July 9, 2012
You have to drive the north coast of Kauai—Hawaii’s Garden Island—past Kilaueu Falls, the condominium metropolis of Princeville and funky old Hanalei to find Taylor Camp. Once you get to Ha’ena State Park, where the Na Pali Cliffs guard the island’s impregnable west coast, park the car and thrash through the jungle to Limahuli Stream, which debouches from the mountains on a gorgeous beach.
A band of young people came to the same place in 1969, most of them refugees from strife-ridden college campuses and Vietnam War protests. They drifted in from all over the mainland, looking to turn down the volume at the end of the blaring 1960s and pitched tents in a North Shore park, playing beach volleyball in the buff and smoking marijuana, activities that ultimately got them evicted.
Enter Howard Taylor, brother of movie star Elizabeth, who bailed them out of jail and invited them to settle on a beachfront property he owned that had just been condemned by the state. His kindness was also an act of revenge because the state would have to deal with the squatters before they could turn the place into a public park. “It’s your land and they’re now your hippies,” he told officials. After joining the campers for Christmas dinner in 1972 with his celebrated sister, Taylor left them to their own devices.
For the next five years the hippie haven that came to be called Taylor Camp aggravated locals, who had no idea how to cope with their first exposure to the mainland counterculture. At the time, the pineapple and sugar cane industries were faltering and Kauai was enveloped in a sweet dream state, its population dwindling, its beaches still the domain of local surfers.
Semi-permanent treehouses made of scavenged wood and plastic replaced tents at Taylor Camp; a garden was planted, shaped like a mandala; residents started a co-op, built communal toilets, showers and the Church of the Brotherhood of the Paradise Children, where discussion ranged from Kierkegaard to the Tantras; couples swapped partners, babies were born, wild parties and homegrown pot attracted newcomers.
The story is told in a documentary film, Taylor Camp: Living the ’60s Dream, produced by John Wehrheim, who lived nearby in the early 1970s. The lavishly illustrated, accompanying book describes the seven-acre encampment, inhabited by about 100 people in its heyday as something different from a commune. “It had no guru…no written ordinances. It wasn’t a democracy. A spirit that brought forth order without rules guided the community,” Wehrheim wrote in the introduction.
The film is an even more vivid evocation, thanks to interviews of people who lived there, now aging baby boomers with jobs and families who seem no worse for the experience. In fact, most look back on their Taylor Camp days as the best time of their lives, though a seamier undercurrent can be felt in descriptions of the community’s post-halcyon years when hard drugs and rowdy transients arrived.
Many of the mellow, early settlers moved on, though it took the state until 1977 to close the camp down. By then the ’60s were over and Kauai was on the verge of a real estate boom that brought developments like Princeville.
For people who recall flower children with nostalgic fondness, Wehrheim’s book and film are all that remain to tell the story of a serendipitous time and place where a footnote to the history of the 1960s was written. Of course, it would be even better to go back to the North Shore of Kauai, to follow Limahuli Stream to the beach and to lie in the sand, remembering the way we were.
June 7, 2012
Did anybody else see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel over the Memorial Day weekend? Somebody must have because the film, which opened on May 4, continues to do well at the box office, and that’s compared with a slew of big-budget blockbusters—Men in Black 3, Battleship, The Avengers—that have come along since then. Marigold’s popularity has been credited to John Madden, who also directed Shakespeare in Love, and to its 24-karat gold cast, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy, all of them over 60. (The film is based on These Foolish Things, a novel by Deborah Moggach about a group of English oldsters who move to a retirement hotel in India.) But the movie’s reception is also seen as proof that there’s a market for movies about people who aren’t young and beautiful, just interesting—as are the characters in Marigold, coping with end-of-life transitions in a drastically foreign place.
And let’s not forget another major factor in Marigold’s success: India, specifically the western state of Rajasthan, long a favorite with travelers for its mighty hill forts, bedizened palaces, teeming markets and lost desert villages. The hotel in the book—Moggach called it the Dunroamin—is located in the dreamy lake city of Udaipur, though the movie was filmed in Jaipur to the north. I recognized the setting immediately because I began a tour of Rajasthan there ten years ago.
