Andrée and Michelle

Monegasques Andrée and Michelle outside the palace in Monaco Ville. Photos: Nancy Heslin

To celebrate National Day on November 19, Andrée and Michelle – the “Mamies of Monaco Ville” – share their stories about growing up on the Rock and how Covid has impacted the community.

Andrée and Michelle are sitting on a bench outside the palace, nearby the marble statue of tribute from foreign colonies presented to Prince Albert I on the occasion of his 25 years of reign in 1914.

“When I was a child, I used to climb that statue,” Andrée points. “Everything has changed. This used to really be a square.”

“Well, it was different,” says Michelle. “When I was younger, we would bike and roller-skate in the square. You know, the other morning, there was no one here except for a few kids from the painting school (Pavillon Bosio Visual Arts School) who were sitting in front of the palace on the sidewalk with their papers and pens, and the teacher was there. I saw a Carabinier approach and tell them they had to leave. The gentleman said he was a teacher here in Monaco-Ville and the students wanted to draw the palace a little. The Carabinier replied, ‘No, it’s out of the question.’ I found this completely absurd.”

“When I was young and in the month of Mary (May), we would all go to the Cathedral. There are arches at the top of the church tower and you can see there is a floor. There was a door and so we would go up and look at the choir sing. Now, you have to show your credentials everywhere. It’s not like before.”

These days, Covid also makes life different for the two women. Before the health pandemic, Andrée and Michelle would usually meet with friends every day for coffee. “We would meet up every morning at 9 at the San Remo bar,” says Michelle. “Before Covid, Monaco was far more lively. I think that with lockdown, we realise that apart from tourism, there’s not much on the Rock. Even people from Monaco, they are not going to come here to buy souvenirs. Although, some have come in a stand of solidarity.”

“In our day, it wasn’t like that,” shares Andrée. “There were grocery stores, a stationery shop, florists, a cobbler … we had everything. Souvenir shops practically did not exist. But it changed in the Sixties, they took away all the stores.”

Michelle agrees. “Monaco-Ville used to be a village but it gradually changed and is now essentially touristic. I’m going to tell you the honest truth. At the time, we were a bit fed up, because you couldn’t walk in the street in the summer, in the middle of August. Between the restaurant’s terraces and the groups, going out was really annoying. Frankly, we were bothered by this but when you look around now, it’s obvious that it is dying with sadness.”

Andrée adds, “I think, there is going to be a reversal. It’s necessary for the souvenir shops to do something else.”

“But some can’t close because they have big management,” Michelle remarks.

Village Life

“Before, all the families used to all know each other in Monaco-Ville. Now we no longer do,” says Andrée. There are many foreigners who have bought as secondary residences.

“The old grannies would take their chairs,” Michelle describes, “and bring them in the street and they would be in front of their doors, chatting. I remember that.”

“I can see them now,” recalls Andrée, “with their aprons, and they would shell peas or beans…”

Michelle remembers how the women would wash laundry. “You’ve seen the Parking des Pêcheurs? There was a lavoir there. I saw women who would leave their house with the thing on their heads and they went to wash their linen there.”

“Not my grandmother,” says Andrée, “because we had the bassine on the terrace.”

“Well, Claudie, with her sister, who are roughly my age, they would go there,” Michelle responds.

Andrée adds, “Not so long ago, some people still didn’t have toilets at home, they would still go wash to the washhouse. And there was a lavoir at Sainte Devote church, you know where the stairs go up behind, there were toilets there. They removed them, and there was a washhouse.”

Michelle says she sold her 3-bedroom apartment on Boulevard des Moulins to buy another apartment on the Rock for her son “because I couldn’t see myself living at Palais Miramar. For me, my stronghold is here.”

“My neighbour can see me in my bed,” Andrée, who has one daughter, laughs. “It doesn’t bother me, it’s been like this since I was born. Where I lived before, my neighbour was Madame Augusta,  and when I opened my windows, there she was. ‘Hello Madame Augusta,’ I would say … My grandfather bought the place I now live in 1921, I have the deed. I wanted to leave because I had back pain and I have four floors. But at my age, I couldn’t picture myself moving.”

“I don’t have neighbours opposite,” says Michelle, who has a son and daughter. “I have a view of the mairie. It’s my grandmother’s house and I was raised there, so were my children, and even my grandson. My grandparents used to live near Sainte Devote, at villa Lilly Lou, I think it’s still there. And they sold it to buy here on the Rock, a house with two floors. They bought the second floor first, because the first floor was rented. And I remember that later when they bought the first floor, there were always two apartments. I was raised in one of the apartments with my grandparents.”

Andrée, with Michelle, in front of the Palace statue she used to climb as a child.

Living With Lockdown

During the first lockdown, the women say they only did what was authorized, like went out to do shopping or a morning walk in front of the Carabiniers or around the garden and then home.

Andrée admits, “Confinement didn’t bother me the first time.”

