Friday, August 30, 2013

Montana Jack's offers fine fare, superb service and gorgeous views

Ann and Jack Mowell are proud of their rescue and renaming of
Montana Jack's, a popular eatery in the little town of Dean, Montana.

Rural restaurant boasts ambiance, music, tasty fare, fine service in a scenic Montana setting


YEARS AGO, when I first bought a country home in the rugged Beartooth Mountains of Montana, an upscale restaurant was the last luxury I expected within a reasonable drive.
Entrepreneur Jack Mowell has made me one happy girl.
The setting for Mt. Jack's is the beautiful Beartooth Range.
The savvy world traveler, inventor and international businessman came to my neck of the woods, building a lovely country home in Stillwater County.
It's one of several places Mowell and his photographer wife Ann call home. They also spend time in Switzerland, Costa Rica and Tallahassee, Florida.
SO HOW did he come to invest in Jack's?
"Well, we wanted a decent place to have a nice dinner, within a reasonable driving distance," Mowell says.
So he bought a struggling restaurant in the tiny town of Dean, Montana, and set out to make it an appealing place for lunch, dinner or cocktails,
 Montana Jack's offers games and spectacular scenery, above,
and below, the writer entertains for a Jack's gathering.
First, he hired an astute general manager.  The amiable and efficient Gena Burghoff runs the place, which Mowell renamed after himself:  "Montana Jack's Bar and Grill."
The attractive Burghoff and her husband, Chrisopher Lockhart, a talented chef, have turned the place into a popular eatery, with a wine list equaling any in the state, and a menu designed to please both town and country palates.
THE GENIUS of the well thought out menu at Jack's is that it is not huge.  But it is varied and tasty and features an enticing array of the best available produce, herbs and meats.
Diners can tuck into a series of pretty salads and appetizers, or go straight for the meat and potatoes, with many enticing variations in between for small, large and medium appetites.
Fourth of July fun includes 
The waitresses and bar tenders have been well trained to be attentive, friendly and professional, on a par with any "big city" operation.
What a treat to find them -- and what they serve -- in this scenic rural get-away.
JACK'S ARTISTIC wife, Ann, helped decorate the place, with attractive curtains and flowers and some eye-catching pieces of art.  She also had the piano tuned (she is   a gifted musician), cleaned the beautiful stone fireplace, and redesigned the interior of the pretty wooden building so that the bar is opposite the kitchen, and the restaurant space flows nicely from the kitchen.
Gena Burghoff and Christopher Lockart at Mt. Jack's.
She is general manager and he is chief chef.
The homemade soups are always luscious, including squash seasoned with fennel and other herbs, and the house and Caesar salads are beautifully presented. Tempura fried green beans are an interesting and flavorful starter, along with my favorite Korean short ribs -- spicy with scallions and a sweet-sour marinade. Scallops, prawns and other salads are also available, and Jack's is proud of its gluten-free and vegetarian options for every course, so just ask.
MAIN COURSE options include Rocky Mountain trout, for $24, with glazed vegetables, capers and a basil oil.  The chicken, at $23, is served with a tangy cucumber, feta and kalamata olive and pesto salad.  The surf and turf, at $34, is a flavorful New York steak with scallops and shrimp, and there's always a vegetarian pasta, very popular, to which one may  add shrimp. Jack's is, as befitting a Montana bistro, a meat-eater's paradise, with
Well behaved dogs, including this proud lab, are welcome at Jack's.
a ribeye, buffalo t-bone, pork chop and steak frites offered.
The meats are lean, beautifully coked and served with various vegetables and starch offerings, including oven-roasted tomato, corn puree, glazed carrots, crisp green beans, and a wonderful creamy blue cheese potato dish cooked in cast iron.
JACK'S POLENTA is flavored with that same rich and tasty blue cheese.
 Teri Udey makes the fabulous pastries, including flavorful cakes and a delightful creme brule. The desserts change daily!
A kids' menu offers trout, cheeseburgers, chicken or shrimp with fries or green beans, for a reasonable $7.  (Plus color crayons and a
Fireworks bring out the crowds on July Fourth.
little menu to decorate.)

