"Both Paradise and Safe Haven" — by David Page

Congratulations (four times over, actually) to David Page for winning the Silver Award in the “Best Newspaper Article” category in the 2010 BATW BEST Travel Writing Awards for his story “Both Paradise and Safe Haven.” (photo © April Orcutt)
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Rinaldo Brutoco awoke to the sound of myna birds and leaf blowers. It was Thursday, the day Gary comes to do the landscaping and clean the koi pond. Beyond the Jacuzzi and the potted aloes, beyond the jumbled flow of lava at the edge of the 17th fairway, golfers played through. Beyond them, in the distance, lay the Pacific Ocean.

Mr. Brutoco does not play golf. But he enjoys the buffer a golf course provides against future development. And tsunamis.

His wife, Lalla, was in the kitchen, three steppingstones across the pond, opposite the sign on the wall that read, “Welcome to Paradise,” sipping jasmine tea and talking on the phone. “Did you hear about our flight?” she said to a friend on the other end of the line. “We got turned around — not once but twice.”

It had not been easy getting off the mainland to Hawaii. Their flight, from Los Angeles to Kona, had taken off on time, the first time, only to be turned around because of a “system failure.” After an overweight emergency landing — fire trucks on the runway, the whole show — a maintenance check and the rebooting of software, the pilot tried again, and was again forced to make a long banked turn back to California, away from the setting sun.

“Paradise is a state of mind,” Mr. Brutoco had said, in Seat 10A, already in requisite Hawaiian shirt, barefoot, and awaiting further instructions from the flight crew. Spiritual wisdom notwithstanding, it — paradise — was a state eminently more palpable the following morning, late in the morning, there on a pile of volcanic rock in the middle of the ocean, just south of the Tropic of Cancer, on the dry west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, 2,400 miles and three time zones away from the security mazes at LAX — and about as far from any other significant body of land as one can get on planet Earth.

Hale Maluhia, or House of Peace, was built in the early 1990s by the Big Island’s most famous architect, Lucky Bennett (who incidentally was convicted in federal court this past April on tax-evasion charges), and was so named by its first owner, the fantasy writer Terry Brooks, best known for his series of Shannara novels. The lava-rock waterfall in the entryway, complete with wild volunteer ferns; the sculptured seashell-motif ceilings; cupolas; cool tile floors; the upstairs sunset lanai; the sliding glass walls and open, indoor-outdoor layout — are all signature Bennett. The unconventional color scheme came by way of Mr. Brooks and his wife.

As the Brutocos tell it, Mr. Brooks had bought a purple-themed painting by Andrea Smith, “international artist of peace,” at the gallery inside the Mauna Lani Hotel. “It’s a good story,” said Mr. Brutoco, now in a purple T-shirt emblazoned with the declaration “I’m a work in progress,” and preparing an organic omelet on the electric range with the flair of a professional chef. “They go to Lucky Bennett and say we want to hang a picture here, build a house around it and have the colors match it.”

The real estate agent warned the Brutocos about the purple couches. The warning fell on deaf ears. “Purple is Rinaldo’s favorite color,” Ms. Brutoco explained. “We bonded with Terry and his wife psychically because we were also purple people.” The Brutocos even had their own Andrea Smith collection to match the Brookses’.

Days after Mr. Brutoco’s 60th birthday, in 2007, they sold their longtime condo at Mauna Lani Terrace, less than a mile away, at four times what they’d paid for it, and for “a hair over $3 million” acquired Hale Maluhia.

The Brutocos made certain adjustments to the Brookses’ overall aesthetic. “It was much more of a fantasy thing,” Mr. Brutoco said. “The rug looked like it was from ‘Lord of the Rings,’ the grass was long and spongy like hobbit grass. What Lalla did was to keep the stuff that worked and transition it to more of a temple.”

