Sexy Tacos

Pepe Olivares and Paty Cortijo opened Sexy Tacos in 2016. Photo: Nancy Heslin. Food photos: Sexy Tacos.

Today Monaco celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the day that the Blessed Mother Mary (not Jesus) was conceived and preserved from original sin all of her life.

Another Mary celebration will take place later this week. December 12 has been the national holiday in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe since 1859. The date marks the story of the Virgin Mary who appeared to an indigenous Mexican, a peasant named Juan Diego, and twice asked him to build her a house on a hill. When he reported the story to the disbelieving local bishop, he was asked for proof of these apparitions.

Early on the morning of December 12, 1531, the dark-skinned lady appeared once more to ask Juan Diego to gather flowers at the top of the hill. This time he did as asked and discovered Castilian roses, typically not in season. The lady helped him arrange the flowers in his cloak, which he then presented as evidence. When the bishop opened the cloak, the roses fell out leaving a life-size image of the Virgin Mary on the inside. This icon became known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

According to John Moran Gonzalez, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin told NBC, Our Lady of Guadalupe has become less of a religious symbol and more of a general cultural symbol: “Our Lady is seen as the champion of the underdog, of the Indian, of all those who lack power in society.”

For chef Pepe Olivares, this makes December 12 fête doubly significant, as it is also the day he opened his Mexican restaurant in Monaco in 2016.

“It was a coincidence but I believe it was a sign,” says Pepe, who will celebrate four years since the opening of Sexy Tacos this Saturday.

At age 29, Pepe left Puebla, his hometown southeast of Mexico City and known for its culinary history, to follow his passion for French cooking and discover new horizons.

He first went to Toronto, Canada – “a beautiful country but it is too cold – but left to thaw out in the warmer climate of Cancun, Mexico, where he stayed for a year.

In 2010, his plans to “learn everything about French culture and cuisine” got back on track when he moved to Cannes to study the language for a year. He also spent the next six years working in various kitchens, starting with Michelin star chef Marc Meneau in Burgundy and finishing at Nobu at the Fairmont Monte Carlo with Nobuyuki Matsuhisa.

“I worked at the Fairmont for five years and Nobu was like nothing else in Monaco. Watching how the Japanese culture operates, with its innovation and intelligence … there is no waste in the kitchen, anything left over is used for another recipe.”

His years at the Fairmont helped him adapt his “savoir faire à ma façon” to appeal to Europeans. “I learned something from every place I have worked, even from my job at Starbucks, during my studies in Cannes. I was impressed by service and the way you had to treat customers. Howard Schultz personalised coffee for everyone, and I knew I wanted to personalise my own restaurant.”

Encouraged by his French wife, Paty Cortijo, Pepe opened Sexy Tacos at 2 boulevard du Tenaoon on December 12, 2016.

“Every time I travelled, I tried to find Mexican food because I really missed it. But all I found was chili con carne and fajitas, which are not Mexican. So this was an opportunity to share not just my food, real Mexican dishes but also cocktails and music to create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. In our culture, when you have guests in your home, you do everything to make sure they are looked after and having a good time.”

Pepe has a different concept of what French people like. “In France, people are not used to eating with their fingers, and they use utensils even for pizza and hamburgers. In Mexico, we never use utensils for eating tacos and to be able to eat a taco well is sexy. There is a certain aesthetic, to eat without breaking the shell or have juice dripping down your chin. So we called the place Sexy Tacos.”

For six months, Pepe worked at Nobu and ran his restaurant for lunch service and also on his days off. “It was exhausting but it allowed me to see how the business would work. It is not the best location, but it let me know that people wanted this type of food.” The time came to focus solely on his restaurant.

Paty managed the restaurant (she still does the accounts) while Pepe cooked recipes passed down from his mother and grandmother, serving every dish à la minute. “Tacos are meant to be eaten straight away.” After three months, as word spread about the country’s only authentic Mexican food, they had to hire an extra person. Now he has three employees, having to let one person go due to Covid.

“Confinement was a disaster for us, as some of our products come from Mexico and it was complicated. We had to close for two and a half months and financially we were lost. Fortunately, the government offered some assistance but if we were in France, we would have had to close,” says Pepe who speaks Spanish, French and English (and is learning Italian).

He thought about shutting down and only offering delivery but as the pandemic continues, Pepe is concentrating on his restaurant and take away service. “We used to serve 40 people over two services and although now we have less, we have lots of people ordering takeaway. Everyone is happy.”

The menu features wheat tortillas and meat and vegetarian options, including veggie nachos hechos en casa (€15), chicken tostados (€17.50) and Taco de Cochinita Pibil – marinated pork, guacamole, corn tortilla, salad, habanero onion (€18.50). Or just go for it: Mole Poblano, a corn tortilla with chicken, lightly spiced chocolate sauce (€22).

Pepe admits he “really happy” to be in Monaco. “The French are not close to my culture, but I have been able to meet diverse people, which I like, so it feels like home.”

He also wanted to bring up his daughters in a safe and clean place. “It’s the same weather here as Mexico but we have the sea and mountains and … Europe! It’s hard to be away from my family and I miss them, especially as they couldn’t visit this summer to meet my new baby. But this is my place.”

À BOIRE? Sexy Tacos serves mostly Mexican wine (there are two French labels for sticklers) and, of course, tequila and mezcal. “Mexicans are drinking artisanal mezcal at the moment, served with grasshopper salt – that’s grilled grasshopper with salt, dried chile and lemon – and a slice of orange.” Whereas tequila can only be made with blue agave and produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco (and in some municipalities in Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas), the smoky mezcal is made from some 30 varieties of agave.

Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11:30 am to 2 pm &  6:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Delivery available through Mr Room Service.

Sexy Tacos
2 Boulevard du Tenao

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

Monica Huszcz Delevaux

As the battle of the ski lifts intensifies across Europe, Macron & Co. warned this week that skiers hoping to hit the slopes in bordering countries over the holidays would be met with prefect-coordinated ‘random” border checks and week-long quarantines.

