Svetlana Berezovsky met her husband Igor at a chess tournament in Ukraine. The couple moved to the Principality in 2013 to start a business and they have both since ranked as Monaco chess champions in their respective categories.
Svetlana teaches at the local chess club – Le Cercle d’échecs de Monte-Carlo – which has around 100 members and their two sons and two daughters also play the game, with their youngest, 14-year-old Fiorina, once holding the distinction of Monaco’s youngest chess champion five years ago.
While the close-knit family has fully embraced nearly a decade in Monaco, they are deeply attached to their roots. Svetlana was born in Chernihiv, a city in Ukraine with a 1300 year-long history. Today the city is under a heavy bombardment. “I lost two of my relatives who were hiding at their village house not far from Chernihiv. Two more young people from my extended family were severely injured during that terrorist attack. They are in a hospital in Kyiv at the moment. Next week we want to get them to the West,” says Svetlana Berezovsky
The 50-year-old adds that her father-in-law is in Odessa. “It is his city and he will not leave regardless. And, of course, we have many young friends – mostly men – who are in Ukraine, protecting the country.”
For the Berezovskys, the nights following Russia’s invasion on Ukraine were without sleep. “We had the feeling that if we fell asleep, we would wake up to an occupied Ukraine. So we watched the news non-stop, texted and called friends and relatives all over Ukraine.”
Svetlana describes the brave Ukrainians defending their country as “an incredibly free spirit” and emphasises “it is really a fight of good and evil without any semitones. Evil will not succeed. Ukrainians will remain free.”
Concerned about their homeland, shortly after the invasion Svetlana and Igor started to organise support for refugees coming to Monaco. “The solidarity of people in Europe is mind blowing, particularly when you think that Poland has accepted more than 2 million Ukrainians. There is practically no border between Ukraine and Poland today.”
According to UNHCR, as of April 2nd, 4,176,401 refugees had fled Ukraine since February, 24th with 2,429,265 arriving in Poland.
“With other families, we do our little bit to help – like organising temporary apartments and rooms in France, Monaco and Germany for incoming people, mostly women with kids. When people are here, we are trying to support them in any possible way. We see also that while Ukrainians are very thankful, they all want to go back home after Ukraine wins the war.”
For Svetlana, “Everyone can help, be it by supporting Ukraine financially, helping with temporary accommodation, with medical supplies, food and other things.” What is especially important at the moment is accommodating people “even if just for one month.”
She articulates that it is “critically important not to do business with Russia. Every penny Russia gets on taxes, goes directly to war, directly for killing Ukrainian children. And the Kremlin’s appetite is not limited to Ukraine … they are speaking openly about that.”
Anyone wishing to donate items to Ukrainian families currently being housed locally can contact Kate Golubeva on WhatsApp +380 50 392 3244 for more information. Svetlana has provided details below for wire transfers for first aid kits to the largest and trusted Odessa foundation.
Company details: CHARITABLE FOUNDATION M CORPORATION
According to UNHCR, 2,808,792 refugees have fled Ukraine since February, 24, 2022, with 1,720,477 arriving in Poland. The French government anticipates the possible arrival “50,000, perhaps 100,000” refugees from Ukraine in France in the coming weeks.
I have been glued to the TV watching as the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians make their way to safety at the Polish border. When French television showed a report of a German man standing at the border, holding a sign, and saying in English, “I can offer seven people a new life”, I openly wept.
The 60-something-year-old man told the reporter, “I could not sit on my sofa and do nothing. I will be back next week and the week after and the week after that to pick up another seven people.”
I have thought about this story every day. It dampens my despair and reminds me to side with hope, to believe in humanity. Millions of individuals across the planet are unexpectedly taking action and I would rather share their positive stories than read the crippling headlines before I go to bed.
This is what led me to Emilia Romagnoli and her post about accommodating two Ukrainian families in her weekend home in the Alpes-Maritimes department. Emilia, who is Polish, and her husband Rumble live in an apartment in Monaco with their three children but made the decision while they are currently visiting Dubai Expo 2020. From Dubai, Emilia began scrolling through Facebook and was soon in touch with local Ukrainians in Nice who are acting as a hub for arriving refugees.
“To be honest, I did not ask any questions about the people. Per formality, I received photos of their passports but I did not call them. They are traumatised and I did not feel it was my place to ask. In my eyes, they are simply mothers with children. The lady that is at our house drove for 5 days with 2 kids from Ukraine, I doubt she wanted to queue up in Nice to register first. Of course, I understand it is not the way to do it. I see that Western countries keep it structured but I just went Polish about it.”
Emilia was inspired to act when she saw Facebook posts by her Polish friends and family. From Day 1 to Day 2 of the war, her Facebook wall became “one massive announcement board” with everyone sharing “anything and everything” they have: houses, goods and cars but also services like volunteering, nursing, babysitting, offering translations and creating shared Google resource documents.
