Honolulu

Honolulu

I’ve just returned to Paris after spending the last three weeks, almost, in Hawaii. The world’s most remote island archipelago, you know. Under the light of the Pacific sun. One of the most bizzare aspects of being so close to the equator is that there is no long, extended Irish twilight. The sun disappears beneath the horizon, and it is dark only a few minutes later, it seems. Instantaneous darkness. The light switches off.

There is the journey there, and the journey back. Getting there, one takes a flight from Paris to San Francisco, an eleven hour journey which passes over the snowy wastes of Greenland and the far north of Canada. Traveling west, following the rotation of the Earth, essentially static with respect to the sun. After almost a twenty four hours of traveling, it is still only nightfall. Twelve hours of time have disappeared. At the end of all of this, Honolulu airport, which is a tasteful composition in fake wood-veneer and browns and concrete greys. Palm trees can be seen swaying in the distance through the plate glass windows, and every ten meters in the ceiling there is a loudspeaker through which oozes, without pause, an unremitting stream of Ukulele plinks and plonks. Audible everywhere in the airport, no respite. Leaving the terminal building, and the air-conditioning, somewhere after eleven in the evening, one notices first of all the warm, heavy heat, the humid ocean air. From here, there is at least five thousand kilometers of ocean in all directions.

Honolulu itself is an extended sprawl of tower blocks and freeways like most other American cities. The buildings are set far apart from each other, and no useful distances can be covered on foot, for the most part. The downtown area of Honolulu is mostly silent at night, though there are a few cafes and bars to visit. No, the real place where everything happens and where all the people are is Waikiki. Archive photographs show a long sandy beach with the irregular mound of Diamond Head volcano crater in the distance. In the foreground, of course, a man smiles for the camera. He is holding a wooden surfboard. In the near distance, perhaps, a wooden hut can be seen. Is this where he lives? Then bam! A hundred years pass and the horizon is filled with tower blocks.

I lived for two weeks in a hotel in Waikiki, about ten minutes from the beach. Waikiki is a strange place. Imagine living and working in a place where most of the population are on vacation! Or are working for people who are on vacation. My own motives for visiting Hawaii had nothing to do with surf, but rather distant galaxies. The usual no-good reasons that I have for visiting most places. From my room on the 39th floor I had a fine view over Waikiki, Honolulu, and could see even a thin square of the blue waters of the Pacific ocean. Despite all the work I was supposed to do over there, I did manage at least to immerse myself in the waters of the Pacific each morning at around 7AM: I swam for around twenty minutes at Waikiki beach. Much further out from the shore, under the long rays of the morning sun, beyond the shadows of the tower-blocks each morning I could see a long line of surfers lying in wait for the waves. It was fine, for a few moments at least, to be separated from thought, to be in these warm waters, to be in this city free from implication and meaning. But I will write more about that, hopefully, in the next few days.

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