HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – After Borders . . . Books, Nooks & Crannies

By Kelly Moran

After Borders . . . Books, Nooks & Crannies

One of the saddest days of this past summer was closing day at Borders. The powers-that-be in the huge nationwide chain evidently counted the beans and decided that their Hilo store was not selling enough books (or audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, knickknacks, or coffee drinks) to meet its quota.

The store’s local management and staff were let go – the decision to close was not theirs to make. And those of us on Borders’ email news list got an unpleasant surprise when someone in the chain’s marketing team sent emails urging us to simply take our business to the “nearest” Borders. That, of course, is in Kailua-Kona, over 100 miles away.

Borders was the only full-service new-book bookstore in Hilo: meaning, that’s where you had to go for the latest Harry Potter or Steig Larsen books. The magazine rack there was very comprehensive, if somewhat confusing (they shelved High Times under “entertainment”). The café served snacks and coffee drinks on a par with Starbucks, and likewise provided free wi-fi service.

The Hilo store was, for many local families, an important gathering place where parents and children alike could browse through books and magazines. Okay, maybe they didn’t buy everything they read or handled there; but as a friend with a 10-year-old explained, it was a wholesome place to take kids, that could actually inspire youngsters to appreciate the printed word.

Fortunately, the reading public of East Hawaii will be served. The oldest established bookstore in Hilo is Basically Books, on Kam Avenue, downtown, which specializes in Hawaiiana. (It’s also home to Petroglyph Press, the best-known publishing house on the island for books of local interest.) There is still also The Book Gallery on Keawe St. And used-book stores remain active – one in a downtown storefront on Kilauea Ave. at Mamo St; two in the “industrial” area: one on Leilani St. just off Kanoelehua St., and the other on Maka’ala St. at Kawili St. And there’s a remarkably well stocked used-book store on the main street in Pahoa.

But the big news for local bibliophiles is that a new new-book store has just opened. It’s called Books, Nooks, & Crannies, and it’s in the first block of Waianuenue Ave., just mauka of Kam Ave.

Books, Nooks & Crannies
Books, Nooks, & Crannies, located in the first block of Waianuenue Ave., just mauka of Kam Ave.

Independent bookstores, nationwide, are suffering under the twin assaults of chain stores (like Borders) and online retailers (most famously, Amazon). So, opening one these days is clearly a labor of love – in this case, by local attorney Robert Marks, who is pleased to note that, besides carrying new books and best-sellers, his store also has a small café. And FYI, Marks purchased the shelves and display stands for Books, Nooks & Crannies from … you guessed it: the defunct Hilo Borders.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – On Stage, “The Sound of Music” Is More Than Just Music

By Kelly Moran

On Stage, “The Sound of Music” Is More Than Just Music

“The Sound of Music” could be the most popular movie-musical ever made. It would be hard to find anyone who hasn’t seen it. Far fewer people have seen the stage version; but to see it on stage is to realize that there is much more to this famous musical than some memorable songs.

Sound of Music DVD Cover

Fortunately, the opportunity to see it on stage is coming right up: it’s this year’s Fall Musical at Hilo’s Palace Theater: playing at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights October 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoons October 17 and 24. For more information and tickets, phone The Palace box office at 934-7010.

I asked my friend Hal Glatzer, a local playwright and musician who’s in the cast, to explain what makes the stage musical so different from the movie. Here’s what he told me:

I think most people know that the underlying story is true,” he said. “In Austria, in 1938, a young woman named Maria forsakes becoming a nun to be the governess to a widower’s seven children. Musically gifted, she encourages them to form a family singing group with their father, Georg von Trapp. He’s a Navy captain, an Austrian patriot who hates what is happening in Germany under Hitler; so, just as World War II begins, he and his family escape over the Alps into Switzerland.

For all its merits,” said Hal, “the movie glosses over the danger that these people faced in Europe in 1938, and the hard choices that they had to make. Watch, especially, two characters who were not prominent in the movie but are key elements of the drama on stage. Elsa Schraeder is a rich widow who everyone expects will marry Captain von Trapp. And Max Detweiller [whom Hal portrays] is the producer of an annual Austrian music festival. Both characters confront the Captain with the fundamental dilemma of the late 1930s: do you work with the Nazis, so your family can live in comfort? or do you defy the Nazis, risking prison and death?”

Thus,” Hal explained, “the stage version is literally more dramatic than the movie.”  

But that said, what most people will come away with is the great pleasure of hearing Oscar Hammerstein’s poignant lyrics sung to Richard Rodgers’ beautiful music. The hills (and now the Palace Theater, too) are alive with “The Sound of Music.”

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Fresh from the Farm


By Kelly Moran

Fresh from the Farm

Is this pineapple sweet?” a woman asked the vendor at the Hilo Farmers’ Market.

