09 January 2008

Maui Revisited

Mr. Synchronicity

Today was a magical day. It began with a plan to wake up early and catch the bus to Ka’anapali, which is next to one of my favorite beaches from my first visit to Maui in May 2006. At that time Kahekili Beach Park was just that, a long natural strip of unspoiled golden sand beside swaying trees and greenery. Now there is an unbroken string of high-end hotels and cabanas lining the shore, with only token remnants of the original vegetation. The beach is still uncrowded however, with sand just as soft and water as clear and calm as I remembered. This time I was treated to a special compensation for the disappointment over inevitable development. As I dove to swim along the bottom not far from the water’s edge, I heard clearly the sounds of singing - actually groans, moans, squeaks and screeches - from humpback whales wintering offshore.

The day began auspiciously enough, as I ran into Kevin on my way up to the road to hitch a ride to town. He took me to the bus stop, and from there my long day’s journey went predictably enough. The so-called Maya-Hopi Indian man who sat next to me for the first half-hour talked nonstop, running a manic jag through everything from the Word of God to the caste system of India and the war criminals of Nazi Germany. After that I settled into quiet enjoyment of the scenery, with verdant primal mountains to my right and turquoise ocean to my left, all the way to Lahaina. There I stopped for coffee and Internet at a café I remembered, before catching the bus for the last leg to Ka’anapali. On the bus ride back it was the teens who dominated the airwaves with their constant chatter, easier to take because it wasn’t directed at me personally.

The final portion of the trip, just before dusk, was a little worrisome since I’d been warned by the taxi driver I hired my first night here (having forgot my driver’s license at home and so unable to rent a car) not to try hitching at night. As I stood by the highway from the end of the bus line I was questioning whether I’d be able to make the drum class the next day ending around this same time, having to hitchhike home. But just then a car stopped. I opened the door, and Steve, the drum teacher I had met last visit and hoped to meet again at his class the next day, reached over to shake my hand. “Nowick!” he said, “I was just thinking about you, as I was playing Mamady Keita’s ‘Soli’ here on my car stereo.” We caught up on drumming and other news as he took me to my destination driveway. He’s been enjoying learning tango with his girlfriend, after a steep learning curve of a year and a half. Coincidentally I also tried to juggle drumming with tango lessons with a girlfriend a couple of years ago, though in my case I quit (both the tangoing and the relationship) before the learning curve leveled out.

Halfway down the driveway to Danya’s place, a truck rolled up behind me and stopped to offer me a ride. It was Kevin again, returning from town. Back at Danya’s place later, I met Ray and discovered in the course of conversation that we’d both spent time in arctic Quebec, where, among other things, we’d witnessed caribou wandering through the streets of Kuujuak, and “shared a beer with Zebedee Nungak.” At that point Shara walked in, dubbing me “Mr. Synchronicity” since she’d already seen a guy in Paia come up to me and recognize me from Nelson, BC (as well as from the beach jam earlier in the day); and this while traveling with Mina, also from Nelson and staying at Danya’s. I used to rehearse at Mina’s house every week for a while when she was living with a guy whose family band I played with. Shara also announced that she’d discovered that Congolese dance classes were happening every night this week in Paia, and I could catch a ride home with her after my drum class and her dance class.

The Hourglass Effect

The first week in January just might be my favorite time of year. Even in cold northern climes, it is special with the growing light each day, the knowledge that light and warmth are increasing. In the tropics, where daylight and temperature are more constant, still there is an effect of extra tranquility and ease, each day beckoning with a paradoxical yet intoxicating mixture of fullness and emptiness. In either location the schedule of events and expectations seems at the lowest ebb for the year, and for that reason alone this brief season is precious.

In contrast, the holiday time leading up to the new year in December is hectic and hurried, with each day shorter than the last, as time is filled with social engagements, travel arrangements, errands and loose ends (not to mention sickness from overdoing it). The year in between sees a seasonal variation in temperate lands, yet a subtle ticking of the calendar no matter the latitude.

In effect, it’s as if the calendar year runs like an hourglass. With the turning of the new year, the glass is full, the sand seemingly endless in supply, the trickling away of it imperceptible. Yet trickle it does, day by day, and by fall the diminishing supply causes increasing anxiety that we’re not going to get everything done that we had hoped this year.

I suppose this is where some of that subtle sadness comes in, on New Year’s Eve. It’s not just the tawdry leftovers from 1930s America that taints the champagne, or the nostalgic singing and tipsy kissing, or the flashing of the fluorescent lights, but regret at time gone by and opportunity missed. Oh well - the hourglass turns, and we start with a full cup of possibility and potential again.

