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Monday, September 29, 2014

@EstherHonig challenges idea of universal #beauty by asking 25 countries to #Photoshop her face @MBandF

Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder

Honig realised that perceptions of beauty depend just as much on the individual as on the culture where that person is from.
“Even though there were over-arching themes to beauty, individuals, no matter their culture, had different perspectives of what the word ‘beautiful’ means. It’s hard to know what is cultural and what is personal..."

Read the whole article on the MB&F page here: Esther Honig challenges idea of universal beauty by asking 25 countries to Photoshop her face

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Larry Ellison Bought an Island in Hawaii. Now What? @NYTimes


Larry Ellison Bought an Island in Hawaii. Now What?


Jolicoeur is a retired French Canadian hypnotherapist and a
glass-products importer who enjoys making very low-budget documentary
films. In the summer of 2012, Jolicoeur read that Larry Ellison, a
founder of the Silicon Valley giant Oracle and the fifth-richest man in
the world, had bought 97 percent of the Hawaiian island of Lanai — not a
97 percent stake in some kind of company, but 97 percent of the
physical place. Jolicoeur was curious, so he booked a flight and packed
his camera.

knew a little about Lanai, having lived in Hawaii in the ’90s. It is
among the smallest and least trafficked of Hawaiian islands — a quiet,
spectacular place where Cook Island pine trees vault up everywhere, like
spires or giant peacock feathers — and can feel like a charming
wormhole to an earlier era. There is only one town, Lanai City, where
virtually all of the island’s 3,200 residents live. Ellison now owned a
third of all their houses and apartments; the island’s two Four
Seasons-run hotels; the central commons at the heart of Lanai City,
called Dole Park, and all the buildings around it; the town swimming
pool; the community center; the theater; a grocery store; two golf
courses; a wastewater treatment plant; the water company; and a
cemetery. In a single sweeping real estate deal, reported to cost $300
million, he had acquired 87,000 of the island’s 90,000 acres. And he
would subsequently buy an airline that connects Lanai to Honolulu as
well. On all of Lanai, I heard of only a handful of businesses — the gas
station, the rental-car company, two banks, a credit union and a cafe
called Coffee Works — that are neither owned by Ellison nor pay him


Lanai City, in the center of the island, is home to virtually all 3,200
of the island’s residents. Credit Mark Peterson and Greta Pratt for
The New York Times

spent about three weeks strolling around the island, asking locals to
hold his ungainly, foam-sheathed microphone and tell the camera how they
felt about the big acquisition. Everyone seemed to feel very, very
good. “I want to thank Mr. Ellison,” one fishing-boat captain says.
“He’s got a vision, and he’s taking care of us over here on Lanai.” A
pack of landscapers, shown assiduously raking dirt, say things like:
“Thank you for work, Mr. Ellison! Thank you very much!” The owner of a
salon: “I just want to take this time to thank Mr. Ellison for the
unbelievable, incredible takeover of Lanai.” Inside the island’s
Catholic church, a priest in a purple robe, surrounded by children,
says: “Heavenly father. . . . We ask for your blessings for Mr. Ellison,
particularly, and those who work with him, that all the good plans and
intentions that he has for Lanai be fruitful.” Elsewhere, a woman shouts
a little breathlessly: “Mr. Ellison! Thank you for being here! We love
you! I’ve never met you before and really would like to, and I can
imagine that you will do awesome wonders for this place!”
is still working on his film but has posted some footage on YouTube in
the meantime. From time to time, he makes an appearance himself,
pontificating about the bewildering new relationship between Ellison and
everyone else. Introducing one segment, Jolicoeur announces, “The great
philosopher Plato said, 2,500 years ago, that rulers of man must be
philosophers.” A title card reads, “ORACLE = A person who delivers
authoritative, wise or highly regarded and influential pronouncements.”
Ninety seven percent
of Lanai may be a lot of Lanai, but it’s a tiny part of Ellison’s
overall empire. Ellison, who stepped down as C.E.O. of Oracle on Sept.
18, is estimated to be worth $46 billion. He made an estimated $78.4
million last year, or about $38,000 an hour. He owns a tremendous amount
of stuff — cars, boats, real estate, Japanese antiquities, the BPN
Paribas Open tennis tournament, an America’s Cup sailing team, one of
Bono’s guitars — and has a reputation for intensity and excess.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that when Ellison has played
basketball on the courts on his yachts, he has positioned “someone in a
powerboat following the yacht to retrieve balls that go overboard.” One
biographer called him “a modern-day Genghis Khan.”
a public meeting on Lanai last year, an Ellison representative
explained that his boss wasn’t drawn to the island by the potential for
profits but by the potential for a great accomplishment — the
satisfaction one day of having made the place work. For Ellison, it
seemed, Lanai was less like an investment than like a classic car, up on
blocks in the middle of the Pacific, that he had become obsessed with
restoring. He wants to transform it into a premier tourist destination
and what he has called “the first economically viable, 100 percent green
community”: an innovative, self-sufficient dreamscape of renewable
energy, electric cars and sustainable agriculture.
has explained that Lanai feels to him like “this really cool
21st-century engineering project” — and so far, his approach, which
seems steeped in the ethos of Silicon Valley, has boiled down to rooting
out the many inefficiencies of daily life on Lanai and replacing them
with a single, elegantly designed system. It’s the sort of sweeping
challenge that engineering types get giddy over: a full-scale model. Of
course, there are actual people living inside Ellison’s engineering
project — a community being hit by an unimaginable wave of wealth. But
unlike all the more familiar versions of that story, Lanai isn’t being
remade by some vague socioeconomic energy you can only gesture at with
words like “techies” or “hipsters” or “Wall Street” but by one guy,
whose name everyone knows, in a room somewhere, whiteboarding out the
whole project.
seemed to understand the precariousness that power imbalance created:
the staggering responsibility, the incomprehensible control. At one
point, standing on a beach, he announces theatrically to the camera,
“The Bible says, ‘Where there is no vision, people perish.’ ” Eventually
he visits the island’s animal-rescue center, where a young employee
explains that because there are no natural predators on Lanai, the
feral-cat population just explodes. Right now, she tells him, the
shelter is housing 380 cats.
From behind the camera, Jolicoeur hollers: “So basically, these are 380 cats of Mr. Ellison’s?”
“They’re his cats!” the woman says, laughing and laughing.
we see a half-dozen cats, occupying different areas of a multitiered
bungalow-style dollhouse for cats, licking themselves and lapping water
and napping. More cats appear as Jolicoeur enters the shot, holding his
long microphone, extending his free hand to stroke whichever cat looks
most cooperative. His eyes are bright. He looks thrilled with his
wonderful discovery: He has reached an unanticipated edge of the
island’s new reality.
an animal with a meaty palm, he turns back to the camera and says, “Mr.
Ellison, do you know that you have, now, 380 cats?”
For thousands of years,
Lanai was ruled by the god of nightmares. No humans lived there until,
according to Hawaiian legend, a teenage chief from Maui was banished to
the island for bad behavior. The chief killed the nightmare god and
routed his army of spirits. Then he lit a fire. People on Maui, eight
miles to the east, saw the fire. It was a signal — an all-clear. They
got in their canoes and came over.

