Sunday, March 7, 2010

Another Day Older in Paradise

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Wednesday was spent preparing the house for our vacation in Hawaii. By 1:00 p.m., Saul was home early from school and we prepared to take our SUV to the dealer for inspection and service as one of our headlamps was out and our sticker was overdue. We dropped the car off, and went across the street to Restaurant Gimaro for lunch together while we waited. Just as we were seated, Saul's cell rang, and we were completely shocked to learn that a friend, whom we had just seen at the luncheon on Saturday, had passed away that morning. We had a conversation at the luncheon and she told me she wasn't feeling well. There was a time, many years ago, that we had both suffered from chronic stomach ailments simultaneously. I told her she should drink lots of water and she told me she took Prilosec every day. As it turned out, this time the problem was her heart. She went into the hospital late on Sunday. They put in some stents, and she was recovering, but then suddenly, at 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning, she died. Her name was Marilyn also. At my first Sisterhood meeting, I was led to a table with an empty seat by the rabbi's wife to be introduced. When I told the other women my name was Marilyn, they didn't believe me. I made the fifth Marilyn at a table of ten--2 Marilyn S.s, 1 Marilyn R., 1 Marilyn C., and one Marilyn G. Losing Marilyn R., who was one of the sweetest, most empathetic, and compassionate people I have ever known, was really a heartbreak. Her funeral was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. the following day, and Saul and I changed our plans so that we could be there before setting off on our vacation.

Laura insisted on coming to see me on Thursday morning to give me a birthday hug and kiss and a beautiful scarf and notepad to take to Hawaii. We both turned 60 within a month of each other, and with each milestone birthday, we remember our mutual friend, Sandy, who died in a car accident almost two years ago and would have turned 60 along with us. By the time she came, I was all packed for Hawaii and ready to go. When Saul finished his last class before spring break, he came to get me, we loaded the car with our suitcases, and headed off for the funeral. Sitting there, contemplating the unfinished pine box in which her body lay, I could not help thinking how grateful I was to have another day of life with the possibility of joy and pleasure.

When the funeral ended, we drove to Baltimore to have dinner with Jessica and the girls at Bahama Breeze in Towson to celebrate my birthday. Alex had to teach and Ari could not leave work in time to join us. On the way to the restaurant, Sami recited three beautiful poems about winter to us that she had learned by heart in school. Whenever I need to go to a happy place in the future, I will remember the expression of satisfaction on her face as she animatedly recited them for us. The girls were on their best behavior during dinner and we had a terrific dinner culminating with warm banana bread, caramel sauce and ice cream with a birthday candle. They all sang "Happy Birthday" to me. Then we headed down to DC.

We arose at 5:00 a.m. on the actual day of my birthday only to find that our plane had been delayed an hour. We loaded all the suitcases into the car and proceeded to ready Ari's condo for yet another round of potential buyers. We followed Ari to his office in Virginia, dropped his car off at his office parking lot, and proceeded together to Dulles Airport. Arriving there, we discovered that our flight to Los Angeles had been overbooked by 50 passengers. We attempted to negotiate our reserved seats on that flight for a better deal, but were not happy with the alternatives. Our larger 767 had been changed to a 757, which explained the overbooking. When we arrived in L.A., only about an hour behind schedule, we had just enough time for a quick lunch at the Red Carpet Club (Ari is a member) before boarding another 757 for Lihue Airport on Kauai. Our friend Larry met us in L.A. for the final leg of the journey, presenting me with a "60 and sensational" button.

I absolutely hate to fly! I wish I didn't, because I love to be in exotic locales. Both Ari and Saul love flying, and I know I put unnecessary stress into their traveling as they try to reassure and console me through the turbulent parts. I got through it without any Atavan this time, but all through the last few hours (and altogether the flying time is 10-1/2 hours), I kept thinking how many people would give anything to be in my position, and how life is too short to pass up opportunities like this to soak in the good times.

When we arrived in Lihue Airport, I was immediately struck by the quality of the air, which was sweet perfume. The airport itself is low-key, small, and lined with wood planking, lending the classic Hawaiian ambience. The trade winds were blowing strong through the open-air baggage claim area and I had the sensation of only wanting to inhale and not ever exhale, to somehow keep the fragrant air inside my lungs forever. I don't know which flowers are in bloom during the month of March here, but the fragrance of the air is redolent of sandalwood and gardenia.

We quickly claimed our baggage while Ari went to claim the local Kauaian rental car we had arranged. Within a half hour, we were on our way to meet Ken and Randi at their cozy, four-bedroom rental condo about a half mile from Poipu beach. Although we were tired, the long flight was forgotten as soon as we dropped our bags in our various rooms, changed into airy clothing and headed out for a light dinner. We had watched the sunset during our drive from the airport and as we arrived at The Beach House for dinner and as darkness fell we could not believe our eyes as we sat on the patio with our tropical drinks, watching the phosphorescence of the breaking waves on lava stone and beach sand, under the wind blown palm trees, illuminated by tiki lamps. Saul and I shared an entree of black truffle-crusted monchong on a bed of sauteed potatoes and leeks. Delicious! The 10-hour flight on my 60th birthday was soon forgotten. Back at the condo, Ken and Randi had a yummy birthday cheesecake waiting for dessert, along with further 60th birthday paraphernalia from Larry, and we shared a bottle of Champagne. We went to bed with tropical breezes wafting over our bodies, propelled by a lazy ceiling fan.

