Friday, March 30, 2018

Saluting the hat -- not just for Easter but any time to spiff things up

Cookie's favorite royal, the late Queen Mum, sported a jaunty hat when she joined journalists and travel writers
for her daughter's 1977 Silver Jubilee as Queen Elizabeth II.  The beloved monarch's hats became famous during
World War II, when she wore them to visit bombed villages and cheer the people on during hard times.

From left, sisters Christene (Cookie) Meyers, Misha Minesinger and
 Olivia Cosgriffe are hats off at niece Kira Cosgriffe's wedding to Mike Hill
last summer.  Most of the wedding party celebrated the occasion with hats.



That's a younger Cookie, left, her niece Amarylla Hayes (now Ganner
and a mother of two youngsters herself) and the late Peny Hayes,
Cookie's sister and Amarylla's mother, on the beach in Maui.

SO WHAT IS IT about wearing a hat that makes everything seem fresher, brighter, hopeful?

A sense of play, suggestion of fun, a feeling that the occasion is going to be above the usual outing.

 Cookie's late mother, Ellen, was never without
a hat, here as she pets Nora.
Hats make us happy.  They make us take notice -- and be noticed.  I've loved hats since I was a kid.  My mum had a trunkful of hats. My grandmother wore hats and gloves to travel, and I wore many hats during my years in the theater -- literally (25 hats on my piano, which I changed during many productions).
Audrey Hepburn made this stylish
hat famous in "Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Hats off to the Ascot scene in "My Fair Lady." 
FROM THE ASCOT scene in "My Fair Lady" to the delightful adornment of the Mad Hatter in "Alice in Wonderland," or Indiana Jones' jaunty fedora, we remember a scene with a behatted character.
Remember Sherlock Holmes' dapper deerhunter? Charlie Chaplin's derby in "The Little Tramp." Wayne Campbell's Trucker cap.  Holly Golightly's swooping chapeau in "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
Gene Hackman's pork pie
hat made his Popeye
Doyle memorable. 
Cookie's been behatted since childhood.
Or Katharine Hepburn's sun bonnet as she toils at the church organ in "The African Queen." Gene Hackman's signature pork pie hat as Popeye Doyle. 
When I met the late Queen Mum in 1977, she wore one of the hats for which she was beloved.
SOME QUOTES for the behatted:
   "It isn't what I do, but how I do it. It isn't what I say, but how I say it, and how I look when I do it and say it. Sometimes with a hat and not much else." -- Mae West
Keller is not about to be
outdone by the girls.
Ready for his close-up.
"Women who love hats aren't jealous. They like a good hat on another. Women who wear hats know who they are.''  --Anonymous.
"Life is like a new hat. You don't know if it suits you if you keep trying it on in front of your own mirror." -- Shirley McLaine.
"Wearing hats has become like fine art for me."  --Tina Brown 
"I have 12 hats. Each represents a different personality. Why just be yourself?"-- Margaret Atwood
“I wear my hat as I please, indoors or out.” -- Walt Whitman, "Leaves of Grass.
 "Luxurious, flirty, maybe a bit sexy. We believe a great hat can change your day." -- a sign in New York's Plaza Hotel.


BEST BETS: Phil Johnson stars in a brilliant one-man performance, "A Jewish Joke" at San Diego's Moxie Theatre. This Roustabouts production is on stage through April 8, a tour de force for Johnson, whose writer character is on the rise in Hollywood until Senator Joe McCarthy's red-baiting tactics force him to make a crucial decision about his partner and his future. Johnson and Marni Freedman co-wrote the moving often funny work, artfully directed by David Ellenstein. Stunning, poignant theater, not to miss.

A spirited ensemble involves the audience and creates an enthusiasm
that weaves a spell on the audience at "Beachtown" in downtown San Diego.

