Royal Palaces on American Soil

The Iolani Palace, Honolulu

Most Americans are not aware that there are at least three royal palaces in the Hawaiian Islands. Two of them are in the Honolulu area: the Iolani Palace downtown and Queen Emma’s Summer Palace on the Pali Highway. Martine and I have been to the Iolani Palace in 1996 and intend to revisit it on our upcoming trip to O’ahu along with Queen Emma’s Summer Palace.

Hawai’i was a perfectly viable kingdom when the United States annexed the islands in 1898. In the wake of the Spanish-American War, Americans were eager for new colonies; and there was already in place a willing cadre of American settlers willing to raise Old Glory. The reigning monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani was kept a prisoner in the Iolani Palace under suspicion of “treason,” namely for being loyal to her country.

Interior Queen Emma’s Summer Palace

The other palace is connected with a happier time, when Queen Emma (1836-1885), wife to King Kamehameha IV preferred the cooler temperatures of her hillside retreat, which today is a museum operated by the Daughters of Hawai’i. The same group operates a third royal palace on the Big Island of Hawai’i, the Hulihe’e Palace in Kailua-Kona.

In my reading in preparation for our trip, I am concentrating on the period between Captain Cook’s landing on the islands in 1778 and the American annexation in 1898. The memory of the royal families of Kamehameha and Kalakaua is still alive in the islands. There is even a Royal Mausoleum in Honolulu where most of the royal family is interred.

Through Russian Eyes

Russian Troops in Ukraine

If you were old enough in 1962 to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, you will recall that feeling of dread about the world possibly ending in a nuclear holocaust—within mere days. That showdown between Kennedy and Khrushchev was all because Russia had supplied Cuba with missiles to be pointed at targets in the United States.

Today, I had the unique experience of seeing the war in Ukraine through Russian eyes. I am a member of the European History Meetup Group which gets together several times a year at the Will & Ariel Durant Branch Library in Hollywood. According to Bronislav Meyler, the Ukrainian-born moderator of the group:

Let’s kick off our next program with a discussion about Russia/Ukraine historic relationship. The program will try to focus on the last thirty years of relations between the two states. Historical perspective will not be excluded just for the simple fact that the two nations shared (and still share) almost one thousand years of common history.

The fact that this meeting was held almost in the center of the Russian community in Los Angeles brought a number of Russian-Americans to attend. It is interesting to see how Russians think of the NATO threat. They view the nearness of NATO in the Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia; Poland; Slovakia; Hungary; Bulgaria; Romania; and Turkey much the same way we viewed the threat of Russian missiles less than a hundred miles from the United States.

Where the Russians view NATO as a monolithic threat, I see them as a relatively disunited group that would have insuperable difficulties agreeing on where to eat lunch. But the threat of Ukraine, which has been tied in historically and culturally with Russia since the 17th century, possibly joining NATO was for Putin possibly the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It is always valuable to see the other side’s point of view.

A Good Walk Spoiled

It was Mark Twain who said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” All across the United States, Europe, and the world there are some 40,000 golf courses, The average 18-hole golf course covers some 150 acres. At 640 acres in a square mile, that means that some 9,375 square miles (24,281 square kilometers) across the planet are dedicated to golf courses—approximately the area of the State of Massachusetts.

That’s a fair-sized piece of land. What makes the statistic interesting is that golf is on the decline, at least in the United States. According to one source, “The number of core American golfers (those playing eight rounds or more per year) has fallen between three and 4.5 percent every year since 2006.”

The Three Stooges at the Golf Course

If that trend continues, I see a giant land rush forming to convert golf courses into expensive subdivided real estate.

In fact, in the news there is a big kerfuffle about a dispute between the PGA and Saudi Arabia’s LIV, which is making inroads on the PGA’s monopoly. You can read about it here.

So don’t spend too much money on golf clubs and golf fashions. They may not be around much longer.

