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Move to a Fantasy Island

How Maui taught me to love New York.

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Illustration: Andy Martin  

Though I’d always assumed the city’s killer competition and maddening lack of places to connect with nature might have something to do with leading an unbalanced life, I had no way of knowing if this was really true until my husband got a job renovating a house in Hawaii. Not luxurious, tourist Hawaii: an eighteen-acre off-the-grid former nudist colony in the most remote corner of the Maui rain forest. The town is called Hana, and it’s the beachy paradise of organic farmers, native Hawaiians, and celebrities who want the hell out of America, including Woody Harrelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Weird Al Yankovic.

At first, I set out to live as I did in New York. I figured it was just a matter of time until I knew where all the cool Hana spots were. There was a coffee shop down the road—but it was a jungle hut with a grass roof, featuring a shrine to Willie Nelson and a local-commerce bulletin board (PIG FOR SALE, FAIR PRICE). Nonetheless, it was comforting to know that I could get coffee made for me here as well. I gave my dollar bill to the old man with a yellow beard, shooed away the mosquitoes, and sat down to read the newspaper. It was just after the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and the paper covered the story with a local angle: A town resident—described only as an investor in Willie’s biodiesel company—had been in New York on 9/11 but had missed the planes crashing into the towers because he was still asleep.

It turned out that coffee was pretty much the only thing that I could count on in town: Recreation is limited to surfing and the occasional cockfight. During an earthquake, a bridge between our place and a delicious farm stand near Woody’s went out, essentially cutting off about 500 people from civilization for the winter. On Wai’anapanapa Road, where we have our cabin, there’s no electricity, town water hook-up, legal driveways, cable Internet, or radio service. And at 400 square feet, the cabin is a good deal smaller than my apartment in New York. There, however, I don’t have a front yard overflowing with avocado, pomegranate, and papaya trees and a dense rain forest in the back. The first night, we immediately ate a mess of passion fruit dripping off the bush, just like in Lost. It was lovely, if a little dark because the solar power was out.

In New York, we have the luxury of pursuing our professional and social lives while paying other people to take care of life’s necessities—out goes the laundry and dry cleaning, in comes the Chinese food and FreshDirect. In Hana, we have to take care of ourselves, which is where the inner-peace part comes in. It turns out that caring for yourself is surprisingly satisfying. I started out by trying to bake banana bread, and then began frying up the breadfruit picked from a nearby tree. I got a flat tire on my bicycle and fixed it myself. I dusted off an old French press I found so I could make coffee at home.

Of course when I returned to New York recently, I immediately availed myself of all the old luxuries. I binged on pedicures, haircuts, aerobics classes, and yoga lessons. But I wasn’t quite content until the other day, when the doorknob started to get loose on the front door of my apartment. A friend advised calling the super. I considered it, and then looked around behind the kitchen sink, found a small screwdriver, and tightened the screws myself. Someone might need to fix it later, but for now it works pretty well.


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