Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Garage Discoveries, Old Receipts, Musings on Human Resource Departments and other tales of Three Star Restaurants – Especially Joel Robuchon’s Jamin

July 5, 2017
bradspurgeon

My receipt from Robuchon's Jamin 1991

My receipt from Robuchon’s Jamin 1991

PARIS – I have been spending recent weeks tearing apart all the boxes and other crap in my garage and storage room, digging through a lifetime of papers and crud, trying to find anything at all that can prove to the French retirement agencies that I was employed at The Globe and Mail newspaper from the summer of 1980 to the fall of 1983. A series of emails to the human resources department of the Globe resulted in my discover that they have no record of my existence! (It led me to wonder if they even have any record of the 19 years that my father, David Spurgeon, spent reporting for the Globe from the 1950s to the 1980s! (and also made me wonder once again what human resource departments do other than fire people!!)) While I did manage to find at least one record of one period of my existence there – the last year and a half – I have still to find any official records of my own. On the other hand, I have been absolutely amazed to discover that as far as just about every receipt, metro ticket and French payslip or household bill for my subsequent 34 years in France, I have apparently been a packrat. But one of the most amazing artefacts I found was the sudden appearance last night of the actual receipt for the best meal I ever ate in a restaurant: My 1991 meal at Joel Robuchon’s great restaurant, Jamin. So I have decided to add that receipt (its nearly 3600 francs equal around 557 euros in today’s money, not counting the difference in cost-of-living fluctuations, etc.) to my very popular article about that evening, which I wrote about immediately afterwards and subsequently had rejected from many major publications many times. It has proven to be one of the most popular items on this blog, with almost daily readers from around the world ,which vindicates me a little about having been crazy enough to write it. You can see the receipt on this post, and also now accompanying the story itself in my rejection writings section under the title: A Dinner at Robuchon’s Jamin.

Quiet Moments at the Station 59 Open Mic in Melbourne

March 18, 2016
bradspurgeon

Station 59

Station 59

MELBOURNE – Is “quiet” the kind of word you want in a headline about a visit to an open mic? Perhaps. Last night, I was really tempted to go to the fabulous Balaclava Hotel open mic that I attended for the first time last year and where I found an amazing, dynamic, lively and hip atmosphere. But I said to myself, this worldwide open mic adventure – like life itself? – should not be about always going to the same places and doing the same things, but about discovering new things. So I looked up on the various sources what other open mics exist in Melbourne on a Thursday night. I found yet another within a short walking distance of my hotel on Church St. in Richmond, the Station 59 open mic. And I went.

And that’s when I found what initially let me down, since the bar was virtually empty when I arrived. I cut out to find a place to eat, and ended up just down the street on Victoria and in the midst of a vast selection of Vietnamese and other Asian restaurants, a street in which, in fact, it seemed “Australian” food had been outlawed. So I settle for a nice big Pho. But I’d spent so much time looking for a non-Asian food restaurant – only because I thought I really ought to try Kangaroo – that I had to gulp down the Pho really phast… and get back to the open mic.


Upon returning, I found a colleague/friend from the F1 paddock who had come to meet me at the open mic, his second open mic of one extreme or another (as the previous one had been in a riotous, raucous open mic in Montreal), and a crowd of five spectators.

Again I did not despair because, in fact, the audience was fabulous, the reception in the Station 59 was mighty good, and after I spoke to the bartender/manager, I learned that the open mic was far from always being so quiet, that they sometimes had too many people to give a slot to everyone before the open mic finishes at 11 PM.

And on top of everything, Cam (for Campbell), the MC, was a fabulous host who made sure the sound system was perfect. So all in all, it was a nice laid back fun night with no stage pressure at Station 59. And ultimately, I was pleased to discover yet another Melbourne open mic, and to see that open mics are so much a part of the culture here that even if the open mic has a few down nights, no one pays any mind – it’s part of the deal….

Turquoise Cottage Open Mic in New Delhi

October 25, 2013
bradspurgeon

turquoise cottage menu

turquoise cottage menu

NEW DELHI, India – Puttering along in the auto-rickshaw on my first night in Delhi, I was confronted once again with the flow of chaos of the roads of Delhi. My western sensibilities tell me that it is impossible for traffic to move in that way without a death every three seconds in my immediate vicinity. But somehow, we move on through the every-which-way traffic – consisting of rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, cars, Tata cars, bicycles, pedestrians, wild dogs and the occasional Englishman – and get to the destination.