Locals and summer people gather for supper and drinks at Jack's.
At right, a children's menu and young Olivia's color crayon efforts.
The wines and beers number several dozen, with micro brews from throughout the region and wines from both American vineyards, Europe and New Zealand.
Live music options at Jack's are fun, too.  In the interest of full disclosure, the writer (yes, Cookie!) plays piano at Jack's from time to time.  She's booked a couple times in September and October, including Saturday night, Sept. 26, so check out Jack's website for more on that. Sunday brunch at Jack's is a popular tradition, often with live music. Other Jack's regulars include guitarist and ballad singer, Norrine the Outlaw Queen, who always brings out a crowd with her mix of country, swing and old-time western tunes.
 Jack's also has a wonderful patio, where diners spill over on pleasant summer evenings and special events such as the Fourth of July fireworks. You'll find doggies are welcome, and you might learn a rope trick or two. Fundraising endeavors such as Stillwater Protective Association use Jack's.
Don't miss an opportunity to enjoy Jack's pleasures.  You won't be sorry. Call 406 328-4110 or go to for updates and live music listings.  And you may check the place out on Facebook.

                                                                COMING SOON:  Flower power, Montana style.
Montana's apple harvest
and sunflowers. Coming soon.
And the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings has a proud history, dating back 80-plus years as a performing arts center, the largest in the northern Rockies. Read how it was saved from destruction and went on to flourish!

WE'RE also "north to Alaska" with glaciers, whales and trains.
Remember to explore, learn and live and check us out Wednesdays and Saturdays at:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

....26 miles across the sea, Catalina Island is a waitin' for me

The harbor at Avalon, the major village in Catalina, is a colorful place to park your boat.

California island offers restful, scenic time out-- the tune that made it famous lives on!


 "Twenty six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is awaitin' for me, Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance, romance."
Set sail for easy-going Catalina and you won't be sorry.

    THE FOUR PREPS' hit song of 1957 was inspired by singer Bruce Belland's teenage affection for Santa Catalina and spring baseball training.
Living through a chilly Chicago winter as a kid, he was mesmerized by  newsreels of his beloved Chicago Cubs practicing under the swaying palms of a place he longed to visit.
Many years later, the song came to him.  He was recovering from a broken limb and still fantasizing about "the island of romance, romance, romance."
HIS SONG made him -- and the island -- famous, inspiring Jimmy Buffet and many other singers with its comforting, tropical tone.
Relaxation seekers board a Point Dana boat for Catalina.
The pretty little island is only 21 miles long and eight miles wide, and the principal town is the picturesque Avalon, on Catalina's southeast corner.
The smaller settlement of Two Harbors is on the other end, at Catalina's isthmus, northwest end.
IT'S ACTUALLY closer to 80 miles from San Diego, but whether you sail from Los Angeles, or farther south, be prepared for a beautiful look at the sea and a charming experience once you're there.
You can reach Catalina by sea or air and crossing time by boat ranges from an hour or 90 minutes, to eight or 10 hours, depending from where you depart, and by what mode of transportation.
You can go by sea or air and the Catalina Express is the most popular mode of transportation, departing from Dana Point, a lovely coastal town between San Diego and Los Angeles.
Catalina's town of Avalon is tucked against the hills. 
Many people take their private boats between the mainland and the island, which was likely settled about 2,500 years ago by the Gabrielino Indians. Historians believe they came there centuries ago, as early as 5000 B.C.
Europeans didn't discover it until 1542, about 50 years after Columbus, when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo found it during his quest for the mythical passage between the Atlantic and Pacific.

