Thursday, December 24, 2015

HOLIDAY DOUBLE-HEADER: Brilliant 'Berlin'; Hornblower hooray

Hershey Felder channels the great Irving Berlin at La Jolla Playhouse, in a spirited, fast-paced and engaging program.
It's set in Berlin's living room, with movie clips and fascinating commentary.  Below, the lovely Mandell Weiss Theatre. 


and courtesy LaJolla Playhouse

NOTHING EVOKES holiday spirit the way Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" does. And nothing says "holiday" like time on Hornblower's fleet -- maybe dinner, lunch or a buffet cruise. Why not combine my two favorite pursuits -- theater and cruising -- for an over-the-top present to yourself! A play and a Hornblower jaunt can be wrapped into a single day with one event in the afternoon, the other in the evening -- you choose the order. You're the culture choreographer.
FIRST COURSE: HERSHEY Felder's Irving Berlin show at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse. (This alone is worth an airplane ticket. Throw in fabulous dining, sunshine and the ocean and you're set.)
No other composer comes captures the spirit of American yuletide as does Berlin, born May 11, 1888, in Russia. As a child, he immigrated with his parents to Manhattan, growing up a poor Jewish kid on the lower East Side.  But he was rich in talent and discovered his gifts on the piano, which would move him to Broadway.
Irving Berlin, who played on the "black keys,"
-- sharps and flats -- had two daughters, who
were enthusiastic help in Felder's research.  
 He didn't take the name Irving Berlin.  It became his moniker when "Israel Isidore Baline" was misspelled as "I. Berlin" on an early composition.  His sheet music moniker stuck.
AS BERLIN was unique, so is Hershey Felder. He brilliantly shares Berlin's spirit, talent and uniquely "American" approach to musical theater and life.  Felder is a familiar musical face in San Diego, with gigs at the Lipinsky Family Jewish Arts Festival and one-man shows including his wonderful Gershwin homage.
His joyful tribute to Berlin is beautifully staged at La Jolla Playhouse in the Mandell Weiss Theatre.   An elegant  living room, decked out with poinsettias and a Christmas tree -- whose top glistens, of course -- provide the setting for Felder's Berlin odyssey as we traverse joys, sorrows, triumphs and eccentricities of the beloved composer.  Felder plays a young Berlin, then a loving husband, grieving father and tired Army recruit -- who hates to get up in the morning.... As his character reaches his centenary, Felder plays him halting and frail, still with characteristic humor. Through commentary and film clips, the thread that binds is a joyful concert of vintage Berlin music. The production finishes Jan. 3.

*  *  *
Hornblower fans enjoy an outing-- sisters Cookie and Misha.
This Hornblower cruise was out of San Diego Bay. 
AND WE'RE tooting the Hornblower horn.  In this quiet week between Christmas and  the dropping of the famous ball above Times Square in Manhattan, why not sail into the New Year aboard one of Hornblower Cruises' fine yachts. It's a happy way to treat family, friends and yourself to a night on the water with a lovely dinner, lunch or brunch.
Hornblower aficionado Bruce Keller toasts Hornblower in
the San Francisco Bay. Here's to "Happy Hornblowing" 2016.
We recently enjoyed the Hornblower's classy presentation on a sunset dinner cruise.  Fantastic salmon with apricot glaze and tender braised short ribs, gorgeous cranberry and greens with feta salad and a delightful apple cranberry tart. You may enjoy the sights and sips happy hour or a brunch cruise -- if you're seeing the play that evening.  The three-hour "full moon dinner cruise" is Christmas Day and Dec. 26. And if you're planning ahead, Hornblower offers special cruises for Valentine's Day and Easter.
Because Hornblower sails out of several U.S. ports, check and see if you are one of the lucky cities -- from Sacramento to New York City, including Long Beach, San Francisco and San Diego, where we happily winter.

Cookie cranks it out on her e-flat alto sax.

