The Queen and the Clevelands (Grover and George…)

September 2 is the birthday of Hawai’i’s last reigning monarch, Lili’uokalani. Born in a grass house in 1838 and adopted by Hawai’i’s ruling dynasty, the infant girl who would become Hawai’i’s last queen began her tumultuous life 174 years ago at the base of an dormant volcano in Honolulu.

Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawai’i State Archives

For the past several years, historians, Hawaiian cultural practitioners, and others who keep Lili’uokalaini’s memory alive, have gathered at the grounds of Iolani Palace on her birthday to lead walking historical walking tours in an event called Mai Poina (Don’t Forget.) The tour on her birthday sold out but there are still a few spots left this coming weekend, September 7-9.

“The Wave” by Susan Casey

The ancient Polynesians felt profound respect for the power of the sea. Their custom was to carry ti leafs with them when they went on risky journeys. As Susan Casey reports in her masterful book, The Wave, California-born but Hawaii-bred surfing legend Laird Hamilton, perhaps superstitiously, always carries a ti leaf along with him as he hunts down the world’s monster waves. “You take the leaf out,” Hamilton told her, “and the leaf brings you home.” So far it’s worked for him.

Susan Orlean on Stagecraft (and How Writing Can Be Like Stripping…)

I just spent the past few days at the 21st Annual Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference. I was on a panel with  Andrew McCarthy, who made his name as an actor in “Pretty in Pink,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” and “Less Than Zero,” and is now an award-winning travel writer for National Geographic Traveler and other publications. I also discussed the “Art of Attention” on a panel with veteran travel writers David Farley, Larry Habegger, and Georgia Hesse.

How an 1863 petition from Ni’ihau re-surfaced in San Francisco

The story begins in November of 1957. The chief photographer for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Warren Roll, climbed into the passenger seat of a small plane in Kauai. The pilot took off, heading towards a 73-square-mile privately-owned Hawaiian island of Niihau.

The plane landed roughly, smashing its landing gear and splintering its propeller. Roll, carrying his camera gear, left the pilot and set off across the island in search of the island’s one village. The Robinson family, who by that time had owned the island for nearly a century, had restricted access to it for decades.  Roll, an unusually enterprising photojournalist, had successfully penetrated what was by then known as the “Forbidden Island.”

Mondavi and Backen: Napa’s First Family and its Favorite Architect

An invitation landed in my inbox recently with the subject heading: “Mondavi and Backen.”

Reading a bit further, I learned that the Peter Mondavi family, owners of the Charles Krug winery, had hired the famed Napa Valley-based architect, Howard Backen. I was invited to the groundbreaking celebration for the $6 million refurbishment of the winery’s grand old Redwood Cellar.

I’d first visited this 1872 building about eight years ago, as I began reporting the Wall Street Journal story on the Mondavi family that would eventually become “The House of Mondavi.”

Veering Off the Hana Highway

My family and I just returned from a week in Hana, on the eastern coast of Maui. The town is probably best known for the road leading to it –a series of heart-stopping one-lane bridges and sheer vertical drops to the ocean below. But tourists who drive to Hana and back in a day from resorts on the sunnier side of this Hawaiian island miss exploring one of the most isolated and beautiful spots on earth.

Sunset at Hale Honu

Lunching with One of Hawaii’s Real ‘Descendants’

By Julia Flynn Siler, first published in the Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog on 3/12/2012

Julia Flynn Siler and Her Royal Highness Princess Abigail Kawananakoa.

A few days before heading to Honolulu on book tour for “Lost Kingdom,” I got a phone call from the assistant to Her Royal Highness Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, the woman who is the most direct descendant of the last queen of Hawaii. If the monarchy had not been overthrown in 1893, Princess Abigail today might well have become Hawaii’s queen.

Retracing Lili‘u’s Footsteps…

Purely by chance, I found myself in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood where Hawai‘i’s last queen, Lili‘uokalani, had once lived.

I was in Washington, D.C. to deliver a talk to a group of Treasury executives about my new book, Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure. I’d booked a hotel near Dupont Circle.

The evening after the Treasury talk, I was on my way to a dinner party thrown by a group of college friends and stopped at Cairo Wine & Liquor, a small shop a few blocks away from my hotel, to pick up a bottle of wine.

Talking Story at the Outrigger Canoe Club

On my last night in Honolulu on tour for my new book, Lost Kingdom, I was invited for drinks at the Outrigger Canoe Club, which sits at the far end of Waikiki Beach, in the shadow of Diamond Head. The club is a key setting for the novel, The Descendants, which is now an Oscar-winning film starring George Clooney.

The Outrigger is a small, private club with an outsized history in Hawaii. Founded in 1908, it is the place where legendary surfer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, a five-time Olympics medalist who competed as a swimmer and water polo player for the U.S. in the 1912, 1920, 1924, and 1932 games. A photo of Duke is mounted on the wood-paneled wall as you enter the dining room, with the words underneath it, “Ambassador of Aloha.”

The Queen’s Speech

Dear readers,

Here’s  a Q&A from the Honolulu Weekly that I wanted to share with you. It’s in the current issue (Jan. 25-31) of the newspaper and I’ve  gotten a number of comments on it already.  Please let me know what you think.

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The Queen’s Speech by Don Wallace