown like topsy...there are still lovely stretches though which are not peopled....the people are friendly...the weather is hot but not terribly humid and so far I am not suffering from the usual hebetude...

Costs are high, beer is good...and this might be (oh shout hoorah dear long suffering reader) the last communique for a bit...though I am tempted to try and write something a tad more scholarly at some point.....(Tahiti as everyone knows does NOT particularly inspire scholarship.....and, also as everyone also knows it is merely ONE of the islands in French of the Society Islands....not the name of the nation)....but I leave you with that pedantry....and looking terrifically forward to a dinner ALL BY MYSELF save for the adrogynous staff.


Monday, July 04, 2005

The First Epistle

LAX....the Air New Zealand Lounge....Sunday July 3rd....
Happy Birthday America!

It is said that a journey begins with the first step....I will rework the cliche and say that a round the world journey begins with a 50 minute flight on a Beech prop to Kansas City! Actually, a pleasant plane and despite it being one of the heaviest travel days of the year, exactly 5 passengers. I have packed about 20 books so nestled in at the city's extremely odd airport and read the time away. MCI is vastly overbuilt, it has three distinct terminals and is today a surprisingly minor airport with little jazzy services, lots of those commuter jets (which I rather like) and I suppose mud on its face. They built the place halfway from downtown to Winnipeg too and I can just hear the porker oinking as I look around. Among the oddities: one clears security for a given airline.....finding, once through, no toilets, no food services, nothing. To get a snack I am fussed at by supremely underworked (on a busy day) cretins....yes, the next cliche: with iqs smaller than their chest/bust sizes. United to Denver was packed and unpleasant and Denver Airport is a bit of a horror although I was able to race on the moving sidewalks from gate, let's say 1, to gate, let's say 90 in a record 20 minutes and make my plane....Lo and behold, the flight to LAX was terrific: an Asian steward who knew WHAT service was, only 4 seats in a large jet in first class, a reasonable dinner with a cold terikayi salmon on a bed of pretty lettuce.....good attention...astonishingly pretty views right over Aspen then Telluride...then that always surprising nothingness of the arid SW, the Grand Canyon someplace off to the south. One starts arriving LAX as you know about thirty minutes before you get 500 miles an hour.....and LAX is if anything a bit worse for wear.

Embassy Suites was VERY me a 500 PM check out at no cost...I had missed the manager "reception" (meaning popov vodka and miller lite) but did chow down on their bountiful and quite nasty breakfast: croissants (surely they will be good in French Polynesia?) with the consistency of Wonder Bread, sausages which surely did not come from an animal cloven or otherwise, an omelet in the traditional ring pillow mold. I don't think anyone in America really understands omlets. But they couldn't ruin a banana. I like Embassy suites a lot: it is pleasurable to have a living room to close off from the hall in order to make a bedroom essentially soundproof....the amenities are very decent....and again the staff is almost always affable and helpful.

Just arrived at the 1015 PM plane for Papeete is scheduled for 130 AM because the copilot is very ill and they had to rustle up another who was in Hawaii.....It is not SUCH a tragedy actually: Tahiti is 3 hours earlier than LAX so 130 AM will be 1030 PM local time, a pleasant bedtime....and arrival in PPT will be at a respectable 730 AM which no doubt will please the transfer agent from Tahiti Nui! I am not sure if I will have email capabilities at Le Royal Tahitien...but will try...and promise that my lines from there should be vastly less prosaic than these....