Beth Curtis

Beth Curtis first started visiting Villefranche as a teenager for an annual holiday and her love for the place just blossomed from there.

“In my late twenties, I had my own graphic design company so it meant I could work remotely and Villefranche was that place,” says Beth, who owns The TapHouse. She split her time between the UK and France working as a graphic designer, creative director, private event chef and music event organiser. “Unfortunately life then threw me a few curveballs, including two awful divorces, where I lost everything, and my extremely poorly 4-year-old nephew was diagnosed with AML leukemia. Thankfully, he has since recovered.”

She was finally able to put down some roots. “A few years later, the bar that was my local was up for sale. I knew people in the area and a few in London that might be interested so I spread the word. One day I received a message from an old friend in Nice who had owned and run very successful bars and we discussed what might be possible. He suggested I take it on and make it a great place for me and my customers. So The TapHouse was born and that is what I set out to do.”

She opened the doors on June 7, 2018, and the inauguration was attended by friends, locals and tourists who came from as far as Dubai to attend. The mayor of Villefranche, Christophe Trojani, also supported the opening by cutting the ribbon.

That first summer gave her time to learn the ropes as she was operating a bar business on her own. “I had many things to learn at once and spent every waking minute working and thinking about the bar. I opened from 2 pm all the way through until 2:30 am every day. When the doors were closed to customers, I was cleaning, cooking, buying food and supplies, organising the endless paperwork that comes with running a business in France and organising and marketing the music events that I’d become known for in the area.”

Beth recalls that every day brought new challenges, some disastrous, some great. “During the crucial and final 15 minutes of the World Cup football we lost the Sky signal. I had a completely full terrace and I was trying my best to restart the connection when the local police arrived and insisted on checking all my documentation. Hence my customers all moved to the next bar to see those last minutes of the match.”

Her greatest memories come from seeing people having fun, mixing together and enjoying the atmosphere and music. “People come for my playlists but for me it is the live music events that make the bar so special. We have had international artists come to perform and because the space is so small, it makes them so intimate and wonderful. The first was in 2018 with Omar MBE, the outstanding British soul singer, songwriter and musician who has duetted with the likes of Stevie Wonder.”

In 2019, she then hosted an event to support her association “Music Therapy” that raises money and awareness for children’s cancer and leukemia charities. Derrick McKenzie, Jamiroquai’s drummer for over 20 years, was the headline act and was supported by a local DJ and vocalist Terrance James “The Voice France 2020”. The 2020 season had another amazing performance from Lifford Shillingford, Britain’s Got Talent golden buzzer winner and supported by Charley B from The Voice UK.

Beth describes The TapHouse clientele as extremely varied. “We have customers ranging in age from 4 to 94, locals originally from Villefranche and the Côte d’Azur, expats living in Villefranche and the surrounding areas, males, females and many dogs have become our extended family.”

She adds she has a huge following from tourists all over the world, due to the Channel 4 UK TV series A New Life in the Sun, which featured her story over two seasons. “They originally found me because of my social media. I was invited to a Skype interview which went well and I was chosen to appear on the show.”

The series first aired in the UK and was then sold to English-speaking countries around the world and to Netflix USA. “Channel 4 told me it was successful and was in the top three prime time terrestrial TV shows in terms of viewers. This meant that I was chosen to appear on the follow up revisited series, which was filmed in 2019 and followed the complete bar renovation and the ups and downs of the season. Channel 4 has recently been in contact to schedule filming the next instalment of the story.”

One couple from Israel visited The TapHouse because they wanted to find Beth after seeing the series. “This happened with many others who have now become regular clients of The TapHouse.”

Business was just starting to gain momentum and then early 2020 Covid happened. “It was absolutely devastating and an extremely stressful time,” Beth shares. “We were closed for four months and it was announced that we were allowed to reopen early June. I was planning the reopening and sent an application for the permission of the late license to be open until 2:30 am, as I had previously been allowed to do. It was refused and I only had permission to open until 00:30, even though other bars were given extended permission. Because of this and the pandemic, my turnover was down 60%. I spent many sleepless nights and became very down because of the situation. I was literally turning away customers and telling them to go to other bars.”

Beth’s problems were about to get worse. “The whole 2020 season was a big fight to keep the business afloat. Bars and restaurants were granted free terraces that normally we pay a yearly rent for. There were regional events organised, like the Fête de terraces, to try to help and I put together events to maintain a steady flow of customers coming to the bar. For these, I sent official requests to have an extension of my terrace, these requests were granted.”

Her events had a great following so not only was she busy but it brought customers to other bars and restaurants in close vicinity. “People would praise me for bringing life into the village. But then, right at the end of the season, I was issued a letter by the police, from the mayor, stating that because I had failed to apply at the beginning of the season I no longer had the right to occupy the terrace space outside. To say I was upset and angry is an understatement. I spoke with many people to seek advice and, with help, I sent a letter to reapply and ask for permission again.”

In January 2021, the response came with a polite refusal although no reason was given. (The bar to the right was also denied but the bar to the left was not).

“It makes absolutely no sense at all,” Beth states. “I had events and group bookings lined up for this season and I have been forced to cancel everything. Including one of the Côte d’Azur business clubs who wanted to hold regular lunch events at the bar.

“I sent another letter of request to the mayor explaining how devastating this is and the impact it is having on me and my business. I’m yet to receive a response.”

The denial of a terrace means that it is impossible for Beth to open. “The reopening costs alone are more than I could make in revenue during the season.” With the current Covid restrictions, she would be allowed to welcome four customers. During the summer season, she would be allowed to open inside but for those who have visited or seen the bar on TV, it means maybe 10 customers. Plus with summer temps and Covid, she is certain people will take their drinks on a terrace somewhere.

In January of this year, Beth realised that the only way to save her mental health was to remove herself from Villefranche. “I have stayed away which means that I haven’t had to witness others opening their establishments, some even with new terraces. It has undoubtedly been the right decision because it would have destroyed my state of mind. Even seeing it happening on social media has been tough.”

