Monaco rowing club offers summer course for kids at €250

Photo: Aviron-Monaco Facebook

Monaco’s rowing club has announced the return of its popular summer rowing courses and you don’t have to be a member of Société Nautique de Monaco to partake.

Registration is now open to 11- to 15-year-olds (born between 2006 and 2010) who know how to swim. There is both discovery and improvement courses, and at the end of the session, bronze, silver and gold rowing certificates will be awarded.

Training is supervised by a qualified instructor and this year, the number of participants is limited to groups of 10 for each of the four sessions, which will take place July 26-30, August 2-6, August 9-13 and August 16-20.

At only €250 a week, the program runs all day from Monday to Friday and includes lunch at the club’s port-side restaurant on Quai Louis II. There is a special rate for two weeks of training.

Typically, the rowing takes place between Monaco and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and lucky rowers may even spot a dolphin or two.

Spots will go quickly so best to sign up early.

Child Care Monaco launches appeal to help supply food kits in Covid devastated India

While Covid figures in Monaco and France are falling as more of the population gets vaccinated — 36.33% in Monaco and 30% in the Alpes-Maritimes have had at least one injection — the situation in India is heart-wrenching. On Wednesday May 5, the country set a new record with 412,000 new cases and nearly 4,000 deaths (3,980) in 24 hours.

Monaco resident Martine Ackermann, founder of Child CARE Monaco which offers education to underprivileged children in India, has been personally moved by the situation and describes it as “catastrophic.”

Martine shares, “I have been going to India for over 20 years, it is my land of wisdom. I have only met wonderful people there and I feel I have to help them … this is my second country, my second family.

“With the new virus, people are afraid to leave home. Hospitals are saturated and there is not enough oxygen for everyone. So those with Covid are dying from lack of oxygen and are immediately burned one by one.

“A 38-year-old friend of mine who helped me distribute food to the poorest in his neighbourhood has just committed suicide. He could no longer run his business or pay his bills.”

Martine says a dad of another family she knows is a tuk tuk driver and doesn’t have any tourist clients. “They have nothing to eat and tell me it’s getting harder and harder to get by. I send them food parcels that they then share with the whole neighbourhood. They are united even in famine.”

Lockdown has made the situation worse because people cannot go out and look for food. “Our team on site has authorisation to go to very poor neighbourhoods to distribute survival kits. They take people’s temperatures and teach them how to wear masks and wash their hands properly,” she explains.

Since setting up in 2012, Martine’s association has opened a girls’ school in the Udaipur region. The SNEH school provides education, food, basic healthcare, school uniforms — and, most recently, bicycles — for 110 girls. Across Europe, non-profits like Child Care Monaco have not been able to host fundraisers.

“It’s a blow to everyone,” Martine states. “We cannot leave people in imminent famine. I hear from so many people how much they love India – the colours, temples, culture, yoga, gastronomy, music …  it is time to give back.”

A friend of Martine’s who has an association in a slum in the poorest province of India has reached out to her for help. “Malnourished mothers cannot produce breast milk so their babies are deficient and will not survive. In the streets, pregnant women are losing their babies and old people are dying.”

Child Care Monaco is launching a special appeal for donations to supply food kits for families. Any amount is welcome by cheque or transfer and 100% of the sum goes to a kit and for poor families. See the site for more info.

“I thank everyone for their help and support,” Martine says heartfelt.

Martine Ackermann, founder of Child CARE Monaco.

Historic Grand Prix

Sir Stirling Moss on the 60th anniversary of his 1956 Monaco GP win. Photo: Nancy Heslin

On May 13, 2016, I had the privilege of meeting Formula One legend Sir Stirling Moss, who was being honoured at the Historic Grand Prix in Monaco.

It had been 60 years to the day that the British driver had won the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix for the Officine Alfieri Maserati team. As the 86-year-old sat on the front wheel of car #28 in front of the Rascasse turn, you could see a twinkle in his eye reliving the 3-hour race. (The car, he said, cost him £3,800. “Maybe I should have held on to it.”).

“It is extremely difficult to concentrate for three hours. I’d see the driver behind me, and every lap, I’d say to myself, ‘I’m going to try to do a perfect lap,’ which of course is not possible.”