It turned out that my destination on the first night was the open mic at the Turquoise Cottage venue at the Saket Mall, and that while the traffic chaos nevertheless got me to my destination, the 50 euros that my telephone spent in downloading a google map to show me exactly where the bar was located, did not work. In other words, I arrived at this massive, massive mall, leaving the murderous chaos of the road to find myself in the calm of a super, futuristic shopping complex surrounded by bright lights, music and merchandize. Only to realize that I did not have a clue of where the Turquoise Cottage bar was.

Neither did anyone else. So I turned on my data roaming and spent three minutes trying to download the google map and before any image whatsoever appeared, my service provider – Orange.fr – informed me that I had just spent 50 euros. IE, a yearly salary of the auto-rickshaw driver who had just dropped me off at my destination without error.

So it was that I gave up on the modern method of using a GPS location service and I saw a European-looking woman whom I thought might be hip to where this popular music bar might be located. I stopped her, asked her, and to my surprise she responded in English that was laced with a strong Indian accent. She had no idea where it was, but like all friendly Indians, she called up a friend and he indicated the general direction over the phone: “It’s over in that direction somewhere, outside the mall.”

I told her I was surprised that she was Indian, since I thought she was European. She said she was European: Ukrainian, in fact. She was, I realized, the second European of the day who I had spoken to who spoke English with a strong Indian accent. There would be another before the night was through.

Anyway… in complete desperation and nearly ready to give up, I nevertheless decided to go “in that direction,” and leaving the mall I asked at an information desk – the third such information desk I had asked – where is the Turqoise Cottage. “Just across the street, through those doors,” he said. Sure enough. There it was, right in front of me, and only a couple of minutes away from the spot where I stood when I spent 50 euros trying to find it on the GPS. There is a lesson there somewhere.

But the real lesson came when I entered this new addition to the Turquoise Cottage rock music venue chain. (There are one or two others….) There I found a world that contrasted even more with the two I had just experienced: This world was a warm, hip open mic with a great stage, fabulous sound system, nice, open people, in a large bar with excellent food. And above all, it was a world of the kind I know so well all over the globe: A world where the shared language is music, no matter what the other peculiarities of the local culture might be.

The Turquoise Cottage Discovery Through Gautam and His Band

I learned of the Turquoise Cottage open mic through my friend Gautam Lahiri, who sings and plays guitar and harmonica in a band called The Grand Old Dog (I think I saw its cousin on the road in). I met Gautam at the famous TLR venue two years ago on my first visit to India, and he invited me then to his own open mic the next day, at Bennigan’s, and then we met up again last year at the Turquoise Cottage in a different location.

Turquoise Cottage was created almost as a kind of Hard Rock Café in India, but one that actually has music, rather than as in the case of the world’s Hard Rock Cafés, just photos of musicians and old half-dead guitars pinned to the wall to give the feeling of music. Turquoise Cottage IS about the music. As soon as I entered the place I was approached by the soundman who ran the open mic, and I was told I could play almost immediately. In fact, I ended up eating my rice and spicy lamb and then I went up shortly before 10 PM, and I did four songs.

The Spiritual Philosophy of the Turquoise Cottage in New Delhi

The open mic went on until close to midnight and then a few of us went back up on stage afterwards and jammed. I left the place not long after midnight believing that Turquoise Cottage itself has best described its approach: “What started out in 1997 as an idea for rock, has turned into a culture today,” it says on the web site. “We believe there is a place that lives within us all. It is a place of vision and clarity where the rhythm of life moves in harmony with a higher consciousness. The purpose of our music is to take you there. As in music so in life.”

Yes, I’ll buy that…. And when you think about it, there must be some of that in the flow of the traffic of the streets of New Delhi, too, or it would just never work!

Lost In Translation?: Playing for Japanese TV at Osaka Airport, but Not Finding the Open Mic

October 9, 2013
bradspurgeon

osaka

osaka

OSAKA, Japan – Arriving at the Kansai Airport in Osaka yesterday I no sooner got through customs and out into the airport hall where I sought a cash machine when a television crew of three people approached me from behind and asked if I could speak to them about why I was in Japan.

Was it my guitar case that attracted them? And the fact that I was clearly not Japanese? I had noticed them momentarily before, as I approached the ATM, and they were speaking to another foreigner – whom I assumed was a big star I could not recognize. So I was not totally taken by surprise.

