Beyond the Reef

Be warned, this is a travelogue post. As many of you already know, each year we go to Kona Village in Hawaii for the first week of September. This year, because the tsunami closed Kona Village, we moved next door to the Four Seasons Hualalai. I was nervous about this. We were used to seeing the same crowd at KVR and knew most of the staff. The Four Seasons seemed so fancy-pants, I was worried it would be like a week at a stuffy Westside Los Angeles restaurant.

I was wrong. Four Seasons was wonderful. I couldn’t find much online about the resort before our visit. There was the official site, and other travel sites had reviews that were typically positive, as in, “It was expensive, but worth the price.” What does that mean? I need actual facts. Of course, several people posted who clearly are never be satisfied, “I was forced to dry my own feet. I demand my feet to be dried with a young virgin’s hair.”

Now here is the lowdown if you plan on going:

  1. Get a room in the Palm Grove. It’s the no children pool area. The rooms are close to the beach, and it’s quiet and secluded.
  2. Ask for a ground floor room. They have an outdoor shower. At first, I thought, “creepy,” but it was great. I took showers and watered plants at the same time.
  3. Make sure Cody at the Palm Grove pool is there to help you. Everyone, without exception was gracious, down to earth and friendly. But, Cody had a great faculty to make us feel pampered and among good friends. He was endlessly patient with my aimless questions, and was a highlight of the stay.
  4. Eat at Pahu i`a's Surf, Sand and Stars, a barbecue on the beach. No, it’s not like an old macaroni and cheese, ancient fried chicken buffet. The appetizer section, sushi, and lobster alone are worth the price.
  5. Go to Safeway or Costco for booze. Yes this may seem rather low-rent, but why spend enormous amounts of money for cocktails when you can make your own.
  6. Take a good hike up around the golf course every day. Otherwise you will eat a great amount of food and get fat.
  7. Eat at the Resident’s Beach House. The Mai Tai is actually a rum Big Gulp.

For over a decade we went to Kona Village, and I thought moving on to Four Seasons Hualalai was treason. It would be loud, with snobby guests and staff. It wasn’t in the least. The Hualalai staff went above and beyond to create a perfect spot. And to quote Patrick Henry, “If this be treason, make the most of it!” (Pretty impressive to combine a founding father and a Four Seasons in Hawaii.)

Sour Pussy on the Beach

I’m back from vacation and the settlers cabin is, once again, open for business. Last week we spent our annual post Labor Day vacation at Kona Village on the big island of Hawaii. While others were photographing their newlywed wife on the beach, or close-ups of the turtles sunning themselves, I was shooting type. At one point as I sat on a chaise lounge reading about my grandmother’s cousin Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd and FDR, other guests were wildly photographing the turtles. “Why?” I ask myself. What are you going to do with a bunch of photos of a turtle? Then I took time to photograph the hand-made Stop sign.

If you think you’re a super groovy designer who is first at making lots of funky hand drawn type on posters, get a clue. Kona Village’s signage program is decades old and has the grooviest type I’ve ever seen. And you’ve got to love a place that is truly sustainable by taking bits of wood and logs and making signs. It’s not like the Four Seasons next door, with the fancy pants typeset signs.

In addition to taking photos of signs, I read seven books, ate enormous amounts of ahi, and put my phone in the safe. One of the benefits of visiting at the same time each year is seeing the other guests who visit at the same time each year. This leads to an atmosphere not unlike a summer camp with the same friends each year. Of course, someone is always willing to not play along. For almost a decade we’ve seen the same people and become great friends. But there is one woman who refuses to smile or say hello. Even when I have pointedly looked straight at her and demanded a cheery “Hello,” I’ve only received a sour face and mutter of “hmm, hello.” I decided this was unacceptable rude behavior and someone suggested she had a “sour puss.” After that I only called her “Sour-Pussy,” until my friend Jill noted that it didn’t sound like I was talking about her sour facial expression.

Is Fresca and rum trashy?

Esquire Handbook for Hosts chapter divider

My grandmother had many rules about proper behavior, and what made people “good people” or “trash.” Here are a few:

1. Hang your blinds straight, only trash have crooked blinds.

2. A gentleman always removes his hat indoors, or in the presence of a lady, trash insists on rudely wearing their baseball caps inside.

