The Good Life

Mental health is not a topic historically associated with Monaco. Gavin Sharpe of Riviera Wellbeing seems determined to change that. His latest initiative, The Good Life, is an all-day event at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel on October 15th which he hopes will move the dial.

“Covid was a game changer for all of us,” says Gavin. “Overnight, mental health went from being a taboo subject to a daily conversation. Rich or poor, we were all faced with similar existential questions about our careers, relationships and lives.”

As a psychotherapist and psychosexual therapist, Gavin has teamed up with an international relationship and wellbeing coach Dufflyn Lammers, originally from California, now based in France. The pair are collaborating with Riviera Radio and the aim is to broadcast part of the day live on air to reach as large an audience as possible.

Does he think Monaco is ready to talk about mental health? “Actually, I find mental health a stigmatised, less helpful phrase these days. I am not really a fan of happiness either as a benchmark tool for how to measure our lives. Happiness is fleeting and mostly circumstantial. I cannot feel happy all the time. I need to choose how to meet my pain.”

Gavin, who co-hosts “Wellbeing Window” with Sarah Lycett on Riviera Radio the first Wednesday of every month, favours the term “wellbeing” which is something we can actively do on a daily basis. He cites the quality of our relationships, meaningful careers, financial health, good body health, as well as connection to a higher purpose, as being some of the crucial components that need to be aligned for us to be “well”.

The Monaco resident believes two recent events have changed us forever. Covid and the war in Ukraine. “We cannot unsee what we have seen. We are at an existential crossroads, individually and collectively.” This is why it is the right time to launch The Good Life for which he is donating ticket sales to Child CARE Monaco.

“We are re-defining wellness. People who were stressed and/or obese were dying in front of us during the pandemic, not to mention those we lost with no pre-existing conditions. Wellness is no longer just a yoga class once a week but a question of survival and a desire to prepare ourselves for the future.”

He adds, “Typically, we focus on one or two wellbeing components. There is no point me having the best job in the world but being lonely and obese. That isn’t wellness.”

Gavin fears we have become “dopamine zombies”, seeking out instant pleasure at the expense of avoiding pain and that society’s over-consumption is unstainable, if we want to be well. This is what he believes leads to addiction.

“I think the war in Ukraine was also a tipping point for many. It seemed to come from nowhere and right off the back of the pandemic. More people probably came to therapy in the weeks after Putin invaded Ukraine than during the first half of the pandemic.”

As for The Good Life, Gavin says he was amazed at the enthusiasm from their corporate sponsors: Savills, Blevins Franks, Metabolic Balance and Clinic Les Alpes. “Not one company asked ‘What’s in it for me?’All they have asked is ‘What can we do to help?’”

Perhaps this explains why Gavin feels the time is right to discuss mental health, I mean wellbeing! As to whether Monaco is ready, Gavin remains optimistic:

“Monaco has led the way in so many areas, like with the health of the planet’s environment. I am thinking now about your recent coverage of Kate Powers who I had the privilege of getting to know briefly. Look at her legacy in and around the community. Yes, I think we are approaching readiness. As they say, if not now, then when? Carl Jung stated ‘Life is a short pause between two great mysteries’. In other words, we don’t have long so let’s get started!”

The Good Life takes place Saturday, October 15th, from 10 am to 4 pm, at Monte Carlo Bay. Tickets (€60 day pass includes lunch) can be purchased online or by calling +33 (0)6 40 61 99 82.

Rhonda Hudson, President Kate Powers Foundation

Rhonda Hudson and Kate Powers.

There are people who fantasise about living in Monaco. For Rhonda Hudson, a physical dream came to her one night while attending chiropractic school in Atlanta Georgia. “The dream was strong and vivid. I was walking down an old small cobblestone road holding hands with two little girls and when I looked up, I saw a sign that read Niçoise Socca. As I had never visited Europe, it took me a few months to figure out what this meant. As soon as I did, I quit school and flew to Nice. Two suitcases, my dog and me,” recalls Rhonda, founder of the well-being centre of alignment, Bodyflow.mc.

About ten months after arriving in the Alpes-Maritimes in 2000, the native of California visited Monaco. “I gave myself the time to find out who I was, letting go of old belief systems, family stuff and data. I did a lot of deprogramming and went deeper inside.”

