Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Seven Weeks Away, but Not Just a Vacation: From Paris to Milan to England to Sicily

July 31, 2018

Ornella Bonventre at the Greek Theater in Segesta, Sicily

Ornella Bonventre at the Greek Theater in Segesta, Sicily

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – It seems hardly possible that it has been exactly seven full weeks since I last posted on this blog. That has to be a record absence for me. It equals one year’s worth of vacation when I was on staff of the International Herald Tribune, the Paris-based newspaper that worked under the French labor system and so gave us lots of holidays each year. I can say that these last seven weeks have not been a holiday, but the busiest time of the last year – which is the reason I have not been contributing to the blog. So here is a point-by-point recap of the main events of the last seven weeks:

1. Most of early June was spent digging out nearly 20 years’ worth of my piled up papers, paraphernalia and trash from my garage and cave in order to make space for Ornella and her TAC Teatro’s paraphernalia from Italy. Cleaning these places led to many wonderful discoveries, but also some very difficult decisions; among the many relics that I found were three never-before-used Zippo lighters with the aforesaid International Herald Tribune’s marketing department’s effort to publicize the newspaper’s coverage of the 2000 presidential elections. Beautiful objects that I had kept but never once used, I now find use for them, particularly for Ornella and my daughter’s smoking habits….

IHT Zippo lighter

IHT Zippo lighter

I am loving the process of filling these classic lighters with fluid, new flint stones, etc. (I am a little disappointed at how quickly they are losing their paint job, though, as you can see from the photo of this lighter used by Ornella for just one month.) There used to be so much more “process” in the past in our daily lives…. But among the difficult decisions in this vast clean out, was whether I should keep the hundreds of copies of actual newspapers – of the aforementioned IHT – that had the print versions of my articles in them. I had always taken hard copies of the paper home to have a record of the printed work – but I had never had any use for these relics. Now, I found myself with the difficult decision of either throwing them away or else having no further usable space in my storage areas. As I knew that all of the copies existed in microfilm or other electronic form, as well as online in the online archives of The New York Times – many of which copies I also had to decide whether or not to keep – I ultimately decided to throw them all away. It was a heartbreaking moment, but also a feeling of truly moving on into the future. Like the Formula One teams that I had written so much about, I chose to look forward, rather than backwards at personal mementos.

2. Having cleared out these storage spaces, it was time to go on a brief trip to Milan in order to clear out TAC Teatro and prepare the moving van to bring to Paris all of the aforementioned paraphernalia. It was a massively busy and tiring three or four days that also involved very difficult choices. For instance, the most heartbreaking for Ornella was the decision to leave behind the linoleum flooring that she used as the floor of the theater space, and which had come directly from use on the floor of the famous La Scala Opera House, and had, therefore, been danced upon my some very famous performers. But it was just too heavy, massive when rolled up, and required a very good cleaning job, which we had no time for. We nevertheless managed to pack up and transport to Paris two tons of paraphernalia, including seating for at least one hundred spectators, a sound system, a series of spotlights, a piano, keyboard, drum, a workbench table from a famous Italian filmmaker and writer, and countless other items far too long to list here without getting anymore boring than I already risk being. The whole collection of paraphernalia ended up taking two moving vans instead of the original one that had been planned for.

3. We returned to Paris and spent the three or four days waiting for the delivery by finishing the cleanup of the storage space. (Let me note that this was happening in a hot month of June, and with all the dust from the spaces, and the pollen in the air, I wore a face mask nearly full-time to help my breathing.) When the paraphernalia arrived, we then spent two days filling up the storage spaces, but rest easy knowing we can now prepare for the future. It was also very satisfying to have replaced my 20 years’ worth of accumulated crap by this investment in the future of TAC in France.

Philosopher of Optimism

Philosopher of Optimism

4. No sooner did we catch our breath again, barely able to believe what we had accomplished, than we departed for a quick trip to England, where it was time for some more very satisfying work: The first stop was Nottingham, where I was invited to attend the Second International Colin Wilson Conference in order to do the very first public screening of the interview film that is connected to my book, Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism. Produced by a British film production company as well as the publisher of my book, Michael Butterworth, and his other company, Savoy Books, and directed by Jay Jones, it consisted of an hour and a half interview of Colin Wilson by me. Although the film was done in 2006, it was never quite finished. I recently decided to ask if I could work on the edit through my company, the perfectly named, “Unfinished Business SAS.” I was given the go-ahead, and prepared first a trailer for the film (below) and then I prepared the film for this private showing for the 55 people attending the three day conference, including the members of Wilson’s family – three of his children, and his wife, Joy. That last name is certainly the right word for me to use as well to describe the entire event, and especially the reception of the film: It was a pure joy!