It was in Jaipur—known as the Pink City for the color it was painted when England’s Prince Albert came to visit in 1876—that I learned how to take wild rides in auto-rickshaws without fear, tasted my spinach paneer at a vegetarian restaurant downtown, climbed to Amber Palace built by Raja Man Singh in 1592, and had a fine gin and tonic in the style of Prince Albert at the Polo Bar in the Rambagh Palace Hotel, where the Maharani of Jaipur lived until 1957. And I only have to look as far as my bedroom to remember a daylong shopping expedition aimed at finding the perfect quilted cotton spread, decorated in woodblock prints, a specialty in Jaipur. Mine is in shades of blue—soft and beautiful, albeit somewhat threadbare now.
I went on from there to Udaipur, the Jain temple complex at Ranakpur, Kumbhalgarh Fort and Jaisalmer, the last Thar Desert outpost before the Pakistani border. But Jaipur remains most deeply etched in my memory, which is why I took so much pleasure in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The $13 ticket price is a small amount to pay for a trip to Rajasthan.
May 16, 2012
I don’t like packing and getting shots, but when it comes to getting ready to travel, I love reading books and watching movies. I’m currently planning a trip to India, which I haven’t visited for almost 15 years. I want to find out how it’s changed, spend a week doing yoga at an ashram, see the burning ghats at Varanasi and taste the spicy food of the subcontinental south.
To prepare for my first trip I took in such standards as director Richard Attenborough’s 1982 epic Gandhi and David Lean’s 1984 film take on E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India; “The Jewel in the Crown” miniseries based on novelist Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet; Paul Brunton’s esoteric A Search in Secret India; A House for Mr. Biswas, V. S. Naipaul’s heartbreakingly funny look at family life in the Indian diaspora community; Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie’s evocation of India at independence; and everything by Louise Nicholson, the queen of India guidebook writers.
This time I’m finding much more to read and watch—India updated.
English, August (1988), by Upamanyu Chatterjee, follows a confused, morose, insidiously funny young man to an Indian Civil Service posting in the provincial backwater of Madna where, almost in spite of himself, he sees deeper into the nature of India with both its glories and absurdities.
A Fine Balance (1995), a richly textured, bighearted novel by Rohinton Mistry that follows two village tailors who search for work in the city during the “Emergency“ from 1975 to 1977 when the government of Indira Gandhi suspended individual rights and democratic elections, resulting in widespread abuses. “You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair,” a fellow train passenger tells them—sound advice, it turns out, as the tailors are beset by more woes than Job. Together with his more recent novel Family Matters (2002), A Fine Balance establishes Mistry as one of the best, most vivid and moving chroniclers of contemporary India, especially Mumbai.
India (2011), by Patrick French, a contemporary study of the Indian nation assessing the singular nature of its democracy, the flush economy and enduring poverty, religious fractures, intransigent caste system and high-tech genius—all backed up by moving portraits of Indian people, be they quarry workers, Bollywood stars or dirty politicians.
The Last Mughal (2006) is historian William Dalrymple’s detailed look at the 1857 Indian Mutiny, the chaos it wrecked on New Delhi, the brutality of British retribution and the pathetic end of the great Mughul dynasty under its last unfortunate emperor, Zafar.
Sacred Games (2006), by Vikram Chandra, is part-thriller, part-police procedural, all extraordinary literary investigation into the beating, red heart of the Indian city of Mumbai. It features a valiant, long-suffering Sikh policeman and bizarrely tortured crime overlord, along with the fully Dickensian world of characters who bind them together. A terrific read.
Salaam Bombay! (1988), artfully directed by Mira Nair, tells the story of a boy on the mean streets of Mumbai, the drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes and thugs he befriends and his hopeless struggle to make enough money to return home to the mother who all but sold him to the circus. If Slumdog Millionaire is glass half full, Salaam Bombay! is a more realistic glass half empty.