UP NEXT: KICK HELL out of your bucket list: It's New Year's resolution time. Instead of making lists of things to correct and improve upon, how about a list of things you'd love to do. The trip to the Pyramids, the cruise you've dreamed of, the sky-dive, the bridge climb in Sydney, Australia, the theater trip to London, a journey to the Galapagos to see the giant tortoises. Or have you always wanted to play the saxophone?  Carpe diem, kiddos: up next at whereiscookie. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us as the weekend approaches for our lively slant on adventure, travel and the arts.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Santa Catalina -- the island of romance, fine dining, adventure, fun

Signature coconut shrimp, hibachi steak with mushrooms and yummy soup made moments ago are part of a delightful "Taste of
Catalina" food and history tour, with Lili Dana a delightful guide for a walking, learning and munching tour of Avalon.
Lili Dana greets tour tasters with a lively history of Catalina
Island and The Four Preps, whose "26 Miles Across the Sea"
made Catalina famous, along with tasty food and friendly people. 



WE HAD four days to discover Catalina.
I, a Montana kid, had loggged only one earlier brief visit "26 miles across the sea." Acting as my tour guide was lifelong Catalina island fan, sailor, native San Diegan and my half-amphibian partner, Bruce Keller. He'd been to Avalon  many times -- diving and taking photos -- glowing reports!
Cookie and Keller took a kayak excursion out of Descanso
Beach, where a stylish hotel once sat and many kinds
 of relaxation and water sport await.
SO ON THE FERRY over, he gave me a history lesson, along with a glass of chardonnay: More than a century ago, an eccentric sailor, Captain Joseph McAfee, sailed a flat bottom houseboat from Venice Beach to Santa Catalina.  He'd purchased land with a wonderful view of the bay, determined to make Avalon home.
THE CAPTAIN'S spirit and sense of adventure typify today's Catalina resident: visionary, persistent, not afraid to be different. In love with the sea and the views.
McAfee  hauled his "house" up a hill and opened what would become a hotel.
McAfee's 1912 vision spawned today's Catalina Island, which offers luxury hotels, cottages, condos, camping and bargain hotels --  you can be active or laid back, your call.
WE ENJOYED the pleasant ride over on Catalina Express, a comfy ferry. The only year round boat service to Catalina Island, it offers regular daily departures from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point to both the main city, Avalon, and the quieter, smaller Two Harbors. Between my history talk and the cocktail, the smooth trip over flew.  A VIP lounge for a few dollars more is worth the upgrade:
We strolled to the lovely Descanso Beach Club offers fine dining, lovely landscaping and a variety of water sports.
 Here we met our guide for an narrated kayaking journey to Frog Rock.
ONCE THERE, we called the Catalina Boat House and were picked up at the nearby harbor in the island's favorite mode of transport, a golf cart. (The waiting list for a car is years long and gas is more than $7 a gallon, so the golf carts are fun, sensible and environmentally friendly.) The Boathouse -- formerly the captain's Catalina Beach House Hotel -- is a pleasant walk from the action, in a residential area with friendly people and dogs.  Captain McAfee would approve, for he was a lover of the good life -- from the flying 
Keller and Nora prepare to enjoy a few
active but relaxing days on Catalina, which
is very dog friendly and a lovely get-away.
fish he showed off at night -- to fresh seafood he favored.
The Catalina Express runs regularly from several mainland
departure points with a comfy, fast and scenic one-hour journey.
The beautiful and historic Avalon Casino has a Christmas tree atop.
HE WOULD have loved the coconut shrimp at Steve's Steakhouse, one of our stops on the delightful "Taste of Catalina" tour we booked, with our charming guide Lili Dana. Six varied and thoughtfully ordered stops are included in the three-hour walking excursion where Lili serves up intriguing bits of island lore to accompany a half-dozen "light bites" including fabulous green beans at the town's well loved Oriental restaurant, Mr.Ning's Chinese Garden, bedecked with dozens of umbrellas. On to  splendid seafood chowder at Bluewater Avalon with its magnificent waterfront patio, then stops for a Mexican snack, cinnamon tea and a tasty ice cream soda dessert. Each stop has character and Lili keeps the commentary running in an amusing, never cloying fashion.
It's fun, filling and educational and a good way to get a feel of the island, returning to favorites as we did to Steve's and Bluewater. We also dined one night at Avalon Grille, which is a world class establishment. The scallops and tenderloin were superb, service impeccable.