Continue reading the main story Slide Show

Kingdom Come

CreditMark Peterson and Greta Pratt for The New York Times

lived happily on Lanai for about 800 years. Then the Mormons started
arriving, eventually led in 1861 by Walter Murray Gibson, who, in
retrospect, may have been only a megalomaniac con man masquerading as a
Mormon. An article published by the Hawaiian Historical Society in 1960
describes Gibson as “ambitious and romantic and interested in ruling a
tropical government.” Gibson spent his early years tramping through
Southeast Asia, stoking a native revolt against the Dutch in the hope of
commandeering one. He converted to Mormonism only one year before
showing up on Lanai. After building a Mormon colony in the island’s
interior, Gibson began buying land on Lanai until he controlled nearly
the entire island. He paid for the land with the church’s money but put
the titles in his own name. When the Mormons figured this out, they
excommunicated him.
retained the land, though. By the time he died in 1888, it had passed
to his daughter, then through a few other owners as a single holding.
None of them could figure out what to do with Lanai. They tried ranching
sheep. They tried sugar cane. One crop that grew well was pineapples,
and this caught the attention of James Drummond Dole, a Harvard Business
School grad with a fledgling pineapple company on Oahu.
1922, Dole paid $1.1 million for the land Gibson and his successors had
accumulated. Just like that, The New York Times reported, “an entire
island, Lanai, has been taken over by a pineapple company.” Dole plowed
the interior into fields, built a harbor and roads and laid out an
idyllic town near the center of Lanai — a grid of plantation-style
cottages, with Dole Park in the middle — to house his mostly Japanese
and Filipino workers. By 1930, Lanai City had 3,000 residents, nearly
all of them Dole employees, and the island was exporting 65,000 tons of
pineapples a year. The company sent landscaping crews to weed and mow
workers’ lawns. It ran an athletics program and built a golf course.
Life on Lanai was good; Dole insisted it should be. His motto was: “Have
happy workers, grow better pineapples.”
70 years, Lanai was among the world’s largest pineapple plantations.
Then in 1992, the island harvested its last crop. Overseas production
had driven down prices, and Lanai was left behind. By that point, the
island had changed hands two more times. It was now controlled by the
California billionaire David Murdock, who acquired the company Castle
& Cooke, which took over Dole Foods’ holdings on Lanai in the ’60s.
Murdock was a somewhat imperial presence on Lanai. He referred to
residents as his “children.”
the pineapple era wound down, Murdock pivoted Lanai’s economy toward
tourism. He built two resorts — the first developments on the island
besides Lanai City and still the only major ones — and eventually
contracted the Four Seasons to run them. Pineapple pickers were
retrained as hotel staff and landscapers. Lanai was still a company
town; the company just did something different now.
transition did not go well. Murdock had to steadily infuse the island
with money — as much as $20 million or $30 million a year, he’d later
report. By the mid-2000s, he started cutting back. He laid off large
numbers of workers and began abandoning some of his quasi-governmental
responsibilities as the island’s majority landowner. Buildings fell into
disrepair. The Chamber of Commerce disbanded. As one resident put it,
“Economically, there was real potential that we might dry up and blow
Murdock proposed a way forward: He would build an array of 45-story
wind turbines on 20 square miles of the island and sell the electricity
they produced to Oahu. The idea was controversial. It would be a mammoth
development on an insistently small-scale island. Lanai had been
settled by disparate immigrants who had to figure out how to get along,
and that history, locals told me, keeps people from dwelling on
divisions and differences. (“That’s what makes the place so special,”
one woman explained. “We still have aloha together.”) But the long fight
over what the locals called Big Wind was brutal and divisive. Family
members stopped talking to one another. There were protests in the
street. Many people who supported the wind turbines saw the protesters
as reckless idealists; they were handcuffing the man the community
relied on and driving the island into the ground. Murdock seemed to feel
the same way. By the summer of 2011, he confessed to the editor of the
island’s newspaper that Lanai had been “the poorest financial investment
I’ve made in my entire life.” He had only so many options. One was to
“close it all down and leave.” Instead, he put Lanai up for sale.
island rippled with anxiety. People worried that Murdock might sell off
parts of Lanai to multiple owners, tossing the community into some
uncharted, joint-custody arrangement. Or that he’d sell to a big resort
developer who would shatter the character of the place. “Oh, my God, he
could sell to a Russian oligarch,” one woman remembered thinking.
Another said, “We were praying it wasn’t some sheikh!” It wasn’t some
sheikh. It was Larry Ellison.
was easy to be hopeful, and the civil war over Big Wind had left people
scarred and exhausted with fighting. Now Ellison wanted to revive the
island, and he had the money to fund his dreams until they came true.
But was he a utopian businessman like Dole? Or a slippery autocrat like
Gibson? Was he the nightmare god — or the renegade chief who finally
came to vanquish him?
morning, nearly two years later, at the Blue Ginger Cafe, I asked Pat
Reilly, a 74-year-old regular with a thin white mustache and oversize
glasses who has lived on Lanai for more than 30 years, how he felt when
he heard that Ellison bought the island. Reilly reached over his coffee
mug and drew a big, slow question mark in the air, then jabbed his index
finger at me to dot the question mark, hard.
“And it’s still that way,” he said.

Like a lot of
omnipotent forces, Ellison has remained mostly invisible. He has
visited Lanai many times — locals told me they can tell he’s on the
island when they see his yacht hitched in the harbor — but he seems
determined to keep a formal distance from the community, shielding
himself behind the executive team of Pulama Lanai, the management
company he set up to oversee the island’s transformation. Although
Pulama holds frequent public meetings on Lanai, Ellison has declined to
attend any or to address residents directly. Several residents told me
that they’d resorted to reading biographies of Ellison to learn more
about the man — books that have somewhat disquieting titles like
“Everyone Else Must Fail” and “The Difference Between God and Larry
Ellison,” the punch line being: “God doesn’t think he’s Larry Ellison.”
vision for the island was first delivered, by proxy, early last year,
at a meeting of the island’s Community Plan Advisory Committee. These
meetings were part of a county-government process to update the island’s
comprehensive planning document, which dictates everything from zoning
and land use to cultural preservation. Butch Gima, a Lanai native and
social worker who was chairman of the committee, told me that Ellison’s
takeover put them in a tricky position. On one hand, it allowed for
greater ambition. (“A new world has opened up,” one member told the
committee.) But it also felt strange to chart a course for an island
that someone else had taken control of. Even the committee’s economic
research and growth projections might now be obsolete, depending on what
Ellison wanted to do. And so they invited Pulama’s new chief operating
officer, Kurt Matsumoto, to brief them.
was hired to oversee operations on Lanai a couple of months earlier. He
had a background in running large resorts, but he was also a “Lanai
Boy,” as people kept putting it to me — he grew up on the island. “He
doesn’t come off as being real slick,” Gima told me. (As kids, Gima and
Matsumoto were in Boy Scouts together.) His appointment was encouraging;
the relationship between the island and its new owner had been brought
down to a more human scale.
appeared before the committee in mid-January — a middle-management
Moses coming down the mountain with an important PowerPoint. He prefaced
his presentation by explaining that Ellison didn’t have any firm plans
yet, only “intentions.” Then he put up his first slide.
night, and in other meetings, Matsumoto unveiled a startlingly
ambitious vision for the island. He explained that Ellison aimed to
build a third resort, this time on the uninhabited southwestern coast,
as well as a complex of private estates — maybe 50 of them, each five or
more acres. Ellison intended to expand Lanai’s airport, adding a bigger
runway to accommodate direct flights from the mainland for the first
time. The limiting factor on Lanai has always been water, but Ellison
would build a state-of-the-art desalination plant to produce more fresh
water. Ellison would expand Lanai City; build an “energy park,” where
electricity produced with solar panels or photosynthesizing algae would
be fed into a new smart grid; and bring commercial agriculture back to
the island, in fields outfitted with sensors to control fertilization
and irrigation, so that Lanai could begin to feed itself and even export
products, rather than depend on weekly food barges from Oahu.
Eventually Matsumoto would tell The Wall Street Journal that Ellison
hoped to see the island’s population double to about 6,000. Elsewhere,
there was talk of organic wineries and flower farms and an innovative
aquaponics-and-hydroponics operation that would raise fish and fruits
and vegetables in a sustainable symphony of positive feedback loops.
Better health care. A bowling alley. An institute for the study of
sustainability. A 22-acre film studio. A top-flight, residential tennis
academy for competitive youth.
tone at that first meeting was low-key, humble and inclusive. He used
words like “respect” and “empower,” “sharing” and “investing.” Then,
eventually, he hit his last slide: “Mahalo” — Hawaiian for “Thank you” —
and was done.
“It was hard to formulate any thought-out questions,” Gima recalled about the presentation. “I think people just went, ‘Whoa.’ ”
By the time
I visited Lanai last March, there was almost too much happening for one
person to keep track of. Pulama had gone to work around the island on
long-deferred maintenance, renovations and full-bore beautification.
They’d painted the shops around Dole Park, ripped out old hedges and
thinned or chopped down trees to air out the ambience. Herds of
construction workers moved around Lanai in fluorescent green or orange
shirts, then gathered outside Richard’s Market at quitting time for
drinks and snacks. “He is renewing, refreshing, rejuvenating every part
of the island,” said a woman named Mimi Evangelista. “I feel blessed,
blessed beyond my wildest dreams.”
several years of terrible unemployment, people on Lanai were back to
work. Within four months of Ellison’s purchase, unemployment shot down
to 1.2 percent. There were new faces everywhere, new luxury cars on the
road and lines of new Mercedes vans and Nissan Leafs parked in the
company’s lot near the center of town. Pulama had started a summer
program for kids and another program to help high-school students pursue
college scholarships, screened “Frozen” in the park and held an
“animal-care day” so people could get their cats dewormed free. They’d
opened a Nobu restaurant at one hotel. I saw posters advertising free
water-aerobics classes at the new community pool. There were ukulele
lessons and Pilates. A month earlier, at an Oracle event in Las Vegas to
unveil the company’s new cloud software, someone asked Ellison about
Lanai, and he pointed out that “for the first time, Lanai has a football
field where the high school can have home games.” He also noted, “We’re
empowering the locals to start their own businesses,” whether it’s “in
agriculture or a juice bar in Lanai City.”
juice bar occupies a cabana-like building at one corner of Dole Park
and is owned and operated by Tammy Ringbauer, an effusive woman with
bright flowers tattooed up her right arm. Ringbauer is deep into juicing
— I never saw anyone juice a turmeric root before — and charges 12
bucks for a large.
told me she moved to Lanai from Maui just weeks before the change in
ownership, and this storefront caught her eye immediately. It was the
only vacant commercial space in Lanai City, though she had heard that,
for some reason, Pulama Lanai kept rejecting entrepreneurs who wanted to
lease it. (Pulama says that it did not turn down any previous

