Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

The 10th Edition of the Singapore Grand Prix – and a New Racing Section to this Blog

September 14, 2017
bradspurgeon

Chase Carey of Liberty Media at Singapore GP 2016. Photo:  Brad Spurgeon

Chase Carey of Liberty Media at Singapore GP 2016. Photo: Brad Spurgeon

This weekend marks the 10th edition of the Singapore Grand Prix, the first running of which took place in 2008, as Formula One’s first ever night race. As it happened, that first edition would take place just as the world financial markets began to fall apart in the beginning of the financial crisis the effects of which we are still feeling today. I recall the strange atmosphere in the paddock perfectly: We were gathered in the financial hub of Southeast Asia in the slickest racing environment in a downtown setting that we had ever seen, and basking in the paddock in an atmosphere of wealth and luxury. While all the talk was about the underpinnings of that wealth and luxury falling apart around us – banks going bust, the global financial system sinking into an apparent abyss, and with it, the prospect of so many of the series’ sponsors pulling out and leaving Formula One adrift in a series that survives on begging for money.

As the series continues to negotiate for a new contract with Singapore, and in a season in which a new company has taken over the running of the series – the U.S.-based Liberty Media – I thought it would be a great time to look back at a couple of the stories that I wrote in the past, as well as to start a new auto racing section on this blog. Today I am running what I feel is the biggest story I wrote about Formula One as almost classical theater, a big, world story of glamour, glitz and drama. This was a Page 1 story in the International Herald Tribune, and later ran in the New York Times, and summed up the state of Formula One at the time, at its biggest race of the season: The Monaco Grand Prix. Read the story and tell me if the series is the same today 15 years later?

Tomorrow, I will run my preview for the first ever Singapore Grand Prix, and talk a little more about how the weekends go in Singapore.

By the way, while we all thought the first night race and the collapsing financial markets were the biggest story of the weekend in 2008, it turned out that there was a much, much bigger sporting story going on behind the scenes. But that scandal would only be revealed a year later when Nelson Piquet Jr. told the world that he (and his team directors) had staged a fake crash in order to help his teammate at Renault, Fernando Alonso, with his race strategy. The help would lead to Alonso’s first victory that season, and a year later, to the banning of two of the team’s directors from the series in one of the sport’s worst cheating scandals. Last year also marked the beginning of the Liberty Media story, as the announcement of the takeover of Formula One had just been made at the beginning of the month and Chase Carey, the new boss, visited the Singapore paddock – his first ever visit to a Formula One Grand Prix.

My Own Personal Refugee Crisis – Nanterre Prefecture by Way of Brexit

August 22, 2017
bradspurgeon

doubling back snaking line up at Nanterre prefecture for people with rendezvous

doubling back snaking line up at Nanterre prefecture for people with rendezvous

NANTERRE, France – Thanks to the non-democratic and fixed Brexit referendum in the UK – the population most concerned by the vote, that is, the British passport holders living in the EU, were not allowed to vote – I have entered into a nearly full-time job of seeking out French nationality. I’ve been working on this since July 2016. I have yet to hand over my documents to the French authorities to start the process. Today, I arrived at the Nanterre police prefecture to do just that, only to find that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of refugees and other foreigners standing outside in three different line ups, and by the time I figured out where I was supposed to go, I had already missed my meeting. This was the second meeting I missed, and it can take weeks or months to get a meeting. But this time, rather than feeling a huge sense of anger and frustration, I felt only sympathy for the refugees and others who could not even get the official convocation that I had, and who have to wait hours, days, nights, in front of the prefecture.

This, I learned, by both speaking to people in the lineup and then doing some research online, has been going on for months. It is due both to the refugee crisis in Europe as well as problems within the administration of the public offices of the prefecture. It has been particularly bad since June, although the last time I went with my convocation in hand in early June, there was not any such line up. Otherwise, I would have been warned that it was necessary for me to arrive at least 45 minutes in advance of my 10-minute rendezvous if I wanted to get into the building.

tail end of line up at Nanterre prefecture

tail end of line up at Nanterre prefecture

I was struck by the incredible changes we are seeing in our world today and over the last 35 years. In 1983, while I was preparing in Toronto, Canada to come to study French at the Sorbonne, a colleague of mine at the Globe and Mail newspaper where I was working, said to me: “Your father was born in England, wasn’t he?” I said he was, although he had lived since he was 2 years old in Canada and had never held a British passport, so could hardly be considered English. My colleague said that by virtue of my father’s birth in the UK I was eligible to become British myself. If I became British, I would then be able to work legally in the European Union. So why not try?

