Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hukilau 2007!

I had originally written this in the week following my return: not only did this site lose my draft, the powers that be claimed they couldn't restore it. Better late than never....

**New addition! See more pics here.....

Hukilau 2007 was the 6th annual installment of one of several Tikiphile conventions in the US that celebrate MidCentury Polynesian Pop culture. This phenomenon started in the 1930s and was intended to evoke a feeling of faraway, exotic locales and was a creation of Mainland USA. Obviously, some of the imagery is appropriated from Polynesian & Oceanic artifacts, but the “Isle of Tiki” lifestyle is its own entity. I could write a long essay about this distinction, but better writers than I have already done so: Sven Kirsten (author of The Book of Tiki) and James Teitelbaum (author of The Tiki Road Trip.)

Bernie & I aros
e at the unexotic hour of 3 AM to make an early flight to Fort Lauderdale. We picked up our guide and headed off to Bradley International Airport, had a nice, short flight and were in Ft. Lauderdale by mid-morning. This was the first time Bernie had flown, and the excitement in his eyes (fueled by a few nips of Bacardi in his Coke) was a beautiful thing to behold. ( Almost as beautiful was the flight attendant who looked EXACTLY like Patsy from AbFab....same hair, smile, height, age....it was hard not to giggle every time she passed by...)

There is nothing that firmly places the idea ‘I’m on vacation!’ in your mind than to arrive at a destination that has a landscape completely different from what you just left: we arrived in a land of sun, palm trees, beach, turquoise colored ocean….very tropical indeed….

We scored a hotel right next to the Yankee Clipper Hotel, which is where most of the events were to take place. Not only that, it was mere steps to the beach! We checked in and popped next door to the Wreck Bar in the Yankee Clipper – nautically themed with tables that had sand, shells, keys and doubloons imbedded in them & then coated within an inch of their lives with resin…arrr, mateys. There were worked copper tableaux everywhere in the hotel. One wall of the bar had ‘port windows’ that made it seem as though you were submerged in the hotel pool so we could watch the nether limbs of swimmers in the hotel and the famous Mermaid Show later on.

We went for a
dip at the beach and we saw pelicans flying above us- they look a lot like pterodactyls when flying in the distance. Throughout our stay, the beach was a great place to spend an hour or two in between events. During one visit, we saw a school of fish swimming within a few feet of us, being chased by seagulls – some of the fish shot out of the water right next to us! Very cool, but not nearly as interesting as the severed head bobbing around in the surf.Thursday was also our first visit to the Mai Kai. Tiki heaven. Mere words cannot fully describe this place – it really needs to be experienced to be appreciated. The outside is chock full of waterfalls, torches, tropical plants, and tiki statuary. Once inside, we were greeted by the mâitre d’ who directed us to the very dark and moody Molokai Bar – actually, all of the Mai Kai is dark and moody, which only enhances the decor. We had pre-prandial drinks here – I had the amazingly delicious Mai Tai while looking around at all the nautical and Polynesian decor and enjoying the ambience. The drinks menu has ‘Light’, Medium’ & ‘Strong’ sections- of course, we went right to “Strong’…. Bernie captured a buzz on the ‘Shrunken Skull’, which was a whole bunch of rum in a tiki mug, natch.

After drinks, we were shepherded by another wonderful mâitre d’ (I later found out he was from Hartford, CT!) and seated in yet another amazing room with a view out to the tiki gardens. The staff at the Mai Kai were so fabulously warm and professional – even during a far busier night the following Saturday, the same wonderful service was accorded. The food was excellent, the menu ranging from sushi to pan-Asian to ‘Polynesian’ fare.

After dinner we skipped the “Hukilau Kickoff Party” and the Bahia Cabana and hit the sack- we were beat and full of rum….

Friday morning we were up and off to the Tiki Treasures Bazaar- shopping time! This was not open to the public until Saturday, so those of us not hungover or still sleeping from the previous night’s festivities had first dibs! DJ Dr. Scopitone provided exotica music to enhance the atmosphere. All the merch was only Tiki, Oceanic, Hawaiiana & Floridiana items with some vintage clothing thrown in- no crossover into hot rod/zombie/B-movie kulture. We never saw the same Hawaiian shirt twice and no one had the same shirt as anyone else - I had no idea of the range of colors & designs of the textiles. Quite a few of the women had vintage –styled dresses with bold flower patterns, wedge sandals and a flower tucked behind their ear.

The eye candy at the merch tables was overwhelming at first – I could feel my wallet getting lighter with each glance. It was nice to see that the Artists and Authors were present and were happy to sign prints and books. Here’s a short list of vendors: Dr. Cardoo, Fraternal Order of the Moai, Adrift Clothing, Doug Horne (we liberated a few cards, prints and mugs from his table), Monkey Man Design, Jared Davis (purchased a print and a t-shirt from the artist and his lovely lady), Thor (all the way from Hawaii!), Tiki Magazine, Tiki Squad, Jorubo, Bodhi Glass, some vintage clothiers, and others.

Done with the Bazaar, it was back to the Wreck Bar for the Mermaid Show – the Wreck Bar was the first place to have mermaid shows back in the day, and they recently started booking them again now that mermaids are no longer over-fished. Marina and her, um, mermaidettes coquettishly swam back and forth in front of the windows, blowing kisses, doing back flips and generally riling up the menfolk who were already sufficiently riled up by their drinks…it was kitschy and fun. Dr. Cardoo kindly posed for pictures with us after the show - ooga

We hopped the elevator to the first seminar of the weekend- “The Wonderful World of Exotica” presented by Jeff Chenault, who has been researching this subject for about 20 years. We saw a slide show of many fantastic album covers, heard some great music, (which we took great pains to emulate all weekend long, everywhere we went) and learned a more about the history of this music and Korla Pandit..... The only downside to this seminar was the impression that some of the attendees were trying to ‘one-up’ Mr. Chenault with their comments…but all in all, it was very interesting.