UP NEXT: "Beachtown," in downtown San Diego, is a delightful throw-back to the innocent days of political fund-raisers, neighborhood potlucks and community gatherings.  Always original director Sam Woodhouse works his charms with a talented stable of San Diego Repertory Theatre actors to bring this unique Herbert Siguenza and Rachel Grossman work to the Lyceum stage. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch a new post each Friday for the weekend.  

Friday, March 23, 2018

'A Little Night Music' shows large talent in San Diego production

Sean Murray's Fredrik Egerman and Karole Foreman's Desiree Armfeldt create a believable, touching couple in
Cygnet Theatre's marvelous production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music." Desiree's earthiness, joy and regret
are talismans throughout the show while Murray's Fredrik has both cockiness and vulnerability. A delightful production!


In Old Town  San Diego, Cygnet Theatre is on stage through April 22, a
breathtaking interpretation of the classically inspired Stephen Sondheim work,
"A Little Night Music."  Inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film, "Smiles of a 
Summer Night," it revolves around the romantic lives of several couples.
At the villa of the Baron De Signac, Where I spent a somewhat infamous year, At the villa of the Baron De Signac I had ladies in attendance, fire-opal pendants.... Liaisons! What's happened to them, liaisons today........

and courtesy Cygnet Theatre

CYGNET THEATRE'S exquisite rendering of "A Little Night Music" ponders the meaning of life and the foolishness of human beings.
This San Diego incarnation ranks among the top productions I've reviewed in hundreds of plays here in my part-time California home and in my global travels.
I've seen Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece in London's West End, on Broadway and at celebrated festivals.
All were memorable productions, but at Cygnet Theatre last Sunday, I was utterly transported!
Anise Ritchie plays Madame Armfeldt, who gives her young
granddaughter advice and explains "three smiles."

As the dragoon, Carl-Magnus, David S. Humphrey adds comic relief
and gorgeous vocals. His put-upon wife, Charlotte, is played with wit and
touching insight by Sandy Campbell, who played the part a decade ago. 
TO GATHER this calibre of ensemble with  its exquisite blend of voices and instruments is rare. Sondheim's intricate music tests the range and capabilities of the finest singers and players. Both this cast and a small, precise orchestra rise light as gossamer to the challenge.
Sondheim's contrapuntal genius, sly wit and elaborate musical layers shine at Cygnet. How I wish he could see it; he would be pleased.
Yes, I am a Sondheim junkie. I loved "Sunday in the Park with George," "Side By Side," "Into the Woods," "Follies," and "Sweeney Todd." (I  saw Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou in NYC, and delighted in Sean Murray's spin on Benjamin Barker/Sweeney at Cygnet. But "Night Music" remains my favorite with its lyrical waltz theme.
IN 11 DISTINCT venues, I've enjoyed this wistful, witty musical, including a production in Billings, Montana, at the university where my late husband Bruce Meyers taught creative writing. (I was music director, conductor and pianist; Bruce played Fredrik, so the musical is dear to my heart.)
I saw both the original Broadway production in 1973 and Trevor Nunn's 2009 revival. In 1973, the great Hermione Gingold was a magnificent Madame Armfeldt, her last big role. I'd loved her since "Gigi." Her character explains the "three smiles" of a summer night, from which the title derives:  the first smile is for the young, the second for fools, the third for the elderly.  Her "Liaisons" stopped the show. Sondheim wrote the piece with her in mind.
Katie Sapper plays Anne, married at 18 to Fredrik Egerman, played by
Cygnet Theatre co-founder and "Night Music" director Sean Murray.