"Water all around it everywhere
 Tropical trees and the salty air
 But for me the thing that's a-waitin' there -- romance"

Young people from the mainland enjoy a weekend Catalina get-away.
Today,Catalina is a get-away for families and couples.  It's pace is slower than the mainland's, and it's much closer than Hawaii, with several nice hotels and B&Bs, and a half-dozen or more excellent restaurants, ranging from nautical-themed pizza and chicken joints, to cocktail lounges, to steak and seafood places, and Italian complete with homemade pesto and extensive seafood and veal entrees.
AS THE song suggests, it is romantic, with fine beaches, inviting tennis courts, and places to hike, camp, golf and deep-sea fish.
Bikes can be rented and everyone who lives there gets around in golf carts, helping maintain balance in the fragile environment.
Cars are mostly not allowed on most of Catalina,
so the locals and visitors use gold carts primarily.
There is also a variety of adventure, undersea and glass-bottom boat options developed by Catalina Adventure Tours .
IF YOU'RE a history buff and are interested in steamships, you'll enjoy the Catalina Island Museum in Avalon, with its interactive exhibit chronicling the history of steamship transportation.  And our songwriting Mr. Belland would be happy to see that his beloved Chicago Cubs are immortalized in a part of the exhibi which focuses on their spring training.
The William Wrigley family, of the chewing gum fortune, was responsible for much of the island's development as a resort and sport fishing paradise.  The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden, two miles south of Avalon, honors Wrigley Jr., who was
It's possible to truly get away in Catalina, especially off season!
instrumental in the island's development and garden plans.  The beautiful garden features an extensive succulent collection. The Santa Catalina Island Conservancy helps preserve the island's native flora and fauna and now owns 88 per cent of the island.
IT'S NOT widely known, but it's a fact that bison inhabit Catalina, too.
The Conservancy helps keep the herd to about 200 -- optimum for best survival -- down from the 400 that once grazed here.
The bison history dates back to the 1920s when a half-dozen were brought here for a movie that was never made.  They've been in the news lately, because of a progressive birth control program introduced by the Conservancy, involving dart gun and effective birth control.

"Forty kilometers in a leaky old boat
 Any old thing that'll stay afloat
 When we arrive we'll all promote romance, romance, romance, romance."

This pretty building reflects the island's Mediterranean architecture. 
TODAY's BOATS are mostly yachts -- no leaks now -- and only tour buses and cars with permit stickers are allowed outside the Avalon area. If you want to see the bison, or go on a boat for fishing, snorkeling or pleasure, you'll need to go through Catalina Adventure Tours or Santa Catalina Island Company Discovery Tours. You can google the island for accommodations and find the range of hotels and eateries. The lovely Seacrest Inn, El Terado Terrace and Hotel Metropole caught our eyes while we were staying with friends.  The Catalina Courtyard Garden Wing has dog friendly digs in its pretty dozen
A pelican stretches in the sun of Catalina Island.
units.  Next time, we'll check that out with our Yorkies, Nick and Nora.  The Villa Portofino is on the ocean right in Avalon. And several smaller properties, including Hotel St. Lauren, MacRae and Atwater, look picturesque and welcoming, too.
Check with the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and enjoy.
 Just remember to "stay afloat" -- which you'll need to do in your pursuit of romance, romance, romance, romance!

Next up, a two-part feature on Montana -- splendid in its summer glory.
First, on Saturday, we spotlight a popular eatery in the little town of Dean.  Montana Jack's Bar and Grill and the Stillwater Saloon draw crowds in a rural setting with an "uptown" menu and eel to it.  Then we take a look next time at the splendors under the Big Sky.  Then we're on to a bit of history on the Alberta Bair Museum, the largest performing arts complex in the northern Rockies.   Remember to explore, learn and live. And keep reading us Wednesdays and Saturdays at:

Friday, August 23, 2013

What a dame my mother was -- singing 'without no pants on'

A mother's love of all things theatrical inspires lifelong affection for drama, movies, costumes and the Land of Make Believe 

Rudolph Valentino inspired the writer's mum's sense of drama.

"I'm the sheik of Araby (without no pants on)
Your love belongs to me (without no pants on)
At night when you're asleep  (without no pants on)
Into your tent I'll creep (without no pants on)......"