Continue reading the main story
the end of the day, Mr. Ellison can do what he wants. He asks for input
but that’s like me asking for input on what to do with my backyard. I own my backyard.’

I asked Ringbauer why the company finally gave the lease to her, she
hesitated. “I don’t want to say anything wrong,” she said. “Because of
the changes that are happening, there’s sort of a model we’re trying to
move in the direction of. And I think certain businesses may not fit
into that model.” She thought her vision was aligned with Pulama’s: She
was using locally grown, organic produce and compostable to-go cups.
“I’m explaining the benefits of juicing, I’m educating,” she said.
Later, I heard that Ellison himself had come in for a juice a couple of
times, sitting on a stool and sipping away like a regular person.
couldn’t find any other small businesses that had started up on Lanai
since Ellison’s purchase. But there were stories about entrepreneurs,
like the owners of the island’s wood shop, who had approached Pulama for
leases or partnerships only to be offered a job with the company
instead — which was good but allowed Pulama to preserve its hold on the
economy. Ringbauer had no complaints. “If we all work together,” she
said, “we’re going to thrive.” The wooden sign hanging behind her
register read: “No whining. No complaining. No frowning. Only hugs,
smiles and warm feelings are allowed. Thank you.”
Despite my many phone
calls and emails to Pulama Lanai’s office, requesting interviews with
its senior staff members, the company basically wanted nothing to do
with me. A couple of walk-in visits to the office, and to the
standoffish man named Roger who worked the reception desk there, also
got me nowhere. (One time, trying to at least make small talk with Roger
before he turned me away, I said, “It’s beautiful, what you’ve done
here,” by which I meant the renovated office lobby, with its marble
floors and Pier 1-esque furnishings and the carved, hardwood box where
locals drop their rent checks. “Yes, it is,” Roger replied, barely
looking up from his computer.) Eventually a public-relations contractor
based in Honolulu told me that “the company is still in the planning
phase” and would not be participating in this article.
obstacle: Roughly half of the adults on the island are employed by
Pulama Lanai or its hotels, and nearly everyone else, it seems, has a
sister or uncle who is — or else relies on the company indirectly for a
livelihood or lives in a house that Pulama Lanai owns. Lots of people
told me that they were instructed not to talk to reporters or that they
just didn’t want to risk upsetting the company. One young man delivered a
long, seemingly rehearsed preamble, insisting that he absolutely had to
remain anonymous and that any opinions he expressed were his alone and
did not reflect the views of either Pulama Lanai or his employer, which
did business with Pulama and which I also shouldn’t name. I expected
something inflammatory, but his opinion was this: “There’s a lot of
complainers — some people aren’t happy — but they don’t realize how much
they have. It’s just awesome!”
yes and no. As it turns out, my perception of Pulama Lanai — as a vast,
mostly incommunicative force — was pretty close to that of many
residents I was meeting. They didn’t necessarily understand how that
force operated either, but they saw its handiwork everywhere. And some
of it didn’t feel awesome at all.
starters, Pulama had inadvertently intensified a housing shortage on
Lanai. There was so much work that contractors had to be shuttled in
daily or weekly from other islands or relocated. A few off-island
construction companies bought up housing in Lanai City in anticipation
of winning contracts from Pulama, and the island’s independent landlords
found they could demand higher rents from the remaining workers. Though
the company was busily fixing up cottages to rent out, many displaced
locals wound up on Pulama’s indeterminably long waiting list for
housing, which they believed Pulama employees were bypassing. The
process didn’t feel transparent or fair, and Pulama was resisting calls
for a town-hall meeting about the issue. (Later, I attended one of the
company’s informational meetings about renovations at the Four Seasons —
“We’re adding two new teppanyaki stations,” a Pulama representative
explained — and watched residents try to derail its narrow agenda. “It’s
something you folks never even anticipated!” one older man said. He was
leaning on his walker, raising his voice. “You took all the housing! It
all went poof!”)
now, there was growing awareness that Pulama’s rhetoric of openness and
collaboration didn’t always match its actions. Some people wondered
whether the company was hiding its real agenda behind a veneer of
egalitarianism and good manners. As a schoolteacher named Karen de Brum
put it: “At the end of the day, Mr. Ellison can and will do what he
wants. He asks for input, but that’s like me asking for input on what to
do with my backyard. I own my backyard.”
27-year-old Lanai native named Zane de la Cruz told me that he was
“starting to think that communication is actually worse” than under the
previous owner, “because there’s a false sense of good communication.”
He elaborated: “They give out a lot worthless information. They give you
buzzwords.” At one meeting, a Pulama executive, Arlan Chun, was asked
how much residents would pay for water from the new desalination plant
and how Ellison expected to recoup his costs. Chun suggested that
Ellison wasn’t concerned with costs. “The mandate we have is to move the
island forward,” he said.
la Cruz told me: “Well, yeah, that’s a fun and fancy thing to say, but
someone is going to need to pay for this. And if Larry Ellison decides,
five years from now, that he doesn’t want to play this game anymore,
we’ll be paying for it then.” John Ornellas, chairman of the island’s
planning commission, said he was struggling to get a straight answer
about what would happen if Ellison dies. (“He does do a lot adventurous
things,” Ornellas noted; for example, there’s a rumor — the truth of
which remains murky — that Ellison once flew a fighter jet under the
Golden Gate Bridge.) And Diana Shaw, who directs the Lanai Community
Health Center, one of two medical providers on the island, said that
Pulama ignored her requests for an introductory meeting for months.
“They kept talking publicly about the health care system and how they
were going to improve it and enhance it and change it,” Shaw said. “But
nobody came and talked to us. We are the health care system — at least
50 percent of it.” Finally Pulama reps sat down with her. The meeting
didn’t go well. Shaw described one executive as “the master of spin.”
a small gathering one night, over pizza and beer, a retired school
principal, Pierce Myers, explained it to me this way: “The hope is real.
The potential is fantastic.” And yet lots of residents can’t help
seeing everything Ellison does through a scrim of “suspicion and
uncertainty.” He went on: “This place was developed on the backs of
humble people; people who cared for each other. When you live on an
island, you can’t afford to make enemies. A compassion grows from that.
Now it feels like everything’s being driven from outside by some force
that is not part of that tradition.”
the man sitting next to Myers spoke up. “Any changes are going to be
uncomfortable, but the changes are happening so fast,” he said quietly.
His name was Anthony Kaauamo Pacheco. He is 29 and was born on Lanai but
left to study filmmaking on Oahu. Two years ago, he came back to the
island. He wanted to inspire would-be filmmakers there to tell their own
stories; he even imagined drawing Hollywood productions to Lanai. But
there wasn’t an obvious way to start. For the last two years, he’d been
teaching film at the school, unpaid.