I was fairly tired after playing in Tony’s Aussie bar in Seoul the night before, and this seemed like good fun to be interviewed by two Japanese journalists behind a TV camera, that it would help give me the electric voltage I needed to snap a bit more life into me, so I decided to play along and really got into it. Well, all except the fact that I did not really want to get into the details of my day job, and basically just emphasized the fact that I came to Japan to play in open mics and jam sessions, in addition to attending the Formula One race!

Playing Music For Japanese Television at the Airport

The interview went on and on as they spoke first in Japanese and then translated the questions into English, and I suppose perhaps translated my answers. They asked me if I wrote my own songs, if I was a professional musician, if I played with other musicians, where I played, what I intended to do… for a moment I wondered if this was a TV crew at all, or whether it was a novel idea for an interrogation by the customs people, beyond the customs wall. (Customs had asked similar questions.)

Japan TV Crew in Kansai that Interviewed Me

Japan TV crew in Kansai that interviewed me


But then I realized this must really be Japanese television when they asked me if I could play a song for them there, right there, in the airport front hall of the terminal. I immediately saw my opportunity for marking my territory in Japan in the most unusual of places, and not having to wait to find an open mic! So I whipped out the guitar and started playing my song, “Crazy Lady,” for the camera.

At some point – I think right after the song – I turned around to notice that one or two members of a Formula One team whom I know and who had been on the same flight with me and just got off, were filming me being filmed and playing my music for the Japanese TV people! Talk about a reversal of roles! I’m supposed to be doing stuff on the F1 people, not the other way around. But they were greatly amused, and in any case, I’d already jammed with that team in Singapore one night a couple of years ago after the race, so they knew about my musical adventure….

After speaking to the TV people, I had to sign a release form to say it was OK for them to use the footage if they wanted to. But I have no idea what channel it was, or whether it will make it to broadcast or not. What I do know is that it may have been a world-turned-upside-down experience from the moment I stepped off the plane into Japan, but it was only the first part of a loopy tale of Lost in Translation.

Seeking Out the Elusive Open Mic Space D45 in Osaka

I checked into my hotel and did a bit of work or something else, and then I set off for a bar that seemed to specialize in holding open mics. In fact, the bar is called: “Open Mic Space D45.” I found their page on Facebook, and from there I used the translator and saw that they had posted that yesterday it was an open mic all day long at the venue.

d45 open mic osaka

d45 open mic osaka


So knowing full well that any forays into the complicated world of a big Japanese city looking for an obscure address was inviting terror and confusion and certain defeat – for a foreigner who visits the country only for one short period per year – I decided nevertheless that I was here in this life in order to do such things, and I set off.

My iPhone was losing power at a fast clip, but I managed to find the metro stay, find the right train, and get off the metro and into the correct neighborhood of the open mic. But I then spent around 30 minutes going around in circles from street to street, block to block, building to building, and never, despite the GPS location device in the iPhone telling me where I was, never did I find the “Open Mic Space D45.”

Finding a French Restaurant in Osaka: Kitchen Coto Coto

But finally, when my iPhone did go dead – and I prayed I’d find my way back to the metro without it- I found myself standing in front of a Japanese/French restaurant, right next to where the open mic was supposed to be. And in there, I met a Japanese woman who was friends with the owner, and she spoke English because, naturally, she had once lived in Canada. So she asked, and no one knew of any music joint in the vicinity. So I decided that it did not matter, I’d already played for Japanese television at the Kansai Airport, and I’d marked my territory.

kitchen coto coto osaka

kitchen coto coto osaka


So I settled down for an excellent French-Japanese meal at “Kitchen Coto Coto,” some nice French wine and one of the best creme caramels I’ve ever had, outside Africa. (I’ll tell you more about that some other time.) And the woman who had worked in Canada opened up a notebook she had, in which she had drawn a map of France, and marked off dozens of the names and locations of great French cheeses – which she loves…as do I….

Go figure!!!

PS, I’ll see if I can get that video from the F1 team for posting here in the next few days….

Jamming With Ringo at the Food Hawker in Singapore

September 19, 2013
bradspurgeon

singapore food hawker

singapore food hawker

SINGAPORE – For me, one of the main attractions of life in Singapore, aside from the music, is the culture of the street-side food hawker booths that stay open all night and serve great Asian food. Last night, I forced my tired body and soul – after a more than 24-hour trip here – to go out and see if I could jam at the Actors Jamming Bar, just down the street from my hotel. But I decided to stop in at the food hawker across the street first in order to eat my dinner – at around 1 AM.

