Open Water Me vs. Boat With Motor

My inaugural open water came in the summer 2012. I had signed up for my first triathlon, the Ironman 70.3 Pays d’Aix-en-Provence, for September of that year. I needed to get comfortable in the water as opposed to the Olympic-distance pool in Nice where I had been training.

Considering I had not swm since my teens, at the age of 43 I was a reasonably strong swimmer thanks to endless childhood summers at our family cottage in Canada. Swimming in a lake and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, however, are two different ball games, especially when the warm currents in the Med in the South of France favour jellyfish.

That first swim with my ever-patient husband is a memory we both chuckle over to this day. Embarrassing to admit, I thought my air bubbles were jellyfish. When I was not literally swimming on top of my husband for protection, I was stopping because the fear of jellyfish was interfering with my breathing. We maybe swam 500 meters that day before I’d had enough but I quickly understood the vital relationship between controlled breathing and open water swimming.

A decade later, and thanks to swimrunning, the sea provides a connection to nature that I simply cannot live without. In the winter season, when the water here can be between 10°C and 14°C, I still manage two to three 5-6km swims a week, depending on the weather.

As openwater swimmers and swimrunners, we take all the necessary precautions, from swimming when possible with a buddy and with a visible safety buoy to sticking close to the shoreline and being smart about marine conditions.

I am not what you would call a risk taker. I may push myself out of my comfort zone but I am overly cautious in everything I do in and out of the water. I swim year-round in swimrun shoes, so I can exit at any time should I need to – a jellyfish infestation, change in swell, feeling cold or unwell. Before every swim, I ask myself: what am I dealing with today? I look at my course from the shore. We have paragliders who offseason land on the beach and so there are security boats. I have many times mentally prepared myself for the possibility of a paraglider falling on me.

There are fears about open water swimming that we share. Some we talk about, like jellyfish (I have lost count on how many times I have been stung although I have several scars to remind me) and cold water (having succumb to hypothermia during a swimrun race I know the difference between mental cold and physical cold). Then there are the dreads in the back of our minds that we don’t talk about: more dangerous marine life, such as sharks, and the fear of getting hit by a boat.

I don’t have to worry about sharks but I got hit by a boat. So let’s talk about it.

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On Sunday, February 6, I did my regular 5km swim with ideal winter conditions: calm sea, clear skies and no wind. The water was 14°C. I had a bright orange safety buoy attached and looked up often to check my direction and for any boats. With cold water swimming, the longer I am in the water the more likely I can become disoriented so I am vigilant about maintaining visuals.

With less than 200 meters to shore to end my swim, an oval shadow appeared overhead and I thought it was a paraglider falling in the sea. Instead of stopping suddenly, I kept my course so the paraglider could calculate my direction and avoid hitting me. I learned this from rowing. Stay the course.

The oval shadow became larger until suddenly I felt a violent hit to the back of my head and neck, which I presumed was the paraglider’s feet plunging into the sea. I was pushed under the water and a voice in my head said “I am going to drown.” I madly tried to lift the parachute off of me only to discover it was not a parachute. It was something hard and flat, maybe a paddleboarder. My face and upper body were pinned down in the water and to my right, I registered a motor moving towards my face.

My face felt hot. I frantically pushed my hands down to try to stop my body. This did not work. I calculated it would be worse to lose part of arm than my life. I used my right arm to protect my face.

The length of the boat ran over me.

****************

Once I was upright and my head above water, I could see the driver. It was a security boat for the paragliders. I stayed in the water, in a treading motion, until I was calm repeating in French “je suis dans un état du choc” (I am in a state of shock). For some reason I could not speak English. I had been in the water for nearly 90 minutes at this point and my body temp was low.

The driver was apologetic. He was not supposed to be within the 300-meter buoys, but he was 150 meters from the shore. He admitted he was not used to seeing swimmers at this time of year so he was looking up at the paragliders and not down at the sea. He did not call the police, which by law he is supposed to do when a boat hits a person.

He did offer for me to come onto the boat. I wanted to get out of the water and get home. My right elbow was throbbing and I approached the boat driver to have him examine it. He looked at and said it was okay, but I was wearing wetsuit. I asked him to watch me swim to shore, for less than five minutes. He said he had to watch the paragliders. I said he had to watch me because I was not sure I could swim with my elbow.