A landscaper sprucing up the area around the community pool
and recreation area in Lanai City. Credit Mark Peterson and Greta Pratt
for The New York Times

afternoon, as a critical exercise, Pacheco had shown his students a
promotional video produced by Love Lanai, a new branding campaign that
Pulama was using to pitch the island to affluent tourists. Love Lanai is
the brainchild of a Southern Californian “approachable luxury” brand
consultant named Audrey Cavenecia. (Cavenecia has previously worked as a
personal “life redesigner” and developed a reality show for E!, “The
Apology Concierge,” which curates “high-end apologies” — like for
wealthy people who cheat on their wives.) The video showed swirling
aerial footage of the island’s beaches and cliffs, a man on a windy
ridge getting down on one knee to propose and a woman on horseback
rising from her saddle slightly, feeling free. It had been posted to
YouTube with the caption: “For Love Lanai, compassionate luxury is more
than just a phrase, it’s an action of purpose,” which doesn’t really
make sense.
an interview that Pachecho found online and showed to his students,
Cavenecia explained that she created Love Lanai to tell the stories of
everyday Lanaians as their lives, under Ellison, improved. It was the
kind of work Pacheco had come home to encourage. But for a branding
consultant to tell those stories, as promotional material for high-end
tourists, felt a little exploitative. “I’m not a spectacle,” he said.
seemed to be having trouble sorting out his feelings — deciding whether
his skepticism was warranted or just reflexive. Most of the island was
private property when Pacheco was growing up too, but Murdock left a
smaller footprint, tending to focus mainly on his hotels. “It never felt
like I was trespassing,” Pacheco said. Now it did. He said he wasn’t
sure he wanted to live on Lanai anymore.
two weeks later, in the middle of April, Pacheco’s situation improved.
Pulama Lanai funded his teaching position as part of its commitment to
improve education. He had a way to support his family now and resources
to start the idealistic work he’d come back to Lanai to do. He’d also
signed a nondisclosure agreement with the company and couldn’t talk to
me anymore.
Different people told
different stories, but for a local named Gail Allen, the first sign
that things had started to go wrong this summer came when Pulama Lanai
inexplicably abandoned its renovation of the golf course behind her
house, and the weeds and thistles grew waist-high and thick as a broom
head, and the fish in the ponds died, and their bodies were left to
knock around the algae-clouded edges of the water, floating on their
course, which is attached to the smaller of the two Four Seasons hotels
and abuts Allen’s neighborhood on the hillside above Lanai City, had
been slated for renovation at the beginning of the year. Pulama ripped
out the turf and irrigation systems, but little else happened after
that. Finally in May, the Jack Nicklaus design-company employee who had
been relocated with his family to Lanai to oversee the redesign was
abruptly sent home. He told neighbors that the golf-course renovation
had been put off until 2015 or 2016. By then, mosquitoes were breeding
on the course. The ponds’ stench blew through peoples’ homes. “It smells
like a sewer up here,” Allen told me in early July when I called for an
owns a gift shop in town and looks a little like Meryl Streep when she
smiles. When we met on her patio back in March, she was adamantly
optimistic; she went on and on, telling me “I feel like I’m living in a
utopia!” and claiming to have inside information that Ellison was
outfitting Lanai with 4G cellular service. “Not even Honolulu has 4G!”
she said. (Actually it does.) Now she was distraught. It wasn’t just the
golf course; there were other signs of Pulama Lanai’s incompetence, or
maybe just its insensitivity — it was tough to tell which. “I don’t
think Mr. Ellison’s trying to hurt people,” she told me on the phone,
“but I don’t think he realizes what a delicate little ecosystem the
economy is here. We were so zealous: ‘Oh, my God, he’s coming to save
our island!’ It just feels like everything’s in limbo now. All of a
sudden, there’s a fear factor: ‘What are we going to do if this thing
falls apart?’ ”
flew back to Lanai a few days later. A lot had gone subtly sideways
since my first visit, as the company transitioned from the easy work of
sprucing up the island to rolling out its reimagined version. A central
problem seemed to be that Pulama underestimated the difficulties that
came with building on Lanai, where materials and labor have to be
brought in. In May, with work on the island consuming more and more
resources, Philip Simon — an accountant, and president of another of
Ellison’s companies, Lawrence Investments — was called in to consult
with Pulama executives. At public meetings, Pulama was now explaining
that it had given up on the second airport runway and was also
downshifting the $27 million makeover of the existing Four Seasons at
Manele Bay too: The company would renovate only half the resort this
year and was scrambling to finish in time for a large booking in
October. (Around town, the event was rumored to be a giant party for
Ellison’s daughter, Megan.) There were now 360 contractors on the job,
many of them living at the hotel and in half of the other Four Seasons
as well. Just before I arrived, Ellison bought the small Hotel Lanai at
the top of Dole Park — the last hotel on the island — and was filling it
with workers every Monday through Friday, too. Ornellas, head of the
Lanai Planning Commission, told me that lately the gist of his
conversations with company executives was: “The infrastructure can’t
support their lofty goals.”
such a small island, every adjustment Pulama made to its plans had
repercussions, and the strain of disenfranchisement I encountered in the
spring was spreading, as more stories of the company’s apparent
carelessness or undependability surfaced. Late last year, for example,
Pulama told the owners of Trilogy Excursions — a large family-owned
business based in Maui that, among other things, runs diving tours for
hotel guests on Lanai and whose employees hand out a free turkey and a
bag of rice to every family on the island at Thanksgiving — that in
October, the Four Seasons would begin running its own dive operation.
Then this spring, Pulama recanted; they were delaying that plan. This
was good news for Trilogy, except that several of its employees,
presuming they’d be out of work, had already taken other jobs, and the
company was now short-staffed.
possible that, internally, Ellison’s management team had reasonable
explanations for what was being experienced as aloofness and disarray.
But down here, on Lanai, locals worried that the inscrutable engineer
remaking their island was either turning away from his creation or —
worse — incapable of manning all those knobs and switches as competently
as they’d believed. People’s lives were entangled in each decision; all
the instability was upsetting their sense of the future.
soon, it’s not going to be the Lanaian way of living here anymore,”
Mike Lopez, Trilogy’s director of operations, told me one afternoon.
“Everybody feels that now.” Then, all of a sudden, he shot out: “See,
this guy here!” and gestured across the street, to a willowy man with a
gray beard, in a ball cap and sunglasses, standing at the edge of Dole
Park. It was a new face that Lopez kept noticing around, always alone.
“I don’t know if they put people in to observe the atmosphere or what,”
he said.

Continue reading the main story
just feels like everything’s in limbo now. All of a sudden, there’s a
fear factor. ‘‘What are we going to do if this thing falls apart?’’ ’