There, I found an old friend: Ringo. Not the former Beatle, no. I’m talking about Ringo the MC of the Actors Jamming Bar. I met Ringo in 2009, the first time I played at the jamming bar, and the first year of my open mic adventure. And last night we both recognized each other immediately, but we were not sure why….

Then we realised, and we sat down and spoke together. He told me there was no point in going to the Actors Bar because it had closed at midnight, so I’ll return later. But what happened was that as we sat and drank beers together, we ended up turning the sidewalk food hawker into a jam session. I had my guitar, Ringo had his, and there was an Englishman sitting beside me who knew how to play guitar also, so he joined in – and I made the little video here…. (Ringo is the man with the darker skin across from me – the Englishman is the one beside me.)

The food, by the way, was excellent as usual … but don’t ask me to describe what I ate. And don’t ask me about the incredible alcoholic strength of the beer I was drinking!

But it was great to see Ringo, who had left the Actors Bar in 2010, and just returned again this year. I’ll no doubt return to him and it later this weekend….

Feijoada, Jamming and Zaza at Tropicalia Bistro in Paris – Also an Open Mic

July 20, 2013
bradspurgeon

feijoada at tropicalia Paris

feijoada at tropicalia Paris

PARIS – I am always astounded when I stumble upon an open mic in Paris that I have never heard of. When it is in the obscure neighborhood of the 17th Arrondissement, near the Brochant métro, and only three stops from my home métro, I’m even more astounded. When it also has a Brazilian flavor to it, my astoundedness goes beyond words. Still, I’ll find a few words for it here….

I was invited to meet my friend Zaza Jardim, a Brazilian artist, at this bistro called Tropicalia near the Brochant métro last night. The idea was to come and say hello and look at her exhibition there of her art, which is an interesting, strong-textured and naturally colored art made from waste that she finds and recycles as art – notably a lot of cigarette butts…. Zaza and I had met last December, before she returned to Brazil, when we made that New Year’s Eve musical video on this blog. So I went to say hello, and found much more than Zaza and her art.

I found a menu for home-made Brazilian food, made by the owner and chef of this Brazilian bistro, Tania Voyer. I also found a strange looking piano, on the ground floor, and a great looking cave beneath. Tania told me – I had my guitar with me – that Tropicalia hosts its own open mic every Tuesday night, for any kind of performer, not just Brazilian music. It is closed for the summer, but will start again on the first Tuesday of September.

So here I was in this obscure Brazilian bistro in an obscure part of Paris and with my guitar and a piano, and the meal that Tania made for me was no sooner ingested with great pleasure – it was the famous Brazilian dish of Feijoada (with pork meat), which is a bit like a goulash stew and rice – when in comes Tania’s son, Loic, and he sat down and began playing music on the piano.

There were some other regular clients, and one began hitting a tambourine. I figured that if this was a place that hosted concerts and open mics, then it was a place where if I pulled out my guitar and started playing and had the others join in, I would be the bienvenue, or whatever the Brazilian equivalent may be. So that’s what I did, opting for songs I thought everyone would know, that were good for tapping the tambourine and playing piano to. So I did a terribly screwed up “What’s Up!” – where I got messed up on the timing somehow – and I did “Wicked Game,” and everyone joined in. Loic then did a few more solo bits, and I did “Father and Son,” without the jam.

Zaza took my Zoom Q3HD and filmed us playing, and like the artist she is, she decided to film her artwork hanging on the walls and mirror, too. So check it out.

Oh, and the feijoada is really worth checking out too. I thought it was great, and Zaza said it was as good or better than any she has had in Brazil….

A Trip of a Day, Through Life in a Way, in Paris on a Bastille Fête Weekend

July 14, 2013
bradspurgeon

Kenna and Cox

Kenna and Cox

PARIS – Ultimately, my Saturday in Paris yesterday was a very personal thing, but in another way, it belongs entirely on this blog as it started with some themes recently expressed here, and it ended with a surprise musical interlude of the kind I love.