3. A gentleman always wears a belt, or braces (suspenders).

4. A gentleman knows how to mix a good martini.

5. Young ladies do not pierce their ears. Bad girls do.

I try to abide by these rules and many of her others, although the ear-piercing rule is probably out of date. Unfortunately, I think I might fall out of line when it comes to Fresca.

Each year, we take a trip to Kona Village in Hawaii. Typically, we’ll make a run to Safeway to buy rum and mixers. The idea is to mix my own simple Mai Tai cocktails and save some money as opposed to buying them at the bar. At the beginning of the trip, I’ll stick to the plan, mixing pineapple and orange juice, and adding some lime. After a couple of days, this is typically too much trouble, and I switch to simply mixing the rum with Fresca. I know it sounds seriously trailer trash, but trust me, the “rumescas” are very good. You can also mix Fresca with gin (Tanqueray of Bombay, not the cheap brands that make you hungover). I call this the Ginesca. And for those who prefer vodka, it’s a perfect refreshing mixer. I'm calling this a Ruskie-esca.

I’d add recipes here, but there’s no need. Simply fill the highball glass ½ way with the liquor over ice then add the Fresca. Some may say this is too strong, but no, no, no, they’ll get used to it.

Esquire's Handbook for Hosts: substitute any mixer with Fresca

Funny tricks from the Esquire Handbook for Hosts

It's for kids, too.

Fresca can, 1971

Designers in Black, part 1

Sean Adams and the wonderfully jewelled Madame President, Debbie Millman

Last Thursday, I attended the AIGA Design Legends Gala in New York. I was in Kona the week before, and it was a helluva flight from Hawaii to LA to New York, but the Gala is an evening that reminds me why I’m a designer. Of course, there are inspirational speeches and presentations. Debbie Millman gave an eloquent speech about the current economy and why designers are more important than ever. The Medalists, Carin Goldberg, Doyald Young, and Pablo Ferro were remarkable and seeing their work is exactly the shot in the arm I needed. But, many of you are probably asking, who looked good? Fortunately, I’m shallow and took my camera to find some of the best dressed. Now I admit I’m bad at this job. I started and then had a couple of Gin and Tonics, then the gorgeous Marian Bantjes sat on my lap, then I lost interest in the photography. Nevertheless, for your pleasure, here are some of the highlights I found before forgetting I needed to do this post.

Stefan Sagmeister with snappy tie and Marian Bantjes in a dress of her own fabric design

Petrula Vrontikis unbelievably gorgeous and dapper Armin Vit

Pam Williams outdoing Madame Pierre Gautreau by John Singer Sargent

This defines classic and glamorous, Michael Donovan and Nancye Green

This defines classic and glamorous, Michael Donovan and Nancye Green

Board heartthrob Brad Weed and beautiful wife Susan Pappalardo


Immaculately dressed Michael Vanderbyl and ever-charming Gaby Brink

Sean and Kenna Kay absolutely perfect

F@#% you F@#% face

Sean at Kona Village with a nice message

Every year right after Labor Day, we spend a week at Kona Village on the big island in Hawaii. It’s not like the Four Seasons, which is next door. There are no televisions, telephones, radios, or internet. This may sound bad, but it’s perfect. You fall into a pattern of rising when the sun comes up, go on hikes, swim, read books, and go to bed when it gets dark. The village is made up of a collection of thatched roof hale (bungalow). This is not a hotel that feels like a high-rise condominium. Ancient black lava beds surround the property, and there is a tradition of using the stark white coral from the beach to make messages. Typically, they are for anniversaries, weddings, and statements of love.

Noreen has a wall in her house that is a large chalkboard and guests like to write notes like, “Great dinner,” or “love the soap.” I like to write one of our favorite sayings from the 1980s cult movie Repo Man, “F@#% you F@#% face”. But she gets mad because children visit, and it is offensive to some guests. So now I just write FUFF. On my last visit to Kona, I decided to extend this tradition and add it to the hearts, and anniversary dates made from the bright white coral on the black lava.

On a side note, if you mention Repo Man, there’s nothing smarter than Miller’s “Plate o shrimp” philosophy. “A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example, show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, "plate," or "shrimp," or "plate o' shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”

A traditional message with the coral/lava typography
A traditional message with the coral/lava typography
Hale at Kona Village (that's Hawaiian for house for the haole)
Hale at Kona Village
The beach at Kona Village
The beach at Kona Village
Directional signage
Directional signage