turned around. The man, who’d paused next to a garbage can, quickly
walked away. I’m not really equipped to judge whether a stranger on
Lanai looks sinister or not. But neither was Lopez anymore, and that was
the point.
The week I returned,
those feelings of suspicion on Lanai were coming to a head over what
has been the most volatile political issue on the island for
generations: water.
planned desalination plant, already in its first phase of construction
near the Four Seasons at Manele Bay, was a linchpin in Ellison’s vision;
by converting up to 10 million gallons of salinated groundwater into
fresh water a day, it would make more development and population growth
possible. Earlier this year, the company went to the Lanai Planning
Commission for a 30-year special-use permit to operate the plant. (The
commission, made up of nine residents, is the one body of truly local
government on Lanai. Everything else on the island gets decided by the
county government, on Maui, or the state, in Honolulu. And it’s worth
noting that while Ellison has declined to meet with Lanai residents, he
hosted Alan Arakawa — the mayor of Maui County, which includes Lanai —
for lunch on his yacht and held two big-ticket fund-raisers for Gov.
Neil Abercrombie before Abercrombie lost his primary in August.) But
after months of hearings, the Planning Commission rejected Pulama’s
request and decided to issue a permit for 15 years instead. The move may
sound insignificant, but as Robin Kaye, a longtime resident, who helped
lead the resistance to Murdock’s wind farm, pointed out, “This is the
first time in two years, in a formal way, that any part of the community
has said no to something Pulama has asked.” And it provoked the first
instance of outright intransigence the community had seen from Pulama.
During one of the final meetings about the plant in June, Kurt Matsumoto
kept issuing the same ultimatum: Without a guarantee of 30 years of
operation, he said, the company probably wouldn’t build the plant. It
just wouldn’t be worth the investment. “It’s not a threat,” Matsumoto
explained, adding later: “But we’re not here to negotiate that tonight.”
I ran into Pat Reilly, the gentleman I met at the Blue Ginger Cafe in
the spring, he broke down the altercation for me. It was starting to
feel as if Matsumoto and his team saw the local political process as an
annoyance, he said. They weren’t acting like elected officials, building
public support for their agenda; they were acting like they owned the
place — because they did. “The local people want a say,” Reilly
explained. “And this was their chance. It was a display of power.
Psychologically, it makes all kinds of sense to me.”
now, the standoff was taking on an ugly feel. Many residents felt the
commission had acted impetuously, handcuffing Ellison the same way
activists sabotaged Murdock’s wind-farm proposal — even if, in this
case, the commission wasn’t actually opposed to the plant and had, in
fact, given the project a green light. The commission, meanwhile, had
just received a stern letter from Pulama’s attorney on Maui, laying out a
complicated argument attacking a separate restriction written into the
permit. (The restriction stipulated that, once the plant was up and
running, the hotel and surrounding homes could only draw water from the
island’s main aquifer in emergencies, and only then for human
afternoon, I was waiting out a rain shower in one of Pulama’s Four
Seasons, enjoying a very expensive ginger ale and some free popcorn,
when I overheard a woman venting to the bartender about the commission’s
audacity and underhandedness. “This is a lot of money they’re playing
with!” she said. She grumbled about one former commissioner in
particular, whom she saw as a ringleader, and huffed, “What was she
thinking?” She went on and got louder, until she’d finally talked
herself out.
minutes later, I walked into a public meeting that Pulama was holding
at the old union hall in town and saw the owner of a luxury home near
the resort — a very large man in a polo shirt — standing over Pat
Reilly, pointing and shouting: “Talk some sense into those people! They
want to shut off our water!” I also saw the woman from the bar, smiling
and offering people pastries and bottled water: it was Lynn McCrory,
Pulama’s senior vice president of government affairs.
Sept. 12, Pulama suddenly stopped construction at the desalination
plant. It was unclear when — or even if — it would restart. “Sounds like
the baby couldn’t get his way,” Ornellas, the head of the Planning
Commission, told me. “It’s sad it had to come to this.”
Before I’d ever
been to Lanai, I watched a public-television interview online with a
man named Kepa Maly, who was an authority on the island’s cultural
history, and an unlikely one. He wasn’t Hawaiian but a white man in a
faded aloha shirt, with large, wire-frame glasses and a soft, breathy
voice. Even on the Internet, everything about him felt welcoming and
also a little square. He reminded me of a children’s folk singer from
the ’70s.
was born on Oahu, he explained to the interviewer. As a child, he felt
disconnected and lost, and eventually he was taken in by the Kaopuikis,
one of Lanai’s oldest families. Mr. and Mrs. Kaopuiki were born in the
1890s, 30 years before James Dole planted his first pineapple on Lanai,
and they raised Maly the way they raised their 14 other children:
speaking Hawaiian and steeped in the island’s history and traditions.
Maly was enthralled, and ever since he has dedicated his life to
perpetuating traditional Hawaiian culture. He was now executive director
of the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, a nonprofit museum at the top
of Dole Park. Kepa was the name the Kaopuikis gave him. It means “to
called Maly, but never heard back. So one afternoon in March, I knocked
on the door of the small blue house where I was told he worked. I’d
just started to introduce myself when the openness on his face collapsed
into what seemed like embarrassment. He knew who I was, he said. “I
guess it was rude not to call you back. But I have to be cautious.” The
thing was, he’d taken a job at Pulama Lanai. He wanted to talk with me,
but I needed to clear it with the company first. After some phone calls,
and another fruitless face-off with the impregnable Roger, the company
surprised me: I would be allowed to interview Maly the next day.
experience with the previous owner was a challenging one,” he explained
when we reconvened. But all that difficulty went away when Ellison
arrived. “It was really awesome!” he said. Last year, Pulama hired him
as its senior vice president of culture and historic preservation. He
has 10 employees now. A crew was out that afternoon clearing the area
around the religious center of ancient Lanai, and they’d soon be
restoring ancient fish ponds and taro fields. It was the sort of
stewardship he’d continually asked the island’s previous ownership to
support. “Now, all the things we were talking about, but really
struggling on, we are out in the field doing,” he said.
had not yet met Ellison, but he believed that Ellison understood that
investing in the preservation of Lanai’s culture and history is, at the
very least, good business. Today’s tourists, especially wealthy ones,
value more than beaches and mai tais. “It’s place-based now. People want
‘authentic.’ People want real experiences,” he said.
heard the same explanation that morning from Tom Roelens, the manager
of the Four Seasons at Manele Bay. Roelens led me through a newly
renovated room, noting all the local touches, like the wall panel
illustrating the story of the demigod Maui and the canoe paddle over the
toilet. (“It’s just a stunning room product,” Roelens beamed. “It truly
reflects Hawaii.”) Often, he said, resorts insulate guests from the
community. But on Lanai, the owner of the resort wasn’t in competition
with the surroundings; he owned most of those, too. “Lanai is this
entire experience,” Roelens said. And the people of Lanai are part of
that experience, as well. Nearly a quarter of the island works at the
two hotels, he explained, and the company believes improving residents’
quality of life will “truly translate to the guest experience.” Ellison
had once articulated this philosophy himself: “We think, If we do a good
job taking care of the locals, the locals will do a good job taking
care of our visitors.”
sounded like the same Silicon Valley philosophy that spawned all the
epicurean cafeterias, yoga classes and nap pods on tech-company campuses
— amenities designed to keep engineers happy and maximize their
productivity. But now, in his office, Kepa Maly reminded me that it was a
much older model too, and one that Lanai had fared pretty well under.
“It’s just like Dole said,” he said. “Have happy workers, grow better
asked Maly if he had doubts about going to work for Pulama. Yes,
initially, he said. “And I have to tell you, sometimes I question my
ability to be a good assessor of people’s integrity.” But he pressed
company executives, and they assured him that they were committed to
protecting the island’s cultural resources. “I have to believe that,” he
told me. “We have to.” He explained that, when he was a
newcomer to Lanai, people could have viewed him with the same mistrust
some felt toward Ellison. Instead, they welcomed him. “I was blessed
that some of the oldest families on Lanai took aloha for me, and taught
me their language and shared their histories. It gave me my whole life,”
Maly said. “I realize that we can always be cynical, and question
motives,” he added. “But it’s also just a junk way to live.”
wanted to show me something: There are three words printed on Pulama’s
business cards: “Preservation. Progress. Sustainability.” His work —
preservation — is one of those words. “It’s the first one,” he
noted. He said it with conviction, as if he were lucky enough to live in
some unspoiled world where the slogan on a corporation’s business cards
reflected its genuine values. Maybe he still did. But maybe he didn’t

Larry Ellison Bought an Island in Hawaii. Now What? -

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#Lionfish: Here’s how “disruptive innovation” works in nature: a killing-machine fish has colonized reefs from Venezuela to Rhode Island – Quartz

In a way, ecosystems are like markets—ones with perfect competition, where the struggle to eat and avoid being eaten long enough to breed is so intense that no market participant can dominate. Evolution, in other word, makes “disruptive innovation” impossible.
If that sounds a touch apocalyptic, consider the lionfish. Native to Indo-Pacific coral reefs, these venomous creatures have long been admired by aquarium fanatics for their toffee coloring and frilly halo of fins and quills. The global explosion of the aquarium made them common in living room seascapes everywhere. Then in 1985, someone released 10 or so female lionfish in south Florida waters. DNA analysis traces the entire Atlantic population back to those females.
Sometimes this disruption has been so stark that it created a monopoly—placing a species in an ecosystem with plentiful food and no natural predators. Without any competitive threats, the species takes over.
And it’s an extensive lineage. In less than three decades, lionfish have colonized a swath of the Atlantic Ocean that’s roughly the size of the US.
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Here’s how “disruptive innovation” works in nature: a killing-machine fish has colonized reefs from Venezuela to Rhode Island – Quartz

Sunday, September 14, 2014

36 Hours in #Cartagena, #Colombia @NYTimes

It really makes you want to go! The no-longer hidden gem that is Cartagena.