He added that “from the driver’s point of view, there is not much change at all [in Monaco]. There are so many places you can see the drivers ahead or behind you on the hairpins, so I’d wave at the other drivers to try and make it look like I wasn’t trying too hard while I was actually clenched on the ground.”

Sir Stirling commented on being forced into retirement at the age of 83 but his charm shined through. “Monaco is such an intimate course. Every lap I’d blow a kiss to this woman with the pale pink lipstick … it never went anywhere though …”

Between 1955 and 1961, the late Sir Stirling finished as championship runner-up four times and in third place the other three times. “I would not swap my era for now. I had the pleasure of 600 races because I loved doing it. There’s no pleasure, exhilaration or fun nowadays. Driver input those days was more by the driver.”

Typically held every other year two weeks before the Monaco Grand Prix (except this edition as the 2020 event was cancelled for reasons you are well aware of and the E-Prix is on May 8), this is an open-air museum of legendary cars racing the same F1 circuit. You don’t have to love race cars to appreciate the spirit and energy of the Grand Prix Historique de Monaco weekend.

Much like the nod to Sir Stirling in 2016, this year’s 12th edition celebrates Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory 70 years ago in 1951 with driver Jose Froilan Gonzalez at Silverstone. Keep an eye out for the many Scuderia F1 sports cars, one dating back to 1929.

By the way, Charles Leclerc is the first Monegasque driver to ever sign a deal with Ferrari and the 23-year-old recently gifted his first season SF90 race car to Prince Albert for HSH’s private car collection museum in Fontvieille. On May 23, Leclerc hopes to become the first native to win the Monaco Grand Prix since Louis Chiron drove a Bugatti to victory in 1931.

To watch the Monaco Historic Grand Prix race live on Sunday April 25:

We Eat Socca Here

Scott Petersen. Photo: Carol Flores

“It’s hard to go wrong when you can walk around the corner and get a perfectly flaky croissant or pain au chocolate for a euro and change,” reflects filmmaker Scott Petersen on his love for France.

Based in Southern California, Scott took French in high school and, for the past several years, has travelled all over the country, with a special interest in sampling local specialties. “As I was researching a trip to Nice, the guidebook mentioned this dish called socca, which sounded great to me. Just before leaving, I met a guy here in LA who was from Nice and he told me I had to try it.”

And so he did. At Chez Pipo. At Chez Thérésa. At René Socca … in fact, Scott was so taken by the old wood-fired brick ovens and the rustic food being served to locals, he figured there had to be a good documentary in there somewhere. “Food tells a fascinating story about history, culture, geography and people. Socca is really known only to people on the Côte d’Azur, I don’t think you can even find it in Paris.”

We Eat Socca Here tells the story of the chickpea-flour crêpe through the lens of the restaurateurs and entrepreneurs who keep the wood-fired flame burning: Steeve Bernardo (Chez Pipo), Stephane Pentolini (René Socca) and Jean-Luc Mekersi (Chez Thérésa). “From its early days in a makeshift food cart serving fishermen to current day restaurants feeding locals and tourists alike from 200-year-old ovens, socca is an indelible part of Nice’s cultural fabric,” the 52-year-old documentary maker enthuses.

Scott produced and directed the award-winning, feature-length documentary Out Of The Loop, which explores Chicago’s underground music scene (Veruca Salt, the Jesus Lizard, and Steve Albini) and, in 2003, he produced, directed and edited Scrabylon, a documentary about the cutthroat world of Scrabble® tournaments. His CV includes TV credits on Antiques Roadshow, Rescue 911 and Unsolved Mysteries.

He also worked in the office of legendary filmmaker John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone, Uncle Buck). “I’m a bit too young to have worked on Ferris Bueller, but, when I was there as a young adult, it was quite an experience seeing the giant moviemaking process up close.”

Scott’s 9-minute short We Eat Socca Here debuted on Amazon.com on March 30. “For me, it is about sharing a small part of French culture with everyone who loves food,” he reveals. (Even with restaurants in France closed due to Covid, you can still get socca to go.)

“I am hoping the next time I eat in a restaurant here in California that has a wood-fired oven that I can persuade them to add socca to their menu. When that happens, my job will be done,” says Scott Petersen.

Maybe Scott will bring Monaco’s national barbagiuan dish to the big screen next.

Covid Diary In Monaco

March 18, 2020, marked the day when the Great Hibernation began in Monaco. This is when all non-essential business services were ordered by decree to stop operating to contain the spread of Covid-19. And an obeying population in the Principality entered house confinement with stockpiles of flour, ready pasta and booze while the economy settled down for a long spring nap.

One year on, and as France announced its third confinement for 16 departments, including the Alpes-Maritimes, we are still living in a state of pandemonium as Covid continues to rear its ugly head sparing no one who gets in its infectious way. At my request, one Monaco resident in her early fifties who tested Covid positive a few weeks ago, shares a diary of her time in self-isolation. It’s a reminder that no matter how exasperated we have become with the situation, the virus is no joke.

Thursday February 25
I have severe aches and pains all over, like a steamroller ploughing across my body. I put it down to my rheumatism as there is a cloud mass and the humidity rate is at its maximum. It never enters my mind this could be a Covid symptom as I have no fever, cough, or any other warning sign. The pain is unbearable all day so I finally take some paracetamol.

Friday February 26
The pain has eased and as clouds linger over Monaco, I tell myself that it was rheumatism. But today a slight headache starts. Still no fever or other symptoms, so I’ll pay attention when the sun returns to see if I’m still achy.

I start to wear a mask even inside my home and ventilate the house well. As a precaution, I avoid pretty much all contact with the outside, but I am not in quarantine as I haven’t taken a PCR test yet. I’d heard about more notable symptoms like fever, cough, cold, fatigue, respiratory discomfort but I don’t have any of these.

Saturday February 27
My aches have disappeared and everything is back to normal. I am still careful and keep my mask on all day, waiting to see if there is any evolution or any other symptoms popup over the weekend.

Sunday February 28
For my son’s birthday, we keep the celebration limited to immediate family but at a safe distance on my side and no hugs. Still no symptoms, no fever. A very slight cough starts.

Monday, March 1
I feel good, no symptoms, so we visit my parents for lunch to continue the birthday festivities. I tell my folks that I am not going to touch them; I stand far away and keep my mask on at the table as a precaution. We eat lunch with the terrace open to air the room and between each course, I wear my mask.

Tuesday March 2
A mild headache starts, and there are pins and needles in my legs. I feel a little short of breath. Is that a cough? By evening, I realise that I have lost my sense of taste and smell, which immediately sets off the Covid alarm. I am now extremely cautious.

Photo: Stephane Danna/DC

Wednesday March 3
I get a PCR test at 11:30. Obviously, I do not take the bus and wear a FFP2 mask with sanitising gel in my hand. I do my best to avoid everyone and not to touch anything.

I am stressed about getting the nasal swab but when I explain my anxiety at the Espace Léo Ferré Covid Centre in Fontvieille, they put me in the care of a very kind nurse who helps me and, remarkably, whose swab technique didn’t hurt at all. It is fast, orderly, unpleasant but not painful. And I get my results immediately: I am SARS-CoV-2 positive.

I was infected outside of my home but where? My guess is an enclosed private space where I let me guard down in terms of wearing a mask, which I see now I should never have done. You really have no idea who around us is carrying the virus.

The Covid Centre contacts my family and also asks me who I had been in contact with but luckily I had not met any friends or been anywhere. They takes the name and surname of my mother-in-law and my parents, whom I did see and arranges to test my husband and children.

12:30 pm and am back home. I stay isolated in my bedroom without seeing anyone. With a ban on leaving my room except to go to the bathroom, which is next door, I organise myself and try to plan my day. I have my computer, meditation tools, the TV, a stack of books and my phone as company.

Clearly, I can have no contact with my husband or children – not even with the dogs and cats. At night I am woken up by my pets crying outside my bedroom door. They don’t understand why they can’t come in to see me.

In addition to the loss of smell and taste, I have some respiratory discomfort, a massive headache and fatigue, which prevents me from staying awake after 9 pm.

I find myself watching “easy” TV shows that I would otherwise never watch but are a guaranteed distraction. I put myself in the shoes of the elderly who plan their days around their TV programs and meal times … since that’s what will be happening for me over the next few days. My husband and children bring my lunch and dinner to my room without having any contact with me.

For breakfast, given that I get up very early, I quickly go down to the kitchen with my mask and gel at 6 am (to the delight of the dogs and cats but without petting them too much). I drink my coffee and eat my toast with minimal touching and before leaving I put hydroalcoholic gel on everything and return to my room. I keep the windows open – the kitchen is freezing!

When I get back to my room, I am still shivering since everything is open. I continuously ventilate the room to the point of being so cold I wear my pashmina and jacket.

Even if I am not going to do anything, I plan my day, telling myself I’m going to spend a few hours with me. With my computer, I take the opportunity to finish some work I started in November but never had time to finish. I meditate and at least I know that nothing and no one is going to bother me so I’m really in the zone.

I phone my parents and check in with them to see if they are okay after my visit on Monday.

Thursday March 4
Today I still have some difficulty breathing, a slight cough, but no fever or aches, always this huge fatigue. I still plan my day so that I don’t get depressed about being locked up, I am so used to seeing lots of people. Friends send me little notes or call me, it’s really nice not to feel alone. It warms my heart as so many people ask if I need help.

The doctor from the Home Patient Monitoring Centre (Monaco’s Covid Centre) calls every day and asks how I’m doing and reassures me. It lifts my spirits to be able to talk to someone about what I am going through and who gives me advice. I thank the doctor.

I have to admit it is not easy when your family treats you like the plague. The kids absolutely do not want to come near me, which I can obviously understand. But still, it’s not a pleasant feeling.

Friday March 5
I’m a stranger in my own home, I haven’t seen my kids since Wednesday. Fortunately, the dogs and cats who come visit me, but it is a strange feeling. I am going meditate with deep breaths even though I am still having have breathing difficulty and a little cough. I have a very bad headache today but still no fever or body aches. I slept badly so I’m even more tired, if that’s possible. Still no taste or smell, I never realised how fundamental these two senses are. Under the doctor’s orders, I will do a smell rehabilitation exercise with essential oils. I was also advised to drink tea with thyme for the cough and respiratory discomfort.

Today I can’t see the point of eating as I have no taste. It’s annoying but tasteless vegetable soups won’t exactly satisfy me, crazy how loss of taste can lead to loss of appetite.

I think of the patients who are in the hospital in intensive care when I have the luxury of staying in my room and I calm down.

More and more, my thoughts drift to the elderly, who are isolated in their rooms and don’t see anyone. I am so lucky to have access to the internet to get away from it all. The day is long and it’s getting to be a bit much. Luckily today I’m going to watch the Buddhist monk and philosopher Mattieu Ricard, this will help my mind.

Saturday March 6
I have my breakfast early in the kitchen, 6 am, like every morning and I make sure to get back to my bedroom quickly before any of my family comes down to the living room. I have a massive headache today and still respiratory discomfort. A short, mild cough.

Like every morning, the doctor from the Covid Centre calls me. I tell him that isolation is starting to take a toll and it’s hard to stay locked up alone in your room with the TV as company with so many unappealing and depressing shows.

At 10:30 am I some sun on my terrace. This tiny moment of freedom really lifts my spirits, what a gift. Then the reality hits that the weekend is just beginning. It’s going to be a long, long day.

I tell myself it’s almost lunch time, followed by the news, followed by doing nothing … what a weekend. My headache is bothering me a bit. I slept badly.

At 1:44 pm, having not bothered to eat lunch (no taste buds, no motivation), I get ready for an hour of meditation in bed. I will travel the streets of Jaipur. And since there is a something positive in everything … my meditating will benefit from my fasting.

At 5 pm, I finally finish the famous job I started in November, I end the day on a high. I eat, watch TV and sleep, am exhausted. The dogs and cats are again scratching outside the door because they want to come in.

Sunday March 7
I did not sleep well and wake up exhausted with a headache, my legs hurt. Still no smell or taste. Coffee, sandwiches, hello to the dogs … then another day back in the bedroom.

Mentally it is going to be difficult, TV on Sunday is not really exciting. Finally I watch Pawn Stars, the reality show about auction kings in Las Vegas.

It is almost noon. I ask myself what can I do differently so the day doesn’t seem so long? Nothing, it’s hopeless. I organise a family Zoom to tell them I’m bored and we spend an hour talking. Seeing my family on the screen is better than nothing. I also have a birthday Zoom with friends. It’s so great to see everyone, even online.

1 pm is lunchtime and they bring me my meal on a tray, a delicious soup prepared by my husband and a tasty homemade cake.

Today is Fête des grands-mères. I am not a grandmother but I feel like one who can’t leave her room. The day chugs along but it has been very hard, I have a headache and fall asleep at 7 pm, totally wiped out. I think my sense of smell has slightly come back because I can smell the rose cream on my face.

Monday March 8
International Women’s Day. Have a brilliant day everyone. And to me, too.

Headache still there. My sense of smell has not fully returned. It’s so weird that I can smell my face cream with essential oils but not my coffee.

The Covid Centre checks in, she’s like a friend as this is the second time that I have come across this very kind and caring person. She asks me to again stay in my room today.

Okay, it’s decided: today I’m going tidy-up the room – and then my head. It will take the better part of the morning, making the day go by faster. As I’m cleaning, I realise we have so many useless things in our closets. I imagine it’s the same for the closets in our head.

My family did their second PCR test in 5 days. They are still negative, thanks to social distancing and my isolation.

This afternoon, I decide to prepare my next meditation trip. What if I reflected on beauty? Women’s Day inspires me and a quote by Giorgio Armani comes to mind: “Elegance is not about being noticed, it’s about being remembered.” I love this expression.

Tuesday March 9
The day starts badly. I am bored with this persistent headache. I have not regained 100% of my sense of smell and it’s unsettling. My coffee still has no taste. You have to understand, I love this time in the morning when I savour my coffee and its aroma. Even the simplest pleasures have let me down.

My phone alarm reminds me that I have a Zoom work meet at 10 am. Great, my head is bad but at least I’ll re-existing in the world. A little make up, it’s been a while.

By noon, my meeting is over and I’m waiting for my meal tray to be brought to my room. I think about the meeting, it went well and was constructive. One thing bothers me, though. Why would I think for a moment that seeing the world behind a screen would give me the sense of “re-existing”? I have never ceased to exist. I exist! I am beautiful and well in this non-virtual world.

My meal has been served and I am going to do my meditation. I am tired and my head still hurts. Being stuck in your room gives you time to think. Anyway, I’m the kind of person who takes internal and external journeys. 7:30 pm lights out.

Wednesday March 10
5:30 am wake up, shower, flavourless coffee, same old, same old: headache, fatigue. One day turns into another. The doctor from the Covid Centre tells me it’s almost over, as I have no symptoms.

That’s encouraging but the headache refuses to leave and I’ve been locked in my room for a week. My impatience to get out of here is growing. What to do today?

The room is tidy, my work from November is finished, I don’t have the energy to revising my songs for my next class or get out the guitar. Doing nothing is starting to weigh me down. Or rather not moving physically is starting weigh me down. Going out, walking my dogs, breathing the fresh air outside, walking in the mountains. This is what is missing. Existing – breathe, eat, feed your mind, meditate – is not internal.  For me to exist I need to be out there and one with nature, with the universe.

I understand now that my bedroom is my place of rest. In fact, this week has allowed me to do just that, a time just for me, I was pampered for a whole week. I have found the silver lining in having Covid.

Zoom meeting at 5 pm. Headache, reality hits. 7:30 pm and I’m going to sleep.

Thursday March 11
The Covid Centre is going to call soon. I prepare my list as an eager student, I have to get out, even for a little bit, I need to. I have no fever, no body aches, no cough, no more difficulty breathing, my headache is gone. My taste and smell have semi-returned, I can smell my coffee!

I am back! My body and my mind warned me but I didn’t listen. So I was forced me to take a break. Thank you body for this inner journey which will allow me to appreciate other moments in life. Thank you for healing me. Thanks to me for being me.

Not allowed out yet but I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Friday March 12
My coffee this morning is not déjà vu, and in fact, it’s more delicious than before, no longer a ritual but a pleasure. I watch the sunrise, I listen to the birds, life has never ceased to exist, it is amazing how we view things that are most important. How we see ourselves, and others and life.

The doctor at the Covid Centre tells me I can go out. Zero symptoms. Wear a mask and respect social distancing. No shopping or going in closed spaces for me until Sunday. I am going to walk my dogs in the mountains! I am going to breathe deeply! I am healed. I am free.

March 18
Days later and I am still exhausted. Impossible to stay awake for an entire day and am in bed by 8 pm. I sleep soundly till 7 am. I have never have been so tired. I have started walking and exercising again but honestly, with a lot of difficulty still. But I have a life outside my bedroom.

See the government website for more information should someone in your bubble test positive.

Monaco’s G-Spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Santa changed my life

I was never a fan of Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in a household full of love and festivities during the holiday season – a steady stream of family, friends and neighbours gathering over for food and drink, mixed with traditional choir carolling at church. I just never understood the consumerism, this idea of having to buy gifts for people because it’s Christmas.

From a very young age, I decided that December 25th would be more rewarding volunteering at nursing homes, soup kitchens, a suicide hotline … anything to focus on something other than gifts.

My bah-humbug came to end in 2008 when I was invited to interview Santa at his workshop in Lapland. At the end of November that year, I flew to Helsinki and then, along with a plane full of tiny tots in Santa hats, took the 90-minute flight to Rovaniemi to be there for the official opening of Christmas Village.

Standing in the middle of a crowd (remember those?), I was surrounded by hundreds of screaming children, many perched on their parents’ shoulders, excitedly waiting for the real Santa Claus to come onto the stage as a lightshow and carols on the loudspeakers entertained. And then, the Jolly Man in Red appeared to deafening cheers. I didn’t get it.

The next day, questions in hand, I went to interview Santa. An Elf gave me a press vest to put on before being escorted up to his office. The winding walkway is lined with photos of Santa with politicians, comedians and actors – all of them beaming with joy.

I sat, nonchalantly, next to Santa’s throne and waited. And then a giant of a man appeared – magnificently, majestically and merrily. I remained unaffected, asking him my first question. He looked at me, with a twinkle in his eye and he didn’t answer my question but talked about Mrs Claus and downhill skiing. And as he spoke, something magical transpired. I began to feel hope – that pure non-jaded hope of a child that anything was possible if I believed in it enough.

By the time my visit with Santa ended, I was a giddy kid. I literally ran down to his post office and sent dozens of letters on behalf of friends and family. I jumped on a sleigh ride as reindeer pulled me across the Article Circle (it runs through Santa Claus Village). Huge flakes of snow fell upon me and I whispered out loud, “I believe! I believe.”

When I flew back to Nice, I bought a ticket to Toronto for December 25 to surprise my family by showing up for Christmas dinner. I hadn’t spent Christmas with them in over a decade and the time together was so extraordinary I was convinced that I could carry on the hopeful spirit to make anything possible in the New Year.

In 2009, I reconnected with the love of my life whose proposal I turned down in 1992 because I was too young. In 2009, I said yes. A fellow lover of all things Christmas, we married on December 24 the following year.  Every year, we begin to listen to all-Christmas radio on November 1 and dance around the kitchen. It has nothing to do with gifts.

Even this year, as Covid continues to try and bring us to our knees, the past few days have reminded me that nothing, not even an epidemic, can take away our hope and kindness at Christmas. And in that spirit, I want to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to reach out this year, with supportive and encouraging comments, especially when delivering the news during coronavirus is not done with joy.

So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Santa & Covid

Sanna Kärkkäinen, managing director at Christmas Village in Rovaniemi, tells me that this year there are health measures in place to ensure safety to visitors, Elves and staff working at Santa’s Village and Santa’s Office.

This includes Santa, too,. “Santa is sitting behind Plexiglas and so not wearing a mask but all visitors are advised to wear a mask in the Office and Village,” says Sanna. “The playful Elves show a good example of this.”

Sanna says Covid is impacting tourism in Lapland. “We estimate a loss of around €700 million in tourism revenue with 5000 less people working in Lapland.” (These figures are for the period covering mid-March 2020-mid-March 2021).

“Even though this is dramatic time for local livelihoods, up here in the Arctic we look positively towards this winter,” Sanna shares. “We may be able to still welcome individual travellers to enjoy a beautiful and snowy winter season when the travel restrictions ease – and hopefully, in the end, the Covid-19 vaccination will save tourism.”

The Good News Prince

Prince Albert makes a surprise visit to Alexandre Rinaldi at Les 5 Saveurs yesterday. Photo: Les 5 Saveurs Facebook.

Yesterday, I came across Peter Allen’s article “EXCLUSIVE: Prince Albert of Monaco to appear in court in new year to fight claims he fathered a THIRD love child before marrying wife Charlene.”

It is hardly surprising that a “bombshell” piece would follow the recent photos of Princess Charlene with her partly shaved head. Clearly her unspoken words are manifesting and sending tongues wagging.

In the mid-2000s, I was a stringer for People Magazine (which, I confess led to a life-long habit of reading the Daily Mail as it was available in print along the Riviera while People was not) and part of my stint was being a liaison with the Palace.

In fact, in 2006, I contributed to “Who’s Your Daddy?” – a piece on the Prince and the recognition of his daughter Jazmin Grace. I spoke to his attorney, Thierry Lacoste, who was very down to earth and forthcoming about the situation.

While I am grateful to People and the by-lines, I have never been comfortable trying to get “sources” to diss on friends or employees, and the pressure of being asked to find palace insiders gave me nothing but diarrhoea.

By the way, 2006 was also the year Prince Albert started a more serious relationship with Charlene Wittstock, five years after their first date.

Fourteen years later, I certainly have a deeper understanding of all things Monaco. Sure, even with the cafés closed, gossip is an active sport in the Principality with people carefully whispering and texting in code, but what the outside world will never understand is that the loyalty between the people and the Prince can never be broken – not by headlines, not by illegitimate offspring or by supposed marriage woes. This is not to say that residents are always happy with the quality of life or decisions made by his government, but the Prince’s personal life is his business.

What does matter, especially during trying times of a pandemic, is how Prince Albert supports the community, like making a surprise visit under the radar to a local business, one that has been working non-stop trying to survive and to help others on the Rock survive during the Covid crisis.

Un grand merci a Monseigneur qui est venu au magasin,” Alexandre Rinaldi of Les 5 Saveurs posted on Facebook last night. Alexandre tells me, “The Prince surprised me and I was extremely moved and happy.”

And that is Good News. Just not a headline that sells papers.

Can you shop in Ventimiglia before Christmas?

Photo: Ventimiglia Turismo Facebook

Yesterday, a FB post by Ventimiglia Turismo was brought to my attention. Essentially the post reads:

“Dear French friends, from December 15th to 20th you will finally be able to come to Ventimiglia! To come to Italy, you must respect the health regulations in force in our country. Please wear a mask and obey the safety distances and health laws, inside and outside the stores. We are waiting for you!”

The Italian government has made it very clear that anyone entering the country would have to quarantine for two weeks, even if the traveler provides a negative Covid result within 72 hours. Only people who are traveling for work or medical reasons would be exempt – this does not include anyone hoping to buy cheaper cigarettes across the frontier.

I contacted the Tourist Office in Ventimiglia to see if we can indeed visit without any quarantine or testing restrictions and was given two different answers.

By direct message I was told “the laws are unfortunately not very clear, you should ask the border police or have a negative swab for security (le leggi purtroppo non sono molto chiare, le conviene chiedere alle forze dell’ordine in frontiera o avere un tampone negativo).

By email, I was told “there is no requirement for a swab or quarantine for those returning to France from Italy, even during the Christmas period.”

To clarify on the French side, I reached out to a contact who is in the know about all things police, and this person had just been to Italy the day before yesterday and suggested anyone wanting to visit should go via the highway, and not the coastal road where the border police could turn you back.

Body discovered in Larvotto

On Wednesday evening, a Monaco resident in the Larvotto district looked out from the balcony and made a “gruesome” discovery.

“I saw this white thing with 4 limbs around 5:30 p.m. It did not really look like a body, it was huge but the limbs were moving in the joints in the waves so it reminded me of a body,” the person tells me.

Using a camera with a 500 mm lens to blow up a photo, the person could “identify hands and fingers” and immediately alerted authorities.

The maritime police, who came at approximately 6:30 p.m., confirmed to the person that it was a corpse.

According to sources, a preliminary investigation indicates the corpse was “most likely” from a coffin.

We know that two cemeteries were washed away in storm Alex: In Saint-Dalmas, Tende, 150 bodies were found downstream and in Saint Martin Vésubie coffins have been recovered floating in flood water. Also trying to figure out what happened to the 160 migrants who were at the camp in Roya at the time of the storm.

Yesterday, Port Hercules and Fontvieille were closed due to floating debris but why haven’t French authorities closed access to the sea for swimmers from Menton and to the west?