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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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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WDW Polynesian Village Day 1

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So here we are, back in my happy place, 18 months after our last visit. Well, technically, that’s not true. I was here briefly back in January on business, for my company’s annual sales meeting, and although we were put up at The Yacht Club near Epcot, a few colleagues and I snuck away one morning and caught the bus to the TTC and made the short trek to The Polynesian. For breakfast. At Kona Cafe. But I digress.

We had reservations about booking this stay here, because of all of the construction going on. The two longhouses where we’ve stayed in the past, Rapa Nui and Tahiti, are both shut down for renovations, as is half of the Great Ceremonial House, the Volcano Pool, and the main path to the TTC. No matter, I told my wife Jess. I’d still rather stay at a construction zone Polynesian Village than any other resort on WDW property. I think. Over the next 8 days, we will find out!

We arrived today at about 3pm and immediately noticed the construction as we walked into the GCH. The front desk was moved to the left side of the entrance, and the entire center of the building was behind temporary walls. They’re getting rid of my beloved indoor waterfall, but that’s okay, because I’ve seen the plans for the new courtyard and it looks pretty cool. Check-in was pretty smooth, and we’re staying in the Fiji longhouse, which is on the Marina (west) side of the resort. We’ve never stayed on this side, but so far I like it.

The one new part of The Polynesian we sampled today was the Pineapple Lanai, which is the new place to get Dole Whips here. It’s not a big deal, just an outdoor seating area and a walk up counter where the art gallery used to be, but it’s a nice enhancement. They serve you now, instead of the self-serve deal they used to have inside Captain Cook’s, and you can get a Dole Whip float in addition to the Pineapple, Vanilla, and swirled soft-serve. Tasty!

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today, as it’s been a long day of traveling. I look forward to sharing more observations of the under-renovation Polynesian Village during our stay, as well as any other vacation nuggets that you may find interesting. Until then, aloha!

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