Thursday, February 23, 2023

Guitar museum offers spectacular music from Portugal's heart, soul

The art of "fado" or music of the soul is a time honored, intricate and emotional rendering of
Portuguese songs with a melancholy theme, sometimes of lost life or love gone wrong.


Photographs and beautifully displayed musical instruments
highlight the museum's extensive walls of exhibits.

IF YOU LOVE the guitar, you may want to travel to a northern Portuguese city for an inside look at this time honored instrument.
It will be worth your time and money if you long to immerse yourself in the history, beauty and versatility of the guitar.
Nowhere can one find a more extensive representation than at Porto's "Casa da Guitarra." You'll hear the familiar sounds of the instrument as you climb a polished stairway to this little gem of a museum. 
It's small and tucked away, but not far from other landmarks of Porto.  Everyone knows where it is and can proudly direct you.
Located in a two-story building near the city's famed Clerigos Tower, the museum attracts people from all over the world, of all ages and many backgrounds. All share a love of music and this graceful instrument which dates back to Portugal and Spain as early as the 13th Century.

Viewers or patrons of a concert in the small, intimate hall are in for
a treat with traditional Portuguese guitar accompaniment to fado singing.

THE CASA da Guitarra was designed by Alfredo Teixeira, who created his masterpiece in 2012. He intended to create a space to promote the construction and dissemination of traditional Portuguese instruments and musical history.
He did so with elegance.
His masterpiece is part museum, part concert hall and part musical instrument store. It  supplies wood and other materials for building the guitar and other musical instruments.
TO OUR delight, we happened on a concert. One of its missions is to promote concerts and provide a forum for musicians.  It also promotes exhibitions, offers music classes and sponsors workshops. Our concert was thrilling with the traditional accompaniment integral to fado. Two expert musicians played Portuguese guitar and fado viola, much like our mandolin.
WE FELT so much life in this lovely place.
Fado singers are deeply involved in the
story they're telling, always accompanied
in formal circles by two guitars.

Our guide told us, "The exchange of experiences between musicians, guitarists and music lovers contributes to the preservation of our heritage." 
She stressed that the museum also provides a forum for new musical ideas "which makes our heritage alive and interesting for new generations to explore."
SO PORTUGAL'S "second city" has become the country's "guitar capital" -- known for its guitar teachers, performers and splendid guitar craftsmen.
The casa, known to American visitors as "The Guitar House," has a magical feel to it.  Portuguese musical guitars have a noble heritage, dating to to Medieval times when troubadours and minstrels entertained the wealthy. But middle-class people and peasants found ways to enjoy the instrument because it could be carried fairly easily, often with a strap over a shoulder. It was also usually passed down from generation to generation.
It's fitting that the museum's next door neighbor is Porto's splendid cathedral where noblemen and working class folks mingled centuries ago. A mix of people of all incomes and backgrounds continues to visit the museum.
Dozens of beautifully crafted guitars are carefully displayed.

WE TIMED our visit to the museum with tours of Clerigos Tower and Porto Cathedral, those illustrious guitar museum neighbors. We happened onto a  beautiful organ concert and had also booked "Spiritus," a multi-media immersive show.
WE RECOMMEND the museum for an authentic encounter with Portuguese culture and its unique values ​​and traditions.
Our afternoon included fado music, gorgeous Portuguese guitar music, time to browse vintage photos and inspect dozens of guitars, and a glass of port wine during intermission.
The memory of the emotional voice of the resident fado singer, in the company of two splendid instrumentalists on Portuguese guitar and fado viola, lingers today.
GUITAR AND FADO trivia: This centuries old tradition is on the rise in popular urban neighborhoods. Fado and Portuguese guitar have become Portugal's primary cultural expression. Our guide described the art form as "the manifestation of the soul of the people." Fado is deeply imbedded in the culture. We booked several fado concerts besides the one at the museum -- mostly in restaurants. But we heard young people in bars late at night singing impromptu fado with their friends. At formal concerts, it's not unusual for professionals to share the stage with amateurs who are moved to contribute a favorite song.
The museum features a history of the instrument,
with photos of famous guitarists through the
years, and close-up looks at the instrument.
The Portuguese guitar has 12 steel strings strung in six pairs. Portuguese guitars are smaller and have a softer, more mellow sound than Spanish guitars. They are used in traditional music throughout the world. We've seen them in Rio on visits to Brazilian cafes and bars. Spanish guitars are typically larger and have a brighter, more forceful sound.
Museum admission includes those wonderful daily concerts. It's 16 Euros or about the same in dollars. Don't miss an opportunity for a visit.
and other helpful Porto contacts:

Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce Keller climb Sydney
Harbour Bridge a second time and share its wonders.
UP NEXT: Climb every mountain? Well, not yet, but we've climbed a few spectacular bridges. Days ago, we climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a second time. The massive iconic structure is the symbol of Australia. Along with the magnificent Sydney Opera House, it attracts scores of visitors each year. We braved it on a warm but thrilling afternoon. It's a challenge well worth the ladders, ropes, straps, and work-out.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family, road tripping, offbeat restaurants and more: 
Please share the link. 


Thursday, February 16, 2023

Santa Barbara's Maritime Museum: highlight of a Ventura County visit


A fine collection of seafaring artifacts combines with beautifully curated changing exhibits to show off Santa Barbara's proud maritime tradition and encourage preservation of the oceans. All ages welcome.

School children enjoy the interactive
aspect of the education oriented museum.


IF THE MENTION of a maritime museum conjures thoughts of yellowing, ragged sails, salty old sea captains and outdated maps of long ago sailing days, think again.
And head for the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
It's a jewel of a museum with a lively, contemporary spin on nautical life and an environmentalist's take on that precious, endangered commodity -- vital to our life -- the sea. Its beauty and importance are colorfully celebrated in this wondrous place, where all ages are educated about the sea's history and its critical contributions to our daily life.
Christene "Cookie" Meyers pauses at the reception
 desk during a visit exploring the sea's wonders.
one of the country's longest and most colorful maritime collections and the staff at this lively museum knows this fact as it proudly shares the museum with tourists from all over the world.
Says Rita Serotkin, director of marketing and public relations at the museum, "We provide a forum for  education and enlightenment" -- both of which we found to be true as she guided us through two stories of fascinating sea lore and lessons.
We found the museum a joy to visit because it really has personality. It is warm, welcoming and friendly.  While many museums are a bit cold, austere and "stand-offish," the Santa Barbara  facility has an inviting aura. 
Photographer Bruce Keller becomes the subject briefly
on Santa Barbara's picturesque oceanfront by the museum.

On our visit, we observed a lively mix of children, families, touring couples, sportsmen, "a fun mix of seafaring adventurers," as my sailor partner and photographer Bruce Keller observed.
THE RANGE of programs includes presentations by native people whose connection to the sea goes back centuries.  Chumash Elder Puchuk Ya’ia’c (Alan Salazar) visited the museum in November to discuss “Chumash Maritime History—Past, Present, & Future” and encored recently with fellow writer and historian, Mona Lewis, to read from their new book, "Coyote Rescues Hawk." As with man of the museum's events, the presentation encouraged
Right outside the door of the museum, boats of every kind await.

audience participation.  This time, participants created their own traditional seaweed rattles for a reasonable $25, including all materials for the artful project.
Another presentation sets the record straight on who was first to complete a trans-Pacific voyage. (Hint:  it was not Magellan! It was a little known Afro-Portuguese pilot, Lope Martín.)
As Serotkin explains, the museum's mission covers a wide range of ambitious goals -- involving children, entertaining adults and curious visitors, keeping its volunteer corps engaged and active, raising awareness, applying for grants, courting authors, getting the word out on upcoming programs and exhibits and beating the drum for important funding.
WE URGE visitors to make a pilgrimage to both floors where we learned about early Santa Barbara explorers -- Juan Cabrillo, who also explored our San Diego area.
A Fresnel lighthouse lens offers beautiful shapes and colors.

The Chumash people are celebrated, along with whaling, the town's waterfront, and the birthplace of deep sea commercial diving. We also enjoyed elegantly crafted ship models by Dwight Brooks and learned about famous local shipwrecks.
Oil spills, commercial fishing and Channel Islands ranching are also highlighted.
THE MUSEUM has garnered awards for its fun, interactive maritime exhibits for kids as well as adults. 
The interactive visits include hands on and multi-media
exhibits with an array of fine displays including photos.

Families are encouraged to visit.  During our afternoon sojourn, we observed happy three generation groups, students and couples.
We also wandered the wharf, had a delightful lunch at one of the great seafood restaurants, rented a boat for an afternoon jaunt and bought reasonably priced souvenirs at two of the shops.
We recommend making a day outing to explore this important and artful museum -- nestled in the fascinating and historic Santa Barbara Harbor.