36 Hours in Cartagena, Colombia

Lining the ancient walls of Cartagena, Colombia, travelers find traditional food, beautiful beaches and a nightlife that heats up long after the sun goes down.
Video Credit By Fritzie Andrade and One Glass Video on Publish Date September 10, 2014.
From afar, Cartagena’s skyline is deceptive. Its white towers rise above the Caribbean from a peninsula of tan sand and concrete, making it look like a bigger, beachier metropolis than it is. But with fewer than a million people, Cartagena is a sliver of the size of Rio de Janeiro or Los Angeles. One might expect the crisp new skyscrapers in Bocagrande to be in the midst of a vital, cosmopolitan downtown. Instead, Cartagena’s character — its lush plazas, fruit vendors and street art — is contained in two small, impossibly photogenic neighborhoods: the walled Old City and the rising barrio Getsemaní. There, in the birthplace of Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realism, are the city’s most refined restaurants, its museums and balconies that spill over with flowering bougainvillea. But even in its most energetic quarters, Cartagena is not so much a place to do, as a place to be.
1. Sweet Spot | 4 p.m.
On a steamy afternoon, drop into La Paletteria, where a glass case contains dozens of paletas — agua (water), crema (cream) or yogurt ice pops — in flavors like tamarind, coconut and Milo, a locally beloved chocolate-malt drink. A few doors down, Swikar sells colorful hard candy. The storefront attracts onlookers who watch caramelo makers swirl, spread and shape sugar syrup into strawberries, watermelon wedges and orange slices. Around the corner, Gelateria Paradiso looks like an English teahouse, with upholstered benches and white wicker furniture, but its gelato tastes of tropical ingredients like hibiscus flower, passion fruit and the local plum, ciruela criolla.
2. Along the Watch Tower | 5:30 p.m.
With dripping paleta in hand, climb the fortified walls and walk the periphery of the Old City, where vendors hawk Cuban cigars and icy cans of cerveza Aguila, and young couples swoon in cannon portals, looking out across the choppy Caribbean. For those who cannot resist lingering over the sunset, there are touristy, but enticing, outdoor cafes that serve pricey cocktails and wines. Then, trace the stone wall back toward Puerta del Reloj, the clock tower gate that marks the entrance to the centro histórico. On the way, stop in at NH Galería, a modern-art gallery and museum with a small, intriguing collection of works by Colombian and international artists.
Enjoying the Caribbean view from the walls of the Old City. Credit David Freid for The New York Times
3. Home-Style | 7 p.m.
From El Reloj, take the walkway that passes in front of the city’s muscular convention center and into the Getsemaní neighborhood. On a narrow, blocklong side street, La Cocina de Pepina is a pink-and-orange-walled six-table dining room run by a local food historian and her nephew, who speaks fluent English. The restaurant celebrates Colombian coastal cuisine with a chalkboard menu of dishes like ajies rellenos (roasted, stuffed chiles, 16,000 Colombian pesos, $8.50 at 1,880 pesos to the dollar), sopa Caribe (a Caribbean seafood soup; 38,400 pesos), an appetizer of cabeza de gato (balls of yucca, cassava and plantains with a roasted red pepper sauce, 13,000 pesos) and the hard-to-find Colombian craft beer Apóstol (8,000 pesos).
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4. Digestif | 9 p.m.
For after-dinner people-watching, head to the heart of Getsemaní, Plaza de la Trinidad, where kids kick soccer balls, hippies strum guitars and bohemian Argentines sip mate on the church steps. Emblematic of this fast-changing, formerly working-class neighborhood, Demente is a trendy tapas bar housed in what is supposedly the area’s oldest home. Opened last year by a Spanish-trained Bogotá native, the bar has wooden rocking chairs — several of which line the sidewalk — and Pop Art on the walls, including mirrors painted with silhouettes of Gandhi, Michael Jackson and Woody Woodpecker. With one of the few beer taps in the city, an impressive selection of imported booze and a tapas menu that may include small plates like sardinas a la plancha (grilled sardines, 8,500 pesos) and the gazpacho-like cold soup salmorejo con jamón Serrano (9,000 pesos), Demente is a prime spot for passing time before Cartagena’s notoriously late-night night life gets going.
5. Shake a Tail Feather | 11:30 p.m.
In an attractive edifice overlooking the walled city, the second-floor nightclub Quiebra-Canto has terra-cotta tile floors, vintage jazz posters on the walls and no cover. If it’s quiet, sit on the child-size chairs on the narrow balcony and watch the horse-drawn carriages go by. On weekends, the tables are pulled aside and the dance party goes late into the night. On the third floor, a movie salon hosts occasional screenings of Latin American independent films. Around the corner, on Cartagena’s hostel row, it’s not uncommon for Café Havana (8,000 pesos cover) to have a line outside and snarling bartenders inside, but the retro Cubano atmosphere, a swinging live salsa band and an indulgent 4 a.m. closing time compensate for its faults.
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36 Hours

Spend a virtual weekend in destinations all over the globe. Explore 36 Hours »
6. Hangover Cure | 9 a.m.
After a night of mojitos and music, few things are as satisfying as Cartagena’s fritos, or fried street snacks, like arepas de huevo (a disk of fried corn masa, slit open and fried again with an egg inside), carimañola de queso (cheese-filled yucca) and papas rellenas (potato balls stuffed with farmer’s cheese), often sold straight from a sidewalk vat of hot oil. For a more leisurely morning meal, Mila Vargas’s flagship, Pastelería Mila, has pistachio muffins, banana split cupcakes and savory offerings like a Caprese quiche with mozzarella, spinach and tomato. Try the coconut lemonade (6,500 pesos), or the brain-freezing mango smoothie (7,500 pesos).
7. Skip the Siesta | 11:30 a.m.
The sidewalks of the walled city are blanketed with generic handicrafts. For better quality souvenirs, spend the sweltering midday hour dipping into air-conditioned boutiques. You can find, for example, the city’s unofficial uniform — white, head-to-toe — at Ketty Tinoco, which sells classic guayaberas, linen slacks and lacy dresses, as well as colorful children’s clothes.
8. Ready, Set, Lunch | 1:30 p.m.
A couple of blocks east of Plaza Fernandez de Madrid, La Mulata is a stylish take on the traditional Latin American set lunch, serving a rotating menu of four entrees, six days a week (closed Sundays). Saturday’s quartet includes cazuela de mariscos, a stew of coconut milk, octopus, shrimp, calamari and fish, served with patacones (twice-fried plantains) and coconut rice (20,000 pesos), and camarones al ajillo — a generous serving of shrimp, cooked in white wine, garlic and olive oil and served with fried plantains and seafood chowder (13,000 pesos).
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Kitesurfing in Cartagena. Credit David Freid for The New York Times
9. On the High | 3 p.m.
For an adrenaline pick-me-up, schedule a two-hour introductory class with Cartagena Kitesurf School (180,000 pesos). For a street-level view of the city, register for a Tierra Magna audio tour of Cartagena that evokes the work of the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, known here as Gabo.
10. Get Fresh | 8 p.m.
The small seafood restaurant El Boliche Cebicheria serves inventive ceviches. Start with a boliguaro de corozo cocktail, an artful mix of aguardiente — Colombia’s potent anise liquor — and local cherry juice (17,000 pesos), and an order of the white fish, calamari, shrimp, octopus or sea snail ceviches, served in a base of tamarind (28,000 pesos), coconut (26,000) or sweet local peppers (24,000). For a more traditional interpretation, try the restaurant attached to the Mister Babilla nightclub. Ignore the theme décor, and focus on El Mesón de María y Mulata’s good ceviches, including cebiche Islas del Rosario (grouper and snook in lime and orange juice, with avocado, onion, green olives, cilantro and olive oil) for 16,000 pesos.
11. Day Trip | 9 a.m.
Instead of making do with Bocagrande’s mediocre beach, hop a lancha — a long, fast motorboat — to Isla Barú and go to Playa Blanca, a stretch of white sand backed by mangroves and lined with palapas. At the entrance to the docks, agents representing each of the half-dozen or so tour companies compete for passengers. Prices typically run around 35,000 pesos, not including lunch. Boats tend to leave when full, beginning around 9 a.m. To ensure that you’re not among the last to launch, ask to see the passenger list and choose the boat with the most names. The ride takes 45 minutes and goes by fishing villages, the eerie statue of La Virgen del Carmen at the entrance to Cartagena’s busy port and the 18th-century fort of San José de Bocachica.
12. Take It Easy | 11 a.m.
Indulgences come cheap on Playa Blanca, where women walk the beach offering back massages, oyster vendors squeeze lime over shucked ostras and beachfront restaurants serve just-caught pargo (snapper), langoustines or lobster, starting at about 15,000 pesos. Many tour boats to Isla Barú continue on, for the same price, to the Islas del Rosario — an archipelago of coral islands, some topped by the ruins of what were once Pablo Escobar’s ostentatious vacation homes. Boats arrive back in Cartagena by around 4 p.m.