Beth is at a loss as to why the municipality would want to revoke her back but reveals “people have speculated that maybe someone wants to buy my business cheaply.” Her silent partner was issued with a police summons and he was later “told to tell me to stop fighting because I can’t win.” She understands that “the mayor has the last word and has decided to make the space a public garden.”

Beth Curtis has stated a petition and is hoping that by making some noise, maybe, just maybe, the mayor will change his mind. “I need at least 1,000 signatures to even begin to be heard. I’m also asking for comments on the petition and for people to share it with as many people as they can.”

Sign Beth’s petition to try and save The TapHouse in Villefranche.

Monaco rowing club offers summer course for kids at €250

Photo: Aviron-Monaco Facebook

Monaco’s rowing club has announced the return of its popular summer rowing courses and you don’t have to be a member of Société Nautique de Monaco to partake.

Registration is now open to 11- to 15-year-olds (born between 2006 and 2010) who know how to swim. There is both discovery and improvement courses, and at the end of the session, bronze, silver and gold rowing certificates will be awarded.

Training is supervised by a qualified instructor and this year, the number of participants is limited to groups of 10 for each of the four sessions, which will take place July 26-30, August 2-6, August 9-13 and August 16-20.

At only €250 a week, the program runs all day from Monday to Friday and includes lunch at the club’s port-side restaurant on Quai Louis II. There is a special rate for two weeks of training.

Typically, the rowing takes place between Monaco and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and lucky rowers may even spot a dolphin or two.

Spots will go quickly so best to sign up early.

Child Care Monaco launches appeal to help supply food kits in Covid devastated India

While Covid figures in Monaco and France are falling as more of the population gets vaccinated — 36.33% in Monaco and 30% in the Alpes-Maritimes have had at least one injection — the situation in India is heart-wrenching. On Wednesday May 5, the country set a new record with 412,000 new cases and nearly 4,000 deaths (3,980) in 24 hours.

Monaco resident Martine Ackermann, founder of Child CARE Monaco which offers education to underprivileged children in India, has been personally moved by the situation and describes it as “catastrophic.”

Martine shares, “I have been going to India for over 20 years, it is my land of wisdom. I have only met wonderful people there and I feel I have to help them … this is my second country, my second family.

“With the new virus, people are afraid to leave home. Hospitals are saturated and there is not enough oxygen for everyone. So those with Covid are dying from lack of oxygen and are immediately burned one by one.

“A 38-year-old friend of mine who helped me distribute food to the poorest in his neighbourhood has just committed suicide. He could no longer run his business or pay his bills.”

Martine says a dad of another family she knows is a tuk tuk driver and doesn’t have any tourist clients. “They have nothing to eat and tell me it’s getting harder and harder to get by. I send them food parcels that they then share with the whole neighbourhood. They are united even in famine.”

Lockdown has made the situation worse because people cannot go out and look for food. “Our team on site has authorisation to go to very poor neighbourhoods to distribute survival kits. They take people’s temperatures and teach them how to wear masks and wash their hands properly,” she explains.

Since setting up in 2012, Martine’s association has opened a girls’ school in the Udaipur region. The SNEH school provides education, food, basic healthcare, school uniforms — and, most recently, bicycles — for 110 girls. Across Europe, non-profits like Child Care Monaco have not been able to host fundraisers.

“It’s a blow to everyone,” Martine states. “We cannot leave people in imminent famine. I hear from so many people how much they love India – the colours, temples, culture, yoga, gastronomy, music …  it is time to give back.”

A friend of Martine’s who has an association in a slum in the poorest province of India has reached out to her for help. “Malnourished mothers cannot produce breast milk so their babies are deficient and will not survive. In the streets, pregnant women are losing their babies and old people are dying.”

Child Care Monaco is launching a special appeal for donations to supply food kits for families. Any amount is welcome by cheque or transfer and 100% of the sum goes to a kit and for poor families. See the site for more info.

“I thank everyone for their help and support,” Martine says heartfelt.

Martine Ackermann, founder of Child CARE Monaco.

Johanna Houdrouge

“I consider myself Senegalese by birth, Franco-Lebanese by origin, Monegasque at heart and a citizen of the world,” says Johanna Houdrouge, president of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Monaco (Association des Femmes Chefs d’Entreprises de Monaco, AFCEM ).

“Growing up and living in Monaco means being able to work in a reassuringly safe environment, knowing nearly everyone – the kids I went to school with are now entrepreneurs and business leaders – and having an openness thanks to the multitude of nationalities that coexist.”

Although Johanna passed the Bar – “Why did I want to become a lawyer? Because I love the law, I love the idea of ​​defending a cause, whatever it is” – she is vice-president of Mercure International, an import-export business that has 250 points of sale in 17 countries on three continents.

The family-run business was founded by her Monegasque father and began with their own City Sport brand. Today the company covers three sectors of activity – sport, fashion and food – with supermarkets under the Casino and Super U banners (in West and Central Africa), as well as shopping centres in Africa (Gabon, Congo, Senegal, Ivory Coast).

They have 5,000 employees worldwide, including 100 in Monaco, which is where Joanna works at the head office, alongside her father and brother. “I manage all the legal and administrative aspects of the group throughout the world. I am a specialist in business law and more particularly in OHADA, that is the Organisation for the Harmonisation in Africa of Business Law. So, even if I no longer litigate, my knowledge of law is still useful on a daily basis,” she explains.

On December 4, 2018, Mercure International opened the first N’Kids activity centre in Senegal. “N’Kids is my baby. I had been very keen to launch this concept of indoor games for children in African countries, where activities for kids are sorely lacking. Parents are delighted to be able to fully enjoy their shopping experience in our shopping centres, without feeling guilty, since their children are having fun in complete safety.”