5. From Nottingham, Ornella and I headed on to the Cotswolds for a brief visit to have a reunion more than 40 years after I met him with the man who created my ventriloquist’s figure, and to whom I brought the suspect in question for a facelift (and a body-lift). But on the way there we had a fabulous, three-hour long meeting and tour of the Renault Formula One factory at Enstone.

Brad and Ornella at Renault F1 Team

Brad and Ornella at Renault F1 Team

This fell the day after the team’s home race, the British Grand Prix, and at the end of the series’ horrendously tiring triple-header of races in June/July. Although it was the strangest feeling for me to be in England during the race weekend without attending the race itself, the trip was more than compensated for by both our stay overnight in Oxford – where I played in two different open mics (and can now update my Oxford guide), followed by the trip to see Peter Pullon in the Cotswolds. This aforementioned ventriloquist figure builder has become one of the world’s foremost puppet makers, having created some of Britains most famous figures: Rod Hull’s Emu, Honey Monster, the Hoffmeister Bear, Smash Martians and Keith Harris’s
Peter McCabe with Peter Pullon

Peter McCabe with Peter Pullon

Orville. I am waiting with baited breath the renovation of my figure, whose name is Peter McCabe, and for whom I have some future plans that I will talk about on this blog as they happen. (Peter most recently had a cameo role in my video of my cover song of Mad World, by Tears for Fears.

6. No sooner did we return from England than it was off to Sicily for us and a three-week vacation, during which period I have, nevertheless, been using every available moment to make plans for the future year, and my many projects for my new life in Unfinished Business…. We have been staying in Ornella’s hometown of Castellammare del Golfo, and reading on the beach by day, and walking the city streets by night, occasionally finding places to play my guitar and sing. We have done a lot of tourism, as well, which we have posted about copiously on Facebook. The highlights for me have been the visit to Segesta and its ancient Greek temple and above all, its ancient Greek theater.

A Plant Growing from the Encasing Sculpture in Gibellina.  ©Brad Spurgeon

A Plant Growing from the Encasing Sculpture in Gibellina. ©Brad Spurgeon

The acoustics of this place are astounding – although I’m not sure the plywood floor they chose to use to cover the rock surface of the stage was wise. And the most painful and touching visit was to the site of the 1968 earthquake, which killed more than 900 people and wiped out two towns. The ruins of many of the buildings remain locked in time in the countryside, and one of the towns, Gibellina, is now covered, encased, in a white concrete monument, or work of art, to mark the tragedy. Walking amongst these ruins and the monument, is a deep, difficult, but valuable experience.

7. I almost forgot to mention that in between all of these activities and right at the beginning of the month, we found a space in Paris that we are looking at as a possible future location for TAC and Unfinished Business. But it represents quite an investment, and it required us to make trips to the bank, an accountant, work on a business plan, and generally occupy all of the free time we had between the above activities! (And we have still not finished working on that.)

So as you can see, I have been busy as anything in the last seven weeks. But now I’ve had a moment to record it all in the web log, and I’m glad to have had so many rich experiences to get down here….

Acchiappa Sogni – In Via Padova: A Short, Short Film about Big, Big Dreams in a Neighborhood in Milan

February 9, 2017

TAC Teatro

TAC Teatro

MILAN – Three small hand-held cameras, a walk around Milan’s down-at-the-heals but lively, warm neighborhood of the Via Padova and an idea from the director of the local TAC Teatro, Ornella Bonventre. That’s all it took to for a cool trip through the lives of the people of this passionate neighborhood and find out what drives them, how they see the world, and above all, what are their dreams.

I was proud and pleased, and even astounded, to be part of this little adventure, and to find what makes people tick – like the record store man who said his store WAS his dreams, or the telephone parts shop salesman who said to be “a good man” was the goal and the end, or the supermarket worker who spoke of integration from his origins in North Africa…. Here is the video, which I also had the pleasure of editing – and if you listen closely to the soundtrack, you might recognize it. (Hint: The music, sans vocals, of my song, “Borderline.”) (You may also recognize that one of the interviews took place in the Ligera bar, about which I have posted an item or two on this blog for its musical evenings.)
So check out the 6-minute dreams video, called “Acchiappa Sogni – In Via Padova“:

Jamming With an Anarchist on a Didgeridoo at the Leoncavallo Social Center in Milan