It was hard to swim, something felt not right. I got to shore and he came around to check on me. I gave him a thumbs up and immediately started climbing the 475 stairs that connect the beach to my apartment in less than 10-minutes. I never take off my gear in the winter until I get home.

In the safety of my own home, I threw up from realising what just happened. I took off my wetsuit, my elbow had two slashes and was bleeding. I should have had stitches. I should have gone to had my head checked but my right side was so sore that I did not remember the thwack to the head until it woke me up in a dream the next morning.  

Unfortunately, my husband was away that Sunday. He would have told me to go the hospital (which I did do on Thursday for a head scan) but honestly as a sportif, I am used to injuries. Unless I see bone, I think I do not require medical attention. Throw into that line of thinking that I was in a complete state of shock that I had almost been killed. If I had stopped suddenly and lifted my head, the impact from the boat would have been so much worse. Or if he had approached me from a different angle where I did not see the motor before it cut me.

Once the gravity of this freak accident sunk in, I went to the police on the Tuesday afternoon to file a complaint. The first question the officer asked me was, “Why were you swimming?” and then he refused to take my statement. He told me to work out the compensation with the paragliding club. Huh? “I do not want money. He could have killed me. I want to make sure the sea is safe for everyone and this does not happen again.”

Nothing. So I went to the local French press. Following the article, the police have said they would “welcome” me to file a complaint. I have been in touch with a Roquebrune paragliding club who is helping me to find the identity of the boat driver. And another boat driver who was in the bay that Sunday, visiting with his paragliding club from Provence, has contacted me to testify to the lack of measures and security in place for the safety boats. Once I have assembled a file, I will go back to the police to porter plainte but at a different station. I have six years to do so.

****************

My biggest fear has happened and I survived. But shock is a funny thing. You are in no man’s land somewhere between “I’m okay” because you are alive and “I’m not okay” because I almost got killed.” You try to do things as normal. For example, I went rowing with a friend two days later, in hindsight I should not have with my arm, and fifteen minutes outside the port of Monaco I burst into tears and wept uncontrollably, slumped over my oars.

For nearly two weeks I have felt like I was floating outside my body wondering why I lacked focus and was randomly crying uncontrollably. When I tried to write, the words I typed were not the words formulated in my head. I have been frustrated that I am not “strong”, that I cannot put mind over matter and get on with things. I have done everything I am supposed to do – meditate, breathing, exercise, good sleep, eating well (lots of pots of homemade soup and homemade breads) – but honestly this is my regular lifestyle and it was not improving my state of zombie mind.

I consider myself strong minded I do not have the tools to help myself. I reached out for help and contacted Gavin Sharpe at Riviera Wellbeing. He explained to me about trauma and the window of tolerance. I knew nothing about hyperarousal and hypoarousal. Gavin put me in touch with a counsellor who has helped me understand, among other PTSD elements, that because my accident was silent – that I could not scream or physically respond to protect myself because I was stuck underwater; nor was there any car crashing sounds – that my fearful reaction has been trapped inside me. I am working on letting it out. It will take time but I am confident I am on the road to recovery.

I also reached out to a few water safety organisations to ask if they could provide any advice about what to do when you are in this situation, like the difference between fire prevention and the steps to take when you are in a fire. But maybe it is a question of whether it is your time or not.

I got back in the water a week after the accident and managed a very cold 3.5km swim with my husband. My neck hurt looking up and looking back too much but the waves welcomed me back with each caressing crest. I have since swam solo and have no fear. Bliss.

For those who do not open water swim, the sensation is impossible to describe. I refer to the words of Gillian Best, who wrote “The Last Wave”, a story about a woman who swam the English Channel: “There is nothing in a pool: no current, no tide, no waves, and most of all, no history. The sea is alive, expansive; a pool is dead and confining. The sea is freedom.”

EOLA

Cedric Fruneau at his restaurant EOLA at Place d’Armes. Photo: Nancy Heslin

Cedric “Cedou” Fruneau is not your typical young Frenchman. He gets restless when he takes a week off work and while he just opened his Monaco restaurant EOLA in June 2019, he’s already expanding with a Bistro and speakeasy next door.

