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.

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.