Paradise Lost?

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So, I just finished reading a book about Paul Gaugin called Gaugin: Tahiti. Now I’m not much of an art fan, other than my love of modern Tiki artists (see Tiki Ohana – Artists ,  Tiki Ohana – Artists, Part Deux) and Edward Hopper (see Edward Hopper). I know enough to be dangerous about old-school artists. I never really knew anything about Paul Gaugin and had certainly never seen any of his artwork. When I found out he left France to pursue his late career in French Polynesia, I was intrigued, so I read his story.

Apparently, Gaugin left France because he was disgusted with the traditional art scene, culture and politics in his mother country. He hoped to find a more primitive lifestyle in Tahiti to transform his art. He also had a lust for young ladies, which he partook of in abundance in Tahiti, much to the detriment of his reputation. Many believe it took many years after his death for Gaugin’s art genius to be acknowledged in France because of his horrible character and his outspoken criticism of the French establishment. But that’s another story.

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Gaugin leaves France for French Polynesia in search of a more primitive lifestyle, an escape, if you will. Here’s why I was drawn to this story: it reminds me of Tiki escapism in Mid-Century America and it’s revival today. Gaugin was looking to surround himself with the natural beauty and color of Tahiti to reinvigorate his art. Isn’t that what Tiki does for us now, in a way? We seek an escape through music, art, libations and all things Polynesian, both authentic and faux, to get us to a better place.

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Unfortunately, when Gaugin first arrived in Tahiti in 1891, he was disillusioned by what he found. The French government had beaten him there by at least 50 years, and the colonizers and missionaries did a great deal to subjugate and evangelize the local population. What Gaugin had hoped to find, a primitive culture and people, had become a lot like what he was trying to escape in France. His behavior, both regarding his disdain of the local government and appetite for Tahitian girls, put Gaugin at odds with the Tahitian authorities. Some escape!

Tiki’s original downfall in the late 1960s had a similar story. This so-called “escape” was decried by the hippie generation as a completely artificial and unnatural world. There was some truth to this narrative. Original Tiki did borrow from Polynesian culture in a very loose sense, which some people then (and even to this day) saw as an exploitation of these native lands. Was it wrong or disrespectful to appropriate sacred carved Tikis as gods for a new culture of escapism?

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For Gaugin, his desire to get back to a more primitive state of nature had a noble cause: to improve his art. It’s sad that his own baggage dragged him down, and the colonization of Tahiti demoralized him even further. Gaugin was only human, after all, and human nature in both his own case and the French occupiers of this Polynesian paradise ultimately defeated his ideal. Broken, both emotionally and physically (years of STDs had taken a toll on his body), Gaugin relocated to the more remote Marquesan island of Hiva Oa in 1901 before passing away there in 1903.

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The revival of Tiki culture beginning at the turn of the 21st Century also had a noble cause: the rediscovery of a lost culture in its purest form. Yes, Tiki culture is as much artifice as it is art, but we current Tiki enthusiasts don’t make excuses for this or pretend this escape is something more than just that: an escape. In addition, the broad scope of Tiki culture can lead (and has led for me) to a much deeper dive into its various elements. The differences in Tiki carving styles among the different Polynesian islands. The origin of Tiki drinks from humble beginnings in the Caribbean to exotic cocktails painstakingly crafted by expert mixologists. The architecture and design of lush Tiki temples all over the world.

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Again, there is no need to make any excuses for enjoying the Tiki lifestyle. When I was troubled recently by a video mocking the American occupation of the Hawai’ian islands, my friend George Jenkins responded: “Good luck finding a square inch of this planet that doesn’t have some nasty history associated with it.” Truth. We humans have a nasty habit of fucking up our world through our greed and lust for power. But we can still be positive about Tiki and our brand of escapism, as long as we are respectful of others. Added my friend Scott Deeter: “Hawaii has a very complicated history for sure, Andy. But there is amazing beauty in both the land and the culture there. Don’t be an ugly tourist–just like visiting anywhere.” Wise words from my fellow Tiki enthusiasts.

So, while your enjoying a Mai-Tai, think about all of those who came before us in this escape we call Tiki. Paul Gaugin would be happy to join us there!

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Tiki Ohana – Musicians

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The Tiki lifestyle has a soundtrack, which is evocative of both the time and place of its birth. Tiki music, to me, is a blend of equal parts Exotica, Lounge, Surf, Hawaiian/Polynesian, and Space-Age Bachelor Pad. I wrote about this at length in my blog post, Galaxy of Sound, which prompted an entire series covering each of these genres. These current musicians embody the Tiki sound, as it was yesterday and continues today.

