Friday, July 12, 2019

Making friends around the globe: how travel brings people together

Friends from the UK, John and Sue Speight, visited Cookie and Keller in Montana, where we took them exploring.
We met on a Southeast Asia cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore, shared two weeks on the road and determined
to keep in touch.  They hope to return to the U.S. and we will visit them soon in their Yorkshire, England, home.

Virginia Mock and Brent Morgan visited us in 
Montana after we spent two weeks together in the
Caribbean.  We met at a musical theater trivia
contest and took them to Tippet Rise Art Center. 



OUR HAPPIEST times are when we're traveling, partly because of the newness and enrichment it brings, meeting like-minded people along the way.
Bob and Sue Hulbert, left, traveled to
Montana and we often visit them in
Los Angeles.  Bob and Keller explored
Saudi Arabia together. We have also
traveled together in San Francisco. 
Here we enjoy Disney Music Center.
Friends. Global, curious, liberal thinking people we've met exploring Australia and New Zealand, the Middle East, the Far East, Europe, the United Kingdom and the Americas -- U.S., Canada, Brazil, Peru.
Barbie and Tom Davidson, right, of New
Zealand, joined us on Times Square
in New York City for Broadway shows. We
met in a chorus on a trans-Atlantic cruise.
Cookie was pianist and Barbie conductor.
WE HAVE a large, loving, fun-seeking circle of international friends and we've met them all on our world travels. They contribute richly to our lives, enhancing our perspective on the world, educating us in new ways, providing insight into their cultures and thought processes, priorities, family life, ideas and goals.
When we lecture about travel, and share our stories and photographs, we remember with fondness meeting people with whom we've stayed in touch.
Carlos Montero of Ecuador, met
Keller on a scuba dive 45 years ago.
Fred Fisher, right, shares our love of
east Africa. Together for paella dinner.
When we say, "You must come visit" we mean it.
And if our new road-tripping friends invite us, we probably will do so, as we've done with friends in Norway, Israel, Australia and elsewhere.
Jerusalem journey, Israel highlight
WE'VE MET many wonderful couples on trans-Atlantic cruises:  Yosh and Shula from Tel Aviv, Ronna and Larry from Florida, Michael and Doc from Washington, D.C., Virginia and Brent from Arkansas, Lawrence and Patrick from Sydney, Australia, Nam and Freida from Melbourne, Bev and Sidway from Denver, while exploring the Amazon, Barbie and Tom from New Zealand, John and Sue from England.
Friends through cruising, touring and trivia contests are planning a reunion.
 And so many others.
Our Yorkshire pals visited us last summer for a memorable trip through Montana's prettiest places, with a dip into Yellowstone National Park, Cody, Wyo., and Red Lodge.
We met on a Southeast Asia cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore, took a sidetrip to Bangkok and prowled the hiking and bike paths of Vietnam together.
Yosh Wichman and Bruce Keller at the Dead Sea.
Shula and Yosh hosted us for a wonderful Israel tour.
When we heard during dinner that Montana was on their bucket list, we invited them. During their visit, they extended an invitation to Yorkshire, and we'll soon be with them again enjoying the cathedrals, history and landscape of their beautiful corner of the world.
Cookie and Shula Romero Wichman
of Tel Aviv enjoy dinner in Las Vegas.
Table mates on our cruise ship, the Speights, invited us to tour
Bangkok with them, here in a tuk-tuk to the Grand Palace. 
OUR ISRAELI friends, Yosh and Shula Wichman, were our trivia buddies and fans of my piano music on a cruise through the Canary Islands with an Atlantic crossing.  We met on a jeep tour of the craters of Tenerife, along with another adventuresome couple, Ronna and Larry Schultz.  We've kept in touch and cruised and vacationed again with these friends, meeting up in Florida, the south of France and Las Vegas.
All these friends are world travelers. 
Our mutual spirit of adventure, love of language, history the arts and architecture fuel our curiosity.  We all share a hope for world peace and these similarities fuel our desire for travel. Yosh and Shula met our ship a couple years ago in Haifa and toured us around the wonderful country, a land I've visited multiple times. It was a magnificent two-day tour, from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea.
TAKE A CHANCE on new friendship -- join a table, say hello to the folks across the aisle, ask if there's room for you at the trivia table. It could be the beginning of an enriching new experience.
Venice is captured from the rooftop of the Hilton Molino Stucky Hotel.
UP NEXT:  Venice is one of the world's most visited, photographed and written about cities.  Come with us to explore the palaces, squares, cafes and museums, all of which make Venice so memorable and inviting. Take time to visit the outer "lagoon islands" while you're there, or if you're planning a trip for later this summer. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch a new post each week on travel, the arts, nature and family at