Rhonda says she was searching for a deeper meaning to life. “I began questioning everything. There had to more to this world and humanity then suffering and this longing to have more, be more, do more, which seemed like a never-ending road down the rabbit hole. Somewhere in all of this must be a deeper inner-peace where we find joy, happiness and bliss even in the challenging times.”

Shortly after coming to Monaco she met Kate Powers. “Kate and I shared a deep love of helping others, both in our own ways, and definitely sharing our experiences together so we could grow.”

Rhonda shares that her friendship with Kate was not instantaneous. “It took us a few years to build a deep connection from just being acquaintances at various events of interest. We first met through some well-being events around Monaco, yoga classes, the Fourth of July and Halloween at Stars’n’Bars. We built our deep friendship walking the No Finish Line sometime in 2002 or 2003. Over those several days of walking together it was as though we had been friends our entire lives, something clicked, and from that point forward we shared almost everything.”

After that, Rhonda and Kate planned wellness events together and went on many retreats, from detox retreats around the region to liver cleanses in Germany. The last one was in Malta with one of their favourite neuroscientists, Dr Joe Dispenza. “We planned how we could make a difference for Monaco and the environment, how we could have an impact on the community and how we could heal ourselves through our own personal struggles.”

The Monaco resident admits that while living in California she was not as focused on a healthy lifestyle. “My moto is balance. I feel extremely blessed that I have been around and influenced by some of the top leaders in the well-being industry worldwide.”

Bodyflow.mc offers people the opportunity to experience bodywork, breath work, kundalini yoga (chanting, singing, breathing exercises), meditation, sound therapy and transformational coaching. “Sometimes in life, we feel stuck, depressed and helpless. We experience the death of loved ones, divorce, financial struggles, anxiety, stress, being burnt out or overwhelmed. Through a variety of tools people can experience alternative ways for recovery, for healing, to create an experience of well-being from the inside. And developing these daily tools means they can use overcome their issues and feel well, healthy, joyful and strong mentally, physically and emotionally,” she explains.

Rhonda works with teenagers and adults using a variety of different techniques. She says a life balance, breathing and power practices are the three steps people can take to improve their wellness levels.

“Make sure you have balance between work, family, socialising, sleep and exercising. Try alternate nostril breathing helps reduce stress and settle the mind. And meditation, sound therapy and yoga allow you to master your thoughts and transform your life.”

Painting by Dave Van Dorst. Photo: Alicia Sedgwick

With the one-year anniversary of Kate’s death approaching on August 30th, many of us still struggle with the loss. For her closest friend Rhonda, it remains especially raw.

“It is hard to believe it is the one-year anniversary of her passing. I have tears in my eyes at this moment as I miss her, our friendship, her smiling face, our numerous adventures and our deep chats over a glass of wine on how we could make a difference—one of her favourite sayings and a tag line on her emails.”

It is largely thanks to Rhonda and Kate’s family that the Kate Powers Foundation was officially formed in June. “I did get Kate’s permission after much deliberation. I am not sure how many people knew that Kate had a shy side to her. She was not a huge fan of public speaking even though she was great at it and when we first started discussing a foundation in her name she wasn’t convinced.

“After several weeks of discussions, I managed to help her see how much she had done for the community and the Principality, and how it was important that we kept her passions, dreams and desires moving forward. She then shared with me all the things she would love to see followed through and created through the Foundation. I remember her saying, ‘Are you sure we have to call it the Kate Powers Foundation?’ We both smiled and then laughed.”

The slogan for the Kate Powers Foundation (KPF) is “Together we shine Bright”. Rhonda reveals, “One of Kate’s deepest desires was to pull people together in the community. When anyone had a problem or needed help, they would walk through the doors of Stars’n’Bars looking for Kate. Parents would tell their kids, ‘If you get into trouble and can’t reach me, go to Kate.’ When someone had an idea for an event or project, they would go to Kate. If a person was in emotional pain, where did they go? Kate. She listened, she offered positive words and hugs, and she shared a moment with people that let them know everything would be okay, she was there to help. To Kate, everyone was special. To everyone, Kate as a beacon of light.”

The Foundation is in its early stages and, as president, Rhonda and the association’s board are pulling together all Kate’s ideas they would like to follow through with over the next few years that both unite the community and follow her lead of giving back. For example, linking the Eco Angels – the group Kate put together to pick up trash after the Grand Prix, The Jumping and the Yacht Show – with companies who are aligned with the Foundation’s efforts so together they can make a difference

“Kate loved the sea and wanted to make sure we kept all the trash left over from these events out of the water, so we could help heal the environment. She also had a big passion for children, so we are excited to work with and be inspired by kids and young adults of Monaco. Every project we participate in will give back to the community in various ways – education, scholarships, well-being, personal growth and sustainable means – giving everyone an opportunity to work together and give back.”