SHE WAS always my first birthday caller.
She'd burst into the traditional "Happy Birthday" song, always adding in her perfect-pitch mezzo: "Without no pants on.  And many more."
Ellen Nystul Cosgriffe
class valedictorian photo, 1945.
The writer's parents, Ellen and Richard Cosgriffe, in the late 1940s.
I understood the "and many more" part. Lots of people add that little footnote.
Robbie,  Ellen, Cookie
frolicking on board the QEII.
But the "without no pants on" part -- what the heck did that mean?
After more than six decades of wondering, I decided to find out as my mother's own Aug. 27 birthday approaches.
So here goes:  That little addendum, "without no pants on," forever part of our family tradition,  refers to the song, "The Sheik of Araby." It was written six years before my mother's birth, in 1921, by Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler who composed it in response to the wild popularity of Rudolph Valentino and his "Sheik" films.  Mums was a huge Valentino fan.
THE SONG lived on long after Valentino's untimely demise, and  Don Albert's band recorded the first parody version with the chant "Without no pants on" between the lines of lyrics.

Cookie and her mum, Ellen,
had tons of fun, here singing "Side by Side."
Fats Waller, Rosey Clooney, Spike Jones and many others -- including the Marx Bros and the Beatles -- recorded their versions.
Valentino died young, in his twenties, almost a year to the day of my mother's birth. He'd been in that great casbah in the sky for a year when Ellen Betty Nystul, was born Aug. 27, 1927, the only daughter of Gustav and Olive.
As a child, she looked much like Shirley Temple with fetching curls and that same precocious talent.  She could sing and tap dance, play trumpet and violin.  She learned piano in a day, watching her mother, my talented gram, play. She was drum majorette, tap dancer, ballerina (I have her toe shoes, a red pair and a beige.)
STILL A TODDLER, she began her lifelong love of theater, costumes, singing.
Valentino's sense of style
inspired Ellen, and a parody with
 the famous "without no pants on." 
When we Cosgriffes were growing up, we entertained in our small Montana town.
The late Jim Annin ("They Gazed on the Beartooths" author and city father) often introduced us, "The Countless Cosgriffes."
Ellen's memorial was a theatrical family affair.
It began with just two Cosgriffes -- "Cookie and Peny" -- and grew to include the whole family.  My mother always dreamed we would be a Rocky Mountain version of the Von Trapp family, singing a western "Edelweis" to an enraptured audience.
WE PERFORMED cuttings from popular Broadway shows of the day:  "Oklahoma" (I was Ado Annie, the girl "who cain't say no") and "My Fair Lady" (my brother Rick was a reluctant Henry Higgins, complete with English accent; we females were the extras -- flower girls in Covent Garden, the hatted Ascot horse-race ladies. Peny was picked to sing "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" to my piano accompaniment. In a sketch from "Annie Get Your Gun," we wore western duds for a bang-up "Doing What Comes Naturally.")
Ellen's later years included theatrics and lots of dogs.
Mum dressed us alike for our 1964 trip to the East Coast and the New York World's Fair, hoping, I presume, that we'd be discovered by a news photographer from NBC.  I remember one of our outfits well:  black and white t-shirts, black shorts and smart little red scarves.
One afternoon, we walked from our hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, to Rockefeller Center.  We sang "Give My Regards to Broadway" on a street corner, to amused New Yorker smiles.