“I have a terrace with the sun, I have a view on the mountain … there is worse,” Michelle says. “We are very privileged in Monaco. Even if things have changed, we are privileged, really.”

“You know,” says Andrée, “you have to be born in Monaco-Ville, because there are a lot of people from Monaco who tell you they would never live here. I can’t leave.”

“Things never change here, and never will,” says Michelle. “Except that they repaired houses but otherwise, you can’t touch Monaco-Ville. When we look at the old photos, it was a bit old-fashioned. Now, when you look, it’s all perfect. It’s all redone.”

Michelle adds, “Everybody dreams about coming to Monaco. It’s the only place where you can go out with your jewellery and not worry about your purse. Let me tell you something. We are all happy, even those who complain, in Monaco, everyone is happy. And everyone would like to live there. Aren’t I right?”

Andrée nods in complete agreement. “If you only knew how I hear from friends because we are less locked-down than in France.I don’t know, it seems that people are jealous,” says Andrée. “There is good and there is bad, it’s a bit like life.”

“I can’t stand when people criticise Monaco. I can’t stand it,” admits Michelle.

National Day

“The fête nationale in Monaco is something close to our heart,” says Andrée. “Every time we come to the square, there is a party. I was born on the Rock, really, and I’ve never seen this before.”

Michelle agrees. “We come to the square with a flag, we wait until the Princely couple stands at the window. This year it’s sad because it won’t happen. There will be a speech on television. They are doing the Te Deum but with distancing and that’s all. For the Prince’s Day, everything has been cancelled.”

Typically, in the days leading up to the National Day in Monaco, which has been on November 19 since 1952, there are rehearsals for the parade in the Place du Palais and the ambience is festive. As we sit near the Place du Palais two days before the big event, there is little activity. This year, there will be no military parade or symbolic wave from the window by the prince and his family. Mass at the Cathedral and the ceremony in the Cour d’Honneur will be broadcast live on Monaco Info.

“Every year, the Princely couple would stand at the window, sometime’s the whole family even,” Michelle points out.

“It was a family holiday,” says Andrée. There were two different days, on Wednesday and Thursday.”

“Back in our children’s time, they would have all the games at Place du Palais. There were things for children all day long.” Michelle says warmly.

I ask the ladies if they saw Prince Albert as a child at the window, and they admit seeing all three young siblings – Caroline, Albert and Stephanie.

Michelle recalls the birth of Princess Caroline. “I was at school and I must have been in 6th grade. I remember, with the teacher, there were cannons fired.”

“… to know if it was a boy or a girl,” Andrée chimes in.

“And then, after the cannon shots,” Michelle relives, “we all left school and came here to the square with flags, shouting. It really came from our hearts. We were kids.”

Andrée and Michelle say that before Princess Grace, “Monaco was not much.” For Michelle, “Grace is the one who brought about the renewal of Monaco that led to making Monaco known all around the world. The whole world was invited to Monaco. There were parties, there were galas, and it was sumptuous. Sumptuous. Even now, it’s not the same anymore. It’s not the same thing, it was a different era.”

Andrée adds, “At the time there was Le Bal de la Rose at the palace or on the square … we would see all the artists pass by, I saw Charles Aznavour.”

“In the morning, we would always see Princess Grace bring her children to school,” Michelle reveals. “We would meet them in the streets. One day, I was walking down the ramp and there came the Princess, such simplicity. She had a small scarf, flat shoes. You remember Andrée?”

“Yes,” Andrée replies. “We would often see them. I also remember her with Stephanie, and their dog, the little poodle.”

“We had the most glamorous period of Monaco,” Michelle says. “We were very lucky because we had a time, I think, no one will have again. It was the time of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. It was magic.”

Words cannot express my gratitude to Andrée and Michelle, two characterful ladies who provided a rare glimpse into a very private world in honour of National Day. They only removed their masks for photos.

I wish I could organise a Rediscover Monaco-Ville day to encourage Monaco residents to explore and support the old town, to eat at the restaurants and buy some gifts and souvenirs for a Very Monaco Christmas. But alas, I cannot. So I will continue to share stories of real people and maybe, just maybe, we can make a difference together.

Francis Wright

Francis Wright at Remembrance Day spot on Avenue Grande Bretagne with bust of Sir Winston Churchill behind.
Photo: Ed Wright Images.

As a Remembrance Day tribute, Francis Wright shares his story about growing up in Monaco in the 1930s and when Italy declared war on France.

Born in Monaco in 1927 on what is today known as National Day (see “It’s A Date!” text below), Francis Wright’s childhood consisted of walking from his home at Rue de la Source to Lycée Albert 1er up on the Rock, every morning, lunch and evening.

“We had homework to do over lunch which he had to recite at 2 p.m. Punishment was having to go back to school on a Wednesday, our day off, for one to three hours. I was punished once and had to write what the teachers told me,” says 93-year-old Francis.