Friday, July 5, 2019

Not utterly undone by the ukulele? Try strumming a few chords

Christene Meyers, aka Cookie, and Bruce Keller, known by his surname, signed up for ukulele lessons.  The pair are partners in life and theater, travel, adventure, and now music study.  Cookie plays many instruments but for Keller it was a new experience. A good time was had by all and new friends were made.

STRUM THE ANCIENT, TUNEFUL INSTRUMENT WITH THE ONE YOU LOVE -- the ukukele is not just a cheap plastic toy played under a palm tree!

"It's not the islands fair that are calling to me. 
It's not the balmy air nor the tropical sea. 
It's a little brown gal in a little grass skirt.
In a little grass shack in Hawaii..."
--from "My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii"
a famous ukulele-accompanied tune


Our hotel ukuleles were adequate but not expensive, about $59 each. There are fancy
ukuleles to be had for much more, ranging in the hundreds to $12k for a Martin.
ALTHOUGH I PLAY  more complicated musical instruments, the ukulele called to me.
I knew it was more than a cheap plastic toy played under a palm tree.  But the ukulele sounds so lovely and looks so simple, surely it could not be that easy, I reasoned.
So when I saw ukulele lessons on the activities sheet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village I talked Keller into coming along, not just as a photographer but as a participant.
An hour-long lesson at the lovely property on the beach attracted 15 of us ukulele aficionados from all over the world, including Australia and Japan.  With the help of two amiable coaches, we actually played a recognizable song by lesson's end.
IT'S NICE TO have a pretty, calming view when learning anything new.
Tiny Tim made the ukulele famous again,
with his warbling "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."
So we relaxed our wrists and placed our hands on the instrument while our two cheery Hawaiian  kaikamahines  passed out our tune. Quickly, they had us strumming this captivating instrument, using our first finger to strum gently down and up. I thought of Robert Preston in "The Music Man," coaxing the youngsters to play. (We sounded something like that. It wasn't exactly harmonious.)
THE UKULELE is a member of the guitar family. It usually has four nylon or gut strings, as ours did at the resort lesson. More sophisticated playing involves pairing the strings in courses to give the instrument a total of six or eight strings. That's for another lesson. Our coaches promised the ukulele would be an easy instrument to learn.  While we were far from wizards, we did master a few simple chords and basic strumming patterns.  We tuned our instruments to G, C, E and A, and worked on a song -- "You Are My Sunshine."
Spanish guitar master spotlighted
Ukulele masters through the years range from British comic George Formby back in the 1930s and 1940s to Tiny Tim and his mournful "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" on a 1968 Johnny Carson Show to young "America's Got Talent" whiz kids and perhaps the world's most famous virtuoso player Jake Shimabukuro.  He is the instrument's equivalent of
Proper ukulele technique begins with holding the
instrument correctly.  A Hawaiian born teacher assists.
Pablo Casals on the cello or violinist Jascha Heifetz.
THE HAWAIIAN-born ukulele master grew up playing traditional Hawaiian music with his mother but quickly segued into more complicated repertoire. He strums and plucks a variety of sounds and styles from the tiny instrument, from "Ave Maria" to jazz and show tunes and George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Shimabukuro grew up playing traditional Hawaiian music on the ukulele, and has stuck with the instrument for 25 of his 29 years.

Jake Shimabukuro is considered the modern day
master of the ukulele.  He is a true virtuoso.
"I feel people get bored of playing the ukulele because they hear other things and they want to be able to play other things," he says. "But... I've always felt there was so much more to explore, and I really love it."
So might you, if you brave a lesson.
The Hawaiian word means, literally, "jumping flea."  You might be jumping for joy if you make the ukulele leap.

