Raffles, Fairmont, Imperial, Metropole, Royal Hawaiian — classic hotel names that bring instant association with Singapore, San Francisco, Tokyo, Hanoi, Honolulu. For travelers of the Western Pacific, The Village Hotel brings instant recognition as the premier hotel of Micronesia.
In the 1980s it was SOP for a good many local folks and the handful of American expats to make a weekly trek to The Village, a longish drive on a pitted, potholed road. We went when the power was off on Saturdays for French Dips or real hamburgers. We went for special dinners of Mangrove Crab or Bouillabaisse (yes, with real saffron) or New Zealand Rack of Lamb. But most often we went for their outstanding Sunday Brunch, savoring warm beignets while we decided between Eggs Benedict or scrumptious banana pancakes.
Under the Flame Tree [from my book Overseas: stories] opens with a brief scene set at The Village: an American visitor picks up her room key and receives a note from the wife of a new “friend” — later in the story there’s this brief flashback:
Only a week ago Geneva had sat across from this child at one of the hotel dining tables, having been invited to join their Sunday brunch en famille. Leialoha with the sulky, sultry beauty of a Gauguin ingenue, sipping a coke float. The waitress had just set down a plate of beignets to hold them while studying the menu when a loud, shrill cry pierced the room. Heads turned toward the American ambassador’s wife. A gecko had fallen from the rafters, landed on the floor, and in it’s fright had scrambled up her leg, mistaking it for safety.
And Maria had turned to Geneva: “I have been wanting to meet you,” she said, “and to my surprise I find you are already Valerio’s friend.”
Maria — for those who have read my book Miss Gone-overseas — is the child Mariko (now grown up) who was born at the house on the river. When I lived there, The Village Hotel was as popular a gathering place as the roof of the department store was in Miss Gone-overseas.
It all began in the early 1970s when Bob & Patti Arthur, a young California couple and their four small children, one a lap baby, arrived on the island of Ponape in the Trust Territory of Micronesia (as it was then). They negotiated with a handful of landowners for a lease, for a spit of land on which to build the hotel of their dreams. And build they did — in the local fashion, with local materials and thatched roofs — on a grand scale.
The main building housed the bar and open-air dining room [pictured here] with views out over the lagoon and the ocean, and to the distant rock formation of Sokehs known as the Diamond Head of Micronesia. The guest rooms, separate bungalows, were scattered fore and aft of the main building — all perched along the peninsula’s ridgeline.
For almost 40 years the Arthurs had hired and taught local workers the skills of hospitality and cooking. I once had to teach a citified US Dept of Commerce fellow on a junket how to drive a stick shift as all the island rental cars were stick. Word had gotten around DC: The Village was the only place to stay — never mind there were perfectly adequate hotels in town.
My most vivid meal at the Village was my first: a mid-week, mid-afternoon, kitchen closed between shifts snack. I had arrived on-island only a few days before and my sister had taken me to meet this great friend of hers. This is Patti’s recipe: open a can of tuna in oil and without draining, plop it on a plate. Top with a shake or two of Tabasco and a hefty glug of shoyu. Then pinch off pieces of cold, cooked breadfruit to use as scoops: nom nom nom.
The sad news: The Village Hotel closed a few months ago. Google if you want to see more pictures before they all disappear.