It seemed like a great idea. I called the British Consulate in Toronto, asked if this was true, they said it was, they sent me the four or so pages of the application form by mail, I filled it out and sent the relevant paper or two proving my father’s birthplace, and seven days later I received in the mail my British passport and nationality. I never had an interview, never set foot in an embassy, consulate, police station or other official place. I had no lines to sit in, nothing to do but claim my citizenship, then take the flight to Paris, fall in love with the city at first sight, learn French at the Sorbonne, find a job and stay at that same company for the next 33 years, marry a Frenchwoman, father a couple of French (and Canadian) children, and live happily ever after.

Until, of course, the non-democratic, fixed referendum in the UK about Brexit.

Small part of a line up at Nanterre Prefecture

Small part of a line up at Nanterre Prefecture

No, wait. In the early 1990s, by point of comparison, I did decide at one point after the birth of my two children to take French nationality for myself. This would be around 1993 or 1994. I went to the prefecture in Paris, took the application form, and filled it out, gathered together the significantly greater number of papers to that of my British nationality experience, and I filed them with the relevant authorities. I then found myself having to go into one personal meeting after another with the prefecture of my arrondissement, then the main prefecture of police in Paris, also I think with my local mayor’s office – although I’m not completely sure about that one – but in any case, I found myself frustrated at a very busy time of my life having to do one meeting after another, and often finding “long” queues of perhaps 30 people waiting for interviews as well.

When comparing that experience to my British nationality experience, I finally decided that it was too time consuming, and anyway, I had the British nationality, and the Canadian nationality, so why did I really need the French nationality. Would it not be cool, I thought, for my two children to really have a Canadian father, without the French nationality part. Would it not be cool that they could really say their Dad was a foreigner?

So, in what I now regret massively, I ended the process of seeking nationality. I was then told that I had to write a letter explaining to the French authorities exactly why I had ended this process. So I wrote the truth: There is far too much bureaucracy to go through, far too many meetings, far too many lines to wait in, etc.

more line up at Nanterre prefecture

more line up at Nanterre prefecture

I still have my original application form and the paper that says what pieces of identity and other paperwork were necessary to obtain French citizenship. It is minuscule by comparison to today’s necessary paperwork. Minuscule.

Yes, flash forward 2016 and the fixed, undemocratic Brexit vote in the UK forcing British expats to seek out local nationality in their country of EU adoption – or wait with crossed fingers that some kind of solution can be found for these people to not have to return to the UK in a future glut of refugee proportions. The first step was to download from the Nanterre prefecture – the relevant authority where I live – the application form and list of necessary documents. The list is as long as the Bible, and now includes such things as an official paper to prove that you comprehend the French language. This has been instituted since 2012. It is not necessary that you actually comprehend the language, just that you have a paper that says you do. According to my researches, my diploma from the Sorbonne will do this trick, so I felt lucky on that.

But I have spent a couple of hundred euros or more having official translations made of things like my long-form birth certificate, a proof of my parents’ place of marriage and date of marriage (in 1953!, and both are dead), and one or two other items. I have had to provide a proof that I have paid my taxes in France for the last three or so years, and this proof can only come in the shape of a particular official paper from my local tax office. Obtaining that paper is what caused me to miss my first appointment in June, by the way, as the local tax office blamed a computer breakdown that morning for them being unable to get the document. (Although I could see instantly that the person whose job it was to get the document did not want to do the job that morning. She did it that afternoon, but it was too late.)

I have to provide proof of ownership of my apartment, my employment history in France, my personal addresses for practically my entire life, a stamp to pay for the work of the bureaucracy…the list goes on and on and on. And it takes forever to accumulate all of these papers.

