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In Hawaii, How Green Is His Valley

In Honolulu the lush Nuuanu Valley rises through a pass in the dark green mountains to a precipice called the pali . It is a place where people often stop and park their cars to peer from a viewpoint above the stupendous cliff out over the velvet green coastal plain below.

Our friend Harry Albright drove us up through the valley through vegetation so green and thick it made us forget for a moment the concrete excrescence that Waikiki had become. From the pali we could see the rugged windward shore of the island, and the town of Kaneohe. It was still relatively small and low in profile.

For nearly two years one of my jobs on the night desk of the Advertiser had been to call the local police departments in Kaneohe and other outposts on the island to ask if there was any news. The routine never varied:

“This is the Advertiser. Any news tonight?”

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“No. No news tonight.”

The only time they ever had any news was on Dec. 7, 1941, and that night I never bothered to call. We had enough news.

My wife remembered standing at the pali one day when the eminent pianist Artur Rubinstein walked up and stood beside her. He was playing that night in Honolulu and she went to hear him. Culture is where you find it.

The pali is famous in Hawaiian legend. King Kamehameha, who brought all the Hawaiian Islands under his crown, is said to have driven the locals to the pali and pushed them over, as commemorated in the popular song (as I remember it):

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King Kamehameha, conqueror of the Islands,

Became a famous hero one day.

He conquered the native army,

And pushed them over the pali

And crowned himself

the king of Hawaii Nei.

We drove back down through Waikiki and around Diamond Head and up into its crater, a shallow bowl that has become a park. The old gun emplacements could still be seen around its crest. It was supposed to make Oahu impregnable, but on Dec. 7 it was helpless against the attack by air.

That evening we dined with three shipmates in the Orchids Room of the Halekulani, one of the three remaining hotels of the prewar era. It had been a charming retreat, a low central building surrounded by cottages. Now the cottages were gone, of course, replaced by concrete towers, but the hotel itself looked reminiscent of the original, though modernized.

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Before dining we had a drink on the terrace overlooking Waikiki Beach. Towering palm trees were lighted dramatically. A trio of Hawaiian musicians sang the old favorites, among them “Farewell My Tane.”

My chest tightened. I had learned that song as a scullion on the S.S. Monterey. At night after our watch the chief scullion, a pure Hawaiian, would get out his ukulele and sing Hawaiian songs. My favorite of all he sang was “Farewell My Tane.”

I used to lie on my bunk in the ship’s glory hole (that part of the forecastle where the lower forms of marine life lived) and wonder if I would ever meet my Tane, and whether our relationship would be that poignant.

Farewell my Tane, child of a coral sea

We dreamed of heaven, now you’ve forgotten me

As it turned out, I never met my Tane. I married a haole girl, and we are still together.

In the morning the hostess at our hotel’s restaurant asked whether we wanted the American or the Japanese buffet. “What’s in the Japanese?” I asked naively. “Rice, raw fish . . . ,"she began. “American,” I interrupted.

I know the war is over. I am even willing to concede that in some respects the Japanese won. But my acceptance of things Japanese does not extend to raw fish.

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We flew home in a plane so crowded that my wife and I, having changed from a later flight, couldn’t sit together. Oh well, we had survived longer separations.

I ordered white wine with lunch and the flight attendant brought me a small can. The weather was rough, and when I opened it, I discovered from the spots on my necktie and my pants, alas, that it was red.

But who could complain? At least the door didn’t blow out in flight.


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