September 12, 2011

leoncavallo social center

leoncavallo social center milan

The last thing I expected on my last night in Milan was to have a wonderful jam and an educational and cool cultural experience. But thanks to my friend Emiliano, the didgeridoo-playing anarchist, I had both – and more. We played for two or three hours at the Leoncavallo social center, which is one of the most important of these squat-like places (called a Spazio Pubblico Autogestito) that I will describe in a moment. Emiliano, I just wanted to mention, was someone I met two years ago in Milan during my first open mic adventure. Milan had proven to be one of the world’s most difficult cities to find a jam or open mic in, but it turned out there was indeed an open jam session on the Saturday night I was there, at the Circolo Anarchico Ponte della Ghisolfa, which is the longest lasting anarchist’s association in Italy.

That jam turned out to be a wonderful, almost family affair, in the association’s club locale on the Viale Monza, and there I met the former university professor, PhD and didgeridoo player Emiliano, and his wife Barbara. I won’t go into the details on that one, but simply say that when Emiliano learned I would be there again this year and was looking for a jam session, he decided to set one up at either the club or elsewhere. He chose the Leoncavallo social center, and so I got a history and culture lesson. The place, as I said, looks like a squat and reminds me of the Szimpla space in Hungary. There is graffiti everywhere, it has several different buildings, rooms, gathering spots. It has bars, computers for the public, baby foot tables, ping pong tables, gardens and massive gathering spaces.

The movement of the social center was born a few decades ago, particularly in the 1970s when there was a housing problem in Italy and people did not even have many of the basic needs either from a home or a community. So abandoned buildings were squatted and the social centers were born. The Leoncavallo is one of the biggest – Emiliano said it could hold thousands of people – and it had been closed down by the police periodically in its history. There seems to be some sort of legal status to these social centers, however, which makes them seem a little different than the squat.

In any case, Emiliano brought a couple of his didgeridoos and there was the bass player Fabio, another guy who dropped in to play didgeridoo alone with Emiliano – we had two going with my Borderline song – and Abdul and Willy – they are of Moroccan origin – played percussion, sang and played guitar. It was pretty wild playing Borderline in this situation, but we did some plain old jamming of the never-ending-song kind as well. Later, I interviewed Emiliano in a different room at the Leoncavallo for my film about open mics and jams around the world.

The total of my four night trip to Milan and Monza, therefore, came to two jam sessions in Milan, one at a bar and one at the social center, and playing in a restaurant in Monza with a band. Far, far more than I ever expected, and I revise my previous idea of Milan as being a city without live music jams and open mics!

Serenading in the streets? Singing amongst the Anarchists? Podcast of Milan Chapter of Open Mic Book-in-Progress

February 11, 2011

I am still working like mad on the book of my worldwide open mic adventure of 2009, in which I played my music in 17 countries, nearly 30 cities and all continents except Africa and Antarctica in less than a year. Towards the end of the year my trips became so closely spaced that I did not have the time between trip to write down all the experiences for the book. So I ended up dictating several chapters while driving my car to and from the Formula One races that provided the backbone to most of the trip.

Podcast of Open Mic Book Milan Dictation by Brad Spurgeon:

Lately I have been transcribing the chapter of my visit to Milan, Italy – where the Italian Grand Prix took place in the suburb of Monza – and it occurred to me that there was an amusing little story that sounded kind of fun as a potential podcast. So I decided to put that up here on the blog, a little podcast, a little radio show of me talking about my visit to Milan and my disappointments, and the sudden discovery of hope for the next night – which would indeed fulfill itself. Up to then I had been really let down and depressed with the music scene in Milan, in fact, it remained a huge let down a city where opera was big but live pop music, jams and open mics in bars was almost non-existent.

My goal, remember, was to play in an open mic or jam session around the world at each venue I went to. The book is a look not only at the venues, the musicians, the kind of people who host and play in the open mics, but it was also a personal journal and travelogue. That is mostly what this particular segment of the chapter is about. I actually dictated this segment while driving from Milan to Monza in my rental car the day after it happened. So this was dictated in September 2009.

Please keep in mind that this dictated version will be edited and re-written to a degree in the final book version. But I wanted to share the moment with you, despite all the hesitations and rewording that I do as I talk to myself in the car! If you did not already click the audio player above, then below the same link leads to the 10-minute dictation in MP3 format of part of the Milan chapter of my work-in-progress OPEN MIC : A MUSICAL JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD:

Podcast of Open Mic Book Milan Dictation by Brad Spurgeon

Powered by