Johanna joined AFCEM 10 years ago, and was the youngest member at the time. The network – whose slogan is “Alone we are invisible, together we are invincible” – promotes business and defends the rights and interests of women entrepreneurs. “The association’s values ​​speak to me, they correspond with my own. I have always been very involved in the social fabric, not just in Monaco but internationally, and am very invested in the economic life of the Principality.”

Johanna’s election as AFCEM president last September allows her to carry strong messages to the “courageous and competent women entrepreneurs each in their own field.” For example, she believes the time has passed for focusing on the differences between men and women in the workplace. “Of course, we are different, it would be nonsense to deny this, but why not play on these differences to make them a strength and work together?

“I also want to pass on entrepreneurial desire to younger generations who are the business leaders of tomorrow. We owe it to them to support them, to prove to them that women, like men, are responsible, competent leaders who keep the human factor at the heart of their concerns. This is, I believe, a primary mission incumbent upon us today.”

Board of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Monaco.

For Johanna, Monaco’s female entrepreneurship is a formidable patchwork of skills and diversity. “Our members represent all areas of activities – insurance, health, e-banking, art, new technologies … we even have a navigator among us! This diversity is a pledge of openness and human wealth.”

Covid has been particularly challenging for all businesses but women have been particularly impacted over the past year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, there were 2.2 million fewer women in the work force between October 2019-2020. Between January and September last year, the largest net decline was among women with two children, down 3.8 points, and among women whose oldest child is 2 to 6 years old, down 5.6 points.

A Catalyst survey of adults ages 20 to 65 working in large companies (500 or more employees) found that 2 of every 5 mothers say they must hide their caregiving struggles from colleagues while a McKinsey survey showed that 1 in 4 women was considering taking a leave of absence, reducing hours, moving to part-time, or switching to a less-demanding job. McKinsey also reported, “women in France, Germany, and Spain will have an increased need for pandemic-induced job transitions at rates 3.9 times higher than men.”

“Covid spared no one and AFCEM members were impacted to varying degrees,” Johanna states. “Our association brings together women business leaders from all sectors and some, like those in the event and travel industry, are still going through difficult times being at an economical standstill yet having to continue to cover operating costs. Fortunately, the Monaco government put in place the Economic Recovery Support Commission, which provides assistance for companies in difficulty, and also the €20 million Monaco Blue Fund, which subsidises all companies, regardless of their size, to cover 30%-70% of their digital transition.”

In addition to keeping its members informed in real time as government financial measures evolve in response to the pandemic, the association also organises conferences, like with CHPG director Benoîte de Sevelinges last December, a webinar on “The success of women in business” organised in partnership with the Monaco Economic Board on International Women’s Day, and, on March 18, Julien Dejanovic, the Director of Digital Services hosted “Extend Monaco” on digital technology and businesses.

“We want to continue our missions while keeping this entrepreneurial spirit and dynamism that defines us. Today we not only need to survive but also to reinvent ourselves. All AFCEM members live in complicated situations, both professionally and personally, but they all have this desire to emerge stronger,” asserts Johanna.

“Covid has impacted me personally and professionally, and continues to do so,” she shares. “As Mercure International is present in many countries that did not implement the same measures at the same time, you can imagine the difficulty in managing stores and shopping centres and, consequently, the men and women who work there. Our main suppliers are in China, and China was the first country to be confined, which meant no more deliveries to our stores. When China deconfined, the rest of the world confined. Production resumed, deliveries also, but we could no longer sell the goods. This was a real headache but fortunately our diversification saved us – the food sector continued to function.”

“From all of this, I will especially remember our formidable capacity for resilience. I believe that word, resilience, is definitely the word of the year 2020. We always say, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”. We have seen it. When it is really necessary, we have tremendous resources within us.”

Johanna is not only an entrepreneur, but also a mother. “And like many women, I had to deal with my two children during the first confinement … and after. I had to change hats regularly in 24 hours – that of a business leader, then a school teacher, then a mom … A very complicated situation to live with mentally and physically.”

Historic Grand Prix

Sir Stirling Moss on the 60th anniversary of his 1956 Monaco GP win. Photo: Nancy Heslin

On May 13, 2016, I had the privilege of meeting Formula One legend Sir Stirling Moss, who was being honoured at the Historic Grand Prix in Monaco.

It had been 60 years to the day that the British driver had won the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix for the Officine Alfieri Maserati team. As the 86-year-old sat on the front wheel of car #28 in front of the Rascasse turn, you could see a twinkle in his eye reliving the 3-hour race. (The car, he said, cost him £3,800. “Maybe I should have held on to it.”).

“It is extremely difficult to concentrate for three hours. I’d see the driver behind me, and every lap, I’d say to myself, ‘I’m going to try to do a perfect lap,’ which of course is not possible.”

He added that “from the driver’s point of view, there is not much change at all [in Monaco]. There are so many places you can see the drivers ahead or behind you on the hairpins, so I’d wave at the other drivers to try and make it look like I wasn’t trying too hard while I was actually clenched on the ground.”

Sir Stirling commented on being forced into retirement at the age of 83 but his charm shined through. “Monaco is such an intimate course. Every lap I’d blow a kiss to this woman with the pale pink lipstick … it never went anywhere though …”

Between 1955 and 1961, the late Sir Stirling finished as championship runner-up four times and in third place the other three times. “I would not swap my era for now. I had the pleasure of 600 races because I loved doing it. There’s no pleasure, exhilaration or fun nowadays. Driver input those days was more by the driver.”

Typically held every other year two weeks before the Monaco Grand Prix (except this edition as the 2020 event was cancelled for reasons you are well aware of and the E-Prix is on May 8), this is an open-air museum of legendary cars racing the same F1 circuit. You don’t have to love race cars to appreciate the spirit and energy of the Grand Prix Historique de Monaco weekend.

Much like the nod to Sir Stirling in 2016, this year’s 12th edition celebrates Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory 70 years ago in 1951 with driver Jose Froilan Gonzalez at Silverstone. Keep an eye out for the many Scuderia F1 sports cars, one dating back to 1929.

