Doris Duke’s Shangri-la

Hawaii

Billionaire philanthropist Doris Duke’s former home, called “Shangri-La,” opened up its Damascus Room to visitors this month.

This room had been off limits for visitors for the duration of its several year-long renovation . As such, I never had the opportunity to see it when I visited a couple of years back. The Damascus Room dates from the late 18th Century and is elaborately decorated with ornate ceiling reliefs, gold calligraphy,  Turkish ceramic plates, silk velvets and Iranian glassware.

That the room is called the Damascus Room prompted the house/museum’s director to say to the Honolulu Weekly “Especially given the current civil unrest in Syria and reports of damage to cultural sites, we hope the Damascus Room will open a window on the country’s extraordinary cultural heritage,”

The house/museum was one of my favourite day trips when I lived on O’ahu. Although the house is open to the public, you must go as part of a small group tour. You can book the trip online (early: it sells out weeks, even months in advance) then make your way the the Honoulu Academy of Art from where you are driven to the house.

The house is stuffed with one of the world’s largest collections of Islamic art, collected over Duke’s years of traveling through Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Syria, Egypt, and India. Duke was captivated by Islamic cultures and, in her will, created the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic art, to promote the study, understanding and preservation of Islamic art and culture.

Duke purchased the home, which lies on the ocean and beneath Diamond Head, while honeymooning in Hawaii in 1935. The distinctly Hawaiian surrounding landscape is as stunning as the art inside.

Following photographs all by author.

Pool at Doris Duke’s house, O’ahu

Black Point , O’ahu

Black Point, O’ahu

A Walk through Downtown Honolulu

Hawaii

“In Honolulu’s lawless hive, where vessels of all flags and nations arrive and depart daily, a man may change his name and history between entrée and dessert.”

— David Mitchell; Cloud Atlas

Read more about Honolulu’s Chinatown:

Chic Chinatown

Honolulu’s Chinatown Bars

King Kamehameha Day: Lei Draping Ceremony

Hawaii

It seems to me that barely a week goes back without a festival or celebration of some kind going on on Oʻahu. I do try my best, but still only make it to about half of them.

I thought twice about heading downtown to the King Kamehameha statue opposite Iʻolani Palace, wondering how interesting a lei draping ceremony could be.  But those leis donʻt get up there without fanfare; no way, Hawaiians are no slouches when it comes to ceremony. This was a gathering, by turns reflective, solemn and celebratory, filled with colour, dance and music from the Royal Hawaiian Band. A quiet respect was tangible as descendents of the king spoke of his legend, triumphs and even hinted at what today we might call faults. Dignified men and women stood to attention in ceremonial robes, suits and feather cloaks while I sweated and burned in shorts and a tank top. A slight woman with a gorgeous smile performed first hula and then a war dance while the fragile leis were being hoisted with the aid of a fire truck; a scene of both strength and beauty.

Burly days

Hawaii

As a long time citizen of the underworld, I like my entertainment to run from the bawdy to the downright obscene. Honolulu, mixed-up trickster that she is, is happy to indulge with a festival devoted to Spam and a vaudeville production of Alice in Wonderland on the same day.

The annual Spam festival, Spam Jam, blocks off the stretch of Kalakaua in front of the Royal Hawaiian Center to create a space for fans to unashamedly indulge in the canned pork product. It is a carnival of the lowbrow; low-taste. Surrounding restaurants dream up new Spam-heavy dishes and sell them at street stalls. You can buy Spam hats, Spam t-shirts, Spam slippers and Spam toys. And, on my visit, there was a live band playing Journey songs too.

Cherry Blossom Cabaret’s variety show was an ambitious mix of burlesque, music, film and aerial dance. The show was an all-knowing referential take on Alice called Alice in Chinatown. Cherry Blossom’s Alice falls down the rabbit hole and has to navigate her way through Chinatown bars–Mercury, 39Hotel, Soho–to gain entry to the Red Queen’s party. The show only ran for two weekends, which is a shame because I would love to see more of this brave, inventive theatre.