Sea of Poppies (2008) is the first book in a projected trilogy by Amitav Ghosh, set in the early 1800s when the British-run opium trade was pillaging Hindustan on one hand and enslaving China on the other. To evade it a group of travelers set out in a great sailing ship to the island of Mauritius, mixing customs and languages from all around the Indian Ocean, the rich backdrop for this epic of the Indian diaspora.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008), director Danny Boyle’s first hit film, uses flashbacks during a young man’s appearance as a contestant on the Indian TV version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” to tell the story of three orphaned children growing up in the shantytowns of Mumbai. It’s pure wish fulfillment with a full-throttle happy ending, but segments were filmed in desperately poor neighborhoods of the city most visitors never see, like the unforgettably funny scene set in a slum toilet.
A Suitable Boy (1993) is a novel by Vikram Seth that depicts the lives and preoccupations of middle-class India as a young woman chooses a husband from three very different suitors. Set against the political maneuvering of the post-independence era, it unfolds like a soap opera—but with finer sensibilities—and creates a world of involving characters. At almost 1,500 pages long, in for a penny, in for a pound.
The White Tiger (2008), by Aravind Adiga, another novel—contemporary Indian writers excel in fiction—channels the hilarious voice of a devious Delhi chauffeur to serve up a scathing picture of democracy in India—vote-buying, bribes, kickbacks and all.
Still, one book stands above all as required reading for the traveler in India: Kim, by Rudyard Kipling. First published in 1901, it is considered a relic of British imperialism by some critics (like Edward Said) and many Indians. But to my mind Kipling’s classic remains a window on the Indian soul and a spiritual lesson. Starting from the steps of the Lahore Museum, it travels across India in the company of an orphan boy learning to spy for the British and a Tibetan Buddhist holy man who meets adversity by remembering that “just is the wheel.” For historical background dip into The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (1990), by Peter Hopkirk.
January 24, 2012
Unpacking a box of books recently I found my old copy of No Longer on the Map, a small classic of literary geography published in 1972. The author Raymond H. Ramsay reveals his M.O. in the preface:
Many places are no longer on the map, but no mystery attaches to [them] because the names were political, not geographical. The territories have been given new names, or divided into smaller units or incorporated into larger ones.
The Kingdom of El Dorado is quite a different case, as are the Strait of Anian, Norumbega, Grocland, and the Isle of Satanaxio. These are no longer on the map because they never existed. Then how did they come to be mapped at all? That is quite a story.
Of course, the more no-longer-on-the-map a place is, the more I want to go there, and Satanaxio is at the top of my list.
According to Ramsay, it was first shown on a 1507 map by Johann Ruysch, and then again on maps by Gerhardus Mercator (of Mercator projection fame) and Abraham Ortelius (creator of the first modern atlas). Roughly located near the mouth of Hudson Bay, Santaxio was thought by some to be an outlet of hell with an opening on the earth’s surface leading into the infernal core; so maybe I’ll make it a quick visit.
Looking back through No Longer on the Map made me think of all the other places I wish I could visit but can’t, places lost in time that once really existed. For instance, you cannot travel through the British Raj on the eve of the Mutiny or have cocktails in the 1950s New York of Mary McCarthy. The Southwest Chief no longer stops at dusty crossroads in northern Arizona where Navajo weavers show their work and passengers alight to visit the Grand Canyon in Harvey Cars. Villages in the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia where the Haida people raised monstrous totems and roof beams decorated with Raven and Bear are deserted now, victims of disease brought by white traders, and Malacca, once the crossroads of Asia visited by Arab dhows, Chinese treasure ships and European men-of-war, is no longer even on the Strait of Malacca because of waterfront reclamation.
Perhaps it’s time travel I want after all. When I was a little girl I loved Williamsburg and Carcassonne. But historical theme parks, no matter how authentically-recreated, now make me sad somehow; the burnish is always too bright, the effort too hard.
Some of the places I most desperately want to see aren’t even there anymore. I have taken a motor boat up Lake Powell sounding for Glen Canyon, obliterated in the 1960s by a dam that flooded a 200 mile stretch of the Colorado River gorge every bit as marvelous as the Grand Canyon, if we’re to believe the one-armed 19th century explorer John Wesley Powell. Gone with the backed-up water are the Navajo holy place at the confluence of the Colorado and San Juan Rivers, the Crossing of the Fathers where missionary-explorers Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Francisco Dominguez found a ford in 1776 after their expedition had failed to reach California, and Hole-in-the-Rock, another Colorado River crossing forged in the brutal winter of 1880 by Mormons who cut a 1,200 foot trail down sandstone cliffs to reach it.
