From Enter the ESC


-Patrice Riemens

Part XXI: The Ultimate One!

June 14th 2020, Sunday

Forewarning: Instead of reading my boring blog, you could immediately jump to:

And so now for the persistents:

OK, so I bungled again. All my fault, though I could invoke various credible pretexts: pre-departure panic, followed by re-learning my Home Sweet Home on arrival in Fiesole, with a very survivable, but nonetheless slightly dystopic train journey in between, the slogan ‘RiparTIAMOitalia’ on the covers condemning half te seats for H&S reasons making it not much less so. And no more buffet, replaced by vending machines. Travel is no longer fun and might stay so for a long time to come (*). And also: there was a distinct lack of inspiration the very last days in my hallowed birthplace ... (where I had never been for such long, continuous time, 24/7)

Yet the delay gave me a great intro (or closing) quote:

“There are decades where nothing happens, and then there are weeks where decades happen” -V.I. Lenin

[this is the part I already wrote while still in the principality...]

“Once the Calf has Drowned ...”

This refers to a famous Dutch proverb which basically says that appropriate steps are only made when the accident has already occurred, and hence too late (only when the calf has drowned, will the well be sealed shut). It represents quite well my feeling about the (not so) post-Covid times we are ever so slowly - or ever so fast - rolling into, and in each European country in its separate way. “United we Stand” used to be the EU parole, & Covid did that one in, too.

Symbols, and symbolic gestures, as usual tell a lot about the story. In my case, it was the huge ‘leave and/or pick-up book ‘shelf’ in the corridor of the public elevator on Boulevard des Moulins in Monte Carlo. I was going to bring back a foursome novels there (and, who knows, find an extraordinary one to hoard back at the flat for next time) but ‘they’ had closed it down a few days ago sticking a big canvas across the corner, with a tell-tale sign ‘Forbidden to leave books behind’. The virus appears to stick quite long on paper, so it is probably a health and safety measure - but if so it came a bit late in the day. Or maybe it was intended as nudge towards the called for spirit of renewed economic activity - Covid induced leisure time is over, Folks! Back to work! (and anyway such a ‘commons’ of goodies for all to enjoy for free does not sit well with the image of the place).

And back to work it is indeed. To me, it looks like if traffic is getting worse by the day (I was stuck in a jam - and in a bus - this afternoon, it had to be ‘disentangled’ by the -here always numerous- cops). And everybody happily talking in terms of ‘it’s over’, while throwing caution, social distancing and while we are at it, face masks, in the wind (***). I am none too optimist about the much heralded ‘no return to the times before Covid!’ as now a lot of people, and even more politicians are all hunkering for precisely that. And yet ...

As the French government reminds us everyday on the radio “The virus has not gone away. And it remains dangerous!” Many have noted that authorities are trapped in a double bind: restart the economy, getting everyone back to work - and avoiding a fallback, the dreaded second wave. And if you look in a conventional way at the financial/budgetary aspects, the (in)famous James Bond quote comes to mind: “strictly speaking as a Swiss banker (Mr Bond), the numbers are not in your favor”. The Himalaya of additional debt many nations have incurred fighting Covid and its consequences may well unleash policies of austerity on steroids no society is likely to accept (****). So expect ‘disruption’ at a unheard-of scale as an ongoing virus scare, a tanking economy, and generalised impoverishment is by way not the only plague awaiting us.

These dark & dire prediction, ranging from a never-ending health precarity, to oppression and repression in the name of health and safety; generalized, and compulsory digitalization (5*); consolidation of business and trade in the hands of a few megacorporations at the expense of smaller entreprises & freelancers; and precarity together with existential fear and loss of community to all but a few privileged have been extensively analysed in the mainstream - aka ‘lame’ - media and other platforms - never mind the conspiracy theories sprouting here and there and everywhere ... ‘The end of lock-down will be lock-down by another name' was how French monthly ‘La Decroissance’ called it.

And then we have George Floyd. George is not looking down to us from Heaven, but he surely has not died in vain either (****), at least that’s what we are hoping for, even if it does not fit the ‘back to the status quo ante’ favored by the powers that be. Abolishing the police in its present form, as Minneapolis, the city where the planet-wide movement started, purportedly intends to do, is indeed the only way. It is the sole solution to the everlasting dilemma (also for the force itself) of deciding whether the police is meant to protect the population or the state - when the shit hits the fan it cannot do both at the same time.