By the way, Charles Leclerc is the first Monegasque driver to ever sign a deal with Ferrari and the 23-year-old recently gifted his first season SF90 race car to Prince Albert for HSH’s private car collection museum in Fontvieille. On May 23, Leclerc hopes to become the first native to win the Monaco Grand Prix since Louis Chiron drove a Bugatti to victory in 1931.

To watch the Monaco Historic Grand Prix race live on Sunday April 25:

Paula Farquharson-Blengino

Photo: Ed Wright Images

“I’m a Dubliner who loves the rest of Ireland,” enthuses Paula Farquharson-Blengino, who grew up and went to an all-girls Dominican convent school. She picked up a Bachelors and Masters from Trinity College Dublin, famous for the Book of Kells medieval manuscript. “This education was a window to the world. My first stop after graduation was New York and having Trinity on my CV opened doors to interviews, landing me a prize starter marketing job at Christian Dior USA-LVMH headquarters.”

This was the start of Paula’s corporate world journey with companies, including L’Oréal and Pretty Polly, spanning the luxury industry and publishing with a stop in Australia and back to Ireland. “Then 20 years ago I followed my dream to base myself in France permanently and haven’t looked back.”

Moving to Nice, Paula changed everything – lifestyle, language and career. She leveraged her communications experience and landed a journalist/editor job at the English-language publication The Riviera Times (now Riviera Insider). “That honed my skills to tell a story although I guess being Irish it came quite naturally!” Writing across a wide range of topics, the job expanded her network in the region.

One of the Times partners was Top Marques Monaco so when the time came to leave the newspaper after eight years, she was hired there as Press Officer by the founder Lawrie Lewis. “I learnt a lot from him, like attention to detail and the importance of people to ensure an unforgettable event.”

When he retired, Paula moved back into the corporate world – “quite a change” with the oil, gas and renewable energy industry. “SBM Offshore is listed on the Dutch stock-exchange so that gained me a whole new tool box of skills around governance and compliance. Confidentiality was key in my role when talking to the media; I was a gatekeeper for non-financial information from the company,” she shares.

All the experience that I’ve gained during my varied career, led her to her current position as Director of the Princess Grace Irish Library. “I enjoy working in the non-profit sector now. The Library is under the aegis of the Fondation Princesse Grace, which does such good work helping sick children and assisting young people embark on training for careers in the cultural domains such as literature, music and dance. This is a way to put my corporate experience to work for the good of others,” Paula says.

The mom of two adds, “When I was new to the region, the Princess Grace Irish Library felt like a home from home. It is a lovely, intimate ambiance and over the years I met so many wonderful people at the regular talks – and not just Irish. It is nice to chat with people who ‘get’ your Irish humour and Irishisms!”

The Princess Grace Irish Library represents a loving tribute to Princess Grace’s attachment for Ireland by her husband Prince Rainier III, who inaugurated it in November 1984, and the Princess’ personal collection of books and music scores form the heart of the library. “My favourite is a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses published in 1922. But it goes much beyond its content. We organise our own events and we facilitate conferences, symposia bringing people and academics together, we host writers via the twice-yearly bursaries supported by The Ireland Funds of Monaco.”

This October the Library has a symposium planned with academics from Villanova University close to Philadelphia (Princess Grace’s hometown) and there is a desire to develop more collaboration with the schools in Monaco. Princess Grace supported the arts and culture and the Library continues her legacy, operating under the aegis of the Fondation Princesse Grace.

With Covid, the Library remains open but reservations are necessary to ensure limited numbers and everyone’s safety. “We have the Monaco Safe Label. The health crisis forced us to review how things have always been done and adapt – we have gone online with events and even when normal life resumes, the digital world will allow us to be creative and reach more people, beyond the cosy, intimate setting of the physical Library. There’s no doubt that people are craving face-to-face events but I see us benefitting from having a hybrid offering with both live and online events going forward.”

On St Patrick’s Day, the library was honoured to host a small event with Irish music and drama in the presence of Prince Albert and his children, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella. We filmed it as we could not invite Friends of the Library due to health measures.

“On the programme was traditional music by the pupils of the l’Académie de Musique Fondation Prince Rainier III and a semi-dramatized reading by actors from the Monaco-Ireland Arts Society. The pupils were so happy after a year void of performances.

On a personal level, Paula admits that with pandemic it has been hard not being able to travel to Ireland to see family and friends but “being at the Library allows me the luxury of engaging face-to-face with people safely.”

Paula Farquharson-Blengino has found a silver lining in the Covid cloud. “The past year underlines that people value culture. They also yearn for a physical place to enjoy it and by keeping our door open, the Library acts like an oasis, where you can get lost in books and meet other like-minded people here.”

Located at 9 Rue Princesse Marie de Lorraine in the old town, the Princes Grace Irish Library is open Monday to Thursday 9 am to 4 pm and Friday 9 am to 3:30 pm.

We Eat Socca Here

Scott Petersen. Photo: Carol Flores

“It’s hard to go wrong when you can walk around the corner and get a perfectly flaky croissant or pain au chocolate for a euro and change,” reflects filmmaker Scott Petersen on his love for France.

Based in Southern California, Scott took French in high school and, for the past several years, has travelled all over the country, with a special interest in sampling local specialties. “As I was researching a trip to Nice, the guidebook mentioned this dish called socca, which sounded great to me. Just before leaving, I met a guy here in LA who was from Nice and he told me I had to try it.”

And so he did. At Chez Pipo. At Chez Thérésa. At René Socca … in fact, Scott was so taken by the old wood-fired brick ovens and the rustic food being served to locals, he figured there had to be a good documentary in there somewhere. “Food tells a fascinating story about history, culture, geography and people. Socca is really known only to people on the Côte d’Azur, I don’t think you can even find it in Paris.”