When the weather was warm, Francis and his older brother, Peter, would swim early in the morning in the Condamine harbour, where Ubaldi is now, and then walk up to the Rock for classes. “That was our joy. Before the war, there were no parks or reserved places for children to play in Monaco. We weren’t even allowed to walk around the Casino in shorts, you had to wear a tie and proper clothes,” he reminisces.

In those days, men went to work, women looked after the house and the children, who were left to their own devices to entertainment themselves, like playing football or marbles in the street. Shopping was a daily occurrence. “There were at least four épiceries along rue des Roses. There were no Frigidaires at the time, so butter would melt at times. I don’t remember milk.”

His father came to Monte Carlo in 1924 to set up a garage to service the cars of tourists who drove cars from England and through France to Monte Carlo on gravel roads. In the lead up to the war, his father’s garage, British Motors at 5 Rue de la Source, had fewer and fewer customers as there were no cars from either Great Britain or tourists and his business collapsed in the Thirties. “He took on a job as driver for Madame Westmacott, which took him all over France and other places. Mother looked after us alone, and that was hard.”

Francis says he will never forget June 10, 1940, the day Italy declared war on France and Great Britain. “My two brothers and I had already been badly treated by the Italian scholars because we were British, but the mood worsened, especially after Mussolini’s shouting speeches on the radio, and we weren’t welcome. The school closed that day and it was a frightening scene as the Monaco police – there was no military – rounded up all the fascists, including the baker, who were all taken to Fort Carré in Antibes.”

Francis describes, “It was the first day we had air raids. Sirens went off as a warning as Italian warplanes passed over Monaco flying to Cannes and elsewhere to do some bombing, I suppose. We would hide in the garage, others hid in their caves.”

Then came the phone call.

Fleeing France: 1 ship, 900 people, 2 toilets

On June 16, which happened to be Peter’s birthday, Francis’ father received a phone call from the British consulate advising the family leave the country as the Nazis had entered Paris. He explained that there were two ships leaving Cannes for England at 8 a.m. the following morning. “They had to make the decision then and there,” says Francis. “I remember mother and father sitting around the table and it must have been a hard decision for my father to make, to leave the garage, leave the home … we had to give away our Siamese cat.”

They were allowed one case each (the boys packed a few toys for the long journey)  and the only clothes they took were the ones they wore. And so, the next morning, 12-year old Francis, Peter, 15, and their parents fled Monaco being driven by their neighbour in their old Citroën. (Francis’ oldest brother Alan had joined the Royal Air Force in 1938 and in 1940 escaped France via Cherbourg during the Dunkirk operation.)

“It was hot and we had a trunk full of sardines,” recollects Francis about the drive to Cannes that morning. “My father had thought of escaping the Italian invasion by driving into the middle of France somewhere and mother had said the best food to take would be cans of sardines, which were in the back of the car. And so we took with them on the ship, which was a good thing. The only rations on the ship were a couple of slices of corned beef, slices of bread, and biscuits.

Picture of the ship Francis Wright, along with his brother Peter and his mother and father, embarked on from Cannes to Liverpool as the Nazis invaded Paris.

On the ship Salterscate, there were only two toilets for 900 Brits and no washing facilities. “We didn’t wash until we got to Gibraltar. We were going to disembark at Oran, but the captain said we could not land there because ‘France had capitulated and we are now in French Algerian waters, enemy waters.’ Francis in fact saw the British fleet leave Gibraltar and later discovered they were, in fact, part of Operation Catapult, which helped defeat the French fleet in Oran so they ships would not fall into the hands of the Germans.

Historian Maureen Emerson comments: “Francis’ memories of the journey to freedom echo those of Somerset Maugham, who took the same journey on the same ship.”

In Gibraltar, they were able “to freshen up” the hospital served as accommodation and the passengers were served a meal of bacon and eggs. “It was the best meal I’ve ever had, I’ll always remember that. My father fell ill with the dysentery and we thought we’d have to leave him in Gibraltar. But he recovered and on the City of Cairo ship, we had a cabin for the four of us. We left the cabin to mom and father and Peter and I slept on the deck. We landed in Liverpool on July 14 or 15.”

“When we left Cannes, my mother had a lovely full head of brown hair. When we arrived in England three weeks later it was white.”

The family stayed briefly Liverpool, and then headed to Pinner in Middlesex outside of London where an aunt lived. “My mother took me to Lewis, the men’s shop for trousers, and it was the first pair I’d ever owned. I still remember that because I had always worn shorts in Monaco.”

Francis’ father found a job in Warrington, as a transport manager to an air drone base, which would become one of America’s biggest bases in England. “The airplanes would arrive in crates from the U.S. to be assembled at the Burtonwood air depot, like toys being put together.”