Cedric, a professional photographer for Nike, says he has always loved to work but a year and a half spent working in Miami proved to be a real game changer in terms of his work ethic. “When I first arrived in the U.S in 2016, I quickly learned that if you don’t work, you have no money to pay the bills or the rent. When I came back to France it was horrible to see the lack of motivation.”

Travel has played a big role in Cedric’s life. He spent a gap year in London improving his English and lived in Paris. With his Mexican girlfriend Daya (they met at a Mexican restaurant in Nice), the couple trekked around the globe for two years. “We found that it didn’t matter where we were, we could never find a cool café that was healthy and affordable.”

So when they returned to the Riviera, they opened just that in Monaco. Tucked away under the arcades of Place d’Armes, EOLA is a hip “healthy place, promote healthy lifestyle and foods,” where people sip on almond milk cappuccinos while tucking into an Acai bowl. “A lot of foreigners living in Monaco – British, American, Germans, Swedish – come here in the morning after yoga or running because they can find what they are used to back home.”

Between Acai bowls (€9), toast breakfasts (€9) and Poke bowls (€14), vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians and meat lovers will be appeased here. Even Elvis would be happy to see the peanut butter and banana on toast option (€5.50)

“Look, I didn’t invent anything,” Cedric explains. “Avocado toast and Acai bowls have been around for a while but our concept is good – we give people what they expect. And we keep everything simple, because eventually I hope to franchise.”

Still, EOLA’s style is unique, especially for Monaco, and if it was a clothing label, it would be what everyone is wearing.. “When we set up with our round marble tables and wicker chairs, which is different than the other restaurants here, everyone raised an eyebrow. We want to do things differently.”

As an added allure, the dedicated coffee barista can “print” messages and pictures onto your café au lait (no extra charge). And there’s a cold press juicer on site to make a limited amount of the power drink daily, but if they’re sold out, you are out of luck. In keeping with their healthy lifestyle ethos, the restaurant also uses NoPlastic packaging, designed to have a low environmental impact.

EOLA (Eat Organic Live Active), which means “take care of yourself” in Hawaiian, is building a local clientele, which is essential to sustain business. “Even with Covid around, I want customers to leave here happy. Positive brings positive.” Certainly their team really brings this to the table.

During the first confinement in March, EOLA had to close its doors like other restaurants and that was tough for the new business. “Honestly, on the street around us you could see fear in people’s eyes. It wasn’t a good feeling so we shut down but, you know, after a busy first year of business, this wasn’t a bad thing. We focused on our plans and our suppliers, and decided what we wanted to do.” They also spent time with their one-year old. “We did it all in one year, a new business, a new baby and Covid.”

Cedric and Daya decided to offer some items as delivery or take away post-confinement from May 4, and ended up delivering from 8 am to 8 pm in Monaco. They eventually want to open a ghost kitchen in Beausoleil that can take care of deliveries because Cedric has bigger plans on the horizon.

The entrepreneur has taken over two shops on the other side of Valycris coiffeur. “I’m going to have three different concepts,” explains Cedric. “EOLA, a French bistro and a speakeasy.”

He hopes to open the French bistro in early 2021 and then six months later, the speakeasy. “There are no cool places anymore, it’s now all about how we are dressed. We are not going to do that. This will be a place that you’ll know how to get in by word of mouth. But it’s not for tourists and phone cameras will not be allowed so the F1 drivers and football players who are our customers don’t have to worry about their photos being taken.”

Cedric continues with his passion of photography (check out his Instagram) because he wants to keep his creative side alive, but the future is about expanding EOLA. “I can’t pass on ‘my eye for photography’ to my son. That is something you either have or you don’t. But I can teach him about the restaurant business.”

Open Monday to Saturday, 8:30 am to 6 pm

EOLA
11 Place d’Armes, Monaco

During Covid and confinement, let’s make an effort to support local businesses and services. Do you have a business or service to recommend for I ❤︎  MONACO? Email: GoodNewsMonaco

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.

Les 5 Saveurs à Monaco

Have you taken a walk up in Monaco Ville lately? The situation is heartbreaking. Streets typically filled with the bustle of tourists are at a standstill. Shops and restaurants, some having to pay out €6,000 a month in rent, are facing extinction. As one elderly Monegasque women made clear to me: “Monaco Ville est mort.”