[halfway the paragraph above is where I stopped writing in MC]

No such headbanger in the principality of Monaco, where the rather oversized police force - better described as a private militia with sovereign rights - is solidly there to protect the interests of, well what exactly in terms of defining the ‘powers that be’, since Monaco is not by any mean, a real state - even if it has many trappings of it, and then some. It is not even a real society unless, as referred before in these chronicles, one accepts the petroleum monarchies in the Gulf as being that too. Such 'societies' exist all right, just as in Monaco's case, but are, in the end, largely artificial. It is, sociologically speaking, what Saskia Sassen would call an ‘assemblage’, and a quaint one at that (every third foreign resident alleged to be a millionaire, average age of the population: 52 yrs - beats Japan).

(Not so) Surprisingly, these questions, triggered by the realisation that the Covid crisis will indeed bring massive changes in the longer run, are asked among the Rock’s power circles as well. Besides tightening the non-essentials budget - re: the 40% reduction of the Palace’s running costs - a flurry of initiatives have been launched to formulate ideas for a ‘better, more sustainable, welcoming and up-to-date Monaco. I almost would have submitted a tentative blueprint (key-word: ‘de-growth’ -what else? oh yeah - TAXES! ;-) till I saw the outlines of the BBC documentary mentioned at the very beginning of this installment. The introductory clip tells everything you need to know: it’s gonna be the (in)famous Tancredo Falconari formula (“if we want everything to stay the same ...” for those unfamiliar with Lampedusa’s 'Il Gattopardo').

And why this is so - meaning why radical change is very unlikely to ever be an option for those who profit from the status quo, even so uncomfortably (the reason why they pretend to want change) - has been brilliantly explained by Anand Giridharadas in his book ‘Winners Take All’ (2019), which I would heartily recommend.

And for me I am content to be - and am also privileged to be able to ever have remained a (rather private than public) intellectual, and not a ‘thought leader’ infeodated to those who want both to own the bakkery, sell its produce while keeping ‘m all to themselves, and pay their underlings a pitance, or nothing at all. And then, for some of them the proverbial cherry on the cake, to end up in my birthplace.

Thinking of it, I hope I can be excused to dream, sometimes, of an ‘Intervention’ (2x***) ...


(*) - According to the Italian chief epidemiologist, we are in for ‘this’ for the coming ten years ... & Re: train travel: we’re nowhere near it yet, but for a nice glimpse of a rail journey in the future, check out the film ‘Babylon A.D.’ somewhere at around 35’ (the only free online version - on DailyMotion - speaks Thai, but the images tell everything anyway - it’s a great film btw, after the novel - ‘Babylon Babies’ - by Maurice G Dantec)

(**) I saw a two images cartoon the other day with above, ‘before’, birds tared in a swamp of oil-spill, and then, below 'after' (now), the same swamp full of discarded masks and other health protection gear.

(***) This, how surprising, need not te be, but it is very unlikely that straightforward, but unorthodox approaches will be on the book. Talking about an ‘eternal’ debt (revolving, never redeemed, or only very slowly - like the British compensation to former slave owners, last tranche paid out ... 5 years ago: )

simply does not make sense if that debt is meant to stay on the books. So we’re back to Rutger Bregman’s ‘Taxes, Taxes, Taxes’, or ... to something my father (who was an economist), once explained to me: a ‘forced loan’ imposed on the very rich and corporates, repayment pushed to some very, very distant day in the future (‘you can do it only once’ , he added, ‘but if you’re desperate enough ...’). never heard of it since. Must have gone out of the window when money was privatised.

(****) I would indeed enjoin everybody to head, alone or collectively, the call of Rev. Sharpton at the George Floyd’s memorial service, to stand still for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and think about what it all means.

(5*) Giorgio Agamben - him again - has just written a very short text about the extinction of student and academic life as we know it. And teachers accepting to sign-in for on-line education are very unkindly reminded of the ‘loyalty declaration’ all had to underwrite in fascist times ... (“15 in 10000 will not, but only those will be remembered by History - as heroes” owtte)

(2x***) Jan Morris ‘Last Letters from Hav’ & ‘Hav of the Myrmidons’ (1985, 2005)

Anand Giridharadas 'Winners Take All - the Elite Charade of Changing the World'

Read more... {AKA: "The MonaCovid Chronicles Archive" -Ed.}



One of the many advice on coping with the current Corona virus crisis while staying confined at home is to keep a diary. This is what I decided to do, the more so as I am confined in a very interesting place: the one where I was born, almost seventy years ago.

