25 May 2006

Impressions of Paradise, Part 2

This time I’m on Maui, the pinnacle of close-to-home paradise for North Americans. There are lots of Canadians here especially, along with the usual tribe of Aussies and Kiwis, Brits and Swedes, on and on...It’s ironic that here in this high-end resort culture, I find myself having deja-vus of Conakry, Guinea, where the post-apocalyptic world has been born and is daily dying in poverty, dust, smoke and overpopulated chaos. Here the fumes are more benign, the cafe scene trending momentarily to the mellow...but moments ago when I was inspired with this surprising juxtaposition, the Australians were loudly cursing from the center table, an oversized truck was belching and screeching outside, the canned music was careening from Bootsie Collins to the Beatles, a mother at the next table was chatting on her cell phone while her small child babbled and tottered around the room, and I had to somehow maintain my bubble of concentration while doing an editing job on my laptop...the job including remarks on the state of world culture wherein rural Mexicans can now use cell phones and Internet even while lacking basic telephone lines. In a similar vein, last night I confessed to my housemates at the pineapple ranch BnB that I didn’t know how to use a microwave and didn’t have a TV...though I packed a laptop and iPod. $50 a night seems like a good deal, but there is really no privacy there except in the small bedroom - office on the bed - as the housemates scurry around from 6:30 on, and the 4-7 boys of the owners’ family roam the manicured grounds like cruising flies....Harsh, I know; and it’s all fine, really. I chose to try to work here rather than at home where I also face the same dilemma: enclosed in my private box of an apartment, or out in the public domain where all manner of talk and distracting noise is ever-apparent. In the hostel there was the hubbub of traffic at all hours in the kitchen and common areas both indoors and out. At dawn on the world’s prettiest beach I was almost alone but not quite; roamers began a regular sea-watch before 6:00. Am I complaining? It seems so. But really, I simply observe, as there is that choice: isolation, in front of TV or computer or book or food inside that lonely box; or life in domesticity, with all of the attendant emotional and interpersonal issues around common space and time, meals and work and leisure and sleep and sex; or out in the social world where there is the property grid to contend with, crisscrossed by traffic, tourists, neighbors and friends and family, and the ever-present if sometimes invisible homeless.If there is a point it may be that nothing is exactly as it seems. Do the very rich escape these conundrums by forking out $300 and up for a box in the highrise above the postcard beach where I stroll for free and the native Hawaiians tend the landscape and serve mai-tais for minimum wage? Am I more or less connected to my vanmates on the hostel tours than I would be with my mate or mates on a more privately rented journey across this or another island once or now branded “paradise”? Are those natives who are poor or well-wheeled better off now or under the arrogant kings of their past who ordered them to carry buckets of volcanic soil from one valley to another, or to fight the natives from a neighboring island, or to die from unknowingly transgressing some arcane taboo?Distinctions are what makes the world go round, but in the end, they are all so problematic. The solution may seem to be, then, to disappear in the mantra of oneness and void...a consolation that philosophy does offer at any moment when needed. Complaint then turns to acceptance, to letting go of any ambition for further distinction in service of ego or illusion. And is this the only choice, then? - the disintegration of paradise into chaos; or its integration in the moving mosaic of the moment? Yes, and yes, with more than a footnote to beauty...the sudden glory of sunset in clouds, or an inspiring oldie on the airwaves, or a five-minute snorkel at a spontaneous cove in the company of a giant prehistoric turtle... Life and work and play go on, and the search for the right combination of environmental variables continues. It also changes by the moment...so that now there is only genial conversation and a high-pressure sigh of an espresso machine to accompany the gentle clacking of my keys in the Italian bakery-cafe in Makawao, upcountry Maui, at the end of May, 2006.

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