Emilia’s uncle, aunt and two cousins held a major collection of donations at their local factory near her hometown in Poland and took a van to drive it all themselves 900 km to the border. Her high school friend, Julia, who lives in an apartment in Warsaw, accommodated a woman with two daughters and two grandchildren and uses her network to organise everything they need. Emilia’s university friends, Gosia and Justyna, are also hosting families in their smallish apartments where they live.
“When I saw this wall, I thought, jeez,” admits Emilia. “The people in Poland are the real heroes. They are truly making sacrifices and pushing themselves to live outside their comfort zones. They share their own flats, they share kitchens, they share bathrooms. It was obvious we needed to share whatever we could. Like so many people in the South of France with secondary residences, guest houses and extra rooms, it was a no-brainer to share our weekend house. It felt wrong that it was sitting empty while women with children have nowhere to go. From what we gather so far, 90% of these cases are women with children and the elderly and the most important thing right now is to get these families to safe houses.”
Emilia decided to share her story “to encourage friends” to open up to the idea of accommodating Ukrainian women and children that desperately need help.” She says she understands that people might feel “awkward” and prefer to let authorities deal with the situation.
Inspired to do something, Emilia has guaranteed two families a minimum of 30 days accommodation. At the moment, one family of three – a mom, her 4-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter – are safely in Emilia and Rumble’s home. “We are lucky enough to have a housekeeper who prepared beds, did the first shopping and made a big warm meal. Then a friend from Nice went by to deliver more shopping and toys. The family has access to laundry, cooking, baby sitting, whatever they need. I told them to use anything they need, our kids clothes, toys, my jeans, jumpers, socks and shoes…”
Emilia adds, “I had news that the second mother that was meant to be there with her 8-year-old son are going to the Mairie in Nice to fill out the documents but the room is blocked for them them. That is all I know.”
As soon as Emilia returns to Monaco this week, she will assess the emotional state of women and kids staying at the family house. “Maybe I am living in la-la land but I thought that on the weekend when we are all together in the house, we will organise activities for the kids. We have a big space where we paint a lot with our children and I just ordered from Amazon extra paints and canvas. Our neighbour is a piano teacher and teaches our kids piano and if the kids and moms are up for it, we will do music and games. We have a Ukrainian chess player that teaches our kids and I just texted her if there is something we can do together.”
She is clear: “There was no decision-making process in all of this. We have three kids of our own so we wondered how could we have extra kids in our home, kids who have escaped war that we don’t know – but these thoughts felt so wrong. We are privileged and this tiny bit of discomfort actually changes somebody’s life.”
HOW TO HELP
The French government launched a website last week to connect Ukrainian refugees with French families who wish to offer them accommodation. The site also allows associations to recruit volunteers to help them carry out their missions. https://parrainage.refugies.info/
“I consider myself Senegalese by birth, Franco-Lebanese by origin, Monegasque at heart and a citizen of the world,” says Johanna Houdrouge, president of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Monaco (Association des Femmes Chefs d’Entreprises de Monaco, AFCEM ).
“Growing up and living in Monaco means being able to work in a reassuringly safe environment, knowing nearly everyone – the kids I went to school with are now entrepreneurs and business leaders – and having an openness thanks to the multitude of nationalities that coexist.”
Although Johanna passed the Bar – “Why did I want to become a lawyer? Because I love the law, I love the idea of defending a cause, whatever it is” – she is vice-president of Mercure International, an import-export business that has 250 points of sale in 17 countries on three continents.
The family-run business was founded by her Monegasque father and began with their own City Sport brand. Today the company covers three sectors of activity – sport, fashion and food – with supermarkets under the Casino and Super U banners (in West and Central Africa), as well as shopping centres in Africa (Gabon, Congo, Senegal, Ivory Coast).
They have 5,000 employees worldwide, including 100 in Monaco, which is where Joanna works at the head office, alongside her father and brother. “I manage all the legal and administrative aspects of the group throughout the world. I am a specialist in business law and more particularly in OHADA, that is the Organisation for the Harmonisation in Africa of Business Law. So, even if I no longer litigate, my knowledge of law is still useful on a daily basis,” she explains.
On December 4, 2018, Mercure International opened the first N’Kids activity centre in Senegal. “N’Kids is my baby. I had been very keen to launch this concept of indoor games for children in African countries, where activities for kids are sorely lacking. Parents are delighted to be able to fully enjoy their shopping experience in our shopping centres, without feeling guilty, since their children are having fun in complete safety.”
Johanna joined AFCEM 10 years ago, and was the youngest member at the time. The network – whose slogan is “Alone we are invisible, together we are invincible” – promotes business and defends the rights and interests of women entrepreneurs. “The association’s values speak to me, they correspond with my own. I have always been very involved in the social fabric, not just in Monaco but internationally, and am very invested in the economic life of the Principality.”