We didn’t attend all the seminars dur
ing Hukilau because that would have entailed being inside all day - when you can see the beautiful seascape beckoning, you go!

That evening, we attended the “Friday Night Main Event” at the swanky Bahia Mar hotel (and Yachting Center.) This was a big party with great entertainment- we saw great sets by The Crazed Mugs, The Intoxicators (from Tennessee), Waitiki (from Boston) and a bit o’burlesque by Trixie Little and Her Evil Hate Monkey. The event was emceed by King Kukulele, who some people find entertaining. There were some other vendors there, too, and I bought cookbooks by the Rum Reviews guys who were very charming and had delicious samples. I also picked up Tiki Road Trip 2 - Mr. Teitelbaum was somewhat dismayed when we told him the Tiki Room in Boston had just closed this year, and he made a verbal note on his voice recorder.

The highlight of the evening was a performance by the legendary Robert Drasnin conducting an exotica orchestra playing his own compositions, old and new. Mr. Drasnin released Voodoo about 48 years ago, and the Tiki Kiliki Productions peop
le raised funds to afford him the opportunity to record a new album, Voodoo II – much love there! We purchased a copy and Mr. Drasnin graciously signed it and let us take photos with him.

After all that fun and excitement and lack of food, we were famished and headed to the White Trash Cabana hoping we could find a bite to eat. This place was excruciating– our waitress, who was ‘English’, was also incredibly rude and proceeded to fling an ashtray, utensils and condiments onto our table. But there’s more! The food was disgusting – I ordered grilled fish that was so greasy and smelly I thought the fish might have been sponges used in the clean up of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Bernie’s mozzarella sticks could have been used as support beams in a mansion, and our intrepid guide, Leilani Luke, had ordered the conch fritters, which were inedible. (A note about procuring a Hukilau guide- be sure your guide can secret about a gallon's worth of rum on his/her person while wearing nothing more than a hawaiian shirt and shorts....)

The ‘entertainment’ consisted of a saxophone player, who played and sang, accompanied by pre-recorded bac
king vocals and other aural detritus. The other customers (very drunk other customers) loved this guy- he wisely refrained from straying over to our table, possibly because we were entertaining ourselves by menacingly stabbing the conch fritters and making them into mini-sputniks. We left halfway through “Sweet Home Alabama”...

Saturday entailed another seminar and another trip to the Mai Kai! The seminar we attended was “Sippin’ Safari” presented by Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry. Thi
s seminar was to be an hour long with a book signing afterwards, but unfortunately, the books hadn’t arrived. Instead, we enjoyed a two-and-a-half hour seminar, which consisted of Mr. Berry speaking and yummy samples of freshly-made cocktails: Pearl Diver’s Punch and the famous Zombie – the real one, which was tasty, as opposed to the undrinkable mixes usually foisted upon the public. Mr. Berry knows the entire history of the inception and subsequent bastardization of tropical drinks and is a true connoisseur. We learned that using the proper ingredients makes all the difference in the world and that spiced rum is the devil’s own putrid spittle (my words, not Mr. Berry’s.) Note to New England bars: grenadine and sugary premixes are not the secret ingredients for decent tropical drinks….

Mr. Berry was kind enough to sign our programs and then we made our way to the hotel restaurant for some much-needed food, which wa
s some relief from the fresh pineapple juice and rum that was burning a hole in my stomach. Big surprise, we went back to the beach to rest up and then it was time to go back to the Mai Kai for the “Magical Evening at the Historic Mai Kai”!

When we arrived at the Mai Kai, we took plenty of pictures before going inside- and it was packed! But as I mentioned before, the staff were pleasant, efficient and made sure everyone was happily seated in the Molokai Bar while waiting for their tables. It was Happy Hour, which was one of the reasons it was packed, I’m sure- buy one drink and the second is free. I sampled one of the original Mai Kai drinks, the Derby Daiquiri, which was really refreshing – it was pretty toasty in there with all the people, but we sat back and enjoyed The Haole Kats!

We sat down to dinner and while waiting for our food, we played our own exotica compositions with chopsticks on glassware, lamps and tabletop. Some other Hukilau attendees were mightily impressed and invited us to their room for an encore presentation later on….

The after dinner show- traditional Polynesian dances mixed with a little kitsch – was fantastic even if the fire dancers were a little scary, what with all the thatching in abundance around them. The emcee had some interesting historical background regarding the dances, but he was speaking with auctioneer-like intensity to keep up with the pace.

After the show, we wandered around, inside and out, to take more pictures - I thought we had a lot of mermaid pictures, but nothing compared to what we shot in the gardens! We chatted with other atten
dees and it was a nice relaxed ending to our last big hurrah for the trip.

Mahalo nui to the Tiki Kiliki Productions people- this event was amazing and really well planned. One of the things I realized over the course of events was that there are a core group of about 100 people (mostly from CA & FL, it seems) that grew up with the ‘Isle of Tiki’ around them and when the Great Tiki Decline began in the 1970s, these people really wanted to preserve this pop culture aesthetic and are successfully doing so. If you are interested in learning more, there are many websites and links to check out: Tiki Central is a great place to start.