Alexandra Rinaldi, who owns Les 5 Saveurs à Monaco on rue Basse, is trying to survive. No stranger to the Monaco business scene, the Monegasque took over her parent’s business, Rinaldi Ship Chandler, which opened in 1970 on Quai Antoine, and before that, in 2010, she ran Les Trésors de la Mer, a clothing and decoration shop on rue de Millo in La Condamine.

Having sold both businesses, she had the opportunity to open a boutique in Monaco Ville that could cater to both Monaco residents and tourists. “The community on the Rock is elderly but we have people who know our history and share their stories in the streets.”

In March 2019, Alexandra opened Les 5 Saveurs à Monaco with her dog Bella at her side, selling scents of Provence, food and cosmetics. But things were a bit tight. “I ended up having to add some souvenirs to make ends meet. Tourists love anything that says Monaco,” she says.

The first year for any business is never easy, but then Covid hit. “It has been very difficult. I closed on March 14 but had the right to deliver food—tapenade, artichokes, olive oil, jams, herbs de Provence—which wasn’t a huge amount but it helped to pay the rent.”

Alexandra, who has lived most of her life between La Condamine and Fontvieille, reopened post-confinement on May 4. “I was so surprised to see clients from Monaco come that first week to support us. They didn’t spend large amounts but it helped. But by July and August, locals stayed away from le Rocher as tourists slowly came back. From August, it became mandatory to wear a mask in all les ruelles of Monaco Ville. “You didn’t have to wear masks in other parts of Monaco so locals stopped coming altogether.”

Once again, Alexandra reverted to small deliveries to loyal clients. Then the French confinement Version 2.0 began on October 30.

Fortunately, a month ago, she had started to develop her business by selling Italian sweaters and vests—for €29 to €35—from a supplier she has worked with for 15 years. “I tried to find something that you can’t find elsewhere in Monaco so to not be in competition with other businesses here and although it’s not same turnover, it helps. I am going to expand with clothes and handbags that will appeal to passers-by and people from cruise ships.” (In 2019, there were 182,436 cruise passengers in Monaco. Since March 11 and until 2021 cruise ships are banned from stopovers in the Principality).

“In 2021, I’ll stop selling food because I’ve lost so much sales due to the best before dates.”

Alexandra is forthcoming. She admits she doesn’t have the means to buy items in advance and can only sell clothing because it is on consignment.

“As commerce, we are stuck. We can’t buy stock in advance that we don’t know if we are going to sell. This is a huge problem for businesses in Monaco but especially in Monaco Ville with souvenir shops. We already know it will be tough until 2024.”

Alexandra has resorted to putting her boutique up for sale — “I am a relatively optimistic person in life but it has become a hard battle” — but is continuing with business as usual.

Her line of Panier des Sens—natural cosmetics and scents of Provence hand creams, soaps and fragrances all made in Marseilles — is her top seller, for both clients in Monaco and tourists. “The products I love sell well, even with the complications from Covid health measures to wear a mask and using a test stick to try creams.” The Colline de Provence products also sell well.

There is a scent for every budget here. And for Christmas, Alexandra will make up gift boxes from €10 to €150.

Open Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm or anytime by appointment on 06 40 61 80 28.

Les 5 Saveurs
6 bis rue Basse, Monaco Ville

During Covid and confinement, let’s make an effort to support local businesses and services. Do you have a business or service to recommend for I ❤︎  MONACO? Email: GoodNewsMonaco

Anne De Hauw

Anne de Hauw has always loved discovering new places. “To me, travelling is like oxygen – absolutely liberating, inspiring and eye-opening. And aviation is the preeminent enabler for travel, a key driver in economic development and, pre-Covid, generating 13.5 million direct and indirect jobs.”

Born and bred in Belgium, Anne studied fashion marketing in Paris and Florence before moving to the Principality in 2004 to work for Misaki, a Monaco-based pearl jewellery company mainly providing travel retail and duty-free markets.

“After a few years, I was hired by a global airline catering and retail company, where I was in charge of innovation. Even though I became a mom to two boys during this time, I totally enjoyed the travelling this job enabled me to do, meeting new people and discovering new places in all continents across the globe,” says Anne.

And she always loved coming back home to Monaco. “I have been to many places, but none of them is comparable to here, a perfect mix of a cosmopolitan city and a charming village that offers a wealth of opportunities in business, culture and leisure.”

In 2018, Anne decided to quit the corporate world and follow her dream to create her own venture – IN Air Travel Experience, the very first boutique consultancy focusing on customer experience, innovation and sustainability for air travel. (IN stands for Innovation, Inspiration, Influence and In-flight.)

“During my corporate life, I noticed there was a significant shift in the decision-making power within commercial airlines towards customer experience,” Anne explains. “Historically financially and operationally driven, airlines started to increasingly put the passenger in a central position within their strategy. And this is where I saw an opportunity for them to externalise passenger journey analysis and get unbiased strategic advice on how to improve certain touch points.”

With her extensive network and passion for improving passenger experience, combined with an expertise in transformational innovation, in-flight catering and retail, it was an obvious choice for Anne to create a niche consulting agency supporting airlines to ultimately increase passenger satisfaction.

But it is hard to gauge passenger satisfaction on board when there are no flights, as the global pandemic caused unparalleled disruption in many sectors, travel and hospitality being in pole position. “Even if the Covid crisis isn’t over and although the immediate future will continue to be tough, it also presents a unique opportunity to rethink the future travel experience, accelerate business transformation and embed purpose and sustainability into business strategies and day-to-day operations,” Anne explains.

“As airlines recover, restructure and re-evaluate, they must seize this moment to unlearn old habits and embrace new behaviours and new ways of working, rewriting the rules of business that are fit for the future the aviation industry needs. More than ever, it is important for businesses to truly commit to a purpose and ensure they use it to guide their thinking, planning and decision making.”

The travel consultant says that the pandemic has accelerated consumer desire to seek out organisations that aren’t just talking the talk when it comes to supporting social and environmental progress. “People want to engage with companies that are contributing to a positive impact on society and the planet.”

For IN Air Travel Experience, the announcement of lockdown in the spring meant “literally” all of its customer related airline projects came to a halt in just one week. Anne used “the unique opportunity” to accelerate a focus on innovation and sustainability. “To give you an example of one of our ideas, we developed the IN.bowl, a revolutionary in-flight dining concept that positively impacts the passenger experience. Unusual for airline food, this delicious and nutritionally-balanced dish that combats the negative effects of air travel is ultra-efficient in cost, space and handling. It is also environmentally sustainable in material use, weight and waste reduction. A triple win for the people, planet and the airline,” Anne describes.

Anne champions and defends waste reduction for air travel in order to support the industry in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. IN Air Travel Experience is a founding member of the International Aviation Waste Management Association, a non-profit organisation providing airlines and airports with a base of research and expert knowledge and aiming to advance circular economy knowledge and adoption in global aviation.

“In summary, 2020 was very different than initially expected,” she reflects. On the home front, Anne and her family went into lockdown in Monaco in March. “It was quite a radical change from our usual busy schedules, but I was grateful we were home together, safe, healthy and had food in the fridge.” Over the year, face-to-face business meetings, presentations and industry events have been replaced by endless video calls. “Despite the imposed social distancing and the seemingly people-less world out there, I believe an increased ‘togetherness’ matters more than ever and we stay connected with our customers all over the world through video conferencing.”

She admits that in terms of her bottom line, the year has not been brilliant, but her company is well advanced on purpose-driven projects and continues to build a solid foundation for the future. “As for 2021, I sincerely hope governments will cease to block travel – closing borders, quarantine measures, lockdowns – and people will be confident to fly again.”

Anne de Hauw pauses. “You know, I am still amazed how humans have managed to build a vehicle that can go up in the air and move! And I would love to learn to fly myself, one day, in a post-Covid world.”

According to Business Wire, this year’s passenger numbers are expected to drop to around 2.26 billion (similar to 2006) with passenger revenues tumbling from $612 billion in 2019 to $241 billion in 2020. Additionally, the ResearchAndMarkets.com report released yesterday states that total revenues for the industry look to fall from $830 billion to $418 billion over 2019-2020. “Despite generating around $590 billion in 2021, the industry is forecast to bear a significant loss of $15.8 billion. Restrictions on international travel and lockdowns evaporated passenger demand, with total passenger traffic estimated to decline by 52.7%.”