Ellen also enjoyed hats and wore this one to her granddaughter's wedding.
MUM HAD dyed all our hair red --  hers was already a brilliant henna and my sister Peny had an authentic, gorgeous naturally red mane.  Mine was not red enough for mum, so she touched it up a bit. The blondes and brunettes in the family became redheads, too.
Daddy wore the t-shirts, but refused to submit to the Clairol bottle!
I KNOW Valentino was mum's greatest theatrical inspiration for his sense of style and drama.
 She saw all his pictures multiple times, knew about his romances on and off the screen.
She had a trunk of Middle Eastern costumes -- long flowing robes and scarves. She became an excellent belly dancer and performed her "Dance of Seduction" at her 25-year high school reunion!
 The writer knows her mother would have enjoyed Cairo's belly dancers. 
MUM IS responsible for my love of the Middle East. And my passion for costumes, dancing, dress-up and hats. I've played in pit orchestras for dozens of musicals, from "The Fantasticks" to "Man of La Mancha" and "Cabaret," in which I played piano as head of the bawdy Kit Kat Band. (NOT "without no pants on"!)
Late last year, I returned to Cairo, where a buxom belly dancer entertained us, slithering up to Keller during a Nile cruise performance. I toured a real casbah!
A casbah in Morocco.
I've been to several exotic dance performances recently, including a spirited tango show in San Diego and a flamenco production in Las Vegas.
I've donned a pirate girl hat on an afternoon sail with Cap'n Keller.
 "Come to my casbah," mum would whisper to us as little kids. "We shall make beautiful music together."
Ellen's last public appearance in 2008, here at a
reception with her daughter, left, and Hannelore Carter.
 THAT INVITATION meant come to the costume trunk.  We'd squeal with delight and rummage through mounds of costumes -- orange and green can-can skirts, red and black flapper dresses, Victorian bustles, western skirts. And always hats!
We'd decide on a theme, dress up and off we'd go off with mum to a world of make believe -- the casbah. And beyond.
At mum's memorial, the clan gathered to tell stories, remember costumes, sing her favorite songs.

Cookie and Keller carry on the costume and hat 
tradition inspired by Cookie's late mother!  

My mother: what a dame! She was inspired and inspirational. She painted, danced, traveled, lived with gusto. She invented recipes and didn't let a missing ingredient send her to the store. "Improvise," she'd say. No flour for the Thanksgiving gravy? Use pancake mix. Delicious! Everyone raved.
SHE WON every masquerade ball in which she competed, whether dressed as a Russian cossack, Indian princess or French chanteuse. Her prizes:  three months of milk from the Columbus Creamery, a radio, 25 pounds of butter, a garbage disposal, 300 feet of garden hose, a free permanent at the hair dresser's!
SHE WAS eccentric, no doubt, larger than life, an Isadora Duncan figure living in a small Montana town, surrounded by people who mostly didn't share her sensibilities or sense of drama but appreciated her talent. She yearned to "bust outta this little berg" and she did, saying "Good-bye Columbus" (Montana) to earn
New York's Times Square -- Cookie and her mum loved it!
advanced degrees and use her own personal struggles and experiences to help others.
Although she's been gone five years, I still hear her voice on my birthday phone call. How I wish I could call her on hers and return the compliment.
I keep her castanets on my night table and look at them every day.  Sometimes I put them on my fingers and click them.
"Come to my casbah," they seem to say. Thanks, mum. "And many more. Without no pants on."

Santa Catalina is a picturesque destination for our travelers.
COMING UP: Travel with us to "26 Miles Across the Sea....." The island of Santa Catalina is waitin' for us! Then we're north to Alaska, with a look at the pleasures of cruising the state's wild coast.
Plus a study of the evolution of the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings, Montana, flowers under the Big Sky, Montana Jack's summer offerings and Rio's wonders.
Remember to explore, learn and live and check us out Wednesdays and Saturdays at:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lyle Lovett is a shining star at Humphreys, boat people and all

Concerts by the bay attract sell-out crowds to picturesque venue

"If I had a boat / I'd go out on the ocean / And if I had a pony / I'd ride him on my boat / And we could all together / Go out on the ocean / Me upon my pony on my boat ..." Humphreys' "boat people" gather on the water to listen to the concert. The venue is a San Diego, sold-out favorite.  

Lyle Lovett's performance included generous
time to show off mandolin, bass and other players.

