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Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

Shangri La

Why not have a living room outside? If you’re one of the richest people in the world, you can live any way you want. Doris Duke wanted to live in Hawaii so she built this five-acre estate near Diamond Head on Oahu. Not just a vacation hide-away for the wealthy, Shangri La is a labor of love.

Duke had fallen in love with Islamic art and architecture on her honeymoon world tour, commissioning a marble bed and bathroom suite inspired by a visit to the Taj Mahal. Hawaii was the final stop on the tour; a stop that turned into a four-month stay convincing Duke to combine her passions. She had the suite shipped to Hawaii and built the house around it. Beginning in 1936, Duke continued to craft the home over the next 60 years. It opened for tours after her death.

The estate presents a plain white wall to the street; a carved wood door flanked by camels leads inside. Behind the wall are public and private rooms, manicured grounds, a pool, the Playhouse and water garden. It is difficult to describe the beauty without becoming as ornate as its tile work. Photos are available online but they cannot convey the sense of peace and tranquility that abides. Duke loved this place and it returned the favor, sustaining and restoring her to the end.

Tours are operated through the Honolulu Academy of Arts. You MUST arrive on an academy shuttle bus or you will be turned away. Tours are three times a day Wednesday through Saturday (the estate closes each September for conservation work).

Insider tip: keep an eye on the “cultural programs” section of the website for upcoming events. They sell out almost immediately so click quickly if there will be one during your visit.

Cindy Scheopner lives in Hawaii. Find her on Twitter as @scheopner. That’s her photo of the Duke estate, above.

Lantern Floating, Memorial Day, 2010

Hawaii Slam!

Henry Kapono has a new music project going — it’s called the Wild Hawaiian. You can read up on the whole thing here — there’s music and video and photos. I caught the show  in Seattle. I thought the way he started it was a little weird — he showed video footage that talked about the concept and how people felt about what they were experiencing — I’m not down with setting expectations for me to feel a certain way about art, be it musical or otherwise. It turned out not to matter, I forgot the video almost immediately when the live music started.

I loved the show; I loved thinking about Hawaiian music in a whole new way. The Wild Hawaiian tracks are rock music in a way you probably recognize, but the lyrics are all Hawaiian. I thought the percussion was crazy wonderful, the guy cranking out the exotic beats was Lopaka Colon, a  musician I’d never heard of but his dad played with Martin Denny — you might know Martin Denny as the man who popularized pop exotica in a track called Quiet Village.

More than anyone on stage, I could not tear my eyes away from Kealoha, the barefoot slam poet who danced and sang his way through the show, sometimes taking the mic to add a whole new spin to Hawaiian storytelling. I loved hearing his voice call out over the crowd, adding Hawaiian legends and slices of modern life to the music that Henry Kapono and his band created.

Kealoha founded and hosts Hawaii Slam every first Thursday in Honolulu at the Fresh Cafe Warehouse. If you want to do something completely different when you’re next on Oahu, this is it. I haven’t been, I can’t tell you first hand what it’s like, but next time I’m there, I’m psyched to go. It’s three bucks if you get there early, five if you don’t, and that’s a pretty good deal for seeing Hawaii through a whole new lens. Check it out.

Be sure to check Hawaii Slam before you go — all the details are subject to change.

Postcard from Hawaii: The Aloha Festival

Aloha Festival

I’m sitting at my desk in my ordinary house on the ordinary mainland, listening to Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Wonderful World” disc, a gift from the Hawaii Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.  They invited me to visit Honolulu last weekend for the 63rd Annual Aloha Festival, and lucky me, I was able to go.  A week later, in my ordinary life, the trip feels like a dream.  Iz helps take me back there, to where aloha is a state of mind, people wave with the “hang loose” hand gesture, and hurrying to get somewhere on time is a foreign idea.

Kim Tracy Prince, blogger on Uptake and House of Prince had the good fortune to attend the Aloha Festivals Floral Parade in Honolulu in September. She sent this digital postcard about her time behind the scenes and on the curb watching the pageantry unfold. (more…)

Time Travel to Honolulu

It’s politically incorrect, not entirely accurate historically, and oddly, the producers chose to intersperse “Aloha Oe” with “The Skater’s Waltz” in the sound track. But the boards are huge, the leis are fluffy and plentiful, and the footage of Waikiki Beach? Wow, it looks nothing like what I saw last year:

A caveat: The film comes from The Travel Film Archive and you could very well lose your entire day in there. If you make the mistake of clicking through, don’t say I didn’t warn you.