March 31, 2020

Virtual Tours of Notable Places: The Prado in Madrid

People have been posting ideas on how to use one’s “home time.” As much as I love music, I do, on occasion, need to explore other topics.

I was remembering visits to favorite art museums which led to thinking about famous museums that I have not yet visited. Uppermost on my wish list is the Prado in Madrid, Spain. Here is a five minute clip that highlights some of the Prado’s art treasures, including paintings by El Greco, Velazquez, de Goya and my personal favorite, the triptych work by Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights.

I erroneously assumed that Guernica by Pablo Picasso was also at the Prado. In reality, the famous large canvas is in Madrid, but at the Museo Reina Sofia.

Here’s to seeing Madrid and its art treasures when the world returns to health.

Famous Singers Explored: Fado singer Amalia Rodrigues

I decided to do feature posts on famous singers. I begin with Amalia Rodrigues, the renowned fado singer from Portugal. Fado means “fate” in Portuguese which indicates a fatalistic and somewhat dark cast to this passionate style of songs.

Rodriguez started her singing career in 1935 and started touring internationally in 1943. She was especially popular in Portugal, Spain, France and Brazil. She became known as the “Queen of Fado.”

Her most fruitful career time was in the 1960s with concerts world-wide in Europe, the U. S. and the former Soviet Union. She died in 1999. Rodriguez remains the most successful Portuguese artist in history. Her recordings remain timeless.

Here is a Youtube clip of her singing:

My Goodbye to Netflix

I have been a long-time subscriber of Netflix, all the way back when their business was predominantly mailing DVDs to one’s home. In 2010, they added streaming to their business model, which has exploded into 148 million streaming subscriptions by the end of 2019.

Sad to say, I have put my membership on hold while I explore other competitive services such as CBS All Access, Starz, Showtime and Sundance Now. I will eventually give newcomers AppleTV+ and Disney+ a look-see, too.

In a last hurrah, I enjoyed four shows before pausing my membership.

The Great British Baking Show is my favorite way to unwind from politics and the cares of the day. Netflix has a large catalogue of GBBS versions, 7 Collections (seasons), Master classes and holiday shows. Could Netflix look into carrying spin-offs of this show from Canada, the United States and Australia?

Project Runway has been on my radar since its inception in 2004. Netflix has done a pretty good job of creating their version of the successful fashion competition with Next In Fashion. Tan France, the fashion consultant from the newer Queer Eye show, makes for a great host along with Alexa Chung. The format is similar to PR but the contestants now have a fabric store on the set. To be honest, I miss Tim Gunn taking the designers to Mood NYC to purchase fabric and hang out with mascot, Swatch.

The Witcher was a hate-watch streaming series for me, but watch it I did with the handsome Henry Cavill, period settings and costumes dressing up the fantastical plots. Would I watch a Season Two down the road? Mayhaps.

Goop Lab features Gwyneth Paltrow and employees of the hugely successful life-style brand Goop. The six episode season explores alternative health, beauty and well-being services like cold exposure, psychedelics and energetic healing. This may be a series that is more attractive to women, but men could learn a lot about alternative therapies, and women in general.

Aside from the aforementioned shows, many of the recent Netflix original programs just have not been to my taste. They have not lost me for good, but I will have to be wooed back with a mix of both creative Netflix productions and popular programming from outside sources. Are you listening Netflix?

Emma: Jane Austen musical at Chicago Shakespeare

It came as no surprise that the audience was predominantly women at last night’s performance of Emma, a musical currently playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. More’s the pity since this was full of smart dialogue and lyrics, fine acting and extremely high production values.

Lora Lee Gayer is superb as the opinionated and meddlesome Emma Woodhouse. Brad Standley as the upstanding and slightly repressed Mr. Knightley goes toe to toe with her. Their exchanges are reminiscent of the screwball film comedies of the 1930s. All of the cast members, a mix of local and out-of-town talent, turn in entertaining acting and vocal performances.

Paul Gordon is the mastermind behind this lovely musical having written the book, lyrics, music and contributed to the orchestrations. The marvelous direction is by CST artistic director Barbara Gaines.