Peter went to night school and eventually joined the RAF and Francis attended grammar school in Farnworth. “I didn’t like it at all. I was nicknamed ‘Froggy’ because of my name. It was big change and I stayed until age 16.” He spent a month in hospital having contacted pneumonia and pleurisy, and at one point he was placed on the dangerously ill list for a week. “I remember my father came to see me every night and I appreciated that very much.”

Once he “got over that,” he began to work at an aviation company, working on Barracudas, where he gained great insight of airplanes and the air force.

Meanwhile Warrington was having air raids every night. “It was worse when the full moon lit up the Manchester ship canal which if German Luftwaffe followed would guide them to the Burtonwood air depot. Liverpool got a packet during the war.”

There were no restrictions on movement or curfew and “the rationing was just about adequate, we didn’t starve. But the worst thing was the blackouts in the winter, you couldn’t see anything, not even cars and buses. I remember a blackout so intense once that biking home from work after work, Peter ended up on the main railway station platform in Warrington.”

The return home, or what was left of in, in Monaco

Post-war, Francis moved back “home” early 1949. “There was nothing left of the apartment in Monaco, it was an absolute disaster.”

His dad had returned in 1947, alone, travelling by train all the way back to Monaco and found his garage business empty, the cars stolen by the Germans, who apparently “left a note saying something like ‘when the hostilities were finished we’ll hand them back to you.’” (Francis still has the note.)

“There was nothing left in the apartment, the cupboard with my toys had been emptied. We had to sleep on mattresses on the floors. And we stared work on the garage.”

Francis has lived through three reigning Prince’s in Monaco. “I was too young to remember Louis II but Rainier had a pretty good relationship with the people, and decided that buildings built during his reign were not to be more than 13 floors high, except the Millefiori.”

As Rainier had a Rolls Royce, Francis met him through the garage. He and Peter (who returned in 1948 after leaving the air force) were also the ones who collected Princess Grace’s Rover from Paris to Monte Carlo to check for any faults to sort out before Monte Carlo.”

“Princess Grace brought the Americans here and Monte Carlo changed completely, she put Monte Carlo on the map because the Americans loved her marrying a Prince. Americans wanted to come and see where was this place Monte Carlo.”

One of the first things Grace did was to stop the live pigeon shooting, which took place at a range above the train station, where the Fairmont is now. They substituted real pigeons for clay but ended up packing the whole thing in. “They turned the shooting range into an open-air cinema, but if two people in the film were talking quietly and a train went past, you couldn’t hear.”

Monaco then and now

For Francis, Monaco is just “a town like every other town” with commerce and workers commuting in. “It is the press, not the people, that created the image that Monaco s full of glamour, cocktail parties every night, champagne everywhere, and full of rich people. Monaco is a working town, there are lots of people that are poor, lots of people better off, and some are struggling more than others.”

Looking back on 93 years, Francis feels fortunate but admits that living in Monaco was a career choice, coming back after the war to work with his dad at the garage. Their customers were ordinary people (although Sean Connery did bring his Rolls Royce in for service. “It was successful but we made it successful because we worked damn hard. Peter and I would do all the paperwork on the weekends.”

General Motors was big seller in the 1950s and the American car company set up in Monaco, across from where the Marché U is now, on Boulevard Princesse Charlotte “Peter saw their showroom window and said that would be a dream to have. Then business slowed down because of space in Monte Carlo and GM went caput.”

For Francis, there are too many buildings in Monaco and not enough green spaces. “Everything is concrete now, which gives it too much heat in the summer. The Hotel de Paris had the Camembert garden/roundabout, then they got rid of it and it is just concrete. Why not have a little green space instead of a building?

The other standout memory for Francis is when the relationship soured between Prince Rainier and Charles de Gaulle (France celebrated the 50th anniversary of his death on November 9) because of French companies evading taxes by having offices in Monaco. “There were plaques of French businesses on buildings, like the Victoria, and they didn’t pay any income tax. De Gaulle came down and sorted it out with Rainier. Suddenly Monaco had frontiers. Margare, my sister-in-law, would look out the window and see the old women carrying their baskets up the public steps leading up from rue de la Source, where French gendarmes were checking to see if they had anything to declare.”

Remembering and Remembrance

For Remembrance Day commemorations, Francis and two brothers often laid wreaths on avenue Grande Bretagne or were flag bearers at the war memorial in the cemetery in Menton.

“For me, Remembrance Day is about the pilots during the Battle of Britain. If we had lost, that would have been the end of it all. The Germans would be in England, the Americans could never have come over to create a base in England and it would have changed the direction of the war in the German’s favour. There would never have been a D-Day.”

He always thinks back to getting on that ship in Cannes in 1940. “It was the biggest event in my life getting on that ship, crossing the Atlantic as a convoy, all night the horns would blow, which meant changing course in a zigzag formation to confuse any U boats.”

Francis says it’s “not really fair to compare” Covid to a war. “Covid is an illness that I don’t think will ever go away properly and it is unfortunate you can’t go home, or go to France, but you just have to accept it and live through it.