If you open your heart to adventure, and meeting new
people. you'll soon be sailing with friends around the world/

UP NEXT: Travel enhances our lives more than any other aspect. It encompasses so many wonders -- nature, theater, dining -- and makes the world more accessible. Come with us to discover how relationships develop at sea, on airplanes, on a ship's tour, a boat excursion or a restaurant table. With a curiosity to learn about other cultures, strangers become friends. Up your international contact list and enrich your life, remembering to explore, learn and live. Catch us Fridays for a novel take on travel, the arts, family and nature at

Friday, June 28, 2019

Fabulous flowers: rain, rich soil yield blooming bonanza in the Beartooths

The lavender flowers of the lilac are associated with refinement, grace, elegance and grief.
Walt Whitman's poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" mourns the death of Lincoln.

 The poppy bloomed on much of the Western Front in World War I, and is
a symbol of remembrance in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.


Gran planted the thrift, this one "joystick red."

What's in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
--from "Romeo and Juliet"


WHEN IT RAINS, we stay indoors and accomplish plenty:  writing, repairing, tidying,  packing for the next adventure. But when the sun's out in Montana, who can stay inside?
Nature's call is seductive, with a bonanza of blooming wonders. Housework be damned.  That can happen when it rains.
The iris has come to be a symbol of hope, valor and friendship.
When Mr. Sol shines, we answer the call.  We drink in the fresh mountain air, stroll about the yard and admire the iris, peony, poppies, lilacs, columbine, daisies, snapdragons and bluebells.
My grandmother Olive, a lifelong lover of flowers, quoted James Russell Lowell's "The Vision of Sir Launfal in this much loved poem:
"What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days; Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune, And over it softly her warm ear lays...So is my memory thrilled and stirred...."
It's hard not to be stirred and thrilled by a day in the Beartooth Mountains of Big Sky Country. Poets and historians, travel writers and nature
The columbine are spectacular this year, 
lovers have waxed about Montana's beauty. John Steinbeck's homage is my favorite: “I'm in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love."And love it is for me.  My paternal grandfather Gustav Nystul came West in 1912, purchasing property now known as the Beartooth Ranch between Columbus and Absarokee.
He named it Sunnyside Ranch, and sunny it was.  I remember lilacs blooming through spring snow, daisies in June, snapdragons in July, a haven of hollyhocks in August.
John Lennon said "Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow” and those of us in love with Montana know that feeling. Buddha loved nature and its transformative powers: "If we could see the miracle of a single flower
Remembrance is what we think of with the poppy.
clearly our whole life would change.”
I remember my grandmother's love of the sea pink thrift, a beautiful bundle of blooms, and her affection for the poppy. For her and other Victorians, the poppy was an enduring symbol of remembrance of World War One. Winnipeg born, Gran's strong ties to Canada were lifelong. She and millions of North Americans wore poppies on Remembrance Day.
Lady Bird Johnson, championing her wonderful beautification projects said, "Where flowers bloom, so does hope."
 The iris, whose botanical name is iris xiphium, symbolizes hope. It is my favorite flower blooming this time of year. My grandmother  said it represents cherished friendship and valor. She taught us that her beloved iris is the inspiration for the fleur-de-lis, symbolizing the royal family of France.
A court jester's hat does come to mind with columbine.

 The columbine, she believed, resembles the hat of a court jester. Indeed it does.
My late sister Peny named her only daughter Amarylla, inspired by her love of the amaryllis, a brilliant symbol of pride.
The daffodils were waning when we arrived at High Chaparral, but I love that this flower indicates rebirth, new beginnings and eternal life. It also symbolizes unrequited love.
I like to think, though, that we are worthy stewards of the land and that our love for Montana is reciprocated.

Jake Shimobokuru is perhaps the most famous ukulele player.
UP NEXT: Come learn the ukulele with us, explore its rich and fascinating history and discover how much fun it is to play Hawaii's famous instrument. The trusty little wonder of a stringed instrument came to the Islands with Portuguese fishermen and has become a much loved part of the allure of Hawaii.  Most famous of its players today is Jake Shimobokuru.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a unique take on travel, the arts, nature, family and more.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hawaii by helicopter: Blue Hawaiian adventure soars above the clouds for hidden treasures

Honolulu's distinctive skyline is even more impressive when viewed from a helicopter.

Dole Plantation's pineapple fields make striking patterns from the air.


