Saturday, April 27, 2013

Nine lines travel the world so choose your cruise


STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

Last Saturday's "starter kit" talked prices and posed questions to ask yourself when planning a cruise.
Recapping:
Cruising offers value, variety, safety and more... you pack and unpack  once!
*Are the ship and amenities more important than ports? Prefer to sail the Norwegian Fjords or wander the streets of a Sicilian village?
*Must you have an ocean view or balcony? Happy with a cheaper, inside cabin? What's your budget?
*Do you want history lectures, Broadway revues, samba lessons, Mayan ruins, cobblestone streets, boutiques, wine tastings, a butler?
* Will you buy a cruise-fly package? Are you embarking in one port and disembarking in another? Narrow the field. Here are nine favorite options.
*Crystal. This top-ranked line features fine dining afloat, impeccable service from the penthouse to the pub, pampering treatments (Crystal's "rejuvenating" spas were an artform years ago), understated elegance and itineraries for the "been there, done that" crowd who seek creative slants on familiar places. Crystal's art collection is heralded. She is tops in Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast
Cruising offers beauty, relaxation, adventure and pampering.
magazine critiques for 20 years. Personalized service, fabulous food, exclusive excursions, scores of complimentary amenities on two gorgeous ships and many other perks attract discerning travelers. www.crystalcruises.com
*Oceania. This mid-sized luxury line is also renowned for its celebrated dining, stunning public and private rooms, terrific land tours, built-in amenities and day-long pampering. Oceania and Crystal attract seasoned cruisers who know what they want and don't mind paying for it. Oceania's port-intensive itineraries often feature overnight visits. She boasts gourmet restaurants, "country club casual," and A Bon Appetit Culinary Center with hands-on cooking classes. www.oceania.com
*Celebrity. Versatility and vitality marked a memorable birthday on the Century for my mother, with three generations toasting mum in Europe's grand ports. Celebrity's enhancements include tropical rain
Amenities are part of the fun,
here a welcome basket of fruit and sweets.
showers in the spa, perfectly grilled steaks in open air, interactive classes in art, concierge staterooms and an ice-topped bar with custom martinis. Newer additions to the fleet, Celebrity Reflection and Silhouette have cabana-style haven, real grass recreation areas. The line also offers relaxing Caribbean trips and coastal cruises, from Seattle to San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Diego and Catalina island. www.celebritycruises.com
*Cunard. History, class, experience. Cunard has these in spades. I logged nine Atlantic crossings on the venerable QEII before she was retired to Dubai, and am contemplating a Mediterranean trip on one of the newer Queens. In the Queens and Princess Grill suites, the concierge, butler and amenities are sublime. Couples still dine in black tie and Canyon Ranch treatments are easily arranged, along with priority boarding and pre-dinner canapes en suite. Cunard combines old-world finesse with contemporary allure.  www.cunard.com
 *Royal Caribbean International.  This mid-priced line is tops for overall quality. Its glamorous Oasis of the Seas made  headlines in 2010 for its size and splendor.
Shore excursions spice up Keller's cruise!
   Families love it. We do,too for bang for the buck. Passengers are a lively mix and the loyalty program attracts repeat cruisers galore. You can climb a mountain nine decks above the Boardwalk, watch an ice show, hit Starbucks, plan your land tour to capture New England fall foliage or study geology in the Canary Islands, prowl the wonders of Mumbai or Muscat, sail into Auckland, sip tea in Adelaide, walk the ruins of Ephesus on 22 ships with 280 ports-of-call in 80-plus countries. www.royalcaribbean.com
*Holland America. Whether your tastes run to the Yukon and Denali, or sun-soaked Mediterranean landscapes, Holland America's appealing, mid-sized ships offer "as you wish" dining, refined service and knowledgeable tour guides. This line also prides itself in its loyalty program, and "Mariners" enjoy savings. Whether you're walking in the footsteps of Alexander the Great or toasting under the glow of the Midnight
A private balcony is a must for Cookie! Here leaving Florida.
Sun, you'll find both surroundings and service to your liking. Like Cunard, Holland America has decades of history. Her Alaska packages are hard to beat. For fans of "Dancing with the Stars" there's an at sea version. www.hollandamerica.com
* Princess Cruises. Always classy, Princess has carved a niche for herself for pampering, quality, diverse ports and ability to stretch the vacation dollar and still be classy about it. Aaron Spelling's 1977 "Love Boat," shot aboard the Sun Princess in Mexico, ecame a famously popular TV show, giving the line even more cache. My cruise-loving mum adored Princess ships because they sail the world and treat their passenger royally. www.princess.com
* Norwegian Cruise Line. Most lines make Hawaii stops but this is the only line to regularly transit the Hawaiian islands, visiting four isles in seven days with two overnight stays to give access to the
Sailing in and out of port is one of cruising's excitements,
 here Brazil beckons at night, after an Atlantic crossing.
volcanos, luaus and waterfalls. Norwegian also visits Alaska, and her cruise tours venture deep into the wild, including railroad options, a tundra tour and a visit to a musher's home. The Pearl, Jewel and Sun are the newest ships sailing Alaska. NCL navigates the world with freedom, flexibility and a family fan club. www.ncl.com.
*Carnival. From seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises to Alaskan and Caribbean itineraries, Carnival specializes in making the most of a vacation dollar and packing huge fun into your vacation. Her always-a-party ships cruise the globe and, as her name suggests, feature glittery, glitzy, non-stop action-packed cruising. Good value for the dollar. www.carnivalcruises.com