Not So Fragile After All

Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904)

Were Victorian women really as fragile as depicted? Take the case of Isabella Lucy Bird, who is described in her Wikipedia entry as follows:

From early childhood Bird was frail, suffering from a spinal complaint, nervous headaches, and insomnia. The doctor recommended an open-air life, and consequently, Bird learned to ride in infancy, and later to row. Her only education came from her parents: her father was a keen botanist who instructed Bird in flora, and her mother taught her daughters an eclectic mix of subjects. Bird became an avid reader. However, her “bright intelligence, [and] an extreme curiosity as to the world outside, made it impossible for her brain and her nature generally to be narrowed and stiffened by the strictly evangelical atmosphere of her childhood.”

So what did this proper lady do for kicks? She traveled around the world for several decades, writing a series of creditable travel classics. I am currently reading Six Months in the Sandwich Islands, amongst the Palm Groves, Coral Reefs and Volcanoes (1874), which described her seven-month stay in the Hawaiian Archipelago.

Other books and articles describe her travels to Australia, the American West, Japan, Malaya, Greece, Persia, Tibet, China, Korea, and Morocco.

Isabella Bird was by no means the only woman solo traveler of her time. There was also Lady Florence Dixie (1855-1905), who wrote an excellent book about Patagonia; Frances Trollope (1779-1863), mother of novelist Anthony Trollope, who wrote of her travels in the United States; and Lady Hester Stanhope (1776-1839), who traveled extensively in the Middle East.

Dame Freya Stark (1893-1993)

Somewhat later, there was Dame Freya Stark, who traveled by herself among the Arabs and lived to the ripe old age of a hundred. I have read several of her books, which are uniformly excellent.

I can only look upon these women travelers with wonder and admiration.

Now You Tell Me!

AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File

I was reading the last short story in a collection by Marshall N. Klimasewiski entitled Tyrants, when I came upon this quote by an Arctic explorer (via hydrogen balloon) from Sweden named Salomon August Andrée. It struck me right between the eyes.

The conservatives are always more active in their own behalf than liberals. The reason is that the liberals or progressives feel sure of the ultimate triumph of their cause because they know they are supported by the law of evolution, while the conservatives feel themselves constantly threatened and are therefore busy protecting themselves.

Bibliotherapy

The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles

There is no question in my mind that reading books can be a form of therapy. Not all books, but certainly those that make you think. Some books could be the opposite of therapeutic, like anything by Ayn Rand or Donald J. Trump.

I read incessantly. Only when I am ill do I not pick up a book. Since September 1998, I have read 2,750 books, ranging from literary classics to poetry to philosophy to history to travel.

Beginning in 1975, the year of my first real vacation (in Yucatán, Mexico), I decided to prepare several months in advance by reading books about my destination. They included archaeology, history, fiction, and descriptions of journeys. That way, when I finally reached my destination, I was there as a person who knew all sorts of things about where he was. That made me feel good about traveling. I didn’t feel like an ignorant interloper.

The therapeutic aspect was there, too. I came to the conclusion that the best philosophy books were written by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus had more to say about the human condition than the vast majority of academic philosophers, whose works were by and large unreadable. And it didn’t involve swallowing a whole lot of dogma administered by organized religion.

If you were to read the four dialogues of Plato about the death of Socrates (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo), you will have read the greatest works of Western Philosophy ever written.

Also worth considering are some of the Hindu, Taoist, and Buddhist texts, such as The Bhagavad Gita, The Tao Te Ching, and the literature of Zen Buddhism. They taught me that desire is always accompanied by suffering. The less one desires, the happier one is. And happiness is not a lasting thing: It goes into hiding and manifests itself only at irregular intervals.

Now if I can only declare my book purchases as medical expenses….

Favorite Films: Out of the Past (1947)

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in RKO’s Out of the Past

It seems the most unlikely place to open one of the greatest film noir productions that Hollywood ever made: the bright sunny town of Bridgeport, California, within view of the Eastern Sierras. (But then, didn’t Warner Brothers’ High Sierra end up with Humphrey Bogart’s death in the same general area?)

