Monte Carlo. The name alone conjures up visions of grandeur. Racecars roaring through city streets. Women basking topless in the Riviera sun. Urbane sophisticates playing high-stakes baccarat, tossing around thousand-dollar chips like they were made out of chocolate. Monte Carlo is a playground for the idle rich. It’s a vacation spot for movie stars and other illiterati. It’s an adult adventureland, where fairy tales can come true. It’s not a place to be caught without your tux and tails.
Monte Carlo is one of five districts in the petite Principality of Monaco. An independent state, Monaco is perched on the southern coast of France near Nice and not far from Cannes. Its monarch, Prince Rainier III, you may remember, married actress Grace Kelly, carting her away from Hollywood in a storybook marriage back in 1956.
That’s the Monaco of legend and lore—the Monaco everyone expects to find when they arrive. We arrived by train, in the harsh reality of early morning. Like most college students, we didn’t travel with tux and tails. To us, formal attire meant closed-toed sandals. Evening wear was, like, a clean sweatshirt.
Back in college, I owned one tie and one sports jacket. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to pack them in my overnight backpack.
Still, we weren’t going to miss an opportunity to rub elbows with high society. Not as long as we had patched elbows to rub. We envisioned a sumptuous feast, long dining tables with clean pressed linen, and wide-eyed debutants with plunging necklines. It was a poor student’s wet dream. We couldn’t help but ogle . . . the food. With one quick grab—the rubbing elbows part—we’d snag her dinner roll and ask, “Aren’t you gonna eat that?”
Imagination. What a thrill-killer.
When we returned to reality (the mundane train station), we gathered our backpacks and left to find our lodgings for the next few days. A few days was all we could afford, but we envisioned sunny days at the beach, glamorous nightclubs to sneak into, and if we were lucky, a debutant to show us around.
After settling into our modest hotel, we dressed in our pauper best and headed to the famed Casino. While we didn’t know baccarat from Bacardi, we figured with Lady Luck, we could make twenty dollars last all night. But bright lights bathed the Place du Casino when we arrived. Guards and barriers kept the crowds at bay. Had we stumbled upon the crime scene of the century?
Actually, a film crew was on location, making what we imagined was the next great spy thriller. Before the massive front doors of the Casino stood two actors we identified, somewhat tentatively, as Oliver Reed and David Niven. This was our chance for stardom. We’d wander through security to become extras in the movie. Imagine, while Reed and Niven discussed the Russian economy, two wayward American tourists would interrupt to ask if the Casino required neckties. Perfect!
Alas, it wasn’t to be. We couldn’t get close enough to take a photograph, let alone rub an elbow (patch or no patch). We watched transfixed for a while, but the prospect of no gambling and no stardom discouraged us enough to leave. We wandered the streets of Monaco, planning a future assault on the movie set.
When we returned the following night, however, the film crew had disappeared. Our hopes and dreams disappeared with them. We had no idea it was only the beginning of our disappointment.
We marched up to the Casino’s entrance full of the American ill-gotten belief that all things are possible. The Casino, however, requires not only neckties, but jackets as well. They took one look at us—with our jeans and short-sleeve button-down shirts—and laughed. Well, not really, but that’s what it felt like. We turned and dragged our tucked tails to a nearby video poker tent, where we proceeded to lose our twenty bucks in about five minutes.
Lessons Learned: This adventure took place well before American foreign policy flushed goodwill down the toilet along with most of the Constitution. Back in that idyllic age, the world loved us, or so we thought. It turns out that the world’s been laughing at us behind our back ever since Dallas went off the air. Life is cruel sometimes.
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 3
Customer Dis-service: 2
Discomfort Level: 1
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 2
Spontaneous Consumption: 4
Fun Fraction: 4/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (in nearby Nice, France)
Native Population: 33,000
Normal Attractions: The Monaco Grand Prix race, the palaces, the opera, fine dining, museums, spas, gambling, yachting: you know, the good life. Monaco is also a tax haven.
Final Point of Interest: Monaco’s citizens are not allowed to gamble in the famous Casino. Maybe living there is already risky enough: all those beautiful . . . beaches.