“It’s like during the war. We didn’t like it but we had to live through whatever they threw at us.”

A heartfelt thanks to Ed Wright for assisting in the interview of Francis Wright, which I couldn’t do in person due to Covid restrictions.

It’s A Date! Monaco National Day

Photo: Nancy Heslin

Since 1857, Sovereign Day in Monaco typically coincided with the day of the ruling Prince’s Patron Saint. Prince Louis II broke this tradition when he ascended, however, as Saint-Louis day was on August 25, during summer holidays.
He instead chose January 17, the day of Saint Anthony the Abbot, the Patronal Feast of his granddaughter, Princess Antoinette.

When Rainier took over, the feast day of Patron Saint Rainier d’Arezzo fell on November 19, and so this date was consecrated National Day in 1952. Prince Albert decided to keep the same date as it also marked the second part of his investiture in 2005 when he was enthroned at Saint Nicholas Cathedral.

International Day of the Girl: Sports Edition

On Saturday, October 9, California became the first state in the U.S. to require large retailers to tackle gender inequality marketing.

In addition to sections for boys and girls, stores of 500 or more employees will have to display a separate and “reasonable section” of toys and childcare items related to in a gender-neutral way or face a first-time fine of $250 ($500 for repeat offences). The Assembly Bill 1084 impacts toys, children’s items related to sleep, relaxation, feeding, teething or sucking but falls short of clothing.

Democrat Evan Low, who co-authored the law, said “Traditionally children’s toys and products have been categorised by a child’s gender. In retail this has led to the proliferation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics-geared toys in a ‘boys’ section and toys that direct girls to pursuits such as caring for a baby, fashion, and domestic life. The segregation of toys by a social construct of what is appropriate for which gender is the antithesis of modern thinking.”

Then, on International Day of the Girl on Monday, October 11, LEGO released a press statement saying the toy company will remove “for girls” and “for boys” labels to ensure that “children’s creative ambitions — both now in the future — are not limited by gender stereotypes”.

For Vibeke Thomsen, Monaco’s champion of gender equality and founder of the non-profit association SheCanHeCan, this is encouraging news but there is still “so much to be done”.

To mark the 10th edition of the UN’s International Day of the Girl, SheCanHeCan launched its first series of female footballer collector cards.  “This year we wanted to focus on women in sport and it was so apparent that one of the most popular sports in the world is wholly dominated by men but that the best footballers in the world are also women,” Vibeke explains. “This is a way of highlighting the inequality, challenging the current situation and encouraging more girls to continue or take up sports such as football.”

The limited-edition packs of 24 collector cards (€10) in French feature 24 of the 100 best ranked international female football players. “Even though research has shown that playing football increases self-confidence in girls. children do not value female football as much as male football, which is reflected through a lower participation in this sport,” she shares.

“There has been progress over the years when it comes to awareness of the many challenges faced by girls worldwide, like a strong focus on getting girls to school and including women in the digital revolution,” Vibeke reflects.

“We have also advanced in talking about violence against women but it is still a very real problem. Despite the few who get highlighted in the media – usually white, attractive young women like, for example, Brit Sarah Everard but rarely about less privileged minority women – most violence against women goes unreported and mostly unpunished.”

Her tone is less upbeat when is come to the abortion “heartbeat bill” in Texas. “Attacking basic rights to healthcare is rarely about protecting unborn life, but rather about controlling and exerting power over girls’ and women’s bodies. Such laws won’t stop abortions, it will just increase unsafe abortions, putting more women at risk.” 

On a lighter note, Vibeke shares one encouraging story at a local level. “I know most people cringe when I talk about periods and our Red Box Project Monaco but we are working to break that taboo. This makes me smile every time.”

To order collector cards, send an email to info@shecanhecan.org. Delivery in Monaco is free and there is a special promo this week – 3 packs for €20. Proceeds go towards SheCanHeCan International Day of the Girl projects and “hopefully to print more such cards in the future”.

Monaco residents launch World Cleanup Day initiatives

It was in 2008 that World Cleanup Day began when 50,000 people in Estonia came together over five hours to clean up their country. Today, the movement counts 50 million volunteers – from citizens to business to government – in some 180 participating countries.

The event is organised by Let’s Do It World (LDIW) who appoint a leader or leaders in the capacity of volunteers, “from all walks of life – strong women defying societal boundaries, environmentalists fighting for a better tomorrow, organisations uniting concerned citizens.”

LDIW relies on five principals: cooperation with the public sector, corporations and civil society who believe that waste does not belong in nature; Positivity in looking for solutions for “trash blindness” instead of pointing fingers; Leadership and empowering a new generation of leaders that aims to create a waste-free world; Technology by adding smart tech and engineering ingenuity to motivated volunteer power; and Fun in mobilising millions of people around the world to clean their communities and have fun while doing.