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Brian Mr. Ho O’Neill. Brian O’Neill of Boston MA single-handedly resuscitated the Space-Age Bachelor Pad music of Juan Garcia Esquivel. Well, actually, he did it with a 23-piece band, but Brian was the driving force behind Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica. I was fortunate enough to convince the folks at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem PA to bring Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica here for a concert a few years ago, as part of the Luau at The Levitt event. What a great show! Mr. Ho has now also released a few albums by his Exotica quartet, which you can check out here: Orchestrotica.com. Aloha, Brian!

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Jay Brooks. Clouseaux is the creation of Jay Brooks in Houston TX. This band plays a diverse mix of Exotica/Lounge/Spy music that’s evocative of Henry Mancini’s great soundtracks from the 1950s/60s/70s. Check out their music here: Clouseaux.com. In his spare time, Jay also carves Tikis and is El Presidente at Aloha Texas Tiki Co., supplier of home decor for the Tiki enthusiast. Gracias, Jay!

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Tony Marsico. The Martini Kings are the #1 live event band in Los Angeles. They’ve played shows for A-list celebrities in major venues, art gallery openings, Tiki events, and backyard cocktail parties. Tony Marsico and his brother Frank have been playing cool lounge music for years, often with guest singers like Kate Campbell and King Paris. Grab yourself a Martini Kings album and start the party here: MartiniKings.com. Sophisticated swing, Tony!
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Randy WongThe Waitiki 7 is an Exotica combo from Hawaii led by the rhythm section of basis Randy Wong, percussionist Lopaka Colon, and drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr. Firmly rooted in Hawaii, Randy and the group evoke the Exotica masters of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. Colon’s father, Augie, was the percussionist for Martin Denny and originated many of the bird and animal calls made famous in Denny’s Exotica music; Lopaka carries on that tradition in Waitiki 7. Check it out for yourself: New Sounds of Exotica. Mahalo, Randy!

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Stephen Greaves. First The SG Sound, then Jet Set Unlimited. Stephen Greaves of Los Angeles CA makes a lot of sound for one person, and that sound captures the 1960s perfectly. A little Surf, a little Exotica, and a whole lot of Space-Age Bachelor Pad. Think Mad Men and you’ll get the idea. Take a listen: Jet Set Unlimited. Groovy, Stephen!

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Gary Evans. One of the best Surf bands I’ve heard in a long time is The Intoxicators!, led by Gary Evans from Tallahassee FL. I saw them play live last year at The Hukilau, along with another cool Surf band, The Disasternauts, which were mostly the same guys dressed as apes in orange NASA jumpsuits. The common denominator was Gary’s guitar playing, which was, fast, tight, and loud! I hope to see them play again someday, but in the mean time, we can check them out here: Intoxicators. Cowabunga, Gary!

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Russell Mofsky. Another band I saw live at The Hukilau was Gold Dust Lounge, led by Russell Mofsky from Miami FL. I thought they were another Surf band when they first started playing, but I was wrong. The best way to describe Gold Dust Lounge is Exotica/World, with elements of Surf, Spy and Soundtrack music mixed in. Russell’s guitar playing is hypnotic, as evidenced in the song Ensenada, which blows me away every time I hear it. Well done, Russell.

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John Tiki Bartley. Five-Eaux is the cleverly-named creation of Jon Tiki, a/k/a John Bartley of St. Louis MO. Surf music is alive and well in the Heartland, and Jon Tiki’s music goes beyond pure Surf, delving into Lounge, Spy, and Soundtracks as well. Here’s a recent song he recreated: Pintor. He was also kind enough to write the theme music for my Podcast, A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge; it sounds like The Pink Panther meets Dick Dale, and it’s wonderful! Thank you, Jon Tiki.

Tiki Ohana – Artists

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Tiki artists. Their art is considered lowbrow by some, but for us in the Tiki ohana, their work is priceless. And accessible. In fact, it was through art that I was introduced to Tiki culture in the first place (Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge, Nov 2013). It all started for me with a single piece of art by SHAG.

 

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Josh Agle a/k/a SHAG. Southern California’s SHAG is my favorite artist. I’ve already written at-length about my infatuation with him (Stalking SHAG, Jan 2014), so I will just add how much I enjoy the sharp lines and crisp colors of his work. SHAG’s art is derived from his background as a commercial illustrator, and infused with stories that spring from the Mid-Century Modern world: cool men and women, drinking and smoking, and Tikis. Lots of Tikis. Please check out more of SHAG’s work at his website: www.shag.com.

 

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Derek Yaniger. The art of Atlanta’s Derek Yaniger is ubiquitous in the Tiki ohana. His simple, fun style is right at home in the themes of beatniks, spies, and Tikis. Yaniger is in great demand with musicians and organizers of Tiki events such as Tiki Oasis and The Hukilau. I started realizing how popular his work was when I ordered the latest Snappy 45 set from the Exotica band Clouseaux and admired Yaniger’s cover artwork. It reminds me of the late 60s/early 70s animation of The Pink Panther cartoons. Please check out more of Derek Yaniger’s art at his website: www.derekart.com.

 

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Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker. Perhaps nobody’s Tiki art is as colorful and dense as the work of Hawaii’s Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker. Tiki Shark has also been the most aggressive marketer and promoter of all of the Tiki artists I’ve seen. His images appear on everything! Calendars, beach towels, flip-flops, skateboards, you name it. I actually first came across his work when I bought a cool lamp made from an old Tiki Shark Tiki mug. It has a place of honor in the Tiki Lounge! Please check out more of Brad Parker’s work at his website: www.tikishark.com.

 

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Sandra Fremgen. The brightest up-and-coming artist in the Tiki ohana is Southern California’s Sandra Fremgen. I may be a little biased. I got to know Sandra via Facebook through a chance encounter, based on our mutual love of pandas. She found and liked my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page, and I in-turn “discovered” her amazing art series Panda and Me. We’ve developed a great relationship in a short time, based on our mutual respect for each other’s work. I’m proud to have featured her artwork in a previous post (Artwork in the Tiki Lounge, Feb 2014). Please check out more of Sandra Fremgen’s work at her website: www.pandaandme.com.

WDW Polynesian Village Day 7

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If it’s Friday, it must be EPCOT. We returned for another go at Food & Wine Festival, and although it was nowhere near as packed as last Sunday, it still got pretty crowded as the day went on. We didn’t really spend a lot of time sampling the country kiosks, but I did try the Aulani Sunset drink from Hawai’i. It was pretty tasty, a nice mix of rum and fruit juices.

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The other foods sampled and approved by my family included the filet at Canada and the waffle at Belgium. Anecdotally, we heard rave reviews about the lamb chops in Australia and the pierogies and kielbasa in Poland. While we we were in the World Showcase, we also did the Kidcot activity, where my kids got to color their own Duffy Bear on a stick and get them stamped and colored in each country. We managed to get them all, starting in Canada and ending in Mexico. I highly recommend this activity for any family looking to keep their kids entertained while also exploring the countries in a little more detail.

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Some of the highlights from our travels around the World Showcase included the Oh Canada! movie in Canada, ice cream in France, the Mitsukoshi department store in Japan, the Karamelle-Kuche shop in Germany, the Yong Feng Shangdian shop in China, and the Gran Fiesta Tour ride in Mexico. Once we made it around the world, it was back to Future World for some shopping at Mouse Gears before boarding the monorail to get back to the Polynesian for dinner.

Tonight we dined at Ohana for the second time during this trip. Ohana is our favorite dining spot in all of WDW. Two dinners and a breakfast during an 8-day stay should attest to that! God forbid Disney should ever mess with Ohana, as that may change my opinion of this resort. So far, the only changes they’ve made are replacing the salad with lettuce wraps and doing away with the chicken skewers. I can live with that. The key ingredients are all still here: pineapple-coconut bread, chicken wings, pork dumplings, lo mein noodles, grilled veggies, pork/steak/shrimp skewers, all served family style. All-you-care-to-eat, which for me is a lot! Tonight I took it easy to make sure I saved room for the tasty dessert: bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and bananas Foster syrup. Yum. I am pleasantly full as I prepare to call it a night 🙂

Tomorrow is our last full day at WDW, and we plan to split the day at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. I’m not sure if I’ll have anything new to write about, but I’ll try. Until then, aloha!

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WDW Polynesian Village Day 3

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This morning I got up early, grabbed some coffee in my refillable mug at Captain Cook’s, and decided to take a walk around the East side of the resort. As I was filling up my coffee, I noticed the cool new art hanging in the dining area, representing each of the Polynesian countries that have longhouses named after them. The prints were so colorful, I was inspired to take a picture of each one. Here’s my favorite, Fiji:

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My first destination was Tangaroa Terrace, where my buddy Tikiman Steve asked me to snap some pictures of the Tiki masks on the outside walls. The only change to the place was the children’s play area, which they’ve renamed Club Disney. Next I walked over to the Quiet Pool, which was as quiet as ever, especially since it was 7:30am and still closed:

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My final destination was the beach, where I wanted to get a good look at the new bungalows they’re building over the water. In the past, we would walk from Rapa Nui, past Tahiti, along the east side of the Quiet Pool to get to the beach. Unfortunately, since Rapa Nui, Tahiti and Tokelau are all closed and behind construction fencing, the only access to the beach is now by walking around Hawaii to the west end of that longhouse and turning north, where the fenced-off Volcano Pool sits. It felt like walking through a tunnel to get there, but it was quite a sight when I finally reached the beach.