He smiled. “Every pineapple sweet, now!”

It’s true. The pineapples you buy today are sweeter than at any time in the past. Their flesh can be yellow or white, but careful breeding and selection have weeded out sharply acidic varieties. (Corn on the cob, too, whether yellow or white, is consistently sweeter now.)

The Hilo Farmers’ Market, on Kam Ave. and Mamo St., is the best-known: it’s open every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but hugely bigger on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The selection of produce is vast, ranging from the familiar, like lettuce and tomatoes, to the exotic: like “dragon fruit“, and warabi – the edible fern shoot that you prepare like asparagus.  You can even buy awa (“kava”) – the Pacific islanders’ traditional sedative beverage, and betel (“betel nuts”), the palm seeds that Southeast Asians chew instead of smoking cigarettes. For visitors, especially on days when cruise-ships are in port, there are also souvenir vendors at the Hilo Farmers’ Market, although many of the offerings are imports, not local handicrafts.

 Dragon Fruit

Something else in the farmers’ markets is stranger than rambutan, and bigger!  It looks like something out of science-fiction — an alien man-eating flower-bud.  Even the name is fantastic: dragon fruit.


On Saturdays in Hilo, there’s a competing market about two miles away, in a parking lot on Kinoole St. near Puainako, that’s open from 7 to noon. The organizers require all produce to be locally grown; and vendors also offer many potted plants, herbs and fruit-tree seedlings that are unavailable elsewhere.

If you have a reason to go to the Hilo Wal-Mart, pretty much any day of the week, you’ll find the Panaewa Hawaiian Homestead farmers’ stands selling fruit and vegetables under the entryway.

There is a Farmers’ Market in Honoka’a every Saturday morning. In Waimea, a Saturday market is operated by the Hawaiian Homesteaders Association; it’s at its biggest on the first Saturday of each month.

A Sunday market, however, probably offers the greatest variety on the island. It’s the Maku’u Farmers’ Market, on Hwy 130 between Kea’au and Pahoa, which is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Makuu Sunday Market
The Maku’u Farmers Market is a veritable flea market.

There is an abundance of local produce there, of course, but (unlike the others) it includes a veritable flea-market for new and used clothes, vintage kitchenware, books, vinyl records (remember them?), tie-dyed shirts, garden tools, and practically everything else.  There is a wide selection of food, including local “smoke-meat” and sausages; you can get a massage in a chair; in election years you can meet candidates . . . there’s even a stage with local entertainers.  It’s always crowded, but there’s plenty of parking.  If you can get to just one market a week, make it Maku’u.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Where It’s All Happening


By Kelly Moran

Where It’s All Happening

On September 26th, Namaste will be twelve years old.  Six bands showed up at his home to play for his eleventh birthday, last year, and several restaurants brought delicious food (“ono grinds,” as folks here like to say) for the many guests. A special birthday cake was prepared for Namaste alone to eat, and his favorite present was a new pillow.

Namaste, you see, is a white Bengal tiger. The “cake” was made of bones; and the pillow was stuffed with catnip.


Namaste is arguably the prime attraction at the Hilo zoo – or, to give it its full name, in the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo, for it is the only zoo in America sited in a natural rainforest (kept moist by the famous Hilo rain). But Namaste is far from the only attraction. Our local zoo has a surprisingly wide variety of animals: rare South American birds and lizards; monkeys, lemurs and other primates; peacocks that stroll around the grounds, displaying their fanned-out feathers; grotesque creatures, like anteaters; and familiar creatures, like delicate Axis deer and huge hairy pigs which have been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands to be hunted. What they all have in common is that they can and do live comfortably in this climate. There are no polar bears or penguins.

Lizzy the lounging Green Iguana
Lizzy the Lounging Green Iguana - Photo by Roger Simons, Zookeeper

To walk around is to take a pleasant stroll through a unique park, even if you don’t stop to look at the animals. The paths are well paved (and wheelchair-accessible), and lined with trees, shrubs and flowers both native and exotic: the many palms and flowering trees are especially attractive. Among the rarities (kept in a cage) is one that blossoms only occasionally, and can be pollinated only by flies, which are drawn to the flower’s unique scent, said to resemble that of rotting flesh; hence its nickname: the “corpse flower” plant.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the zoo is open nearly every day of the year. But what is remarkable is that admission is always free!

Mr.& Mrs. Pickles sunbathing Tegus
Mr.& Mrs. Pickles: Sunbathing Tegus - Photo by Roger Simons, Zookeeper

The zoo is located off Highway 11, between Hilo and Kea’au; the turnoff is well marked, and the zoo is just past the Pana’ewa Equestrian Center (about which I will also write, soon).  The zoo’s website ( includes a virtual tour. Be sure to say Happy Birthday to Namaste, when you go.