At the moment, the KPF website is under construction. Individuals and companies will soon be able to donate online globally or for specific projects, share ideas, sign up for events, participate as volunteers or partner with the Foundation, as well as receive a monthly newsletter. Donations can be made by cheque or wire transfer to the Kate Powers Foundation c/o BodyFlow, Palais de la Scala, 1 Henri Dunant, Monaco 98000.

Shane Heminway., Peter Thomas, Didier Rubiolo, Annette Anderson and Mike Powers onJuly 16, 2022.
Photo: Alicia Sedgwick

On July 16th, the Foundation held a “super simple get together” in honour of Kate’s birthday at Stars’n’Bars. “We had a wonderful turnout with so many volunteers donating their time and goods, making this very first event something special for everyone that was able to attend. Kate touched the lives of so many people, I believe the community will join together to see her legacy live on. ‘Do what you love, love what you do and make a difference’ as she always said.”

As a tribute to mark August 30th, Rhonda graciously agreed to share a few of her favourite Kate stories. “I have so many, however, here is one that comes to mind. Every week, we would sit at the bar close to the kitchen of the fusion restaurant and discuss the various ways we could stop Kate’s mom Kelly from feeding popcorn to the pigeons at the front of Stars’n’Bars, which seemed to annoy customers. We came up with numerous plans to distract Kelly but I am not sure any of them worked!

“Another time we flew to London to go to a seminar ‘The Work’  by Byron Katie to find a deeper meaning to life and question what you believe. We spent two days in the seminar and were rushing to the airport late Sunday afternoon. It started to snow on the M25 highway, which meant we ended up in a huge traffic jam with nothing moving. So we built a snowman to pass the time. Kate always looked at making the best of the situations we found ourselves in … and there were many.”

On a more intimate note, Rhonda opens up: “The year leading to Kate’s passing, and I had to sit with this for a while to put it into words, was special. I know that may sound strange but let me share why … we laughed, we cried, we worked on so many things personally for healing, we discussed all the things we did together, everything she was feeling during this time, how much she loved what she did, how many special people she had relationships with and how they influenced her life in such a positive way.

“Overall, Kate felt enriched by all of her experiences, how much she loved her family and friends and staff at Stars. And lastly, she said how she loved the community in Monaco and this was her home.”

Svetlana Berezovsky

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.

EURO TRANSFER

Company details:
CHARITABLE FOUNDATION M CORPORATION

IBAN:
UA543052990000026000034900511

Name of bank: 
JSC CB “PRIVATBANK”

Address:
1D HRUSHEVSKOHO STR., KYIV, 01001, UKRAINE

SWIFT:
PBANUA2X

Company address:
Kanatna, 78 #20. ODESSA, 65012, UKRAINE

Wire subject:
BG First Aid Kits

PAYPAL

oleksandra.podhorna@gmail.com

Subject: BG First Aid Kits

Kate Powers

Our friend Kate Powers has died.

Outside of my immediate family, few deaths have impacted me like the news about Kate on Monday. It was not unexpected yet, still, my knees buckled and time seemed to stop, as if the world was trying to readjust to losing one of its biggest beating hearts.

As expats, few people can share your grief when a person in your native country dies. Friends here can empathise with loss, but it is rare they knew the person or can share stories to help you keep their memory alive. With Kate, we are all mourning and instead of being sad alone, we can be sad together.

Kate made each of us in the community feel like we mattered in this world. We felt special because the core of her being was special, this was her superpower. There is a shared sentiment in the role Kate played: “Kate was the first person I met in Monaco.” “Kate treated everyone the same way, no matter who we are.” “Kate had known my kids since they were babies and always asked how they were doing.” “Une bonne personne, toujours au service et un petit mot pour ses clients.” “Kate introduced me to other people when I didn’t know anyone.”

For me, I had lived in the region for many years before I met “the” Kate Powers. I had heard so much about this American who owned a Tex-Mex restaurant in the port and was not only a childhood friend of the Prince but her mom was close to Grace Kelly. Slightly intimidating? What I remember in meeting her for the first time, and this has always stuck with me, is that Kate was the opposite of what I expected from the jet-set bling-bling crowd of Monaco – instead of resting on her laurels, she was a down to earth, open and a warm human being who instinctively knew when to hug at the right time. Like all of us, she had her insecurities although she was unaware of her beauty. “How can I help?” the tireless champion of kindness would always offer.