GO OUT on their boats, they did!
Although there were no ponies in sight.
One of the prettiest concert venues in the country -- perhaps the world -- is Humphreys Concerts by the Bay.
Lyle Lovett likes it, too.
Humphreys concert patrons may also stay in the Half-Moon Inn, above.
The Texas born troubadour recently played a sold-out concert at Humphreys. Lovett's "Large Band" -- spiffy in suits and ties -- came on stage promptly at the promised 8 p.m. curtain time, receiving a generous hand from the audience and launching into a rousing swing opener, each musician taking a solo turn.
THEN LOVETT walked on the stage to cheers, thanking the sold-out crowd for its rousing welcome, and giving a hello to the folks in their boats, who also enjoy the evening's music -- but without buying a ticket.
"You've been here with me from the beginning of my career here," Lovett deadpanned. "But I think your boats are getting bigger."
The crowd was in a good mood. Who isn't, at Humphreys?
Cookie thanks her lucky stars for the good life,
recently a  fabulous Humphreys concert with Lyle Lovett.
The audience showered cheers upon Lovett, appreciating his singing, playing and writing and his versatility in any style -- from down home country and bluegrass to gospel, pop, jazz, rock blues and swing.  Wow, does he swing.
I'VE BEEN a fan for his entire career, from back when he was a struggling songwriter and opening act. Swing, he does, along with that crack back-up band.
Lovett's grueling tour features perhaps the best band in the country, each a magnificent musician himself.
He gave wide forum to each of his players -- horns, guitars, bass, mandolin, violin, even steele guitar and his longtime cellist, who sits to Lovett's left.
Lyle Lovett always brings down the house at picturesque Humphreys.
Besides being a top musician, Lovett is a nice guy.  A real professional.  His rapport with his musicians is evident the entire performance and while the players come and go, he stays on stage the entire time, sharing the spotlight and giving generous time to their endeavors, new songs, solo capabilities and vocal talents.
Another sell-out at Humphreys.  Our advice: book your tickets early.
Lovett is a Humphreys regular, dating back to his days as an opening act for singer Bonnie Raitt 25 yeas ago.
He returned many times since and pronounced Humphreys "one of our favorite venues."
HUMPHREYS, like Lyle Lovett, has it all, too: ambiance, terrific location with the ocean view, good food and drink, friendly waiters and a civilized, fun loving audience.
The venue has hosted the creme de la creme of the entertainment world since its opening a quarter
Humphreys is alight with its signature palm trees swaying in breezes.
century ago on the picturesque boating and tourism hub of Shelter Island, on Point Loma west of downtown on San Diego Bay.
Among celebrities to play, and return, are singers Tony Bennett and Cindi Lauper, Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Melissa Etheridge, and the legendary Willie Nelson, who is also a frequent visitor to my other favorite state, Montana. Popular groups and duos also play Humphreys, ranging from Chicago and Gipsy Kings to Huey Lewis and the News, the Doobie Brothers and Air Supply.  And comics like the venue, too -- Joan Rivers and Bill Cosby both visited this summer.
Pretty view of San Diego's skyline, strolling back to the car after the show.
LOVETT'S generous show featured many of his hits and award winners, including "If I Had a Boat" and "She's No Lady."
He grinned approval as the crowd sang along to the rhythmic and whimsical boat song: If I had a boat / I'd go out on the ocean / And if I had a pony / I'd ride him on my boat / And we could all together / Go out on the ocean / Me upon my pony on my boat..."
LOVETT'S craggy, weathered look spells endurance. He's survived a much publicized marriage and friendly divorce with actress Julia Roberts and a horrible accident when he was smashed against a fence by a bull at his Uncle's ranch.
Keller and Cookie -- singing along
at Humphreys with Lyle Lovett.
What makes him endure are his class-act musicians, his own genius and versatility and his professionalism which shines through on stage and is obviously part of his off-stage history.
HUMPHREYS feels smaller than its 1,400 seats indicate.  And there's really not a bad seat in the house.  We try to get up in the first 10 rows to avoid the need for binoculars.  Humphreys is romantic, a fun treat for an anniversary or birthday celebration.
And the stage is elevated for good views --  you won't find better lighting or acoustics in San Diego's varied performance venues.
Humphreys Concerts by the Bay are held on the grounds of Half Moon Inn at 2241 Shelter Island Drive. Take I-5 to the Rosecrans exit, take Rosecrans west to Shelter Island Drive and turn left. Humphrey's Half moon Inn is on the right. There is a parking fee at Humphreys, but we usually park along the bay, in one of the free spots a few blocks up.
The stroll to Humphreys from free parking is a pretty one along the water.
Concert prices are  in the $50-$75 range and dinner and overnight packages are available. Sell outs are usual.  Book ahead. You can pay and park on the site, or drive a few blocks to park by the water.  It's a pretty stroll to Humphreys, past picnic areas and pelicans.
Bring a wrap because the ocean breeze kicks in about 9 p.m. Prepare to have your purse or satchel looked in.  You cannot bring in your own food or snacks, but there's plentiful libation within the venue.