France – where downhill skiing is banned until January 20 (although resorts are open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing) – is in agreement with Italy and Germany about a European-wide closure of all remontées mécaniques (ski lifts) until the New Year to avoid a third wave of Covid. Their diplomatic plea has fallen on deaf ears in Spain, Austria and Switzerland who are offering travel-deprived populations the possibility of a white Christmas on the slopes.

The Alps accounts for 43% of the world’s skiers that brings in €28 billion in revenue every year. After Austria, France generates the second-largest share of profits. The 350 ski resorts across France employ around 150,000 people and rake in $10 billion a year.

Unsurprisingly, there were protests on Wednesday in Chamonix as the first snow of the season fell. “It is devastating for everyone who works and lives here … everyone,” says Monica Huszcz Delevau, an American from Irvine, California, living in Chamonix. “Chamonix is based predominantly on tourism. If we don’t have tourists we don’t survive, it’s as simple as that.”

Monica, founder of Haute Wedding, one of Vogue’s Top 5 International Wedding Planners, illustrates how Covid is hitting her adopted ski resort by sharing the example of her business partner, Charlie Charlesworth, who also owns a transfer business, with the Geneva airport-valley route making up the chunk of its service.

“Charlie’s 2020 summer revenue was down 95% and instead of the ten chauffeurs he usually employs, this summer he had one driver. Projections for winter 2021 show that business will be down 90% over last year, and he will take only two drivers compared to 25 in a normal winter season. This is a decade-strong healthy company that saw its best year in 2019 and has now literally crashed overnight.”

The bilingual American in Chamonix

I first met Monica in 2018 at the inaugural ÖTILLÖ Swimrun in Cannes, where she was the finish line announcer and interviewing teams in English and French. The bilingual sports announcer also does the Nice-Cannes Marathon and Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc and worked at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne.

Her French is flawless. “I studied French for six years in high school and college, which gave me a solid grammatical base, and then during my undergrad studies at California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo in the late 90s, I did a study abroad in Aix-en-Provence for a year. Being a college student helped, of course, but the real answer is a French boyfriend. Hands down, the best way to learn a language,” Monica laughs.

During her year abroad in France, Monica travelled throughout Europe and met a group at a youth hostel in Biarritz that were from Chamonix. “I came to visit them, loved it, came back for a ski season … and one ski season turned into two ski seasons, turned into three… and 20 years later I’m still here!”

Chamonix, she describes, is a mix of local Chamoniards and a strong international community so “it was super easy to fit in, but I also spoke French so that always makes things easier.”

Chamonix is vibrant 11 months out of the year and so benefits from longer seasons than most resorts in the Alps, which are only in full swing for three months in the winter and two months in the summer. “November here is usually grey and drab and that’s when locals go on vacation to exotic destinations to take a break from the mountains,” says Monica.

In the winter it’s all about skiing, Nordic skiing, skijoring (being on skis and pulled by a horse, a dog or a motor vehicle) but in the spring, summer and fall there are countless activities like mountain biking, road cycling, rafting, climbing, hiking, downhill biking, paragliding, photography walks, museums, concerts, trail-running, mountaineering, skateboarding … take your pick.

Monica reveals that life in the mountains consists of “regular stuff” – work, kids, homework – but that living in such a gorgeous place also “allows us to pursue a certain lifestyle with time spent outside doing one of the above mentioned activities whenever possible!”

After two decades, the American living in France admits she still gets frustrated with the lack of positivity amongst the French. “I wish my kids would experience school and sport in a way that is uplifting and hopeful, that type of positive mindset and perspective is more prevalent in American culture.”

On the flip side, when she goes back to California, American consumerism shocks her. “People are constantly buying, buying, buying …all the time. I, too, love my retail therapy, however, I find it over the top whenever I do get back stateside.”

She confesses she gets homesick for things like good Mexican food. “I am still on the hunt for an authentic Mexican restaurant in France even after 20 years!”

The Wedding Planner

Monica started Haute Wedding in 2009 with Charlie, a Brit with a corporate events background, and the pair began planning weddings in Chamonix and the Alps. They quickly noticed Americans were attracted to the French Riviera and Provence so they expanded their service and now specialise in only these three regions in France – the Alps, Provence and the Riviera. “We don’t do Paris, the Loire valley, or other regions … we are true experts in our chosen geographical locations.”

The must be experts. In 2016 and 2018 Haute Wedding was selected by Vogue USA as on the world’s Top 5 International Wedding Planners. “We honestly couldn’t believe it and we only found out from another planner who congratulated us when the Vogue publication came out. My theory is that one of their journalists went undercover, pretending to be a bride reaching out to us.”

Monica describes their couple clientele as being 98% international although they work with a lot of Americans, British, and expats. She gives an example of a French man engaged to a Brazilian living in NYC, or a German marrying an American living in Dubai. “Our international team grew up outside of France so we know where our couples are coming from, yet we have been living and working in France for so long that we ‘get it’ and know how to accomplish things efficiently and smoothly.”

For Monica, their “haute” weddings are a mixture of high quality service, attention to detail and vetting the best partners and suppliers all to the background of unique “jaw-dropping gorgeous” settings – historical palace hotels overlooking the Med, castles, vineyards, exclusive villas and luxurious mountain hideaways. “This is more than just a business for us. We honestly love coordinating and producing an event that brings together our couples’ love story with their friends and family – it is better in real life than in a fairy tale!”

Pandemic And The People

And how is the wedding planner coping in the year of Covid? “Covid started to affect our business in March 2020 for the spring and summer weddings, and our revenue has dropped painfully low as cash flow has become almost non-existent. Couples usually book weddings 12 to 18 months in advance and we charge 50% of the planning fees when they start the planning process, and the remaining 50% of our fees are due six to eight weeks before the wedding date. So the income we were supposed to get this spring and summer for the second half of payments has been pushed to 2021.

“Compared to other businesses we are ‘lucky’ because people still want to get married and they aren’t cancelling weddings, just postponing. Hopefully, those second instalments will come later down the line. For the time being we are in survival mode. It’s hard, no money, just hope to keep pushing us forward.”

The Haute Savoie is one of the regions in France where the second wave of the virus has been circulating the most. “The mood of residents here is basically frustration, distress and fear of losing everything they’ve worked so hard to build. We need to be allowed to continue living. The economical, psychological and emotional damage cannot be measured. At this stage we will be happy if we survive.

