Destination: Oahu

Iz, Gabby Pahinui and the Sounds of Hawaii

Big Iz’s “Over the Rainbow” is an iconic ukulele track—it’s often the first thing folks ask me to play when they learn I have a uke. If you’ve heard the full track—it slid into U.S. consciousness a few years back via a toy store advertisement—then you’ve heard the bit at the beginning where Iz says, in his perfect, soft voice, “K, this one’s for Gabby.”

Iz is referring to Gabby Pahinui. Even though Gabby died in 1980, he’s credited with being the master of slack key. You can take his title as the father of Hawaiian music more literally, too: three of his sons, Cyril, Martin, and Bla are recording artists. For me, Cyril’s sweet falsetto and the sound of slack key guitar evoke the islands like nothing else. I’ve had the good fortune to see Cyril Pahinui on the mainland and in the islands—he’s often on tour with Led Kaapana, another slack key super genius.

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Island Eats: Spam Musubi

spam musubi Photo by bandita via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by bandita via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Blame WW II. It was the food of soldiers stationed in the islands and somehow, it stuck—cans of the meat-like product making their way past the gates of military bases and into Hawaiian daily life. According to an older article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, islanders go through 7 million cans of Spam annually. Spam seems to show up everywhere Hawaiians are found—Hawaiian center fielder for the Phillies Shane Victorino took heat last year from PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) for admitting that Spam musubi was one of his favorite foods. And stalkerish reporting on every action taken by our new president on his last trip to the islands revealed that he ordered Spam musubi for lunch while on a golf outing.

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Plastic Pineapple Passion

Pineapple float container Photo by _e.t., via Flickr (Creative Commons).

There are all kinds of things wrong with it. First, there’s the magnetically attractive plastic container. It’s shaped like a pineapple, of course, with a coin slot in the lid as though you’re actually going to use it as a change bank. Be honest, that’s not going to happen, it’s just going to end up on the tchotchke shelf at some thrift store. Next, there’s the fact that the soft serve is shockingly free of dairy products. Finally, what’s in there that you could possibly need? It’s a cocktail of sugar, empty carbs and, well, OK, pineapple juice is sure to have some nutritional value that’s not totally negated by the soft serve.

I couldn’t help it. When I saw visitors walking about the grounds of the Dole Plantation carrying their very own pineapple floats in their very own pineapple-shaped containers, I devolved into a badly behaved child. “I WANT ONE OF THOSE NOW!” Luckily, my husband felt the same way—and those childhood lessons about sharing kicked in, too. We were able to limit ourselves to one and let me tell you, it was more than enough.

And it was delicious. If you find me totally checked out, not paying attention at all, it’s possible that pictured in the bubble over my head, is one of those pineapple floats from the plantation store. I could go for one about now.


Honolulu Overheard

Honolulu Overheard iStockPhoto

Pico Iyer takes in the Hawaiian city through its sounds

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