I was thinking of driving off to Deauville for the day, as there was sun and heat and it really isn’t that far. In then end, I decided to go to the Musée d’Orsay and profit by the sun and heat of Paris. But on the way there, I decided to go to the amazing crime writing library, the Bilipo that is behind the fire station on the rue du Cardinal Lemoine in the 5th Arrondissement that I wrote about on the blog the other day. I wanted to check out the mystery magazines and maybe see if there were any of the people I knew there.

So I went to the Bilipo, thumbed the pages of the mystery magazines from England, France and the U.S. and then I spoke to Catherine Chauchard, the longtime director of the library. It turned out that we shared a passion for the band Moriarty, and ended up talking as much about music as crime literature.

From there I went off towards the Seine and ended up stopping for a salad in the park of the St. Julien le Pauvre church next to the oldest tree in Paris, planted in 1602. This, of course, was right next to Shakespeare and Company, and I decided I must buy a copy of the New York Review of Books. So I went there and started entering this great bookshop only to find a hand and a voice preventing our passage: “Sorry, there is a line up of people here and you’ll have to wait in line before entering.” I turned to see this lineup of around 10 or so people, and I looked in the store to try to see what people were lining up for, and I couldn’t figure it out, so I asked.

“There are currently too many people in the shop, so you have to wait in line until your turn,” was the response.

Huh? I looked in the shop and found that it had fewer people in it than many times I had visited, and fewer than many stores. Clearly, though, the guy at the door did not seem to be wanting to get into a discussion of what this new policy was all about, and the last thing on earth I wanted to do was to wait in line as if I was visiting one of the seven wonders of the world, when in fact I had freely entered the bookshop for 30 years…. So I told the guy I wasn’t going to wait and I went off to the Abbey Bookshop, even if they don’t carry the New York Review of Books. Despite the even more cramped quarters of the Abbey, I’d never been told to wait in line….

So I went to the Abbey, which of course, I spoke about in two recent posts here. The place was buzzing along with business, and rather than being told to wait in a lineup to get into the mausoleum, Brian Spence, the owner, greeted us by saying immediately, “Oh, just in time for a cup of coffee with maple sirup!” So I had a cup of coffee with maple sirup and I explored the bookshop, descending into the cave which Brian referred to as the scene of the crime – in reference to my short story. And while I did not buy an NYRB at Shakespeare and Company, I did decide to ask Brian for some book recommendations, and I left with three (A Steinbeck, a Patrick Leigh Fermor and Paul Auster)…. Now does this not show how effective good customer treatment is in business?!

I moved on to eat a meal at a Thailand restaurant, the Lao Lane Xang. The food was great. Oh, and on the way to the restaurant, I don’t want to forget to mention, I explored some wonderful parts of Paris, including the Chateau de la Reine Blanche, just off the Avenue des Gobelins…. What a city!!

I decided to make a very brief visit to The Quiet Man pub since it reminded me of a similar kind of jam in Montreal that I had attended, the one at Grumpy’s. Whereas Grumpy’s is all about bluegrass, the Quiet Man is all about Irish music…played by French people. They all sit around a table in the basement room every Saturday evening and play jigs and reels, with violins, concertinas, guitars, flutes, etc.

I stayed there for a half a pint of beer and then headed off to call it a night, oh, and perhaps catch some fireworks for a Bastille Day display, if there were to be any the night before the 14th…. On the walk away from there, however, I suddenly heard someone playing an acoustic guitar and singing, and I heard an accompanying violin, and I turned my head and looked right, into a pub called The Green Linnet. It was another Irish pub, and the man singing finished his song and saw me looking in and invited us in… I asked if it was an open mic, and he said, “No,” but the violinist indicated that maybe I wanted to play, and he asked, and as I was trying to figure out what to do, I noticed a man at the bar waving to me.

I suddenly realized that I had recognized the guy without it really clicking in my head: It was Chris Kenna, an amazing musician from Australia who lives in Paris and performs regularly in bars mostly in around the 11th Arrondissement. I had met him first when he was hosting an open mic in that area. Now he performs quite a bit with a violinist named Melissa Cox, as “Kenna and Cox,” and I suddenly realized this was the woman playing behind the mic with the other singer man (as I had in fact met her before too).

So I stopped for a beer here, and they invited me to go up and play some songs after their break. So I played three songs: “Mad World,” “Borderline” and in order to suit the place, I sang “Raggle Taggle Gypsies,” which I rarely do anywhere. I was fantastically fun to have this impromptu, unexpected moment, and I had a nice conversation with Chris and Melissa. Then Chris and Melissa took to the stage and played a few songs, Chris with his deep, raspy voice that seems tailor-made for the blues, and a few other styles too…. They sounded great together.