We Eat Socca Here tells the story of the chickpea-flour crêpe through the lens of the restaurateurs and entrepreneurs who keep the wood-fired flame burning: Steeve Bernardo (Chez Pipo), Stephane Pentolini (René Socca) and Jean-Luc Mekersi (Chez Thérésa). “From its early days in a makeshift food cart serving fishermen to current day restaurants feeding locals and tourists alike from 200-year-old ovens, socca is an indelible part of Nice’s cultural fabric,” the 52-year-old documentary maker enthuses.

Scott produced and directed the award-winning, feature-length documentary Out Of The Loop, which explores Chicago’s underground music scene (Veruca Salt, the Jesus Lizard, and Steve Albini) and, in 2003, he produced, directed and edited Scrabylon, a documentary about the cutthroat world of Scrabble® tournaments. His CV includes TV credits on Antiques Roadshow, Rescue 911 and Unsolved Mysteries.

He also worked in the office of legendary filmmaker John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone, Uncle Buck). “I’m a bit too young to have worked on Ferris Bueller, but, when I was there as a young adult, it was quite an experience seeing the giant moviemaking process up close.”

Scott’s 9-minute short We Eat Socca Here debuted on Amazon.com on March 30. “For me, it is about sharing a small part of French culture with everyone who loves food,” he reveals. (Even with restaurants in France closed due to Covid, you can still get socca to go.)

“I am hoping the next time I eat in a restaurant here in California that has a wood-fired oven that I can persuade them to add socca to their menu. When that happens, my job will be done,” says Scott Petersen.

Maybe Scott will bring Monaco’s national barbagiuan dish to the big screen next.

Covid Diary In Monaco

March 18, 2020, marked the day when the Great Hibernation began in Monaco. This is when all non-essential business services were ordered by decree to stop operating to contain the spread of Covid-19. And an obeying population in the Principality entered house confinement with stockpiles of flour, ready pasta and booze while the economy settled down for a long spring nap.

One year on, and as France announced its third confinement for 16 departments, including the Alpes-Maritimes, we are still living in a state of pandemonium as Covid continues to rear its ugly head sparing no one who gets in its infectious way. At my request, one Monaco resident in her early fifties who tested Covid positive a few weeks ago, shares a diary of her time in self-isolation. It’s a reminder that no matter how exasperated we have become with the situation, the virus is no joke.

Thursday February 25
I have severe aches and pains all over, like a steamroller ploughing across my body. I put it down to my rheumatism as there is a cloud mass and the humidity rate is at its maximum. It never enters my mind this could be a Covid symptom as I have no fever, cough, or any other warning sign. The pain is unbearable all day so I finally take some paracetamol.

Friday February 26
The pain has eased and as clouds linger over Monaco, I tell myself that it was rheumatism. But today a slight headache starts. Still no fever or other symptoms, so I’ll pay attention when the sun returns to see if I’m still achy.

I start to wear a mask even inside my home and ventilate the house well. As a precaution, I avoid pretty much all contact with the outside, but I am not in quarantine as I haven’t taken a PCR test yet. I’d heard about more notable symptoms like fever, cough, cold, fatigue, respiratory discomfort but I don’t have any of these.

Saturday February 27
My aches have disappeared and everything is back to normal. I am still careful and keep my mask on all day, waiting to see if there is any evolution or any other symptoms popup over the weekend.

Sunday February 28
For my son’s birthday, we keep the celebration limited to immediate family but at a safe distance on my side and no hugs. Still no symptoms, no fever. A very slight cough starts.

Monday, March 1
I feel good, no symptoms, so we visit my parents for lunch to continue the birthday festivities. I tell my folks that I am not going to touch them; I stand far away and keep my mask on at the table as a precaution. We eat lunch with the terrace open to air the room and between each course, I wear my mask.

Tuesday March 2
A mild headache starts, and there are pins and needles in my legs. I feel a little short of breath. Is that a cough? By evening, I realise that I have lost my sense of taste and smell, which immediately sets off the Covid alarm. I am now extremely cautious.

Photo: Stephane Danna/DC

Wednesday March 3
I get a PCR test at 11:30. Obviously, I do not take the bus and wear a FFP2 mask with sanitising gel in my hand. I do my best to avoid everyone and not to touch anything.

I am stressed about getting the nasal swab but when I explain my anxiety at the Espace Léo Ferré Covid Centre in Fontvieille, they put me in the care of a very kind nurse who helps me and, remarkably, whose swab technique didn’t hurt at all. It is fast, orderly, unpleasant but not painful. And I get my results immediately: I am SARS-CoV-2 positive.

I was infected outside of my home but where? My guess is an enclosed private space where I let me guard down in terms of wearing a mask, which I see now I should never have done. You really have no idea who around us is carrying the virus.

The Covid Centre contacts my family and also asks me who I had been in contact with but luckily I had not met any friends or been anywhere. They takes the name and surname of my mother-in-law and my parents, whom I did see and arranges to test my husband and children.

12:30 pm and am back home. I stay isolated in my bedroom without seeing anyone. With a ban on leaving my room except to go to the bathroom, which is next door, I organise myself and try to plan my day. I have my computer, meditation tools, the TV, a stack of books and my phone as company.

Clearly, I can have no contact with my husband or children – not even with the dogs and cats. At night I am woken up by my pets crying outside my bedroom door. They don’t understand why they can’t come in to see me.

In addition to the loss of smell and taste, I have some respiratory discomfort, a massive headache and fatigue, which prevents me from staying awake after 9 pm.

I find myself watching “easy” TV shows that I would otherwise never watch but are a guaranteed distraction. I put myself in the shoes of the elderly who plan their days around their TV programs and meal times … since that’s what will be happening for me over the next few days. My husband and children bring my lunch and dinner to my room without having any contact with me.

For breakfast, given that I get up very early, I quickly go down to the kitchen with my mask and gel at 6 am (to the delight of the dogs and cats but without petting them too much). I drink my coffee and eat my toast with minimal touching and before leaving I put hydroalcoholic gel on everything and return to my room. I keep the windows open – the kitchen is freezing!

