Walking All Over 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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