“During lockdown, I’ve continued coming to the office, the kids are in school and we’ve been trying to keep morale up by keeping busy, going outside and being even more thankful for what we do have in this beautiful place where we live … but the bank account is diminishing too quickly, and government aid, help from family and personal savings will not last forever.”

Photos courtesy of Haute Wedding.

DouxVillage Monaco

Pierre Billon and Sébastien Lambla of DouxVillage Monaco. Photos: Nancy Heslin

To add a little Christmas cheer this holiday season, I have been trying to launch a Secret Santa Monaco initiative that would both encourage people to support local businesses and add some festive community spirit in the year of ho-ho-hovid.   

I was pointed in the direction of DouxVillage Monaco, a new Amazon-like online marketplace in Monaco offering same day delivery for only €5, cofounded by Monegasques Pierre Billon and Sébastien Lambla. The site is scheduled to go live December 8.

After high school, buddies Pierre and Sébastien went their separate professional ways for over 20 years. Sébastien is a senior software architect specialised in agile project management and software development, who lived in London for fifteen years working in Big Data (McKinsey, WhenFresh), banking (Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan) and delivery startups (Just-Eat).

Pierre, a corporate finance and business strategy expert, started his career at the dawn of 4G technologies with Clearwire/Sprint in Europe and was an independent consultant in Germany for some eight years, helping small and medium businesses adapt their corporate strategies to face new challenges. “From managing 8-figure budgets to meeting with customers, the open-mindedness I learned in business abroad is something I hope to bring back with me in Monaco.”

They two entrepreneurs, both impressively fluent in English and Anglophone culture, happened to move back to the Principality around the same time a few years ago. “It was during Covid lockdown in March when we realised that shops in Monaco needed our help,” relates Pierre, who was Customer Experience Director at Monaco Telecom until last year.

“In big European cites online shopping is available but here there is nothing, and local stores and companies need more than short-term relief through a boost in online sales during the Covid-19 crisis,” explains the 38-year-old .

Sébastien, 39, is ensuring that the IT and logistics behind DouxVillage Monaco create a homogenous vendor and customer experience. “We are creating an omnichannel to benefit smaller players who don’t have the tools, knowledge or time to get started online. For the end consumer, this is an online platform where they can order any products they want, from the participating Monaco stores, for quick and easy same-day delivery in or around Monaco or for in-store pickup.”

Pierre is quick to assure, “There is no monthly or entry fee for the shops, and customers get same day delivery in Monaco for €5, even if they buy from multiple shops on DouxVillage.”

When Pierre mentions the €5 delivery fee for Monaco, I fall silent. This is Monaco, no one offers this type of service for so little.

“DouxVillage Monaco is grounded on our years of professional experience and sound business models. However, this idea stems from our hearts and supporting the community where we born,” Pierre admits. “Monaco is unique and local businesses need help.”

Sébastien agrees. “Living in London is a life-changing experience for anyone, let alone when you have grown up on the Cote d’Azur. The mix of cultures, people and nationalities I encountered there have given me more sensitivity to what building an ethical business means – to be a good local player, to help the community and to be open-minded to others. The Brits are much more entrepreneurial, and creating a business is always seen positively, something that is not always the case down here.”

For the moment, DouxVillage Monaco has 15 commerce on board. “All except two came to us after our brief social media campaign,” says Sébastien. “As expected, our model of not charging anything for joining the platform is reassuring – they pay a small commission if they sell, nothing if not – and many of them also like that we focus on local delivery as they don’t want to compete in price with the French or international market.”

Pierre adds, “Interestingly, we have a split of about 50/50 in terms of shop profiles – half of them always wanted to go online but never did, so they like that we take care of everything, and the other half are experienced online sellers with an individual online store. For them, they like that through us they can add a new sales and communication channel and reach new customers.”

After its launch on December 8, an expansion of DouxVillage – the name reflects the movement of consumers wanting to get back to an idea of community – is planned for 2021 to other European markets. “Working abroad taught me that everything is possible if you’re ready to do the work, no matter how big or small,” Pierre says.

“People will still go to shops in person but this is a good initiative to offer an alternative to Amazon by putting local Monaco stores online,” he insists.

I’ll let you know whether Secret Santa Monaco takes off but regardless, Sébastien Lambla and Pierre Billon are delivering a real cadeau to both businesses and shoppers with DouxVillage Monaco. And you can win prizes if you shop before Christmas.

DouxVillage Monaco
DouxVillage.mc

Can Anyone Stop Amazon?
Amazon has announced that this year’s holiday shopping period has been the biggest in its history. Although the e-tail giant didn’t provide a hard figure, Adobe Analytics reported that on Black Friday online spending jumped 22% this year to a record $9 billion while, according to Sensormatic Solutions, the number of shoppers physically going to stores dropped 52% compared with last year. Truist Securities on Wall Street predicts 42 cents of every dollar spent in the US during this holiday season will end up in Amazon’s coffers (up from 36 cents last year).

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

Bury Monaco

Candice Divelec at Bury Monaco. Photos: Nancy Heslin

According to United Nations World Travel Organization, from January to June 2020, international travel arrivals dropped 65%, which translates into a loss of 440 million less passengers and $460 billion in export revenues from international tourism – that’s “five times the loss in international tourism receipts recorded” during the global financial crisis in 2009.

One person who understands all too well the impact of Covid travel restrictions is Candice Divelec, owner of Bury, the luggage shop in the Centre Commercial.

Candice took over the store in 2007 from her folks, who were one of the first businesses in the Fontvieille shopping mall when it opened in 1992.

“My parents were established in the area because they had five maroquinerie (leather bags and goods). At that time, the concept of a grande surface was new in Monaco and there was no real competition between commerce here, everyone had their own trade – shoes, clothing, watches. Now shoppers want to buy a little of everything in one store,” says Candice.

Bury is well known for its selection of quality luggage – Samsonite, American Tourister (which was bought by Samsonite) and the Belgian brand, David – and has a loyal clientele, both residents and commuters to Monaco. “I don’t see many of my regulars because they are working from home and only here once a week.”

Although Candice’s boutique has been the most impacted in the shopping centre due to the health pandemic, she remains positive and forward thinking, expanding her maroquinerie to offer items other than luggage and handbags. (She’s also worked on her website and social media presence.)

“People are not thinking about suitcases right now, and so I have to try and sell different things. But as an independent business, there is no wiggle room as I don’t have anyone that takes back my unsold stock,” she shares, adding, “I am grateful for the financial aid I have received from the government.”

Residents of the Principality are frequents travellers, for business and pleasure, but not this year, not even for school holidays. “It has been a catastrophe for me, a total lost of revenue as luggage makes up 60% of my activity,” explains Candice.

Candice had to close on March 16 for lockdown and when she reopened on May 4, she had a stock of suitcases and handbags from last season.

“I had black leather bags at a time when people were looking for a panier more suitable for the warmer weather. The collection changes every season, so I had to try and sell the bags in July on promo.”

She faced the same problem with a large stock of last-season suitcases. “I had no choice but to reduce prices,” she says. Samsonite has also been massively impacted, and have offered support as they try to liquidate stock.

Candice points out that one of the biggest reason customers buy direct from her is because she offers after sales service and repairs. “Our luggage is guaranteed from 2 to 10 years and you bring it back to the store if there’s a problem. If it is a wheel, we change it in the shop, if it is a more complex repair, then we send it back to Samsonite for you.”

She says people who buy the cheapest bag often have regret when it is broken after one flight. “The most recent Samsonite features the shock absorbing Roxkin. We can’t say a suitcase is unbreakable but this is as close as you can get.” The material “easily bounces back into shape on impact.”

“When buying a suitcase, the most important features are quality, material and weight – a good solid bag that is light. For example, the Samsonite Cosmolite is rigid but weights only 2 kilos (€400). But American Tourister offers a decent selection, and you can buy a good bag from the David line (€145).

Two top selling accessories (ideal for stocking stuffers) are the digital luggage scale (€22) and protective suitcase covers (€27). “Some have a little message and different colours to help identify your bag at the baggage claim carrousel,” says Candice.

She has had to reduce luggage stock to add more handbags and bring in jewellery made of eco-friendly inoxydable – her rings and bracelets (€15-€25) and necklaces, some up to €40, are bringing passers-by into the shop and each person is greeted with a warm hello by Candice.

“As I have huge competition Naf Naf and Minelli for handbags, I carry brands like Lancaster and Guess that are traditional and sell well, but this is Monaco where people like original things, so I also have original handbags by unique designers.

“I have tried to create a welcoming Bohemian ambience at Bury, so when you enter you feel like you are on a journey. Travel may not be for tomorrow, but there is no better time to buy suitcase at 40% off,” Candice Divelec smiles.

Open Monday to Saturday, 9:30 am to 7:30 pm

Bury Monaco
Centre Commerciale Fontvieille

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

Elizabeth Gabay

“People forget quickly,” says Elizabeth Gabay, “Many people presume life has returned to normal – they do not realise the extent of the devastation. Both the Vesubie and La Roya should not be forgotten. We need faith and optimism.”

Elizabeth lives in Saint-Martin-Vésubie, one of the villages heaviest hit by Storm Alex eight weeks ago, on the night of October 3, that left 8 people dead and 11 missing in France. The town, with a population of 1,411 (Source: INSEEE 2017), was cut off from the rest of the world when its roads were washed away, along with hundreds of coffins from the local cemetery. To date, over 80 homes have been lost and this number continues to rise as the land remains unstable and wet winter weather is upon us. Temporary roads now provide a lifeline for the town but the Vesubie still has no sewage treatment works.

“It was like a war zone with helicopters 24/7. Three days after the storm, everyone was saying we would have to evacuate, which meant the village would be abandoned and die. There were no roads and we were isolated. About half the village left. The rest of us decided to fight to keep the village going,” Elizabeth describes.

“Communal soup kitchens and animal rescue were set up, counselors brought in to assist those suffering from trauma. Many people who lost homes have been temporarily lodged elsewhere, some in holiday accommodation in the village. People are being very stoic, tearful but moving on, while others have cracked from the stress of losing papers and photos. For some older people, they have lost everything and need to start again.”

For Elizabeth, one thing that has been very noticeable over the past two months is that “the expat community on the Coast seems very unresponsive to the disaster” in a town some 40 kilometres north of Monaco. So how did she end up in this commune on the edge of a glacial plate in the first place?

From City Life To Village Walks

Elizabeth moved to Saint-Martin-Vésubie eighteen years ago from London. “My husband and I and two small children decided to have an adventure and move to France. We looked round all the wine regions and Paris, but a chance discovery of Saint-Martin was a coup de coeur,” she recalls.

She was no stranger to the South of France. Although Elizabeth was born in New York, her mother missed Europe and her parents returned to the U.K. when she was two. As her father was from the Mediterranean and a native French speaker, every holiday they came south.

“In the 1980s my parents bought a holiday home in the Var. I had worked in the theatre, backpacked round the world and was looking for what next. In 1986, I set up my own business representing Provence vineyards in the U.K.”

As only one of 400 people in the world accredited as a Master of Wine (there are three in the Alpes-Maritimes), Elizabeth is an authority on the wines of southern France (and central Europe), and a Provence specialist for the Wine Scholar Guild (formerly the French Wine Society), guiding tours around the region and giving regular webinars on the wines of Provence and rosé. She has written the definitive book on rosé, Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution.

Although she had a strong link to the region, village life was not quite the same as the buzz of London with its large mix of people, museums, and theatre. “95% of people in the Vésubie are local French and we have found it harder to have as active a social life as in London. Still, it is never lonely; every time we walk into the village we meet people we know – so I love the community of a small village. Weekends and summers give wider diversity – a chance to meet some interesting people. Life in London with small children was expensive and my kids have had an ideal childhood here, as it is safe to go out and play, and there is a large garden and woods to explore.”

She says that although her family is accepted and part of the community – they are also very involved in organizing the Marche de la Memoire, the annual walk commemorating the deportation of Jews in St Martin Vésubie in September 1943 – they “sometimes feel, even after 18 years, like outsiders.”

A formidable tambola (raffle), running until December 16 in
aid of victims of Storm Alex, has been set up by French singer Julien Doré, whose grandparents were from the Vésubie valley.

On Top Of The Disaster, There Is Covid And Accusations

In Saint-Martin-Vésubie, the risk of getting Covid has increased as 1,000 workers were brought in for search and rescue of bodies, helping those stranded, building temporary roads and services, and stabilizing risky buildings. (Elizabeth points out that its thanks to Nice mayor Christian Estrosi and MP Eric Ciotti the town wasn’t abandoned and left to die.)

Mayor Ivan Mottet, 73, has not been strict about lockdown, but Elizabeth and her family have chosen to be stricter and remain quite isolated

“Lockdown has been emotionally very difficult. We had a long week of one café being open and it was packed everyday with those of us who had stayed on. We needed the community and to be able to chat.

“The mayor and the municipal were elected in June and were out of their depth at the beginning. The prefecture sent up a crisis management team for three weeks. The town hall is working very hard but communication is not their strong point so there has been a lot of anger. And in the meantime, villagers are discussing plans for the future, which is not always easy as everyone has a different agenda on which direction to go to revitalise a village that was already in decline for various reasons,” Elizabeth says.

She adds, “Insurance companies have ranged from fantastic to real bastards. I heard today that a resident has not been able to get to her house for 8 weeks. All the roads around her home have gone but, miraculously, the house is still standing even though she cannot access clothes or papers or anything. Insurers say that the house is still there so nothing to pay.”

There is concern over the lack of transparency, information and consultation of residents by mayor Mottet (who won with only 59.89% of the vote), and especially his decision, as reported in Nice-Matin, to take away control of the distribution of donations from the non-profit organisation, Secours Populaire. Facing critics shouting cronyism – “all the friends will benefit, the others will have to make do” – the mayor defends his decision by saying the Secours Populaire has overly restrictive criteria for receiving aid: “You have to be below a certain income threshold to benefit from it, so what we’re talking about here is giving out to people who have lost everything.” he told the French daily.

Hélène Martin, who launched a collective in her neighborhood so that the residents “are not forgotten” has said that “between the prefect, the metropolis, the department and the elected officials, there are people who speak for the Vésubie … but inhabitants are afraid of not having their voice.”

Covid And The Wine Industry

With Covid and lockdowns this year, Elizabeth says her “income has been devastated” but she is no longer travelling on a weekly basis, which was part of her work as a senior wine consultant. “I have been very busy working online, writing mostly for trade magazines to support the struggling wine industry and to help vineyards.”

She launched a weekly Instagram live chat with a wine colleague called #iloverocknrosé.

With more people staying put this holiday season, it could be a time to discover local wines. “Of course, a glass of bubbly – a Pink Prosecco has just been launched by the appellation. Villa Sandhi – is lovely. I increasingly find sparkling wines are better if decanted, not too cold and in a normal, not flute glass brings out the fruit.

“I am a great fan of sweet and fortified wines, they feel very special as they are not part of everyday drinking. Although I do not eat foie gras, a sweet wine with cheese, salty nibbles, dessert or on its own really is heart-warming.

“I taste a lot of rosé, L’irreductible from Domaine Bégude in Bandol is great for winter, and if you have leftovers – mulled rosé is delicious – more delicate and the chance for more fragrant spices.”

When The Storm Passes

When the rain stopped at 4 pm on October 4, the main street of Saint-Martin-Vésubie was a flood of water and rocks. “The village square, full of firemen, was strangely silent. My son and I walked to the Vésubia sports centre and saw the size of the muddy torrential river,” Elizabeth narrates.

“I think that was when it first hit us. The park, tennis courts, car park had all gone. We saw the petrol station fall – in my memory in slow motion, none of the panic or hysterics you think – there were about five of us in shocked silence. The gendarmerie has gone, the brewery, builders’ yards… the cemetery is going… someone shouted “GET OFF THE BRIDGE!” …. We were still in slow motion.

“We went home and saw the level of the Madone river at the bottom of our garden had risen dangerously. My husband still thought the biggest problem was water coming into the cellar. Without power, we lit the fire, opened the fridge carefully, ate dinner by candlelight and closed the shutters to hide the noise of the rocks crashing down the river.”

The next day, Elizabeth and the rest of town faced the damage. “The village was completely silent, everyone just looking at the size of the river, the number of houses gone. We had no electricity, no water, no WiFi for texting, no phones … A recently widowed friend lost her house and everything and she and her kitten came to stay with us.”

Four days later, electricity generators were flown in and mobile phones re-connected but they had no water for three weeks. “It will take at least six months to repair the roads and some of the structures of the buildings. “I think the disaster has hit the local French more as many come from arrierè-pays families and have spent childhood holidays up here. The expat community seems very unresponsive to the disaster. I am on many expat Facebook groups no mention while on French groups, people are very involved,” says Elizabeth Gabay.

All images are courtesy of Elizabeth Gabay.

Les Pierres du Rocher

Serge Thomas at Les Pierres du Rocher. Photos: Nancy Heslin

Healing stones used to be thought of as something hippies wore around their necks but in recent years celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Adele (who uses crystals to reduce on-stage anxiety) have helped build the “near-gemstone” industry into a mainstream market worth more than $1 billion.

Although medically unproven, gemstones are widely believed to relieve stress and increase positive energy, amongst a long list of other health benefits, depending on the minerals. And during the current health pandemic, Millennials are especially turning to the power of metaphysics.

Labradorite, for example, is considered a spiritual and healing stone for people who tend to overwork. “This stone comes only from Madagascar,” says Serge Thomas, who opened Les Pierres du Rocher two years ago.

Described as a “hard worker,” “great guy” and “artist,” Serge is widely known in the local community even though he has always lived in France. “I was a pâtissière (pastry chef) and owned La Boule de Neige in La Turbie until I retired.”

Not quite ready for those golden years and wanting to maintain contact with people, Serge decided to open a business on 32 rue Felix Gastaldi in Monaco Ville. “This used to be a souvenir shop,” he says,” but I didn’t want to do that or become a métier de bouche (food service). I love nature and stones, and as stones are trendy these days, I opened Les Pierres du Rocher.”

His clientele is made up of both tourists and locals from Monaco. “Of course, we had to close for two months during confinement and we completely suffered. 60% to 70% of my business comes from tourists, but there are no tourists.”

Serge points to his bestseller, a wall of bracelets, costing between €9 to €50. “It is all about the quality of the stone, so the higher the grade, the more expensive. If it’s just for decoration (or costume jewellery) that’s fine, but it is better to buy a stone of quality,” he advises.

He shows me a fabulous Lithuanian natural amber necklace (€58). “Amber is fossilised resin that is washed out into the Baltic Sea,” explains Serge, “and many people don’t know this but it is very easy to make counterfeit amber.”

He laughs, “As a professional capable of knowing a good cake from a bad cake, I can also tell the quality of stone.”

Another hot in-store item, notably with spas currently shut down, is the €35 regenerating stone roller to reduce wrinkles, which another customer tells me “is very, very effective.”

“Minerals have a link with humans,” Serge says and his range of healing pieces come from around the world, from Madagascar to Peru, in every size you can imagine.

For Christmas, Serge, who happens to also be a talented ice sculptor, is selling wooden house-shaped advent calendars that you can fill how you wish (€80 to €90 everything included).

There is currently 20% off sale on everything in the store. You’ve heard of people bringing home sand from their beach vacation? This Christmas holiday in Monaco why not pick up a stone from the Rock?

Open daily 10:30 to 5:30

Les Pierres du Rocher
32 rue Felix Gastaldi, 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

Vibeke Thomsen

Vibeke Thomsen. Photos: Nancy Heslin.

On Friday, a French court handed down a 25-year jail term to 36 year-old Jonathann Daval, who was found guilty of killing his wife, Alexia, and then burning her body in 2017. The verdict has brought to a close a saga that rocked the country, especially as Jonathann had moved in with the victim’s family after he reported her missing.

The 6-day trials ends just before International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 2020 on Wednesday, November 25.

This year of Covid has particularly highlighted the issue. During spring confinement, a police headquarters in Paris witnessed a 36% increase in domestic violence reports in just one week. So urgent was the need for intervention that the then French minister of interior, Christophe Castaner, created an alert system that would allow victims to get help by going to a pharmacy and use the code “mask 19.”

According to a 2019 IMSEE report, there were 33 cases of violence against women recorded by the police services, including 31 acts committed in Monaco. 58% of the 33 victims resided in Monaco. (For more Monaco statistics, see Box at end of article.)

Monaco resident Vibeke Thomsen, founder of SheCanHeCan, has been involved with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women since 2013, and helps to make sure the Palace, Tour Odeon and Conseil National are glowing orange is solidarity on the night of the 25th.

In previous years, SheCanHeCan would co-organise events but with the health pandemic, the non-profit association has instead launched an online campaign working jointly with Fight Aids Monaco and the Committee for the Promotion and Protection of Women’s Rights.

“We sent out a call to find 100 men to send us their picture and to choose a message to publicly say NO to violence against women,” explains Vibeke. “We reached 100 in less than two days! It’s been heartwarming to see this silent majority of men – who we seldom hear from but are against violence – stand up and publicly show their face.”

The #violencesfemmesjagis campaign of 100 portraits and messages, including from Princess Stephanie’s son Louis Ducruet, freediver Pierre Frolla and F1’s David Coulthard – ambassadors of SheCanHeCan – has gone live today.

“Next year, we are already planning a larger in-person campaign and we would love to see the community involved, so stay tuned,” Vibeke adds.

Vibeke is a huge supporter of the Monaco community. Born in Copenhagen to Danish parents, the family moved to Geneva when she was a baby. “Surprisingly to the people who meet me today, I was a very reserved and shy child,” she admits. “I was an avid reader and loved to write, too. Somehow I skipped a grade so I was a year younger than my classmates, which contributed to my shyness.”

Her family relocated to Monaco when Vibeke was eight and she attended local schools before heading off to boarding school for a couple of years. “Monaco was different then, less international, less dynamic, less cultural offers and less activities for children. Going to the local school felt very normal. There were no parties on yachts, it’s much more low key than what people expect when they hear I grew up here. I was lucky to find incredible friends, many of who I’m still close to 30 years later,” she shares.

She left Monaco at 16 and for the next 13 years reinvented herself, living in many places around the world. “Travelling definitely helped me come out of my shell as I had to open up and meet new people.”

During her time abroad, she worked in a bank in Frankfurt, with the Danish Delegation to the OSCE in Vienna and spent three years in the US – one in Washington D.C. working for a non-profit to end the death penalty and then two in Ann Arbor, MI, where she picked up a double Master’s degree in Public Policy and Arts in Russia and East European Studies. 

“When I came back, Monaco had completely changed,” she describes. “It became a much more dynamic city with many cultural offerings – you can go out every night, which is surprising for a city this size. There are now more families with young children, more activities, restaurants and bars to enjoy, too. Every week, you can meet new people from every path of life and that’s what I enjoy about living here.”

Vibeke’s favourite haunts were the Bombay Frigo in Emilie Palace on blvd Princesse Grace – “incredible for drinks, dinners and dancing on that bar, it’s a shame it closed.” – and the Sea Lounge at the beach club: “It was a fun place for parties, especially the White Night party in August.”

Vibeke created her non-profit association GenderHopes in 2012, which in 2017 became SheCanHeCan, a name change “to better reflect our work locally and with the community, which is our main focus.” She has a team of three volunteers and five ambassadors.

“I had a 3-year experience in Brussels working in security, including for women in post-conflict countries and reconstruction. That’s when I got bitten by the bug and when I moved back to Monaco in 2011, I tried to find ways to continue in the same field.”

Pre-Covid, SheCanHeCan did various events, including movie screenings, fundraisers, the “A Confident Girl” exhibit at the Columbus Hotel featuring over 20 artists, and the launch of the Equality Pledge in 2019.

Every International Day of the Girl on October 11, SheCanHeCan invites students to the Conseil National to meet with the president and the (mainly) female MPs, to better understand the role and importance of women in politics.

Last year, the association launched the Red Box Project Monaco to address period inequality by bringing period products to local schools, raising awareness about organic menstrual products and breaking the taboo when speaking about periods in schools and in the workplace. The International School of Monaco was the first school to adopt the Red Box and provide free period products to its students in middle and high school.

In terms of companies and/or institutions providing free organic period products, it has been a learning process. “Most of us have learned that periods are private, almost secret and shameful and something not to be discussed in public spaces or at your workplace. It has been a fascinating experience to see how quickly the mindset and approach can change once we become aware of period inequality,” Vebeke relates.

“The environmental impact of period products is also important and often overlooked so, along with our partners Freda and FabLittleBag, this is something we work to address and raise awareness about. Overall, I would say the welcome has been positive but it’s been slow and that’s partly due to Covid.”

And for the past three years, SheCanHeCan has hosted a parent child Book Club in which we read inclusive stories,” relates the mom of three whose children go to local schools.

“I think life with kids is relatively easy in Monaco. There are many moms with young children and a wonderful informal support networks and supportive mums. There is a great play group, twice a week, at the St Paul’s church on avenue de Grande Bretagne, and the Princess Grace hospital provides some support in terms of breastfeeding.”

Vibeke, who speaks Danish, English, French and German, considers herself fortunate. “In confinement, I was able to spend time with my three children in a way we might never experience again, outside of daily stress and routine and with more time to listen and focus on each other. Despite homeschooling and work, we found time to just be together, go for long walks, talk, play, do activities. I’ll cherish this time, also because I know confinement has been a difficult experience for many.”

Vibeke Thomsen pauses for a moment. “In terms of what’s come out of it, I’ve realised the importance of focusing on the people who really matter in your life.”

Need help?

0800 91 90 10
Free hotline in Monaco for victims of all violence (rape and sexual violence, violence perpetrated within the family, sexual harassment …) and on their rights available to them.

WHO reports that 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. For more information about getting help during Covid, click here.

Monaco in numbers

According to an IMSEE report, there were 33 cases of violence against women recorded by the police services in 2019, including 31 acts committed in Monaco. 58% of the 33 victims resided in Monaco.

The average age of the women aggressed was 37; for the perpetrator, he was around 42. One in two cases were committed at the victim’s or perpetrator’s home, with 58% committed by the spouse or ex-spouse of the victim.

Nearly 60% of cases concerned physical violence while 25% were sexual violence.

113 women were admitted to hospital, including 83% suffering from physical violence and while these cases was recorded at CHPG, not all these acts of violence took place in Monaco.

In 2019, 74% of cases of violence committed in Monaco in 2019 resulted in a complaint being lodged and 33 proceedings were opened.

At the time of IMSEE’s publication, 15 cases were subject to legal proceedings, or under investigation. Of these cases, perpetrators were on average 39 while the victim was 35. There were 4 convictions and 2 protection orders for acts committed in 2019, all against men. There were no condemnations for rape in 2019 in Monaco.

Nazanine Matin

Nazanine Matin. Photos: Nancy Heslin

In the summer of 1978, Nazanine Matin visited Monaco for the first time. At only 18 months old, it would be the beginning of a long relationship with a country she would eventually call home in 2014. “My uncle had moved to Monaco and we spent a lot of time here and with him over the years,” says the founder of TEDxMonteCarlo.

Nazanine has a soft spot for the Monaco of yesteryear, with tales of the Beach Club or early days of Sea Lounge, but not all of these are for print! “I remember one evening after the Red Cross Gala, we went to Jimmy’z and in one corner you had now President Trump and Melania and in the other, Ivana and her then Italian boyfriend. Meanwhile Jean-Claude Van Damme was in a white suit doing splits on the dance floor! It was quite a scene and memories I’ll never forget, especially as I was a huge Jean-Claude Van Damme fan and had seen every one of his movies!”

Born in Tehran, Nazanine moved to the South of France due to the Iranian Revolution and she attended boarding school in Switzerland from the age of five. “I enjoy connecting people, connecting passions and maybe this comes from me going to boarding school, where we were always with other children and we had to give back and help.”

In 1989, her family moved to Toronto, where the 13-year-old went into a French Immersion program. “On my first day of school, we walked into my homeroom – I didn’t know that concept as we didn’t have homerooms in the French system – and the teacher was talking. I turned to my dad and asked him what language she was speaking. I didn’t understand her French Canadian and the students made fun of my accent, too. It was quite interesting,” recalls Nazanine, who describes herself as a “troublemaker” growing up.

Although she is a trained Mechanical Engineer from U.C. Berkeley and worked in Bioengineering, Information Technology, Logistics, and Finance, most people know Nazanine as the inspired woman who brought TEDx, the independently planned and non-profit TED-like talks to Monaco in 2014.

This was no easy feat, amongst a long To-Do List, she had to get licensed by TED to host more than 100 people, find speakers, build a team of volunteers and find a venue, which is not cheap in Monaco. Finding sponsors was also a huge hurdle as the TEDxMonteCarlo budget was “ten times more than my friend’s budget in London for the same number of speakers and attendees.”

A determined and resourceful Nazanine pulled it off. In 2014, she put on TEDxIUM (she obtained an MBA in Luxury Management at the International University of Monaco). She then held TEDxMonteCarlo events at the Grimaldi Forum in 2016 and 2017, with five smaller session Salons the following year.

“After that, I was exhausted,” Nazanine confesses, “mainly from fundraising. As a team, we thought that every two years would be better for the big flagship event. In 2019, we didn’t raise enough funds so we had to postpone to 2020. Then lockdown happened.”

To keep the community engaged and connected during confinement Nazanine and her team organized fiver free TEDxMonteCarlo vitural Salons, with up to 100 attendees. And this coming Saturday is the team’s first Women flagship event, TEDxMonteCarloWomen to showcase the TEDWomen 2020 Fearless pre-recorded TED talks and drive discussions. The event will be virtual and will address global and local topics.

“TEDxMonteCarloWomen will be different as there will be a lot of time for interaction between the attendees and with our local experts on the topics we’ve selected,” she explains, adding there will be breakout sessions running in parallel with smaller groups to discuss the topics at hand and then lots of time for Q&A.

“We really want the audience to share their ideas, speak up and be fearless. Also, even though it’s labeled with “Women”, we encourage everyone and all genders to join in the conversation. All genders need to help with the change that’s required,” Nazanine encourages.

She admits that she would love to host a live event again. “The biggest challenge is raising money and balancing my full-time job with the requirements to put these events together. A one-hour virtual event takes almost 40 hours of prep work from me and the team.”

Reflecting on Covid-19, the Monaco resident says she is “very lucky” with her situation and although it has meant less business travel, she has enjoyed “great home made food and lots of time with the friends I cherish.”

“I know that there are many less fortunate than me, and I try to give back in any way I can to make it easier for them,” says Nazanine Matin. “I leave much bigger tips at restaurants, and each time I get a GoFundMe campaign or a local funding campaign for a business that might go under, I try to contribute.”

Support Nazanine and her team by signing up for the TEDxMonteCarloWomen virtual event themed Fearless on Saturday, November 28. It costs only €5 for a full day pass and you can sign in and out as you wish. This TEDx event begins with yoga or meditation and rounds off with a virtual aperitif and networking with a DJ .

Stars’n’Bars

Kate Powers of Stars’n’Bars. Photo: Nancy Heslin.

With American Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 26, Good News Monaco is asking, in the year of Covid, what you are thankful for?

Kate Powers, the cofounder of Stars’n’Bars, shares, “I’m thankful for my family, my health, my faith and where I live. I also really appreciated the peace and quiet as well as the beauty of nature during confinement.”

Kate and her team are busy preparing for Stars’n’Bars annual traditional Thanksgiving lunch. “The French love this plat du jour – turkey, stuffing, corn bread, corn on the cob, creamed onions, with a side of homemade cranberry – all made from my mom’s and grandma’s recipes that I brought over from the States 31 years ago.”

The lunch, served from 11 am to 3 pm, is €19 or €24 with a drink and dessert (homemade pumpkin pie, apple pie and banana and ginger cake) but you need to reserve and if you want turkey with a view, make sure to ask for a table on StarDeck.

If you haven’t been to Stars’n’Bars for a while, you may be surprised. “Lockdown helped us wake up to necessary ecological changes that were more important than economical ones. However, we are now starting to see the positive results of both,” expresses Kate.

During the March to May confinement, Stars’n’Bars, like all restaurants in Monaco and France, was forced to close although Kate says that the staff of 60 were “quick to be supported” with financial assistance by the government. The team, which includes partner and manager Annette Anderson, stayed in touch by a WhatsApp group, brainstorming about new ideas for the eatery post-lockdown.

When the port side restaurant reopened on May 4, it was with a reduced menu focusing on local and organic ingredients. Gone were the Tex-Mex dishes that Stars’n’Bars has been known for since it opened in 1993, and, to the shock of many customers, Coca-Cola was also adiosed.

“We need to keep taking steps forward and raise awareness about wellness, whether its ours or the planet’s, and so we decided to cutback on industrial products that we import as much as possible,” explains Kate. “We have no industrial sodas—we cut out Coca-Cola and Sprite—and serve only organic colas made in Bordeaux.” (Fizz Bio’s cola, lime, orange, lemon and tonic sodas are made with organic brown cane sugar.)

“Some customers are upset that we stopped serving Coke and others get up and walk out when they see there is no longer Tex-Mex on the menu,” Kate admits. “I try to explain that most of the ingredients had to be imported and we are focusing on sourcing locally. It’s the same with Coke. 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.”

The new menu focuses on quality not quantity – an aubergine burger for vegans, organic beef burgers, a temaki salad plus weekly suggestions, pasta dishes and daily specials (plat du jour ). “Our Caesar Salad is à la minute – chicken steamed and fresh bread croutons prepared right before serving.

“Honestly, we have had positive feedback that the menu is better than ever and there are a lot of new regulars returning several times a week.

Caesar Salad. Photo: SNB

Kate points out that anyone needing a fix of chili con carne, nachos or Asian ribs can email a suggestion to info@starsnbars.com to be considered as a weekly plat du jour.

Another new feature, Stars’n’Bars has collaborated with Dr François Seneca, a senior scientist at Centre Scientific Centre of Monaco next door, who has been making Kombucha for four years at home and is now using part of the Star Deck kitchen to produce the fermented drink. “We now have Kombucha pumps with different seasonal flavours, and you can buy a refillable decanter,” Kate remarks.

No surprise, the coffee is locally sourced from Monaco, the ice cream is locally sourced from Monaco and Menton and they now serve homemade jam made in Monaco by cofounder Didier Rubiolo. The popular Blue Coast beer is brewed in Nice.

“You know, after confinement, people couldn’t wait to eat out. You can see that some are still leery and only want to eat outside but that’s okay as we have lots of space between the terrace and three floors inside, including Star Deck where we’ve added plexiglass to open up the view.”

Lunchtime is super busy but as the restaurant can’t open until 7 pm with the current health measures in place, dinner service is slower. “We have had a pretty challenging year, especially now with the hours, but I feel blessed with what we can do in Monaco. Our staff is great when it comes to wearing masks and nobody has been sick. I wish we could open at 6 pm to cater to families and working people but we are lucky.”

Stars’n’Bars is only getting started on their ecological journey. “There will big changes in spring 2021,” Kate smiles. Although she remains tight-lipped on the matter, she hints that new technological, innovative, educational and fun ideas are in the makes.

“We realise how much people don’t like change but if we want to make a difference, we must change our habits. The planet can do without us but we can’t do without the planet,” says Kate Powers.

Today kicked off the 2nd Monegasque edition of the European Week
for Waste Reduction. Over the next nine days, more than
30 associations, government agencies, businesses and individuals
in Monaco will be supporting the campaign to reduce,
reuse and recycle waste. At Stars’n’Bars, zero waste activities
will be shown in the children’s playroom.

Open daily 11 am to 3 pm and 7 pm to 9:30 pm. Breakfast to go is also available.

Stars’n’Bars
6 Quai Antoine 1er

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

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.