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June, 2010:

Bing’s Blue Hawaii

It’s not right that Elvis gets all the credit. The recognizable tune, Blue Hawaii, is almost inseparable from the King’s movie of the same name but that’s not where it originated. Bing Crosby sang it first, while behind the wheel on a double masted sailboat with actress Shirley Ross in Waikiki Wedding.

The story line is a rather amusing one from the perspective those who know anything of Hawaii’s destination marketing efforts. Bing plays the PR flack responsible for bringing a “Pineapple Girl” out to the islands. She’s unimpressed, he sets up a bunch of fake adventures and fake press stories to make it look like she loves Hawaii and is having an amazing time. Some of the language is just like you’d see in any glowing story about Hawaii today. There’s a sumptuous luau, lots of flower leis, a hopped up superstitious plot, scads of scantily clad non-natives in grass skirts and tapa cloth. There’s also a surprising amount of Hawaiian language in the film, though I can’t vouch for it’s accuracy either in use or translation.

Only the silhouette of Diamond Head is recognizable in this black and white confection of a movie. The hula girls don’t look the least bit Hawaiian and the role of Kimo, the Hawaiian character with the most speaking lines is played by an ethnically ambiguous and oh so young Anthony Quinn.It’s a Hollywood frolic through and through. And while it’s the home of another crooning megahit, Sweet Leilani, it’s also the birthplace of Blue Hawaii.

Elvis, give it back.

Holoholo Links

Red Coral

Red Coral via Maverick 2003 on Flickr

  • Hawaiiana beyond the Hula Doll: Better souvenirs via the New York Times. Though we have advice too.
  • When the new moon comes, a coral’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. Or breeding, rather. On Hawaii News Now.
  • Fantasizing about making the move? Consider this local boy’s reaction to the Hawaiian job market on NPR.
  • Friend of bloggers everywhere, Wendy Perrin has publishes great advice for renting a villa in Hawaii. But never mind that. The best part is that she goes all in for her hula lesson. Watch the video on truth.travel.
  • Huh. Native Hawaiians aren’t crazy about the Army shooting things up on sacred lands. Go figure. A difficult relationship on the Army Times.

Lantern Floating, Memorial Day, 2010

Holoholo Links

Molokai: East Shore Surfer

East Moloka'i Surfer by Nerd's Eye View

Visiting Kalaupapa

The infamous leper colony where Father Damien worked his way to sainthood is something of an obscure attraction. Located on a remote peninsula on the island of Moloka’i, it’s not until you visit that you get an idea of just how far away the settlement is. It’s backed by steep green cliffs on one side and a rocky beachfront on the other. During the time of isolation, patients were delivered by boat, mostly, and a mule trail led “up top” to the healthy populations of Moloka’i.

It used to be that ambitious hikers could get up early and take the steep trail down to the settlement at Kalaupapa, joining a tour group once they’d made the descent. Less sturdy legged humans could book a ride on the mule train; a sure footed animal would take you down the path while you hung on and admired the views. The trail washed out in April, 2010 and is under repair — the only way to visit Kalaupapa now is by plane. [Check here for the latest on the state of the trail.]

Kalaupapa Overlook

Kalaupapa Peninusla by GimpyProphet via Flickr/Creative Commons

Perhaps the ancient Hawaiian gods didn’t like the idea of Father Damien’s canonization in October of 2009 and they washed out the trail in order to prevent an influx of religious pilgrims. It’s very quiet in the settlement, you’ll see a car over there, a shadow of a gardener that way. Mostly, the settlement feels like a ghost town with a two local businesses open to sell snacks, souvenirs, and books to the few that make it in. There’s a restriction on the number of visitors allowed per day and staying overnight is rarely permitted without special dispensation. You must go with a tour — regardless of how you arrive, you are not free to roam about the village under your own devices.

The beach near the tiny airport is a popular place for monk seals to have their pups, if you’re lucky, you’ll see them relaxing on the creamy sand. There’s an amazing view across the channel towards Maui, but as the surf breaks on the rocks you can imagine how rough it must have been to unload human cargo in a storm. The churches are modest and quiet, the buildings are in varied states of repair, from leftover pilings from the old hospital to neat homes with gardens out front.

With everything so neat and quiet, it’s hard to imagine the difficult lives the residents had. Father Damien built an aqueduct to bring fresh water into the first settlement at Kalawao, one valley over from Kalaupapa, and Mother Marianne was instrumental in bringing in better medical care, but dropping in by a little plane belittles the epic accomplishments of these driven people. There are some old photos of badly disfigured patients in Victorian dress, but mostly, the town feels full of ghosts and not much else.

The movie Moloka’i, The Story of Father Damien is, according to locals, a fairly accurate depiction of the history of the settlement. And the tour, which still operates (though you will have to fly in) provides good historical background for the missionary and isolationist times, though little about the region prior to the arrival of the patients.  The area is a National Historic Park — the park service site has additional information about the history of the area and the rules and regulations for visitors. The best prices for flights as of June 2010 were through Moloka’i Outdoors though do shop around. It’s an expensive day trip, but visiting Kalaupapa is the best way to understand just how far away these poor victims were shipped, like discarded objects, to fend for themselves. And visiting offers a glimpse into the monumental efforts of those who were determined to help.