A decadent weekend in Monte Carlo with some of the wealthiest people in the world is an escapist fantasy to millions of people. To me, it was an offer I almost refused. My Birkenstocks, pony tail and sun-freckled skin didn’t really go with the decor I imagined. But I can never resist an adventure and the sleazy elite who invited me offered a different kind of danger from the coyotes or bears I might encounter on the trail. The animals at least didn’t douse themselves in enough expensive perfume to wilt flowers at fifty paces.
So off to Monte Carlo I did go. It’s normally a quick hop on the plane from Madrid, where I was in business school. But going to school with some of the richest and trashiest people (sometimes the same person) around meant we wouldn’t be flying commercial.
Why not take a helicopter taxi from Monaco to Nice?
Racing along the French Riviera to Monaco while downing overpriced but delicious champagne, I had to admit I could get used to life among the successful yet villainous types around me. It was the week before the Monaco Grand Prix and even by the usual standards there, reality seemed distant, washed away by high-octane fuel and champagne. My inner hippie would normally have been screaming at me, but I think she was having too much fun.
I feel a hand on my thigh and see the aristocratic sneer permanently engraved on the face of my, let’s say friend. I couldn’t tell if it was from training or just inbreeding, but he still looked handsome, treating life, and me, as baubles to play with.
I wanted to fit the part, so I had emptied my bank account of every cent earned from all-night shifts as a research assistant for a professor at Cambridge University. Armed with that academic cash, I bought a wildly overpriced Hugo Boss dress. If you’re going to hang with the beneficiaries of Nazi looting, might as well wear an outfit from the company that designed the SS uniforms. Donning my dark red stiletto heels and a purse packed with 500 Euro bills, I went into the casino.
Pretty soon, my dress was the only thing left on me. Thousands of Euros vanished within hours because I overestimated my ability at the table and underestimated the rapacity of the casino system. The cheapest table had a 15€ minimum bet and after years playing poker and Blackjack at home I thought I could handle it. I haven’t played Blackjack since.
Lucky me, the alcohol and hotel were already paid for. Hungover and emotionally traumatized, I snuck away in the morning to the hotel restaurant. With my meager stash scrabbled together from between couch cushions, I figured I’d ask for the cheapest choice, some bread and tea.
The supercilious white-gloved waiter handed me a small basket containing leftover rolls from the night before and stale croissants along with a cup of weak and lukewarm tea. The high-roller life it wasn’t. Then again, I probably looked less like a winner and more like a strung-out hooker.
Gross though it was, my meal cost 125€, time to go.
Monaco’s opulence is undeniably seductive, but it’s also shallow, built on suckers like me and as permanent as my savings proved to be once I entered the casino. Not all wealthy people are automatically shallow and venal, but it’s a lot easier to express those vices if you have enough money. And Monaco is a playground for that kind of behavior. I didn’t want to start thinking that that was normal, and I knew if I stayed any longer that it would be a problem. So I left, and I’ve never gone back.
I kept the dress though. I’m not quite perfect.