But the worst part has been the part of the process that has been automated to help the unfortunate, under-staffed civil servants of the prefecture of Nanterre: In order to obtain a rendezvous of 10 minutes to hand over all of these documents and begin the process of naturalisation, I have to go onto the web site of the prefecture and make that rendezvous via a special dedicated page and system. This, I learned after months of trying and failing, can only be done on Mondays at high noon!

Yes, every Monday only, the Nanterre prefecture reboots the citizenship rendezvous system and the charge begins. Try it out for yourself! Go to the site, and at noon, start your slot machine going. I have tried week after week for up to an hour and a half each time to try to get through the process of booking a rendezvous. That period is spent getting through various stages of the process before I either find that the place I am being promised no longer exists – it’s first come, first serve and the computer seems to accept hundreds of people for each spot before the fastest mouse manipulator wins the meeting – or the site simple “times out.”

view from across the street of Nanterre prefecture and its refugees

view from across the street of Nanterre prefecture and its refugees

What is happening, of course, is that there are thousands of people, perhaps even 10s of thousands of people, every Monday logging in at the same moment and trying to win the lottery. This kills the server of the prefecture. The whole process goes on until all of the rendezvous spots have been taken, and then it goes dead for another week.

I first learned of this process in around January or February, and scored my first successful rendezvous hit in around early May for the meeting in early June. I missed that meeting by about five minutes thanks to the tax office mishap, but even then it was hopeless as I did not even have that tax office piece of paper proving that I had, yes, paid all my taxes for the last 3 years (as well as the last 33 years).

As an aside, although the tax office sent me that piece of paper that afternoon and told me that they would send the original by post, it took another three emails over the next six or eight weeks to actually receive the original by post, and ensure that I had all the documents ready for this morning’s rendezvous. (Which, by the way, I was able to score in a record three week period of seeking.)

Today, having left 40 minutes early from my home to do the 17 minute-drive to the prefecture, I was feeling very proud of myself until I encountered traffic on the quays due to a car stopped on the edge of the road, which resulted in my not arriving 20 or 24 minutes early for the meeting, but only about 11 minutes early. And that is when I encountered the refugee crisis and realized that I had once again missed my appointment and would have another couple of months of waiting to do before I could even leave my papers (which I keep having to update in certain areas with newer papers as time moves on, by the way).

Today, I spoke to a couple of people in the line ups and realized they came from all over. One guy was a Sri Lankan trying to get a refugee visa for his passport. He told me he had been coming for days without success. He was in the line yesterday for three hours before being refused entry.

There were three different line ups, including the shortest line up being for people with the piece of paper I had, the convocation. But that line up was being controlled by policemen, and they were holding off the line up and sending people in through the gate in groups in order to go through the security check before being allowed to enter the building. That security check line was about 25-people thick when I had already hit the deadline for my meeting, and I knew that I would be 15 to 20 minutes late for a meeting that was set for precisely 9:55, with only a 5-minute allowance for lateness.

It was a lost battle. Again. But my heart went out above all to these unfortunate refugees and others – I read in one of the reports (in the Huffington Post) that a 77-year-old man who has lived in France for more than 50 years slept out in front of the prefecture in an effort to renew his papers, after a career of 40 or so years working at Renault and many other years elsewhere. (Update: Here is yet another article from the French press about the crisis at the Nanterre prefecture, this time Libération, published as recently as yesterday and sent to me today by a friend after they read this story by me.

It all made me realize that my own refugee crisis is nothing compared to theirs…but ultimately it also did anger me once again about the spoiled children of the UK who rigged the election in a country that has it so good it has lost its sense of proportion. The UK doesn’t like being in the EU? It wants to create the sorts of difficulties I am now facing for millions of people on every level of society and business? Look at Syria. Look at many African nations. Look at Afghanistan. Look at the countries in the world with REAL problems, and why make more rather than thrive?