When I get back to my room, I am still shivering since everything is open. I continuously ventilate the room to the point of being so cold I wear my pashmina and jacket.

Even if I am not going to do anything, I plan my day, telling myself I’m going to spend a few hours with me. With my computer, I take the opportunity to finish some work I started in November but never had time to finish. I meditate and at least I know that nothing and no one is going to bother me so I’m really in the zone.

I phone my parents and check in with them to see if they are okay after my visit on Monday.

Thursday March 4
Today I still have some difficulty breathing, a slight cough, but no fever or aches, always this huge fatigue. I still plan my day so that I don’t get depressed about being locked up, I am so used to seeing lots of people. Friends send me little notes or call me, it’s really nice not to feel alone. It warms my heart as so many people ask if I need help.

The doctor from the Home Patient Monitoring Centre (Monaco’s Covid Centre) calls every day and asks how I’m doing and reassures me. It lifts my spirits to be able to talk to someone about what I am going through and who gives me advice. I thank the doctor.

I have to admit it is not easy when your family treats you like the plague. The kids absolutely do not want to come near me, which I can obviously understand. But still, it’s not a pleasant feeling.

Friday March 5
I’m a stranger in my own home, I haven’t seen my kids since Wednesday. Fortunately, the dogs and cats who come visit me, but it is a strange feeling. I am going meditate with deep breaths even though I am still having have breathing difficulty and a little cough. I have a very bad headache today but still no fever or body aches. I slept badly so I’m even more tired, if that’s possible. Still no taste or smell, I never realised how fundamental these two senses are. Under the doctor’s orders, I will do a smell rehabilitation exercise with essential oils. I was also advised to drink tea with thyme for the cough and respiratory discomfort.

Today I can’t see the point of eating as I have no taste. It’s annoying but tasteless vegetable soups won’t exactly satisfy me, crazy how loss of taste can lead to loss of appetite.

I think of the patients who are in the hospital in intensive care when I have the luxury of staying in my room and I calm down.

More and more, my thoughts drift to the elderly, who are isolated in their rooms and don’t see anyone. I am so lucky to have access to the internet to get away from it all. The day is long and it’s getting to be a bit much. Luckily today I’m going to watch the Buddhist monk and philosopher Mattieu Ricard, this will help my mind.

Saturday March 6
I have my breakfast early in the kitchen, 6 am, like every morning and I make sure to get back to my bedroom quickly before any of my family comes down to the living room. I have a massive headache today and still respiratory discomfort. A short, mild cough.

Like every morning, the doctor from the Covid Centre calls me. I tell him that isolation is starting to take a toll and it’s hard to stay locked up alone in your room with the TV as company with so many unappealing and depressing shows.

At 10:30 am I some sun on my terrace. This tiny moment of freedom really lifts my spirits, what a gift. Then the reality hits that the weekend is just beginning. It’s going to be a long, long day.

I tell myself it’s almost lunch time, followed by the news, followed by doing nothing … what a weekend. My headache is bothering me a bit. I slept badly.

At 1:44 pm, having not bothered to eat lunch (no taste buds, no motivation), I get ready for an hour of meditation in bed. I will travel the streets of Jaipur. And since there is a something positive in everything … my meditating will benefit from my fasting.

At 5 pm, I finally finish the famous job I started in November, I end the day on a high. I eat, watch TV and sleep, am exhausted. The dogs and cats are again scratching outside the door because they want to come in.

Sunday March 7
I did not sleep well and wake up exhausted with a headache, my legs hurt. Still no smell or taste. Coffee, sandwiches, hello to the dogs … then another day back in the bedroom.

Mentally it is going to be difficult, TV on Sunday is not really exciting. Finally I watch Pawn Stars, the reality show about auction kings in Las Vegas.

It is almost noon. I ask myself what can I do differently so the day doesn’t seem so long? Nothing, it’s hopeless. I organise a family Zoom to tell them I’m bored and we spend an hour talking. Seeing my family on the screen is better than nothing. I also have a birthday Zoom with friends. It’s so great to see everyone, even online.

1 pm is lunchtime and they bring me my meal on a tray, a delicious soup prepared by my husband and a tasty homemade cake.

Today is Fête des grands-mères. I am not a grandmother but I feel like one who can’t leave her room. The day chugs along but it has been very hard, I have a headache and fall asleep at 7 pm, totally wiped out. I think my sense of smell has slightly come back because I can smell the rose cream on my face.

Monday March 8
International Women’s Day. Have a brilliant day everyone. And to me, too.

Headache still there. My sense of smell has not fully returned. It’s so weird that I can smell my face cream with essential oils but not my coffee.

The Covid Centre checks in, she’s like a friend as this is the second time that I have come across this very kind and caring person. She asks me to again stay in my room today.

Okay, it’s decided: today I’m going tidy-up the room – and then my head. It will take the better part of the morning, making the day go by faster. As I’m cleaning, I realise we have so many useless things in our closets. I imagine it’s the same for the closets in our head.

My family did their second PCR test in 5 days. They are still negative, thanks to social distancing and my isolation.

This afternoon, I decide to prepare my next meditation trip. What if I reflected on beauty? Women’s Day inspires me and a quote by Giorgio Armani comes to mind: “Elegance is not about being noticed, it’s about being remembered.” I love this expression.

Tuesday March 9
The day starts badly. I am bored with this persistent headache. I have not regained 100% of my sense of smell and it’s unsettling. My coffee still has no taste. You have to understand, I love this time in the morning when I savour my coffee and its aroma. Even the simplest pleasures have let me down.

My phone alarm reminds me that I have a Zoom work meet at 10 am. Great, my head is bad but at least I’ll re-existing in the world. A little make up, it’s been a while.

