Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Play Misty for Me" -- and she did!
    Cookie joined a jazz quintet to add sizzle to a sultry summer night at the Cowboy Bar in Fishtail, Montana.  Cookster's partner Bruce Keller, of San Diego,  photographed the evening with pictures of the Art Hines band jazzing it up with a way-cool evening of wonderfully arranged jazz classics. Trumpet, tenor sax, guitar, percussion and piano -- plus Cookie.  Here she is joining the talent to solo in "Misty," which she first played at a high school band concert in 1966. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Nick and Nora are soon to be back in Montana, with Keller and me.
Lovely day in LaJolla, 70 degrees and everything abloom. The foliage reminds me of Madeira and Funchal, lush and gorgeous. Gave Nick and Nora a bath and took them for a leisurely walk in the neighborhood..... I am beginning to think about the format for my nephew Eric's memorial in Montana on my birthday, Aug. 11, a day chosen by his mother, my sister Misha. She wants music and celebration, and I will do my utmost to make that happen. Hoping my brother's partner, Jane, will sing a song, and perhaps cousin Diane. I will try to write a poem for Eric, maybe in the style of rap, which Eric loved. I have his beautiful and spirited ode to sister Robbie.  I have not made any attempt to make this blog public in any way....... in fact, I don't think more than a handful know about it. Which is okay. Why don't I just use e-mail in that case?  I must ask Keller when he gets home from work:  remind me, why do I have a blog.  His, by the way, is about to go public:    ....... reminds me of writing in my diary when I was in grade-school.    Fun musical evening last night for the neighbors -- lovely people on both sides of the town home, and a very enjoyable couple down the street, the first folks to befriend us when we started looking here in January. We head back Friday to Montana.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gathering of Cosgriffe clan will celebrate life of beloved fallen son