Cariou delivered his usual immaculate performance as Fredrik and Glynis Johns as Desiree was touching even though her always tremulous voice had seen better days.
Sean Murray's production at Cygnet is Broadway's equal and more. Murray's Fredrik is dapper and convincing, with just the right blend of vanity and frustration, attempting to sip from the fountain of youth. Both Karole Foreman as Desiree and Anise Ritchie as her dowager mother Madame Armfeldt perform with emotion, elegance and wit. I've not heard "Send in the Clowns" sung with such tenderness and empathy and Foreman imbues Desiree with a  contagious joie de vivre. My favorite "Liaisons" is immaculately rendered by Ritchie. She transcends beauty and youth to create a dignified, wise and worldly woman who relishes life even as death approaches.
DAVID HUMPHREY as Carl-Magnus, the pompous dragoon, is masterful-- and Sandy Campbell as Charlotte, his wickedly vengeful and sardonic wife, is delightful comic relief.
Hermione Gingold played Madame Armfeldt in 1973 when
"A Little Night Music" debuted at New York's Shubert Theatre.
Katie Sapper as Anne creates a dimensional young wife with her gorgeous voice.  Nick Eiter as Fredrik's studious son Henrik is also memorable -- we feel his angst. As the maid Petra, Megan Carmitchel is brilliantly sassy, delivering one of the score's best numbers.
Each song is presented with charm, while a stylish choral quintet integrates the action. Five gorgeous voices form this elegant Greek-like chorus. As young Fredrika, Desiree's precocious daughter, we saw the talented Faith Nibbe. She and the accomplished Ava Harris alternate in the role.
MURRAY AND GIFTED conductor Terry O'Donnell collaborate seamlessly. David Brannen's majestic choreography, Jeanne Reith's opulent costumes and Chris Rynne's subtle lighting enhance the nostalgic mood while Sean Fanning's imaginative set design includes moving birch trees.
We were first on our feet to lead a well deserved Standing O. 

Hats are the topic of next week's column, with quotes from famous wearers,
from Shirley MacLaine to Mae West and Cookie's late grandmother. 
NEXT UP: Hats are a family tradition for Cookie and her clan.  She remembers her first Easter bonnet, and recalls some risque hat episodes, including a tricycle ride downtown as a toddler, dressed in only her hat, a pair of gloves and her cowboy boots. Cookie's grandmother Olive believed a hat alters the image we have of ourselves, and the impression it makes on others. A hat brings out new dimension in our personality, just as a costume aids an actress in her role........  So in time for Easter and Passover, hats off! Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post a fresh take on travel, nature, family, fashion and the arts.

Friday, March 16, 2018

St. Patrick's Day homage: love, wit and memorable mum trip to Ireland

Dublin's famous Temple Bar was a pub stop on a memorable
tour of Ireland with Cookie's late mother, Ellen, who played
piano there and sang a medley of Irish tunes with the band.


Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.
on a headstone found in a Dublin churchyard
           PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER &cm

MY MOTHER WAS determined to visit Ireland and play piano in an Irish pub.
I'm proud to say I helped make that happen before she passed in 2008. The trip made her happy -- and while I'll always miss my flamboyant and talented mum, I have memories aplenty.  
As we pulled into Cork's city harbor, for several days in the Emerald Isle, mum's fingers were ready.  Her happy tears shown in the morning sun as we shared her first look at the home of half her ancestors.  Mum was as full of emotion as her ancestors were full of blarney. (The Norwegian side, her father's, were sailors and fishermen with their own droll wit.) 
  Cookie's late sister Robbie helped
       choreograph several memorable
European trips with mum
 “I’m home, I feel it,” mum cried, lifting her hands heavenward. “These are my people.”
Then she wept.  My sister Robbie and I smiled at one another, blinking back our own tears.  We had a group hug, all of us crying. We're a crying family -- so it wasn't surprising.  We cry when we're happy; we cry when we're sad.  Some of us cry for no reason at all.
  Joy and sorrow, like the comic and tragic masks, are merely different takes on the heart's emotion. The Irish know that better than most.
Cookie and her mum on the town in Dublin. Besides
playing piano at pubs, they looked for family history.

SO ON ST. PATRICK'S day weekend, we celebrate my mother -- and one of her favorite wits:  Oscar Wilde.  He said:
"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal is absolutely fatal."
"I can resist everything except temptation."
"Be yourself.  Everyone else is taken."
"If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life."
"The truth is rarely pure and never simple."
And from "The Importance of Being Ernest" beloved by my mother, who played Lady Bracknell in a Portland, Oregon, production:
"To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."
Mum also loved this quote from playwright Sean O'Casey:
"Money does not make you happy but it quiets the nerves."  

