I first met American Merrily Lustig-Tornatore at Stars’n’Bars on November 3, 2016. It was election night in the US and MonacoUSA was hosting a party in the days when it was normal to have a room full of mask-free people sitting on top of each other, drinking from the bar and cheering on a country that was once synonymous with democracy.
“I decided that the only way Europeans and the rest of the world could know who Americans were was to be exemplary and bright and funny so they would not get the wrong idea by seeing Trump,” says the long-time Monaco resident.
Born in New York, Merrily moved in 1964 to Killington, Vermont – via boarding school in Switzerland with a couple of months in Karachi and also in Paris – to be a ski bum. “I got my Vermont real estate licence in 1971 … I think!”
What a unique name. “When my parents were married, in the Forties, there was a cartoon in the Sunday paper with a little girl named Merrily who had long reddish-blond braids. My father liked her so much that I ended up being Merrily and having to live up to her reputation.”
Merrily comes from a line of accomplished women. In the Thirties, her mom started Airlines, the first in-flight aviation magazine, and was a speechwriter at NASA for the associate administrator for the Office of Manned Space Flight for the Apollo program.
In 1983, she had just received a “hard-earned” Emergency Medical Technicians accreditation in Vermont when she got a call from a family member in need. “My mother’s sister who ran Society Magazine for Société des Bains de Mer needed help so away I went to Monaco. It was really an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Working alongside her aunt, creative genius June Quin, and her financial guru husband Mark, Merrily replaced her cousin Vally who had left for London. “You name it, I did it. Having been brought up in the publishing business, it seemed second nature. I think I learned to read by helping the family proofread.”
In 1986, she met Rémy, her first aid instructor at the Monaco Red Cross and “after a long engagement” they wed in 2009. “You can never be too sure you have made the right choice,” Merrily laughs. (Rémy retired two years ago as director of First Aid for the Monaco Red Cross.)
Merrily has been a member of MonacoUSA for over 20 years and also serves on its Board. She has laid the memorial wreath for association to commemorate when the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team led the liberation of Monaco from German occupation on September 3, 1944.
She was also vice-president of the American Aid Association of the French Riviera, founded in 1948 “to assist American citizens who find themselves hospitalised, jailed, resident in retirement homes or facing other temporary financial difficulties.” For years, Princess Grace worked personally both with the association and with the former American Consulate in Nice, assisting Americans living in the region. The association, which shut down in 2019, had strong ties with the Monaco Red Cross and its social work and youth outreach.
Following the Bastille attacks in Nice in 2016, Merrily spent ten days in Nice as a First Aid volunteer with the Monaco Red Cross. “We were helping the psychologically wounded and sat with people until a professional could see them. There was an American woman who came in with an aura of pain, and I just sat apart offering to translate if necessary. If I ran into Americans, I would help them liaise with the consulate in Marseilles if they so desired.”
Merrily’s current claim to fame is to have received the Covid vaccine yesterday in Monaco. “It is absolutely fantastic, considering the world population, to be one of the first people to have the honour to live in a place where I am so well treated.”
She was contacted by letter from the Ministry of State (see letter), signed both by minister of state Pierre Dartout and minister of health and social affairs Didier Gamerdinger, explaining who, when, how and why to get vaccinated. The letter invited her to make an appointment if she wanted to get the vaccine. Additionally, there was a full page of information addressing “Les Vaccins à ARNm” – how it differs from a traditional vaccination, benefits, possible side-effects and so forth. It states that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna (EU-approved this week) are the vaccines that will be used in Monaco.
“The organisation of the campaign is fantastic. I phoned, it took ages to get through, and said YES. They called Monday and asked if I could come in Wednesday. I was so excited, I could hardly get the words out.”
Merrily says she becomes livid when people don’t wear masks. “Being really short and OLD, I occasionally walk into a grocery store and what not saying loudly, ‘SVP, mettez vos masques sur vos nez!’ It feels great. I’m too small to hit so they usually obey.”
Her vaccination appointment was for 9:20 am and she arrived 10 minutes in advance to check in and be interviewed by the doctor with the usual questions.
“I told Rémy after I got the Covid shot Wednesday morning that if I passed out during the day, don’t blame it on the vaccine. It could very well be because of the on-going election debacle in the US.”