There is a diaphanous quality to the scenic design with gauzy drapes, romantic lighting and sliding minimal sets. There is not much choreography but the ball scene absolutely delights. The pit ensemble is small but mighty with violin and cello, plus a tasteful electric keyboard and a reed person adding various colors.

This makes for an absolutely charming outing to the theater. You only have until March 15 to catch Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Emma. Limited tickets have been available at Hot Tix and Goldstar but paying full price would be worth every penny. Hey men, Jane Austen lives! Deal with it.

NAVY PIER, 800 EAST GRAND AVE, CHICAGO, IL 60611

www.chicagoshakes.com

CBS All Access with Picard, The Good Fight and Evil

The Good Fight, an exclusive streaming spin-off series from The Good Wife was what got me to sign up for CBS All Access initially, but the catalogue has much more programming that might be of interest.

Initiated as a streaming service October 2014, CBS All Access has original programming, day later availability of CBS network broadcasts and vintage tv series like Twin Peaks, Cheers, CSI:Miami, Frasier, Taxi, Happy Days, I Love Lucy, Perry Mason and even Gunsmoke.

This is trekkie central for those who like the various versions of Star Trek since its debut in the 1960s. Being a Kate Mulgrew fan, I am currently watching Star Trek: Voyager. But then again, I could choose from Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Short Treks, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek: The Animated Series. Patrick Stewart has signed on to reprise his role as starship commander Jean-Luc Picard in the 8th Star Trek series, Picard which premiered on CBS All Access in January 2020.

You can even bounce between old series and their new versions like Hawaii Five-O or MacGyver.

Current well-reviewed comedies include Young Sheldon, The Unicorn and Mom. Alas, the entire series of The Big Bang Theory is not available on CBS All Access.

I do have two “guilty pleasure” dramatic series on the CBS streaming service, the cancelled Salvation and Evil, a fantasy created by Michelle King and Robert King who gave us The Good Wife and The Good Fight. Hey, I can’t live by PBS alone.

The streaming world is a huge smorgasbord and for now, I am sampling the fare at CBS All Access. For simplicity’s sake, I added the channel to my Amazon Prime Video package. As famed CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”

https://www.cbs.com/all-access/

Starbucks Reserve Roastery in previous Crate and Barrel flagship on Michigan Avenue

Did you know that Chicago currently has the largest Starbucks location in the world? The Seattle-based corporation took over the former Michigan Avenue flagship store of locally-owned Crate and Barrel November 2019.

The venue is five floors with 43,000 square feet of space. To ease traffic within the store, one can use stairs, escalators or elevators to shift between areas. And the crowds have indeed shown up. Opening week, people lined up outside in the cold waiting for admittance.

With the copper piping and modern coffee bar decor, this struck me as the Willy Wonka factory of coffee bars. Not only is this a coffee shop and retail outlet, but a cocktail bar with signature drinks devised by local bartenders and an Italian-style sandwich shop. Local art is featured along with very clean-lined modern furniture and decor.

I am not a coffee drinker, but if I were, I would take note that Starbucks touts its Reserve products to be of the rarest and best quality, often from single-origin coffee concerns.

When the hordes die down, you might want to grab a beverage or snack and watch the world go by from one of the many stylish levels at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Window seat preferably.

https://www.starbucksreserve.com/en-us/locations/chicago

Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO

Call it comedy heresy but I never really got into the television series, Seinfeld when it was on network tv from 1989 to 1998. When I read that co-creator Larry David had a new sitcom, I avoided even checking out one episode, assuming that the humor would be similarly lost on me.

A friend recently suggested I give a chance to Curb Your Enthusiasm, now in its tenth season on HBO. Quelle surprise! Episode 1, Season 1 had me roaring with laughter. Subsequent episodes in Season 1 provided me with at least one belly laugh per show. I must admit that I have been lured into the comedic realm of Larry David.

Playing a version of himself, David displays rapier wit, blurts ill-advised comments and holds firm on quirky habits and rules that get him into layer upon layer of trouble. He’s a misanthrope, but a lovable, funny one.

The series is reminiscent of the Jackie Gleason Show in that David has an “Alice,” a patient, smart, eye-rolling wife, Cheryl David, played by comedic actress Cheryl Hines.

Hines’ early work with the Groundlings, an LA improvisational group, has served her well. Surprisingly, much of the brilliant dialogue on Curb Your Enthusiasm is improvised. As a side note, Hines was introduced to her current husband, Robert Kennedy Jr. by co-star David.

Running characters like Hines, Richard Lewis as himself, or Jeff Garlin playing David’s agent, Jeff Greene give an ensemble feel to the show. Guest stars Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Alexander and Julia Louis Dreyfus making cameo appearances add to the fun.

You just may want to catch Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO if you, like me, were initially immune to its charms. One season down. Nine to go. I wonder how many much-needed laughs that will be?

JB’s Deli in Andersonville

This is my blog day for writing about things I had avoided but have eventually come to love. JB’s Deli in Andersonville is located in a pharmacy which telegraphed “quirky” to me. I walked past the place for a good twenty years, not giving it a second glance.

A neighbor recently showed me a roast beef sandwich from this Andersonville delicatessen. The generous portion of sliced beef looked delicious ensconced in bread, tomatoes, lettuce with a dill pickle and side dish.

I finally made the trip myself. There is limited seating in the deli area, but renovation is in progress for a side room with additional seating.

The menu boasts all of the items you expect to find at a good deli; pastrami on rye sandwiches, lox platters, matzo ball soup and freshly made bagels. The prices are a little high, but the enormous sandwiches are worth every shekel.

Andersonville is about to make Catalpa from Clark to Ashland into a town square. This will undoubtedly increase traffic to this little deli since it is across the street from this future development. In the meantime, when in the mood for a pile of pastrami or beef, head to JB’s Deli for a heroic sandwich. Mazel Tov!

The Two Popes – a Netflix original movie

When major film stars agree to appear in films produced by Netflix, you know the movie industry is indeed changing. Witness the redoubtable Sir Anthony Hopkins playing Pope Benedict in The Two Popes. Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis is no slouch either having worked in films, tv and on stage, most notably to me as The Engineer in the original Miss Saigon on Broadway.

Based on true life, The Two Popes allows the viewer to see the relationship between these two pontiffs. Pope Benedict is the German who loves music but has difficulty connecting with people. Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina asks papal permission to resign from his post. Based on a play by Anthony McCarten, the future Pope Francis admits to dancing the tango and confesses a dark secret to his church boss.

Film director Fernando Meireiles has fashioned a film with intelligent dialogue and tour de force acting moments for both Hopkins and Pryce. You don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy watching these two acting titans verbally joust as they get to know one another.

We all know that Pope Francis followed Benedict to the papacy, but the journey is still entertaining in The Two Popes. Hopkins, Pryce and Meireiles all garnered Oscar nominations for their work.

And if you are not all “poped out,” HBO also features The Young Pope with Jude Law and The New Pope with Chicago acting legend John Malkovich.

What’s next? A papal fashion craze? I want a pair of those red leather shoes.

Our Towns by James and Deborah Fallows – A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America

Husband and wife team James and Deborah Fallows traversed the United States from 2013 to 2016 to observe how some communities are re-inventing themselves for the 21st century in their travel memoir, Our Towns.

With James piloting a single engine plane, they visited such places as my home town of Sioux Falls, SD, Greenville, SC, Pittsburgh, PA, Fresno, CA, Bend, OR and countless other towns from coast to coast.

They observed thriving places and made a list of 11 signs of civic success. Divisive national politics do not impair local projects. Each locale has its movers and shakers. Things get done when there are partnerships between the private sector and government. People know their town’s story. Their downtown is still viable. Their city is near a research university. Community college classes are available. K-12 schools are doing a good job. Successful towns welcome newcomers, including immigrants. Civic plans like bike trails and parks indicate an effective mayor or town council. Small businesses like craft breweries are encouraged.

This is an uplifting story of innovation and cooperation that the mainstream media seldom highlights. Anyone interested in the true state of our country should read Our Towns. To Lori Lightfoot and all of the presidential candidates: this little book should be on your reading lists!