COMING WEDNESDAY: San Francisco opens her "Golden Gate"and we're giving away an autographed, first-edition book of poems to the winner of a "name your travel theme" contest. Details Wednesday! Remember to explore, learn, live! We post Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tell your friends about:
whereiscookie.com

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The joint is jumpin' as Federal Jazz Project plays the Lyceum


Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos plays magnificently
as "La Trompeta" and band leader
. -- Production photos by Daren Scott 
By CHRISTENE MEYERS
Production photos by Daren Scott

Upbeat music meets San Diego history for a standing ovation -- one you'll want to be part of.
The well deserved applause is for "Federal Jazz Project" by San Diego Repertory Theatre.
This unusual production offers fine jazz, a thoughtful storyline and a trip down memory lane for San Diegans and jazz lovers alike.
The show is locally created and produced and performed in the intimate Lyceum Theater in Horton Plaza downtown.
Part terrific jazz, part nostalgia, with a nod to patriotism and the Lawrence Welk Show, the production celebrates the rich ethnic mix that makes San Diego unique and appealing, to natives and newcomers alike.
I am a transplant from the northern Rockies.  My partner, Bruce Keller, is a native San Diegan. Each of us took his own set of sensibilities and history to this lively and beautifully lit production.
Directed by Sam Woodhouse, "Federal Jazz Project" has a music bag of thoughtful moments.  But just when the tone begins to get ponderous, the music brings back the joyful sense of fun.
Richard Montoya conceived of the story,
wrote the script and tells the tale.
 Mostly, we feel that we're front and center in a cabaret, and the action unfolds through the memory and anecdotes of the talented Richard Montoya, as the narrator "El Poeta," who also conceived of and wrote the story.  The bell clear, perfectly-pitched trumpet is played by the band leader, well known musician Gilbert Castellanos who also collaborated with Montoya to compose and curate the vintage parts of the score.
You'll find the joint jumpin' and your feet tappin' with the trumpet, piano, percussion, bass and sax contributions of a tightly knit on-stage quintet, turned out in '40s costumes.
What makes this such a unique treasure is the combination of wonderful jazz, played with spirit and precision, and the intertwining stories of music, politics and race exploring integration on several levels.
As a relative newcomer to this beautiful corner of the planet, I had no idea about "South of Broadway," but I knew of the El Cortez Hotel and other landmarks, neighborhoods and iconic hang-outs mentioned in the script.
A story unfolds through the eyes of El Poeta, dating back to pre-World War II San Diego, when a nightclub act cancels, giving that time-honored show-biz "break" to a
Claudia Gomez taps up a storm as the
character Tijuana.
two-woman act.  Joe Hernandez-Kolski is winning and wonderful as Kidd, who gets his girls their big chance, when he wins over tough-talking, no-nonsense nightclub operator Sally. (Kidd is also in love with one of his stars.) Mark Pinter is terrific, too, as the all business club owner who finds an irresistible cash cow in the two talented dames who sell out his club and go on to a career in cinema.
Tijuana and San Diego, the two girls, take us on a frolicking ride.
As Tijuana, Claudia Gomez is magnificent to watch.  Her tap dancing is a treat, a terrific throw-back to an earlier period in entertainment. She has studied her forbears and has the moves and energy of a first-class hoofer. She offers that rare combination of grace and spirit and knocks us out with her rapid tapping.  As San Diego, Lorraine Castellanos is gangbusters, too.  Her classical guitar and winning singing charm the audience and the "sisters" -- representing the two cities, of course -- have a couple fun numbers together.  You'll think of the Andrews Sisters and all the WWII songs that have withstood the test of time, with a special spin on San Diego's proximity to Tijuana.
“Federal Jazz Project” was inspired by jam sessions in which Montoya and Gilbert Castellanos collaborated. The tale takes a couple side trips from the song-and-dance theme and you have to pay attention to follow the storyline.
The production has a cabaret feeling, with a rich narrative.
 The character Jules, played by Keith Jefferson, takes us into the racially charged transition period of the city of San Diego, when Negroes were allowed to purchase property only in certain areas.  Jules, dressed in his military uniform, captures the irony implicit in so many wars in which African Americans proudly served and sacrificed, but were denied equal privileges and rights when they returned home.  His long speech is moving and his acting never bores. The well researched writing continues to explore the city's rich and complex history through many "in house" references to her neighborhoods and actual historical events including the 1954 red scare in Logan Heights during Joe McCarthy's infamous red-bating.  I had no idea that the House Subcommittee on Un-American Activities held hearings in San Diego to investigate Communism among blacks and Hispanics. (Turns out, one of the sisters actually has Communist ties and that puts sadness in the story.)
The storyline also works hard to explore the struggles and injustices suffered by minorities in San Diego.  My only criticism, as a veteran theater reviewer, is that occasionally, the historical footnotes feel a bit too preachy, but this is a minor criticism in a gem of a production.
Gomez: rapid-fire tap dancing. 
As Tijuana, Claudia Gomez is magnificent to watch.  Her tap dancing is a terrific treat. She has studied her forbears and has the moves and energy of a first-class hoofer, offering that rare combination of grace and spirit.  She  knocks us out with her staccato tapping.  As San Diego, Lorraine Castellanos is gangbusters, too.  Her winning singing voice charms the audience and the two "sisters" -- representing the two cities, of course, have a couple fun numbers together, songs and styles that transcend time, with a special spin on San Diego's closeness to Tijuana.
If you're passionate about jazz and San Diego, treat yourself to a concert and a history lesson at "Federal Jazz Project," on stage through May 5. Go to www.sdrep.org or call 629 544-1000.
The Rep will host you to four hours if you park in Horton Plaza.
Cruising tips come your way Saturday,
then Cookie and Keller visit
San Francisco and have fun at Alcatraz!