Cousins gathered at High Chap memorial for mum's memorial 

THE COSGRIFFES are gathering again and the time is fast approaching.  The clan will convene in August to celebrate the brief but influential life of Eric Kenzo Otokawa.  We miss him terribly and send love to his mother, Misha, and to his siblings, Kenji Christopher and Kelly Midori, who will draw on their strength and our support as we pay homage to a young man beloved by us all.  The latest reports indicate that Amarylla and family are coming from the Bay Area, and Orion and boys and Kira from Portland.  Misha, Dave and Kenji are flying from Atlanta; Midori and her fiance Nick are flying out as well.  This is wonderful news.  We only wish that James and Kellie and Jim could make it from Northern
Eric and his mother Misha: happy last August in California
California.  The Montana contingent will be
there --  Rick and Jane, Olivia and David, Patrick and Christena, Aurora and Rich and Connor and Elliana.  Several of our favorite cousins are coming too, including Nancy Ellen! This thrills us. Eric's memorial will be Aug. 11, Saturday, at High Chaparral, in the afternoon, probably around 4 p.m. Stay tuned. It will be followed by a family-friends dinner to which everyone is bringing favorite foods and specialties Eric liked.  (Uncle Corby's famous ribs and cousin Nancy's famous beans, for instance.)  While the clan is gathered, on Sunday, Aug. 12, we will convene in Columbus
at the cemetery to briefly consecrate a new granite memorial on the four-generations plot.
GRANDPA Gus bought the eight plots soon after he and Gran moved to Stillwater County in 1916.  It is now complete, with the remains of Arthur Blount Pittendrigh and Christena Campbell Pittendrigh, gran's mother and father and our great-grandparents (and the great-great grandparents of the next generation, and great-great-great grandparents of their progeny! Wow.)
We've lost two irreplaceable members, Robbie, front left, and
 Eric, in aqua shirt top row. We will continue to live loving
 and generous  lives and in so doing to honor them.  
Also interred are Gustav Johan and Olive Blount Nystul; A. Robert and Donna Nystul, and, soon ashes of Richard E. and Ellen B. Cosgriffe, Peny and Robbie. (All seven Cosgriffe progeny's names are engraved on the African granite.) Keller and Cookie will fly to Montana July 27 to pick up Eric's bronze at the monument company, and Keller is installing it on the granite memorial at the family plot at High Chaparral.  Most people are arriving in Billings during the mid-week and there will be an informal gathering at High Chap Friday, Aug. 10 for those who can make it (all welcome -- check with Cookie e-mail about lodging and accommodation possibilities.)
Several guests will be at High Chap and others at Grady's.  Some will be staying at the Big Yellow House in Absarokee with Misha's group.  We will endeavor to make everyone comfortable.
Remember to explore, learn and live, and check out our posts on Wednesdays and Saturdays at:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My mother’s tears of happiness shone in the morning sun.  Her first look at Ireland was as full of emotion as her ancestors were full of blarney.
  Robbie helped choreograph several European trips with mum 
  “I’m home,” she cried, lifting her hands heavenward. “I feel their spirits.”
Then she wept.  My sister and I looked at one another, blinking back our own tears.  Then we hugged mum and all of us cried.
I remembered watching “The Wizard of Oz” as a five-year-old, with my mother at my side. Near the end, when Dorothy wakes up safely back in Kansas, her auntie and uncle at her side and the scarecrow and his pals turned back to farm hands, my mother wept.
“Why are you crying, mummy?” I asked.
 “Because I’m so happy.  You’ll understand some day.”
 She was right. Happiness and sorrow, like the comic and tragic masks, are merely different takes on the same thing. 
Cookie and mummy at the Folies
I’d been to Ireland a half-dozen times before, but seeing it through my mother’s eyes was like seeing it anew.  She made me feel connected to the country in a way I had never felt before.  The Blarney Stone took on new meaning.  The potato famine felt real.  When she told me the story of  her great grandmother’s departure, I felt the face of the Emerald Isle staring at me.
“They had a wake for her,” she said, “because they knew she wouldn’t be coming back. Can you imagine their sadness and bravery?”
We had put down anchor in Kolb, where my great, great-grandmother, Molly Wilson, had left her family for America before the Century’s turn.  She’d taken the train from Cork, on a tiny track which we found.  Again, my mother wept.
 But it wasn’t all weeping, not by any means.  My 20 days in Europe with my mother and youngest sister rank high on my list of world adventures.  Not because of the exotic nature of  the ports, all of which I’d visited for extended periods, but because of the unique nature of the trip.
Life is shaped by defining moments and we don’t always know when they.  Looking back, we realize the importance.  Somehow, I had felt the significance of this trip since we first started planning. It began as a challenge.  Mum had taken me on trips as a little girl.  Indeed, I owe much of my love of travel, music and theater to her and her mother for the curiosity they instilled in me as a toddler.  She’d hinted broadly for 20 years, mentioning on each of my forays how she’s always wanted to go to Blank or return to Blank one last time. 
So I’d challenged my mother with part bribe, part enticement.  She knew she needed to lose weight, with two leaky heart valves, one seriously compromised.
“You lose the weight and we’ll go to Europe,” I said in the summer of 1998.  By the summer of 1999, she’d lost 45 pounds, through diet and exercise and the European Enticement Plan. The game was afoot. By summer of 1999, she’d lost another 40.  I sent her a stack of brochures and pamphlets and she picked the trip.