Hawaii Music Monday: Bari Bari 13

Hawaii

On my last visit to Tokyo it seemed like the rockabilly-guys-in Yoyogi-Park phenomenon was fading. Well, there was just this guy one time:

…So I was delighted to find out that Japanese Rock ‘n’ Roll is not dead, it lives in Honolulu and it’s name is Bari Bari 13!

Tommy (Lead Guitar and Lead Vocals), Shingo (Bass Guitar and Vocals) and Kenji (Drums and Vocals) dress in black leather and dark sunglasses, even in dark, sweaty Anna Bannanas where I saw them last, exhort the crowd to Rock ‘n’ Roll while their cute-enough-to-eat girlfriends and wives throw pre-arranged dance moves in the front row. Shingo also tends to take his top off after a couple of numbers.

Bari Bari 13 at Anna Bannanas February 13th

Bari Bari 13! Rock ‘n’ Roll Forever!!!!

Hawaii Music Monday: GRLFRNDS

Hawaii

GRLFRNDS at Anna Bannanas 2/26

“It’s a long and complicated story about how the punks took over the dance floor and the dance floor took over the punks.” So says the blurb on GRLFRNDS’ Myspace page, which also lists some very tasty influences: The Clash, Joy Division, New Order, M83 and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Anyway, GRLFRNDS are Nick Ross (guitar), Alex Kaiser (vocals), Jake Achitoff (synth), Nate McCurdy (drums), Ryan (bass) and, I think, one of the most exciting bands playing in Honolulu right now. Their synth-heavy, high-energy, dancey, punky sound brings to mind the neon-saturated days of British post-punk, New Wave–the lead singer even adopts a convincing British accent when he sings. GRLFRNDS’ live shows will make you want to dance. They will dance. Alex throws some moves on stage while wrapping the mic cord around his neck and Ryan looks like he might hurt himself he’s bouncing around so furiously. Nick plays so hard his fingers bleed (see above photo) but Jake, well, he just chills with his synth by the side.

This Week in Honolulu

Hawaii

News: The Star-Bulletin’s owner bought the Advertiser David Black will try to find a buyer for the Star-Bulletin, or otherwise shut the paper down. This doesn’t look good; Honolulu is looking like becoming a one-paper city and there’s certain to be lay-offs.

We dodged a tsunami Luckily those sirens and evacuations turned out to just be a precaution.

By Night: ARTafterDARK returned after a three-month break. Last night’s event reflected the current exhibition on view at the Academy of Arts until July 3rd, Mad For Modern: From Whistler to Warhol. Clones of the Queen played in the Courtyard, while DJ Nicky Savage was at the Pavilion. There were docent-led zip tours, live figure sketching by artist Lauren Roth and, of course, yummy food and drinks–thanks to Town/Downtown.

GRLFRNDS played Anna Bannanas on Friday; they were actually opening for Choda but I left before them. A few tuning difficulties couldn’t stop them. This band has some of the most energetic performers–bassist Ryan at one point jumped onto the dancefloor, while still playing, then did this crazy back-bend over the rail; the guitarist’s fingers were bleeding over the strings. Not the synth-player though; he just kinda stands there.

Hawaii Music Monday: The Hell Caminos

Hawaii

The Hell Caminos at Anna Bannanas February 19th

The Hell Caminos are a Psychobilly band whose music mixes rockabilly, punk and swing. Band members are Michael Camino (upright bass), Nick Danger (guitar), and Handsome Jack (drums).

From January 2009 they took a long hiatus, returning in January 2010 with a typically manic show at The Loft in Chinatown, where they opened for L.A band Spooky. Their world, they say, is full of voodoo roads, slinky dames, and cheap honkytonks.

A Hell Caminos live show is high-energy and always feels like it is on the edge of something. It’s a twitchy, unsettling feeling that fits their description of themselves as “living on caffeine, sleep deprivation and women.” I love the upright bass, which Michael lifts up and spins around. Oh yeah and all the band members are not too hard on eyes at all. The crowd at their shows is also a beautiful sight; lots of gorgeous tattooed girls in cool dresses.

I caught them this past Friday at Anna Bannanas. They were up before the ska band Black Square and the show was part of the ‘Last Days of Annas’ series: a bunch of live shows that will run until Annas tragically closes this April.