Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)

Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)
"A curious and wonderful work of great human value by a Danish master." Sebastian Barry, Man Booker finalist (Click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon page)

Friday, November 28, 2008

In Monaco Even The Seagulls Are Wearing Prada.

Monaco is a beautiful pimple on the ass of France.

It's lying on the Cote d'Azur squeezed in between Nice and Italy. If you don't know any geography, Monaco is one of the smallest countries in the world. Basically, it's the size of a shopping mall. Come to think of it, Monaco is a shopping mall.

So what am I doing here in this posh Paradise? Well, I'm visiting people close to my heart who moved to this tax-free Heaven a few years back. Monaco is known for its Monte Carlo casino - and for those spectacular suicides people commit after losing at the roulette. In the old days, people shot themselves in the park outside the casino, but that's not fashionable any more. And Monaco is all about fashion. In Monte Carlo even the seagulls are wearing Prada. And no one is caught dead in shorts from WallMart.

Yes, you guessed it. I'm totally out of place. I've always been the loser of my family, preferring Italy from France, but actually you hear a lot of Italians in Monaco. Bella Italia is only ten miles away, so the snobs from Liguria love to hang out with the rich and the famous. This Principality is the kind of place where you run into your favorite arms dealer at the bakery. And when you walk down the street, you rub shoulders with ex-models looking for a face lift. But the celebrities have left. Twenty years ago this was the home of Bjorn Borg and Ringo Starr, but now they're probably banging their drums in different luxury resorts.

Perhaps it all went downhill after Grace Kelly died. When the Hollywood star married Prince Rainier, she made Monaco famous all over the world. Now it's her son, Prince Albert who is the benign ruler of this picturesque police state. In Monaco everybody is monitored 24/7. You have so many cameras that Monte Carlo would make any dictator drool. The common criminals don't stand a chance in this lecherous Legoland. Neither do non-whites.

Actually, it wouldn't be fair to call the local police racist. They're just suspicious of everybody who isn't the proud owner of fourteen credit cards - and of people with knapsacks. If you're carrying a knapsack, you're either a terrorist or a backpacker - and the police probably prefers the former.

The greatest thing about Monaco is the mountains and the sea. The Principality looks like a stupendous postcard - the kind of place where you want to marry some one or get a spectacular divorce. Another endearing quality is that Monaco has the same climate as Santa Barbara, California. It's only "cold" one or two months a year. And hey, you can't beat all those palm trees and cacti.

Still, it's not a favorite hang out of mine. There are too many tall buildings and too many short people, but somehow Monaco appeals to my sense of humor. I always picture Americans getting heart attacks when they see the size of the elevators. In Monaco people aren't obese. How could they be? Monte Carlo is all about appearance and bella figura.

When I leave the Principality to go to Spain, I admire Monaco from the distance. That's where Monaco looks the greatest: from the train, the highway, from France. But in a twisted way, I'm fascinated with this playground. After all, Monaco is one of those places where a kid will sue his parents if they don't give him a Ferrari for Christmas.

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