I left, and never did see any fireworks, but all in all, I realized, it was the ultimate day in the streets of Paris. How could it have been any better and with more unexpected moments and adventures!!! It felt like the greatest decision to wander about Paris rather than drive three hours to Deauville and three hours back, but I’d still have loved to stick my feet in the sea….

Oh, yes, and if you read this far, you might have also realized that I never did make it to the Musée d’Orsay, and in the end, that matters little. Perhaps all of life’s journey is kind of like this???

2 Lit Visits, 1 Open Mic; 1 – 0 Open Mic over Lit Visits

December 15, 2012
bradspurgeon

delerium

delerium

In keeping with my promise to go out to as many “literary events” as I can, I went to a couple last night. There was a gathering at Shakespeare and Company to honor George Whitman, who died a year ago. And there was a little Christmas get together at the Abbey Bookshop, around the corner from Shakespeare and Company. The Abbey is run by Brian Spence, a Canadian whose bookstore on Harbord Street in Toronto I used to sometimes go to when I was at the University of Toronto. Shakespeare and Company, of course, I started going to shortly after that period, when George was already what seemed to me to be an “old man.” And he would go on to live another nearly 30 years.

I made a little film of someone playing piano at Shakespeare and Company, but aside from that, it was really just a question of wandering around and paying respects, and perhaps having a bit of tea or some other drink, which I did not do. Then I went off to the Abbey and there an author was reading out in front of the shop, standing a crate like a speaker at Speaker’s Corner in London, with a large crowd of people standing in the cold beneath him. I think his book’s title has the word “merde” in it, and so I decided to go into the store away from the crowd, where I was warmly greeted – as usual – by the genial Brian Spence, who was preparing goodies for the Christmas toast to follow.

I drank a deadly beverage offered by Brian who had received it from a client, and I read a few first pages of books to see if I wanted to buy any – the one I recall is Borges’ Labyrinths then an AJ Liebling book on boxing, but then the drink went to my head (it was from the Czech Republic or Poland or some equally strong, hardy nation) and I cannot remember the others – and decided I did not want to buy anything. I needed to eat something very quickly if I was to survive the rest of the night and a beer or two.

So I went to a restaurant around the corner, ate some fromage de tête (head cheese), which was as disgusting as it sounds – were it not for the fact that it was excellent quality – and then a terrine de volaille and then ris de veau (sweetbreads, i.e. thymus glands), and some wine, and I was all ready to go off and have some Delerium beer and use up all that delirium and even the tremens, on an open mic.

So I went to the open mic that I reported last week was a little like a literary salon, the one at the Arte Café. After all I had been through, I really did not expect the open mic to live up to my past experiences there, and I fully expected to stay a short time and leave. I thought I would stay long enough to drink the Delerium to digest the animal innards. But the open mic, once again, was really wonderful, and I enjoyed the music, enjoyed playing, and then enjoyed the jam session, and above all, meeting new and interesting people – as always at the Arte Cafe. Thanks again, Arte Cafe!


An Unexpected Jam at La Pepica Restaurant, in Valencia

June 22, 2012
bradspurgeon

la pepica

la pepica

I’ve been saying a lot lately that if you want something interesting to happen in your life, carry around a guitar with you. I might also add a guidebook. At least, that is what happened to me in Valencia, Spain, last night – something very fun and interesting thanks to my guidebook and my guitar. And it also happened at a very interesting place where Ernest Hemingway, Lauren Bacall, Orson Welles and others used to hang out.

To step back a little…. I finished my day’s work at the Formula One race track at the Marina in Valencia and I decided, exhausted after a long night the night before and the travel and the work, that I would not even look for a place to play music. Valencia has never been good for my musical adventure. So I opened up my guidebook, called Cartoville and published by Gallimard in France, to see if there were any good restaurants nearby.

hemingway at la pepica

hemingway at la pepica

Carrying these Cartoville guidebooks is a new thing I have been doing this year after I was introduced to the books by my friend Vanessa, last year, and she took me to some amazing places thanks to these books. So I thought, why not find one for each town I go to. Tourism was never my thing – but there’s no point traveling around the world for my work and being dumb about finding places, either.