SOARING HIGH above the Pacific, Keller leaned over to me in our ringside seats. "We're flying with the birds," he whispered.  It's true. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters delivers a thrilling experience, the closest we'll ever come to flying.  Because we're so much closer to the ground than in an airplane, we see the pineapple fields, the motion of the waves hitting the beach, the high-rise hotels and waterfalls that seem almost touchable.
HAWAII is meant to be seen  from as many vantage points as possible.  The beach is an essential, and a mountain hike is a must.  Snorkeling or scuba, definitely. But flying with the professionals
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters delivers fine views.

high above the land, looking down to admire the jungles and waterfalls that make Hawaii famous, is a treat to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
"Keller and Cookie" about to board a Blue Hawaiian 'copter.
For decades, Hollywood studios have used Blue Hawaiian to make their films on the islands.  "Pirates of the Caribbean" is one of the most famous films shot on Oahu, followed by a trio of the "Jurassic Park" blockbusters,  several films about Pearl Harbor, "George of the Jungle" "Flight of the Intruder," "Crimson Tide" and many more.
So we boarded one of Blue Hawaiian's T2Eco-
Stars, with seven seats, including the pilot.  The comfy, quiet ride was an hour of bliss and fascination with our expert pilot-guide pointing out movie locations, famous mountains and valleys, familiar buildings and of course, Diamond Head and the Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial, Honolulu's two most famous landmarks.
"Pirates of the Caribbean" was shot in the lush forests of Oahu.
WE'VE TOURED several times with Blue Hawaiian  Helicopters during its 34-year tenure, but not recently, and never on Oahu.  The highly rated company serves all four principal islands. Hawaii's legendary archipelago has been attracting nature lovers, artists, hikers and adventurers for decades to explore the verdant rainforests and admire its
Diamond Head looms spectacularly. 
cascading waterfalls. We loved seeing the white-sand and black-sand beaches from the air, and sweeping over the turquoise blue Pacific then up to the craters of Hawaii's volcanic badlands.
The helicopter is a great way to compare the differences of the islands, too.
OUR PILOT pointed out historic landings, and explained how Tahitians established permanent settlements on Oahu in about 500 ce. In 1795 Kamehameha I, king of the island of  Hawaii, conquered Oahu and united the Hawaiian Islands. In 1845 the royal capital was moved from Lahaina, on Maui, to Honolulu, on Oahu.  It is now the state capital. We viewed the buildings from on high.
WE ENJOYED a bird's eye view of Iolani Palace, the United State's only royal palace, with its revered history.  Across the street is Hawaii's judicial system, with a building made famous  in episodes of "Hawaii Five-O." (More on that next week.)
It was fun to watch the pilot at his controls, as we lifted off and arose, soaring over one of the country's most beautiful states.
Fun watching the pilot at his command station. 
With seven of us in the vehicle, he skillfully circled at important sightings, making sure everyone had an opportunity to see everything.
Our favorites were the gorgeous pineapple fields, and the cone-shaped outcroppings of lava off Kualoa Point.  Ka'a'awa Valley was beautiful, too, where many fun movies have been shot, including "Pirates of the Caribbean." The North Shore with its famous surfing beaches delighted my surfer.
Having been to Pearl Harbor the day before, it was thrilling seeing the Arizona memorial from the air.   The snazzy orange and yellow "Magnum" helicopters were lifting off near us, so that was fun, too. We opted for the doors of Blue Hawaiian, though.
Our ride was smooth and unencumbered.  Only one criticism could we offer:  it was too short.

The beautiful and fast disappearing blooms of a poppy adorn the
hillside of High Chaparral, in south-central Montana.
UP NEXT: Flower power.  We're soaking up an inordinate amount of summer moisture, and with that come beautiful blooms, in fact, a real gardener's bonanza. We'll share some of the photos from the past two weeks of floral abundance, and a few favorite lines of poetry about gardening. Meanwhile,  remember to explore, learn and live, while you catch us each Friday for a novel look at the arts, travel, nature and family.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Swimming with sting rays on idyllic Antigua

The sting rays we swam with were friendly and enjoy people. The creature has one or more large sharp barbed dorsal spines near the base of the whiplike tail and is capable of inflicting severe wounds, and even death.  We braved an encounter recently.

Christene Meyers, right, holds a sting ray with help from a naturalist.


The man in blue is the naturalist, guiding tourists
from Germany, Australia and the U.S. 