Dublin born Oscar Wilde was a favorite wit, playwright
of Cookie's mother, the late Ellen B. Cosgriffe.
I'D BEEN TO Ireland a half-dozen times before, but seeing it through my mother’s eyes was like seeing it anew.  From the rugged coastlines to misty meadows and stone fences, I felt connected to the country in a way I had never felt before.  The Blarney Stone took on new meaning.  The potato famine felt real.  When mum told sis and me the story of  her great grandmother’s departure, we looked the Emerald Isle in the eye. At our pub stops, mum was greeted like a favorite auntie. When the people discovered she was musical, we were center stage at the piano and couldn't buy a beverage. 
We visited several graveyards looking for  family names of Pittendrigh, Cosgriffe, Wilson. We found all, and relished the meanings and histories -- Cosgriff means "victorious." The Pittendrighs migrated to Ireland from Aberdeen in northeastern Scotland -- interesting in light of the fact that our niece, Amarylla, married a Scotsman, Steve Ganner. We learned that Wilson is a common Irish name -- more common even than the ubiquitous Smith. (Mum sniffed at that. "Nothing common about my people.")
WE'D PUT DOWN anchor in the same place where my great, great-grandmother, Molly Wilson, left her family for America before the last Century’s turn.  She’d taken the train to Cobn from Cork, on a tiny track which we found.  More memories. Memories of a lovely trip. And love. 
My 20 days in Europe with my mother and youngest sister rank high on my list of world adventures.  Not because of the exotic nature of  the ports, all of which I’d visited, but because of the unique bond we shared. Now, particularly with both mum and Robbie gone, I cherish the memories. 
LIFE IS shaped by defining moments. Often we realize their importance only in looking back. I'm grateful I helped mum follow her dreams, hold true to her vision, find a way to make that trip happen.  Call it my own "importance of being earnest."  
Karole Foreman's Desiree Armfeldt is warm, earthy, delightfully teasing
and Sean Murray's Fredrik Egerman is vain but touching in a masterful
production of Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece, "A Little Night Music." 

:   A fabulous San Diego production of Stephen 
Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" has our veteran theater reviewer waxing rhapsodic. Find out what sets this extraordinary production apart as Cookie describes the talent, staging and magic unfolding at Cygnet Theatre in San Diego's Old Town. Since reveling in the original Broadway production in 1973, Cookie has become a "Night Music" junkie, even acting as music director and pianist in her own production.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post a fresh take on theater, travel, nature, relationships and the arts. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Paris beckons for fabulous fun in springtime, summer, winter, fall.....

The Louvre Museum stands proud into the centuries, photographed from the Seine on a recent trip. And don't  
miss our favorite Musee d"orsay nearby.  Housed in the former Gare d'Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station
built between 1898 and 1900, it houses many well known works of a more contemporary vein. 

The Pont Alexandre is one of the world's most lavish
bridges, and a much photographed Paris icon.

“There is but one Paris......the French air clears the brain and does a world of good.”Vincent van Gogh


IF YOU HAVE never been to Paris, you must make at least one pilgrimage.
Even into March, Paris can be brisk, so Keller
bundles up for a stroll with Notre Dame behind him.
If you have been, it's likely you've returned -- or plan to make an encore call.
For Paris casts a spell on the visitor, more than any of the  wonderful cities we've visited.
Paris is as intoxicating as a cocktail on an empty stomach.
It's as bawdy as a brothel on a Saturday night, as sophisticated as the best-dressed dandy at 
opera's opening night.  It assails the senses like no other city, beckoning one to sip of the elixir, stay a while and let Paris cast its spell.
The intricate detail of many of the famous Paris buildings draws repeat
examinations -- favorites of these travelers are Opera Garnier, also known
as the Academie National de Musique, Paris Opera and other names. 