COMING SOON: Birthday tradition in the writer's family involves the "Happy Birthday" song, with a unique addendum. Find out what "Without
Come to our casbah -- Saturday!
No Pants On" means, and the link between the famous silent film star Rudolph Valentino and Cookie's mother, Ellen. We'll also pay tribute to the writer's mother who is greatly missed and would have been 86 Aug. 27. And we'll go to Montana for a flowery summertime diversion, then travel north to Alaska, check out the colorful history of the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings, and travel "26 Miles Across the Sea" to Santa Catalina of song fame.  Remember to explore, learn and live.
And check out our Wednesday and Saturday posts at:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Violence in Egypt concerns travelers to this wondrous place

Throughout Egypt, handsome and friendly children greeted American visitors who wonder if they are safe now.

Friendship with brilliant guide, encounters with children, foster worry for their safety

Adept as a guide and translator, Amr took the photographer
and writer through Egypt, proudly sharing his country's wonders.

AS NEWS of bloodshed in Cairo commands our attention this week, we wonder about our friend Amr.
We met this talented, multi-lingual guide and translator last autumn during a memorable and magical trip to his native Egypt and the Middle East.
We spent only a few days with him, but we became fast friends.  He won our affection and admiration with his diplomacy, talent and bravery.
He sheperded us through lanes of daunting traffic -- including buses, cars and donkey carts -- from Alexandria up to Cairo, directing our faithful bus driver and working comfortably with our group of 20-some tourists, a security guard
Cookie and Keller were safe with Amr; here they enjoy Giza's splendors.
who accompanied us on our journey, and many museum, gallery, hotel and restaurant operators.
AMR GUIDED us through mosques, where we carefully removed our shoes, and through ancient sites to view wonders, always offering thoughtful reflections on the contributions of his country's rich culture to the world.
Events of the "Arab Spring" had only recently unfolded and Amr was recovering from injuries in the demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
As we drove past a huge prison a half-mile off the highway, he noted that deposed president Hosni Mubarak was housed in that very jail.
"So what do you think of Mohammed Morsi?" we asked. Although, he was in power, he had not yet been
The marvelous Egyptian Museum has more than 120,000
relics of the pharaohs, and King Tutankhamun's tomb treasures.
elected President.
Amr paused, collected his thoughts and explained that he was not a fan of the now ousted president. "He will be more of the same," he said with fervor.  "We need change, idealism, someone to lead us to our new, free future and fulfillment of our potential."
DURING OUR time with him, chatting in the famed Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Amr expressed his idealism that Egypt become a true democracy, that all Egyptians would be treated as equal with no regard for color, gender, belief.
Amr expressed depression and anxiety as the election loomed. What does he think now?
AMR SPOKE with affection of his wife, "an educated, contemporary woman," as we passed dozens of women in traditional head garb and veils.
Not all Egyptian women wear full body coverings, or burkas.
Amr is among the educated, young idealists involved in the original demonstration near Cairo's Tahrir Square. He is also a father of two youngsters.  He is reluctant to align himself with any group, to subscribe to either the Muslim Brotherhood or the old regime. He deplores violence.
Extremism in any direction, he believes, is not a good option.
Amr professed confusion about what the U.S. wants for Egypt, the "mixed signals" he feels we are sending.
I would hope he would be sympathetic to America now, as we are faulted by all sides as the complex events unfold.