Chrissie McClatchie

Chrissie McClatchie is one of the region’s most established freelancer journalist. FromWine Enthusiast to easyJet Traveller, and from Business Insider to Superyacht Digest, the Australian from the Northern Beaches of Sydney demonstrates her lexical versatility in wine, travel and yachting, subjects often associated with life on the Côte d’Azur.

It was in 1993 when Chrissie first came to France to visit one of her sisters (she has four much older siblings) living in Lyon. She was accompanied by her geologist dad and mom, who was born in Vietnam to French parents. “I still remember that flight with the now-defunct airline UTA,” Chrissie recalls. “It had started in New Caledonia before stopping in Sydney, Jakarta and maybe Melbourne, and was full of returning compulsory conscripts who spent the whole flight smoking. As soon as we landed at CDG, they all cheered and kissed the tarmac. It was pretty impressionable to a 12-year-old who had never left New South Wales before.”

She returned to France a few years later with her mom to spend Christmas with her sister, who by then was working with her husband as villa guardians in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. “That is the moment when my love affair with the South of France started,” she says.

Chrissie has had Australian-French dual nationality since she was eight and even though her mom never spoke French at home, she did emphasise her European roots to the family.

“My mom and I used to follow my dad on his geological trips to the bush and we’d often visit a town called Mudgee, where mom would take me to cellar doors while he was working. I remember deciding, much to her delight , that I wanted to be a winemaker.”

Both wine and France would niggle in her brain for years to come.

By the time she graduated high school, her sister, who was now living in Nice and had just had a baby, suggested that Chrissie come over for a gap year to improve her French. “I spent nine months studying in the morning at the Alliance Française on rue de Paris and quickly found an international friendship circle. I loved the global vibe, beach picnics, ease of travel, and sense of history, although I may have spent too much time in Vieux Nice, particularly at Chez Wayne’s and Thor!”

Post-immersion, she returned to Australia to study Medieval History and language at the University of Sydney and in 2002 vended up back in France as part of a six-month exchange in La Rochelle, in the southwest of the country.

Clearly cut out for the jet-set life, as soon as her exams were done, she took a “trip of a lifetime,” travelling through the Middle East – Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Georgia, Armenia and Iran (“It was incredible to visit places like Palmyra that have suffered at the hands of IS”) – and then spent some time in Washington DC as another sister had moved to the US. “I volunteered at the Smithsonian, which was incredible, but as I couldn’t get a work visa I booked a cheap flight to Nice and gave myself six months to find a job.”

When in wine country

Within the first week of arriving in the Mediterranean city, she got a job at Vins sans Frontieres (VSF), fine wine and spirits provisioning for yachts.

“There is actually a thriving local wine community here, with four Masters of Wine – the highest qualification in the wine world – living in and or around Nice, plus plenty of other interesting characters.”

She worked at VSF from 2007 to 2014, and was mentored by Rod Smith, a Master of Wine, and Helen Brotherton, a WSET diploma graduate. “We all had a crash course in the superyacht world, though.”

She wouldn’t realise at the time, but she had really fallen into a niche segment of the market. “The wine yachts order for their owners or charters is really top end – the best chateaux, the best vintages – but the flip side is that ‘no’ isn’t an answer.”

As Chrissie points out, acclaimed wines may be produced in finite quantities but as a yacht supplier you have to make sure you can find what your clients want, when they want (“yesterday”). “It is definitely more competitive now than it was when I first started. I remember a client calling at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon and by 4 pm we were delivering €80,000 of wine to his yacht in the port of Nice. I think now quotes and management company approvals would be required.”

The job was demanding but there were some incredible perks. “I will never forget a three-day trip to Champagne as guests of LVMH. We had dinner at Veuve Clicquot and Krug and a tour and tasting with the Dom Perignon winemaker,” she describes.

Chrissie started to share her local wine discoveries on her blog Riviera Grapevine, which became “the catalyst for everything that has happened in my career since.” It led her to the Bellet vineyards, behind Nice, doing cellar door tours of both Château de Bellet and Château de Crémat but, most importantly, led to regular writing work. “I have had great opportunities come my way from people discovering the blog, starting with a column for the Riviera Reporter. It all helped me build a portfolio that took me to The CEO Magazine, a global business publication that profiles high-level executives from around the world.” By this point, she was back in Australia.

The CEO

Chrissie and her Irish husband, whom she met though friends in Nice, decided to move to Australia in 2016 for a year. “We just had our first child and it seemed like the best time to head back home. The CEO Magazine was my first in-house writing role. I learnt so much about the magazine production process in the ten months I was physically there but while it was great to be near family, there were lots I missed about Europe.”

In 2017, the family moved back to France, swapping Nice for Villefranche, where they have very much embraced French village life, playing football with the local club and sending the kids to public school. “Even though I have spent the best part of my adult life here, I still feel like an Australian in France. And I think I always will.”

Bilingual Chrissie has been working remotely for The CEO Magazine since June 2019. “Last week I interviewed the CEO of La Monnaie de Paris, the French Mint, as well as the CEO and Founder of a Swiss electric vehicle company. No profile is ever the same, which keeps the role exciting and challenging.”

The magazine has five editions (ANZ/EMEA/North America/India/Asia) and Chrissie writes across them all. “The cover story on Calin Rovinescu, CEO of Air Canada, was a particular favourite as it was just when Covid hit and air travel ground to a halt. A tricky, topical subject and the client loved the story!” she enthuses.

Chrissie also writes travel and lifestyle features for the monthly magazine. “Last year’s Norway trip was a definite highlight. A five-day cruise with Viking from London to Tromsø in search of the Northern Lights – although the story is still on hold because no one can leave Australia to travel.”

She has tapped into her base in Nice to become a local expert on the French Riviera and her travel stories have appeared in easyJet Traveller and The Culture Trip. “For Atlas Obscura, I really enjoyed tracking down Philippe Arnello, the man behind Nice’s midday cannon, and witnessing him light the cannon at noon.”

Hands down, her proudest publication moment was in easyJet Traveller. “I love the magazine’s fun spirit and it has always been the goal publication for me. I pitched a behind-the-scenes Nice carnival story for the February issue and found the perfect angle – a new, high-tech piece of equipment that the carnavaliers were using to sculpt the floats. I’d sent numerous pitches for other stories before with no bites but this one in late December was commissioned two hours after my email – and I filed it five days later. I was actually flying on easyJet the day the issue was released and it was cool to see my name in print, fresh off the press.”

Thanks to a year as a content editor for Relevance in Monaco and some freelance content marketing for yachting companies, Chrissie has also penned for industry publications like Dockwalk and Superyacht Digest. “I love having the chance to tell unique stories, like digging into the world of designing crew quarters on yachts and speaking to Espen Oeino, Zaniz and Winch Design.”

Covid when you’re already working from home

As a freelancer, Covid lockdowns fortunately haven’t affected Chrissie’s writing routine. “Since I already work from home, I’ve been able to continue to do so since the pandemic hit, even when schools were closed. I’m lucky to have the backing of a supportive employer at CEO mag,” she admits.

She wrote a piece “A postcard from the future: Living in lockdown in France” for The CEO Magazine, an insider’s view on how one of the world’s toughest confinements touched the community of Villefranche, including Foccaceria Mei, the local cold cuts and cheese shop where Alessandro (above) lives across the border in San Remo, Italy.

Chrissie had just cracked the airline magazine market when Covid brought travel to its knees. “I had four stories –Turkish Airlines, Hemispheres for United, easyJet and N by Norwegian – that I doubt will see the light of day. Yet at the same time, there was a wealth of more news features and I started writing about real estate and yachting pandemic angles for Business Insider. The work has been there, it’s just about taking a different approach.”

Chrissie can imagine much worse circumstances than her household of four (she has a 5- and 3-year-old), which has some outdoor space. “As a mom, I’m rarely out in the evening and with the French schools open and the 6 pm curfew like there is now, things don’t feel too different. I am looking forward, though, to having a meal at some of my favourite restaurants when they re-open.”

Like many other working moms, Chrissie, says her biggest accomplishment is being able to juggle young children and a career. “To have landed a dream in-house journalist role at a global publication when my first child was 12-months-old and to be able to continue to acquire career skills while having another is something I am immensely proud of.”

All photos courtesy of Chrissie McClatchie.

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’s G-Spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachael Dickens

Rachael Dickens understands pain.

The English Osteopath was 28 when she broke her back while playing tennis, an accident that resulted in temporary paralysis in both legs for six months. It was thanks to an osteopath that she began to walk again and found herself on a life-changing road to recovery.

“Lying in bed thinking I’d never walk, work, or love again, I had to make a decision to thrive. I turned off my emotions and got on with it,” Rachael describes.

She quit her job with the Daily Mail Group, where she was the youngest commercial publisher at the time, and spent the next five years training at the British School of Osteopathy.

Speaking French since the age of 7 and having studied at the Institut de Français in Villefranche, Rachael moved to Antibes in 2001 and set up her first English Osteopath clinic at 4 rue Vauban. She has since become the only clinic in Antibes to be approved by the Norwegian Government to issue Seafarer Medical certificates required by all yacht crew.

With a large portion of clients driving from Monaco, the ever-energetic brunette opened a second clinic in 2010 at 11 bis avenue Generale de Gaulle in bordering Beausoleil. She then initiated the Frozen Shoulder and Chronic Fatigue clinics and set up an association for those with limited income to have access to free osteo healthcare for their children and babies (all her osteopaths are trained in paediatric osteopathy).

With a bilingual team of 16 between the two locations, Rachael was heavy-hearted having to shut down the two locations during the first Covid confinement that began in March. “It was tough on my business and tough on the patients having their treatment programmes disrupted. I spent a lot of time on Zoom walking patients through their pain, which worked surprisingly well, and some were even cracking their own backs! Luckily the pharmacists were open and I could arrange with our clinic doctor to get them the right medication.”

In round two of confinement in France, which started October 30, the clinics are allowed to remain open. Thy are busier now than ever and are seeing a type of pain that the therapists describe as a physical manifestation of constant low-grade stress and anxiety, the result of poor at home office work stations or the result of looking at screens more than usual, as all other healthy physical activities have been curtailed.

In Monaco, with people travelling less, patient frequency has increased while in Antibes, where the yachting industry is at a standstill, there has been a slight drop in appointments.

Still, across the board, the intuitive Rachael has noticed a change in recent weeks. “I see a rise in stress. You know, the expat community is already isolated and I think the reality has just sunk in that people can’t go home for Christmas to see their families. Our ability to cope with pain is different when we are sympathetically aroused, like we are now. This means we are gearing up to face an attacker, and Covid is one that we can’t see, so it’s fight-or-flight.”

In Antibes, where cafés and restaurants are closed, Rachael has opened the Waiting Room Café at the clinic. “People need to connect so while a patient is waiting, there’s a Nespresso machine, cookies and even beer, and a table for one – we are hoping for TripAdvisor reviews! – and if someone needs to talk, we’ll sit and have a chat and a coffee.”

In addition to running to the two English Osteopath clinics and doing call outs (even on weekends), Rachael is the lead medic for Supporting Wounded Veterans, a U.K. charity that supports 26 veterans a year through Skiing with Heroes – a “skibilitation” week – and also providing each veteran with a mentor and treatment at the only Wounded Veterans’ Pain Management Programme in Britain. “This program gives veterans confidence and a chance to start new lives,” she says, something she knows first hand.

Over the last five years, she has raised €100,000 for Supporting Wounded Veterans through a 5-day “Mountains to Monaco” bike ride and two quiz nights in Monaco, one held at Stars’n’Bars where Gilly Norton, founder of the founder charity, told me, “Some 87% of those who participate in our Pain Clinic and/or Skiing with Heroes programme return to work or training.”

Rachael says that the charity is currently fundraising “to take part in very exciting research” using psychedelic drugs, such as MDMA, as part of a therapeutic approach to treat PTSD. “If this trial continues to produce results, it will be a game-changing breakthrough in helping those suffering with this terrible mental health condition and who haven’t responded to other Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapies currently available.”

Photos: Nancy Heslin

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.