The beloved proprietress of the Nui—Louise Marsten—is conspicuous in her absence. The Tahitian grand dame of the rollicking Nui passed away last summer. Her memorial service brought together a promenade of Tahitian royalty and local civic leaders, helicopters dropped orchids, and traffic in Hanalei was stopped for half a day. She had a heart of gold, Cathy says of her friend Louise. "It didn’t matter what you did all during the day. When you walked into the Nui, you gave to the moment with your heart and soul," she proclaims. We toast to the future of the Nui—and the future of Hanalei.
I always knew a lot of artists in Hanalei. The area boasts a fair number, probably for the same reasons that Seattle has a lot of umbrella salesmen. Or does it? Anyway, the point is a torrent of eye candy rains down on you here and it’s only natural to want to do something about it—even if it means endlessly collecting seashells for a mobile that sprawls half-done for years in the garage (my great opus).
The day after I meet Cathy, I drive out to see my old friends, Sharon and Doug Britt. Both went to high-powered serious art schools, but while their colleagues went on to make edgy art in drab cities, they moved to Hanalei and opened up the first gallery in town. They used to live in a home on the beach next to Charo on Haena’s "movie star row." (Sharon had a picture of "our gang" on New Year’s Day 1988 linking arms on the sand with Michael J. Fox and Billy Idol.) Sharon would stage slide shows of her photography on the beach, setting up a screen in front of rows of deck chairs—it looked like a drive-in movie for the shipwrecked. Doug painted big blocky boats and milk-maidenish ladies and went through a chartreuse phase.
After Hurricane Iniki pummeled Kauai in 1992, Doug and Sharon closed their gallery for a while. When they re-opened, much to their surprise, sales were brisk. Their success continues. Doug has a rep in Los Angeles, a fact unbeknownst to clientele at the Hanalei gallery who rather imagine they’ve come across the next Gauguin. "People go Ohmygod! I’ve discovered this artist!’" laughs Sharon. In fact, the gallery does feature a number of Hanalei artists waiting to be "discovered," artists who all thrive on the way that the area’s vistas and light drink in one another’s shadows.
A sprinkling of celebrities continues to stream through the gallery, but Sharon and Doug say no one pays the stars any extra attention. And isn’t Hanalei the real star, after all? We all agree that the place fosters a live-and-let-live ethic, otherwise known as aloha.
Okay, with some exceptions. There is a Hollywood producer who recently incensed people in Hanalei by trying to deny public beach access through his property. Sharon and Doug tell the story of how the local radio station KKCR spoke for the community by dedicating an hour of songs to the guy, songs like Hit the Road, Jack! KKCR’s anything-goes format is just the right soundtrack for Hanalei life, Sharon says. As I drive off, a voice on KKCR reminds me, "All life is a dance." Another deejay wonders, "Ahh, but is it a waltz or a cha cha?"