Johanna’s election as AFCEM president last September allows her to carry strong messages to the “courageous and competent women entrepreneurs each in their own field.” For example, she believes the time has passed for focusing on the differences between men and women in the workplace. “Of course, we are different, it would be nonsense to deny this, but why not play on these differences to make them a strength and work together?
“I also want to pass on entrepreneurial desire to younger generations who are the business leaders of tomorrow. We owe it to them to support them, to prove to them that women, like men, are responsible, competent leaders who keep the human factor at the heart of their concerns. This is, I believe, a primary mission incumbent upon us today.”
For Johanna, Monaco’s female entrepreneurship is a formidable patchwork of skills and diversity. “Our members represent all areas of activities – insurance, health, e-banking, art, new technologies … we even have a navigator among us! This diversity is a pledge of openness and human wealth.”
Covid has been particularly challenging for all businesses but women have been particularly impacted over the past year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, there were 2.2 million fewer women in the work force between October 2019-2020. Between January and September last year, the largest net decline was among women with two children, down 3.8 points, and among women whose oldest child is 2 to 6 years old, down 5.6 points.
A Catalyst survey of adults ages 20 to 65 working in large companies (500 or more employees) found that 2 of every 5 mothers say they must hide their caregiving struggles from colleagues while a McKinsey survey showed that 1 in 4 women was considering taking a leave of absence, reducing hours, moving to part-time, or switching to a less-demanding job. McKinsey also reported, “women in France, Germany, and Spain will have an increased need for pandemic-induced job transitions at rates 3.9 times higher than men.”
“Covid spared no one and AFCEM members were impacted to varying degrees,” Johanna states. “Our association brings together women business leaders from all sectors and some, like those in the event and travel industry, are still going through difficult times being at an economical standstill yet having to continue to cover operating costs. Fortunately, the Monaco government put in place the Economic Recovery Support Commission, which provides assistance for companies in difficulty, and also the €20 million Monaco Blue Fund, which subsidises all companies, regardless of their size, to cover 30%-70% of their digital transition.”
In addition to keeping its members informed in real time as government financial measures evolve in response to the pandemic, the association also organises conferences, like with CHPG director Benoîte de Sevelinges last December, a webinar on “The success of women in business” organised in partnership with the Monaco Economic Board on International Women’s Day, and, on March 18, Julien Dejanovic, the Director of Digital Services hosted “Extend Monaco” on digital technology and businesses.
“We want to continue our missions while keeping this entrepreneurial spirit and dynamism that defines us. Today we not only need to survive but also to reinvent ourselves. All AFCEM members live in complicated situations, both professionally and personally, but they all have this desire to emerge stronger,” asserts Johanna.
“Covid has impacted me personally and professionally, and continues to do so,” she shares. “As Mercure International is present in many countries that did not implement the same measures at the same time, you can imagine the difficulty in managing stores and shopping centres and, consequently, the men and women who work there. Our main suppliers are in China, and China was the first country to be confined, which meant no more deliveries to our stores. When China deconfined, the rest of the world confined. Production resumed, deliveries also, but we could no longer sell the goods. This was a real headache but fortunately our diversification saved us – the food sector continued to function.”
“From all of this, I will especially remember our formidable capacity for resilience. I believe that word, resilience, is definitely the word of the year 2020. We always say, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”. We have seen it. When it is really necessary, we have tremendous resources within us.”
Johanna is not only an entrepreneur, but also a mother. “And like many women, I had to deal with my two children during the first confinement … and after. I had to change hats regularly in 24 hours – that of a business leader, then a school teacher, then a mom … A very complicated situation to live with mentally and physically.”
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.
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%.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
As a Remembrance Day tribute, Francis Wright shares his story about growing up in Monaco in the 1930s and when Italy declared war on France.
Born in Monaco in 1927 on what is today known as National Day (see “It’s A Date!” text below), Francis Wright’s childhood consisted of walking from his home at Rue de la Source to Lycée Albert 1er up on the Rock, every morning, lunch and evening.
“We had homework to do over lunch which he had to recite at 2 p.m. Punishment was having to go back to school on a Wednesday, our day off, for one to three hours. I was punished once and had to write what the teachers told me,” says 93-year-old Francis.
When the weather was warm, Francis and his older brother, Peter, would swim early in the morning in the Condamine harbour, where Ubaldi is now, and then walk up to the Rock for classes. “That was our joy. Before the war, there were no parks or reserved places for children to play in Monaco. We weren’t even allowed to walk around the Casino in shorts, you had to wear a tie and proper clothes,” he reminisces.
In those days, men went to work, women looked after the house and the children, who were left to their own devices to entertainment themselves, like playing football or marbles in the street. Shopping was a daily occurrence. “There were at least four épiceries along rue des Roses. There were no Frigidaires at the time, so butter would melt at times. I don’t remember milk.”