I have seen Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past approximately half a dozen times now and am nowhere near tired of the film. It contains early performances by Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas, and a sockdollager femme fatale performance by Jane Greer. Jane would have had a brilliant career if Howard Hughes hadn’t fallen in love with her and gotten the brush-off when she married someone else: She remained on contract to RKO, but she was not chosen for many roles.

The plot concerns a gas station operator in Bridgeport who has, in the past, worked for a sleazy gangster played by Kirk Douglas. Though he changed his name and disappeared to a small town, Douglas has him tracked down and sucks him into his criminal schemes. In this, he is abetted by the devious Jane Greer, who, it seems, is unable to tell the truth, even when she and Mitchum fall for each other.

It’s strange that so soon after the glorious victory of World War Two by the so-called Greatest Generation, Hollywood produced so many great films noted for their pessimism. And this is one of the most pessimistic, with the message that if you should stray ever so slightly off the straight and narrow path, you are an irredeemable goner.

This is a film that never grows old. I may have aged since the first time I viewed it, but the film is still as fresh as an Eastern Sierra field full of wildflowers.

VTAC

Today, Martine and I went with our friend Jeanie to the VTAC Car Show at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills. VTAC is short for the Valley Traffic Advisory Council, an agency of the Los Angeles Police Department. In addition to various police vehicles, such as a police helicopter, several search-and-rescue vehicles, and a K-9 unit, there were hundreds of mostly classical Detroit cars that were immaculately polished and cared for by their collector/owners.

Although the weather was cool and cloudy near our West LA apartment, Woodland Hills was sunny and warm—but fortunately not hot. We strolled around for a couple of hours talking to police officers and car owners.

Poster for the Car Show

One positive aspect of Los Angeles’s car culture is that there are a lot of car shows around the city, and even a number of automobile museums. And now during a time when so many cars look alike, it is amazing to consider that for many years the design of automobiles was like a fine art. I love my Subaru Forester, but it won’t win any beauty contests, as good a car as it is.

New Uniforms for the Uvalde TX Police

Yes, Pink Tutus Would Be Perfect!

As the NRA has claimed so often, the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun (BGWG) is with a good guy with a gun. Well, the cops in Uvalde, TX were supposedly good guys with guns (GGWG), but instead of breaking the door down, they cowered in safety while a BGWG wiped out a classroom full of elementary school students plus two teachers for good measure.

Well, it’s time to get new uniforms for the Uvalde cops. How about pink tutus with a matching pink cowboy hat? Maybe their squad cars should also be painted pink. Mind you, I have nothing against the color pink, but I think those gentlemen would—and it would make them think. (Hell, I could have thrown in a yellow stripe down the back, but pink and yellow don’t match).

After listening to the right wing media blame everything but guns for the shooting, I seriously wonder whether the NRA enthusiasts of Texas have a screw loose in their noggins.

WW2-Land

The USS Arizona Memorial

It’s a strange feeling to be standing on the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Beneath your feet is a sunken battleship in which 1,277 sailors are interred. That is roughly half the total U.S. casualties from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The island of O’ahu has numerous military and naval bases, roughly 21% of the total land area. That includes not only Pearl Harbor itself, but Fort De Russy on Waikiki, Schofield Barracks, Hickam Air Force Base, Dillingham Field, Fort Shafter, and a whole host of others.

In fact, if there is anywhere on American soil that is a center of World War Two commemoration, it would have to be O’ahu. There have been at least four films made about the attack:

  • From Here to Eternity (1953) with Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift
  • Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) with an American and Japanese Cast
  • Pearl Harbor (2001) directed by Michael Bay
  • Midway (2019), which begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor

There have also been numerous books on the subject. (And there still continue to be.) No doubt about it, America is still stuck on WW2.

When Martine and I visit Honolulu later this summer, we will spend a day going over all the exhibits and taking the shuttle over to the Arizona Memorial, as we did back in 1996. No doubt a lot has changed since then.