Monaco… the word alone conjures up images of James Bond movies, glamour and Grace Kelly, the Golden Days of Hollywood. Those images are not far off from reality – in fact, on my recent trip to this tiny city-state in France, all of those images became truer than I could have ever imagined.
We went for the day. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t really know much about it, except that the whole place is slightly larger than a postage stamp, and was close to where my husband and I were staying on the Riviera.
So it was that one late morning, we jumped into our little car and drove to Monaco. The French Riviera is impressive – all yachts and bright colors and beautiful water – but, Monaco is something else altogether. If I thought the ambience and glitz of Nice were impressive, then I had another thing coming! Monaco is straight out of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and I couldn’t help thinking that at any moment, Robin Leach would start narrating our trip. We found a parking garage that seemed to go into the very bowels of the earth itself, parked, and began our stroll around Monaco.
First, we wandered over to the grand casino of Monaco, the Monte Carlo. It’s gorgeous both inside and out, containing the kind of splendor that can’t be matched by anything as gaudy as Vegas. It possesses a glamour that is Old World, and yet, somehow unbelievably luxurious and modern at the same time. There were hordes of people around taking pictures, waltzing in and out of the casino willy-nilly and drinking €22 cocktails, but not gaming; almost no one seemed to have enough money to gamble – not in the Monte Carlo, anyway. We walked around the hairpin turns of the famous Monte Carlo track, strolling past images upon likenesses upon statues of the late Grace Kelly, but all of it seemed slightly strange. A little bit like Disney World, and a little like a dystopian future wherein there is no trash, or homeless people, or really anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy. I began to wonder if anyone really lived in this place.
It seems strange to call it a country, when it’s smaller than the city where I was raised. It’s certainly beautiful, but there is something eerie in that beauty – a strange stillness that is devoid of grime in a way that made it feel artificial, unnatural, creepy.
What kind of place doesn’t have any visible grocery stores or regular pharmacies – that instead sells Bugatti, Lamborghini, and oodles of Rolls Royce all in a row? Because it was early when we visited, before the season really had begun, everything appeared to be closed to the public. All of the museums, the palace; the only thing available was the casino itself to walkabout in, or gamble if one had an extra thousand euros. We walked around Monaco for some time, and though it was lovely, expectedly so, overwhelmingly so, with the colorful buildings, perfectly manicured landscaping, and cute little flower boxes all looking out onto the sea. But there was something missing. I missed the dirt. I missed the trash, the evidence of human habitation and grit of life. That’s what was missing most of all – life. Monaco is incomparably lovely, the view is unmatched, the country unfailingly tidy and bright. It was a beautiful place to spend a day; but Monaco seemed about as real as those silver screen movie stars and fanciful Bond films … a place not quite touchable, relatable or real.