The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Friday, November 26, 2010

Monaco: Where the Rich Folks Live

Among the more interesting places we visited on our recent trip was the Principality of Monaco, the tiny  city-state on the shores of the Mediterranean that's been governed (more or less) by the Grimaldi family since the 13th century. With an area of less than a square mile, it's larger than Vatican City, but not by much. Our visit was brief since our cruise ship, the Norwegian Jade, arrived in mid-morning and departed in early evening.
Aboard the Norwegian Jade in the harbor at Monaco

Most Americans, at least those of us who are old enough to remember, are vaguely familiar with Monaco because of American actress Grace Kelly's marriage to the then-reigning Prince Ranier in 1956. The current head of state is the 52-year-old son of Grace and Ranier, Prince Albert II, who is slated to marry South African swimmer Charlene Wittstock next July. As you might have noticed in the supermarket check-out line, the prince has quite a reputation as a playboy and has fathered several children out of wedlock. Perhaps marriage will help him settle down. At 52 it's about time.
Facade of St. Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco

Sanctuary of St. Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco
Among all the countries of the world (with the obvious exception of the Vatican), Monaco almost certainly has highest percentage of foreign-born residents. The figures I have heard vary from 80% to 90%. And virtually all of them are extremely wealthy folks in search of a nice, comfortable tax haven. I say "extremely wealthy" because the going price for real estate in the principality is an outrageously high €50,000 per square meter, making the cost of living in Monaco the highest in the world. Basically, this means a tiny efficiency apartment or condo of a few hundred square feet would cost well over a million dollars. Fortunately, Diane and I are not currently in the market and so we spent our time there purchasing overpriced t-shirts from the souvenir shop owned by the Grimaldi clan. So happy I could add a few euros to the family coffers and help them pay for the upcoming nuptials.
A few of the yachts docked at Monaco

Most of our visit was taken up by a three-hour walking tour conducted by a French guide who, like most of the folks who work in Monaco, commute to the principality from neighboring France or Italy. Certainly no working person can afford to live there. Our guide seemed to enjoy reciting all the superlatives and excesses of which there are many. She especially enjoyed pointing out the yachts of the super-rich that are docked cheek by jowl in the large marina. We also walked along a portion of the course used by the annual Monte Carlo Grand Prix race in which Formula 1 drivers display their skills. I even sat in a bronze version of an old F1 racer so Diane could take a photo (below). I had a lot more trouble climbing out of the thing.

Dana test-driving a bronze Formula 1 car
With the exception of a small, largely ceremonial palace guard, the principality has no military and relies on the French for its national defense. (I have suppressed an obvious comment here in deference to my friends of French ancestry.) But Monaco does have a police force, actually the largest in the world on a per-capita basis; i.e., 515 police officers for a population of 32,000. And there are video surveillance cameras everywhere recording one's every move. I suspect these two factors contribute to the city-state's low crime rate.
A member of the Palace Guard, protecting the realm

We visited Monaco's St. Nicholas Cathedral, built in the 19th century on the site of the original 12th century church. It's a lovely cathedral and, like the principality is relatively small. It's also the church in which Princess Grace and Prince Ranier were married and buried. Below is a photo of Princess Grace's grave.

Princess Grace's Resting Place

Although our guide led us to the casino at Monte Carlo, we decided not to cross the threshold, thereby saving the €10 per person entrance fee. And who knows how much additional cash that decision saved us? We opted instead to stroll around the square in front of the five-star hotels, the Hotel de Paris and the Hotel Metropole, and try to look as if we belonged. Based on the stares we received from the intimidating-looking doormen of these two fine establishments, I'm pretty sure we failed. Just as well. We probably couldn't afford even to enter their lobbies.
Doorman of the Hotel de Paris keeping an eye on the riff-raff
All in all it was an interesting visit, although I have no desire to return. I've included a few more photos below, just to give you a better sense of what Monaco is like.
The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
View of Monaco from the deck of Norwegian Jade
Cliffs and the edge of a rocky beach, Monaco
Fishermen on a Monaco pier. Not everyone's rich.

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