Monday, September 12, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

Olinda,  Maui
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”—Blanche du Bois

(I think she said this after being violated by Stanley Kowalski.)

We are up a winding road in the cool reaches of a forest upcountry.
Driving up there are brown horses, white horses standing the green shade like a Gauguin painting, flocks of stumpy-tailed goats, huge lush overgrowth of vines and flowers, yellow and red hibiscus everywhere that long-haired women tuck behind their ears, white sweet plumeria blossoms fallen onto thick green lawns.

Little jangly suburban houses are scattered over the jungle towns of Makawao and Haiku.  The words are lovely, rolling off the tongue—Kauhikoa,  Kekaolike, Kula…

But further down to the coast the more the island smacks of Southern California beach cities, hotter and stickier, with sad condos, refrigerated big box stores, giant blue ice drinks, fancy desperate resorts, and poor people picking glumly along the shopping aisles looking at price tags.

They say there are ancient ghosts here.  When the moon is full, warrior ghosts, the night marchers, haunt their old paths near ancient rock temples.  They say if you hear their drums, take off all your clothing, lie face down on the ground, or they may tap your shoulder and you will join their eternal march. 

I keep thinking about life here before Hollywood, before 50’s pin-up Hawaiian babes, before Amerika.  Before Captain Cook. 

A couple of millennia of taro pounding, vicious bloody fighting between brown anthill islands.  Fighting each other. But not fighting nature.

The first thing the missionaries did was plant kiawe trees with sharp thorns that would drop on the ground, so the Hawaiians would have to wear shoes.   
And they made the bare-breasted hula dancers wear shirts.  The nakedness shocked their Victorian sensibilities.

In the rich tourist resorts, the grounds are swept immaculate, the green is clipped and natural world held briefly at bay.  Brown men serve white women tall drinks with ice.

Beautiful fruits, both wild and cultivated:  Surinam cherries, white pineapple, mandarin trees. And rats.  Rats under the porch.  Scuttling English rats from Captain Cook’s scuttled ships.  Rats eating the fallen fruit.

The island has been violated by the kindness of strangers.  Waves of it washing up its shores.  Ghost warriors beat their drums and march down the night.