By noon, my meeting is over and I’m waiting for my meal tray to be brought to my room. I think about the meeting, it went well and was constructive. One thing bothers me, though. Why would I think for a moment that seeing the world behind a screen would give me the sense of “re-existing”? I have never ceased to exist. I exist! I am beautiful and well in this non-virtual world.

My meal has been served and I am going to do my meditation. I am tired and my head still hurts. Being stuck in your room gives you time to think. Anyway, I’m the kind of person who takes internal and external journeys. 7:30 pm lights out.

Wednesday March 10
5:30 am wake up, shower, flavourless coffee, same old, same old: headache, fatigue. One day turns into another. The doctor from the Covid Centre tells me it’s almost over, as I have no symptoms.

That’s encouraging but the headache refuses to leave and I’ve been locked in my room for a week. My impatience to get out of here is growing. What to do today?

The room is tidy, my work from November is finished, I don’t have the energy to revising my songs for my next class or get out the guitar. Doing nothing is starting to weigh me down. Or rather not moving physically is starting weigh me down. Going out, walking my dogs, breathing the fresh air outside, walking in the mountains. This is what is missing. Existing – breathe, eat, feed your mind, meditate – is not internal.  For me to exist I need to be out there and one with nature, with the universe.

I understand now that my bedroom is my place of rest. In fact, this week has allowed me to do just that, a time just for me, I was pampered for a whole week. I have found the silver lining in having Covid.

Zoom meeting at 5 pm. Headache, reality hits. 7:30 pm and I’m going to sleep.

Thursday March 11
The Covid Centre is going to call soon. I prepare my list as an eager student, I have to get out, even for a little bit, I need to. I have no fever, no body aches, no cough, no more difficulty breathing, my headache is gone. My taste and smell have semi-returned, I can smell my coffee!

I am back! My body and my mind warned me but I didn’t listen. So I was forced me to take a break. Thank you body for this inner journey which will allow me to appreciate other moments in life. Thank you for healing me. Thanks to me for being me.

Not allowed out yet but I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Friday March 12
My coffee this morning is not déjà vu, and in fact, it’s more delicious than before, no longer a ritual but a pleasure. I watch the sunrise, I listen to the birds, life has never ceased to exist, it is amazing how we view things that are most important. How we see ourselves, and others and life.

The doctor at the Covid Centre tells me I can go out. Zero symptoms. Wear a mask and respect social distancing. No shopping or going in closed spaces for me until Sunday. I am going to walk my dogs in the mountains! I am going to breathe deeply! I am healed. I am free.

March 18
Days later and I am still exhausted. Impossible to stay awake for an entire day and am in bed by 8 pm. I sleep soundly till 7 am. I have never have been so tired. I have started walking and exercising again but honestly, with a lot of difficulty still. But I have a life outside my bedroom.

See the government website for more information should someone in your bubble test positive.

Ben Rolfe

With an opportunity to join some friends in a startup, Ben Rolfe moved to Monaco in 2003 with his family. At the time, he and his wife Sally had two girls and #3 came along in 2005 “born in our apartment on the 19th Floor of the Chateau Perigord!” (Ben fondly refers to his daughters as #1, #2 and #3.)

“I mainly wanted to get away from the commute and the politics of large organisations and Monaco was a great place to bring up the kids with great schools and loads to do,” says Ben Rolfe. “It can be quite a transient community with people coming and going but that can be a huge plus as residents are always looking to meet new faces so the social side is very full.”

Family-man Ben is certainly well known around town, especially for combining his endurance sports with raising awareness and money for charities. “I played a lot of rugby during and post-university but once that stopped, I was a bit lost and gained a ton of weight. Then I entered my first marathon for charity and was hooked,” he recalls.

From the marathon distance of 42.195 km, he graduated to ultras, pushing the boundaries partly for a challenge and partly to raise the bar to encourage people to sponsor him. His team Pussyfooting Around, comprised of family and friends, has been a staple of No Finish Line Monaco for years and by May 2018, he had raised over €100,000 for various different causes through the JustGiving website.

“I always said to my kids that if they were dedicated to training that when they turned 16, they would be able to do the Marathon des Sables – a 7-day semi self-sufficient 250 km-ultra-marathon across the Sahara Desert.”

#1 took him up on the challenge in 2018 and remains the youngest ever female finisher at 16. The dad-daughter duo raised money for Diabetes U.K. who have been brilliant at helping the Rolfe family since #2 was diagnosed as Type 1 diabetic in 2013.

#2 wanted a different challenge and so …“We climbed Kilimanjaro over five days from base camp when she was 16.”

#3 turns 16 this November and awesome dad Ben stumbled across the Camino Santiago – an ancient 900-km pilgrimage from France across Spain to the west coast.

“I like the idea of meeting a bunch of different people and also the challenge of getting up and walking every day for a month, but also focussing on what is important in life – just exercise, company and moving forwards carrying everything you need on your back. It’s just an idea at the moment but hopefully in June 2022, #3 will be walking for a yet-to-be-decided charity.”

In 2013, Ben published Running High, Running Low, Running Long, a book about a fundraising challenge he took on to try and prove to #2, when she was diagnosed Type 1 diabetes, that she could do anything she put her mind to. “I ran over 100 km from Monaco to Limone to the start of the Cro-Magnon ultra-marathon. I then did the race – another 130 km, and I achieved my goal of not coming last!”

The narrative also touched upon his journey “from fatty to fitty” to hopefully inspire other people to get off the couch. In 2004 during a routine medical, Ben, an overweight smoker at the time, was told he wouldn’t see 40 unless he changed his lifestyle. He lost 35 kilos and has since finished some of the world’s toughest ultra-marathons, including the Western States 100, the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc and, as he mentioned, the Marathon Des Sables.“As they say, if you don’t make time for exercise, you will have to make time for illness.”