This year’s World Cleanup Day falls on Saturday, September 18, and the Tuiga crew from the Monaco Yacht Club is responding to challenge. “As passionate sailors, we want to keep our seas as clean as possible,” says Tuiga member Irina Peterson (above). “This is an opportunity to participate and to raise awareness of the problem of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean, one of the most polluted seas in the world. Every waste that is not properly disposed of and recycled will end up in the sea.”

Through her association Ocean Amazon, Irina has initiated a 30-minute cleanup with participants of Les Voiles d’Antibes, which will take place at Port Vauban, Zone 2, at 6 pm on Saturday. The sailing event for Traditional Yachts and Metric Classes brings together some 75 boats with more than 700 crew members and 100 volunteers and president Joannon Yann is in full support of the cleanup.

“This will also be a chance to honour the memory of Kate Powers, an extraordinary eco-warrior who sadly passed away recently,” entrepreneur Irina shares. “She was deeply committed to the protection of the oceans and the fight against waste pollution. Her legacy will live on through actions like this.”

Also on Saturday, The Animal Fund (TAF) will be holding a beach cleanup in Villefranche-sur-Mer. “Come with your paddle, kayak, snorkel or diving gear to help clean up the sea or come along help us to clean up the beach,” says TAF founder and Monaco resident Berit Legrand (pictured below right).

Rubbish bags and gloves will be provided and refreshments provided by partner Blue Coast afterwards. Meeting point: 9 am at the parking lot at the end of beach Marinières.

Legrand launched TAF in 2015. “It is important that we are aware of how our habits impact the ecosystem and how we can prevent further damage and danger to the ocean,” she explains. “Every minute a truck full of plastic enters the ocean and it takes thousands of years to break down. Plastic contains toxic compounds and pollutants that pose a serious threat to marine life and us and more than 700 marine species are in danger of extinction because of our plastic consumption.”

Photos: TAF Facebook and Irina Peterson Facebook.

Kate Powers

Our friend Kate Powers has died.

Outside of my immediate family, few deaths have impacted me like the news about Kate on Monday. It was not unexpected yet, still, my knees buckled and time seemed to stop, as if the world was trying to readjust to losing one of its biggest beating hearts.

As expats, few people can share your grief when a person in your native country dies. Friends here can empathise with loss, but it is rare they knew the person or can share stories to help you keep their memory alive. With Kate, we are all mourning and instead of being sad alone, we can be sad together.

Kate made each of us in the community feel like we mattered in this world. We felt special because the core of her being was special, this was her superpower. There is a shared sentiment in the role Kate played: “Kate was the first person I met in Monaco.” “Kate treated everyone the same way, no matter who we are.” “Kate had known my kids since they were babies and always asked how they were doing.” “Une bonne personne, toujours au service et un petit mot pour ses clients.” “Kate introduced me to other people when I didn’t know anyone.”

For me, I had lived in the region for many years before I met “the” Kate Powers. I had heard so much about this American who owned a Tex-Mex restaurant in the port and was not only a childhood friend of the Prince but her mom was close to Grace Kelly. Slightly intimidating? What I remember in meeting her for the first time, and this has always stuck with me, is that Kate was the opposite of what I expected from the jet-set bling-bling crowd of Monaco – instead of resting on her laurels, she was a down to earth, open and a warm human being who instinctively knew when to hug at the right time. Like all of us, she had her insecurities although she was unaware of her beauty. “How can I help?” the tireless champion of kindness would always offer.

Of course pre-restaurant days, there was Kate’s made-for-the-movies life, one that she had hoped to share in writing or a series of video chats. Sitting with her and Annette Anderson one day talking about how to get all Kate’s stories out there, I remember my mouth dropping when she gave me a teaser: “Roman Polanski had called to ask me on a date and my mom grabbed the phone and told him to ‘F-off’ before hanging up. We were living in Switzerland at the time and I snuck out to the party where he was with Jack Nicholson. They were drinking too much so I left but as it was snowing outside and someone had left their keys in a car, I decided to drive home. I hit a snow bank so I had to abandon the car and walk the rest of the way.”

*******

On Monday night, as the tears rolled down my cheeks and dampened my pillows as I tried to fall asleep, I realized that while I wish Kate had stuck around much, much longer than her 68 years, she accomplished in life what we all hope for when we leave this earth: she made a difference. She did not wait until her diagnosis to live the life she wanted. She did not have to learn about spiritual awareness or quickly check off a Bucket List. No, Kate Powers had been evolving every day of her life, and gently nudging us along her path of change for the better.

She did not need to change. The Monegasque could have easily sat back over the years and let Stars’n’Bars, the restaurant she co-founded with Didier Rubiolo nearly 30 years ago, ride on the coattails of the Prince Albert connection. Instead, she rolled up her sleeves to transform the family-friendly eatery as a leading example of what she called “ecolution” in the Principality. It was the first restaurant to have its own urban vegetable garden, and to stop the use of plastic straws and non-biodegradable throwaway coffee cups.