You will have guessed (no prize! ;-) which place that is. For now I will try to update this daily every day, or at least every other day. On the other hand I don’t know how long I will stay here, since the longing for my housie in the beloved Tuscan village is also strong – and I miss my garden!

Time will tell. For now I will start the story not from to-day, March 18, but from the past week-end, ‘the last one before the unknown’, as French daily Liberation called it.

Also take note that these pieces are written quite quickly, and if xs4all's Cube Webmail provides for a spell checker, it says nothing about grammar - so please bear with me as I try to limit the sloth!

Practical info

Having been reluctant to go for a blog from day one, I have chosen the flexible format of a Bcc list (mail to ‘undisclosed recipients’). So if you receive this, you are on it. But if you do not wish so, a simple mail to me will ensure your prompt removal. You are of course free, nay welcome, to comment on my musings. If you wish to share it with all other recipients, just tell me, and I will put, ‘anonymously’ or not – you say – in a next installment.

Let’s remain calm and happy in these trying time. Respect the current measures taken by your local authorities, and foremost:


And here two excellent (immo) health advisories:

is very extensive, on the verge of the ueber-technical, while:

focuses on the crucial need to keep your throat winning the battle against infection.

Wishing you all the best! Take Care! Patrizio & the travel-Diiiinooos! (stuck now)

Part I: The MonaCovid Chronicles

Mar 18th 2020, Wednesday

This diary starts the week-end that Liberation had termed ‘the last one before the unknown’ - while the front page read ‘the Day Before’ , probably referring to a suddenly vanished paradise, or at least a vanished past.

That surely holds true for the Principality of Monaco, the glam & glitter haven of the ueber-rich. But also home to fairly ordinary and not spectacularly wealthy people, both ‘nationals’ and ‘expats’ (ca 8500 and 29000 respectively) (*).

For both categories life was looking fairly normal till this past week-end. That is what goes for normal over here: a remarkable number of (very) expensive cars on the road – I saw a Maybach for the first time – and a nasty number of, (again, very) hi-end shops, catering for the tastes of the ‘seriously rich’ and the ‘merely wealthy’ - to use the Wall Street Journal’s apt socio-econmic sorting.

In more regular outlets, such as supermarkets, the first signs of the storm to come were already apparent however: the shelves meant for bottled water and toilet paper started to take a definitely ‘GDR’ look, a sure sign of the - totally ridiculous – panic buying to come.

Meanwhile I was also feeling the clouds gathering – after all my country of usual residence, Italy, had been in lockdown for more than a week (**) - and decided to go on long walks as long as that remained permitted – and that was to show foresight, even if of a minimal sort.

The first took me along the quays of the harbour. The latter was in my youth a wide open square water plane , but it has now been reduced to a checkered space so as to accommodate a large number of long jetties, crowded with sailboats and motor cruisers, while a long dock has been built outside the harbour proper for cruise ships (unwelcome for some time already, after the ‘Princesses’ scare).

Along the quays, lined with crafts big, medium, and small – I saw even a fisher(wo)man’s little boat – a spectacle reminiscent of Oslo harbour in Summer: one glitzy water hole after the other, with crowds of guileless HNWIs and VHNWIs lizzard-lounging, sipping Sauvignon at Oslo+ prices.

In the evening, higher up the rocks, in the distinctly more proletarian adjacent French commune of Beausoleil where I do my shopping, people were dancing in the covered market at the rhythms of a Martinique band. (or was it Guadeloupe, or …?) There too one could not suppress a feel of impeding closure.

The walk had also brought me along the sea to Roquebrune beach and railway station, where a bearded homeless man had apparently taken up residence in the waiting shelter. These people also inhabit the Cote d’Azur, and I wonder what will become of them. Meanwhile para-gliders were slowly drifting down from the mountain promontory 600 meters up, landing on the beach. For them too it must have been the last flight into known territory, geographic or otherwise. Same for a few early season swimmers ...

(to be continued)

Notes (I’m a former academic, so I love ‘m ;-)

(*) Numbers vary according to sources. Monaco’s civil register count 9300 citizens, which surprised me, but then quite a few reside outside the principality. Anyway both the numbers of autochthonous and allochthonous inhabitants has grown a lot since I was (officially) living there in my young years …

(**) Things are happening so fast that you please excuse me if I have lost the chronology of the Covid crisis. As one historian described the two weeks before WWI broke out ‘every morning saw a situation that had looked unimaginable the evening before’.

