One hundred and fifty years ago today, Mark Twain was back on O‘ahu, after five weeks on Maui and three weeks on Hawai‘i Island.
When I was on O‘ahu a while back, I met James E. Caron outside Morning Glass Coffee in Manoa Valley. He’s tall—taller than I am—with grey in his beard and bushy eyebrows. Bushy eyebrows? Why is it that everyone I met on this Tracking Twain reporting trip reminded me of Mark Twain?
But it’s true, Jim’s got bushy eyebrows. He also carries his wallet in a fanny pack, and when I asked, “What’s good here?” he listed just about every item on the menu that included meat. I sometimes forget that not everyone is a vegetarian. Jim is the author of Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter. Jim and I may have Twain in common, but that camaraderie didn’t extend to my picky eating habits.
I ordered a Portobello mushroom sandwich with a side salad of micro greens. Morning Glass Coffee and Cafe specializes in drip coffee and breakfast and lunch items made-from-scratch and sourced locally. We sat at handmade, wooden tables in the open-air eatery and quickly fell into Twain conversation. Not even the music blaring from a speaker over my head was able to drown out our mutual interest for the man that biographer Ron Powers called, “America’s first rock star.”
Here’s the thing, there are few people in this seven-billion-strong world in which we live that know how ridiculously Mark Twain dressed when he was in Hawai‘i. Twain may have arrived toward the tail-end of Hawai‘i’s winter, but that doesn’t mean it was cold here. Maybe 72 degrees in the shade instead of the usual 80 degrees. Twain wore long pants as was the custom for men of his ilk in the day. He donned a locally-made lau hala hat on his head. But the more bizarre article of clothing that he insisted on wearing a long? A long, linen duster.
Jim knew that. When I told him a local magazine had illustrated my story on Twain with the protagonist wearing shorts, Jim asked, “What about the linen duster?”
And for that, even if we did not share a rabid love for vegetables, I’ll always think fondly of the man with the bushy eyebrows called Jim Caron. When it comes to this crazy Twain project of mine, Jim gets it.
But Jim gave me another reason for remembering him fondly, and it wasn’t his thoughts on the topic I’d originally wanted to meet with him about—that of whether he thought Mark Twain was suicidal about the time he left San Francisco for Hawai‘i, as some experts posit. (What? You didn’t know that?)
I’d met with Hawaiian language specialist Puakea Noglemeier the day before who told me that between 1834 and 1948, over 100 different Hawaiian language newspapers printed 125,000 pages of newsprint. That would equal more than one million pages of text on the letter size paper that spits out of my deskjet printer. Of the 125,000 pages of newsprint, some 76,000 have been scanned and digitized. A quick search of these revealed 37 instances in which Mark Twain’s name appears and nine in which Samuel Clemens’ name appears.
Unfortunately, very few of the 125,000 newsprint pages have been translated from Hawaiian into English. My command of the Hawaiian language ranges from “aloha” to “mahalo” and maybe a dozen other words. So, while Hawaiian language newspaper articles mention Mark Twain and/or Samuel Clemens, I have no idea what those stories say.
It’s been nearly four months since I met with Puakea, and he said he’d try to wrangle someone into taking on my project. But with so few Hawaiian language experts and so many other pages awaiting translation, it’ll probably take someone with as particular a curiosity about Mark Twain and his visit to Hawai‘i as I to get it done. What are the chances, right?
Then, last week, I read a news headline: Institute of Hawaiian Language Research and Translation Opens at UH Mānoa. So, maybe we’ll see a dent in the translations. I hope so. Because as Jim and I stood in the parking lot of Morning Glass Coffee and Café, and I shared the fact that Twain’s name appeared in Hawaiian language newspapers, he grew visibly excited.
“That’s a treasure trove,” he said, the needle on his Twain geek meter spinning wildly. I could barely get the words out fast enough.
“And?” he said as I spoke.
“Yeah,” he encouraged me.
And, finally, “Oh my god, that’s totally cool.”
Now my Twain geek meter was spinning.
People have been extremely supportive of me as I explore this strange curiosity of mine about Mark Twain and Hawai‘i. But to find a Mark Twain scholar so encouraging? I’d felt like I’d just drank a double espresso.
“Remember I told you that you should think bout coming to Elmira?” Jim said about the Mark Twain Quadrennial Conference held hosted by the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies. More than 150 Mark Twain scholars attend. Scholarly papers are shared. Keynote addresses are given. There are exhibits and posters. And Mark Twain this and Mark Twain that. “You present any of that and people are going to go…well, that’ll get you in. That’s a great subject.”
I was instantly excited, and I’m more frightened by academics—Mark Twain academics, in particular—than I am by sharks in the ocean. Plus, I don’t even know where Elmira College is. But I admit: I am curious. I am interested. I am excited.
So I submitted my request for translation to the Institute of Hawaiian Language Research and Translation. Now, I wait.