His father came to Monte Carlo in 1924 to set up a garage to service the cars of tourists who drove cars from England and through France to Monte Carlo on gravel roads. In the lead up to the war, his father’s garage, British Motors at 5 Rue de la Source, had fewer and fewer customers as there were no cars from either Great Britain or tourists and his business collapsed in the Thirties. “He took on a job as driver for Madame Westmacott, which took him all over France and other places. Mother looked after us alone, and that was hard.”
Francis says he will never forget June 10, 1940, the day Italy declared war on France and Great Britain. “My two brothers and I had already been badly treated by the Italian scholars because we were British, but the mood worsened, especially after Mussolini’s shouting speeches on the radio, and we weren’t welcome. The school closed that day and it was a frightening scene as the Monaco police – there was no military – rounded up all the fascists, including the baker, who were all taken to Fort Carré in Antibes.”
Francis describes, “It was the first day we had air raids. Sirens went off as a warning as Italian warplanes passed over Monaco flying to Cannes and elsewhere to do some bombing, I suppose. We would hide in the garage, others hid in their caves.”
Then came the phone call.
Fleeing France: 1 ship, 900 people, 2 toilets
On June 16, which happened to be Peter’s birthday, Francis’ father received a phone call from the British consulate advising the family leave the country as the Nazis had entered Paris. He explained that there were two ships leaving Cannes for England at 8 a.m. the following morning. “They had to make the decision then and there,” says Francis. “I remember mother and father sitting around the table and it must have been a hard decision for my father to make, to leave the garage, leave the home … we had to give away our Siamese cat.”
They were allowed one case each (the boys packed a few toys for the long journey) and the only clothes they took were the ones they wore. And so, the next morning, 12-year old Francis, Peter, 15, and their parents fled Monaco being driven by their neighbour in their old Citroën. (Francis’ oldest brother Alan had joined the Royal Air Force in 1938 and in 1940 escaped France via Cherbourg during the Dunkirk operation.)
“It was hot and we had a trunk full of sardines,” recollects Francis about the drive to Cannes that morning. “My father had thought of escaping the Italian invasion by driving into the middle of France somewhere and mother had said the best food to take would be cans of sardines, which were in the back of the car. And so we took with them on the ship, which was a good thing. The only rations on the ship were a couple of slices of corned beef, slices of bread, and biscuits.
On the ship Salterscate, there were only two toilets for 900 Brits and no washing facilities. “We didn’t wash until we got to Gibraltar. We were going to disembark at Oran, but the captain said we could not land there because ‘France had capitulated and we are now in French Algerian waters, enemy waters.’ Francis in fact saw the British fleet leave Gibraltar and later discovered they were, in fact, part of Operation Catapult, which helped defeat the French fleet in Oran so they ships would not fall into the hands of the Germans.
Historian Maureen Emerson comments: “Francis’ memories of the journey to freedom echo those of Somerset Maugham, who took the same journey on the same ship.”
In Gibraltar, they were able “to freshen up” the hospital served as accommodation and the passengers were served a meal of bacon and eggs. “It was the best meal I’ve ever had, I’ll always remember that. My father fell ill with the dysentery and we thought we’d have to leave him in Gibraltar. But he recovered and on the City of Cairo ship, we had a cabin for the four of us. We left the cabin to mom and father and Peter and I slept on the deck. We landed in Liverpool on July 14 or 15.”
“When we left Cannes, my mother had a lovely full head of brown hair. When we arrived in England three weeks later it was white.”
The family stayed briefly Liverpool, and then headed to Pinner in Middlesex outside of London where an aunt lived. “My mother took me to Lewis, the men’s shop for trousers, and it was the first pair I’d ever owned. I still remember that because I had always worn shorts in Monaco.”
Francis’ father found a job in Warrington, as a transport manager to an air drone base, which would become one of America’s biggest bases in England. “The airplanes would arrive in crates from the U.S. to be assembled at the Burtonwood air depot, like toys being put together.”
Peter went to night school and eventually joined the RAF and Francis attended grammar school in Farnworth. “I didn’t like it at all. I was nicknamed ‘Froggy’ because of my name. It was big change and I stayed until age 16.” He spent a month in hospital having contacted pneumonia and pleurisy, and at one point he was placed on the dangerously ill list for a week. “I remember my father came to see me every night and I appreciated that very much.”
Once he “got over that,” he began to work at an aviation company, working on Barracudas, where he gained great insight of airplanes and the air force.
Meanwhile Warrington was having air raids every night. “It was worse when the full moon lit up the Manchester ship canal which if German Luftwaffe followed would guide them to the Burtonwood air depot. Liverpool got a packet during the war.”
There were no restrictions on movement or curfew and “the rationing was just about adequate, we didn’t starve. But the worst thing was the blackouts in the winter, you couldn’t see anything, not even cars and buses. I remember a blackout so intense once that biking home from work after work, Peter ended up on the main railway station platform in Warrington.”