Kinkajou Peek-A-Boo
Kinkajou Peek-A-Boo - Photo by Roger Simons, Zookeeper

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Pig Season, Again

By Kelly Moran

Pig Season, Again

          After a dry winter in which we got only about a third of our usual rainfall, Spring rains have come.  It was an “El Niño” year, in which the surface water in the central Pacific ocean gets somewhat warmer than normal. This causes ocean currents in the Eastern Pacific to warm up, encouraging whole schools of California’s coastal fish and squid to head north into cooler water, which in turn lured seals and sea-lions up to Oregon.

          Here in Hawaii, El Niño enables a zone of “high pressure” to stall over or near the islands, and thereby to keep otherwise wet trade winds at bay.  Hamakua and North Kohala have had a severe drought – its effect on farmlands being also aggravated by the loss of agricultural irrigation ditches that were damaged in the earthquake of October 2006.

           So, rain may be returning; but here in Hawaii we don’t get the conventional four seasons that characterize more northerly (or, across the equator, more southerly) latitudes.  Winter months can bring snow to the tops of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, but days are not much shorter than they are in summer months, and rain can fall any time.  The original Hawaiians divided the year into two seasons: wet (i.e. Winter) and hot (Summer), which is probably more accurate than our four-season convention, even though we may giggle at the certainty that our “hot” season, here, will probably also be “wet.”

          Distinguishing the seasons can be done by looking at trees.  A sure sign of Spring is the pastel crepe myrtle, which is in bloom in Hilo, right now. 

Flowers of the crepe myrtle are born in panicles of crinkled flowers with a crepe-like texture.
Flowers of the crepe myrtle are born in panicles of crinkled flowers with a crepe-like texture.

There’s a very nice stand in front of the County Building (which is scheduled to re-open soon, after a multi-year renovation), and another in the little parking lot at the intersection of Waianuenue Ave. and Keawe St. As Summer approaches, we’ll see the “shower” trees along Kamehameha Avenue come into bloom; and of course, the farmers’ markets will start to carry those most popular of summer fruits: mango and lychee.

The Hilo Farmers Market is a must-see experience when you are on the Big Island. Over 200 local farmers and crafters sell their produce, crafts, gift items and tropical flowers in a festive outdoor atmosphere that recalls back to the old "plantation" days of early Hilo.
The Hilo Farmers Market is a must-see experience when you are on the Big Island. Over 200 local farmers and crafters sell their produce, crafts, gift items and tropical flowers in a festive outdoor atmosphere that recalls back to the old "plantation" days of early Hilo.

          But I think there’s another marker for “Spring” here: the reappearance of pigs.  Oh, they’re active all year long, of course; but they seem to emerge from the woods in greater numbers right about this time of year.  They are increasingly common, as you drive uphill, and hunters are gearing up to take them down.

These pig images are not telephoto shots: you really can get this close to them!
These pig images are not telephoto shots: you really can get this close to them!

          Pigs first came here with the Polynesian voyagers, though only men were allowed to hunt and eat them.  They resembled pigs still found in East Asia: relatively small and relatively hairless.  Captain Cook and the first Western settlers brought European pigs with them, which were larger and had thick coats of black hair.  Interbreeding, in the absence of any four-legged carnivores big enough to seize and kill them, enabled subsequent generations to grow quite large.  The pigs we see today are about as big, and weigh as much, as people do.

          What’s extraordinary, though, is how little these pigs seem to care about us.  Drive uphill, beyond where most houses are, and you may very well see whole families of pigs alongside or crossing the road, and doing so quite slowly, with no fear at our approach.  The adults are typically sows, shepherding their piglets, since boars (other than the father of the piglets) tend to keep to themselves.  When you see pigs, they will generally be nosing in the ground for earthworms, grubs and roots, or sniffing around for new places to find food. 


Their eyesight is weak; their senses of hearing and smell much stronger.  But they do not seem to regard the sound or smell of an automobile or even of a human being as an automatic threat.  Unless you are making a lot of noise, or approaching them at a fast clip, they may not notice you – or may even ignore you – until you are within a couple of yards of them.

          And even if they do notice you, they will probably walk – not run – away, ducking into whatever bushes or ferns offer them cover.  (The scent or the sound of a dog, however, will send them fleeing swiftly.)

          I have an un-scientific theory about pig behavior, which I will share with you for what it’s worth.  Pigs are, after all, highly evolved omnivores; so I believe that they have some way to pass along abstract concepts to their young, and if I could understand the way they communicate, I fancy that they would be saying something like this:

          “We’re pretty big animals, and any predator that might want to catch us and eat us would have to take us by surprise.  So if you notice that one of those human beings is nearby, you may not need to run, because it has surely already noticed you, and yet it has not done anything to threaten you.  That said, however, if you hear a loud BANG, and one of us pigs suddenly drops dead, then you may well be in danger, and you should run away.  Otherwise, just keep doing what you’re doing; you’re perfectly safe.”