Shopkeepers and vendors struggle in Cairo to make ends meet.
FOR CERTAIN, the recent military crackdown and bloodshed would disturb him.
We wonder what his reaction is to President Obama's pleas for the government to back off. Surely he would commend Obama's condemnation of the murder of civilians.
And he would remind us how difficult life has become for the average common man, trying to earn a living selling fruit juice or peppers.
As Amr chatted with guides and shopkeepers, we saw a true work ethic, a yearning to make life better.
One of many Cairo mosques.
AMR KNOWS transition will take time. He shook his head sadly as he described the decline of "civilized life" in his country.  It could not be denied, with the mounds of garbage and wrecked cars, the crush of people and signs of poverty everywhere. Still, the children smiled, were curious and spoke animated English to us.
Time will tell Egypt's future. Hosni Mubarak was in power more than 30 years, and his philosophies were deeply imbedded. A transition to full democracy may take a decade or more.
The discontent felt by Amr and many of his fellow Egyptians has to be acute -- even those who supported Morsi must be disappointed that he was not able to accomplish altruistic goals.
We wonder if Amr is safe.  He was injured in the first rebellion two years ago.  His goals are shared by thousands of other young, educated Egyptians:
The Nile River: thoroughfare for tourist, commerce and recreational vehicles.
*That Egypt develop a democratic procedure for selecting leaders.
*That citizens' rights under the law be respected and protected.
*That social justice be upheld.
Amr's criticism of the Brotherhood stems from his belief that now ousted President Morsi would not represent a departure from the corruption and repression of his predecessor.
The recent violence is a reminder of the schisms in Egyptian society.  There is great distrust of the Brotherhood.  There are pro-Morsi supporters.  The military.  Police.  Secret service.  There will likely be backlashes after the protests.  Surely Amr and his friends thought the military would help them, turn things around, as they did when Mubarak was ousted.
A whirling dervish entertains, on a Nile dinner cruise with guide Amr.
Now, the hugely powerful military is responsible for hundreds of deaths. Thousands more are wounded.
The instability is bad globally and has a hugely negative effect on tourism in the land of ancient wonders. How sad is the carnage near the great pyramids of Giza, and in the very square where we lunched with Amr.
We all wonder: will there be another election?  Democracy seems to have been crushed.What will become of the Brotherhood and Al Quida, which seem to be enemies? Does this spell an end to the attempt for a free society?  What will the ramifications be in Syria?
Where are the ideological commitments on which democracy is based?
Animated discussion follows an accident on a busy Cairo street.
What effect will the military's actions have to do on the country's embattled economy?
EGYPTIANS were beleaguered when we visited last fall, aware that the country's infrastructure was collapsing.
Now they are mourning, burying their dead.
Please the gods, may our smart, sweet, talented Amr, not be among the casualties.

Flowers abloom in Montana.
We return to Montana for flower power under the Big Sky. The Treasure State is abloom, in one of the lushest floral summers our reporter can recall. And this Saturday, we visit the San Diego
concert venue of Humphreys By the Bay. Humphreys has it all: gorgeous oceanside setting, tremendous talent, wonderful sound and lights, a terrific bar. Already this summer, Humphreys has hosted superstars of every persuasion, from Lyle Lovett, Bill Cosby and Bill Maher, to Willie Nelson, Garrison Keillor, Joan Rivers and Cyndi Lauper.  It's not too late to take in Melissa Etheridge, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Diana Krall and others.
More next week. Explore, learn and live, and check us out on Wednesdays and Saturdays at: