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May 09, 2007

Walking All Over Monaco

Luxuriant_parkinglotc394c
A parking-garage corridor lined in gleaming marble? We must be in Monaco.

The problem with Monaco is that it's so small. To travel through its three-quarters of a square mile is to be faced with the same dilemma as a drinker who's just been poured a shot of some new and unknown drink: Do you sip it slowly or down it all in one gulp? I opted for the all-in-one-gulp approach. After all, if a single-malt connoisseur catches you throwing back two inches of Dalwhinnie, at least you come across as an enthusiastic imbiber. But if someone catches you thoughtfully sipping a shot of low-end tequila, they'll think you're an idiot.

The plan was to hike across Monaco. All of it. From top, where the fast-rising rocky Monegasque landscape seems to run out of breath and concede all further land to France, right down to the harbor, where captains of $100-million yachts compete for parking spaces.

This was the first time I would be attempting to ambulate across an entire the entire length of a country. You can call Monaco a "principality" if you must, but none of the other "countries" in Western Europe has its own money and borders anymore besides Switzerland, which is almost tiny enough to be hikeable. My host, Patrick Churchill (the brother of a friend; he runs a Monaco-based investment company) suggested I begin with a bout of high-altitude hiking. Peillon, France, a town north of Nice, is so high that the surrounding slopes become choked in low-hanging cottony fog. You get to it by hiking a switch-backing limestone path for about two miles where there is so much oregano sprouting out of the ground that it smells like an Italian restaurant. The way there is all downhill. It wasn't a cardio workout Patrick was after; it was lunch.

Peillon_2 Peillon is a medieval mountain village, walled in stone, lined with stairs like those at right, abundant in hanging greenery, and the setting of one more winning attribute: the Auberge de la Madone. Our reservation was for one in the afternoon and we ate the following: 1) a small soup of asparagus and truffle toped with a black truffle emulsion; 2) a light mushroom tart topped with a finger of sauteed foie gras; 3) a rable of rabbit, served in a mushroom sauce and accompanied by creamed polenta and sauteed young artichokes; and 4) a whipped blue-cheese cake on top of a pistachio biscuit with raspberry cream.

The hike out wasn't grueling, either.   

On the way back to Monaco, Patrick dropped me off at what you might call the border. He pulled up in front of an apartment building that was in Monaco but where we were standing on the sidewalk was France. I stepped over the line and the hike began.

Standing_on_the_border_2

One foot in France, the other in Monaco

It went something like this: From the top of Monaco, you can see all the way down to the harbor. The country is shaped something like an amphitheater, and the harbor, with its gleaming white yachts, looks like it's on stage. That, however, is the last view of the harbor until you get to the harbor. The rest is stairs. A set of stairs would spit me out at a new street, which I would cross to find another set of stairs waiting on the other side.

I did manage to get lost. One street had no set of stairs on the other side, and in both directions it inclined, very slightly, up. I walked east and west looking for a break in the handrail, like a fish studying the wall of an aquarium. After a few privately humiliating minutes, I noticed the parking garage. Inside, more stairs, which delivered into a marble corridor -- the nicest parking-garage corridor in the world, I would say -- and then onto the street, where things finally improved. There was a pedestrian mall lined with shops and cafes leading to the harbor. I ambled down it.

This is where I realized my mistake: I was downing Monaco in a single shot when I should have been sipping it. I passed by an art gallery. There was some kind of art-opening taking place. Waiters were distributing tall glasses of champagne. A woman with rectangular, thick-framed, pseudo-intellectual glasses was squinting thoughtfully at a piece. Behind her, a younger woman greeted acquaintances with delighted air kisses and a man in a sports jacket with a bronzed face raised his champagne festively. There could be no doubt about who these people were: Eurotrash.

Eurotrash_art_show_2

Rarely captured on film, the elusive Eurotrashus maximus confines its movements to art galleries, nightclubs, and tax havens.

I had seen Eurotrash in Red Square. But since then, nothing. And yet now, here I was in Monaco, the beating heart of Eurotrash, where disillusioned, stubble-faced, cologne-drenched, pseudo-royalty come to recharge. I finished the walk down by the harbor. There was a foppish man with a thatch of grey hair getting out of a mahogany trimmed boat wearing topsiders. Suddenly, I loved Monaco.

Patrick had, for the last day, been showing me the non-Eurotrash side of Monaco: the hospital, the excellent school system, its convenient proximity to the South of France and Northern Italy. Enough, I said. I wanted to see Eurotrash. Patrick bent to my request and arranged a sightseeing itinerary in my honor. He is a consummate host. We started at a club called Sass.

Sass

At Cafe Sass

Eurotrash are like rare birds -- difficult to photograph in their native habitat. They prefer dimly lit lounges and nightclubs, and are constantly in movement: brushing a hand through their hair, scanning the room for new arrivals, waving at a friend across the room. So I will describe the man I saw there: in his fifties, with neck-length dyed brown hair, wearing a black- and gold-silk shirt, black pants, and black suede shoes. The shirt was unbuttoned to the top of his stomach, and pulled wide to display a hairy and deep-tanned chest. On his face, he wore a louche and knowing smile.

The next stop: a club called Zebra Square, in front of which three Ferraris were parked next to one another. Their doors were locked and the windows shut, so it was impossible to enjoy the aroma of cologne inside. Following that, we hit the casino. By this point it was late: 3:15 a.m. The plan was to play just a single hand of roulette, so that I could say I had gambled in Prince Albert's baroque hall of lousy odds. I cashed a 20-euro bill and received in exchange a single chip. I placed it on 5 and the number that came up was 18. My chip was gathered away by a man stroking the felt with a plastic rake.

Patrick had placed his 20-euro chip on number 18. For his good judgment, he received a stack of chips valued at 360 euros. Our luck was uncanny. If it kept up, some minor scion of B-level European royalty would wash up dead on the beach tomorrow morning and I would write the feature for Vanity Fair.

We celebrated at Jimmy'z. Jimmy'z is to Eurotrash as the Vatican is to Catholics. Patrick spent a sizeable chunk of his winnings on champagne. He and his wife hit the dance floor and I sat there, sipping bubbly, watching the beautiful strobe-lit gyrations of French Russian women and the tax-sheltered men whose gazes they were trying to lure. By 4:30 a.m., Patrick and his wife returned and were ready to leave. My champagne glass was still half full. I swirled it around and knocked it back. Now I was ready to go.

Posted at N 43 44.092 and E 007 24.768

Comments

Nothing like being a judgmental asshole in someone else's country. "Eurotrash" is a term that could only be used by "Ami-trash". Try signing Kyoto Protocol or the International Court Treaty before you start passing the eurotrash label around from now on homeboy. The 12st century is here and the eurotrash illusion is gone replaced by the Ameri-trash that is no longer emerging from an educated society, a society now based on total greed and waste coupled with a disregard for the effects of its global environmental policy and the flight of its creative class. The article above about Monaco was written by a member of the new 21st century trash.

Nothing like being a judgmental asshole in someone else's country. "Eurotrash" is a term that could only be used by "Ami-trash". Try signing Kyoto Protocol or the International Court Treaty before you start passing the eurotrash label around from now on homeboy. The 21st century is here and the eurotrash illusion is gone replaced by the Ameri-trash that is no longer emerging from an educated society, a society now based on total greed and waste coupled with a disregard for the effects of its global environmental policy and the flight of its creative class. The article above about Monaco was written by a member of the new 21st century trash.

Mark isn't American, he's Canadian. We also have the equivalent of Eurotrash in the U.S. They hang out on Sunset Blvd in L.A. Get your fact right.

Dear Sensitive Eurotrash,

I don't know how many times Mark has to clarify this, but he is Canadian, not American. So that's Cana-trash to you, pal. I'm sure it will make your 21st-century heart flutter (best to forget the 20th, my Euro friend) to know that our very hungry trading partners to the south don't escape our nasty scrutiny, either. You should hear what we call them, especially when we're in Buffalo. And whether they take it in stride or start breaking beer bottles, we're okay with that. But when people start whining about it, that's what really drives us nuts.

So relax, have a bellini, and take in all of that global caring that Europe is so famous for.

Scheech. It's only a (interesting) travelog! Trust us to have to get to Europe (well, past Italy) to get the first snit posting. (I wonder if any Mongolians were p***** about retail descriptions). I have a German friend who has a license plate that is "Eurotrsh". Apart from the "quick-as-a-flash-one-day-blog-on-trans-siberia" these are all simple daily interludes worth reading. I think Mark should attempt to see, now, how many ethnic/national imbroglio's he can cause on the rest of the trip (no fair mentioning British food; too easy).

Last time I checked Canada was in America. North America that is. Or is the term 'Americans' reserved only to those born in the US? What about the other countries in America, what are they?

Well, not all people born on the American continents are Americans. Case in point:
Canada=Canadian
Mexico= Mexican
Brazil= Brazilian
United States= American. Why? Because it's just weird to say United Statesian.

Well, I don't know if Guatemalans refer to themselves as Americans but here in Canada, an American is a citizen of the United States who tail gates, watches Oprah, and enters cheerleading contests by divine right.

What a great post today. I love hearing what you have to say about the country's you are in. I especially loved the spa in Germany description. Too bad some people get all bent out of shape when you call a spade a spade. Maybe he or she is one and thinks it's cool. Who knows. Keep up the good work, this is the only way I will ever travel that far.

I thought it was a great post today. Too bad some thin-skinned snob came on to lecture everyone about terminology.

I totally agree that the thin skinned asshole should chill

Oh dear, either justindr660 is part of the "beautiful people" scene and a bit hung over when writing his or no one wants to play with the bitter boy. Mark, keep up the excellent commentary, your blog is fun, insightful and poingnant(I cried over your story about your grandmother).

Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!

Would you like to touch my monkey?

I personally thought the Eurotrash posts were hilarious. And hey, if someone wants to do a post about Canadians, eh, go ahead! Hosers.

Or a report on fat Americans, which would be REALLY original.

Personally, the bit about not being able to smell the cologne in the Ferraris had me howling.

Can't we just all agree that we're all some sort of trash?

Describing people as "trash" is offensive and in bad taste and the term "Eurotrash" is racist however you look at it.

What a shame the writer took his labels, prejudices and stereotypes with him instead of an open mind.

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