The Arc de Triomphe is one of the world's most photographed monuments
to the fallen.  We recommend a full or half-day city tour to get started.

Keller surveys the street from a doorway of one of the fine
specialty food shops he and Cookie frequented each day.
 COLE PORTER was smitten by Paris and even lived there for a time during World War I. He wrote a musical, "Paris," which debuted on Broadway in 1928 and was his first huge hit.  Porter's fondness for Paris embraced all 12 months of the year:  "I love Paris in the spring time, I love Paris in the fall, I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles, I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles...." He called it a "timeless town" and it truly is.
Take a cue from Cookie and Keller
for at least one night on the town.

Even on a recent drizzly grey rainy day,
Paris is lovely.  Here the Eiffel Tower.
There's something for every taste in Paris -- world class museums, the planet's finest restaurants, jazz clubs, a lively night life, opera, fashionably dressed folks walking  nicely groomed doggies, dapper old gents with canes, lovers, quiet little cafes, parks and graveyards to contemplate the wonders.

wander into a cemetery and find monuments to Molière, Delacroix, Bizet, Chopin, Balzac and Proust. You might come across the graves of Georges Seurat, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Colette, Edith Piaf or Marcel Marceau. Ex-pat writers Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright made Paris their final stop, too.
You can shop for souvenirs of all kinds -- whether a box of
fine chocolates or something more adventuresome. 
 Take in the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile,  commissioned by Napoleon in 1805. It stands at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle.  
Between museums, take in a show at either
the famed Moulin Rouge or Folies Bergere.
HITLER surveyed the Eiffel Tower and  Arc de Triomphe after the city fell in June of 1940, but the clever French cut the lift cables to the Tower as he arrived in the city. Troops climbed the tower to hoist their swastika flag -- so large it blew away and was replaced by a smaller version. Our guide proudly told us this story, adding, "The elevators magically began to work after the city was liberated on Aug. 25, 1944. The next day, General de Gaulle led a joyous liberation march down the Champs d'Elysees to the Arc."
EVEN FOR multi-time return visitors, we recommend a city tour.  We bought the Paris '"Hop On, Hop Off" package this last trip and thoroughly enjoyed meandering the city with a lively narrative and an international complement of fellow travelers. Once you've tasted of the delights of Paris, you'll be back for more.
Actors Lisa Gorell-Getz and Kevin Hafso Koppman
are part of a terrific ensemble in North Coast Rep's
thoughtful current production, "This Random World."

BEST BETS: A new feature this week is our
bet for a  fabulous outing -- perhaps a hike,
restaurant, boat trip or, as we offer today, a
play you won't want to miss. North Coast
Repertory Theatre's "This Random World"
wittily examines the ways in which our lives intersect, parallel and misconnect. Play-wright Steven Dietz examines the notion of co-incidence, and apparently "random" ways in which we meet people, form associations, make decisions. Masterfully acted, this funny, fast-
paced, touching play features David Ellenstein's nuanced direction. Catch it through March 18 in Solana Beach.
A visit to Dublin's Temple Bar was on Ellen Cosgriffe's bucket list.
NEXT UP:  A memorable trip to
Ireland with her late mother makes Cookie glad she and her mum followed their dreams. When her flamboyant mother expressed interest in a trip to Ireland -- and a desire to play piano in a Dublin pub -- Cookie helped make that happen. The moral of this St. Patrick's Day story is "carpe diem." At Dublin's famous Temple Bar, both Cookie and her mother Ellen played piano. Remember to explore, learn and live -- and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, nature and the arts.

Friday, March 2, 2018

St. Kitts delivers -- lovely scenery, musical hosts, glittering bays, galleries, golf and the Caribbean's oldest railroad

All aboard for a fabulous time aboard the charming St. Kitts Scenic Railway -- into the lush tropical Caribbean environment.


