I don’t know that you should judge a place solely on their brand of taxis. I don’t think this is an accurate judge of the character of a city. But it certainly states something.
In Australia, our taxi fleet is predominantly made up of Fords and Holdens. In the UK, there is the inimitable Black Cab. In New York, the Ford Crown Victoria is the favourite of cabs and police, and is designed specifically so the back end swings out during car chase scenes.
Throughout Germany, Mercedes Benz are the go-to car, in all-cream uniformity. In Paris, the cabs are – much like the city – a hodgepodge of European style; Mercedes Benz, Citroens, Renaults, Peugeots.
The French Riviera? Only in Nice have we seen a Porsche Cayenne as a taxi. And at our hotel near St Paul de Vence?
Well, they have a Rolls Royce.
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I’m not intimidated by much. I know I have a fairly solid sense of self. But on arriving in my 13-year-old rust coloured Kathmandu polar fleece, with our room as yet not ready, I felt somewhat conspicuous sitting there in this fancy restaurant. All around sat impossibly well-tailored men, with their wives, or mistresses, or both. They all had deep brown skin, and a cigarette stapled to their lips.
Boy, they do bald well.
I fully expected to see Robin Leach turn the corner and walk towards the camera, announcing in his Middlesex accent, the beginning titles to the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
Seriously, I don’t really even know how these people pack. I’m pretty sure most of their clothes aren’t actually allowed to be folded.
And I sat there in my hoodie and dirty old T-shirt.
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The fact that we arrived in the second week of the Cannes Film Festival, and on the weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix certainly provided our hotel, Le Mas de Pierre with a certain clientele. Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maclarens were vying for parks around the fountain at the front. Indeed, our Maître d’, Emmanuel, was highly attentive, and possibly the sweetest Maître d’ I’ve ever had – which wouldn’t be that hard, given that I’ve never had anyone in a hotel take more than a glancing interest in anything other than my credit card.
We enjoyed St Paul de Vence, a medieval village made uber-famous once Chagall and Picasso decided it was a nice place. Its narrow streets and picturesque laneways, now lined by modern artists, are touristy – but touristy in a very French way. Classy.
While Suse soaked this in, I travelled to Cannes and Monaco. As someone with a case of FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) before the term was coined, how could I be within an hour of both – at the time of their most well known events on the calendar, and not at least have a squiz?
The answer? I can’t.
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Cannes Film Festival runs for 14 days a year, through May, unsurprisingly, in Cannes. It sprung up as an answer to the Venice Film Festival in 1938, which at that point had become an award-fest for Mussolini and Hitler. Whilst the Oscars take the cake for being the most pivotal of the awards, the Cannes film festival – with the Palme d’Or awarded to the film which has most progressed film – is considered by many to be the crowning glory of awards for film. And, after all, as it is on the French Riviera, why wouldn’t you want to be there?
I spent a half day wandering around, as a curious observer. I didn’t actually want to enter any of the inflated tents – jumping castles for really rich adults – erected for any of the dozens of films officially selected to be shown at this event. Nor did I want to walk the red carpet, despite having murdered the dapper gentleman at the table next to me specifically to wear his creaseless jacket.
No, I was happy to observe the lifestyles, the pomp and bravado, without actually getting involved. The harbour was incredible, house-sized boats from around the globe, their port of departure stamped on their arses, up against the dock. Apparently Cannes remains in the top ten most expensive ports to dock your super-yacht – I could only imagine the cost per to do it during the Film Festival.
I walked the harbour, and them past the main entrance, bemused by hundreds of people holding up pieces of A4 paper, requesting entry to one of these exclusive parties. Can you imagine someone exiting ‘La Petite Prince’, seeing forty desperate teens standing there, and handing over their press card over. No?
But I’m old and increasingly curmudgeonly, obviously. Who am I to quash the enthusiasm of youth, ready to be handed a golden pass to the Palme d’Or by an aging movie mogul, in a cravatte, just has to step out to have a heart attack?
All I wanted was a taste, a taste of this other life, this crazy life, this billion euro life. I don’t want this for myself – I don’t fit into this world, and more to the point, I don’t really want to – I just want to look at it, and shake my head like most of the others around me.
I got my fix, after that, I moved on, kicking aging movie moguls out of the way as I went.
* * * * *
Not entirely sated by this experience, the following say I took the train in the exact opposite direction, to the Grand Prix for the day. Again, a $50 taxi took me exactly four kilometers to the station, so that I could again join the hoi polloi in a mass outing to the principality of Monaco.
I boarded a relatively empty train, which filled with each stop. An English family of six boarded, on holiday for the weekend to the continent. They proceeded to fill the carriage with inane banter. I felt inherent embarrassment, as an English speaker, that this train full of discreet multilinguists.
“Did you know, that in Monaco, there are six policemen for every citizen?”
“Barry, the things you know,” his wife said to him, adjusting her cleavage, “you are absolutely amazing.”
I guess it doesn’t matter whether you hold a car race in a 200 hectare principality of hedonism and style or not, a car race is still just a car race.
* * * * *
On arrival, I very quickly realized that a car race is not just a car race. It is a country of only 32000 citizens, none of whom pay tax. Its most famous quarter, Monte Carlo, taking about a third of the land mass, and is most well known for being named in honour of the fanciest of biscuits in the Arnott’s range.
Alighting the station, I entered the street, or more correctly, I walked out onto a balcony that hung precipitously over the craggy rock face escarpment that made its way down to road level. There, just out of sight, Formula Three vehicles whizzed by, down on the street. In Melbourne, a marathon will block off a few major streets; in Monaco, it blocks off the entire nation.
I made my way down to that level without the need for abseiling equipment, and found myself in the thick of it. This wore thin within minutes, given I had no intention of a morning beer today, and bars seemed not to serve anything else. I managed to follow the serpiginous crawl of people towards la Roche, which sounded suspiciously like another piece of confectionary, but was in fact the ancient centre of town. There, I found the Monaco cathedral, the site of the wedding, and burial, of Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly.
Having finished seeing this, I returned to the busy throng. Any and every vantage point was covered with temporary blockades, ensuring that if you wanted to see any of the Grand Prix, you would have to pay the 500 Euro ticket price. There was more to do, I’m sure, but the scream if engines was more than enough.
I actually left before the final even commenced.
I caught the train back, on which there were no English people to be heard. As I entered our hotel, I found Suse, sitting at the table in our room.
“How was your day?” she asked.
“Pretty good. I saw what I wanted to see.”
“How was yours?”
She began to grin like a Cheshire Cat. “I just came back by taxi, and they picked me up in the Rolls Royce! That black one out the front!”
“Wow!” I paused. “And that was cool?”
“Of course it was!”
“But I didn’t think you cared about cars?”
“Well, of course I don’t. But this,” she said, shaking her head back and forth, “was a Rolls Royce!”
It seems that this year, our Monaco Grand Prix was won by Rolls Royce.
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