The house has two guest bedrooms (room enough for grandchildren); a separate, self-contained master wing; a lofty living/dining space commanded by a six-foot-tall antique golden Buddha; and an ample private office and library set off from the main house. The library contains the full canon of Terry Brooks titles and an extensive selection of self-help and spiritual books from an earlier Brutoco business venture, the Red Rose Collection. (Titles on loan in one guest room include “Spirituality for Adrenaline Junkies” and “Shift Your Mindset on Moneymaking.”)

“I’m really proud of this library,” Ms. Brutoco said.

“Brooks was cranking out a book a year here,” said Mr. Brutoco, who is also an author, having written and contributed to a range of books and articles on climate change and alternative energy, the latest called “Freedom From Mid-East Oil.”

Mr. Brutoco has been a director of many large companies, including Optical Systems/Channel 100, a pay-cable outlet that is considered to have paved the way for HBO, and the Men’s Wearhouse. He has worked with George McGovern and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, is on a first-name basis with Deepak Chopra, and can wax eloquent on topics ranging from the effects of capital market constriction on the hotel industry to upper-atmosphere fluid dynamics. At home in Ojai, Calif., he is, among other things, an organic garlic farmer and restaurateur.

As president and chief executive of a nonprofit think tank called the World Business Academy, he spends much of his time flying around the world lecturing on climate change, and what he hopes will be the role of business in saving the planet. “I’ve been going around giving my Paul Revere speech,” he said. “It’s coming! Hello! Wake up!”

Mr. Brutoco was drawn to Hale Maluhia as a retreat from what he calls “an extremely hectic life.” The plan, he said, has been to focus his energy, to find balance, to do more reading and writing. “I can’t be pounding 80 hours a week like I do on the mainland,” he said. “I have to consciously let the place work on me.”

“You connect here,” Ms. Brutoco said.

But Mr. Brutoco’s notion of retreat is not purely spiritual. By his calculations the Big Island of Hawaii is a potential “lifeboat.” In other words, it may be one of the few places on earth where a small population of resourceful people might be able to survive the doomsday scenarios he envisions for the planet.

“We did an analysis,” he explained, now sitting out on the lanai beneath the high-noon sun, between bites of toast spread with local lilikoi jelly. “I analyzed the wind charts on every island, road structures, availability of water, quality of water, land, everything you could imagine, ranked it for the top 10 categories — and out pops the Big Island, clear as a bell.

Mr. Brutoco cited the island’s diversity of climate zones and growing conditions, its abundance of geothermal and wind energy (yet to be fully exploited), the climate-mitigating effects of so much open ocean. As long as the trade winds blow, he argued (which they should do right to the end), there will be an inexhaustible supply of water. Plus, he added, “when you have unlimited free energy, as we do on this island, you can do anything — you can desalinate water if you have to.”

That the house is set back from the ocean, at 60 feet above sea level and across the golf course, made it somewhat more affordable (“Affordable in quotes,” Ms. Brutoco said), but also put it, by Mr. Brutoco’s estimation, beyond the reach of the most violent weather. “The reason isn’t that I expect sea levels to rise 60 feet, but that storms could have a 40-foot wave attached to them — and that I’d like to be above.” Worse comes to worst they also own a backup property in Waimea, 20 minutes up the mountain, at 2,500 feet.

Even in the short term things are likely to be more comfortable in Hawaii. “When it’s 110 degrees in Los Angeles this summer, which it will be,” Mr. Brutoco said, “and it’s 120 in Phoenix — it’ll be about 86 degrees here. It could get to 200 degrees in Phoenix, and still only be a couple degrees hotter here.”

In the afternoon Mr. Brutoco retired to the master wing, while in the main house his wife did yoga stretches and got her news fix with Keith Olbermann at 2 p.m.

“The older we get,” Mr. Brutoco said, “the more we all need to face the question of where we go on retreat, and how often we go there — and get used to the idea of going there more often.”

Later, he unplugged his four-seater electric vehicle and headed out for an emissions-free toodle along roads lined with coconut palm, breadfruit, candlenut and portia trees, not far from a series of ancient brackish fish ponds that date back to 250 B.C., where the ancient alii (chiefs), and later the Hawaiian royal family, used to come for rest, replenishment and farm-raised milk fish.

David Page


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