805 962-8404

A fado singer in Porto appears to be in a trance as she performs,
surrounded by the two classic guitar accompanists.  On the left is the
Portuguese guitar playing the melody and intricate counterpoints.
On the right is the bass and rhythm guitarist providing those elements.


UP NEXT: Porto's fabulous Casa de Guitarra is a fascinating Museum of the Guitar, focusing on the instrument which is integral to Portuguese music. Fado singers must have the two guitars -- the traditional Portuguese guitar, left, and the rhythm and bass guitar, right.  Many clubs and bistros feature a fado singer or two on the program and we highly recommend guests take in a fado show while in Portugal.  Both Lisbon and Porto offer many options.  We'll explore several of the clubs and talk about the art form next week.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on music, theater, nature, family, travel and more.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Paramount Pictures: Get ready for your close up at Hollywood studio


The famous gate to Paramount Pictures has been used in many films, including "Sunset
Boulevard" which tells the story of a fading star and her struggle to endure in the pictures.


Ready for their close-up, "Keller and
Cookie" share an Oscar moment.



WE HAD so much fun playing tourist at Paramount Pictures.  

We sat on Forest Gump's famous bench, admired a larger than life and ever endearing Shrek, watched an intriguing film clip on the studio's history and drove past sets of a dozen huge box office hits.

The studio is Hollywood's most famous, home to eccentric directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, who had a lavish apartment on the lot and blocked the window with a bookcase so he couldn't be spied upon.  Paramount also was home to scores of stars from film's golden age and remains home for many of today's stars.

Bruce Keller rests on Forest Gump's bench. "Where's my
box of chocolates?" he wondered. The tour stops at
several iconic movie sets and a large house of props.

George Burns and Gracie Allen called Paramount home and dozens of other greats did, too. Lucy sold Desilu to Paramount for $17 million and is known on the lot for developing a school for young actors there, including her own children.
WE KNEW the references to Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, Groucho Marx, Marlene Dietrich and Frederic March, while the younger members of our 10-person tour looked puzzled at the mention of those cinematic heroes.
They knew Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise of course, and famous Paramount box office smashes: "The Godfather" (both the original and part two), "Titanic," the "Shrek" and "Transformers" films, "Grease," "The Wolf of Wall Street," and the controversial "Romeo and Juliet," whose now aging stars have recently launched law suits claiming they didn't consent to the nearly-nude scenes.
Takers of the Paramount tour can see what's on the lot each day.

PARAMOUNT is known for riding the talkie boom to unprecedented heights, reaping industry-record profits of $18.4 million in 1930 (and out-earning all of the other majors), only to suffer financial collapse a year later under the weight of oversized budgets, the costly conversion to sound, and the massive debt service associated with its huge theater chain. After net losses of $21 million in 1932—another industry record—Paramount declared bankruptcy in early 1933. The financial turmoil led to a massive executive shake-up but Paramount survived and made a come back in the WWII years.

A New York City set gets a lot of use, with its familiar
yellow taxis.  Here, tour takers are allowed to pose.

The "Transformer" films were a huge hit for
Paramount. Here, Cookie stops at one of the
transformers. The $25 billion success story includes
15 films, video games, sound tracks and more.
WHAT IMPRESSES the tourist first is the enormity of Paramount.  The original studio was 26 acres and four stages.  Paramount has grown to 65 acres over the years with 30 sound stages range from 5,500 to 18,775 square feet and capable of handling large projects.

"Beam us up, Scotty," say Cookie
 and Keller in the "Star Trek" set.

Nickelodeon and Miramax have ties to Paramount,, and you'll see posters of celebrated films, popular TV shows and commercials.

Today, Paramount partners with projects large and small in a ceaseless effort to create celebrated movies, television shows, and commercials. The studio lot is hallowed ground for "Star Trek" fans, and posters abound of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. "Dr. Phil" is recorded on Paramount's Stage 29 and is the longest running regularly scheduled TV show in Hollywood.
Paramount's net worth as of January of this year is $1.27 billion, so the studio is looking good financially.
Tours are $63 for two hours, and $199 for a special VIP "Insider" look with a gourmet meal on location.
323 956-1777.

