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Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Wednesday was a day of mixed impressions.

We began with a trip to the Allerton Garden -- one of the gardens managed or owned by the National Tropical Botanical Garden -- the first such nationally chartered garden in the US.

Oh, recognize the above sight? It's a Moreton Bay Fig, seen in two of the "Jurassic Park films" (think eggs), and one of the more impressive residents of the garden. Other areas of this small park were also used in "Jurassic Park", and in "Raiders of the Lost Ark".

The park is a real gem. You only see this section of the park if you take the two and a half hour tour. You learn the history of the Lawai Valley which holds this park, from the time of the Polynesian landings up until Alllerton's "friend" got the park chartered by an act of congress.

I'm not sure what the point was they were trying to subtly raise. Our guide told how Allerton was the "sensitive and artistic" son of the founder of one of Chicago's major national banks (I forget which one). How he gave up art to pursue farming, then found his bliss in landscaping. How he eventually adopted his partner/friend and made him his heir. I haven't a clue if they were trying to suggest he was gay. Since it doesn't matter in any way whatsoever, it just seems odd the way the described the situation.

Did you realize that 51% of all endangered plants in this country are in Hawaii? I suppose it's not surprising, given that the flora of Hawaii was so isolated. One plant, Kanaloa kahoolawensis, consists of four plants in the whole world. Three are in this park, the other is on the island of Kaho`olawe. There were two on the island, but the prolonged drought over the last few years was too much for one of the two.

The National Tropical Botanical Garden is active in preserving a large number of endangered species worldwide. But the other aspect of this particular garden, just one of several owned or managed by the group, is the preservation of the beauty created by Allerton.

The garden has a number of "rooms" in it, such as you see in the middle picture. Each room is a scene by itself. Water is an important theme in each room. There seems to be either a fountain or pool in each room, or running water nearby.

I would never want to try to create this place, or maintain it, but I could happily spend a long time wandering these few tens of acres. There is a sense of grounding here, peace, beauty, the smell of earth, the buzz of pollinators. This is an opus, a masterpiece of design. I took well over a hundred pictures here of interesting plants, of the various rooms, and of the former residence and guest house, which is now housing a representative from Kew Gardens of London, who is doing a one year residency.

From the garden, we did a bit of shopping on the way back to the condo, and then began to look for someone who might be putting on a lu'au for the evening. The one we found was Smith's Tropical Paradise, which happened to also be categorized as one of the most spectacular on the island. The guidebook mentioned that the show was by no means authentic, and the food could be better, and the place could be less chintzy. But, I've never been to a lu'au.

I mentioned that the reason we picked this week to be here was because of the music and dance festival that is taking place. This colored my expectations, which is why I'm going to say that I was rather disappointed in the lu'au, but Kathy was less disappointed.

When we arrived at Smith's Tropical Paradise, I was almost immediately put off by a constant theme of "sure, for another dollar."

When we paid for the tickets, I asked them if I should have put on bug spray before coming. "Oh, we have some bug spray here, which you can have for a dollar." Once you get inside, you can get a motor tour of the gardens, for a dollar. Of course, you can easily walk the gardens and read the signs yourself in the hour between when you are let in and the first event takes place (the imu, where the roast pig is dug out of the earthen roasting pit). And, if you want to feed the many geese, peacocks (including at least two albinos), or road-crossing chickens, they will sell you a little bag of feed -- for a dollar.

I'm always amazed whenever people don't get it. Disney has got it. You charge one fee and get pretty much everything free after that. You don't charge $55 for admission and then see if you can get just one more dollar afterwards. If you need the money that badly, if your margins are so low, just charge $58 and give the damn handful of feed for free.

The food really was mediocre. The Mai Tais and punches were watered down to the point that they were less tasty than Kool Aid. I did get to try the purple poi -- ptui. Well, I didn't think it was bad, I just didn't think it was good. Nobody I've talked to thought poi was good. That probably had nothing to do with Smith's, however.

The entertainment was indecipherable. You couldn't hear anyone through the sound system, and we were seated not far from the speakers. The guitar drowned out everything. Not that the guitar was too loud, but everything else was out of balance. They asked questions and got no response because no one had any idea what they were mumbling about.

But, to me, the irritating part was the dances (last picture). Did you know that the Maori apparently invented swing music? Neither did I. But they paid tribute to the Maori by bringing out dancers that moved in time with songs reminiscent of "The Boogy Woogy Bugle Boy of Company Three." Yep, the same use of minor chords and sevenths.

And how about those authentic Hawaiian chants, you know, the ones that go, "Whether in Manhattan, or Waikiki or satin" (or something like that), or, something about "wikki and a bit of wacky". And, apparently Hawaiian music is played with lots of diminished chords, and ninths, just the things you expect from an aural tradition, and a heavy cymbal and high hat helped move the disco beat along.

When you go to Vegas, you expect tacky rather than talent, and they deliver it. They've turned tacky into an art form of its own. When you go to Hawaii, with a beautiful and talented native population, you don't expect to see a farce such as this tolerated. I'm surprised that the residents put up with this. This isn't a respectful tribute. And it's not respectful just because you say, "We respect the native Hawaiians".

But, don't get me going on this. Music is important in my life. When I listen to Ladysmith Black Mombazo, or see the musical, Ipi N'Tombi, I get very moved. There is beauty and power in the simplicity of their music. Imagine, however, what it would be like if someone took the soulful Irish ballad, "Anakee Gordon", and got up on a Vegas stage and said, "Ok, Mr. Bandleader, give me a beat right here: a-one, a-two, a-one-two-three-four, Anakee Gordon, be doop a bee dum...", This was a bad Vegas act by a junior high drama class.

Kathy went to Smith's expecting a typical, tacky tourist show. She more or less liked it. She wasn't sure if she $55 liked it, but she liked it. "The food certainly wasn't very inspiring", she said.

Go to the garden. It's a great pairing with the helicopter ride. Maybe see a lu'au. Don't see it at Smith's Tropical Paradise. If you decide to go to Smith's, bring your own bug spray, and a fistful of dollars besides.