The return home, or what was left of in, in Monaco
Post-war, Francis moved back “home” early 1949. “There was nothing left of the apartment in Monaco, it was an absolute disaster.”
His dad had returned in 1947, alone, travelling by train all the way back to Monaco and found his garage business empty, the cars stolen by the Germans, who apparently “left a note saying something like ‘when the hostilities were finished we’ll hand them back to you.’” (Francis still has the note.)
“There was nothing left in the apartment, the cupboard with my toys had been emptied. We had to sleep on mattresses on the floors. And we stared work on the garage.”
Francis has lived through three reigning Prince’s in Monaco. “I was too young to remember Louis II but Rainier had a pretty good relationship with the people, and decided that buildings built during his reign were not to be more than 13 floors high, except the Millefiori.”
As Rainier had a Rolls Royce, Francis met him through the garage. He and Peter (who returned in 1948 after leaving the air force) were also the ones who collected Princess Grace’s Rover from Paris to Monte Carlo to check for any faults to sort out before Monte Carlo.”
“Princess Grace brought the Americans here and Monte Carlo changed completely, she put Monte Carlo on the map because the Americans loved her marrying a Prince. Americans wanted to come and see where was this place Monte Carlo.”
One of the first things Grace did was to stop the live pigeon shooting, which took place at a range above the train station, where the Fairmont is now. They substituted real pigeons for clay but ended up packing the whole thing in. “They turned the shooting range into an open-air cinema, but if two people in the film were talking quietly and a train went past, you couldn’t hear.”
Monaco then and now
For Francis, Monaco is just “a town like every other town” with commerce and workers commuting in. “It is the press, not the people, that created the image that Monaco s full of glamour, cocktail parties every night, champagne everywhere, and full of rich people. Monaco is a working town, there are lots of people that are poor, lots of people better off, and some are struggling more than others.”
Looking back on 93 years, Francis feels fortunate but admits that living in Monaco was a career choice, coming back after the war to work with his dad at the garage. Their customers were ordinary people (although Sean Connery did bring his Rolls Royce in for service. “It was successful but we made it successful because we worked damn hard. Peter and I would do all the paperwork on the weekends.”
General Motors was big seller in the 1950s and the American car company set up in Monaco, across from where the Marché U is now, on Boulevard Princesse Charlotte “Peter saw their showroom window and said that would be a dream to have. Then business slowed down because of space in Monte Carlo and GM went caput.”
For Francis, there are too many buildings in Monaco and not enough green spaces. “Everything is concrete now, which gives it too much heat in the summer. The Hotel de Paris had the Camembert garden/roundabout, then they got rid of it and it is just concrete. Why not have a little green space instead of a building?
The other standout memory for Francis is when the relationship soured between Prince Rainier and Charles de Gaulle (France celebrated the 50th anniversary of his death on November 9) because of French companies evading taxes by having offices in Monaco. “There were plaques of French businesses on buildings, like the Victoria, and they didn’t pay any income tax. De Gaulle came down and sorted it out with Rainier. Suddenly Monaco had frontiers. Margare, my sister-in-law, would look out the window and see the old women carrying their baskets up the public steps leading up from rue de la Source, where French gendarmes were checking to see if they had anything to declare.”
Remembering and Remembrance
For Remembrance Day commemorations, Francis and two brothers often laid wreaths on avenue Grande Bretagne or were flag bearers at the war memorial in the cemetery in Menton.
“For me, Remembrance Day is about the pilots during the Battle of Britain. If we had lost, that would have been the end of it all. The Germans would be in England, the Americans could never have come over to create a base in England and it would have changed the direction of the war in the German’s favour. There would never have been a D-Day.”
He always thinks back to getting on that ship in Cannes in 1940. “It was the biggest event in my life getting on that ship, crossing the Atlantic as a convoy, all night the horns would blow, which meant changing course in a zigzag formation to confuse any U boats.”
Francis says it’s “not really fair to compare” Covid to a war. “Covid is an illness that I don’t think will ever go away properly and it is unfortunate you can’t go home, or go to France, but you just have to accept it and live through it.
“It’s like during the war. We didn’t like it but we had to live through whatever they threw at us.”
A heartfelt thanks to Ed Wright for assisting in the interview of Francis Wright, which I couldn’t do in person due to Covid restrictions.
It’s A Date! Monaco National Day
Since 1857, Sovereign Day in Monaco typically coincided with the day of the ruling Prince’s Patron Saint. Prince Louis II broke this tradition when he ascended, however, as Saint-Louis day was on August 25, during summer holidays. He instead chose January 17, the day of Saint Anthony the Abbot, the Patronal Feast of his granddaughter, Princess Antoinette.