COMING SATURDAY: Part Two to our  cruising tips and insights, with a look at what's out there -- from budget-minded adventures to penthouse escapes. Then we're off to San Francisco -- to unexpected pleasures at Alcatraz, a climb to Coit Tower and a stay in the dog-friendly Diva Hotel downtown!
We post Wednesdays and Saturdays! Tell your friends:
whereiscookie.com
Enjoy, learn, live!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cruising offers choices as large as the sea itself


Cruise ships and private yachts make a pretty sight in picturesque St. Thomas.
STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

There are almost as many cruises as there are ripples in the sea. Surfer's waves.  Shells in the sand.

Today's part one starter will help you narrow the field, and give you some idea of what to expect to pay and where you might like to go.

A cruise can be a relaxing 10-day  retreat or a satisfying, "see it all" whirlwind.  For a couple yearning  for time "alone together," a cruise offers exotic ports, with beautiful sights to explore and share.  Back in your stateroom, catch up on a stack of books, breathing in the sea air, savoring your ocean view, snuggling on your veranda and partaking of room service offered by the butler.

One of the pleasures of cruising is room service and amenities!
A cruise can also be a lively, 10-port family outing with land tours, shipboard games, evening shows and a table for twenty in the formal dining room at day's end. Many families use a cruise as a vehicle for a family reunion or  celebration. Toddlers to great-grandparents!
A cruise can artfully blend activity and rest  -- a port every few days, plenty of at-sea days and enough time to catch your breath and unwind between adventures.
A cruise is yours to design, so find the perfect one for your tastes and desires.
There are cruises on many themes -- jazz, history, wine, whale watching, classical music, gardening, swing dancing, ballroom dancing, art, fitness, antiquities and more. Cruises for singles, gays, the younger set.  Cruises that cater to sophisticated retirees with youthful curiosity and years of traveling. Often two or three couples cruise together.
 This land tour in the Canary Islands featured foliage and folklore!
Cruises can catch the tulips season.  Cruises can offer champagne and visit French chateaux or English manor homes. Cruises celebrate Darwin and the marvelous tortoises of the Galapagos. Cruises meander through the Greek Isles into the wonders of Turkey's Kusadasi and nearby Ephesus.

Decide if you are more interested in the ship itself or the ports it visits. Maybe some of each. That can be easily accomplished.

There are cruises that cross the Atlantic or Pacific with days of sailing and only the occasional island port. There are "repositioning" cruises where the ship moves from, say, a week-long Caribbean itinerary around the tip of South America and up to the Mexican Riviera. Or up the coast further to Alaska for its season.