Of course pre-restaurant days, there was Kate’s made-for-the-movies life, one that she had hoped to share in writing or a series of video chats. Sitting with her and Annette Anderson one day talking about how to get all Kate’s stories out there, I remember my mouth dropping when she gave me a teaser: “Roman Polanski had called to ask me on a date and my mom grabbed the phone and told him to ‘F-off’ before hanging up. We were living in Switzerland at the time and I snuck out to the party where he was with Jack Nicholson. They were drinking too much so I left but as it was snowing outside and someone had left their keys in a car, I decided to drive home. I hit a snow bank so I had to abandon the car and walk the rest of the way.”

*******

On Monday night, as the tears rolled down my cheeks and dampened my pillows as I tried to fall asleep, I realized that while I wish Kate had stuck around much, much longer than her 68 years, she accomplished in life what we all hope for when we leave this earth: she made a difference. She did not wait until her diagnosis to live the life she wanted. She did not have to learn about spiritual awareness or quickly check off a Bucket List. No, Kate Powers had been evolving every day of her life, and gently nudging us along her path of change for the better.

She did not need to change. The Monegasque could have easily sat back over the years and let Stars’n’Bars, the restaurant she co-founded with Didier Rubiolo nearly 30 years ago, ride on the coattails of the Prince Albert connection. Instead, she rolled up her sleeves to transform the family-friendly eatery as a leading example of what she called “ecolution” in the Principality. It was the first restaurant to have its own urban vegetable garden, and to stop the use of plastic straws and non-biodegradable throwaway coffee cups.

When Covid hit last year, Kate told me, “Lockdown helped us wake up to necessary ecological changes that were more important than economical ones. We need to keep taking steps forward and raise awareness about wellness, whether its ours or the planet’s.” Stars’n’Bars replaced serving industrial sodas (Coca-Cola and Sprite) with only Fizz Bio organic colas made in Bordeaux, which some customers did not appreciate and would even walk out. “I try to explain that we are focusing on sourcing locally. When I tell people not to expect the taste of Coke with our organic soda, at first they are unsure but now they love it.”

That was the Kate effect. She had her way of doing things but she opened the floor for dialogue to educate; and she listened to learn.

*******

The first time I spoke to Kate after learning she had cancer, about six months ago, she was, typically, positive. Much of my connection with Kate was over our shared appreciation of nature and often I would send her a message describing some random observation, a text that I could never send to anyone else (including my husband) because they would think I was crazy. She got it.

Here is what I mean. The day after I learned of her illness, I went for a long swim along Cap Roquebrune, specifically with the intent of putting healing energy into the sea for her. This is my form of meditation. I focused on Kate for the entire 5 kilometres and when I returned to shore, I discovered my safety buoy was no longer attached. That had never happened in my seven years of open water swimming. From my apartment, I could see the orange buoy out there floating on the open sea. I texted Kate to tell her the story and said “Whenever you come across anything orange, know that the universe is your safety buoy.”

Kate replied: “I was biking earlier, talking to the trees and asking for their assistance. I looked up to see orange. Orange is Didier’s favourite colour and he is wearing an orange shirt now! The universe is definitely on my side.”

Half a year later, out on my run yesterday morning, the sunrise across the sea, with the clouds, captivated me and I thought “I’ll share that with Kate.” I stopped in my tracks for a moment before telling myself, I can still share these moments with her, just not in the physical world.

I will honour Kate by trying to follow some of her examples – to continue to raise awareness about our planet’s health, to be kinder and more helpful to each other and, as Kate was no fan of the news and its negativity, share good and positive stories with others. Really, to be the best version of myself possible.

Our friend Kate Powers came into this world with wings; she did not have to earn them, only spread them to get back home. And, knowing Kate like we all do, she will certainly raise the bar for all the other angels.

Rachael Dickens

Rachael Dickens understands pain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Nancy Heslin

Andrée and Michelle

Monegasques Andrée and Michelle outside the palace in Monaco Ville. Photos: Nancy Heslin

To celebrate National Day on November 19, Andrée and Michelle – the “Mamies of Monaco Ville” – share their stories about growing up on the Rock and how Covid has impacted the community.