When Rainier took over, the feast day of Patron Saint Rainier d’Arezzo fell on November 19, and so this date was consecrated National Day in 1952. Prince Albert decided to keep the same date as it also marked the second part of his investiture in 2005 when he was enthroned at Saint Nicholas Cathedral.
Born and raised in Billinge, Lancashire, Louise Morelli says her childhood was filled with love, laughter and fun with her older brother and sister. “Family has always been so important in my life and not seeing my family has been the hardest part of Covid life,” says the British entrepreneur.
Louise moved out to Monaco with her partner around 15 years ago, which she describes as “a new adventure and a great decision” and the couple later married in the Principality. A passionate runner, Louise is often seen whizzing around Monaco. “We live on the Rock, so the last hill home during a run is always a killer,” she laughs. The health enthusiast has recently developed a fondness also for Tibetan yoga, which she practices daily.
Monaco is home for Louise and her husband. It is where their daughter was born and attends school, and where Louise is an active member of the community. She is a member of St Paul’s Anglican Church, as well as a Council Member, and additionally helps out with their Mother and Baby group, which runs on Monday and Thursday mornings.
“Being a new mom in Monaco can be a challenge,” Louise confesses. “I found it surprisingly lonely when my daughter was a new-born. Thankfully there are a few parks here where you can meet other mothers and there’s the brilliant Mother and Baby group at St Paul’s which gives moms a bi-weekly place to go, make new friends and have a coffee/tea and a chat. For me, it was a lifesaver. There are a growing number of activities available and thankfully we are blessed with beaches nearby and access to nature.”
And how does Louise compare her upbringing to that of her 6-year-old daughter? “Oh my goodness, it is so different,” she insists. “Monaco apartment life is not at all like my childhood experience. I grew up on a street with many other children and we were in and out of each other’s houses all day. There was a freedom and simplicity then that is difficult to achieve today. In Monaco, space is limited and playdates need to be organised. For many of us, though, the biggest difference is that our families do not live nearby. Thankfully we have technology so that video calls can happen, but there is nothing like visiting family members in person and sharing hugs.”
Growing up, Louise wanted to be a doctor and although that dream did not pan out, her fascination with the human body and mind continued. “People really interest me,” she reveals. This led her to obtain a qualification as a Baby Sleep Consultant and launch her own business, Gently to Sleep. “Sleep deprivation is a huge part of parenthood and it is torture. My daughter didn’t sleep through the night until she was 15 months old. I was totally exhausted and when I finally managed to get her sleeping well – and, by default, me sleeping well – the process of achieving good sleep for our daughter then sparked an interest in all things sleep and ignited a passion to help other families.”
Louise describes witnessing exhausted parents in survival mode regain their joie de vivre. “I really want them to have the energy to be the best parent they can be and appreciate their parenting journey. I absolutely love my work.”
Parents approach Louise with a range of issues including: frequent night waking, poor napping, struggling to settle little ones to sleep, bedtime battles or more pro-active needs, such as needing help to get babies into a good routine. “The great thing is that all sleep challenges can be improved or resolved and in a way that feels right,” explains Louise. “I see a lot of guilt and self-criticism from parents, and especially moms, when their little ones aren’t sleeping well. There’s a lot of pressure to be the perfect parent and parents, and especially moms, often feel judged if their baby isn’t sleeping through the night. But they shouldn’t feel this way.
“More often than not, I see parents who have been responsive and intuitive and have done everything necessary to ensure their baby sleeps well. They just reach a point where all the things they have been doing to get their baby to sleep, suddenly become less effective, so the time comes to change this and encourage their little ones to fall asleep easily and stay asleep.”
Louise points out that there is a lot of misinformation around infant sleep and how to encourage little ones to sleep better. “Many people think that encouraging great sleep means automatically using the ‘cry it out’ method – leaving a baby to cry and not responding – and this simply isn’t true. There are many ways to ease little ones into independent sleep and sometimes simply changing the timing or length of sleep, or making adjustments to the sleep environment, is all you need to make a huge difference. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and my aim is for all parents who work with me to feel that the route they choose feels right for them and fits their philosophy and needs as parents. No judgment, just kindness and support.”
Any tips for those with young children during the current pandemic? “Life with Covid has certainly been interesting. The initial period of confinement with school closures was a huge change in the daily rhythm of life and I really felt for our daughter not being able to socialise with her peers. My best tip for parents is to keep a routine in place as much as possible and get outdoors as much as you can. Fresh air, movement and nature work wonders for wellness.”
“I’m a Dubliner who loves the rest of Ireland,” enthuses Paula Farquharson-Blengino, who grew up and went to an all-girls Dominican convent school. She picked up a Bachelors and Masters from Trinity College Dublin, famous for the Book of Kells medieval manuscript. “This education was a window to the world. My first stop after graduation was New York and having Trinity on my CV opened doors to interviews, landing me a prize starter marketing job at Christian Dior USA-LVMH headquarters.”