A Royal occasion
The Princess 2000 cruise brochure was her favorite.  She’d chosen the Western Europe tour on page 61, which sailed on the Royal Princess from Dover Aug. 22 – just a few days after my birthday, and 5 days before hers.
“We’ll celebrate together,” she said, overjoyed that we’d be sailing the Irish sea on her actual Aug. 27 anniversary. My sister, Robbie, and I had been planning the complex logistics of such a journey for months.  Three busy people, three departure cities, dozens of planes, boats and trains and tour buses.  The cruise concept, we’d decided, was ideal because it would plant us in one place for a couple weeks and we could add sidetrips before and after.  Paris and London were must-sees for mummy, and she wanted to experience the Eurostar Channel Tunnel.  So I suggested we fly into London, catch our breaths at my favorite hotel, the Dorchester, then “Chunnel” to Paris for 3 days.  After that, we’d “Chunnel” back to England, departing at Ashford, then taking a taxi to our embarkation point of Dover.
Mum had chosen the Princess for Western Europe because it visited places she’d long wanted to see:  Normandy, where the Allies clawed their way ashore on D-Day.  She, after all, remembered the invasion and had friends among the casualties.
The Irish stops – to Cork and Dublin with other sidetrips – had obvious appeal, with her Irish heritage. She wanted to walk the Georgian squares and have lunch in a pub.  Edinburgh with its castle and romance intrigued her She’d taken us to see Maggie Smith in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” years ago, and knew there were Scotsmen, too, in our lineage.  She wanted to ride the Royal Mile to Holyrood Castle. Hamburg fascinated her with its lovely bridges and churches.  But mostly, she knew of its proximity to Berlin and wanted to see the fallen wall and stand beneath Brandenburg Gate.
My sister, Robbie, better with “enforcement” than I am, had cautioned mum about the importance of “less is more” in packing, warning her that we’d have to schlep our own bags at certain points.
“She promised she’d pack light.  We went through her cruise wardrobe, and she knows she has to leave room for gifts,” Robbie said.  Sounded good to me.
And so 20 pounds of paperwork later --  faxes, xeroxes, maps, tickets, reservations in hand – we left our trio of cities – Portland, Sacramento and Billings – to link in Salt Lake, there to continue onward non-stop to Cincinatti, and “across the pond” to Gatwick.
Mum was elated when I met her at her gate.  Despite my cautioning, she’d packed everything she owned, was one bag over her allotment and had a bulging carry-on, and an checked extra bag which she sheepishly defended. Ah, well, onward. And, lest you wonder, “How did it go?” I’ll give you a hint up front. Fabulously.  It had a rough moment or two – adult “children” and their parents are bound to have a moment or two.  But it was glorious and the memories are indelible.  I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

 Baggage overboard and improv
As the trip evolved, sis and I slyly unloaded unnecessary items from mum’s bags when she wasn’t looking. We had too.  And mum knew we were doing it, so in the interest of diplomacy, looked the other way.  She knew she had way too many panty hose, dozens of plastic bags and tissues enough for the entire ship. Once we were able to comfortably lift her bags and ours, we were happy, and we had that all sorted out by the time we arrived at the Dorchester in London.  I’d sprung for first-class air tickets on Delta, so we arrived rested and mum was delighted with the personal video on the way over.  She charmed the flight attendants, heard her birthday announced by the captain -- with a champagne toast from her fellow passengers --  and actually got a bit of rest, so she was ready to explore London.
Our first adventure was a boat trip on the Thames, and she loved going under the Tower Bridge, and hearing the commentary of wars, beheadings and ransom.  The woman who took me to my first Shakespeare play was thrilled to see the restored Old Globe Theater, and proud that a fellow American, Sam Wanamaker, had a huge hand in it.  A genial cabbie took us on an extended driving tour of the city so she could tip her hat to No. 10 Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and other London landmarks.
We dined on fish and chips the first night, her choice, and saw a fabulous production of  “Fosse” so our first full day was a hit. Then on to Waterloo Station and the Chunnel, a first-class experience we all agreed, and an easy three hours to Paris, another city on her bucket list.
That night, we cruised the Seine, admired the Eifel Tower aglow in thousands of lights, and listened to a jazz trio play.  She sang along with “La Vie En Rose,” and I remembered the Edith Piaf records she’d played us as kids.  The next day, we lazed about in our rooms at the Westminster, strolled up the Rue de la Paix to the Opera House, and admired the architecture and the perfect weather.
The second night found us at the most authentic nightclub Paris has to offer.  “Paradise Latin” is an old-style revue, complete with can-can and acrobats, comedy and magic, scantily dressed girls and plenty of risque humor.  “Very Parisian,” pronounced my mother. “I’m having so much fun.”
My college French was useful and mother was a perfect subject, loving everything, thanking people profusely.  The French loved my mother, and having her along opened doors.  People were touched that we had actually gotten it together to take mum to Europe – something lots of families talk about, but few seem to accomplish.
She had many great moments abroad.  In Ireland, we visited a pub, the day before her birthday, and she chatted with an Irish family on holiday, celebrating their daughter’s 25th birthday. She did a little can-can flourish the night we went to the Paris revue, bought herself some shamrock socks in Dublin, left a red rose at Normandy, walked under the Brandenburg Gate and waved at the hookers in the famous Amsterdam red-light windows. Her enthusiasm made me realize I was becoming a bit jaded as a traveler, taking too much for granted.  She reveled at the flowers in Hyde Park, at the gardens of Cornwall, at the vastness of the museums and the splendor of their holdings. She loved the brightly painted doors of Dublin, a protest of “her” people who wouldn’t be told to paint their doors black.
Every moment of that trip, large and small, lingers in my memory, bright as the sunlight that first morning on the Irish sea as Cobn came into sight.  It was an odyssey and I’m the richer for it.
Now, a dozen years later on the anniversary of our sail-out, both my mother's and baby sister's remains rest in small Waterford vessels -- intended for sugar cubes and purchased on that memorable, sweet trip.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Bruce Keller joins legions of
tourists to take on the Leaning Tower