Andrée and Michelle are sitting on a bench outside the palace, nearby the marble statue of tribute from foreign colonies presented to Prince Albert I on the occasion of his 25 years of reign in 1914.

“When I was a child, I used to climb that statue,” Andrée points. “Everything has changed. This used to really be a square.”

“Well, it was different,” says Michelle. “When I was younger, we would bike and roller-skate in the square. You know, the other morning, there was no one here except for a few kids from the painting school (Pavillon Bosio Visual Arts School) who were sitting in front of the palace on the sidewalk with their papers and pens, and the teacher was there. I saw a Carabinier approach and tell them they had to leave. The gentleman said he was a teacher here in Monaco-Ville and the students wanted to draw the palace a little. The Carabinier replied, ‘No, it’s out of the question.’ I found this completely absurd.”

“When I was young and in the month of Mary (May), we would all go to the Cathedral. There are arches at the top of the church tower and you can see there is a floor. There was a door and so we would go up and look at the choir sing. Now, you have to show your credentials everywhere. It’s not like before.”

These days, Covid also makes life different for the two women. Before the health pandemic, Andrée and Michelle would usually meet with friends every day for coffee. “We would meet up every morning at 9 at the San Remo bar,” says Michelle. “Before Covid, Monaco was far more lively. I think that with lockdown, we realise that apart from tourism, there’s not much on the Rock. Even people from Monaco, they are not going to come here to buy souvenirs. Although, some have come in a stand of solidarity.”

“In our day, it wasn’t like that,” shares Andrée. “There were grocery stores, a stationery shop, florists, a cobbler … we had everything. Souvenir shops practically did not exist. But it changed in the Sixties, they took away all the stores.”

Michelle agrees. “Monaco-Ville used to be a village but it gradually changed and is now essentially touristic. I’m going to tell you the honest truth. At the time, we were a bit fed up, because you couldn’t walk in the street in the summer, in the middle of August. Between the restaurant’s terraces and the groups, going out was really annoying. Frankly, we were bothered by this but when you look around now, it’s obvious that it is dying with sadness.”

Andrée adds, “I think, there is going to be a reversal. It’s necessary for the souvenir shops to do something else.”

“But some can’t close because they have big management,” Michelle remarks.

Village Life

“Before, all the families used to all know each other in Monaco-Ville. Now we no longer do,” says Andrée. There are many foreigners who have bought as secondary residences.

“The old grannies would take their chairs,” Michelle describes, “and bring them in the street and they would be in front of their doors, chatting. I remember that.”

“I can see them now,” recalls Andrée, “with their aprons, and they would shell peas or beans…”

Michelle remembers how the women would wash laundry. “You’ve seen the Parking des Pêcheurs? There was a lavoir there. I saw women who would leave their house with the thing on their heads and they went to wash their linen there.”

“Not my grandmother,” says Andrée, “because we had the bassine on the terrace.”

“Well, Claudie, with her sister, who are roughly my age, they would go there,” Michelle responds.

Andrée adds, “Not so long ago, some people still didn’t have toilets at home, they would still go wash to the washhouse. And there was a lavoir at Sainte Devote church, you know where the stairs go up behind, there were toilets there. They removed them, and there was a washhouse.”

Michelle says she sold her 3-bedroom apartment on Boulevard des Moulins to buy another apartment on the Rock for her son “because I couldn’t see myself living at Palais Miramar. For me, my stronghold is here.”

“My neighbour can see me in my bed,” Andrée, who has one daughter, laughs. “It doesn’t bother me, it’s been like this since I was born. Where I lived before, my neighbour was Madame Augusta,  and when I opened my windows, there she was. ‘Hello Madame Augusta,’ I would say … My grandfather bought the place I now live in 1921, I have the deed. I wanted to leave because I had back pain and I have four floors. But at my age, I couldn’t picture myself moving.”

“I don’t have neighbours opposite,” says Michelle, who has a son and daughter. “I have a view of the mairie. It’s my grandmother’s house and I was raised there, so were my children, and even my grandson. My grandparents used to live near Sainte Devote, at villa Lilly Lou, I think it’s still there. And they sold it to buy here on the Rock, a house with two floors. They bought the second floor first, because the first floor was rented. And I remember that later when they bought the first floor, there were always two apartments. I was raised in one of the apartments with my grandparents.”

Andrée, with Michelle, in front of the Palace statue she used to climb as a child.

