This video was produced in 1961, but I guarantee you that very little about Tahiti had changed between then and my first visit in 1970. The streets looked the same, the vehicles looked the same, the people looked the same.
However, in one of the most jarring transitions in the history of video, this one cuts directly from a priest riding a bicycle to a shot of Quinn’s Bar as the voiceover announcer says, “Quinn’s is best known of all Tahiti’s cabarets. It’s more than just a cabaret. It’s a gathering place for everyone….”
I don’t know about you, but when I see the word cabaret it conjures up images of worldly sophisticates wearing spats and monocles and top hats while sipping whatever drinks sophisticates sip.
In reality, Quinn’s was always known around the world as the fightin’est, drinkin’est waterfront bar in the South Pacific. To the best of my recollection, it was filled with drunken sailors and transvestites and there may well have been some crossover between those demographics. But that’s not the kind of thing that respectable travel videos could possibly mention back in 1961.
In 1970 I was excited to be in Papeete. Scared. Thrilled. All at the same time. The phrase “straight off the farm” was a perfect description of my degree of naïveté. Aside from going away to small town college for two years, I’d spent my entire life on the farm. Until the plane touched down here in Tahiti, I’d never been out of the United States and all of a sudden here I was on an island in the middle of the Pacific where they spoke French, for god’s sake.
I ate breakfast early one morning at the waterfront cafe next door to Quinn’s. I’m sure my eyes nearly bugged out of my head when a group of hardened transvestites sat down at the next table and ordered breakfast after what had clearly been a full night out on the town. The bags under their eyes were bigger than the bags over their shoulders. Their short, skintight sarongs contrasted sharply with their five o’clock shadows.
Today I would pull up a chair and invite myself to sit down at their table for what would surely be a visit to an alien world. But back then I was satisfied to keep my head down and sneak a covert glance or two in their direction. Satisfied is not exactly the correct way of saying it. Fact is, I was afraid to do anything more than steal the occasional covert glance.
Let’s file this under “Opportunities Lost.”