No single monument in the world has attracted the attention of the fabled leaning tower of Pisa.
The magnificence of the monuments of the ancient square bears witness to its place in history.

Japanese tourists lean in the foreground, pretending to put the tower upright.

The world’s visitors flock here to be gaze, often listing slightly themselves – consciously and not –to admire the grand tower, begun by Bonanno Pisano in 1174.

Its foundations were sinking from the beginning and it took nearly 200 years to complete her.  But that was finally accomplished with great fanfare in 1350, when Pisa was an important Italian port.

In the early Middle Ages, Pisa was a much sought-after center of trade.  It became a Florentine city in 1405, and was from the beginning recognizable from afar for its remarkable tilting tower.
Cruise ships dock in Livorno, and travelers hop aboard
a bus or taxi to head for nearby Pisa.

The area is a rich architectural center, well worth a visit if you’re in Tuscany.

A delight of Romanesque architecture, the square is photographed on a daily basis by the masses:   Germans, Dutch, French, English, Americans and native Italians, who proudly describe its history, with plenty of hand gestures, of course.

Trade, style and silt
German poet Goethe once said that Tuscany looks like Italy should and the Romanesque cathedral with its celebrated tower makes Pisa more Italian than any other city.

Pisa's Duomo is not quite as dramatic as
the one in Florence, but equally interesting.
In the 12th Century, when nearby Florence or Firenze was still caught in the upheaval of the Middle Ages, Pisa was at her apex.  Situated on the lovely Arno river and just 12 kilometers from the Ligurian Sea,  the town had close ties to ports in the Middle East and beyond.  But Pisa had a brief heyday,   because by 1300 the younger, more vital cities of the region began to pass her by and in the 15th Century, nature stole the bustling port by filling her harbor with silt.

World War II caused an even greater blow to the picturesque city.  Extensive damage fortunately spared the centerpiece of Pisan culture, the spectacular Piazza de Duomo.

That remains remarkably intact, incorporating both the European and Eastern architectural styles which caught the eyes of the well traveled Pisan merchants and sailors.

Though one can no longer climb to the top, as I was allowed to do during earlier visits, it’s possible to get almost within touching distance of the “torre,” whose design has remained the same through numerous attempts to repair it. Scaffolding and immense cables are a part of today’s Pisa, as continuing and sometimes controversial preservation efforts continue.

Pisa's Duomo has a Gothic look.
A structural failure, it seems, was finally pinpointed to the third floor centuries ago, attributed to  shifting deep beneath the earth’s surface.
Designer engineers and structural architects from all over the world have been solicited for their advice.  For the tower represents Pisa’s fundamental role in Italian culture, with its contributions to both a new era in sculpture and to the classic painting which would inspire many of Italy’s best and brightest:  Giotto and the artists of the Camposanto.