The books are great because they split up the cities into sectors, and in each sector you have only five or six choices of bars, restaurants and shopping. So the choice is done very carefully, and I am rarely let down by what I find. I looked in the area around the Formula One track last night and saw this restaurant overlooking the beach; it was called La Pepica, and the guidebook described it as a “local myth” and that it was mentioned in Hemingway’s novel, “The Dangerous Summer,” and that these other celebrities had followed him there, etc. And the food was said to be good, and the ambiance was good, and simple, too.

So I walked over to the place, dragging my luggage behind me, and with my guitar on my back – for I had still not checked into my hotel. As I approached the restaurant, I saw suddenly some familiar faces: A massive table of maybe 35 British journalists sat on the terrace of the Pepica, in some kind of get-together for before the British Grand Prix, which is the next race after the one this weekend. There they were, BBC, Sky TV, magazine journalists, newspaper journalists from all the major publications and wire services, web journalists, other television and whatever journalists – the cream of the British racing media.

As soon as they saw my guitar, two or three of them requested I play a song. In the state I was, and given that it was the beginning of the evening and still bright out and they were just being served their first course, I thought, No way. I laughed off the invitation and said that perhaps once I had eaten, I would play.

I went inside, found a table not too closely within sight of the Brits, and I had a wonderful meal. The first course alone consisted of three dishes: a Valencia salad, calamari and some kind of mini muscles, shellfish. I had a nice half bottle of Rioja, and an amazing desert of some kind of parfait ice cream. It makes me want to run right back there as I write these words.

So I finished the meal, reading my New York Review of Books and the latest issue of Rock&Folk, the French music magazine, and then I went out and wondered over to say goodbye to the British journalists. Some had already left, but I was immediately invited once again to play music. And now, I was really ready, and desperately wanting to sing. And what a place to do it in? An old Hemingway hangout in the country of the flamenco guitar….

I ended up playing perhaps a total of 10 songs, split up by periods of talking, carousing and drinking the wine they offered me. Somehow I managed not to drink so much that I would lose hold of the notes, and I must say, with the beach in the distance, the sea a little beyond that, and even the appreciative waiters at this wonderful restaurant, it was an unbelievably great way to finish my first day in a town that has never been nice to me on this musical adventure – until now.

(Unfortunately, although a number of the journalists took photos and made videos of me playing, I have none myself, exceptionally, for this post.)

Living a Dream at “Dreams of Old Shanghai” Restaurant and Cabaret

April 14, 2012
bradspurgeon

There was a moment last night between my two sets at the Dreams of Old Shanghai restaurant that I had a flash and said, “Did I once have a dream about this sequence happening to me before?” It was one of those deja vu moments that don’t necessarily happen, but you wonder if they did…. Now if that sounds a little confusing, just imagine the situation last night in Shanghai when I ended up on stage in this chic restaurant night club where a large cast of singers and dancers had previously occupied the stage in a long and colorful program of 1930s nostalgia of old Shanghai.

The evening had started quiet enough. After having two nights of playing at open mics in China I opted to have a very quiet night eating noodles, reading in my hotel room and just going to bed early. But regular readers of this blog will know that I generally like musical adventures and I have learned while in far off and exotic countries that I must always be ready for them. I have occasionally gone out thinking there was no place to play and have not taken my guitar with me because of that defeatist way of thinking, only to discover that I find a place where I could have played if I had my guitar with me.

So despite my intention of simply going over to the De Xing Noodle House on Guangdong Lu, eating a big bowl of noodles and returning to my hotel to read, I said, “Hey, take the fucking guitar. You never know what you might run into.” So I took the guitar, found the noodle house, ate the sublime bowl of noodles and then said it was time to return to the hotel. But not quite. No. I needed dessert.

There was nothing on offer at the noodle house, which was closing anyway, since it was now 10 PM. So I set off to find a place selling something sweet. I decided, however, that my route for that would including taking in the street where there are a bunch of musical instrument stores, Jinling Donglu, to see if it was worth a visit next week after the race and before my trip to Bahrain.

So I go to Jinling Donglu, window shop, and continue my search for dessert. Lo and behold, at the end of the street, at No. 229 Jinling E. Road, and before I was about to return in the direction of my hotel, I saw a big sign on the front of a building: Dessert. So I crossed the street and entered the building. Once inside I saw the dessert joints were closed, but I heard what sounded like live music coming from up an escalator. And it sounded like traditional Chinese music, with a woman singer. I was intrigued.