BEST BETS: for a hit of holiday cheer,
tap into "A Christmas Carol"
at Cygnet Theatre

 This Old Town venue in San Diego, provides
a  fun spin on the familiar story:
 Sean Murray's
 adaptation offers laughter, 
ironic but tender touches, fine acting 
by a versatile cast, adaptations of familiar carols
(Oh Come Emmanuel and Bring a Torch
 Jeanette Isabella) Book it for a fast track 
to holiday joy: 
THE FLYING fish the cap'n loved can be seen on the walls of Catalina Island's famed casino, which we'll feature down the road in its own story.  The artwork is phenomenal.... and the handsome museum within -- building its own larger complex -- is  a delightful way to spend a few hours.
Catalina offers upscale spa treatments, diving, biking, Saturday night movies and splendid free weekend organ concerts, parasailing, charter boats-- or just lovely beachfront places to park yourself, read and see if you can glimpse the mainland you've left behind. And for this Montana native, seeing bison outside of my Yellowstone Park stomping grounds was a wonder!
The Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce is one of the most efficient and helpful I've come across in years of travel writing.  The fine website helps line up whatever you fancy for your tailor-made Catalina get-away. 
NEXT UP: He was born in Russia and named
 Israel Isidore Baline, but most of the world knows him by his American name, Irving Berlin. La Jolla Playhouse is presenting a tuneful, masterfully performed holiday offering, "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin," through Jan. 3. Whereiscookie enjoyed opening night of Felder's brilliant performance as the beloved composer and master of the '88s, whose music forms a time-honored chapter in the American musical lexicon.

Berlin is back: Hershey Felder plays beloved composer with flair, feeling

Hershey Felder received a well deserved standing ovation opening night of his joyful homage to composer Irving Berlin.

and courtesy LaJolla Playhouse

NO ONE embodies the spirit of American music -- its joy, sentimentality, originality and enthusiasm -- as much as did Russian born composer Irving Berlin.
And only one living human embodies Berlin's spirit, talent and uniquely "American" approach to musical theater and life.  Hershey Felder does.
His joyful homage to Berlin is beautifully staged at La Jolla Playhouse.  An elegant  living room, decked out with poinsettias and a Christmas tree, provide the setting for Felder's one-man interpretation of the joys, sorrows, triumphs and eccentricities of the beloved composer.
 Felder embodies the man in both grand and subtle ways.  As a young Berlin, he is full of bluster and bravado. He plays a loving husband, son, grieving father and Army recruit -- who hates to get up in the morning.... And as he reaches his centenary, he is stooped and hesitating, still with his characteristic humor. And through it all, the thread that binds is the music.
MORE CHRISTMAS EVE on this delightful and moving one-man show at La Jolla Playhouse. It runs through Jan. 3.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Grab some cultural gusto to get yourself in the holiday spirit

A walk through Gran Canaria  resulted in Cookie and Keller being invited to participate in a nativity.


Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett are dressed for the holidays,
in concert and in a fun Barnes and Noble commercial.


SINCE CHILDHOOD, the holiday has for me meant plays, movies, and, of course, the famous "Nutcracker."
The story of the Christmas toy that comes alive -- of wondrous travels and journeys of the imagination -- surely influenced my lifelong love of travel.
San Diego  Ballet's "Nutcracker" entertained the writer
during many years of reviewing theater and the arts.--

