My friend, Joseph the butler, tells me you should never order your martini shaken, the broken ice bruises the gin. Winston Churchill was so protective of his gin, he suggested his bartender merely look at the vermouth when making his martini. But as I walked into the Bar Américain at the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo, I was worried that a tuxedo clad Roger Moore would disapprove, so I ordered a Cosmopolitan. I must not be the only one who gets confused, because the menu at the bar, offers to make your martini shaké!
I had been intimidated about a lot more than how to order my drink that evening. How does one dress for The Casino? Could everyone tell I was just a poser? How much did I risk loosing? How odd was it to be a woman alone at the bar? I hadn’t felt this insecure since I had been thrown back on the dating circuit after 20 years of marriage. I reminded myself that nobody cared what I wore, nobody was really even aware I existed, so it was time to start having fun.
When I am traveling solo, one of my greatest pleasures is people watching, so I settled in and got busy watching the remarkable normal looking crowd that surrounded me. A lot of casually chic Italians, a French couple with their 7 year old and some business men in the back. Daniel Craig, Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan were all absent and unaccounted for. I did so two dashing gentlemen in tuxs, clearly waiting to escort their ladies to an elegant but uneventful dinner at the Louis XV, Alain Ducasse’s 3 star restaurant in the hotel’s lobby.
My diner was upstairs at Le Grill, where my sommelier spoiled me rotten and I had a butter-laced lemon soufflé that was the ideal of sweet and sour. After dinner I headed across the street to the casino. I entered and was surprised to see Vegas style one armed bandits lining the halls. The room was virtually empty; a bartender, two dealers at 21 tables and a handful of clients. Most of them in jeans. The roulette tables were dormant. I headed towards the next room, where its sound like there may be more gamblers. This was the area for the more elegant crowd, but there were no tuxedos, or even a nod towards evening wear. Friday casual wear is all that’s required on a Monday night in the off season. The roulette wheel was spinning at two tables with minimum bets in the 5-10€ range. A plump Asian lady, well into her 60’s was betting intently, a tall European man wearing a fanny pack was trying to decide between the two tables. This was not the sophisticated European crowd I’d been dreading. These were gamblers. My inhibitions melted away, as did any desire to place a bet.
The casino shares a lobby with the Opéra de Monte Carlo. As I left, a lively aria wafted into the large, open hall, echoing off the stone pillars and reverberating in the cold, virtually empty space. I got closer to the doors of the opera house and a handsome gentleman on his cellphone nodded for me to enter. Was he mistaking me for someone else? Was this a public performance? I did not wait to find out, I tiptoed in, sat down in the small theater and marveled at the scene before my eyes; the operatic version of Arthur and the Minimoys being sung in a room so ornate, it looked like an inverted jewel box.
The Prince Albert’s royal lodge loomed directly above, devoid of anyone, but full of promise. Monte Carlo was turning out to be as surprising as its myth.