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Live from the Met… in Hilo

By Kelly Moran

Live from the Met . . . in Hilo

          It’s almost 5,000 miles from the Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.  But now you can get all the way to the Met by simply going to the mall – specifically, to the multiplex movie theater there.

Prince Kuhio Plaza, 111 East Puainako Street, Hilo, Hawaii 96720
Prince Kuhio Plaza, 111 East Puainako Street, Hilo, Hawaii 96720

          Operas have been broadcast over the radio, live from the stage of the Met, for the past 79 years; they’re on Hawaii’s NPR affiliates: 91.1 in Hilo, 91.7 in Kona, every Saturday afternoon during the Met’s season, which is autumn-to-spring.

          Operas have been filmed and shown in theaters, of course, but such filming was almost always done in movie studios, and was therefore a huge expense over and above producing the opera itself.  And opera is just about the most expensive theatrical production there is.

          But four years ago, the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, arranged to have one Saturday matinee a month televised.  I know, I know: operas have been shown on TV before.  But home-size sets with tiny speakers and (until recently) rather low screen resolutions, simply can not convey the scope and scale of seeing a fully-staged opera in a theater, much less at the 3,000-seat Metropolitan Opera House.  (It’s not called “grand” opera for nothing.)

The Metropolitan Opera, New York
The Metropolitan Opera, New York

          Gelb’s innovation was to broadcast the performances in high-definition video, and to have them shown exclusively in theaters. After all, most movies are no longer distributed on film in cans.  They are digitally downloaded through satellite dishes on theater roofs, and are projected in high-definition.  Taking advantage of these new technologies, the Met’s operas are seen on big screens with full stereo sound, in more than 40 countries around the world.  (Go to for more information.)

Metropolitan Opera in Live HD
Metropolitan Opera in Live HD

          Go to the Prince Kuhio Theaters, pay $22 ($20 if you’re a senior), and you are, in effect, seeing an opera at the Met, right along with the audience in New York.  Yes, that price is about double what a movie costs; but it’s far, far cheaper than a good seat in a world-class opera house. Besides, at the multiplex, you won’t feel embarrassed if you don’t dress up; and you can eat your popcorn or candy, and drink your water or soda during the show, which, believe me, you can not do at the Met.

          The broadcasts are subtitled in English; and it goes without saying that all the performances are first-rate: the Met is where the world’s top talent wants to be seen, and there is really no other way for us in Hawaii to see them there without spending a fortune on travel and tickets.

          The shows generally are hosted by the renowned diva Renée Fleming (unless she’s singing that day). 

"America's Beautiful Voice", soprano Renée Fleming has a devoted international following wherever she appears, whether on the operatic stage, in concert or recital, on television, radio or on disc.
"America's Beautiful Voice", soprano Renée Fleming has a devoted international following wherever she appears, whether on the operatic stage, in concert or recital, on television, radio or on disc.

She typically says a few words about the opera’s composer and its stage history, and interviews the leading singers, either before the show starts or during an intermission.  The conductor and the opera’s theatrical and/or musical director will also talk about the dramaturgical choices they have made (even the oldest of chestnuts get new-concept staging, nowadays).  Such inside-stuff may seem of interest only to longtime opera buffs, but how else will a new generation of audiences be introduced to opera: it’s an open window into how this most complex of entertainment forms gets made.

          Many of the Met’s broadcasts are later shown on Public TV (PBS), and the increasing popularity of opera as television programming has made an interesting change in casting.  No longer is it only someone’s voice that matters.  TV viewers and movie-goers expect to see close-ups of the stars, and watch vigorous action-scenes.  So, to be believable, heroes have to be handsome, leading ladies have to be gorgeous, and villains have to look sufficiently evil – at least in makeup.

The next hi-def Met broadcast, "Armida," starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday May 1st.
The next hi-def Met broadcast, "Armida," starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday May 1st.

          The next hi-def Met broadcast is “Armida,” by Gioachino Rossini, and it starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday May 1st.  “Armida” is not a famous opera, but Fleming herself is the star, and Rossini’s music is always tuneful.  It’s the last show of the season, but the next season starts in September, and will include the first two of Richard Wagner’s four operas in his “Ring Cycle” – arguably the most dramatic work in the operatic art-form. If you’ve never seen a professional opera performance, or haven’t gone in a long time, for whatever reason, take it from me: it’s worth twenty-two bucks to go to the Met.