A New Not-Book-Review: Mike Nesmith’s Autobiographical Riff, “Infinite Tuesday”

July 24, 2017
bradspurgeon

Infinite Tuesday

Infinite Tuesday

PARIS – You can’t run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, said Ernest Hemingway, referring to what he thought of book reviewers who were also fiction writers. That is why on this blog a few years ago I came up with my concept of the Not Review, which I have done periodically in the form of Not Reviews of music in my “Morning Exercise Music” listenings, in Not Reviews of films, and Not Reviews of books. The idea is I’m not criticizing, or placing myself in a high position of cultural authority, but simply reflecting on books, music or films that I have seen recently, and what they made me think, what they say, how I feel, and what you might want to know about them to see if you want to listen, read or see them. Today, I have put up my latest Not Book Review, this time of the autobiography of Mike Nesmith, the former Monkee, which is called, “Infinite Tuesday.” He also refers to it as an “autobiographical riff.” Check it out on the link above! His is a fascinating story that goes way beyond The Monkees – like, how about to creating one of the first music videos, helping to create MTV, and then there is his mother the inventor of Liquid Paper….

It’s Sundown at Some Girls for Olivier the MC (of Ptit Bonheur fame), as He Takes His Leave From Open Mic Presentation – Big Party

July 23, 2017
bradspurgeon

Some Girls

Some Girls

PARIS – This just in: Olivier Yaco Mouchard (also known under several other IDs over the years) has just announced that on Tuesday, this Tuesday, 25 July, he will be presenting the final open mic of his musical career. This will take place at the latest of the venues where he has hosted open mics over the years, the bar on the rue de Lappe, off the Bastille, called Some Girls. It is the end of an era, but I have a suspicion that it is just the beginning of another era of another kind.

I first met Olivier at the original Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic in that cellar joint near the Pantheon. Actually, we met before that, but what the heck. Olivier took over the running of the Ptit Bonheur very early in the history of this astounding open mic, inheriting the job from his friend Olivier. (Don’t ask for an explanation on that, please.)

The open mic of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance lasted around three years, give or take a year, and it was the coolest open mic of the period. It attracted cool musicians from all over the world and was set in a very neat, intimate, cellar environment in a fabulous bar. The ground floor was a meeting place and a talking place, leaving the cellar room the quiet place for listening (or singing along).

Eventually the bar lost one of the three or four key ingredients when its owner decided to leave to open a café-restaurant not too far away in the neighbourhood. Another owner came – renaming it La Tireuse – and despite being somewhat sympathetic, they managed to screw up some of the ingredients, like changing the design of the basement room where the music took place, and it was never the same again.

I made a little film of the last open mic at the first incarnation of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic (before La Tireuse), which I will put on this page to allow people to remember this period – and Olivier, if you are not quite sure who I mean!

Short film of the end of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic

Olivier had a stint running the open mic of the Tennessee Bar as well, but it never recovered from the loss of its original MC, James Iansiti, despite being a cool setting. Olivier then moved on to take a role in running one of the longest-lasting open mics in Paris, the one at the Pop In. The Pop In being the only bar in the world from which I have been banned – read about that horrible Pop In story on this blog – I never did take part in Olivier’s MCing at that place.

Finally, Olivier ended up starting this open mic at the Some Girls bar what feels like a couple of years ago, but may be less, or may be more! I went many times, and found Olivier to be doing his usual great MCing, and music playing.

Olivier in his new bar???

Olivier in his new bar???


I have seen something somewhere about Olivier advertising for some kind of bar staff, so without actually speaking to him, I have a suspicion he may be involved in setting up his own bar. But that is completely speculation on my part. If he does, of course, maybe we will be lucky enough to find him having an open mic at his own bar. Then we’ll have two of the essential ingredients of a successful open mic combined: An enthusiastic and sympathetic bar owner, and a great MC.

(Note: I have learned since posting this that Olivier has indeed bought his own bar. It is called Le Rosalie, and it is located near the St. Ambroise metro, not far from the Rush bar open mic I have mentioned many times in recent posts. So a great stop off point before the open mic????)

Olivier, I cannot forget to mention, since it was the key to all the rest, is a great musician too. His latest musical effort being a band he calls Sundown.

So if you really want to take part in what I can only imagine as a great final night for Yaco on Tuesday at the Some Girls bar (not sure yet if the bar itself will continue an open mic), I’m linking again the Facebook invitation as I did in the first paragraph above, for the last Some Girls open mic, and the last of Olivier Yaco Mouchard Sundown.

