Friday, August 3, 2007

Praise for the Bishop

I’m referring to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. I fell in love with this museum last month and encourage anyone in the vicinity to visit. Of course, you REALLY have to be trying to be in the vicinity because the Hawaiian Islands are about as isolated as you can be on this earth, but still. If you’re in the neighborhood, the Bishop is a place worth visiting.

Even on holiday I visit museums. In Hawaii I visited three: the local history museum on Kauai, the USS Arizona/Pearl Harbor Memorial and the Bishop. The Kauai museum is a good small museum with waaaay to many words on the wall – still a good walk around though. The USS Arizona is a museum with a huge story to tell, huge crowds eager to hear it, and not enough time or space to accommodate them all. It was not a pleasant experience. But the Bishop… well, Goldilocks, the Bishop was just right.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Bishop is not the newest, or the oldest, shiniest or quirkiest museum you’ll ever see. I loved it despite that. For some reason it was just right. I didn’t see everything the place had to offer either, but I still loved it. It was one of those thoroughly pleasant experiences where the parts of the museum I experienced were exactly the parts I wanted to see. Plus the whole place is constantly chased by these beautifully scented little trade winds, so the smell of plumeria follows you all around. It just made me happy.

We went to see a show in their Planetarium. The seats were, to be blunt, vile. I still had fun. The show was about Mauna Kea, the mountain on the Big Island that has 10 major observatories on it. The big telescopes (sponsored by countries and universities from around the world) are above the cloud-line and can see about 90% of the sky, about 90% of the time. Hence, the high number of huge telescopes up there. Now the planetarium at the Bishop is a little small, a little outdated. But the educator who put on the show that day was EXCELLENT. She had the perfect Planetarium Voice: smooth, pleasant, a little low, a little dry. She coaxed us all into focusing mirrors on the wall so we could learn how the multi-mirrored giant telescopes use reflective surfaces to get the most light. I forget why exactly. But it was FUN and we learned a little something at the time (my faulty memory notwithstanding).

The Hawaiian Hall was closed for renovation, to my great disappointment. But I’d seen one of Kamehameha’s feather capes at the Pitt Rivers Museum in England so I could deal with the loss. Besides, they have a room which displays many Hawaiian feather standards so I consoled myself with that. Feather standards are giant maypole looking things with geometrical tufty feather arrangements on top – these were usually carried by or around Hawaiian royals and nobles and often the standards have names associated with them. So the slightly shorter one with the white, red and yellow feathers might be associated with a young princess, while the tall black matching pair might be named after one of the kings.

The Polynesian Hall was carpeted in 1970s green shag that sort of smelled like the 1970s – for this reason it was my least favorite part of my visit, but I still enjoyed it. There were artifacts from Fiji, New Zealand, the Easter Islands, the Marquesas, the Cook Islands. Good stuff. Polynesians really like feathers.

The song and dance demonstration outside was lovely. The educator leading the show was naturally a good singer, but better than that, he was adept at getting us to respond. Anyone who has tried to encourage a crowd of strangers in front of you to answer questions without getting all embarrassed would have been impressed with this man. He got us to practice saying tricky Hawaiian words (slightly trickier than ‘hula’ but you get the idea). He also got us all to stand up and dance. There we were, dancing a story about a lighthouse and giving love to the people – me, my mom, and about 30 other tourists of all ages and origins. My favorite was the chubby pink baby in the stroller who was THIS CLOSE to falling asleep, but stayed awake so she could watch this strange group activity. She never blinked or smiled. She seemed to think we were all crazy. But it didn’t bother her and she dropped right off to sleep after the last ‘Aloha’ and ‘mahalo’.

The Library at the Bishop houses an impressive collection of Polynesian materials. I’m sure scholars all over the world use it happily and academically. The reason I love it, and will do so forever and always, is because when I went to the library to describe a book I’d read as a child but couldn’t remember the name of, they helped me find it. The Last Queen by Hazel Wilson is (unsurprisingly) about the last queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani, and as a child I was FASCINATED by this book. It made a very vivid impression on me and to this day is one of my few reliable sources of knowledge about Hawaiian history. (Hey, I never claimed to be an expert.) When I signed in, got my badge and appeared at the front desk in their Library, the nice young woman there could have scoffed at me, or rolled her eyes at this non-academic-tourist with her possibly-made-up children’s book from the ‘60s, but she didn’t. Instead she asked a few questions, maintained a carefully neutral facial expression, and typed some stuff in a computer. (I don’t know what database will yield up useful information when you enter stuff like, “her grandfather gave it to her” and “It was about this big” and ‘grey cover’ but I’d like access please. Sign me up!) She made a brief visit to the stacks and came back with THE BOOK. I’d been trying for days to find just the title of it, much less a copy and she’d done it in 5 minutes. Now you know the real reason I love the Bishop. It may be a little big magic.

Fridge Update: I am cautiously overjoyed. It appears to be working. I eat my words (and, finally, chilled food again): the Fridge Repairman must have been right. I feel like I can’t push it, though. I have to be very careful with my recovering fridge. Can’t ask it to do too much at once. But I hope it will soon be at its full capacity again. Just in time for another heat wave. Thank heaven for frozen jammies.

1 comment:

l-bean said...

I absolutely agree with your assessment of the Bishop-- I absolutely loved it. I also visited the Arizona/Pearl Harbor and Queen Emma's Summer Palace, which looked A LOT like the French Legation in Austin.

However, one of my most vivid memories of the Bishop will forever be the exhibit label that read "Item temporarily removed from exhibit." It had some date like 1997 on it...and this was in 2004. I have a photo of it somewhere.