Living With Lockdown

During the first lockdown, the women say they only did what was authorized, like went out to do shopping or a morning walk in front of the Carabiniers or around the garden and then home.

Andrée admits, “Confinement didn’t bother me the first time.”

“I have a terrace with the sun, I have a view on the mountain … there is worse,” Michelle says. “We are very privileged in Monaco. Even if things have changed, we are privileged, really.”

“You know,” says Andrée, “you have to be born in Monaco-Ville, because there are a lot of people from Monaco who tell you they would never live here. I can’t leave.”

“Things never change here, and never will,” says Michelle. “Except that they repaired houses but otherwise, you can’t touch Monaco-Ville. When we look at the old photos, it was a bit old-fashioned. Now, when you look, it’s all perfect. It’s all redone.”

Michelle adds, “Everybody dreams about coming to Monaco. It’s the only place where you can go out with your jewellery and not worry about your purse. Let me tell you something. We are all happy, even those who complain, in Monaco, everyone is happy. And everyone would like to live there. Aren’t I right?”

Andrée nods in complete agreement. “If you only knew how I hear from friends because we are less locked-down than in France.I don’t know, it seems that people are jealous,” says Andrée. “There is good and there is bad, it’s a bit like life.”

“I can’t stand when people criticise Monaco. I can’t stand it,” admits Michelle.

National Day

“The fête nationale in Monaco is something close to our heart,” says Andrée. “Every time we come to the square, there is a party. I was born on the Rock, really, and I’ve never seen this before.”

Michelle agrees. “We come to the square with a flag, we wait until the Princely couple stands at the window. This year it’s sad because it won’t happen. There will be a speech on television. They are doing the Te Deum but with distancing and that’s all. For the Prince’s Day, everything has been cancelled.”

Typically, in the days leading up to the National Day in Monaco, which has been on November 19 since 1952, there are rehearsals for the parade in the Place du Palais and the ambience is festive. As we sit near the Place du Palais two days before the big event, there is little activity. This year, there will be no military parade or symbolic wave from the window by the prince and his family. Mass at the Cathedral and the ceremony in the Cour d’Honneur will be broadcast live on Monaco Info.

“Every year, the Princely couple would stand at the window, sometime’s the whole family even,” Michelle points out.

“It was a family holiday,” says Andrée. There were two different days, on Wednesday and Thursday.”

“Back in our children’s time, they would have all the games at Place du Palais. There were things for children all day long.” Michelle says warmly.

I ask the ladies if they saw Prince Albert as a child at the window, and they admit seeing all three young siblings – Caroline, Albert and Stephanie.

Michelle recalls the birth of Princess Caroline. “I was at school and I must have been in 6th grade. I remember, with the teacher, there were cannons fired.”

“… to know if it was a boy or a girl,” Andrée chimes in.

“And then, after the cannon shots,” Michelle relives, “we all left school and came here to the square with flags, shouting. It really came from our hearts. We were kids.”

Andrée and Michelle say that before Princess Grace, “Monaco was not much.” For Michelle, “Grace is the one who brought about the renewal of Monaco that led to making Monaco known all around the world. The whole world was invited to Monaco. There were parties, there were galas, and it was sumptuous. Sumptuous. Even now, it’s not the same anymore. It’s not the same thing, it was a different era.”

Andrée adds, “At the time there was Le Bal de la Rose at the palace or on the square … we would see all the artists pass by, I saw Charles Aznavour.”

“In the morning, we would always see Princess Grace bring her children to school,” Michelle reveals. “We would meet them in the streets. One day, I was walking down the ramp and there came the Princess, such simplicity. She had a small scarf, flat shoes. You remember Andrée?”

“Yes,” Andrée replies. “We would often see them. I also remember her with Stephanie, and their dog, the little poodle.”

“We had the most glamorous period of Monaco,” Michelle says. “We were very lucky because we had a time, I think, no one will have again. It was the time of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. It was magic.”

Words cannot express my gratitude to Andrée and Michelle, two characterful ladies who provided a rare glimpse into a very private world in honour of National Day. They only removed their masks for photos.

I wish I could organise a Rediscover Monaco-Ville day to encourage Monaco residents to explore and support the old town, to eat at the restaurants and buy some gifts and souvenirs for a Very Monaco Christmas. But alas, I cannot. So I will continue to share stories of real people and maybe, just maybe, we can make a difference together.

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.

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.