When Covid hit last year, Kate told me, “Lockdown helped us wake up to necessary ecological changes that were more important than economical ones. We need to keep taking steps forward and raise awareness about wellness, whether its ours or the planet’s.” Stars’n’Bars replaced serving industrial sodas (Coca-Cola and Sprite) with only Fizz Bio organic colas made in Bordeaux, which some customers did not appreciate and would even walk out. “I try to explain that we are focusing on sourcing locally. When I tell people not to expect the taste of Coke with our organic soda, at first they are unsure but now they love it.”

That was the Kate effect. She had her way of doing things but she opened the floor for dialogue to educate; and she listened to learn.

*******

The first time I spoke to Kate after learning she had cancer, about six months ago, she was, typically, positive. Much of my connection with Kate was over our shared appreciation of nature and often I would send her a message describing some random observation, a text that I could never send to anyone else (including my husband) because they would think I was crazy. She got it.

Here is what I mean. The day after I learned of her illness, I went for a long swim along Cap Roquebrune, specifically with the intent of putting healing energy into the sea for her. This is my form of meditation. I focused on Kate for the entire 5 kilometres and when I returned to shore, I discovered my safety buoy was no longer attached. That had never happened in my seven years of open water swimming. From my apartment, I could see the orange buoy out there floating on the open sea. I texted Kate to tell her the story and said “Whenever you come across anything orange, know that the universe is your safety buoy.”

Kate replied: “I was biking earlier, talking to the trees and asking for their assistance. I looked up to see orange. Orange is Didier’s favourite colour and he is wearing an orange shirt now! The universe is definitely on my side.”

Half a year later, out on my run yesterday morning, the sunrise across the sea, with the clouds, captivated me and I thought “I’ll share that with Kate.” I stopped in my tracks for a moment before telling myself, I can still share these moments with her, just not in the physical world.

I will honour Kate by trying to follow some of her examples – to continue to raise awareness about our planet’s health, to be kinder and more helpful to each other and, as Kate was no fan of the news and its negativity, share good and positive stories with others. Really, to be the best version of myself possible.

Our friend Kate Powers came into this world with wings; she did not have to earn them, only spread them to get back home. And, knowing Kate like we all do, she will certainly raise the bar for all the other angels.

Louise Morelli

Photo: Svetlana TF Photography

Born and raised in Billinge, Lancashire, Louise Morelli says her childhood was filled with love, laughter and fun with her older brother and sister. “Family has always been so important in my life and not seeing my family has been the hardest part of Covid life,” says the British entrepreneur.   

Louise moved out to Monaco with her partner around 15 years ago, which she describes as “a new adventure and a great decision” and the couple later married in the Principality. A passionate runner, Louise is often seen whizzing around Monaco. “We live on the Rock, so the last hill home during a run is always a killer,” she laughs. The health enthusiast has recently developed a fondness also for Tibetan yoga, which she practices daily.  

Monaco is home for Louise and her husband. It is where their daughter was born and attends school, and where Louise is an active member of the community. She is a member of St Paul’s Anglican Church, as well as a Council Member, and additionally helps out with their Mother and Baby group, which runs on Monday and Thursday mornings.

“Being a new mom in Monaco can be a challenge,” Louise confesses. “I found it surprisingly lonely when my daughter was a new-born. Thankfully there are a few parks here where you can meet other mothers and there’s the brilliant Mother and Baby group at St Paul’s which gives moms a bi-weekly place to go, make new friends and have a coffee/tea and a chat. For me, it was a lifesaver. There are a growing number of activities available and thankfully we are blessed with beaches nearby and access to nature.”

And how does Louise compare her upbringing to that of her 6-year-old daughter? “Oh my goodness, it is so different,” she insists. “Monaco apartment life is not at all like my childhood experience. I grew up on a street with many other children and we were in and out of each other’s houses all day. There was a freedom and simplicity then that is difficult to achieve today. In Monaco, space is limited and playdates need to be organised. For many of us, though, the biggest difference is that our families do not live nearby. Thankfully we have technology so that video calls can happen, but there is nothing like visiting family members in person and sharing hugs.”

Growing up, Louise wanted to be a doctor and although that dream did not pan out, her fascination with the human body and mind continued. “People really interest me,” she reveals. This led her to obtain a qualification as a Baby Sleep Consultant and launch her own business, Gently to Sleep. “Sleep deprivation is a huge part of parenthood and it is torture. My daughter didn’t sleep through the night until she was 15 months old. I was totally exhausted and when I finally managed to get her sleeping well – and, by default, me sleeping well – the process of achieving good sleep for our daughter then sparked an interest in all things sleep and ignited a passion to help other families.”

