To access the principality of Monte Carlo from the train station involves a two hundred meter walk through a tunnel clad entirely in Italian marble. It’s as though the intimidation of wealth begins before you turn a corner.
What strikes you first is the paucity of civil infrastructure, i.e. hospitals or schools or council buildings – I didn’t spot one. The only structures that Monte Carlo has room for are apartments. Squeezed around the marina or up on the hills, hundreds of little boxes all crammed together, bunched up in their desperation to avoid unpleasant things like common people, society and worst of all – taxes.
There is actually a hospital in Monaco, The Princess Grace. Boasting a generous 120 beds, this particular infirmary specialises in free medical care for the poor, the disenfranchised and the terminally ill. Don’t believe me? Ok, you’re right, it doesn’t do any such thing. Anyway, let’s not concern ourselves with people who are sick, let’s go and have a gawp at the boats instead.
I once took a trip on a motor yacht. A friend of a friend hired one to show off to his mates. I remember the excitement as we cruised out of the bay and headed out onto the open sea. We marvelled at deep blue of the Med and the fresh bracing air.
After about half an hour I was of course, bored to death. The endless chugging along to nowhere in particular, the faint sickly stench of diesel fuel and the nausea of the rolling swell made for a tedious, ultimately pointless trip. Don’t get me wrong, the teak poop deck (or whatever it’s called) was very nice and the chandelier was pretty, and they don’t call them gin palaces for nothing. But if you want to get pissed and talk shit it’s easier and cheaper to stroll down to your nearest Yate’s Wine Lodge.
So the demographic of the boat owners in Monaco is Oil-rich Arabs, go-getting Captains of Industry desperate to preserve their hard-earned wealth and eighties pop stars. If you are one of those types, Monte Carlo is the place for you.
We decided to have a relaxing lunch quayside. Sarah perused the menus of the various eateries located around the marina.
“How about this one dear?” I asked.
“Hmm, it’s a bit pricey. And the one next door is too.”
“Sarah darling, we are in Monte Carlo, they’re all pricey.”
And so we settled down to a plate of pasta, a glass of grog and watched the world go by. The boats themselves were all a hive of activity, cleaners, chefs, people wearing deck shoes, stern oriental types dressed in white, tanned gorgeous people sporting ray bans, all scurrying up and down gang planks looking busy and serious.
The only thing missing were the owners. They are probably as disinterested in sailing as me, it’s just that they bought one because, well, they just can.
And if tedium takes hold, they could always go to the Casino to throw their money away.
After lunch it was time to jump back on the train and journey over the border to Italy.
It was then, just before we left, that I met one- an owner that is. Deciding to take one last stroll down the dockside, we paused in front of a particularly large specimen. A sleek beauty, gleaming in white and chrome, becalmed in its bay with the sparkle of the sea reflecting on its pristine hull; she was indeed an impressive craft. I stopped next to a squat little man with slicked back silver hair and the usual deep perma tan worn mainly by the super rich and hoboes.
His teeth – white as the boat he was stood next to gleamed at me as he smiled his “Please ask me if this is my boat” smile.
Too impatient to wait for my inquiry, he announced in a grating Texan drawl, “She’s a beauty, huh?”
I turned to him and smiled back.
“She certainly is, is it yours?”
The little fat man seemed to grow an inch as he replied, “You betcha buddy.”
“Yes it’s very nice, there’s only one thing wrong with it old chap.”
The American’s face fell as he spun round to scan the haunches of his pride and joy for blemishes.
“Why? What’s wrong with it?”
“Well it’s just that White is the wrong colour, if it was mine, I’d have painted it blue.”
And so we left the little chap steaming on the quay, as we bid adieu to the ostentatious excess of Monaco and made our way to Italy.