28 May 2011

Grand Prix

Today’s post comes to you live from the 69th Monaco Formula One Grand Prix. I will say right from the start that my only qualification to write about Formula One racing is that I’ve been driving the circuit for the past 16 years. Which is to say, no qualifications whatsoever. Everyone in Monaco drives the circuit as the race takes place on the same roads on which we live and commute to work and take the kids to school. 77 laps, 263 kilometers squeezed into the two square miles that constitute the Principality.

It’s easy to take for granted how exceptional that really is. Aside from our roads being always perfectly paved (no Pothole Watch in Monaco!) one is occasionally reminded when driving along the port in say, November. An out of town tourist in the next car revs his motor. You can literally see him (it’s always a him) thinking “How cool am I – driving the Grand Prix circuit!” But usually, few residents give it that much thought, mostly braking and accelerating, wondering how such a little village can have so much congestion.

My relationship with the Grand Prix is a love/hate one, as I suspect it might be for many a resident. My friend Joanna summed it up perfectly in a mere three words: traffic, tourists and tarts.

In fact, it is all that, and as the saying goes, much, much more. Even for those of us who are not fans of the race itself (I claim the excuse that Formula One is not a big part of American culture) one has to admire the energy and excitement that pours into the Principality each and every year.  It is thrilling. The harbor overflows with the most gorgeous yachts in the world. The streets are colored with hundreds of thousands of people, and there are some truly stunningly beautiful women, professional or not. In all, Monaco literally glistens like the Med that surrounds it.

Certainly, residents complain. I know I do, first because I like complaining and truth be told, because the barriers and stands going up a month before, with the inevitable chaos and traffic and difficulty getting around, provide plenty of good reason. The necessary safety measures turn Monaco into something resembling a prison for much of May and June, two of the most beautiful months. On the other hand, it is impossible not to admire the organization that takes a living, working city and transforms it into a track for the most prestigious car race in the world.

Perhaps one of the most interesting facts of the Grand Prix is that were it not already in place (and run practically continuously since 1929) it would never be allowed to establish today. In this day and age where everything is evaluated and safety concerns/fear of litigation take precedence over risk taking and innovation – it is saying something that Monaco can still make the Grand Prix work.

And work it does. The stands, souvenir shops, stadium seating have all been erected. Thousands line the streets. Rooftops and terraces are festooned and caterers have delivered. Restaurants are full. Parties start with bowls of earplugs passed around to guests even before the hors d’oeuvres are offered. The engines roar and we watch the drivers exercise powers of concentration unimaginable to mere mortals. In short the entire village becomes a 4-day (and night) non-stop, incredibly glamorous block party, a marathon of celebration, with people watching like nowhere else on earth. You gotta love it. Happy Grand Prix!

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