                                                                              San Diego Ballet photo
I've seen and reviewed "The Nutcracker" 50 times -- in as varied a roster of productions as the Bolshoi in Moscow and the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings, Montana, where San Diego Ballet's touring production used local dancers.
FOR WHILE I love traveling and theater all 12 months of the year, my two favorite pursuits are  particularly satisfying during the holidays. One memorable Christmas, Santa came by our Bora Bora cottage and tossed candies from his kayak onto  the porch of our beachfront hale.
Another time, we left our ship and walked into a village in Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. We stopped at a nativity, listened to carolers and became wisemen for a few minutes at the invitation of the locals!
Get in the holiday spirit with a concert -- we saw Lady Gaga last holiday 
season, here in a Christmasy red gown, and playful with the trumpeter.
ANOTHER CHRISTMAS found us in Santa Barbara on a whale watching adventure. Fantastic to do something different on a holiday.  Nothing like gilding the lily.
Or spend an hour in a book store -- great gift ideas, and you might bump into Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett!
Embrace the crowds, noise and activity. People are dressed merrily, smile more, enjoy being seen and seem generally more generous, forgiving and patient.   
SOME OF my favorite holidays have been spent on the road -- Fiji, Moscow, the South Pacific, Asia, and here in America, with loved ones in Atlanta, northern California and Montana, always with the Yorkies, Nick and Nora, in tow.
Get outside your comfort zone this holiday -- maybe don a wet suit
and go play with the whales. by day, then take in a concert or play at night.
They love the holidays, too, and usually acquire a few new toys -- and plenty of holiday Greenies for snacks.
WE RECOMMEND a happy dose of whale watching followed by a visit to a theater or concert hall to add spice to the holidays.  See a cultural event, movie or "The Nutcracker."  Here in the San Diego area, we have a half-dozen "Nutcracker" options  California Ballet Company’s glittering production at the Civic Theatre heads the line-up of "Nutcracker" options in San Diego County, performing this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 12 and 13.
HORNBLOWER has whale watching and holiday dinner cruises -- a perfect double-header for me is an outing on the ocean followed by "Nutcracker."
YOU MIGHT consider a musical.  Nearly every town in the free world -- city or village --  has a Christmas pageant or concert.  Here in San Diego, we enjoyed Cygnet Theatre's "A Christmas Carol" with  Sean Murray's clever musical weavings of traditional carols into the story.
COMING NEXT:  We ushered in the holiday at the
world famous Catalina Casino recently, complete with
a Christmas tree atop its 10-story fame. Catch us
weekends while you're remembering to explore, learn live!
"This Wonderful Life" is on tap at North Coast Repertory Theatre, a smart, snappy one-man show with all the familiar voices and characters of the beloved Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed movie, "It's A Wonderful Life."
AND THERE'S San/Diego Symphony's popular pops concert, next Sunday, at 2 p.m. at Copley Hall.
Here in San Diego, we have the fabulous Gay Men's Chorus, gospel and blues concerts, Hanukkah songs and more. The Gay Men's holiday show is this Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Balboa Theatre downtown San Diego. nutcracker/

Friday, December 4, 2015

Hornblower happiness: Fantastic feasting, celebrating on the water

Iconic Manhattan
sights unfold during a
leisurely dinner cruise.





A Hornblower cruise on the Hudson puts the cruiser in a lovely New York state of mine. Hornblower also
transits other beautiful cities, with elegant cruises for celebrating or just enjoying -- many geared to holiday revels.

 Cookie and Keller toast Lady Liberty aboard
a recent Hornblower Manhattan dinner cruise.
Each "Hornblower port" has tailor-made options.

