Trouble in Paradise

Why do bad things happen in beautiful places?

“Trouble in Paradise” is a spectrum. It's a husband who kills his new wife on a honeymoon scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s Kim wailing about losing her diamond earring in Bora Bora. It’s when my sister got mono on a family trip to Key West, and my parents still made her go on a snorkeling expedition. Paradise is a sunny, beachy backdrop muddied by trouble: an evildoer, a bickering couple, or a teenager with a fever. 

For this particular theme, I’m focusing on Hawaii, a paradise I’ve never been to for one simple reason: I’m from Florida and my parents never wanted to spend nine hours on a plane to take us to the beach. Then I moved to NYC and applied the same logic to beach/nature vacations and time spent flying. (Puerto Rico is three hours from NYC! It’s just economical.)  

Eventually, I do very much want to visit Hawaii, but a bunch of travel inspo is useless and depressing right now. So my first theme for this newsletter is Trouble In Paradise, an ode to bad things happening in beautiful places, centered around two of my favorite movies, a pie I never knew existed but must bake, and other Hawaii content that doesn’t involve beachscapes and luaus.


 🎥 Watch: A Perfect Getaway 

I am always in the mood to watch A Perfect Getaway. Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) meet a cast of characters as they’re trekking through the Hawaiian jungle on their honeymoon. As Cliff and Cydney march further into the wilderness, police are tracking down a serial killer couple who has committed several murders on Oahu. It’s all very fun, very thrilling, and very pleasing to look at. Timothy Olyphant, who plays a former Special Ops-turned-hiker, Nick, is at his sexiest: a vaguely southern himbo.

 🎥 Watch: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Multiple times a week I feel like Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) when he’s eating cereal on the couch and getting berated for “giving up” by his TV star, soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Sarah, played by Kristen Bell. But then, unlike me, Peter goes to Hawaii to forget about his problems, and Sarah is there with her new boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Hijinks ensue and Mila Kunis appears! Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s very best scene is Peter attempting to learn to surf by getting lessons from a dumb surfer bro played brilliantly by Paul Rudd.

🍹Drink: Mai Tai

I asked my partner what he pictures when he thinks of a Mai Tai and he said “Pirates of the Caribbean and lounging on a beach.” Honestly, same. But there is so much more to the Mai Tai and this terrific Eater article lays it out. Apparently, in the 1940s and 1950s, Americans were enamored with Polynesian culture, fueling the tiki trend and driving the specific type of rum used in the original Mai Tai to extinction. 

“In 1953, the Mai Tai made its fated trip to Hawaii...The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai became the symbol of tropical paradise, and no Hawaiian vacation is complete without sipping on a Mai Tai by the beach. The cocktail even has a prominent role in Elvis Presley’s 1961 movie, Blue Hawaii.” 

It’s interesting and also makes total sense that the cocktail that came to represent tourist culture in Hawaii is actually an import. I’m planning on making this Sparkling Mai Tai by Martin Cate, a rum aficionado and owner of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco.

🍰 Bake: Haupia Pie

I’m a sucker for brightly colored cakes and pies so naturally, I’m obsessed with this Purple Sweet Potato Haupia Pie I found while researching Hawaii-style baked goods. The recipe calls for two Okinawan purple sweet potatoes which give the filling that rich, amethyst hue. Haupia is a creamy pudding made of coconut milk, cornstarch, and sugar that’s served chilled or as a topping for cakes and pies. There’s also a chocolate version if that’s more your style.

📚 Read: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings 

The Descendants follows Matthew King, a wealthy landowner, and descendant of a Hawaiian princess, as he struggles in the aftermath of a boating accident that leaves his wife, Joanie, on life support. His two daughters, Scottie and Alex, make his life difficult and on top of that he discovers a secret about his wife that dramatically alters how he views his marriage and the life they’ve built together. The fantastic movie adaptation stars George Clooney, Shailene Woodley (who is perfect in the role of sulky, skinny teenage Alex), and Matthew Lillard. I’m not normally sad for rich white men but The Descendants made me cry.

📚 Read: Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Despite the fact that I almost always choose to read contemporary fiction, I do love reading historical non-fiction. I recently read Alexis Coe’s You Never Forget Your First about George Washington and it was clever, quick, and didn’t glorify the past, which is how I like my history (his teeth were NOT wooden). In a similar vein, Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell deep dives into the history of Hawaii, starting at the end of the 19th-century, through the Manifest Destiny years that brought Puritan missionaries and colonizers to the island, including the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, up to the annexation of Hawaii as an American state.

Runners-up: Hawaii by James Michener and This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

Longread: The Real Story of the Hawaiian Missile Crisis

What would you do if you found out a missile was about to strike your state and you had 38 minutes left to live? I’d like to think I would gather up a bunch of survival gear, fill my bathtubs, seek shelter, and try to make it out alive. But if we’re being honest, I would probably just get in bed and continue looking at my phone. The residents of Hawaii had this exact question to ponder when, in January of 2018, the state-wide emergency system sent a FALSE ALARM missile alert to everyone’s phones. GQ correspondent Sean Flynn tracked down some residents who recounted what exactly they were thinking, doing and feeling in what was likely the longest 38 minutes of their lives. Yikes.

Longread: Xmas in Hawaii

In “Xmas in Hawaii,” writer Linda Spalding chronicles the murder trial of Maryann Bray and her husband, William Acker. Bray and Acker were accused of killing a young man named Lawrence Hasker at Hanauma Bay in 1978. Spalding was a juror in the case only to be dismissed on the very last day of the trial. “Xmas in Hawaii” beautifully intertwines Spalding’s personal trials with the unjust elements of the case, and the writer’s quest to track down Maryann years later to prove her innocence. The story isn’t as much about Hawaii as a destination as it is about how a short, ill-fated trip to the islands could upend a young woman’s life permanently and the local characters who set the dominoes in motion. Spalding wrote a book about the Maryann Bray trial called Who Named the Knife: A True Story of Murder and Memory.

😐 Cringe: Aloha

Aloha is a movie with a 20% Rotten Tomatoes score set in Hawaii and starring almost every A-lister you can imagine: Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Emma Stone, and Bill fucking Murray! And that’s not the cringe part. It’s the fact that director Cameron Crowe thought it would be cool to cast a super-blonde Emma Stone for a character who is supposed to be of Chinese and Hawaiian descent. Y’all. Emma Stone has an interesting, and in some ways, confusing face, but she is simply not at all racially ambiguous. Andrew Barker of Variety called it “unbalanced, unwieldy, and at times nearly unintelligible.”


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I want to hear your recommendations for the theme. If you have ideas that you think fit well, let me know!

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