This was the start of Paula’s corporate world journey with companies, including L’Oréal and Pretty Polly, spanning the luxury industry and publishing with a stop in Australia and back to Ireland. “Then 20 years ago I followed my dream to base myself in France permanently and haven’t looked back.”
Moving to Nice, Paula changed everything – lifestyle, language and career. She leveraged her communications experience and landed a journalist/editor job at the English-language publication The Riviera Times (now Riviera Insider). “That honed my skills to tell a story although I guess being Irish it came quite naturally!” Writing across a wide range of topics, the job expanded her network in the region.
One ofthe Times partners was Top Marques Monaco so when the time came to leave the newspaper after eight years, she was hired there as Press Officer by the founder Lawrie Lewis. “I learnt a lot from him, like attention to detail and the importance of people to ensure an unforgettable event.”
When he retired, Paula moved back into the corporate world – “quite a change” with the oil, gas and renewable energy industry. “SBM Offshore is listed on the Dutch stock-exchange so that gained me a whole new tool box of skills around governance and compliance. Confidentiality was key in my role when talking to the media; I was a gatekeeper for non-financial information from the company,” she shares.
All the experience that I’ve gained during my varied career, led her to her current position as Director of the Princess Grace Irish Library. “I enjoy working in the non-profit sector now. The Library is under the aegis of the Fondation Princesse Grace, which does such good work helping sick children and assisting young people embark on training for careers in the cultural domains such as literature, music and dance. This is a way to put my corporate experience to work for the good of others,” Paula says.
The mom of two adds, “When I was new to the region, the Princess Grace Irish Library felt like a home from home. It is a lovely, intimate ambiance and over the years I met so many wonderful people at the regular talks – and not just Irish. It is nice to chat with people who ‘get’ your Irish humour and Irishisms!”
The Princess Grace Irish Library represents a loving tribute to Princess Grace’s attachment for Ireland by her husband Prince Rainier III, who inaugurated it in November 1984, and the Princess’ personal collection of books and music scores form the heart of the library. “My favourite is a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses published in 1922. But it goes much beyond its content. We organise our own events and we facilitate conferences, symposia bringing people and academics together, we host writers via the twice-yearly bursaries supported by The Ireland Funds of Monaco.”
This October the Library has a symposium planned with academics from Villanova University close to Philadelphia (Princess Grace’s hometown) and there is a desire to develop more collaboration with the schools in Monaco. Princess Grace supported the arts and culture and the Library continues her legacy, operating under the aegis of the Fondation Princesse Grace.
With Covid, the Library remains open but reservations are necessary to ensure limited numbers and everyone’s safety. “We have the Monaco Safe Label. The health crisis forced us to review how things have always been done and adapt – we have gone online with events and even when normal life resumes, the digital world will allow us to be creative and reach more people, beyond the cosy, intimate setting of the physical Library. There’s no doubt that people are craving face-to-face events but I see us benefitting from having a hybrid offering with both live and online events going forward.”
On St Patrick’s Day, the library was honoured to host a small event with Irish music and drama in the presence of Prince Albert and his children, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella. We filmed it as we could not invite Friends of the Library due to health measures.
“On the programme was traditional music by the pupils of the l’Académie de Musique Fondation Prince Rainier III and a semi-dramatized reading by actors from the Monaco-Ireland Arts Society. The pupils were so happy after a year void of performances.
On a personal level, Paula admits that with pandemic it has been hard not being able to travel to Ireland to see family and friends but “being at the Library allows me the luxury of engaging face-to-face with people safely.”
Paula Farquharson-Blengino has found a silver lining in the Covid cloud. “The past year underlines that people value culture. They also yearn for a physical place to enjoy it and by keeping our door open, the Library acts like an oasis, where you can get lost in books and meet other like-minded people here.”
Located at 9 Rue Princesse Marie de Lorraine in the old town, the Princes Grace Irish Library is open Monday to Thursday 9 am to 4 pm and Friday 9 am to 3:30 pm.
With an opportunity to join some friends in a startup, Ben Rolfe moved to Monaco in 2003 with his family. At the time, he and his wife Sally had two girls and #3 came along in 2005 “born in our apartment on the 19th Floor of the Chateau Perigord!” (Ben fondly refers to his daughters as #1, #2 and #3.)
“I mainly wanted to get away from the commute and the politics of large organisations and Monaco was a great place to bring up the kids with great schools and loads to do,” says Ben Rolfe. “It can be quite a transient community with people coming and going but that can be a huge plus as residents are always looking to meet new faces so the social side is very full.”
Family-man Ben is certainly well known around town, especially for combining his endurance sports with raising awareness and money for charities. “I played a lot of rugby during and post-university but once that stopped, I was a bit lost and gained a ton of weight. Then I entered my first marathon for charity and was hooked,” he recalls.
From the marathon distance of 42.195 km, he graduated to ultras, pushing the boundaries partly for a challenge and partly to raise the bar to encourage people to sponsor him. His team Pussyfooting Around, comprised of family and friends, has been a staple of No Finish Line Monaco for years and by May 2018, he had raised over €100,000 for various different causes through the JustGiving website.
“I always said to my kids that if they were dedicated to training that when they turned 16, they would be able to do the Marathon des Sables – a 7-day semi self-sufficient 250 km-ultra-marathon across the Sahara Desert.”
#1 took him up on the challenge in 2018 and remains the youngest ever female finisher at 16. The dad-daughter duo raised money for Diabetes U.K. who have been brilliant at helping the Rolfe family since #2 was diagnosed as Type 1 diabetic in 2013.
#2 wanted a different challenge and so …“We climbed Kilimanjaro over five days from base camp when she was 16.”
#3 turns 16 this November and awesome dad Ben stumbled across the Camino Santiago – an ancient 900-km pilgrimage from France across Spain to the west coast.
“I like the idea of meeting a bunch of different people and also the challenge of getting up and walking every day for a month, but also focussing on what is important in life – just exercise, company and moving forwards carrying everything you need on your back. It’s just an idea at the moment but hopefully in June 2022, #3 will be walking for a yet-to-be-decided charity.”
In 2013, Ben published Running High, Running Low, Running Long, a book about a fundraising challenge he took on to try and prove to #2, when she was diagnosed Type 1 diabetes, that she could do anything she put her mind to. “I ran over 100 km from Monaco to Limone to the start of the Cro-Magnon ultra-marathon. I then did the race – another 130 km, and I achieved my goal of not coming last!”
The narrative also touched upon his journey “from fatty to fitty” to hopefully inspire other people to get off the couch. In 2004 during a routine medical, Ben, an overweight smoker at the time, was told he wouldn’t see 40 unless he changed his lifestyle. He lost 35 kilos and has since finished some of the world’s toughest ultra-marathons, including the Western States 100, the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc and, as he mentioned, the Marathon Des Sables.“As they say, if you don’t make time for exercise, you will have to make time for illness.”
When he’s not running around the streets of Monaco in the early morning, Ben likes to have a little fun, and admits he is a fan of Eurovision. “I probably started watching Eurovision at university. We used to have Eurovision parties, sometimes in fancy dress, and friends would come round to eat drink and singalong at the TV. We always put the subtitles on for the songs which are translated into English which makes it even more hilarious.
“The event itself is fantastically mad. Somehow it seems to take itself super seriously but at the same time, there is a huge tongue-in-cheek aspect to it all, especially with the partisan voting – neighbouring countries voting in blocks and ganging up on others that they don’t like,” Ben explains. “Also the randomness of it all. I mean how can Australia be part of Eurovision? Terry Wogan was brilliant at the commentary with his sarcasm and wit and I think Graham Norton is doing a good job following in his footsteps.”
For the second consecutive year (thanks Covid), Ben virtually steps into Graham Norton’s shoes by bringing us Lockdown Eurovision. For the 2021 edition, he has created a special Facebook group, providing summaries of the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest with 40 countries participating.
For the local community, Lockdown Eurovision is a breath of fresh air from pandemic news. For Ben, the last year has been extremely challenging professionally and personally. “Covid has helped me focus on the important things in life, though, staying connected with friends and family. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”
Monaco and Eurovision
The first Eurovision Song Contest, also known as Le Grand-Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne, was televised live on May 24, 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland. The concept was based on the Sanremo Song Festival.
Only seven solo artists representing their countries participated in the first edition and while duos were permitted in 1957, groups were not allowed to compete until 1971.
In 2021, there are 40 countries competing, each song must be performed live but there are no live instruments.
Before mid-March, each country will have already chosen who will represent them (maximum 6 people) and with what song (maximum 3 minutes, not released before), normally through a national televised selection. Usually France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the host country (whoever won last year) pre-qualify.
Other participating countries will then take part in one of the two Semi-Finals. From each Semi-Final, the best 10 will proceed to the Grand Final. This brings the total number of Grand Final participants to 26.
Advancement is based on a voting system, one by a jury of five music industry professionals and one by viewers at home, who can vote by phone, SMS and through the app. This year’s host country is Rotterdam and the Grand Finale is on May 22.
Monaco has participated in Eurovision 24 times since it began in 1956, in every edition between 1959 (it finished last) and 1979, and then from 2004 to 2006, when the semi-final system was introduced.
They won once – in 1971 with Séverine’s “Un banc, un arbre, une rue” – and picked up a few second and third places ribbons as well. But in its last appearance in 2006 on the Eurovision stage with Severine Ferrer’s “La Coco-Dance”, Monaco finished 21st in the semi-finals. Télé Monte-Carlo, Monaco’s broadcaster, later commented that the voting patterns in the contest give Monaco “no chance” of qualifying to the final.