El Boliche
Tcherassi Hotel & Spa
Casa San Agustin
Gelateria Paradiso
Islas del
Kitesurf School
Plaza de la Trinidad
El Mesón de
María y Mulata
La Cocina
de Pepina

Read the story and see all the addresses and maps online here: 36 Hours in Cartagena, Colombia -
________________________ The MasterLiving Blog

Saturday, September 13, 2014

El #Helicoide - Tropical Babel — Failed #Architecture

This is one of the best articles I have read recently on Venezuela. 

The Helicoide is known to most Caraqueños as the HQ of the infamous DISIP or the national state intelligence police (now SEBIN); a place of torture and sinister police officers. 

It's architectural history tells the story of venezuela in the last 60 years. 

Tropical Babel — Failed Architecture

By Celeste Olalquiaga

The Tower of Babel exists, not in Babylon but in South America, in a country of endless oil towers and surgery-happy Miss Universes (seven so far, a world record): Venezuela, or Little Venice, as the conquistadors called this land where indigenous huts built on wooden stakes recalled the fabled city surrounded by its lagoon. Venezuela's architectural etymology seems to have anticipated its urban exuberance, a dynamism notable even for a continent in which architectural feats are hardly exceptional.
Beached cruise ship, fallen flying saucer, futuristic ruin; sitting amid the slums of San Agustín, in south-central Caracas, El Helicoide de la Roca Tarpeya looks different from every angle. So too do the many stories that haunt this construction, all as convoluted as its magnificent, double-spiral coils. Like its Babylonian inspiration, El Helicoide too was an ambitious project stopped short, in its case by the less-than-divine designs of politics. Like its famous predecessor, this concrete building—constructed in 1960 as a drive-in mall, the only one of its kind, where drivers could spiral up and down, parking right in front of the business of their choice—was halted shortly before completion. It was then abandoned to a fate that included oblivion and decay; multiple failed governmental projects; occupation by squatters and intelligence police; and episodes of drugs, sex, and torture; all sources for an endless number of legends, each more fascinating than the last.
In the 1950s, the combination of thirty years of oil revenues and a dictator, General Marcos Pérez Jiménez, bent on modernizing Caracas, made Venezuela into a haven for foreign architects. Some, like Graziano Gasparini or Federico Beckhoff, came looking for new opportunities and adopted the city as their permanent home. Others, including Gio Ponti and Oscar Niemeyer, visited briefly and were taken by the city's modern orientation. The former contributed the famous "Villa Planchart," kept intact as a 1950s icon to this day; the latter proposed a huge inverted triangle for the city's museum of modern art, a project that was never executed. A few collaborated with local counterparts to design one-of-a-kind buildings. This was the case with Marcel Breuer and Herbert Berckhard, who partnered with Ernesto Fuenmayor and Manuel Sayago on "El Recreo," a business and commercial complex that was also never realized, and with Dirk Bornhorst and Pedro Neuberger, two young German-born Venezuelan architects who were taken under the wing of Jorge ("Yoyo") Romero Gutiérrez to help build modern Caracas. "There is so much to do," Romero Gutiérrez would say. "Everything is possible."
And so they set to the task, joining the likes of Carlos Villanueva, whose Universidad Central de Venezuela, which boasts a modernist campus with fluid lines and integrated art (including works by Léger, Arp, Vasarely, and Calder), was declared a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 2000; the daring Fruto Vivas, whose splendid auditorium shell covering El Club Táchira is a prime example of organic architecture; or Tomás José Sanabria, designer of the cylindrical mountain hotel El Humboldt, named after the German explorer who witnessed a meteor shower on a visit to the country in 1799.
In 1955, Romero Gutiérrez firm, Arquitectura y Urbanismo, landed a juicy deal. The owner of La Roca Tarpeya, a 328,000 square-foot hill, wanted to build a series of small apartment buildings accessible via a steep street. Romero Gutiérrez and his partners devised an alternative plan, changing the original idea from a residential to a more lucrative commercial development, and proposing a street that would spiral upwards, the roof of the premises below acting as a platform for the lanes above—a more economical and efficient use of the available space. The street eventually became a two-and-a-half-mile road, with alternating ascending and descending levels that comprise two interlocking spirals that resemble the genetic double helix. One thousand parking spaces, two for each business in the complex, would line the way.
A modern shopping mall, "El Helicoide: Centro Comercial y Exposición de Industrias," was designed to include large exhibition halls for the burgeoning national industries (oil, gas, iron, aluminum, agriculture); an automobile showroom; a gym and swimming pool; restaurants; nurseries; discotheques; a giant cinema; a first-rate hotel in which all the major airlines had offices; a heliport to fly passengers to and from the airport; and a full system of internal access with diagonal elevators and mechanical stairs. At its summit, under a dome designed by Buckminster Fuller, visitors could purchase souvenirs. The landscaping was to be designed by Roberto Burle Marx. El Helicoide was state-of-the-art, even by US standards.
"The whole construction," as Bornhorst, its sole surviving architect, writes in his book El Helicoide, "was conceived as an artistic urban sculpture, an architectural pièce de résistance, smoothly adapted to the rhythm of the surrounding hills, itself forming another rise within the urban topography" in the valley of Caracas, whose hills made the architects dream of creating a tropical Acropolis. The budget for the 436,000-square-foot reinforced-concrete development was set at $10 million. By the time it was abandoned, costs had reached $24 million.
The model was inaugurated at the architects' headquarters, the Centro Profesional del Este, in September 1955 with Pérez Jiménez in attendance, a questionable alliance whose extent is yet to be determined but which would eventually cost the project its life. Soon after, the colossal effort to raise the coiling tower began, with a plan as extreme as its shape: La Roca Tarpeya was sculpted inch by inch in order to fit El Helicoide hand in glove. This strategy dramatically constrained the building, as El Helicoide is literally sandwiched between the hill and the building's enveloping road, providing no more than twenty-two to fifty feet of usable depth.
El Helicoide was an instant hit, its shape and scale attracting the attention of architects worldwide. Photos of the model appeared on the front page of foreign newspapers and occupied a prominent place at the Museum of Modern Art's 1961 "Roads" exhibition. (El Helicoide is also set to appear in the museum's spring 2015 retrospective on modern Latin American architecture). Back home in Venezuela, an advertising campaign to pre-sell the commercial spaces for the different businesses the building would house (an innovative form of raising capital at the time) produced drinking glasses, stickers, and key chains. Hoping El Helicoide would catalyze the urban development of southern Caracas, a boulevard connecting the building to the Botanical Gardens (next to Villanueva's recently inaugurated Universidad Central de Venezuela ) was planned. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote that El Helicoide was "one of the most exquisite creations ever to have sprung from the mind of an architect." Salvador Dalí offered to decorate it with his art.
And then it all came to a halt—a slow, gradual halt that took everybody by surprise and from which El Helicoide never recovered. In January 1958, Marcos Pérez Jiménez was overthrown. Contrary to popular belief, El Helicoide was still not under construction, since only the custom-carving of La Roca Tarpeya had taken place between 1957 and 1958. Construction actually began in October 1958, under the provisional military government of Wolfgang Larrazábal, which oversaw the transition to democracy and allowed the building to go forward as long as its developers hired a large number of unemployed workers, part of a national emergency plan. They did, and El Helicoide roared on with 1,500 men working in three shifts round the clock for the next year and a half.
It was democracy that dealt El Helicoide its fatal blow. How exactly this happened is still unclear. Some blame the newly formed government of Rómulo Betancourt, which, unwilling to continue and thus legitimate the dictatorship's massive urban renewal of Caracas, put conditions on a line of credit that had previously been granted to El Helicoide. The company balked, embarking on a lengthy legal dispute that would end only in 1976 when the empty building became state property. Others, including Pedro Neuberger, state that following Pérez Jiménez's ousting, the main shareholders of El Helicoide (IVECA, a company owned by Roberto Capriles) fled the country, leaving the building financially adrift. In any event, contractors were not paid, and the business owners who had bought into the project sued the construction company, which went bankrupt. End of story for El Helicoide, the mall.
During the next twenty years, the construction that had made international headlines stood in almost total silence. Its architects despaired over their fantastic venture gone sour and turned to other projects. True to its modern temperament, always looking forward and never back, Caracas moved on, forgetting its magnificent spiral to consumer heaven. To their credit, local governments attempted to save the frozen giant. One after another, administration after administration proposed different commercial, cultural, and commercial-cultural plans, twenty-seven in total: automobile center, performance center, museum of art, tourism center, modern cemetery, center of radio and television, multi-cinema, national library, museum of anthropology, and environmental center, to name a few.