Nothing beats shipboard R&R and
it's fun to find your room from shore!
There are cruises that transit Australia's coast, then stop off in Vietnam and end in Hong Kong or Singapore. Baltic cruises,
cruises to Bali or the Black Sea ports. To famous museum cities, including Bilbao. You can even see inland cities such as Berlin and Florence on a cruise, thanks to land tours booked through the ship.
There are cruises to Alaska, Hawaii, all over the Caribbean, the British Isles, Tahiti, India, Africa, South America, the Middle East and more. Through the Panama and Suez canals! Some cruises are "round trip"; others start in one city and end in another. Practically anywhere with a trace of tourism, you'll find a cruise itinerary. A cruise is a wonderful way to see many European highlights.
A huge advantage of cruising is that you unpack only once!
Here are a few steps to get you started:
*Are you a first-time cruiser or have you experience?  If a first-timer, do you have special destinations in mind, a favorite "must see" place, port or island? A bucket list must? If you're a veteran cruiser and don't really care where you go next, you'll be more interested in the ship than the destinations or ports of call.
*What is your budget?  Do you care about your location on the ship? If you're happy with a cheaper inside cabin, with no view of the ocean, you can reap savings and cruise for less than $80 or $90 a day per person, enjoying the public areas the ship offers. Budget-minded cruisers can hop on a ship and enjoy meals and entertainment and many activities included in the price, for as little as $60 or $70 per person per day. (If you don't mind that inside cabin.)
San Juan's fortress and castle are yours to explore during a tour.
*If you must have an ocean view, or cherish that balcony, you'll pay more, between $85 and $200 per person per day. Port taxes up the ante, so the more ports, the more you'll pay. Atlantic or Pacific crossings with several "at sea" days offer great deals, with a balcony possible for $100 per person per day, marvelous food and shows.

*If money is no object, you'll pay much more, and likely want a penthouse or grand suite and your own butler. Owners' suites often have a full butler's pantry and kitchen, a large dining room table, several televisions and bathrooms, multiple balconies and even grand pianos.
 Here's to your cruise! Safe, fun sailing!
Whatever you pay, your room will be made tidy and fresh at least twice a day -- a lovely feature of cruising. You do nothing but choose your clothes, dining options and reading material! Pack and unpack once. Plan your nap! Hop off in a port and shop for Christmas, birthdays, kids. Enjoy a show, lecture or jaccuzi.

Try to narrow the field with your own preferences and schedule, then Wednesday, we'll give you options and offer several very different ships and the places they visit during your cruise.

  COMING SATURDAY:
Gilbert Castellanos is trumpeter,
band leader and composer in
"Federal Jazz Project."
The joint is jumpin' at Federal Jazz Project, an inventive and beautifully staged production at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza. San Diego Repertory Theatre offers up a treat with music, nostalgia, terrific tap dancing, a history lesson and more.
There's time to book a ticket.  Go to www.sdrep.org, and look for our review over the weekend.

COMING NEXT WEDNESDAY: 
Part Two of our cruise tips with a sampling of some of our favorite cruises and ships, from Crystal's elegant Serenity in the Mediterranean to Holland America's Veendam in Alaska, Royal Caribbean's Mariner on an Atlantic crossing, Oceania's Insignia exploring intriguing ports in Greece and Italy, Celebrity's Century celebrating Europe's grand cities, and Carnival cruising the Caribbean. Then we're off to explore Alcatraz and San Francisco. Take time to explore, learn, live!
Shopping in a foreign port offers a chance for unique souvenirs,
an opportunity to explore local culture and time to pick up gifts.



We post Wednsdays and Saturdays. Please tell like minded friends about:
www.whereiscookie.com


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Great Greek fare served with gusto at Pacific Beach family eatery



STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

It's all in the family at Arslan's Gyros in Pacific Beach.
In the European tradition, the small, neat restaurant is proud of its food and its family connection.
Both points are worthy of consideration.
In several meals at Arslan's, we've never been disappointed.
Arslan's Gyros is a friendly, family run restaurant in Pacific Beach.
The food is tasty and fresh, the service is friendly and personal, and you'll see a steady flow of regulars and tourists dining in and taking out.

Son Ved, says his dad, Arslan Redzepovic, after whom the place is named, has worked long and hard to create a user-friendly restaurant that is popular with the critics and the people.  In the multi-ethnic neighborhood of PB, you're likely to hear a hearty please or thank you in Greek -- "parrakallo" or "efkaristo."  Arslan, the owner, is multi-lingual.  You might also hear Mandarin, Italian, Japanese or perhaps Serbian, Croatian, Hungarian or Albanian.

Arslan's plates are pretty, the prices are reasonable, and the quality remains high.This is a place where the chef talks to you while he warms your lamb, sautes your onions and heats your pita bread!

