Consulting the Aeneid in Hawaii

Words of mystery and dread, truth wrapped in obscurity. The Aeneid reads the news for Barack Obama, John Key and Kim Dotcom.

In a sunglasses shop at Auckland Airport, a stranger put on a flamboyant pair of women's shades, and asked me how he looked. Very fetching, I told him, and went back to waiting for the plane. Before embarking on a journey, it is wise to open the Aeneid, pick a line at a random page, and receive a forecast for your travels. I opened my Penguin Classics copy, and consulted the ancient text.
The Aeneid let fly with a string of predictions: the man in the women's shades will sit in front of you on the plane; later you will meet him up a mountain in Hawaii. A middle-aged American in golfing clothes in a Waikiki bar will look sleek and ordinary until you notice two things: his face, and the spider tattooed on his hand. A man will follow you in and out of shops in Waikiki; an elderly man and then an elderly woman will separately approach you in different parts of Honolulu and speak, word for word, exactly the same sentences. These are details, the Aeneid said, to be noted in the interests of fiction.
Beautiful Hawaii, with its shining palms, its brilliant Pacific light. Action-packed Hawaii – the Aeneid had already announced Mr Obama would be in town, getting about on his helicopter, Marine One, his plane, Airforce One, already parked at the airport. (Family holidays – the First Couple forgetting the limo or the helicopter, and furiously turning the plane around to go back for it.)

Today, the Aeneid foretold, the leader of the free world will be snorkeling. Note the naval frigate stationed off Hanauma Bay, ready to ward off enemy frogmen. The president doesn't travel light - beware of traffic jams. Along the highway policemen checked the route, a police helicopter hovered over Sandy Bay. It was windy, hot, fiercely bright. We parked and walked up a mountain to a viewpoint overlooking the sea. The landscape was volcanic; there was bright green foliage, black rock, the sea far below crossed by currents. The man from Auckland Airport passed, without his women's shades. There was a beautiful dog. Its tail was a golden plume. People stood along the edge of the cliff, shading their eyes, checking the ocean for whales.
Back in the oven of the car the Aeneid piped up, Why not go to lovely Kailua, the President will stop there for shaved ice. At Kailua Beach Park we stood at the edge of the cordon to watch the motorcade outside the shaved ice shop, the line of armoured SUVs, the soldiers, the squads of cops and the obligatory following ambulance.
That night, in the revolving restaurant at the top of a tower in Waikiki, a young woman cried so hard her shoulders were shaking. Her companion, a much older man with a cruel face, talked ceaselessly into his phone. The waiters tiptoed around them, pretending not to see. The restaurant slowly revolved to face an apartment block, lighted boxes in which figures were silhouetted – two children bouncing on a bed, a man smoking on a balcony, two people facing each other, arguing perhaps. Then the world turned and we faced the black sea, lit up here and there with stray gleams of light. It was beautiful, strange, faintly nauseating, like dining at the bridge of a spaceship as it nosed slowly down between the buildings. The world turned and at the next table the phone call went on and the woman wept, and out there in the dark, beyond the horizon, the New Year lay in wait.
During breakfast at Dukes the Aeneid announced, Our Prime Minister will play golf with Mr. Obama today. But Michelle's in a mood – she's not coming across. So Mrs Key will go shopping, you'll see her in the mall. Say hello to her. She's a fan of Diane von Furstenberg, just like you.
Best to have dinner indoors, the Aeneid went on, because tonight will bring a tempest. That evening, in a restaurant on the edge of Waikiki Beach diners raced inside to escape the sudden gale, but elderly Japanese couples who'd been seated outside waited for permission to move. They sat passively, while the wind lifted the tablecloths and the rain streaked down, flattening their hair and soaking their clothes. I remembered a news story: after the Kobe earthquake, citizens of that city were filmed waiting for the cross signal at devastated intersections, through which no cars could possibly pass. They waited in the ruins, until the red man changed to green.
Later, on the ninth floor, someone opened the door to the balcony and the storm raced in, a tearing rushing gale that lifted, smashed, tore, stripped, upended, sent flying every loose object in the hotel room until the door could be forced shut again. It was exhilarating, frightening. But the following morning the storm had gone, whirling off across the Pacific, and Waikiki was calm, that great benign, blue stretch of sea, sighing under the shining palms.
Too soon it was time to leave. Prepare for delays, the Aeneid said, Mr Obama will be at the airport. We sat on the tarmac until the pilot confessed, Sorry folks, we have to wait. Mr Obama is at the airfield, and no one's allowed to take off before him.
Killing time I asked, So, 2014. Any advice? The Aeneid said, Avoid excess. Be true. Get your teeth whitened. Expect the unexpected. Everything will come from left field. It is election year: in a vast right wing conspiracy, you risk being replaced by a columnist so right wing he secretly calls John Key "the Sandanista."
Then an ominous vision flashed across the page: Kim Dotcom driving a golf cart beside a grassy knoll in Coatesville.

 

January 2014