Rushing Onwards Through the Summer at the Rush Bar Open Mic in Paris

July 22, 2017
bradspurgeon

Rush Bar open mic

Rush Bar open mic

PARIS – I’ve waited to run this post as a preview to the Rush Bar’s open mic this coming Monday, in Paris, rather than running it as a post-view. (Does this word exist?) It is a way of compensating for what has become my favourite open mic in Paris of the moment, for which I am writing far too many blog posts – but not praising enough!

Yes, the Rush Bar is approaching its six months of existence on the Paris open mic scene in another week or so, and the spirit that is carrying it through the summer months while so many other open mics close down, is testament to its coolness….
jamming at the rush bar

Last Monday’s edition was as warm as ever, and in addition to many regular musicians, there is a constant flow of new ones, providing just the refreshing feel that any open mic needs to remain vital.
more at the rush bar

What is all this frothing at the mouth writing I’m doing on this place? Actually, just a way at this particular moment of filling in the paragraphs to provide lines between which to place the videos of some of last Monday’s performances….
blues at the rush bar

See you Monday….
Varzu at the Rush

A Night at the Harp to Welcome Home All the Roads after a Year Travelling all the Roads

July 17, 2017
bradspurgeon

All the Roads on the Road

All the Roads on the Road

PARIS – Just a quick note to note the notes noted at The Harp on Saturday night in honor of the return after a year to Paris of Romain Bretoneiche, also known as “All the Roads,” also known as the longtime MC of the open mic at the Galway Pub open mic in Paris. Romain and his girlfriend took a year out of the daily slog to live a little by travelling all the roads of the world in an around-the-world voyage.
Romain and his sister at the harp

On Saturday, at The Harp pub which is located halfway between the Place Clichy and the Place Blanche, Romain and his friends and family organized a party celebrating his return. This is kind of a personal sort of blog item, but I feel that since I must have reported at least 50 times on my visits over the years to the Galway Pub open mic (which is happening tonight, by the way), it was appropriate to report Romain’s return….
Ludow at the Harp

Brad Spurgeon  at The Harp(Photo by: Ludow Forget)

Brad Spurgeon at The Harp (Photo by: Ludow Forget)


Why it was not celebrated at the Galway, I have no idea. But the evening of music and imbibing at The Harp was perfect. I had never been in this pub, and it lives up to its name.
jamming at the harp

A great night, and lots of fun playing on the small stage at the back of the room, despite the general atmosphere of talk, welcoming Romain back in town. Let us see what this fine musician does next….
jake at the harp

Another Little Open Mic Crawl in Pigalle

July 14, 2017
bradspurgeon

pigalle country club

pigalle country club

PARIS – I suddenly realized on Tuesday night in Paris that without even putting my mind to work to think about it, I had a possible four open mics to attend as well as the gig of a friend, and that three of these were in Pigalle, within a short walking distance of each other. Unfortunately, the gig at the Chat Noir – of Simon Ferrante, who is now doing the Cavern open mic I wrote about last week – was already finished when I arrived. But not far away, on the Place Blanche, Brislee’s open mic at the Fabrique was in full swing. And I followed that one with another visit to the Pigalle Country Club open mic, near the Place Pigalle.

Brislee’s was as fun and as musical as usual, and he announced that next week’s edition is the last before the summer break. So don’t miss it, get there on Tuesday – preferably early….
second at Pigalle Country Club

Down the road, or up the road, whatever it is, was the Pigalle Country Club, where I walked in to find a familiar sound of voice and playing I had not heard for years. There was a fairly large cross-section of performers including the usual suspects, some members of the Burnin’ Jacks, and even some Italian tourist women (whom I did not get to make a video of for this blog, since they asked if I could make a video of them with their phone!).
First at Brislee’s

I was happy to find myself being able to play when most people went out for a cigarette break (!), so that gave me the kind of peace and freedom to try again a song that I have rarely performed in public, and so therefore need to practice in a live environment: “So Long Marianne,” by Leonard Cohen. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think one or two people who didn’t smoke also enjoyed it well enough!
First at Pigalle Country Club

In any case, it was a fun and relaxing time at the Pigalle Country Club, and I love this place’s quirkiness, and its decision to keep going through the summer (unlike so many Parisian establishments that close down their open mics)….
Second at Brislee’s

Stay tuned in for more summer open mic adventures in Paris!

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