IF YOU have never taken a swim with a sting ray, why not stretch yourself a bit, widen your horizons, try something new.
I am not a water baby like much of my family or my part-amphibian partner.
But I love nature and enjoy the bonds I've made with other species.
So I entered the water and for a brief, happy time, making friends with a pair of sting rays off Antigua.
Southern rays are the brightest rays in the
It's believed to be good luck to kiss a ray as they snorkelers do.
Caribbean. As promised, we found them friendly, gentle and as interested in us as we were in them.
According to my partner, photographer Bruce Keller, they have learned to trust humans because they get food from them, and because people treat them with respect.
WE FOUND the experience "a thrill of a lifetime," to use an overworked but accurate cliche.  The cruise line billed it as "a unique opportunity to interact and feed the rays."  What do these graceful guys and gals eat?  Animals that are smaller and live on the bottom of the sea: worms, clams, oysters, shrimp, squid and fish smaller than they are.  They're carnivors, like lions and tigers. Speaking of tigers, a segue to the incident with naturalist Steve Irwin.  His bizarre death by a sting ray was caused because the creature believed his shadow was that of the tiger shark, the ray's greatest predator. That was a fluke. But the byword is still be careful and make slow movements. 
The sting rays are friendly and swim up to humans.
 The lure to visiting Stingray City is two-fold:  besides the sting ray opportunity, Antigua offers some of the most magnificent snorkeling with brilliantly colored coral reefs and wildly colorful tropical fish. 
WE TOOK a bus from our cruise
 Captain Keller
on the boat to 
swim with the rays.

You will be in a group when you venture out to swim with the sting rays.
ship terminal, then boarded a speedboat for a 15-minute ride which whisked us to a shallow pool with a white sand bottom surrounded by beautiful coral reef. You may stand up or swim with the rays. After feeding, snorkeling and taking pictures with our new friends, we returned to our land base for punch and a rinse off. The "city" has a small bird zoo, with disappointing small cages. The sting ray experience is the highlight.
TO CHECK on Antigua travel given recent safety issues, use a free service for travelers or nationals living abroad: Smart Travel Enrollment Program, or STEP, issues updated advisory on global travel safety, sanctioned by the U.S. State Department:;

UP NEXT: Blue Hawaii beckons. That's Blue Hawaii Helicopter. Ride with us high above the clouds for a breathtaking adventure. The top-rated helicopter tour of the islands is waiting for you and we'll take you along on our journey above volcanic mountain tops, the city skyline of bustling Honolulu, the gorgeous canyons and beaches that make Hawaii famous -- and beautiful from a bird's eye view. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at travel, art, nature and family.  

Friday, June 7, 2019

Magical Montana: Big Sky Country beckons road warriors

The approach to the place we cherish, tucked away in the Beartooths.   
"Montana has the kind of mountains I'd create if mountains were put on my agenda."
 -- John Steinbeck in "My Travels with Charley"

Our little corner of the world, with clouds, trees,
mountains and the sound of the water.



NO MATTER HOW far we wander -- to the fjords of Norway or the deserts Down Under -- we are no more excited than when we answer the call of the Big Sky sirens and return to Montana.
I'm a fourth generation native of the Treasure State and I love traveling the world.
But my heart soars and my breathing quickens when I glimpse the meandering Yellowstone River out the airplane window and see the Rimrocks framing the town of Billings.
And it's no more beautiful  than this time of year, when the lilacs are still pretty in the high country and the lupine and mountain phlox are about to bloom.
Yes, it's a real cowboy -- not a rhinestone one.  Working ranches mean
working cowboys to move cattle, deliver feed, check for problems.
OUR LITTLE corner of the Beartooths is dear to my heart.  As a kid growing up in the 1950s, I traveled with my parents on regular trips "up country" to visit cousins in Roscoe and friends in Red Lodge.  My grandparents played bridge with chums at a cabin on the West Fork of the Stillwater River near where 30 years later I'd buy property.
I rode my first horse on the Beartooth Ranch between Columbus and Absarokee, which my grandfather Gus owned a few proprietors back. (He called it "Sunnyside Ranch" and I have photos of me on the ancient horse, Peanuts, riding down the same road we see from Highway 78.)
Red Lodge boasts many restored Victorian homes, a treasure
to behold in Livingston, Billings, and other Montana towns.
For those of us grounded in the natural world, there's nothing more pleasing than spring after a brutal winter.  While I can't claim to have suffered through the snow and chill, I've kept up on the miseries, stress and hard work of our rancher neighbors, and I feel grateful for their endurance and spirit. Nothing makes me happier than to have to stop the car while a cowboy moves cattle to summer pasture. "These are my people;  this is my country." Corny, but true. Sometimes I even belt out the state song: "Montana, Montana, glory of the west.......        M-O-N-T-A-N-A, Montana I love you."
YES, OF ALL the states from coast to coast, it's easily the best. I love my part-time California life, world travels and regular visits to Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Miami and Boston. But there's no place like home. The aging Yorkies love Montana, too. Nick and Nora romp and hike and get in shape, just as we do. Home on the range will always be dear to our hearts.
Cookie and Keller, Nick and Nora hike the East Rosebud.
Sioux Charley splendor
We love our Montana based road trips to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, forays to Red Lodge, Livingston, Bozeman, Butte,
Glacier Park is part of our summer itinerary, with an annual road trip.
Missoula, Harlowton, to visit friends and catch up on theater and dining. I spent the first years of my life in Bozeman where my parents were university students, and it's been fun to watch the Gallatin Valley grow and change, still feeling like part of the real West.
The little western towns in between are fun, too. Big Timber, Roundup, White Sulphur Springs, Harlowton, Lewistown, Cody, Wyo.

ONE OF OUR recent thrills is the opening of an internationally known art and music center just a few miles away.  Tippet Rise, built by the heirs to the Grey Goose vodka fortune, is a masterful creation presenting concerts by world-renowned classical musicians. The patron Halsteads commissioned stunning contemporary outdoor sculptures by famous artists to enhance the connection between land and art. More on Tippet Rise
We've written about this grand accomplishment for national venues and are fortunate to score a few cherished tickets each season. Places to stay if you come visit?
Mark di Suvero's "Beethoven's Quartet" is inspired by the string quartets of  the great composer.
The fascinating piece is one of several world class sculptures at Tippet Rise Art Center. 
Yes! Many gorgeous digs await visitors. Blue Ribbon Run Fishery, for instance, offers a tranquil, handsomely appointed vista on the Stillwater, fine fishing, abundant birds and wildlife (check it out at
Montana is a place where people still greet one another on the streets.  When we mow the front lawn, neighbors wave and honk. Our love of nature bonds us to Montana where we have cherished family and friends. "Summer people" arrive and that's fun, too -- from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Washington, Florida, New York. And we catch up with the "locals," those tough people who stick out the winter there.
DO I MISS city life?  The ocean, plays, nightlife, tango shows, watching Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Greek food, sushi on demand, ocean hikes, Macy's and Nordstrom's within walking distance.  Yes, I suffer temporary withdrawal. But we have Shakespeare in the Parks, Tippet Rise Art Center, my pianos, guitars, saxophones and talented voices to sing show tunes.  Peace and joy, happiness in the mountains, reunions, contentment in the serenity,, plus the bonus of reading and reflection. Lucky are we.

Swimming with the sting rays made for a memorable afternoon recently.

UP NEXT:  Manta rays! Come with us to swim with the rays in Sting Ray City, Antigua. We booked a day with these fascinating and beautiful creatures, escorted by trained nature guides. What evolved was an exciting  encounter with some of the ocean's most graceful inhabitants. The carefully choreographed aquatic adventure made one of our most memorable days, happily spent with southern stingrays, as we snorkeled and even fed them. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday.

Friday, May 31, 2019

LEGENDARY PERFORMERS: still touring after all these years

Barry Manilow last week in Las Vegas, at 75, singing, playing, engaging with the audience.
He returns to Broadway soon.




IN THE LAST year or two, we've seen a host of aging entertainers in live performance venues.  Each one was satisfying. All received standing ovations. Last week we joined a packed house at the Westgate in Las Vegas to watch Broadway bound Barry Manilow. Sprightly at 75, he endeared himself with a generous 95-minute show, playing his own tunes and a
Bette Midler does specialty performances,
including recently at the Oscars.
Elton John at 72 still tours,and
will return to his  Las Vegas gig.
Chopin prelude that inspired one of his hits. Bette Midler at 73 proved herself still "Divine." She gave three encore numbers, donned a mermaid costume and displayed her usual sexy chutzpah when we saw her at Caesar's a couple years ago. Mick Jagger, 75, couldn't quiet the crowd for the whistles and cheers at his desert concert in 2017. Cher, 73, rocked the Vegas house both times we saw her -- oozing charm with two dozen costume changes.
Tony Bennett, soon 93, headlined with Lady Gaga in a world tour at 90. Gordon Lightfoot at 80, Willie Nelson at 86, both earned standing ovations at our recent concerts. Soon to turn 89, Bob Newhart's one-man comedy show charmed at Harrah's Rincon. Rich Little, nearly 81, delighted us at the Laugh Factory in Vegas. Paul McCartney turns 77 this month -- still composing and occasionally taking the stage.
Elton John, a kid at 72, is still touring, although tapering back on the number of his energetic Las Vegas shows. We're EJ groupies -- four times at Caesar's.
Jazz pianist Marian McPartland was in her late  70s when she
played a Billings, Montana, concert.  Here, center, with writer
Christene Meyers and marketing specialist Corby Skinner. 

WHY DO THESE aging stars continue to perform?  Because they like it and we like them. They draw huge crowds, perform with enthusiasm, connect as they entertain. We've grown older with them, so it's charming to see them age gracefully, bowing to standing "Os."
When we were coming of age, in the early days of rock and folk music, our parents were listening to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the amazing Tony Bennett, whose popularity spans decades and generations. Rock and folk music were unifying cultural forces. Now those rockers and folk artists are growing older. But they still rock out, perhaps with a little more delicacy.
Willie Nelson is still a crowd-pleaser.  We saw him last month at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay here in San Diego, 25 years after I interviewed him in Montana. With his signature red bandana, his throaty but tender style and self-deprecating wit, he's a joy to behold and still has the chops. At 86, Nelson's voice is weakening, but, he still picks a mean guitar and is sharp as ever.
Willie Nelson in an interview during a tour
that took him to Big Sky, Montana. He is  

Although she was a youthful "60-
something" when we saw Angela
Lansbury in "Sweeney Todd," she
played Madame Arcati in "Blithe
"Spirit" when she was 91. She is 93. 
Tony Bennett still jazzes it up on stage, in rare performances.
Who knows if he'll tour again, but he has a new record out. 
I LOVE seeing performers I grew up with, ones my parents and even grandparents loved.  I had the good fortune to see Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole,  Marian McPartland, Barbara Cook, Rosemary Clooney,  Alberta Hunter and other greats. Seeing the marvelous Bobby Short twice at the Carlyle in New York was a highlight.  He was in his mid-70s, still brilliant. The king of longevity is Bennett, who turns 95 in August and is just out with a new album. We've seen him five times (three times with Lady Gaga, twice solo). Magnificent. Ringo is 78. Johnny Mathis is 83. Angela Lansbury was 62 when I saw the actress-singer take the Tony for her Mrs. Lovett role in "Sweeney Todd"; 30 years later, we saw her in "Blithe Spirit" in Los Angeles. We could do another column on legendary aging film stars: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks....  Leonard Cohen toured until a year before his death in 2016. Neil Young, a mere 70, is still recording and performing. Bob Dylan, elusive at 78, continues to keeps a low profile as we know from his rejection of the Nobel Prize.
Leonard Cohen at 77 was still touring, but ill health forced
 tapering back, to mostly recording. He died at 82 in 2016.
I last saw Billy Joel when he was 66. At 70 now, he's still a kid. Rumors of another tour are out.  It's not the money. Most are  financially secure and could quietly disappear into a life of golf, travel, reading or lazing about. But they thrive on performance; they need the connection.
THIS WAS  obvious when we saw Mainlow last week in his fabulous show.  He did his hits, dressed the crowd, shook hands. Grace. That's what these veterans share. Bravo, brava. May it continue thus.

UP NEXT:  Montana is calling -- and we answer! Come with us to  Big Sky Country, where the deer and the antelope play.  We'll take a few sidetrips to Red Lodge, Livingston, Cody, Wyoming, and more, and share some of our favorite photos of real cowboys and the true wild west.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday when we post a novel look at the arts, travel, nature and family. We welcome your feedback at