I want to see those places, but at the same time love Lake Powell, a weird, unnatural, tropical cocktail in the desert where house boaters tie up at islands that used to be mesas to barbecue and drink beer, which I don’t begrudge them.
Nobody, however willing they may be to follow Edward Abbey into tight, wild places, has a special right to the marvels of the American Southwest. I’d never have gotten there myself without a rented motor boat and excellent advice from the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area tourist information office.
We are here on earth now. It is no longer virgin, but more complex.
What long-vanished place would you most like to visit?
December 1, 2011
Now if a group of American expats get their way, another one will be posted on the Left Bank apartment building where Julia Child lived with her husband Paul in their post World War II frisée salad days.
Among the exponents are Walter Wells, a former executive editor of the International Herald Tribune, and his wife Patricia, who teaches and writes about cooking in France. In 1984, just after the publication of her first book The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, Patricia got a fan letter from JC and the women quickly became friends. On the way from Paris to their country house near Cannes, the Childs often stopped at the Wells’ place in Provence, where Patricia and Julia gossiped while shelling fava beans in the courtyard.
Like other friends and admirers of the inimitable JC, the Wells think her passage through Paris ought to be noted with a plaque at 81 rue de l’Université, where Julia began testing recipes for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the two-volume compendium she co-authored with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle that helped introduce the bland palate of Betty Crocker‘s America to the transcendent pleasures of French cuisine.
To Americans Child is a pop culture icon, famous for ground-breaking PBS cooking shows, a long chain of bestselling cookbooks, the 2009 film Julie and Julia, and her posthumous memoir My Life in France. In 2001 her Cambridge, Mass., kitchen was moved almost intact to the Smithsonian Museum of American History; next year marks the 100th anniversary of her birth.
But our beloved French Chef is no celebrity in France, never mind that she was inducted into the French Legion d’Honneur shortly before she died in 2004. “In France the ordinary person has no idea who she is,” said her grand-nephew Alex Prud’homme, who helped her write My Life in France.
Moreover, in a city with 1,300 commemorative plaques, getting one installed at 81 rue de l’Universite—Roo de Loo, as the Childs called it—is no easy matter. Approvals are required from the building’s owners, the arrondissement and the city council; other than exceptional cases, those honored must have been dead for a least ten years. Recent recipients include the film director Francois Truffaut and the writer Marguerite Duras.
“This project is important because France has never had a better ambassador to America‘s heartland, or a better loved one,” Walter Wells told me in an email. “The goal is not to establish a shrine to Julia. It is an homage long overdue.”
Meanwhile, Roo de Loo has become something of a pilgrimage site for American foodies embarked one of the growing number of French cooking programs dedicated to JC. If you pass that way you might see some of them on the doorstep trying to hear Julia whistle as she puts a capon in the oven.
Here are a few tours and classes dedicated to Julia in France:
Tour de Forks, a small New York-based tour company, offers “A Taste of Julia Child’s Paris and Provence.” The seven-day itinerary (priced from $2,450) begins, as did Julia and Paul, at the Hotel Pont Royal in the 7th Arrondissement.
Le Cordon Bleu in Paris added “In Honor of Julia Child“ to its schedule, a three-hour lecture demonstration (about $60 per person) producing a JC meal you get to eat.
At Home with Patricia Wells has five-day courses (from $5,000) in Paris and Provence taught by the author of The Food Lover’s Guide to France. In Provence, Wells uses a La Cornue stove given to her by JC.
Cooking with Friends in France is American chef Kathie Alex’s school at La Pitchoune, JC’s beloved retreat in Provence. Four and five-night courses (from $2,450) include cooking classes, marketing and meals in Michelin-starred restaurants.
On Rue Tatin is headquartered in the Norman village of Louvier. JC friend and cookbook writer Susan Herrmann Loomis presides over three and five day courses there, as well as one-day classes in Paris ($350).