Santa Barbara's Maritime Museum earns its stellar
reputation with a wealth of attractive, informative exhibits. 
NEXT UP:  The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is a treasure trove of maritime history with colorful, beautifully curated exhibits, rare artifacts and a lively calendar of events welcoming sea loving guests and members.  Take a look at the museum which weaves a thoughtful collection of displays to illustrate man's connection to the sea. Set your sails with us for a memorable visit, remembering to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, family, the arts and more. Please share the

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Valenca offers charms of Portuguese village near Spanish border

Valenca, in the far north of Portugal, offers a relaxing, artistic place to visit for a few days.
Sturdy, stunning buildings date back to the 13th Century, upgraded in the 17th Century.


Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers above Valenca. 

VALENCA IS about as far north in Portugal that a traveler can go. Like many European towns, it was inhabited more than 300,000 years ago by the homo heidelbergensis, the first early humans to survive in colder climate.

Its more recent history is still impressive, dating back centuries.

Monuments on many
corners tell of
Valenca's history.

Among the many who occupied Portugal, the Romans stand out because they occupied the land for more than 700 years, from the 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD.  As they did wherever they explored, these enterprising travelers built cities, established civil government, fished and farmed the land, and connected settlements with a network of roads. In Portugal, they built above the Minho River which they crossed while traveling from Brago to Tui on the Spanish side, as early as the second century BC. 
Colorful fabrics are sold in Valenca's main streets
and back roads -- aprons to tea towels and throws

AS ONE of the oldest countries in Europe, Portugal boasts a colorful history. Besides the Roman Empire, it was home to Iberian tribes, Celtic peoples, Germanic kingdoms, Muslim invaders and the consequent Christian Reconquista, and finally,  the Exploration of the World. Portugal's Jewish community has a proud cultural and religious legacy dating back to antiquity.

WE FOUND colorful Valenca a metaphor for Portugal itself. Beautiful streets and monuments, clean and welcoming parks and gardens, polite and gracious people, tasty simple fare and good local beer and wine. .

 Valenca is a little known stop to
foreigners but has a proud history.

The town is often confused with Valencia, Spain, by Americans and others outside Europe. That much larger Spanish city, however, is nine hours or 950 kilometers to the southeast.

WE EXPLORED Valenca from our ship, docked at the nearby port of Vigo in Spain. We bought a tour package, but if one wants to go explore on one's own, it's only a $14 bus trip. Or take a train for a few dollars more.

Remnants of Valenca's strong
defense remain, as Keller
illustrates with a canon.

The streets of Valenca hold small squares, churches and
mansions which held off invaders, even to the 19th Century.

The short scenic drive makes it one of the few places in Europe where cruise passengers can easily visit two countries in a half-hour's time.

THE MINHO River flows 210 miles through the northwestern extent of Spain, and marks Spain's border with Portugal for part of that distance. This border has been contentious for thousands of years, and today it's difficult to walk in this area without bumping into a star fort, a place where the enemy can be fired upon the entire length of the fortress wall, to the far bastion. This makes it difficult for attackers to find shelter outside the fort walls and from above, looks like points of a star.

A Frida Kahlo pillow for a sister in Montana was
a happy purchase from these Valenca artists.

ONCE THE ROMANS left the area, the mix of cultures that became modern Europe galloped in: Arabs to Vikings were part of the mix -- people escaping persecution or poverty, or just looking for new horizons.

Portuguese King Sancho I (1154-1211) earned the sobriquet "The Populator" by bringing Christians to northern Portugal in the 12th century. This squeezed out the aggressive Moors, who had conquered virtually all of the Iberian Peninsula by the 8th century.
THE MOORS left beautiful architecture -- including exquisite tiles and mosaics -- and shaped the region's religion, cuisine, music and language. All this can be felt in Valenca -- though not to the degree of more southerly towns. We found Valenca a lovely place with some of the most pleasant people we've met on the road.

Get ready for your close up soon when we venture to Paramount
Studios in Los Angeles, through its famous gates and onto the lots.

We're taking readers on a star-studded tour of Paramount Studios so get ready for your close-up. The studio has produced some of the most famous films -- from "Forest Gump" to "Top Gun" and many time honored classics. Then on to Santa Barbara's beautiful Maritime Museum. And more food, glorious food as we take a bite of Mexican cuisine -- best seafood around -- with "AvoCabo Food Tours." Meanwhile, we urge readers to follow their dreams -- remembering to explore, learn and live. Please share the link: