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WORLD’S TEN BEST BAR EXPERIENCES

7 May
Italy - Venice, Harry's Bar, San Marco

Harry’s Bar
Courtesy: Share Alike

HARRY’S BAR (VENICE, ITALY):  During my last trip to Venice, I became a “regular” at Harry’s Bar, albeit sadly only temporarily. By the second visit, the waiter inquired if I would again like a bellini, (Prosecco with rosy-hued peach puree.)  Thereafter, when I entered, he would give a nod and subtle smile. Whenever I am in Venice, I relish spending time at this iconic bar where I find the ambience enchanting and service impeccable. I think the patrons who complain about the prices, dress code, and service just don’t get it. This is an elegant, historical place which has maintained the tradition that has made it so loved. If one looks close, it will become apparent that Harry’s has a surprisingly simple approach to drinks, cuisine and atmosphere. Bellinis are served in the simple clear highball-type glass etched with the Harry’s Bar logo. They favor local, relatively inexpensive wines over high-priced wines. The food is simply but perfectly prepared, such as the popular French toasted cheese sandwich.  The upstairs dining room also serves fresh, simple, sumptuous food. I like to slide into the bar in the afternoon to relax and refresh myself in between exploring areas where tourists are seldom seen. My smile, polite salutations and attempts at speaking Italian have always been greeted with nothing but cordial attention and professional service. For me, Harry’s is worth every penny I’ve spent there.

Calle Ocho

Calle Ocho

CALLE OCHO (BORDEAUX, FRANCE):  Cuban music was blaring out onto the pedestrian-only street in Bordeaux. Ever a lover of music venues, and a huge fan of Cuban music, I ventured in. This was an atmospheric, dive bar with mojitos being mixed and served non-stop. Cuban cigars were plentiful in the din of the music and many languages being spoken. I made the mistake of saying a few friendly sentences to the enebriated woman beside me. That did it-she unleashed a torrent of words along with large plumes of smoke, telling me of  moving from Cuba to Bordeaux and then a series of unfortunate events that had befallen her with regard to love, work and where she lived. Shaking my head in a sympathetic manner apparently encouraged her, but in reality I only understood a portion of what she said. This loud, lively convivial Cuban bar was a surprising find in Bordeaux, although my new “friend” discreetly informed me of the abundance of ex-pat Cubans living there.

RIO SCENARIUM (RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL):  The exhilarating, pulsating rhythm of Brazilian samba greeted us as we exited our cab to the colorful three story beacon that is the Rio Scenarium located on an otherwise dark street. We were seated on the first floor where we primed ourselves with caipirinhas – Brazil’s national drink – and danced to the infectious music.  Samba was excellently executed, but all styles of dance were welcome. The crowd consisted of all ages; the younger crowd gravitated to the upper two floors for music more suited to their taste. We had friendly table neighbors, and talked when we could make ourselves heard. Rio Scenarium’s evocative atmosphere is an eclectic explosion of antiques, memorabilia, and kitsch.

Palapa Bar and Grill

Palapa Bar and Grill

PALAPA BAR & GRILL (AMBERGRIS CAYE, SAN PEDRO, BELIZE):  Sitting under the square palapa (palm grass) roof overlooking the crystal clear, vibrant blue of the Caribbean below is one of my favorite bar views. A half mile north of San Pedro town, is Palapa Bar & Grill. We stumbled on it, or more accurately, discovered it when our family was exploring the north end of Ambergris Caye while driving a golf cart (the standard mode of transportation on the island.)  The main bar is on the second floor which affords a panoramic vista of the water out to the barrier reef, the second longest in the world. We love the fresh fruit cocktails and “mocktails” for the kids. The other “bar” is in the water below where you can float on inflated tire inner tubes while buckets of icy cold local Belikin beer are dispatched to you by rope. Don’t forget to “leave your mark” by writing something on the bar.

 Swing Dancing to Stompy Jones at Top of the Mark


Swing Dancing to Stompy Jones at Top of the Mark

TOP OF THE MARK (INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL: SAN FRANCISCO): Swing dancing on the 19th floor rooftop bar with a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the San Francisco skyline is a rarified experience. Located on Nob Hill in the Intercontinental Hotel, the historic bar opened in 1939.  What made this locale particularly fun was the live entertainment. On several occasions, I had the chance to listen and dance to the Stompy Jones band, who play revved up “jump style” swing music.  The sextet was formed in 1998, and has since received numerous accolades and awards, even being featured in two movies. Donning characteristic short 1930’s-style ties, the band features bounce, piano, thumpin’ stand-up bass, double-shuffle drumming, trumpet sax, and vocals. I also enjoyed the talented pianist and vocalist, Ricardo Scales, who plays many musical styles; my favorite is Latin Jazz. Sample the ambitious “100 martinis” offered at Top of the Mark.  The last time I was there the service was extremely poor, even though the bar was not that crowded.

MOCAMBO BAR (TAORMINA, SICILY, ITALY):   After an Italian woman spontaneously stood up and danced an exactingly authentic tarantella to the live transient band at a panoramic restaurant in Taormina, we were eager for more music and dance. We headed down the street and in the main square found Mocambo Bar. Unaware of its storied past, opening in 1952 and hosting a number of celebrities, we settled in on the outdoor patio adorned with oleander and orange blossoms which had views of Mt. Etna and the sea. Not usually one for audience participation, when summoned, we reluctantly joined other enlisted audience members to play various percussion instruments with the keyboardist in the indoor part of the bar.  Our shared experience and musical ineptitude cemented an immediate bond between we newly recruited musicians; we sat together sharing travel stories, laughing, drinking and dancing. It was a magical night.

Hearst Castle's Neptune Pool

Hearst Castle’s Neptune Pool

HEARST CASTLE NEPTUNE POOL PATIO (SAN SIMEON, CALIFORNIA):  We sipped our sparkling wine by the Neptune Pool, against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the imposing Casa Grande (more commonly called Hearst Castle) on the other. Construction of the Neptune Pool with its Roman temple façade  began in 1924, and after several design changes was finally completed in 1936 with marble pavilions, serpentine tiles, fountains, and alabaster lanterns.  We dressed in period clothing, as did many other attendees at “Enchanted Evening,” the Castle’s annual gala.  We walked around the pool while sampling appetizers and listening to the chamber string orchestra in this mesmerizing location. As the fog rolled in, the lighting proffered an ethereal atmosphere. We reluctantly tore ourselves away and headed for the dinner and auction with hopes of winning the opportunity to swim in the Neptune Pool.

HEMINGWAY BAR (RITZ, PARIS, FRANCE):  Tucked in the back of the Ritz is the legendary Hemingway Bar. Renowned bars are often over-rated – the Hemingway is a noteworthy exception. The atmosphere is cozy and clubby with wood walls and comfortable leather chairs, tasty snacks and fantastic cocktails. Papa’s gun, bust, and mementos adorn the walls. Mixologist extraordinaire Colin Field made this the place to get the city’s best cocktails. The Ritz and the Hemingway Bar closed for major renovations not long after we stayed there in 2012, but plans are for the Bar to re-open after the improvements. I just hope they will retain the original atmosphere and convince Colin Field to return.

Gran Caffe Chioggia Courtesy: Creative Common

Gran Caffe Chioggia
Courtesy: Creative Common

GRAN CAFFE CHIOGGIA (VENICE, ITALY):  Located on Piazzetta di San Marco with views of St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s palace, the clock tower and the lagoon, Gran Caffe Chioggia is always my final stop for the evening. The band is phenomenal, the best on the Piazza or Piazetta, and I daresay some of the most talented, entertaining musicians. Led by the exceptional violinist, Joseph Martin Miotti, the band plays a dazzling array of musical styles including classical, gypsy, swing, rock, tango, movie themes and more with the other band members playing piano, stand-up bass, accordion.  The charismatic Joseph manages to communicate humor in some songs such as his quirky rendition of the theme from the Pink Panther movie (which can be seen on YouTube.). We found the tuxedo-clad waiters professional and polite; service can be slow and it is expensive, but there is not a cover charge to listen to the music as there are in other venues on the Piazza. Many people choose to stand outside of the seating area to enjoy the music, but I prefer a more experiential encounter by sitting in the thick of the action.  In inclement weather, the band plays under the historic portico. During my first visit many years ago, on a rainy evening we enjoyed swing dancing to the band’s big band sounds under the warm, amber-hued lighting under the portico.

Norman Vito at Petrossian Bar

Norman Vito at Petrossian Bar

PETROSSIAN BAR AND LOUNGE AT BACCARAT BAR (BELLAGIO, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA):   Located in plain sight, but under-appreciated, are two gems for live music.  The elegant Petrossian Bar, located just across from the Bellagio’s front desk and around the corner from the gorgeous flower conservatory and botanical gardens, prominently displays a one-of-kind Steinway grand.  The pianists are extremely talented; I spoke with several of them who all had interesting histories to share. For example, Norman Vito told me of growing up in the Philippines and his experiences with Imelda Marcos and Van Cliburn. The music starts at 10 a.m. and continues with a
series of pianists until closing at 12:45 a.m. The Petrosssian Bar has varied offerings including traditional afternoon tea service, Russian specialties such as caviar, smoked salmon, and vodka samples, and a nice selection of wine and specialty-infused cocktails. Only a few short steps away is the Lounge at the Baccarat Bar, which features classic jazz in a stylish, sleek environment. The rotating musicians typically include a pianist/vocalist and a stand-up bass. The Lounge affords of a view of the high-end Baccarat gaming. I was quite amused by the cast of characters playing Baccarat – those dressed to the nines, slouchy-dressed, nervous chain smokers, young hipsters, superstitious seat movers, and more.  The bar offers a good selection of wine and cocktails. Performances start at 4:15 p.m. and continue until 1:00 a.m.

Harry's Bellini: Hope to see you soon: Cheers!

Harry’s Bellini:
Hope to see you soon: Cheers!

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Bringing Pets to Europe

27 Feb
Pepper

Pepper prior to move

Bringing pets to the European Union (E.U.) from the U.S. is much easier than what it once was. No longer are there long required quarantines. The United Kingdom has relaxed their requirements and no longer have quarantine requirements. https://www.gov.uk/bringing-food-animals-plants-into-uk/pets-and-other-animals Non-E.U. countries, the policies can be different. Finland, Ireland and Malta also have their own pet import regulations. The following reflects the current requirements for up to five dogs, cats, and/or ferrets coming to an E.U. country from the U.S. As governmental regulations can change, it is advisable to check the website for the USDA APHIS (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.) Then click on the “Live Animals,” and enter your EU destination. For Canadians, the regulations are similar. Up to date guidelines for exporting pets from Canada to the EU can be found on the website: Canadian Food Inspection Agency under “non-commercial export of dogs, cats, and ferrets to the EU.”

 

  1. As far out from your desired departure date, check with individual airlines regarding their pet transport policies. Start by checking their websites, and then speak with an actual airline representative to get the specifics. Weigh your animal to determine whether they are eligible for travel in the cabin, under the seat in an airline-approved carrier. The weight allowed includes the pet, carrier and anything else placed in the carrier. Including his carrier, my dog, Pepper, was just at or slightly above the weight limit allowed by many airlines, so I booked on airlines with a more generous 8 kg. /17 pounds limit, including Swiss Air, Alitalia, and Iberia. Since my last flight which was in early 2015, several of the major carriers have increased their in cabin weight allowance to be 17 or 20 pounds. Also, some types of dogs are not permitted, such as snub nose dogs, in which case you can consider a pet relocation service. There are different policies for very young, unvaccinated pets. Airlines charge varying rates for transporting pets, from $50 to over $500, so take that into consideration during your research. Check to see if there are periods of time they do not transport animals in the cargo hold due to expected inclement or extreme weather. Some airlines don’t take pets via cargo in hot months as they have had animals die. If your pet will be in the cargo hold, consider booking during months or times that are typically temperate: morning or evening in the summer and midday in the winter. Also, direct (non-stop) flights are better for pets. Make sure the carrier purchased meets the airline’s regulations. Carriers or crates must afford the animal to move around, and typically have an absorbent cushion or rug with adequate ventilation. A carrier with wheels will make moving your pet through the airport far smoother. Because there are so many different airline regulations, costs, weight limits, etc., when deciding on an airline, I made a written grid to record each airline’s policies for easy comparison.
  2. Book your flight as soon as possible to guarantee a spot for your pet as they have a limit to how many pets can be on a flight. Space availability for pets is also determined by the type of aircraft, cabin and seating. Make sure your pet has a reservation. During the three times, I flew back and forth between California to the E.U. I was charged for my pet when I checked in at the airport. If you will be using other ground transportation once you arrive, such as a train, bus or car rental, check their pet transport policies. The first time, I brought my dog from Madrid to Alicante via train, and the second time directly to the Alicante airport via plane.
  3. Well in advance of your travel date, get your pet used to the carrier or crate. In the beginning, put the pet in it with a toy and snack. As s/he gets comfortable, leave the pet in the carrier when you leave home. Take your pet in the carrier on walks and in the car to get used to motion. For pets who will transported in the hold, it is especially important to get them used to being in their crate and moving.

    Pepper in transport crate

    Pepper in transport crate

  4. Well in advance of your scheduled flight, find a veterinarian who is certified and experienced in pet relocation to your scheduled EU destination. I strongly recommend meeting with the vet for an initial session to make sure s/he is qualified and experienced in completing all of the required steps within the tight timeframes necessary. Make sure the vet has the correct form (ANNEX II) and has previously completed them. If your pet is not already had a microchip inserted, this is an ideal time to do it. Let the vet know it is for travelling to an EU country. For EU countries, it must be an ISO 15 digit microchip, either 11784 or 11785. After the chip is placed, the pet must have a rabies vaccine, even if it already has a valid rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine can be on the same day the animal is chipped or at a later date. This rabies shot must be administered at least 21 days before your flight departs. I did not understand that my dog needed to get a new rabies shot, nor did my vet inform me at the time of the dog being chipped. Thus I had to delay my departure date which resulted in a several hundred dollar change fee. During your initial appointment with the vet, I recommend having the vet do a physical to make sure there won’t be any last minute health issues. I also got him to prescribe a slightly sedating medication for the long flight. If you get a calming medication, make sure it is not contraindicated for flights, as was the first medication my dog was prescribed by a less experienced vet. Some airlines do not permit dogs to be sedated. Since my dog was flying in the cabin, I felt it would be in his best interest to take a sedating pill since he would be in his carrier for 12 to 15 hours, and I would be able to monitor him. Twice I gave him a trial of the pill before departing to make sure there were no adverse side-effects.
  5. The vet has to fill out the ANNEX II form about 12 to 15 days before departure. Then that form has to be mailed or taken by hand to your local USDA office, for certification. You have to enter the EU country within 10 days of the USDA certification, which is a very tight timeframe. This means that you should schedule the final vet exam and paperwork completion, at an early enough hour to allow you to get it to an overnight mail service. Make sure to check the USDA website for the mailing address for your region, mandatory fees which you must include, and include a return overnight mailing document with your address. Keep in mind some “overnight” mail services do not deliver on the week-ends.
  6. Prior to departure date, check for pet relief areas at the airports which you will be using. Some have indoor pet areas. For example, at the LAX airport international terminal in Los Angeles, near the business lounge, was a pet play and relief center with artificial grass. Arrive at the airport at least three hours in advance of your scheduled departure. About four hours prior to checking in, feed and provide water for your pet, and play to get them tired. At the airport, let the pet relieve himself one more time. Put the pet in the crate which in advance you have supplied with a “pet potty pad,” empty water dish, and cherished toy. Make sure the crate door is securely closed. Keep the pet paperwork handy in the pocket of the in-cabin pet carrier, or for a checked crate, somewhere else easily accessible. The pet must remain in the carrier in the airport and during the flight. If you have an airline transfer and there is no inside pet area, if you go outside, you will have to go back through security screening. Make sure to allow enough time in case of long lines.
  7. Once you are to your new EU home destination, find a good vet by asking local ex-pats who demonstrate attentive and caring behavior toward their pet. Ask around, and eventually, you will start to hear one or more of the same names recommended. Unless you are fluent in the language of your new country, make sure the vet can speak English. Introduce your pet and yourself to your new vet, instead of waiting for an emergency. At your initial appointment, find out about local health issues, get any vaccines or preventative medicines for your new country, a dog name tag with your local phone number, and a European pet passport (which is legally required.) Then, get out and explore your new home.

    Pepper (aka "Pimienta" in Spanish) at outdoor beach concert

    Pepper (aka “Pimienta” in Spanish) at outdoor beach concert

Music Icons: Kenny Lee Lewis and Diane Steinberg-Lewis

12 Feb
Diane and Kenny Lee

Diane and Kenny Lee at Home with Sophie

After spending time the prior evening with old acquaintances, B.B. King and Peter Frampton, Kenny Lee Lewis and his wife, Diane Steinberg-Lewis enthusiastically shared their fascinating, intertwining respective lives and experiences. Kenny and Diane have performed in San Luis Obispo County (California) in their band, the Barflyz, but are more well-known for Kenny being a member of the classic rock Steve Miller Band, and Diane for her role as “Lucy in the Sky” in the 1978 American musical film, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (in which Peter Frampton was also cast). The couple, who has been together almost 40 years, was more interested in recounting the history of Diane’s influential musical parents, than talking about themselves. To that end, they were compiling documentation, which included talking to B.B. King after he performed in Paso Robles, California in September 2013, which is when I met with them at their home.

Martha Jean on B.B. King Album Cover

Martha Jean on B.B. King album

Diane’s father, Luther Steinberg, played trumpet with legends Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, and Duke Ellington, was a Big Band leader, and did arrangements for artists including B.B. King. Diane’s mother, “Martha Jean the Queen,” was an African-American pioneer in radio and one of the first female D.J’s in the United States. She helped to bring R&B music to the airwaves for the general public. Diane showed a photo of her mother on the cover with B.B. King on his album, My Sweet Little Angel, recorded in the 1950’s, but not released until 1993. B.B. signed the cover of Diane’s copy during their recent meeting. Diane and Kenny Lee hoped to talk with him further to add more of these memorable experiences to their memoir of Diane’s mother:  Speaking of the Queen: from Memphis to Motown.

Born Martha Jean Jones in Memphis, she landed her first job there as a D.J.at WDIA. The radio’s early format of country, swing and light pop was not successful. In 1947 WDIA became the first radio station to target programming to black audiences. It quickly rose to the number two radio station in Memphis, and then became number one after switching to all black music programming. B.B. King started working at WDIA in 1948 promoting medicine and then cigarettes; he became a D.J. in 1950 before launching his performance career. Though all genres of music are widely accepted today, in an era of resistance to integration of the military and Jackie Robinson playing baseball with white players, incorporation of black music into the mainstream was controversial in Memphis. When the “race” music being broadcast by WDIA reached the white suburbs of the south, it was the beginning of what would become the phenomenon of “Rock and Roll.”

Following her parents’ divorce, in 1963 The Queen moved with Diane and her two sisters to Detroit, where The Queen continued as a D.J., and a community activist through the 1970s. The Queen became involved in the ministry in 1984, and in 1997, after being named Michigander of the Year, purchased a radio station WQBH, an acronym for Welcome Queen Back Home where she worked until her passing in 2000.

Allee Willis, Diane, Kenny Lee with Photo of "The Queen"

Allee Willis, Diane, Kenny Lee with Photo of “The Queen”

Diane was influenced by the encounters and events she was exposed to by her musical family. At age six, when she began “playing” the babysitter’s dilapidated piano, her father purchased a new piano for her.  She still has this piano, which their dog, Sophie, “plays” when she wants a snack. As a child, Diane’s father brought home many talented musicians who helped her hone her craft. In 1997, her father, his siblings and their father received the W.C. Handy Award for Authentic Beale Street Musicians. In 2010, Diane’s mother was honored with a W.C. Handy Music Legacy Award for her years in radio, and on the same day the Steinberg family was presented with a Brass Note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame.

At college, Diane studied dance, and then music while simultaneously teaching high school.  In 1972, she got her first record contract with Atlantic, and later recorded for ABC Dunhill and Word. She performs both secular and gospel music, has written music performed by such artists as Natalie Cole and Cleo Laine, and wrote the theme music to An Evening at the Improv. She has performed with such music notables as Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and the Steve Miller Band. Diane met her future husband when getting ready to record an album for ABC and she needed a new bass player. Kenny was recommended as a replacement. Diane said they fell in love and married in 1984; he gently reminded her it was 1983. She smiled noting many men are not sure of their anniversary. Diane has periodically returned to teaching in order to provide a more stable home environment to raise their two daughters. Above is a photo of Diane recording with her friend, Grammy Award-winning songwriter Allee Willis, with a picture of the Queen as inspiration. (Allee Willis is an award-winning, multimedia artist, who has written many well-known songs including Boogie Wonderland and September, made famous by Earth, Wind and Fire, I’ll Be There for You (theme from Friends), and co-wrote the Broadway musical version of The Color Purple.

Mary Wilson (Supremes), Allee Willis, Diane and Kenny Lee

Mary Wilson (Supremes), Allee Willis, Diane and Kenny Lee

Kenny was born in Pasadena, but was raised in Sacramento. He is self-taught, initially picking up the ukulele at age seven and then playing his brother’s acoustic guitar in the sixth grade. Not long thereafter, he started playing an electric guitar he had borrowed. He credits his parents for being supportive of his musical focus. He was playing professionally at 15 and went on the road with his first band, Sand Castle, at age 17. He attended Cal State Northridge for a semester, but left when he got the chance to go on tour. After becoming a successful studio session bass player, he and Steve Miller drummer Gary Mallaber started a band, and were pursuing a record contract.  Steve Miller contacted Gary asking for songs for an upcoming album. Kenny, Gary and guitarist, John Massaro submitted their eight demos, and Steve took then all. Steve then incorporated Kenny, Gary and John into his band. The album, Abracadabra, was released in 1982 which went multi-platinum. Kenny initially was guitarist for the band, but in more recent years has become the bass player. When I met with he and Diane in September 2013, the band had recently finished a tour in Australia and New Zealand, and on the top of his television cupboard, a colorful boomerang peeked out.

Diane and Kenny moved to Central Coast of California after visiting a friend and falling in love with the area. They describe the local music scene as “creative” and “original,” with less pressure to follow trends than in the L.A. music scene. The Barflyz was one of their local groups, which Kenny described as an “acoustic pop-cabaret” band performing rearranged jazz, rock, blues, Latin, TV themes and original. When I met with them in September 2013, the band included stellar musicians Danny Pelfrey on sax and flute, Ken Hustad on bass, Dean Giles on drums. Kenny sometimes performs solo at small, local San Luis Obispo venues and bars

For more information: www.barflyzmusic.com. www.kennyleelewis.com

Remembering a San Diego Music Icon: Ella Ruth Piggee

23 Jan

I  had recently been reminiscing about some of my talented musician friends in California, both from San Diego and on the Central Coast. I feel fortunate that I can go on YouTube or on my IPod to watch and listen to them perform. I was already planning on revisiting some of these musicians on my blog and Facebook, either with new articles or by reproducing prior articles from my blog or other sites where I have published. The recent deaths of a number of music icons have led me to expedite those plans. Over the next several months, I will be featuring musicians, both deceased and alive.

Ella Ruth Piggee was an incredibly popular, charismatic singer in San Diego for nearly ten years before her tragic passing due to cancer in 1988. I am always on a quest to find great live music, with my favorites being R&B, jazz, funk, standards, Latin, and classical. In my quest in that regard, in 1978, I was told about Ella Ruth Piggee, who was then performing at a bar in East San Diego, in an economically-challenged area. I first saw her perform at the Black Frog to a predominantly African-American crowd. I was blown away by her vocal talent, her ability to connect with the audience, and her great sense of humor. Anyone who ever regularly went to see Ella Ruth perform knew if you sat in one of the tables near the stage that you would be subject to her chiding, anything from the type of socks you were wearing to mentioning that in spite of having the best seat in the house you have hardly ordered any drinks. Then she would let out one of her loud, infectious laughs.

 

Over time, Ella Ruth and I became very good friends, and it was always a delight to hear her perform or to spend social time with her. Early on, she sang with Bruce Cameron (trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn) and Hollis Gentry III (saxophones and flute). Carl Evans, Jr. (keyboards) and Hollis (who were also friends of mine,), went on to be two of the founders of hugely internationally successful jazz-funk/fusion band with Latin influences, Fattburger. Unfortunately, they both suffered premature deaths due to health issues, as well. Ella Ruth sang, “Make That Dream Come True” on Fattburger’s Good News album, which I believe was released in 1987 shortly before her death. The song was also featured on the Best of Fattburger released in 1992.

 

Typically, Ella Ruth’s Talk of the Town band would play instrumentals for the first half the set and then she would finish the set with R&B, jazz and pop vocals. In my opinion, this form of music sets featuring both instrumentals and vocals gave those in the audience unfamiliar with jazz exposure to it, which helped to increase interest in instrumental and vocal jazz in San Diego. Ella Ruth finished every song with her signature spontaneous, creative scat. Over time, she became a very popular entertainer throughout San Diego, including the venerable Crossroads in downtown, The Triton in East San Diego and Cardiff, Chuck’s Steakhouse in La Jolla, the Catamaran on Mission Bay, and many more.

 

While the world class instrumental musicians sometimes changed, Ella Ruth was the main draw for a diverse San Diego audience, which can be seen in her various YouTube videos. I thank all of the caring musicians who took time to upload some of her performances, including Cecil Mc Bee, Jr. (bassist) and Tony Barnwell (keyboard and vocals.)

 

Ella Ruth was originally from Des Moines Iowa and had also lived in Omaha Nebraska. As I had also lived in Nebraska, and did my undergraduate degree in Omaha, we also had that connection. I arrived back in San Diego in 1978, around the time she did. When I was a poor starving graduate student in San Diego, Ella Ruth would sometimes treat me to a traditional Nebraska, Italian-style steakhouse. In spite of her charismatic on-stage persona, Ella Ruth was a very private person. After performances, she frequently cooked spaghetti at her home for the band, and Midwestern-style fried chicken especially for me, the best ever. Whenever I asked her for the recipe, she told me it was just flour, salt and pepper, which I never believed. I was also pleased to have the opportunity to spend extra time with her during the time she stayed with me when she was looking for a new place to live.

 

Ella Ruth’s longtime friend, Mitch Manker plays trumpet, flugelhorn and pocket horn on the posted YouTube video. Like Ella Ruth, Mitch also came from Des Moines to San Diego, following his stint as first chair trumpet for Ray Charles. Also featured in the posted video is Michael Evans (drums), Jeff Snider (guitar), and Michael Thompson (keyboard.) Keep in mind these recordings are over 30 years old, and the technology for informally recording live music at clubs back then was limited.

Not long before she became ill, Ella Ruth recorded a “demo tape,” a copy of which she gave to me with her personal handwriting of the songs she recorded. Hollis is clearly the saxophonist. I have been unable to figure out who is the fantastic keyboard player, in spite of asking a number of her musical contemporaries, so if anyone out there thinks they may know, I can send you a digital copy of the recording. I have been in contact with the San Diego Museum of Jazz to whom I plan to donate the tape.

 

 

 

 

Six Easy Steps for Bringing Pets to Spain

3 Jan
Pepper at beachside concert in Altea

Pepper at beachside concert in Altea

Bringing pets to the European Union (E.U.) from the U.S. is much easier than what it once was. No longer are there long required quarantines. However, in non-E.U. countries, the policies can be different. For the United Kingdom, there is a four month quarantine. Finland, Ireland and Malta also have their own pet import regulations. The following reflects the current requirements for up to five dogs, cats, and/or ferrets coming to an E.U. country from the U.S. As governmental regulations can change, it is advisable to check the website for the USDA APHIS (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.) Then click on the “Live Animals,” and enter your EU destination. For Canadians, the regulations are similar. Up to date guidelines for exporting pets from Canada to the EU can be found on the website: “Canadian Food Inspection Agency under “non-commercial export of dogs, cats, and ferrets to the EU.”

 

  1. As far out from your desired departure date, check with individual airlines regarding their pet transport policies. Start by checking their websites, and then speak with an actual airline representative to get the specifics. Weigh your animal to determine whether they are eligible for travel in the cabin, under the seat in an airline-approved carrier. The weight allowed includes the pet, carrier and anything else placed in the carrier. Including his carrier, my dog, Pepper, was just at or slightly above the weight limit allowed by many airlines, so I found an airline with a more generous 8 kg. /17 pounds limit. Also, some types of dogs are not permitted, in which case you can consider a pet relocation service. There are different policies for very young, unvaccinated pets. Airlines charge varying rates for transporting pets, so take that into consideration during your research. Check to see if there are periods of time they do not transport animals in the cargo hold due to expected inclement or extreme weather. Some airlines don’t take pets via cargo in hot months as they have had animals die. If your pet will be in the cargo hold, consider booking during months that are traditionally temperate. Make sure the carrier purchased meets the airline’s regulations. Carriers or crates must afford the animal to move around, and typically have an absorbent cushion or rug with adequate ventilation. A carrier with wheels will make moving your pet through the airport far smoother. Because there are so many different airline regulations, costs, weight limits, etc., when deciding on an airline, I made a written grid to record each airline’s policies for easy comparison.
  2. Book your flight as soon as possible to guarantee a spot for your pet. Make sure the pet has a reservation. During the three times, I flew back and forth between California to the E.U. I was charged for my pet when I checked in at the airport. If you will be using other ground transportation once you arrive, such as a train, bus or car rental, check their pet transport policies. The first time, I brought my dog from Madrid to Alicante via train, and the second time directly to the Alicante airport via plane.
  3. Well in advance of your travel date, get your pet used to the carrier or crate. In the beginning, put the pet in it with a toy and snack. As s/he gets comfortable, leave the pet in the carrier when you leave home. Take your pet in the carrier on walks and in the car to get used to motion. For pets who will transported in the hold, it is especially important to get them used to being in their crate and moving.
  4. Well in advance of your scheduled flight, find a veterinarian who is certified and experienced in pet relocation to your scheduled EU destination. I strongly recommend meeting with the vet for an initial session to make sure s/he is qualified and experienced in completing all of the required steps within the tight timeframes necessary. Make sure the vet has the correct form (ANNEX II) and has previously completed them. If your pet is not already had a microchip inserted, this is an ideal time to do it. Let the vet know it is for travelling to an EU country. For EU countries, it must be an ISO 15 digit microchip, either 11784 or 11785. After the chip is placed, the pet must have a rabies vaccine, even if it already has a valid rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine can be on the same day the animal is chipped or at a later date. This rabies shot must be administered at least 21 days before your flight departs. I did not understand that my dog needed to get a new rabies shot, nor did my vet inform me at the time of the dog being chipped. Thus I had to delay my departure date which resulted in a several hundred dollar change fee. During your initial appointment with the vet, I recommend having the vet do a physical to make sure there won’t be any last minute health issues. I also got him to prescribe a slightly sedating medication for the long flight. If you get a calming medication, make sure it is not contraindicated for flights, as was the first medication my dog was prescribed by a less experienced vet. Some airlines do not permit dogs to be sedated. Since my dog was flying in the cabin, I felt it would be in his best interest to take a sedating pill since he would be in his carrier for 12 to 15 hours, and I would be able to monitor him. Twice I gave him a trial of the pill before departing to make sure there were no adverse side-effects.
  5. The vet has to fill out the ANNEX II form about 12 to 15 DAYS before departure. Then that form has to be mailed or taken by hand to your local USDA office, for certification. You have to enter the EU country within 10 days of the USDA certification, which is a very tight timeframe. This means that you should schedule the final vet exam and paperwork completion, at an early enough hour to allow you to get it to an overnight mail service. Make sure to check the USDA website for the mailing address for your region, mandatory fees which you must include, and include a return overnight mailing document with your address. Keep in mind some “overnight” mail services do not deliver on the week-ends.
  6. Prior to departure date, check for pet relief areas at the airports which you will be using. Some have indoor pet areas. For example, at the LAX airport international terminal in Los Angeles, near the business lounge, was a pet play and relief center with artificial grass. Arrive at the airport at least three hours in advance of your scheduled departure. About four hours prior to checking in, feed and provide water for your pet, and play to get them tired. At the airport, let the pet relieve himself one more time. Put the pet in the crate which in advance you have supplied with a “pet potty pad,” empty water dish, and cherished toy. Make sure the crate door is securely closed. Keep the pet paperwork handy in the pocket of the in-cabin pet carrier, or for a checked crate, somewhere else easily accessible. The pet must remain in the carrier in the airport and during the flight. If you have an airline transfer and there is no inside pet area, if you go outside, you will have to go back through security screening. Make sure to allow enough time in case of long lines.

Once you are to your new EU home destination, find a good vet by asking local ex-pats who demonstrate attentive and caring behavior toward their pet. Ask around, and eventually, you will start to hear one or more of the same names recommended. Unless you are fluent in the language of your new country, make sure the vet can speak English. Introduce your pet and yourself to your new vet, instead of waiting for an emergency. At your initial appointment, find out about local health issues, get any vaccines or preventative medicines for your new country, a dog name tag with your local phone number, and a European pet passport (which is legally required.) Then, get out and explore your new home. Most eateries in Spain are dog-friendly.

Pepper saying goodbye to my son, Spencer, who was returning to California

Pepper saying goodbye to my son, Spencer, who was returning to California

You Must Be Kidding: Steps to Get a Spanish Visa

9 Aug

This is the third in a series of three posts on getting my initial non-lucrative residential (or retirement) visa to reside in Spain. After many challenges with both the initial application at the Spanish consulate in San Francisco, and completing the remaining requirements once in Spain, I finally received the actual visa three and a half months after arriving in Spain.

Based on my experience of the seeming indecipherable or changing requirements to get my initial Spanish visa, in the fall of 2014, I started looking into the requirements for my first visa renewal. I used the identical forms and letters for documenting the required financial ability to support oneself with their specified minimum amounts, and medical insurance. However, when I went to the local Oficina de Extraneria, office where foreigners process visas, after several hours wait, the worker curtly told me that my financial documents were not originals and not “autorizdo.” When I asked what that was or how to do that, she just kept repeating the word. I was also told that my medical insurance, which had qualified the prior year, was the incorrect type, that it was a tourist medical insurance, not that for a resident.

I was concerned about meeting the deadline for the visa reapplication, but the worker told me I had up to 60 additional days to complete the requirements. I later saw online that the deadline was up to 90 days past the expiration date of the visa.

For the financial documentation, I asked my California financial advisor, to get the letter he had written about my finances and income, notarized. As well, I asked my California banker to print an original bank statement and notarize it. I had my financial advisor mail them expedited. When the original and notarized documents arrived two days later, I took them for official translation. By then, I was within a few days of the additional 60 days to submit all paperwork. I didn’t want to take the chance of missing the deadline if the online 90 day extension was incorrect.

When I returned to the Oficina de Extraneria, I feared the requirements would be changed, as is not uncommon in dealing with Spanish government workers. In addition to the newly minted financial documents, I brought the other required documents. When I contacted my medical insurance company, they insisted their medical coverage met the Spanish visa requirement, so I brought it (with official Spanish translation). I was pleased when told that the documents met their requirements, with the possible exception of the insurance. However, they indicated they would submit the documentation and if the government did not find the insurance to be acceptable I would be notified.

Several weeks later, I received a registered letter from the Spanish government saying I needed to get qualifying medical insurance. I went online to try to find qualifying medical insurance. While I speak decent conversational Spanish, I did not feel equipped to deal with the intricacies of making sure the insurance met all of the requirements, so I called a company who had English advertisements for medical insurance. When I called, the woman who answered did not speak English. After I asked, she put on an English-speaking colleague who was helpful. He got my information and told me a representative from the specific company that met my needs would be contacting me. I was surprised when I received the call that the caller and none of her colleagues spoke any English.

After laboring through the application process in Spanish, printing out and filling forms which had to be scanned and returned, and sending a copy of my NIE card, I was told I needed to submit my bank name and account number for billing purposes. I do not yet have a Spanish bank, but I offered to pay the policy in full. That was unacceptable to their policy. Thus I had to start over and I had been given a short time by the Spanish authorities to submit qualifying medical insurance. I found a local insurance “seguros” English-speaking broker who was able to secure qualifying medical insurance with the required zero deductible/no co-pay. I could either pay monthly through a Spanish bank account or the full annual amount, so I did the latter. I returned to retrieve the actual policy a week later, which fortunately was in Spanish. I then went to the Oficina de Extraneria where I submitted the original policy, the required copy, and the whole insurance book. After a discussion between two of the workers, they decided the insurance qualified. Hurray!

I then proceeded to contact the original insurer that the Spanish government said did not qualify so I could cancel that policy to receive a refund. They asked me to send the documentation from the Spanish government saying their policy did not qualify. After several communications, I told them it didn’t matter if they thought their policy qualified if the Spanish government would not accept it. I finally got a refund.

Several weeks after submitting the insurance documentation, I got a letter saying my renewal was approved, that I needed to go online to schedule an appointment, and they provided yet another required payment to be submitted before retrieving the actual visa. The payments have to be made at a bank only on a limited number of days of the month within a very narrow range of hours. My appointment is set for the very end of September, again in somewhat distant Alicante. At that time, I believe I will be submitting my photos and being fingerprinted again, which means it will likely be another 30 to 45 days (as it was the first time) before I actually can retrieve my visa. Once I receive my visa, which will likely be in early November, it will be set to expire in a little more than four months.

And one final recent frustration in the dealing with the Spanish bureaucracy…I had my son send a box of personal items to my home in Spain. One prior shipment was a fiasco. When I received the usual demand from the Spanish post office to name the contents, provide a receipt for the contents or provide and swear their value, I honestly told them, they had no monetary value and were only gifts, souvenirs, and very old personal items. In spite of sending them this response, they kept dogging me with the same request, to which I gave them the same answer. I learned this week that the returned the box to the U.S. I have yet to find out where or if is completely lost. Surely, it cost them more time and money to do this than to forward the box to me. Ridiculous.

Anyone else had similar problems with the Spanish bureaucracy?

Patience and Tenacity: Requirements for Obtaining a Spanish Residential Visa

26 Jul

Get ready to have your patience and tenacity tested if you are planning on applying for a Spanish visa. The application process is like a moving target. This is my second post on my experience in getting a non-lucrative residential visa, sometimes known as a retirement visa, to reside in Spain. In my last post, I discussed my experiences with the sometimes idiosyncratic application process, which can differ depending on which Spanish consulate where one is required to apply.

Once I arrived in Spain in March 2014 with my approval for a Spanish visa, I immediately sought permanent housing which was necessary to complete the requirements to obtain the visa and get my NIE (national identification number.) As I have found with most tasks involving the Spanish bureaucracy, one can expect to have multiple attempts before successful completion. For example, when I went to the local “ayuntamiento,” town hall, to register the address where I was living, I was given changing requirements. First, they said the address of my rental I gave them didn’t exist, even though that is the address used by the owners to pay taxes. The owners suggested an alternate address, which was successful, and they provided me with a statement that I was renting from them. Next the ayuntamiento worker assigned me the new task of getting a copy of the trash bill which showed the owner’s name, as well as a copy of his identification. After four trips, I was successful for what I initially thought was going to be an easy task. That set the tone, or should I say pace, of the next steps.

Next, I went on the required governmental website to get an appointment to get my fingerprints and submit my paperwork. This appointment had to occur in Alicante, about an hour’s drive from where I live in Altea. Thus I either had to rent a car or take the two hour tram. I chose the former. At the appointment, I brought all of the required documentation. The worker asked why I did not come to the appointment within the required time frame, which I recollect was around 45 days. I explained that the website issued me a specific date over which I had no control, which was almost two months beyond the deadline. Thankfully, that explanation was acceptable. Of interest, the woman who was processing my application turned to her colleague saying, “California dream,” apparently a dream they both shared. She could not understand why I would want to move to Spain from California. I explained my reasons and she was apparently satisfied, but still had difficulty fathoming.

Whereas I was initially informed by local officials in Altea that I would be given my visa at that appointment in Alicante, at the end of it, I was told I needed to return in exactly 30 to 45 days in person, with my U.S. passport. On June 30, with low expectations, I returned to the Alicante National Police. I was pleased and surprised to find my visa card ready. With that, I now had my NIE number, necessary for almost everything, including such things as getting internet at home, receiving shipped packages, etc.

I noticed the expiration date on my newly issued visa was March 11, 2015, the date I initially applied after arriving in Spain. So starting in late January 2015, I began working on the application for the first renewal of my residential visa. Not surprisingly, I encountered more bureaucratic twists and turns, which will be the focus of my next post.