March 28, 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.

FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) and Snopes

With all of the talk about fake news, two web sites have become indispensable for my determining what may or may not be true.

FAIR’s tag line is “Challenging media bias since 1986.” The web site posts stories on current topics using a variety of news sources and aims to provide Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. I especially like FAIR’s list of sites they frequently use for news reporting.

Three of the major categories include Alternative News with sites like Mother Jones, The Nation and the Utne Reader. The Corporate News category contains the world’s heavy news hitters such as Le Monde, BBC World News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters. The Media Criticism and Resources section includes Crooks and Liars (with a funny Nixon cartoon logo), the daily howler, the Vanderbilt Television News Archive and which provides links to numerous global newspapers.

I challenge you to check out one new site daily, for a week, to shake up the way you view your news.

If you have a specific news event which you’d like to verify, consider, also known as the Urban Legends Reference Pages. Created by Barbara and David Mikkelson in 1995, they amusingly named the site after an unpleasant family in William Faulkner’s novels.

Other sites that test the veracity of topics include:
The Straight Dope (fighting ignorance since 1973) –
The Skeptic’s Dictionary –
MythBusters –

In the words of character Joe Friday (played by actor Jack Webb) on the tv show Dragnet, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Google Arts and Culture site

google-arts-and-culture-logoWhen traveling, I love visiting museums, gardens and venues of visual beauty. Unfortunately, my wish list of places to visit continues to grow, while my time to travel remains relatively small.

Google Arts and Culture comes to the rescue with a comprehensive web site that allows the viewer to virtually visit a host of cultural and natural sites all across the world. biodivwand_c_carola-radke-mfnBio Diversity Wall at the Natural History Museum in Berlin

Some of the web site headings include Your Daily Digest, Stories of the Day, Zoom in and Explore by time and color. A seemingly endless number of virtual tours are available including Ford’s Theater in Washington,  10 Downing Street in London and the Taj Mahal in India. One can do searches by art movements, artists, historical events or places along with a host of other topics. Every visit to Google Culture and Art home page could be a different, enlightening experience.

I see from the internet address that Google Arts and Culture is still in beta-testing mode, but the site looks quite polished and professional in its current state.
On my next Google Arts and Culture experience, I plan to make virtual visits to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and to the Great Barrier Reef. Excuse me while I pack my virtual suitcase.

iRealPro app for your portable device or desktop

All you jazz singers and instrumentalists may want to check out an app called iRealPro.
At just $12.99, it could be one of the best investments you can make as a musician.

After purchasing the app for my iPad, I was able to download 1,300 hundred standard tunes which I could view by genre, composer or by title. These chord lead sheets do not contain melodies or lyrics, but this app has many other features. You can easily transpose the key of the song. This is indispensable when you hand your iPad to an accompanist at an open mike or party who may not transpose or doesn’t quite know the tune.

For practice sessions, you can choose the tempo and style of your bass and drums accompaniment. This has been excellent for singers, pianists or other instrumentalists who want to practice the song form or sing or play better in tempo. Those working on improvisation can also benefit from hearing the rhythm section play the  chord changes.

Some may be familiar with the Jamey Aebersold play-along LPs, cassettes, or CDs which have been around for decades. Individual packages would have around ten tunes in lead sheet form with melodies for voice/piano or for solo instruments. The most useful practice tool of its day, you could not change the tempo or “feel” of the pre-recorded rhythm sections on your disks or tapes however. The Aebersold site still sells some indispensable packages for jazz study, but iRealPro beats it hands down if the vocalist/musician needs only the chord charts for popular standards.

In iRealPro you can create your own lead sheets, avail yourself of the member forum or download more genres of music. I recently downloaded 317 Gypsy Jazz tunes for free. You can also download other gratis material including Latin Styles Pack which contains Brazilian sambas, Cuban boleros and Argentinian tangos.

IRealPro can be used on your iphone, iPad, desktop or Android devices.

The app made Time Magazine’s list of best 2010 inventions. This gigantic “fake book” is truly a great addition to one’s electronic musical arsenal.

Order iRealPro from your preferred app store or directly from their web site.

LibriVox, for the Audio Book Lover

Did you like being read to as a child? A company called LibriVox may just bring back some of those memories for you on your computer, smart phone or tablet. LibriVox features free public domain audiobooks  which means they have mostly older classics that no longer are owned by the author or their estates. Not only do they have full length novels, but a variety of writings. If you are a Mark Twain fan, for example, not only do they have “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” but they have his journals, letters, speeches and his newspaper articles.

I myself have been listening to things like “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson, short stories featuring Arsene Lupin, the French Sherlock Holmes written by Maurice LeBlanc and Jules Verne’s “Voyage To the Center of the Earth.” One can find many titles read to you in French, Italian and other languages as well as English.
As a kid, I read the Classic Comic version of “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott. As an adult, I wanted to experience the work as originally written, but the prose defied me if I sat down with the physical book. Now thanks to Librivox, I am listening to the unabridged novel in my car thanks to a connector that links my iphone to my vehicle stereo.

If you yourself want to exercise your voice-over skills, Librivox also allows people to volunteer their reading services for the site. For the most part, these amateur recordings are quite good, my only quibble being the occasional reader who mangles pronunciation.

Now if only I could finally listen to “Beowulf” without risking falling asleep at the wheel!

Flipboard, a new way to get your news fix

A hairdresser clued me in to Flipboard, a compendium of news stories from various global traditional and alternative news sources which you access from an application on your ipad and iphone or your smart phone and smart tablet. You literally flip the pages like an old-fashioned magazine. Articles might be from Time or Forbes magazines, the Huffington Post, the New York Times or alternative sites like The Verge, The Next Web or

You can check out the latest news, catch up on all of the latest tech buzz, peruse gorgeous curated photos or discover recipes from Bon Appetit. Flipboard can be used to access solely hard news or to meander through the trivial and entertaining to your heart’s content. You never know where your flips and clicks might land you. Choosing “#MagsWeLove,” which Flipboard bills as reader-created magazines, I found “Classicalite Digest,” by Logan K. Young which features news and commentary on Classical Music, Jazz, Theater and Dance. From his magazine, I discovered that the group Pink Martini will sing a song with the great-grand-children von Trapp family members on March 7 at Chicago’s Symphony Center.
Using the search button, I happened across an article entitled “18 Easy Paleo Diet Recipes” and was intrigued by a dish called Menemen with eggs, tomato, green pepper, onion and spices. Yum.
You can save stories into your own magazines, tweet what you read to others or subscribe to certain categories which is all beyond me right now. Just let me go to the “Eye Candy” section of the Photo genre one more time!
Flipboard is a free application in the Apple or Windows Stores, Blackberry World or Google play.