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 1, 2012
No place tells the whole quirky story of American vacationing better than the Poconos, a region of hills and vales on the west bank of the Delaware River about 100 miles from both Philadelphia and New York City. The history is well covered in Better in the Poconos, by Lawrence Squeri, describing the area’s birth as a rustic family resort in the 19th century and later catering to specific clienteles with hotels for Jews, Italians, Catholics, Quakers, African-Americans, singles, even trade unions. The advent of highways and the family car made the area all the more accessible to urbanites in search of modestly priced country pleasures, and then came World War II, which changed the game in the Poconos. In its aftermath, just-married veterans arrived with their brides, bringing new celebrity to the Poconos as “the honeymoon capital of the world.”
Rudolf Von Hoevenberg’s The Farm on the Hill was the first resort for honeymoon couples; opened in 1945, it offered constant group activities—get-acquainted parties, hayrides, volleyball—for newlyweds still unused to each other. By 1960 the Poconos rivaled Niagara Falls as a honeymoon destination, attracting over 100,000 couples a year who arrived with freshly minted marriage licenses and slightly wilted bouquets.
But times change, as do social norms. Before long people without licenses started knocking at the door and the rules were relaxed to accommodate them, gradually turning wholesome old mom-and-pop-style honeymoon resorts into hot spots for couples, with lots of libidinous trimmings.
Enter the heart-shaped bathtub, invented by one Morris Wilkins who’d served as an electrician on a submarine during World War II. He partnered up with a friend in 1958 to buy an 18-room hotel on Lake Wallenpaupack and proceeded to convert it into Cove Haven, a couples resort with new bells and whistles. According to Morris’ nephew, Doug Wilkins, who still works as a manager at the resort, the renovators focused immediately on the bathrooms, feeling that they could use some “livening-up.” Morris drew the plan for the first heart-shaped tub in his basement, then found a local company to make a mold and install them.
“He was a great entrepreneur,” Doug told me, “and all the stars were aligned. It was on the cusp of the sexual revolution; the whole thing was very avant-garde.”
Some bridal magazines rejected Cove Haven advertising because they thought it too racy. When Life magazine arrived in 1969 to shoot a two-page spread of a couple spooning in a heart-shaped tub surrounded by mirrors, the photographer could only keep himself out of the picture by using the camera’s timer function. The image testified to what Life called an era of “affluent vulgarity” in America, which of course only made heart-shaped bathtubs more popular.
Too bad Morris didn’t get a patent. Pretty soon all the couples resorts in the Poconos had to have them. Undaunted, Morris went on to create seven-foot champagne glass whirlpools, still a top-of-the-line amenity at Cove Haven and its sister resorts Paradise Stream and Pocono Palace, among the last remaining couples resorts in the Poconos, now owned by Starwood.
Yes, even love pales as a vacation theme in America. Outmaneuvered by more exotic honeymoon places, the Poconos has mostly moved on, though weddings and anniversaries are still big business. The regional visitors bureau has lately focused on marketing the area as a natural destination for skiers, hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts, and after much local resistance, gambling arrived there a few years ago, transforming the site of the old Mount Airy Lodge, opened in 1898, into the Mount Airy Casino Resort.
But as I discovered on a trip through the Poconos a few weeks ago, there’s still a sign that says “You Are Entering the Land of Love” on the driveway leading to Pocono Palace and room for two in a heart-shaped tub.
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.
May 9, 2012
Heads up: On May 28, HBO will air a made-for-television movie that should fascinate travelers: “Hemingway & Gellhorn.”
With Clive Owen as Papa and Nicole Kidman as the daring and beautiful war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, it is being billed as one of the greatest romances of the 20th century. OK. The star-crossed couple met and made love in steamy Key West in 1936, traveled to exotic places together and married four years later. But the network is going to have to sprinkle plenty of love dust on the true story of their relationship to make viewers’ hearts palpitate.
That’s because they divorced acrimoniously after a brief five years of wedded bliss, during which time both had affairs and cohabitated only intermittently. Eventually Hemingway gave her an ultimatum and she read the tea lives about her future as a “footnote in someone else’s life.” After they divorced in 1945, Gellhorn granted interviews on the proviso that Hemingway’s name would not be mentioned.
We all know what happened to him, but Gellhorn’s story is seldom remembered even though she wrote a dozen books based on her adventures before taking her own life in 1998 while suffering from cancer. My favorite is “Travels with Myself and Another,” published in 1978, a book about colossally bad trips in which she wrote, “The only aspect of our travels that is guaranteed to hold an audience is disaster.”
One of the essays therein, “Mr. Ma’s Tigers,” is a travel classic that recounts the agonies of a 1941 trip to China to cover the Sino-Japanese War with Hemingway, coyly identified only as U.C., which stands for unwilling companion. Along the way she got to meet the unsavory head of the Republic of China Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, fly over the Himalayan “hump” in a shuddering DC-3 operated by China National Aviation Company, the strappy outfit that kept lines of communication open to the free Chinese capital of Chungking, and witness at firsthand hapless, ill-equipped Chinese soldiers attempting to fend off the Japanese, soon to join forces with Hitler as an Axis power.
Gellhorn was a sharp observer and terse, evocative writer as able to describe a dress dinner with the king and queen of Hawaii as Hong Kong brothels and opium dens. And honest. Throughout “Mr. Ma’s Tigers” she never tries to hide her private schoolgirl horror of filthy customs like spitting and squalid conditions she encountered in the Orient causing her to shriek, whine and occasionally vomit. Her reactions are set in stark, self-aware contrast to those of Hemingway, who only had to take a drink to live and let live. At one point she reports him telling her, “The trouble with you is that you think everybody is exactly like you. What you can’t stand, they can’t stand. What’s hell for you has to be hell for them. How do you know what they feel about their lives? If it was as bad as you think they’d kill themselves instead of having more kids and setting off firecrackers.“
Both responses inevitably coexist in the hearts of travelers, engendering the internal edginess we feel on extreme trips to places like India and Africa. That’s what I’d like to see in the HBO movie because—never mind Hemingway—few writers have depicted it better than Gellhorn.
March 25, 2012
I spent the first few months I lived in Paris—from 2003 to 2006—seeing almost every sight in the Blue Guide, but after a while I stopped running around and discovered that the true pleasure of living in the City of Light is having the luxury of taking it for granted. A good day started with un café at the bar on the corner, a little shopping and then an afternoon at the American Library in Paris.
On rue du Général Camou near the Eiffel Tower, the library is unknown to most tourists, but deeply embedded in the hearts of expats from dozens of countries, not just the United States, who sometimes need to read and think in English. A quarter of its 2,500 members are French, in fact, drawn to the library’s Anglophone-friendly 120,000-book collection. Compared with other libraries in Paris, it is a quiet, uncrowded oasis offering two to three special events every week, including children’s programs, book groups and author lectures.
With a constant stream of writers from the U.S. passing through Paris, the library serves as a literary center. “There is something about an expatriate library—a tentacle, an emissary, a piece of another civilization residing in an alien one—that is very moving,” says Adam Gopnik, author of the acclaimed essay collection Paris to the Moon.
The not-for-profit library was founded in 1920 as a home for 1.5 million books sent to soldiers in World War I trenches by the American War Service. Its motto reflected the origins: After the darkness, the light of books. American writers who began flocking to Paris after the war were frequent visitors. Young Thornton Wilder and Archibald MacLeish spent time there in the 20s; Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway were among its first trustees and both contributed to its still-published newsletter, Ex Libris. When an even deeper darkness fell over Paris during the World War II German occupation, the library managed to stay open and uncensored against all odds because the French director’s son was married to the daughter of Vichy prime minister Pierre Laval. Unbeknown to the authorities, it lent books to Jews banned from other libraries, though a staff member was shot by the Gestapo.
After the war, a new generation of writers like James Jones, Mary McCarthy and Richard Wright could be found in the stacks and satellite branches opened around Paris. In the 1950s, when the library occupied quarters on the Champs-Elysées, it was the scene of a tense standoff between staff and anti-Communist censors sent by Senator Joseph McCarthy to eradicate Red books from American libraries in Europe.
Its current 7th Arrondissement home was renovated last summer, but still seems unprepossessing compared with nearby Belle Époque landmarks like Jules Lavirotte’s flamboyant Beaux-Arts apartment house at 29 Avenue Rapp. You have to go inside to appreciate its treasures: big biography and mystery collections, DVDs, 500 periodicals, a computerized catalog, books for teens and children. The stacks are open (though you have to be a member to check books out) and eccentrically arranged with secret nooks scattered throughout. Librarians often can be found reading to groups of children; habitués come in for their morning look at the International Herald Tribune; best-selling writers research works-in-progress, rarely recognized by people at the next carrel.
Anyone who grew up in an American town with a good public library will feel at home as soon as he or she walks in. “It feels like a little piece of the U.S.,” says director Charles Trueheart, who came to the library in 2007 after serving as Paris correspondent for The Washington Post.
American tourists, too, are welcome, Trueheart says. It’s a good place to check e-mail and research the next leg of a trip, surrounded by Anglophones and great books in the mother tongue.