Of these, only the last two actually got under way, giving some life to the building's empty halls—if we don't count the massive occupation by squatters from 1979 to 1982, that is. Spurred by the official relocation of five hundred landslide refugees in El Helicoide in 1979, small groups began to install themselves in the building. By 1982, the unfinished structure was home to some twelve thousand squatters, all living without basic services in an economically depressed part of town. The building became a zone for trafficking in drugs and sex, with attendant high crime rates. This situation was literally washed away with hydraulic force in 1982 to open the way for the Museum of Anthropology.
The Museum of Anthropology plan managed to finally place on the complex's roof the Buckminster Fuller dome, which had been stored for over twenty years at a local warehouse. It didn't get much further, despite having enlisted the collaboration of El Helicoide's main original architect, Romero Gutiérrez (who, refusing to set foot in it again, counseled from a distance). The four high-tech Austrian Wertheim elevators, for example—each capable of carrying thirty-two people and designed to move diagonally on a thirtysix degree incline along the hill's slope at a speed of 6.6 feet per second—were found at Venezuela's main port, La Guaira, languishing away incomplete. They had arrived with great fanfare two decades earlier, but by 1982, very few people even remembered what those enormous machines actually were.
Soon after the museum plans were abandoned, another type of occupant began to install itself. Starting in 1984, the Venezuelan intelligence police (then DISIP, now SEBIN) gradually began to establish its headquarters in El Helicoide, the perfect panopticon with a 360-degree view of Caracas. A new kind of darkness set upon the building, this time arising from its conversion into a detention center. High-tech surveillance equipment was installed, officers delighted to be able to ride their cars to their offices à la James Bond. There were political prisoners, there was torture; SWAT teams would stop anyone taking a picture of the building from the surrounding highways.
Some believe the place is cursed. (The hill, after all, was named for Rome's Tarpeian Rock, from which the daughter of the Roman general Tarpeius was thrown after being killed for betraying the city to the Sabines.) In 1992, for example, Julio Coll and Jorge Castillo, architects of the most progressive of the projects imagined for El Helicoide—the Centro Ambiental de Venezuela, designed to house the ministry of the environment, a laudably early response in the region to an underrecognized global problem—sought to dispel the negative energy that they thought might have been blocking the building's progress. The duo took several measures to address its bad vibes, starting with a meditation under the Fuller dome during which they claimed to have heard voices informing them that an indigenous cemetery on La Roca Tarpeya had been disturbed during the construction of the building. Coll and Castillo's project was completed in 1993, a magnificent headquarters that included a library with marble niches on the building's top level. All to no avail—the Centro Ambiental was never inaugurated, and within a few months a new government had appropriated its glowing headquarters for the senior commanders of the DISIP. La Roca Tarpeya had struck again.
A few years later, the DISIP was joined by training schools for the police and the military, namely the Universidad Nacional Experimental de la Seguridad (UNES) and the Universidad Nacional Experimental de las Fuerzas Armadas (UNEFA). So proud of El Helicoide that it featured the building in a 2007 philatelic commemoration, DISIP was rebuked in June 2012 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which determined that its detention center was in breach of international prison conventions on hygiene. A serious bacterial outbreak a year later finally led to the transfer of prisoners to other facilities, but the center still houses short-term detainees. The irony is staggering: a place that was meant to be a highway to consumer heaven became instead a stairway to hell, as if the spiral had spun downward instead of upward, opening the way for El Helicoide's particular twist on its sacred referent, the Babylonian ziggurat. After all, the ziggurat is meant to connect the earth not only with the heavens above but also with the ground beneath. El Helicoide: a tropical ziggurat gone astray.
Rumors have it that El Helicoide has subterranean tunnels reaching out to different parts of the city. Like a rhizomatic helix whose coils spread waste and disillusionment, the slums around it have multiplied, as has the security apparatus that emerges from its entrails. The former grow so close to the building that they morph topographically with its curves; the latter use the building as a launch pad for their operations. A surreal platform, El Helicoide is as unexpected, unpredictable, and unique as Caracas's ever-changing physiognomy.
For most caraqueños, El Helicoide is simply a part of the landscape, one of the many unfinished or abandoned buildings that add to the city's irregular topography and unwieldy urbanism. For others, it is a reminder of the 1950s and 1960s, when Caracas underwent its modern boom, expanding in all senses. It was a utopian time that some remember with deep-felt nostalgia, whether for the dictatorial regime that gave the city its modern infrastructure or for the burgeoning democracy that immediately took its place after decades of quasi-consecutive dictators, each one stamping his own distinctive character on the fertile valley that once housed coffee and tobacco haciendas.
In the four decades after the discovery of oil in 1918, Caracas went from a quiet, semi-rural town of 140,000 inhabitants to an effervescent capital of the Americas with a population of more than 1.2 million and filled with highways, skyscrapers, and also schools for the families of employees of foreign oil companies (Shell, Mobil, Exxon) that were busily pumping Venezuelan oil. Like that oil, democracy gushed into existence, young and full of projects, eager to embrace a modernity for which Venezuela finally seemed ripe, ready to catch up with a world it had long admired. However, as with many other nations, Venezuela built its democratic dream on the back of a vast majority that it rarely saw, and acknowledged even less. The "fabulous party," as Venezuelans themselves call the period from the 1940s through the 1970s, came to its final end in 1999 with the rise of the Bolivarian Revolution headed by Hugo Chávez. But the party had finished long before, and if anything, El Helicoide is the best testament to the extremes that have led Venezuela by the nose, swinging from despair to excitement and back again.
Modernity is a tricky condition, especially in countries like Venezuela, whose oil-driven emergence from a semi-feudal economy was nothing short of radical, and where catching up was not the same as growing up or becoming independent as a nation. On the contrary, catching up meant becoming if not equal, at least comparable, to its complicated northern neighbor, the United States. It meant being able to emulate the North American model, understood as the model of the future, of progress based on the paradigms of capital investment and mechanical efficiency. It meant, in a typically Venezuelan manner, beating the "gringos" at their own game: for example, building a supermall that would leave them stunned.
And so it did. In their essay for MoMA's "Roads" catalogue, Bernard Rudofsky and Arthur Drexler make the point that El Helicoide's "adventurous enterprise has been undertaken in Latin America and not in the United States, where both highways and shopping centers are among our most ambitious efforts." Nelson Rockefeller tried to buy El Helicoide, but even he couldn't overcome the legal quagmire that paralyzed the building until the state intervened and took it over. El Helicoide was a feat of the imagination and of technology, yes, but in a context where such things are secondary, where continuity is non-existent and maintenance considered a waste of time, and where purpose falls prey to a proprietary politics that binds the country to its leaders in a perverse filiation.
In the end, El Helicoide stands for exactly the opposite of what it was built to be. Instead of a dynamic center of exchange that might have revitalized the area and its surroundings, the building grew melancholically inward, fated, like an obsessive thought, to repeat its failure over and over again. Rather than expansive, it became sinister, a threatening fortress of "law and order" in a country that endemically ignores both. The building that could have become a symbol of modernity's progressive thrust became instead an emblem of its failures—of the price paid for wishing to change everything at all costs, for imposing a vision unilaterally, for dreaming for others what they may not want to dream at all. As such, many think that in its ruined condition, El Helicoide offers the most appropriate portrait of a dystopic Caracas.
For the last thirty years, El Helicoide has been like a black sun, radiating inconspicuous state control, detention, and surveillance. For some, this fate might seem better than its lying in derelict abandon, yet it is far, very far, from the grandiose aspirations that fueled its original construction. And farther away still from the sacred geometry underlying pyramids and temples, the spiral dance at the origin of life and of these unique structures. Like them, El Helicoide, literally carved in stone, will outlast centuries of human history, even nuclear blasts. It will remain an icon of a future that never quite made it to the present.
This article has been published in issue #52 of Cabinet and was written by Celeste Olalquiaga. She is the director of Proyecto Helicoide, an 'independent initiative which aims to culturally evaluate El Helicoide de la Roca Tarpeya, its structure, history and memory, through a series of exhibitions, publications and educational activities'.


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