So I took the escalator, went up and found a couple of restaurants, one of which was called, “Dreams of old Shanghai.” It was elaborate, ornate, classy, and I was immediately invited in by the people at the door. I said, “Live music?” Wanting to check it out, and they said I could look. I craned my neck around the entrance and saw this wonderful stage with full lighting, a curtain, and a cabaret revue of Chinese women dancers and a singer. Holy shit, a real Chinese stage revue here. Very cool! The restaurant appeared vaguely retro, posh, and very, very Chinese.

“Come in and eat,” said the guy at the door.

“I already had my meal,” I said.

“No problem, just come in and have a drink!”

Then he noticed my guitar bag and said, “Guitar?” I said yes. “Come in and play?” he asked me. I gestured to the stage. “There?” He said, “Yes, yes, come in and play.”

This I could not quite believe under the context, with this posh cabaret in old style, and here I was a kind of old hippie with a battered guitar…. (And short hair, granted.)

Then the manager showed up and door and did some more persuading and I asked if there was a cover charge, and was told there was not. So I asked if there were desserts. “Yes.”

So I thought, Okay, I’ll go in and watch the show, make videos, have a beer and eat that dessert I wanted. I did not really think the offer to go on stage would materialize.

I watched the show, ate a fabulous cheese cake, with ice cream and blueberry sauce and mango and kiwi chunks, and drank an Asahi beer. This was bloody bliss. And to top it off, I was sure that every one of those beautiful dancers and singers was staring directly at me. A magician dropped by and showed me a couple of tricks, and then after I finished my cake, someone came around and asked if I would now take to the stage and play.

It was a tremendous stage, wonderful lighting, I felt the room to be completely laid back in a way that I had not at first imagined. But the class singing and dancing acts were so Chinese and classy that I still wondered what I could possibly sing from my repertoire to not feel like the French proverbial “hair on the soup.”

No problem, I finally decided. This is too much fun, and as it turned out, I had noticed a table of several young European women sitting not far from mine, and I was sure that if the Chinese could not relate to my songs, they certainly would be able to.

So I went on stage and found my guitar dreadfully out of tune after I had forgotten that Joe Chou had done an open tuning the night before and I had not touched it since. But the musical director of the Dreams of old Shanghai immediately plugged in my guitar and got a mic stand for me – remember, they did not even know that I sang and played at the same time, let alone how good or bad I might be! – and I got the guitar tuned and lept right into “What’s Up!” I then did “Father and Son.”

I think I left it at the two songs, but it was clear that it went over wonderfully. The musical director played a percussion machine, the crowd clapped and sang along, and at the end, one or two of the beautiful Chinese singers who I liked to imagine had been looking at me came up on stage and offered me red roses.

So I go back to my seat and quickly, I get a signal from one of the European women. So I join them, and it turns out, of all things, to be a table full of French expats working in Shanghai. So we drink and talk and the Chinese stage show goes on. But then the Frenchwomen request of the management that I return to the stage and do more songs.

Management accepts, and I go up and do “Wicked Game,” then “Mad World,” and they request an encore, so I decide finally to do one of my own songs, and I do, “Borderline.” This time during the singing the management brings up some massive flower in a tall pot and vase contraption, and then I am joined by one of the singers who brings me a rose and dances beside me as I play. The a couple of the other show girls comes up and give me roses.

I don’t want to overstay my welcome, so I get off the stage, go back to the table, and the restaurant manager comes over and tells me he is offering me the food and drinks I had that night, and would I like a glass of red wine….

They then invited me back to play again tonight!

Now who would have thought, who ever would have thought that this posh, cool, and very traditional Chinese place would be so “arms open” to a complete stranger with a guitar to take time on its stage and perform. And then actually encourage more of it?!!? Absolutely wonderful. It was just the kind of experience I crave in the musical adventure, the kind that changes my ideas and preconceptions about a people, a city, a country. To say nothing of what I can do with my own music and where it can take me, and I must never give up hope about seeing fun opportunities arise.

This is clearly a very open and wonderful restaurant. Check out the videos for yourself, and try to imagine me on that stage. Could be difficult! It was so dreamlike and wild and unimaginable that I had that moment wondering if I had, in fact, once dreamed about alighting in an unknown world and being invited on stage and feted like a star. I do remember such a dream about suddenly finding myself playing like Jimi Hendrix, but I am certain that one will never come true….

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