Friday, February 15, 2013

Guest Blog: My Few Hours in Monte Carlo

by Magda Abu-Fadil

I finally made it to Monte Carlo.

Not as a gambler, but a visitor who missed the opportunity several times during previous trips to the French Riviera where I spoke at events or addressed university students.

My visit to Monaco broke a stay in Menton a few kilometers away where I met with undergraduates during an orientation program at Sciences Po’s Middle East/Mediterranean campus.

The fun began with a bus ride for 1 Euro ($1.33) one way through hairpin turns on hilly and narrow roads commanding beautiful vistas of the Côte d’Azur.

Menton to Monaco by bus (Abu-Fadil)

The winter weather held out long enough to enjoy the view and be able to film scenes from different locations.

A leisurely Sunday meant not rushing to cram in tours or visit all the day and night attractions, despite the principality’s tiny size.

Monaco's Le Grand Tour bus (Abu-Fadil)

It was more of walking around Monte Carlo to take in the “ambiance” and see what all the fuss was about.

The famous casino’s bus stop meant disembarking at a ground floor shopping plaza of fancy shops, a real estate office, and an exhibition of luxury cars.

My eyes feasted on a Bentley (one of several I saw), a Ferrari (ditto) and a vintage Mercedes.

Monte Carlo Shopping Plaza Bentley (Abu-Fadil)

Stepping out to head for the casino, a Russian woman in a full-length fur coat and matching hat crossed my path.

During my brief stay I heard a lot of Russian on the streets and in shops.

No Sunday is complete without a sumptuous brunch. In Monte Carlo this could be a musical event at a chic hotel.

Musical Brunches in Monte Carlo (Abu-Fadil)

Strolling around the most famous square I saw ample displays of wealth and brand name shops, and, as with other high-end displays and windows, no prices were listed.

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

The imposing Hotel de Paris with its exquisite architecture and internal décor sits on one side of the famous casino. A one-night special offer just for the room starts at 445 Euros ($592.6).

Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo (Abu-Fadil) 

Its parking valets wear dark coats, top hats and white gloves to receive guests and take charge of their posh cars.

Hotel de Paris parking valets (Abu-Fadil)

Next door is the legendary “belle époque” Casino of Monte Carlo dating back to the late 19th Century and visited by the rich, famous, and infamous.

Monte Carlo Casino (Abu-Fadil)

Those old enough may remember stories of Egypt’s late King Farouk at the tables.

Espionage movie aficionados can also recall the suave James Bond challenging Lady Luck at the casino.

Tucked away are the private gambling rooms for high-stakes rollers and patrons who prefer discretion to ostentatious displays of wealth.

Salon de Jeux Privés at Monte Carlo Casino (Abu-Fadil)

The less well heeled or the nonchalant can also be seen traipsing into the Café de Paris game room next door in jeans and sneakers.

Café de Paris game room (Abu-Fadil) 

But the allure of the picture-perfect Mediterranean spot also made famous by its royal family did not end with my bus ride back to Menton laden with requisite souvenirs.

Monte Carlo adieu (Abu-Fadil)

What attracted my attention was the cover story in “grandsud”, a free magazine at Nice airport, about “Grace of Monaco.”

grandsud cover with Nicole Kidman as Princess Grace

The accompanying article entitled “Nicole Kidman: Full of Grace” focused on the actress’ role in the feature film about the late princess whose life and death continue to rivet fans and voyeurs alike.

Some of the film’s scenes were apparently shot between Menton and the town of Grasse, known as the perfume capital, with Kidman selected for the role over several other actresses who had auditioned for it.

What the “grandsud” article failed to mention was that Monaco’s royal family had asked the producers to make changes to the script after they received a copy of it. None were made, with the excuse that the movie was a work of fiction.

According to news reports:

New York Post, Prince Albert II and his sisters Caroline and Stephanie issued a statement expressing their displeasure with the film about their mother, saying it contained "major historical untruths and a series of purely fictional scenes."

The statement purportedly said the movie “needlessly glamorized” the former actress Grace Kelly, but it could not be found on Prince Albert’s website.

The royal siblings’ lives have been microscopically scrutinized since their mother, the iconic Hollywood star Grace Kelly, married Prince Rainier III.

Paparazzi continue to salivate at their, their spouses’, and their children’s every move, or misstep.

While trying to protect his privacy, Prince Albert nonetheless allowed TV viewers a peek into his private office – once Princess Grace’s – on a French program called “Zone Interdite” (Forbidden Zone).

Photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who sits on the board of the Albert II Foundation, described the prince as “a regular guy,” the French paper “Le Figaro” quoted him as saying.

Monte Carlo is anything but “regular.”

Magda Abu-Fadil, who brings years of experience as a foreign correspondent and editor with international news organizations such as Agence France-Presse and United Press International, is director of Media Unlimited. She headed the Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut, which she founded. She wrote for Arab dailies Asharq Al-Awsat and Al Riyadh, Washington-based Defense News, was Washington bureau chief of Events magazine, and was Washington correspondent for London-based The Middle East magazine. Abu-Fadil served as director of the Institute for Professional Journalists at the Lebanese American University. She taught journalism at her alma mater, American University in Washington, D.C.

She conducts seminars and workshops in English, Arabic and French for professional journalists across the Arab world, collaborates with international organizations on media projects, consults on media education programs, speaks regularly at international conferences, publishes extensively on media issues, journalism education, and training, and, blogs for the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/magda-abufadil.

Follow Magda Abu-Fadil on Twitter: @MagdaAbuFadil 

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