The now quite narrow beach area still has sand and beach chairs to hang out in, and a spiffy new fire pit which I bet is pretty cool at night. The biggest new construction visible at the Polynesian are the DVC bungalows rising over the water just out from the beach. They look stunning! It reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of houses on stilts in Tahiti or Bora Bora. Sadly, these bungalows will be for DVC members only and cost an arm and a leg to rent ($2,000 per night?),  but they will be a wonderful new addition to the Polynesian Village Resort experience. The first of many, I trust. Tomorrow I’ll explore some of the other enhancements coming to our beloved Polynesian. Until then, aloha!

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A. Panda’s Bucket List

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Next year, 2015, I will turn 50 years old. God willing. I’m not a big milestone guy, and I certainly don’t want any birthday party so everybody can celebrate how old I’ve become, as if just making it to half a century is some remarkable achievement. No, I’d rather look at some of the things I haven’t achieved yet and start knocking them out. Hence my bucket list.

I have been working on this for a few years, so I’ve accomplished some of the easier things:

Drank at a Swim-Up Bar, Montego Bay Jamaica, 2003

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Met SHAG, NYC, 2007

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Visited The Mai-Kai, Ft. Lauderdale FL, 2012

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Met Bob and Leroy at Oceanic Arts, Whittier CA, 2013

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So what’s next? Well, I’ve always wanted to attend The Hukilau, the world’s biggest Tiki geek event, so I put that on the calendar for this year. In fact, I’ll be there in a little over a month, and I plan to blog live from The Hukilau, so stay tuned for that. I hope to meet some of my other Tiki heroes in-person there, like Sven Kirsten, King Kukulele, Bamboo Ben, MeduSirena Marina, and Beachbum Berry.

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Speaking of Beachbum Berry, he just announced that he’s finally opening his own Tiki bar in New Orleans this fall. This brings me to my next big item: Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Sounds like a good way to kick off 2015! Look for Jess and me at the Bienville House Hotel in the French Quarter next February, anchoring Bum’s new bar, Latitude 29.

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For a big finish, I really want to see Hawaii. Not just one island, but all of them! Well, at least the big ones, so I can look for Pele in Hawaii, do the touristy stuff on Oahu, try surfing in Maui, and see the unspoiled beauty of Kauai. Jess and I have talked about doing this trip in June 2015, over my actual birthday. As long as we are physically, emotionally, and financially able to pull this off, you will see me posting from Hawaii next year. Book it, Dan-O!

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I will close with a shout-out to Lesley Carter and her blog, Bucket List Publications. Lesley’s blog was the first one I started following after I started writing my own. I was so inspired by her mantra: “Some people make bucket lists to see places before they die; I make them so that I might truly live.” Wise words! Please take the time to check out this amazing blog. Mahalo, Lesley – perhaps our paths will actually cross some day!

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Aloha Spirit: Polynesian Resort

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As I mentioned before, I believe karma introduced me to Tiki, and it continues to swim in my bloodstream. I’ve seen many signs in my travels that have confirmed this for me. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

Orlando FL, December 2008. Our first family trip to Walt Disney World. My wife Jess grew up a big fan of Disney; I did not. I was convinced that Disney was evil! The way they tried to get at every last dollar you had, through your kids, by bombarding them with their movies, their TV shows, their songs, their product placement, their marketing genius that targeted everybody, but especially children. No way in Hell did I ever want to go to WDW, but Jess was adamant, so I made a deal with the Devil (Disney). I would go to WDW, but under one condition: we would only stay at the Polynesian Resort. If Jess was going to drag me to WDW, she needed to trick me into believing I was staying in Hawaii. Grudgingly, she agreed.

As karma would have it, this turned into our best vacation ever. I was in my own little Tiki heaven, surrounded by Polynesian beauty at every turn: the music, the food, the drinks, the palm trees, the Tiki torches, the decor, and the amazingly helpful staff that attended to our needs with a cheerful “aloha” at every turn. Disney really impressed me with their service, which is second to none. Ironically, Jess probably enjoyed staying at the Polynesian as much as I did, for many reasons. It’s a deluxe resort on Disney property. It’s on the main monorail line to the Magic Kingdom. It’s right next door to the Transportation & Ticket Center (TTC), from where you can catch the monorail to Epcot or busses to all of the other Disney parks and resorts. It has the best restaurant, Ohana, in all of WDW. By accepting my condition, Jess was introduced to the perfect vacation spot. Karma. Mahalo, Jessica!

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