Celebrants from all over the world enjoy cruising on 
Hornblower's handsome vessels.  Here, a couple awaits their meal, 
while sending texts and selfies to friends in Japan. 
IF YOU love celebrations, and make yours unique, you won't go wrong with an outing on Hornblower Cruises. We recently celebrated a birthday as the champagne flowed. We strolled the deck, glasses in hand, as we pulled away from New York's pier, surrounded by skyscrapers and the sights that make Manhattan famous.
Hornblower's brunch cruises offer Manhattan by day.....
If you're near a Hornblower port, you're in luck. San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Berkeley, New York, Marina del Rey, Newport Beach and Long Beach area water lovers have enjoyed Hornblower's delights for nearly four decades. Holidays aboard Hornblower are truly special.
....while evening dinner cruises offer spectacular night sights of Manhattan.
Here, the new World Trade Center's Tower One is a focal point.
YOU FEEL you're in heaven -- in a luxurious vessel transiting the waters of America's most scenic and beloved cities.  While our recent Hornblower birthday party was in New York, we've enjoyed Hornblower in other American cities, always delighting in the experience.
This time, we were in a New York state of mind. We couldn't have picked a more appropriate setting to dine in elegance, sip, dance, and make new friends from Europe, Asia and South America. All agreed -- we were reveling in first-class style.
WE LOVE Hornblower because we're always treated with care and fine service.  We begin with a glass of bubbly, then stroll the deck and the plush dining area. Hornblower happily blends dining and sight seeing.  We chose our latest journey from many offerings --  finally deciding on "Starlight Dinner." Hornblower also designs office parties, "Sights & Sips," and various cocktail and skyline brunches, depending on your city. The operation is proud of its beautifully kept, state-of-the-art luxury yachts, each with its own features and fresh cuisine headlining quality produce, seafood and meats of each city.
Hornblower's fare is always a delight, here a holiday brunch.
HORNBLOWER HAS never failed us --  in cruises in San Diego, New York, Long Beach and Old Sacramento.  The recent leisurely New York dinner cruise was a bittersweet return to a favorite city, since we'd spent many pleasant evenings in the beautiful Windows on the World atop the doomed World Trade Center.  Through tears, we admired the beautiful new Tower One as Hornblower navigated the rivers.  We also love San Diego's and San Francisco's Hornblowers,  which like their East-Coast sisters, hit the high spots: in San Francisco, views of the Bay Bridge, Golden Gate, and the city's remarkable skyline.  In San Diego, it's a thrill to pass under the Coronado Bridge and enjoy holiday lights and marina. Usually we dance to a delightful duo or soloist playing everything from swing to jazz and Latin. The food, particularly the appetizers is always top drawer.
Gilding the lily: the Empire State Building in the fore-
ground, and the Chrysler Building behind her, at right.
IF YOU WANT an excuse to enjoy value and a place to celebrate being alive and on the sea, Hornblower's your ticket.  As longtime devotees, we've cruised the Hornblower fleet all year round, morning and evening, for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and anniversaries. Hornblower covers the culinary territory with style, from robust coffee to fine champagne, topped with decadent desserts and visual delights. In our part-time San Diego home add sea lions, whales and dolphins to Hornblower's signature sunshine, moonlight and romance.
We plan to honor an annual tradition aboard Hornblower for a holiday treat. The festive dinner cruises blend gourmet meals and stunning views.
IF YOU'RE LUCKY enough to bite the Big Apple this holiday, you can't beat New York's Hornblower for splendid food, fine wines and stunning views.Whichever city, you can be black tie or casual -- whatever your mood or dress, and your Hornblower holiday will be first rate.                     If I could,  I'd beam myself to a different Hornblower port once a week for baked spinach and artichoke appetizer, shrimp and crab, tenderloin and a stellar sea view of each city's landmarks. But I'd have to up my dress size!
There's no gambling in Catalina's beautiful Casino,
but there are many enticements in a visit.  
EACH HORNBLOWER city offers unique holiday sailings.  Treat yourself, a loved one or a colleague. Go to  

COMING UP: Remember the Four Preps' song, "26 Miles Across the Sea....."?  Well, Santa Catalina was awaitin' for us, and we answered the call.    Take a trip to this beautiful island with whereiscookie, enjoying a step back in time just an hour away from the southern California coastline.  We took a tasting/history tour, ventured out in a kayak and visited the Casino, built by the Wrigley fortune, which is at the center of the island's cultural life. Within it are treasures, including a beautiful four-keyboard organ and we enjoyed a concert. Remember to explore, learn and live and check us out weekends for travel tips and global adventures with a sense of fun. And soon, we'll take a pictorial tour of holidays we've enjoyed around the world -- Israel to Fiji -- to get you in the spirit of the season