If you think Redzepovic is not a Greek name, you are absolutely right.
Although the family has heritage and relatives with Turkish, Thesolonian and Greek links, the Pacific Beach branch that cooks up the fabulous Greek fare hails from another part of the world.
 Arslan, in yellow shirt, involves
the entire Redzepovic family
in his delightful eatery.
"We're actually from Bosnia," says Arslan. "We first thought of Yugoslavian food but didn't know how that  would go over. We decided on Greek because we know Americans are familiar with Greek fare."

The family has traveled and boasts a long line of good cooks, so accommodating the Greek cuisine was a logical move. The Serbian language is often heard in Greece and the cuisine that Arslan's family grew up with has similarities to the Greek food they now serve.  The Serbian grape leaves stuffed with rice and raisins are reborn as Greek dolmades with a delicious filling of ground meat and seasoned rice. Arslan's offers a gorgeous falafel platter, appetizing dips and specialty items.  If you're hungry for something you don't see on the menu, ask -- you'll probably receive!

Nodding to the Mediterranean love of seafood, Arslan's salmon plate is a generous meal for one hungry person -- or a satisfying split for a couple, with a little falafel or hummus as a side.
The $15 salmon is a fish lover's favorite -- tender, juicy salmon and a beautiful salad with hummus for dipping.  But my favorite is the lamb.  Absolutely melt-in-the mouth tender and deliciously spiced.
The Yugoslav cuisine with which the family is familiar also features sweet desserts sprinkled with sugar and breads filled with delightful surprises, so the baklava is a natural for Vahida, the mom of the family and Arslan's wife.
Ved Redzepovic is a personable, articulate member
of the family, one of Arslan's sons and a good cook.
According to son Ved, "She can do anything. She keeps everything together."
And her baklava is devine.
Business near the restaurant has brought us to this little part of Pacific Beach several times in the last few weeks.
We're always delighted with the freshness of the meat, lamb sliced from a spit before your eyes and wonderful generous portions.
The falafel is the best we have tried since a recent visit to the Middle East.
Besides Arslan, Vahida, Ved and chef Fadil, Ved's brother Sabahudin Redzepovic is a scholar at University of Chicago. He came with his family from Sarajevo and Herzegovina. He's made an entertaining video about cooking and you can find more about him on facebook.
For more about this interesting family and its top Greek fare: go to www.freakygoodgyros.com
or call 619-962-9925.

Coming for the next two posts:
Coming soon:  a two-part piece on cruising tips.
We're getting lots of questions about cruising, since posting our "100th cruise" article. We'll help you navigate through the thousands of choices out there, considering budget, destination, type of stateroom, ship activities, dining options and more.
Check it out this coming Saturday and next Wednesday, for pointers on narrowing the field and  choosing a cruise from the hundreds available. Please tell your friends about us.  We post every Wednesday and Saturday at:
whereiscookie.com

Take time to explore, learn and live!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Vereen's one-man show takes time to reflect, appreciate and boost the arts

This publicity photo shows Vereen's joy
in life and his engaging personality.
STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

Ben Vereen's one-man show was filled with music and show biz anecdotes, delivered with the spirit and personality that have made him a favorite with audiences since he landed a role in "Sweet Charity" decades ago on Broadway.

But during his week in San Diego, the star also chatted about his personal life -- losing a daughter in a car accident, which led him to reach out to other grieving parents.  And he talked about his own 1992 life-altering accident car-pedestrian accident which experts predicted would end his career.

After he was struck by a car, the resulting major head injuries and broken bones threatened to take him off the stage for good.
The actor said he was told that he might not perform again -- ever -- but thanks to the fine care he received, his persistence, and encouragement from thousands of fans, he was entertaining before the end of the year. "You made it happen," he told the applauding audience. "You were there for me."

Ever thankful for his rebound, Vereen thanked the medical staff, including his therapist whom he beckoned on stage to receive his kudos and applause from the audience.
And he called on a doctor friend to lead a rousing chorus of "The Star Spangled Banner" -- a surprise pulled on his gifted trio, one they accommodated with flourish. The audience sounded great, using the "doctor's orders" key of G to allow for reaching the high octaves without strain.

Vereen is a man of infinite talent and generosity and sincerity as large. His career takes the Tony winner touring, performing with symphonies and in arts centers.  And while he has been known to musical theater fans for decades, millions more know him better for his "Chicken George" role in Alex Haley's award-winning "Roots" miniseries. But this show was all about music!

From "I've Got Magic To Do," a "Pippin" favorite, to "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from "Jesus Christ Superstar," then on to standards of the '50s, '60s and '70s, Vereen dressed the stage like a bantam rooster with rhythm and class. He also had the audience singing the praises of the arts, clapping and rocking out to boost arts attendance. "We must support the arts. It is vital to our country and culture."


Flirting with the audience, and playing to his sister and local San Diego musician friends, he put his energy into non-stop delight.  No intermission for this guy!  He was having too much fun.
Vereen's joy in what he does continued as he introduced his trio one by one and gave each gifted man a solo, with Vereen "accompanying" on voice.

Drummer Marc Dicciani, bass player Thomas Kennedy and keyboard player and musical director David Loeb played their show pieces with intensity, displaying their indispensable and flawless contributions to the show.  With Vereen on vocals, they simply dazzled.

Bravo, Ben, and bravo, la Jolla Playhouse, for this fabulous venue.
Vereen hinted that the "Steppin' Out Live" show is "a work in progress," and although it has already dazzled in Europe and Australia, Vereen said it is bound for a larger venue, perhaps Broadway.
.
We'll cross our fingers and hope this comes to pass.  For Ben Vereen has more magic to do!

Arslan Redzepovic is not Greek, but he
loves the culture and serves up fabulous
Greek fare at Arslan's Gyros.
For schedules and other performances at this venue, go to LaJollaPlayhouse.org
For more on Vereen's life, his recordings and performing arts history, simply google Ben Vereen.

COMING next:
A family owned and operated Greek restaurant in Pacific Beach does a booming business with its authentic and delicious Mediterranean specialties.  Dad and "the kids" make the delectable sandwiches and gyros and more. Mom keeps everything running smoothly and bakes fabulous baklava!
Please tell your friends about:
whereiscookie.com
which posts on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Take time to explore, learn and live!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ben Vereen's one-man show dazzles with song, dance, anecdotes

Actor Ben Vereen is touring a fast-paced
one man show which may appear
in an expanded version down the road.
STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

For fans of singing, dancing, and good, old-fashioned entertainment, Ben Vereen's "Stepping Out Live..." show is a classic.

Recently, the veteran song-and-dance pro played a long, sold-out weekend run at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego.  His energetic and warmly received show featured a brilliant trio backing him up on a range of hits and favorites, from "Chicago" to the title song from "Hair."  Vereen, ever gracious, shared the spotlight with stories about his mentors and colleagues, dedicating particular songs to them.  The audience reveled in a string of brilliantly arranged songs, highlights of his long Broadway career.

Dressed snappily in a silk suit with a purple dress shirt and purple tennis shoes, Vereen made the stage his own from the opening until his encore, with three standing ovations in between.  Near the beginning, he put his spin on "The King and I," with renditions of "It's a Puzzlement" and "Getting to Know You."
To the latter, he added phrases to further endear him to the La Jolla audience.
 La Jolla Playhouse was packed
last Sunday as the audience
awaited Ben Vereen and his trio.

The guy may be closing in on 67 (he was born in 1946) but in the great show biz tradition he adores, he can move, sing, amuse and entertain with the best of them.
His generous two-hour show packed the Playhouse's Potiker Theater, one of its several main venues.  The house was artfully arranged with cabaret style table seating, creating an intimate venue for the Vereen show and other spring galas and benefits.

In the style of the denizens of "The Rat Pack" and the venerable singing-acting-dancing tradition, Vereen played to the house, with such favorites as "My Way," "Stand By Me" and "Defying Gravity."

His tributes to Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra were laced with anecdotes and affectionate one-line impersonations. His Bob Fosse impression was spot-on, capturing  the minimalist movement and spareness of style, with the subtle hat-and-hand gestures that we identify with Fosse.

Vereen dressed the stage
with energy and grace.
In the style of the old Vaudevillians from which he learned his craft, Vereen told stories -- about meeting Fosse, Juliet Prowse, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and other luminaries, about auditioning for his first big roles, about phoning his mother to report he'd landed a role on Broadway.
 It was all very much like listening to a favorite talented uncle talk about his career, and illustrate it with song after song.

Coming Saturday:
Ben Vereen talks about his personal life and the accident that nearly killed him. He also gives solo time to each man in his gifted trio, commands an enthusiastic group sing of the national anthem, and urges his audience to support the arts as a way to keep lively, current and productive in our challenging and changing world.

Please tell your friends about:
whereiscookie.com
We post Wednesdays and Saturdays. In upcoming posts, we'll look at a fantastic Greek restaurant in Pacific Beach, then answer readers' requests for tips on cruising and picking the right cruise for you!
Explore, learn and live!



Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gifted gardeners bring blooms to classic La Jolla Shores Hotel


 The lovely arrangement, above,
is both simple and striking. It graces
the men's bathroom at the popular
La Jolla Shores Hotel.  Below,
one of many orchids at the hotel. 

Add caption





STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

BENEATH
 the greenery and glory of the La Jolla Shores Hotel is a tiny room in the corner of the parking garage.
 A mated pair of swans is part of the pretty landscape
at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.










 A love of plants is a lifelong passion for Shelly Rosado, grounds supervisor
at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and surrounding properties.
BENEATH the greenery and glory of the La Jolla Shores Hotel is a tiny room in the corner of the parking garage.

If you've ever parked in the basement lot, enroute to cocktails or a special dinner, you've driven past the obscure little corner of the grand dame resort.

You probably haven't peered in the windows, but if you did, you'd see orchids, orchids, and more orchids.

They're in various stages of arrangement, recovery, grooming, distribution and replanting.




Heading a staff of 17 people who keep the oceanfront hotel full of elegant blooms is Shelly Rosado, grounds supervisor.  She manages the greenery and grounds for the resort, the adjacent beach and
tennis club, nearby companion apartments and the fabled Marine Room. The complex is owned by the W. S. Kellogg family. Rosado's right-hand pal and colleague, responsible for the dozens of orchids which adore the place's interior and entryway spaces, is Kay Hoopes.

Together, the two women keep the hotel and grounds beautifully groomed with eyecatching floral accents inside and out.
The La Jolla Shores Hotel is a Southern California landmark.

"I consider myself fortunate to have a job I love," says Rosado. "It's wonderful to spend the day making people happy, with growing things."

Hoopes echoes the sentiment. "I feel privileged to be part of this operation," she says, watering and fertilizing in her little subterranean alcove.
"I get paid for doing what I love."

For her, the job completes a circle.  She grew up in San Diego, moved to Washington state for years, then returned.  Washington state native Rosado says her job is ideally suited to her temperament.  Working with a three-part staff, she oversees grounds keeping, maintenance, planting, cleaning and landscape decorating.  The gardeners also keep an eye on a pond of  handsome and well behaved critters, including swans, ducks and geese and
These alluring orchids are almost dizzying with their beauty.
a healthy abundance of plate-sized turtles.  The hotel staff's "color guard" is five persons, including Hoopes and Rosado, who work hands on with the plants, determining what goes where and keeping a step ahead of seasonal landscaping needs as well as demands of special events. They conceive of the "master plan" -- including ordering plants and supplies. They spread their business around, using local and regional greenhouses.

Among recent accomplishments, the gardeners ordered 7,000 bulbs, planting over 6,000 of them.  Their responsibilities around the grounds of the various components surrounding the hotel, include tending rose gardens, succulents, trees, shrubs, bushes, annuals and perennials.  Rosado tries to keep something blooming outdoors at all times.
Indoors is Hoopes' domain.  The artfully arranged orchids you see outside the Shores Restaurant and in the reception rooms, lobby area and men's and women's
 Kay Hoopes orders, researches orchids.
bathrooms, are all results of Hoopes' discerning eye for color and composition.

Each woman has a "holding area" in which plants are stored, pampered, worked on and assessed. Rosado's is outdoors, near the tennis courts.  Hoopes' area is the downstairs orchid room.  There, you'll see her orchids in many stages of development -- resting after blooming, greening up to bud again, about to burst into bloom, and in full bloom and being arranged for their chosen display area.

This handsome resident
enjoys the landscaping
at the tennis pond.
The women confer daily during their separate duties, discussing what they're ordering, asking one another's advice, determining what and where to put plants and bouquets, and deciding which plants need potassium or nitrogen,  which shrubs might need to be replaced, or which beds need to be tended.

While Rosado supervises the other 16 workers who keep the grounds beautiful, she gives Hoopes carte blanche. "She is very creative and a true self starter," says Rosado. "Kay knows what she's doing and loves it."

Besides tending to landscaping, bouquets and grounds, the two nurture other growing things at La Jolla Shores, including a pet seagull named Peepers, who eats from Hoopes' hand and has raised nestlings on the roof near the outdoor staging areas.    They also put food and water out for a large, neat, orange tabby cat who frequents the garage, and always licks the food bowl clean.
Shelly Rosado, left, grounds supervisor, and Kay Hoopes,
 the muse behind the gorgeous orchid displays at the
La Jolla Shores Hotel, in their fragrant "holding area." 
Both women studied botany and worked with gardeners and greenhouses before this post.
Says Hoopes, "It's exciting to be working with orchids, a thing of such beauty. We learn new things every day.  There are no absolutes in the plant world."
What's her favorite orchid?
"One that's blooming and healthy," she says quickly.  "There are no ugly orchids."

COMING WEDNESDAY:  Veteran actor, singer and dancer Ben Vereen recently played several sold out shows at the La Jolla Playhouse. We were part of the delighted audience.  Read about his energetic performance, which drew from the actor's songs in "Pippin" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," and paid homage to show biz and his favorite performers.
Rumor has it the show is
bound for Broadway.  It would not be the first
La Jolla Playhouse gem to head for the Great
White Way.  Vereen's show was performed in
a cabaret setting, and included musical
homages to Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr.,
and other greats.
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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wine and water combine for life's greatest pleasures




A walk through a vineyard always surprises and delights. Both
European and American grape growers frame vines with roses.
STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER


"Wine is sunlight, held together by water." -- Galileo Galilei

I cannot imagine life without wine, but of course I would survive. Less happily, no doubt, but more sober.

But life without water.  No way. Besides our bodies' need for it, and the huge percentage of the body it inhabits, my mental health would shrivel and perish. Dare I say "dry up?" And how would I cry?

How did a kid growing up in land-locked Montana become a devotee of cruising and sailing the world's waterways?

Keller catches a trolly
in Portugal between
visits to vineyards.
It's a miracle. Like water to wine.  Loaves and fishes.

This  kid is no happier than when she's at sea, moving smoothly across the water, with a bottle of wine chilling and her pal Keller at her side.

Maybe we're playing a game of Scrabble.  Quietly reading.  Or maybe Keller opens the vino and pours me a glass. Vivaldi plays softly.

"Clink, clink."

Some of our happiest times the past few months have involved both water and wine. Views from a ship balcony, glass in hand. Ah, sublime!

Lisbon's Altis Belem Hotel and Spa has a magnificent water view.
One of the prettiest sea views we've had in many trips abroad has to be our room with a view of the Altis Belem Hotel and Spa in Lisbon, Portugal.

So hypnotized were we by the floor-to-ceiling views of the Tagus River Harbor that we could scarcely leave the room.

The hotel's elegant decor honors Lisboa's exploring and seafaring heritage, with beautiful murals and illustrated panels....... we admired them on the way to a walk, to the
nearby world-famous Discoveries Monument, which honors intrepid Portuguese sailors and Henry the Navigator. Also within walking distance is the gorgeous and well preserved 12th-century Lisbon Cathedral, Sao Jorge’s Castle, and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: BelĂ©m’s Tower (very close to this top hotel) and the eerily beautiful, almost mystically beautiful and serene Jeronimos Monastery.

Wine lovers enjoy the fruits of the vine at tastings far and wide.
We also took time to taste the fruits of the vine, admiring several vineyards and sampling the wines. In the ancient parish of Belem, just under four miles from central Lisbon but a world away with its tranquil surroundings, we also discovered Vinho Verde. Wow! This refreshing wine is Portugal's answer to Proseco, a slightly carbonated flavorful wine; we brought several bottles back with us.

We do this whenever the opportunity presents itself: sample wines and bring a bottle or two back home, including here in southern California.  Most people think of Napa or Sonoma in conjunction with California wines, but near Santa Barbara, we've several times visited the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard near Los Olivos.
 The Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard
is a wonderful, tasty get-away.
There, the late TV actor, famous for his Daniel Boone character, honed his love of wine, founding a lovely inn, spa and restaurant which his family still owns and operates.

There are many ways to combine the pleasures of the grape with the worlds oceans and rivers.  We are not, by far, the first people to combine the miraculous delights of wine and water.

"Red wine and whitewater" is the theme of a two-day rafting and wine tasting trek by Aventure Connection of Coloma, Calif. www.raftcalifornia.com 1 800 556-6060.
Although we have yet to try it, we're looking forward to checking it out and writing more about it.  El Dorado County is home to some of the finest wineries in
California, and Adventure Connection's wine-savvy guides combine the pleasures of wine tasting with the exploration of the rivers.  The quality of the rafting trips combines with the adventure on and off the rivers and into the wineries for a tasting of varietals as well as a testing of the rapids.

Cookie has her eye on the weather, but her
destination vineyard in southern Europe is only a few miles away.
Several of the top cruise lines also feature wine-themed cruises. Seabourn, Oceania and Crystal are among the highly ranked cruise lines offering cruises that specialize in wine seminars and wine tastings.  Several of Europe's barge cruises also feature wine samplings and vineyard visits. Google: cruises specializing in wine and go to the region that entices you (Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire Valley, etc.) Some ideas to get you started. Check out:
foodandwinetrails.com
cruiseone.com/winecruise
or go to the individual cruise websites for information on your water and wine connection. Clink, clink!

These orchids are among dozens which grace
the grounds of La Jolla Shores Hotel.
Coming Saturday:  In the basement of LaJolla Shores hotel, in a tiny, fragrant room, two botanical wizards work their magic on orchids and other flowering plants to keep the historic hotel in blooms all year long.

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whereiscookie.com

We are having lots of fun with this! Watch for posts every Wednesday and Saturday.