Sit back, take in the fantastic scenery aboard the historic St. Kitts Scenic
Railway, the Caribbean's oldest. You can sail one way to the ride,
and take the train back to your ship.  Tropical cocktails hit the spot.

ST. KITTS IS the kind of place that encourages a cocktail.
It also invites exploration.
We combined those two pursuits on the charming St. Kitts Scenic Railway.  Over a century old, it is a link with the island's once thriving sugar industry.  A few plantations sprinkle the landscape, but the railway is far more interesting.  It is alive, moving and fun.
Artists abound on St. Kitts, attracted by the lovely breezes and sea views.
The island's batik artists have an international reputation. 
WE BELLIED UP to a generous train bar.  Because the day was early -- not yet noon -- we opted for virgin guava and strawberry drinks.  Our fellow travelers, however, deemed it to be cocktail hour, as our pleasant Kittsian bartender served up dozens of daiquiris, rum punches, pina coladas and other custom beverages.  She cheerfully satisfied three dozen of us, with help from a large blender, plenty of ice, her two-fisted magic and our own able passing of glasses to the appropriate customers.
THE PLEASANT land-and-sea day began aboard a smooth catamaran ride from beautiful Basseterre.
We strolled the town, one of the oldest in the eastern Caribbean with bucolic touches accented by many green-black-red flags.  They symbolize the rich land, the slaves' contributions and the struggles.  Through several rules, St. Kitts was a French colony, then declared the capital of the island by the British in 1727.
St. Kitts offers beautiful beaches and several famous bays: 
Frigate, Friar's, and Banana and Cockleshell, "the twins."
Sugar's siren song captivated the world around that time and St. Kitts had the perfect tropical climate and rich volcanic soil to supply the booming demand.  The island's sugar industry was one of the Caribbean's most successful, with 68 plantations dotting 68 square miles in the glory days.
New friends spent a day hiking through abandoned fortresses and the remnants of once glorious plantations, rich in architectural details in the midst of swaying sugar cane fields and farm critters.
The town of Basseterre retains much of its Colonial charm, plus natural beauty.
THEY RAVED about their day of touring, which included a challenging mountain hike and a view of a dormant volcano. We
were happy with our town stroll, boat ride and railway selection which featured a lively discourse embracing the sugar history, local folklore and the island's stunning ocean vistas.  We saw grazing  pigs and goats, learned where to get the best grouper and jerk, enjoyed a strolling vocal trio and heard tips on snorkeling for which St. Kitts is famous. 
We didn't get to Nevis this time, but photographed it from our catamaran.
We admired in the distance, the lovely peaks of Nevis, the West Indian Island that shaped Alexander Hamilton.  The two islands constitute one country: the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Years ago, I spent a week on quiet Nevis -- awakened by the call of the monkeys -- relaxing in plush digs of a converted sugar mill.  Nevis is also known for its pristine beaches including the famous Pinney's. I experienced crystal clear snorkeling water at Oualie there.                          A VISIT TO St. Kitts should include two more stops: the historic Brimstone Hill Fortress for its stunning views and ambiance, and a unique state-of-the-art Eco Park with a demonstration farm and plantation style visitors center. If you golf, St. Kitts has some of the world's most attractive courses. And its batik art is world famous.
    As we sailed out of St. Kitts, we wondered why Columbus bypassed it on his search for the New World.  How he missed landing on its lovely pink sand beaches, we'll never know.

Bruce Keller enjoys a brisk winter visit to Paris, where here he pauses across
the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral surrounded by prints of the city's famed sights.

UP NEXT:  Off to Paris, for night life, architecture, lights, fountains, fashion, history and of course, fabulous food. Is there a city that combines these elements in such alluring fashion? We think not. And off season, there are more benefits -- crowds are gone and museums and restaurants aren't crowded. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post for each week -- a new twist on travel, the arts, nature and romance. Mais oui. Et s'il vous plait, tell your friends about us and consider leaving a comment.  We are over a million hits now, thanks to you!