In the morning, we arose by 7:00 a.m. and set off for a long walk along beachfront paths which wandered by the Hyatt Regency Kauai. When we returned, we all piled into the minivan Ken had leased and headed out for breakfast at Kalaheo Cafe. We chose a table on the patio near the entrance and as we were about to eat breakfast, a woman set up a table on the other side of the railing and began putting out freshly picked herbs, vegetables, and fruits from her garden. The fragrance of the freshly-picked varieties of basil and herbs was intoxicating, and we selected several bags of produce for her to set aside as we enjoyed our breakfast. These served as the basis for a delicious dinner that evening. Among our haul were two different lettuces (I had to choose from about 6 different varieties, rainbow Swiss chard, tiny multi-colored beets, three different basils, yellow, purple, and green tender string beans, and several varieties of oranges. We completed the shopping at the supermarket in Koloa Town and then went back to the condo to change into bathing suits.

We were careful to spray ourselves liberally with sunscreen, but even with the SPF 50 that Saul and I used, we all received varying degrees of sunburn because Poipu beach was so beautiful that we had trouble tearing ourselves away when we knew we had had enough sun. The water was crystal clear and the trade winds so strong that we could not fly the beautiful pocket kite that Ari had brought along. It would go right up, spin violently, and then take a nosedive into the sand. I was afraid the string would cut one of the passersby, and had to abandon the project. The tropical fish could be seen easily, even without the use of a snorkel. Back at the condo, we all pitched in to put a wonderful dinner on the table that night. We tried mightily to stay awake past 9:00 p.m., but I don't think any of us succeeded.

Sunday morning, we had reservations for brunch at the St. Regis Princeville Hotel on the northern part of the island, a drive of about an hour. Ken and Randi treated us to this exceptional buffet meal for our collective birthdays (Saul, Ari and me). Arriving a bit early, we decided to wait for a table that was situated outside on the patio, and we were very glad that we did. I believe the view from the patio is probably one of the most beautiful in the world. I was lucky enough to have celebrated a previous birthday there on an equally beautiful day. In the movie South Pacific, a scene takes place that predates the hotel in which a woman looks out at the same view and wonders what it would be like to live in such a place. Overlooking a serene and pristine semicircular beach with turquoise waters, one sees distant mountains delineated by multiple silvery striations of towering waterfalls. The hotel and food can only be described as exquisite, almost as exquisite as the view. The lobby of the Princeville was once so beautiful that it took your breath away. Last year, it was closed while the Starwood chain "renovated" it so that it could be branded as a St. Regis. It is still exquisite, but not the breath-taking experience of the past. We dined in cosseted luxury on a magnificent array of beautifully-presented and delicious dishes until we could not eat another bite. Very reluctant to leave such an incredible setting, we piled back into the minivan for our drive back to the south.

As we were driving through the golf course resort area near the hotel, we saw a number of signs for nearby open houses in the vicinity. The first one that we went to look at was so palatial that we just kept driving, embarrassed to pile out of our minivan and go inside. The second one was a foreclosure, a ranch house adjoining the golf course that needed a lot of work, but which is very affordable, and will probably keep us dreaming about a more permanent life in paradise for quite some time.

On the way back, we stopped at a tiny farmer's market in Anahola where we bought a kumquat-like fruit which the vendor called calamanci. Wild boar was being roasted over charcoal and standing caged nearby was a very small and discomfited animal, awaiting its dismal fate. Further on, we stopped on the road to purchase fresh rambutan, still on the branch, from a very buff, middle-aged farmer woman, who was selling the last of her pick. Then, we stopped by the roadside again to purchase fresh ahi tuna from some local fishermen. We bought about 3-1/2 pounds for $18.00. We were told that they had caught it about six hours earlier, but decided to cook it rather than take a chance on eating it as sushi or sashimi.

Along our meandering journey back, we also stopped at Long's Drugs to try to replace our waterproof camera, which has broken at a most inopportune time, and also at a Walmart. There does not seem to be a single place on the island that has the camera we seek. The last place we visited was Costco. We may not have found the camera, but we did manage to pick up a number of items that we were seeking, including a corkscrew and vegetable peeler.

We had planned to prepare a number of snack foods to enjoy while watching the Oscars on Sunday evening, but I crashed immediately when we returned and slept until Saul awakened me two hours later. Randi, Ari and Saul had readied a less elaborate repast than I had envisioned, but which was more than adequate, and also spent some time at the pool and hot tub as well. None of us were particularly hungry after we rolled out of the Princeville. With margaritas in hand, we enjoyed the Oscars. After about two hours, in spite of my long nap, I found I could not hold my head up any longer and went off the bed again. I want to be awake to soak in every moment of this delicious vacation, but my old body wants more sleep.

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