New artistic culture is born
During the first two centuries of the millenium, the Pisan republic played an important role in civilized life. Marble had not been widely used for several centuries, but the Pisan architects returned to it, drawn by its beauty and durability.  The square they envisioned was the most grandiose project conceived since the times of ancient Rome and Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni would, through their remarkable sculptural accomplishment, make a name for themselves to parallel those of Dante and Petrarca in literature.
Italy’s great artists of the following centuries would pay homage to the Pisanos as do we all when we admire the works of Brunelleschi, Donatello and Michelangelo.

All that glitters: Pisa's Duomo ceiling is gold.
As building progressed, hundreds of workers were assigned to tasks both back-breaking and delicate.  For the nearly  two centuries of construction, the square was the largest work site in Europe, and its effect was wide-ranging.  Architecture students traveled hundreds of miles to observe the then inventive techniques and merging of influences.  Marble was appropriated from Roman monuments.   Islamic designs were incorporated in the cathedral’s Duomo or dome.  Internal colonades rose up from intricate geometrical decorations on the floors and the sculptures of the Battistero or baptistry took on a decidedly Gothic look.  The cloister of the Camposanto, or cemetery, reflected these varied cultural influences and students and masters from throughout Europe must certainly have smiled with pride as they recognized  their own cultures’ unique contributions.

The public unveiling of the square was a huge affair, with feasting, dancing and religious ceremony.  Builders and stone carvers were honored and toasted and the event was attended by noblemen and ladies from throughout the vineclad Tuscan hills.  Guests came from as near as the villages of Casastrada, Mura, Il Castagna, and neighboring Siena, famed for its Medieval spirit, as well as Italy’s larger sister cities of Rome, Venice and Florence.
Eve's apple gets a new spin in this Tuscan poster.

In the neighborhood
If your travels take you to Tuscany, you’ll surely visit Florence, the favorite Italian city of many, including this reporter.  It is immensely welcoming, inviting for walkers and picture-postcard beautiful, surrounded by gentle hills and dotted with villas.
Gorgeous fruits, nuts, candies await in Tuscany.

The steep hills of the eastern and central part of the area are latticed by olive orchards and vineyards and the coast, especially near the inviting town of Grosseto, is breathtaking.

Firenze was the birthplace of the Renaissance and the city has a dignity and grace that take the visitor back.  The harmony imbued by famous men survives the thousands of motor scooters and abundant cellular phones that have become a way of life in Italy of 2000.

For here Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante, Donatello, Ghiberti and Galileo held court.  The Medicis came to power here, amassing a fortune of the world’s best art, and San Giovanni walked here, known to the faithful as Saint John the Baptist.

The area is rich in history, dating back to the Etruscans.  Romans followed and the name, Florentia, was born.  Prophetically, it meant “destined to flourish” and flourish it did, through Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, clashing Guelphs and Ghibellines, warring blacks and white tribes.

Florentia even survived the deadly Black Plague which took no sides and wiped out half the city in the 14th century.

Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a few days in Florence, and it’s a lovely drive to Siena from Pisa.  You’ll turn inland and weave past industrial towns and the art-filled village of San Miniato.  There, you’ll gaze from a castle above the town’s 12th Century cathedral.  You’ll be the king or queen of the whole Arno Valley as you take minor roads through unspoiled Tuscan hills and towns of medieval towers.

Magnificent views abound from lookout posts built for prestige by noblemen.

Stop for a glass of vino because you’re in Chianti country.  Dine on fish soup and fresh pasta, and stay at hotels converted from Renaissance palaces.    Stroll the charming piazzas and meditate in the cathedrals and palaces, surrounded by ancient and carefully preserved paintings. Remarkably, this part of Italy still has the atmosphere of  hundreds of years ago. The landscape is a patchwork of textures bathed in a beautiful soft, golden pink light that has attracted painters through the centuries.

 English is spoken throughout this part of Italy, but even your basic Italian is appreciated.  A smile, a “prego” and a “grazie” go a long way towards international diplomacy.

You need not be religious to cherish this part of the world.  Its magic will touch you regardless of your persuasion and you’ll almost see the knights on horseback and hear the trumpets blare. You’ll step back in time on the narrow streets, protected by silent walls to hold you however briefly in the richest and most beautiful part of Italy.

If you go:  The two best ways to see this historic and well preserved section of Italy are by renting your own car, or by cruising into the nearby port of Livorno on a luxury liner then taking sidetrips.  Among the world’s best lines, Crystal Cruises offers a luxurious transit of this enticing part of the world, and our last Mediterranean visit on Crystal’s Serenity was a pampering and relaxing treat.  Livorno is on the west coast in the Ligurian sea about 80 minutes from Firenze. Pisa is nearby.  Many other more reasonably priced lines navigate the area, including Royal Caribbean and Holland America, which offer fine value for the dollar, which is increasing against the Euro daily.
Remember to explore, learn and live.  And check us out Wednesdays and Saturdays at:

So much talent; so little time


Theater in San Diego is as varied as the jewels in a royal crown, each one offering its own unique light and sparkle.

In five years of reflecting on the gems here, I’ve never seen a “faux stone.”  The talent pool is large and varied, the fare is a lively mix of drama, musicals and new experimental work, and – this is a critical element – the actors, musicians and crew are passionate.  It shows.

Sunday’s matinee of “Man of LaMancha” at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town was a treat for this Broadway baby.  Veteran hoofer and director, the versatile Sean Murray, delivered a thoughtful and touching Don Quixote, backed by a powerhouse cast.  This was my seventh “LaMancha” worldwide, imaginatively staged and beautifully lit, a fast-paced thrill. From the moment a pair of classical guitarists approached the stage to the immediate standing ovation before the final lyric faded, I was transported to look at the beauty, accentuate the positive.  The play has not lost its luster.  Murray makes the role his own – as did Richard Kiley, Raul Julia, Peter O’Toole and Robert Goulet --  with a poet’s understanding of the rich lyrics, and an elegant phrasing of the lines.  Bryan Barbarin’s Sancho is endearing as the devoted sidekick, and there are no weak links in the support, from the important trio of female vocalists/actors to the spirited muleteers, the padre, duke and captain. The six pit musicians are precise and enhancing, never intrusive.
If it’s been a while since you conjured a knight fighting a windmill or dreamed your own impossible dream, there is still time.  The run continues through Aug. 26: 619 337-1525 or

And a tip: hitch your play-going wagon to any production boasting Sean Murray’s name.  His gifts are enormous, including a brilliant Sweeney Todd, and his directorial triumphs range from hilarious stagings of “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Noises Off,” to an engaging “Our Town,”  a smooth and sophisticated “Private Lives,” a delightful “Dirty Blonde,” gender-bending “Cabaret” and more. How lucky we are that he wears Cygnet’s artistic director hat, and loves life here.  He could ply his talents anywhere!

Watch for my look at other stars in San Diego’s theatrical crown, including the Old Globe, Northcoast Repertory Theatre, San Diego Repertory Theatre and LaJolla Playhouse.

Sunday, July 8, 2012



It was not an AARP convention, but there were many grey heads and paunches aplenty at the “Happy Together” concert Wednesday night at Humphreys on Shelter Island, San Diego.

My first impression was “who are all these old people?” I quickly realized I was one – a child of the 1960s, with my share of tie-dye and grow-your-own memories.  It was comforting and even a bit touching to join 1,400 aging hippies in a nostalgic three hours.

We celebrated the music of the 1960s and 1970s, paying homage to our own innocence. Everyone was in a partying mood and the bars were busy as hits from yesteryear echoed across the bay and ricocheted off the boats in the adjacent marina.  Some of my fellow psychedelic pals apparently have their own yachts now. Far out.

It was fun to see local star Gary Puckett take a bow and thank his home town for turning out. A top band played hits from Puckett’s Union Gap, the Buckinghams, Monkees and Turtles, with time travel back to the days of Peace Corps, JFK and “who’s your favorite Beatle?”  The evening’s finale featured a gathering of the ensemble on stage in a farewell to the young-at-heart audience. The happiness continued as we hummed our way to our cars, wondering where the last 40 years have gone.