At least, such is the feeling I had up until this day. Even this morning, for instance, I felt the buoyancy of free and open spirit - not removed from life but at peace with the simplicity of the daily scene: walking down the road in the sunshine, even listening to the ravings of my seatmate on the bus. But this day, January 8, marks the beginning of the second week of the year, and already during my bus ride today I have generated a long list of things to write about, which equates to things to do. And once we have an agenda of things to do, we jump back on the wheel of karma: action, and reaction, spinning ever faster.

Second Time Around

It’s interesting visiting Maui for a second time. Having explored all the areas of the island during my first visit, now I know where to go, can be both more settled where I’m staying and more focused during my outings to various favorite spots. I know where to shop, where to do Internet, where to get good coffee, where to change, snorkel, swim, and drum. This sense of familiarity is made deeper by staying in a congenial place with like-minded people, a kind of extended family (especially when it includes old friends from home).

On the other hand, I wonder already what it might be like to visit a third time, or more. Would familiarity give way that quickly to routine? Relationship with a place is like relationship with a person, going through those three stages: Discovery - Familiarity - Routine. It seems that these three stages make up a natural cycle, a complete circle. Past the point of routine lies the challenge.

If the circle is continued without change, status quo risks becoming stagnation. There is a choice, however, to spiral upward and outward, expanding to new fields of exploration, new relationships of discovery. There is also a choice to spiral downward and inward, into more subtle realms of experience that on the surface may appear the same, but actually can be appreciated in deeper essence. In this way stagnation may be averted or transformed into sustainability. I suspect that a key ingredient in such a transformation of status quo is for routine to take on an aspect of the sacred: routine gives way to ritual.

Grisham the Prophet

I’m reading a piece of “pulp fiction” called The Brethren, by John Grisham, which once again proves that fiction is truer than strange truth. Written in 2000, a full year before 9/11, it lays out a scenario that is chillingly prescient. If it wasn’t also truth that such shenanigans date at least as far back as the time of Caesar, one might almost suspect that BushCo took their script from the novelist’s hands.

A main premise is that the CIA rigs a presidential election, through blackmail and bribery and corporate sponsorship, for its chosen candidate on the single platform of doubling military spending. When the candidate inquires about how the American public will be convinced to go along with such an agenda, the answer is right out of history, past and future:

“We’ll create a crisis on the other side of the world, and suddenly [you] will be called a visionary. Timing is everything. You make a speech about how weak we are in Asia, few people listen. Then we’ll create a situation over there that stops the world, and suddenly everyone wants to talk to you. It will go on like that, throughout the campaign. We’ll build the tension on this end. We’ll release reports, create situations, manipulate the media, embarrass your opponents. Frankly . . . I don’t expect it to be that difficult.”

“You sound like you’ve been here before.”

As the political ads engineered by the CIA go on the air, we see images that are all too familiar to us in the post-9/11 world:

This one began with a grainy video of men with guns slithering through the desert, dodging and shooting and undergoing some type of training. Then the sinister face of a terrorist - dark eyes and hair and features, obviously some manner of Islamic radical - and he said in Arabic with English subtitles, “We will kill Americans wherever we find them. We will die in our holy war against the great Satan.” After that, quick videos of burning buildings. Embassy bombings. A busload of tourists. The remains of a jetliner scattered through a pasture.

I guess the publication date of 2000 was too close to the American election in November of that year to influence its outcome. But given another year, the brains beyond W. didn’t miss a beat. Either that, or John Grisham has his finger right on the pulse of the American Way.

US Homeland, Empire

Yesterday while hitchhiking I got a ride from a man from the Czech Republic. He’s been here two years, but is seriously contemplating leaving soon. I asked him why, and he referenced the politics of war, the obsession with militarism and security. These were the same things that led me to leave the USA in 1974 following the Vietnam war. Now, 34 years later, the political climate is, in the words of my wise and cynical friend Wayne, “the same only worse.”

In a follow-up conversation today, Kevin observed that Hawaii was somewhat removed from the political mindset of the mainland US, the “homeland.” Maybe Hawaii, I wondered, was more like the colony it once was instead of a true State; and for that matter, not unlike Canada - a part of the American empire. “Patriotic” Americans used to say, “Love it or leave it.” Somehow that slogan got replaced along the way with, “You can check out, but you can never leave.”

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