A REGAL FIT
At the palace, in a throng a few minutes later, we stood, waiting, to watch as centuries of ceremony would be carried out for another day in front of the palace gates. Our experienced guide, however, sensed unfamiliar activity. The guards, as he put it, “are up to something.” Barricades suddenly appeared, lines of white-suited men formed, and around the corner appeared a phalanx. “Oh, good! We’ll maybe get to see Prince Albert,” he exclaimed. Then, in a brief flash, the princely coach out of the group went past. With a quick nod of his head, one man in back turned and acknowledged the crowd as the processional streaked by and through suddenly opened palace gates. Were he mounted on a white steed, such a princely image would have made the scene most fairy-tale-like, indeed. All of us, however, standing in the Monaco noon sun, envied the air-conditioned practicality of this modern-day prince: a white Lexus 460 sedan.
The palace secured for another day, we set off inside on a tour of its for-your-eyes-not-cameras-only treasures. Since the group of us were not privy to invitations to the apartments we had passed earlier, the ornate palace of gilt and silk would be the closest we would come to experiencing similar ambiances. That said, who could not think the palace a perfect setting for such a style icon as whom we know as Grace Kelly, but was Princess Consort of Monaco, or, simply, Grace de Monaco?
One story of the fabled palace and its inhabitants is from fine art photographer Gray Hawn. She photographed Princess Grace’s last portrait before her untimely death in 1982. “Of course, Princess Grace was gracious and lovely and definitely a princess. Prince Rainier was funny and intelligent,” shares Hawn. “As a photographer, I’ve always had a dreamy love affair with France, and especially at the thought of photographing Princess Grace. The first time I went to Monaco, I stayed on the French Riviera, and when my room overlooked the Mediterranean Sea, with all of its lavish yachts, how could I not be in love with such a beautiful sight?”
Another Texan, Houstonian philanthropist Lynn Wyatt, has many fond memories about the south of France, especially since Princess Grace was a close friend. “I was there every summer for a long time, and I always enjoyed entertaining guests who would come visit,” she says. “Nancy Reagan invited me the first time. Then, I got a villa–I didn’t want to buy since home to me is Texas. I was fortunate to have met so many fabulous people while there–they stayed with me, and I stayed with them. How lucky I was to be able to do those things. Of course, Oscar would be there between his business in Houston and the Middle East.” In fact, so popular was Lynn Wyatt that her annual birthday parties, during the high summer season, became a legendary and coveted invitation.
Onward, we knew lunch was in order. Over Monaco’s own beer…a full-tasting malty brew with perhaps a hint of rose, we contemplated what lay ahead. Our bank balances prevented a full-on assault of the gaming tables, but visiting the casinos, at least their lobbies were gratis, as was wandering past the shops. Those shops. All your favorite brands present and accounted for, and a few that even give the most ardent fashion followers pause. As to their offerings? Fur coats in July to wear on chilly yacht evenings? A parure of diamonds in time for this evening? That handbag? Your credit card, please, and it was a business to do your shopping pleasure in this luxury-laden metropolis.
We sought another respite… from the sun in the lobby of The Fairmont Monte Carlo, complete with a frothy cocktail. More stores awaited our examination. Venetian shoes scattered with crystals in every style imaginable lured those ladies so interested in Rene Caovilla. The sartorial delights of Stefano Ricci promised to transform any man into being mistaken for an Italian count or, perhaps just as well, extremely rich. Across the way, another place caught our eye. “Pawn Shop” would be too lowly a description. No matter such comparisons, how could such a place not attract with its outrageous display of still shiny yet slightly faded luxuries? What we saw there, the once riches of others were now their costly cast-offs. Thus, they were all the more intriguing, n’est-ce pas? Their mystique being their own stories, indeed, as much as any image conjured by their brand. But what might these tales be? Were the many hubcap-sized gold Rolexes sold to pay off that one unlucky poker hand? The (very) many more Hermes Birkin bags deaccessioned in order to cover unexpected “expenses”? Or, were their former owners simply bored and burdened by yet another purse in their closets? The shopkeeper would just shrug if asked, so we didn’t. Such stories may never be known, perhaps for the best. Isn’t it fun to wonder how the coveted become the commoditized in such a place as Monaco?
Had we stayed for dinner, of course, Le Louis XV, Alain Ducasse’s many Michelin starred outposts in the Hotel de Paris would be a draw. We heard from one lucky source that even the breadbasket with accompanying pots of hand-made butter was exquisite. Other intelligence revealed Marcel Ravin’s Blue Bay (with merely one Michelin star) at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort is a wonderful choice for fine dining in an atmosphere slightly more contemporary and much less ornate than Chez Ducasse. We look forward to our next visit, or, perhaps, the one you will take there, to inform us better.
Our time running out, we made it past the beach to the cement steps near the Grimaldi Forum. Walking back to the station, we watched the bathers diving into the sapphire waters, truly sans souci. Back on the train to Italy, the brochure of the current exhibit, Histoire d’ Une Rencontre, which we saw at the palace, again intrigued us. As this was our first trip to Monaco, so, too, was the show about the first time then-Grace Kelly met always-Prince Renier III May 6, 1955. From that “first date,” complete with meeting not only the Prince but also his pet tiger, came forth the engagement leading to her becoming the iconic Princess Grace of Monaco.
Upon reflection, something more came about from that meeting, did it not? Monaco’s image emerged and remains as being the place for dreams like never before and forever and eternal. Anything at all. A place where it’s possible to make your own dreams come true. Then at the altar for Princess Grace, or now at the gaming tables, for us all. Show the world from the palace throne room or the yacht deck your own dreams did come true. Even icons have dreams, and in Monaco, those dreams remain for us all, and unlike almost everything else, there: no charge.
Show the world from the palace throne room or the yacht deck that your own dreams did come true. Even icons have dreams, and in Monaco, those dreams remain for us all, and unlike almost everything else, there: no charge.