Louise describes witnessing exhausted parents in survival mode regain their joie de vivre. “I really want them to have the energy to be the best parent they can be and appreciate their parenting journey. I absolutely love my work.”

Parents approach Louise with a range of issues including: frequent night waking, poor napping, struggling to settle little ones to sleep, bedtime battles or more pro-active needs, such as needing help to get babies into a good routine. “The great thing is that all sleep challenges can be improved or resolved and in a way that feels right,” explains Louise. “I see a lot of guilt and self-criticism from parents, and especially moms, when their little ones aren’t sleeping well. There’s a lot of pressure to be the perfect parent and parents, and especially moms, often feel judged if their baby isn’t sleeping through the night. But they shouldn’t feel this way.

“More often than not, I see parents who have been responsive and intuitive and have done everything necessary to ensure their baby sleeps well. They just reach a point where all the things they have been doing to get their baby to sleep, suddenly become less effective, so the time comes to change this and encourage their little ones to fall asleep easily and stay asleep.”

Louise points out that there is a lot of misinformation around infant sleep and how to encourage little ones to sleep better. “Many people think that encouraging great sleep means automatically using the ‘cry it out’ method – leaving a baby to cry and not responding – and this simply isn’t true. There are many ways to ease little ones into independent sleep and sometimes simply changing the timing or length of sleep, or making adjustments to the sleep environment, is all you need to make a huge difference. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and my aim is for all parents who work with me to feel that the route they choose feels right for them and fits their philosophy and needs as parents. No judgment, just kindness and support.”

Any tips for those with young children during the current pandemic? “Life with Covid has certainly been interesting. The initial period of confinement with school closures was a huge change in the daily rhythm of life and I really felt for our daughter not being able to socialise with her peers. My best tip for parents is to keep a routine in place as much as possible and get outdoors as much as you can. Fresh air, movement and nature work wonders for wellness.”

Walter Raymond

The death of Walter Raymond, 72, has brought forth so many emotions. For me, Larry Wallenstein made a comment on Facebook that best expressed Father Walter’s impact on our lives: “You believed in us and we believe in you.”

Walter Raymond was born and raised in Sacramento, California. “As a boy I never thought I’d leave,” he told the Riviera Reporter in January 2009. “I loved the weather, I loved the lifestyle. After college I moved to Canada and later realised I was eligible for the draft. Like a lot of my contemporaries, I didn’t agree with the war so I stayed on in Canada. I’d had a great welcome. I liked the people and the country so it became my home.”

Father Walter was raised a Roman Catholic and attended mass most days until he was about 18. “Then for some years I drifted away from the Church almost entirely. These were the Sixties, remember, and I got quite heavily into what they liked to call the alternative culture.”

It was during his time in Canada (he first moved to Toronto) that he came to realise he had spiritual needs and gradually became active within the Anglican Church. “To cut a long story short I was ordained in 1992, served in a parish and as a school chaplain; ten years ago I was made Dean of Quebec. But I wasn’t surrounded by canons and assistant clergy. It was just me.”

A bilingual Father Walter “loved Quebec City” and his congregation reflected a community that had become much more diverse with French-speaking incomers from Africa and Asia. As a priest in Canada Walter Raymond became a member of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd. “It’s what we call a dispersed community and was founded in Cambridge in 1913. Put simply, it’s a worldwide group of Anglican men, mainly priests, who follow a simple rule and pray for each other daily as well as meeting regularly, usually on a regional basis. It’s a source of spiritual support and a great help.”

He took over at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Monaco in January 2009. “When I saw the job in Monaco advertised on the internet I decided the time might be right to make a move. I applied, was interviewed and eventually selected. I was attracted by a new challenge, the idea of working in another bilingual environment … and by the weather. After a certain age those Quebec winters begin to wear you down.”

When he arrived in Monaco, he made it clear he was in for “the long haul” and wanted the church “to develop as an active social centre for local residents and that includes the younger people. Growing up in this kind of wealthy environment can be a difficult, even a perilous, experience. I’d like to help them come to terms with that. Again, wealth and worldly success are in no way bad in themselves but there is another dimension in life which can’t be neglected. A lot of rich men do get through the eye of the needle, you know, even if some of them need a little help to do so.” 

He touched so many of our lives and became such a special part of the community. For many years, I only knew Walter by email through the Riviera Reporter as he would communicate Christmas and Easter events to the magazine. When we finally met, I was so impressed by his presence and quickly understood why he had a loyal fanbase at St Paul’s. Outside of the church, you never knew where you would run into his smiling face – American Thanksgiving at the Hotel Hermitage, the Amber Lounge Formula One Fashion Show or at an AS Monaco football match. With his beloved Sparky, Father Walter returned in to Quebec in 2017.

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec announced Father Walter’s passing yesterday, after his battle with cancer. A funeral mass will be held at the Cathedral, followed by burial at St. Paul’s Church in Saint-Malachie, at a later date.

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.