When he’s not running around the streets of Monaco in the early morning, Ben likes to have a little fun, and admits he is a fan of Eurovision. “I probably started watching Eurovision at university. We used to have Eurovision parties, sometimes in fancy dress, and friends would come round to eat drink and singalong at the TV. We always put the subtitles on for the songs which are translated into English which makes it even more hilarious.

“The event itself is fantastically mad. Somehow it seems to take itself super seriously but at the same time, there is a huge tongue-in-cheek aspect to it all, especially with the partisan voting – neighbouring countries voting in blocks and ganging up on others that they don’t like,” Ben explains. “Also the randomness of it all. I mean how can Australia be part of Eurovision? Terry Wogan was brilliant at the commentary with his sarcasm and wit and I think Graham Norton is doing a good job following in his footsteps.”

For the second consecutive year (thanks Covid), Ben virtually steps into Graham Norton’s shoes by bringing us Lockdown Eurovision. For the 2021 edition, he has created a special Facebook group, providing summaries of the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest with 40 countries participating.

For the local community, Lockdown Eurovision is a breath of fresh air from pandemic news. For Ben, the last year has been extremely challenging professionally and personally. “Covid has helped me focus on the important things in life, though, staying connected with friends and family. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

Monaco and Eurovision

The first Eurovision Song Contest, also known as Le Grand-Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne, was televised live on May 24, 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland. The concept was based on the Sanremo Song Festival.

Only seven solo artists representing their countries participated in the first edition and while duos were permitted in 1957, groups were not allowed to compete until 1971.

In 2021, there are 40 countries competing, each song must be performed live but there are no live instruments.

Before mid-March, each country will have already chosen who will represent them (maximum 6 people) and with what song (maximum 3 minutes, not released before), normally through a national televised selection. Usually France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the host country (whoever won last year) pre-qualify.

Other participating countries will then take part in one of the two Semi-Finals. From each Semi-Final, the best 10 will proceed to the Grand Final. This brings the total number of Grand Final participants to 26.

Advancement is based on a voting system, one by a jury of five music industry professionals and one by viewers at home, who can vote by phone, SMS and through the app. This year’s host country is Rotterdam and the Grand Finale is on May 22.

Monaco has participated in Eurovision 24 times since it began in 1956, in every edition between 1959 (it finished last) and 1979, and then from 2004 to 2006, when the semi-final system was introduced.

They won once – in 1971 with Séverine’s “Un banc, un arbre, une rue” – and picked up a few second and third places ribbons as well. But in its last appearance in 2006 on the Eurovision stage with Severine Ferrer’s “La Coco-Dance”, Monaco finished 21st in the semi-finals. Télé Monte-Carlo, Monaco’s broadcaster, later commented that the voting patterns in the contest give Monaco “no chance” of qualifying to the final.

Monaco’s G-Spot

Screenshot from the homepage of a Monaco pizza service. I have deleted their info.

Reading the British press over the past week and the news of Sarah Everard’s disappearance and now confirmed murder, I have been shocked by the hundreds of stories women have shared about living in fear of walking home at night and harassment.

Jenny Jones for the UK’s Green Party suggested a possible “amendment to create a curfew for men on the streets after 6 pm” adding “I feel this would make women a lot safer, and discrimination of all kinds would be lessened.”

In Monaco, the question of security has come up in every conversation I’ve had with single women – who between 25 and 64 make up 7.7% of the population, see chart at end – and the idea of being able to walk home in safety at night was the biggest incentive in moving to the Principality, outweighing the exorbitant rent.

Having lived in Nice for nearly two decades, the deteriorating sense of safety during the last five years is what drove me to move. Even in the Carré d’Or, a block from the Negresco, I would not go out by myself after 10 pm. But I have never been harassed. Or have I? Looking back over my years in France, I can recall four times men have exposed themselves to me:

1/ walking home from the bus in Bois Fleuri in Biot a pantless man confronted me and started masturbating.

2/ after seeing Radiohead at the Frejus amphitheater, waiting for the train home a man in très short shorts whipped out his penis and started yanking on the stairway.

3/ my personal favourite, stopped at a red light on the southbound outside lane at blvd Gambetta and rue de la Buffa in Nice, a drunk came up to the passenger side, unzipped his beige cords and smudged his penis in a slow windshield-wiper motion against the window. My car was wedged in, I had to wait for the light.

4/ Walking the dog on the Prom in Nice, some guy called out for help and when I turned he starting jerking off and laughing.

Then of course there are the countless zizis I’ve unwillingly come across as men in France deem fit to urinate anywhere in public, which is still a culture shock having grown up in Canada.

It brings to mind an interview with Ricardo Antonio Chavira, who was at the 2005 Monte-Carlo TV Festival when I attended for People Magazine. Discussing his character Carlos Solis on the then new series Desperate Housewives, he said when the show first aired in the US, men would stop him on the street to berate him for bringing such a macho character back on TV between because it made their wives angry. in Europe, he said men offered him a congratulatory slap on the back for bringing back a macho character to TV.

But is being a macho European a green light for men to cause offense? I am no snowflake but when I read a headline like “Convincing Win For G-Spot” in reference to the Monaco team who won at the Primo Cup sailing regatta last Sunday, I can only sigh. This is not National Lampoon.

This type of hyper-sexualised culture feeds into the bigger picture of why young girls and women, regardless of their relationship status, feel unsafe. From inappropriate body references to catcalling, objectification sends a detrimental message. Even in my own case, I have somehow normalised public flashers.

I doubt a 6 pm curfew for all men is the answer but simply wishing a “Happy International Women’s Day” does not cut it. Maybe the headline “Convincing Win For Ball Sac” would help open the dialogue.

IMSEE’s most recent census statistics (2016) on women living in Monaco.

Age                Monégasque    Non-Monégasque
25-34                           384                  1,393
35-44                           486                  1,832
45-54                           705                  2,305
55-64                           675                  1,995

Age                Living w/partner         Not living w/partner
25-34                           1,078                           699
35-44                           1,750                           567
45-54                           2,162                           848
55-64                           1,785                           885