Part II: Coming Soon

Mar 19th 2020, Thursday

I am afraid my slowness is not up to the speed with which the situation develops, so BREAKING NEWS first: The Sovereign Ruling Prince, Albert Grimaldi, a.k.a. S.A.S. Albert II got ‘it’ ... & I got the news from a friend in Amsterdam, and it was in the New York Times 36 minutes ago (as I write – 19.03/ 16:36)

Makes ‘my place’ even more famous - in the '15 minutes of Fame' sense.

But enough of that, and back to the week-end before the fall.

On Saturday afternoon France decreed all public places, bars, restaurants, etc. to shut doors at midnight. Last Caribean dance, Tango, Rock’n’Roll or whatever for the poor but sexy crowd in Beausoleil’s covered market. As far as I know closing down went allright, unlike in Paris and Brussels where the police meekly looked on as people extended the curfew and embraced for the last time (Paris) or, more robustly, used teargas against the unwilling masses (Brussels)

Over here the ‘Princely Government’ immediately followed suit. To my chagrin, but also expectation, the 'Louis Notari' public library abruptly closed that same morning (I had asked the previous evening whether such measures were on hand: ‘we don’t know, but yes, it’s possible') I should have stocked on ‘adult comics’ (*) beforehand, instead of Nicolas Offenstadt’s ‘URBEX RDA’ (**) only. What I boon that I have permanent connex at my staying place now!

On Sunday and Monday it was still possible to go out unhindered and I did. Monaco was clearly slowing down, even for a Sunday, and the harbour quays were naturally deserted by now, all the ‘VIP’ (wanabe) places shut. ‘Essential’ commerces are allowed to stay open, and that includes, of course, a wine shop on the port promenade selling ‘exclusive’ wares – at prices starting at E30 and ending, I guess, in the stratosphere (I didn’t bother to enter but it might come in handy if I need a bottle of Roederer Crystal ;-) (***)

Meanwhile in the Casino Supermarket nearby, panic buying had clearly started. The shelves for household stuff downstairs were sparsely filled when not entirely empty. Loo paper gone first (****) of course, closely followed by bottled water – the still variety; my hunt for the fizzy variant was totally successful. Go figure.

As I walked back ‘home’, traffic was getting sparser and sparser, and city buses – Monaco has a fantastic ‘mass’ transit system – were running near-empty. But looking out of the window at night, the harbour was still gloriously illuminated.

More was to come on Monday ….

(to be continued)

But I can’t leave you without a happy note. Check this one out for some seriously needed laughter:

(Oh Yeah, you’d all had seen it already, since ‘you guys’ have all smartphones and are all all da time on Twitter, FB, Whatsapp or whatever … SORRY!)

Notes (*) That’s not porn, you creep. More like graphic novels with complicated plots suitable for young and older adults

(**) About the gigantic industrial archeology park that the former GDR (‘DDR’) has become – very worthwhile!

(***) Price range: E 150 France; GBP 250 London; US$ 600 New York; Finnish State Monopoly … E95.

(****) London Water now warning that the ‘next best thing’, kitchen rolls, clog the drains and cause ‘fatbergs’ …

Part III: The Morning after the Week-end Before

Mar 20th 2020, Friday

(We’re Friday, and I might well hurry a bit if I want to keep up with developments – and my fading memory of them …)


By late Sunday the French authorities, all the way to the top, were absolutely appalled by the inconscience and lack of 'civism’ of their fellow citizens. The uncompromising advice to stay at home having been met with masses enjoying the first rays of Spring and genially (not so) crowding together in parks and boulevards, even kissing and embracing, much sterner measures were called for.

On Monday evening French president Emmanuel Macron addressed his compatriots on national television in a bellicose speech where the words “we are at war” were uttered no less than six times. Confinement was announced, to start Tuesday noon, to be strictly enforced by hefty fines for whomever went-out without sufficient cause, with obligation to have filled in and carrying along at all times the ‘derogation to move around’ form (*).

Slightly more relaxed, and less crowded Monaco dully followed suit – minus the ‘derogation’ form. In fact by Monday not much had changed, streets were a little more empty, there was a little less traffic, but markets were still open, and the buses ran normally (their drivers, however, now isolated behind police tapes in their front cabin, passengers to board by the back doors). They ran almost empty.

Top brand cars were also less in evidence, their owners apparently staying in their flats, or having decamped to other luxurious abodes. There was still no restrictions on walking around, so I went out along the road once leading to Monaco railways station – now gone, and everything around built up – and from there towards Cap d’Ail, the adjoining village where I lived in my early youth.

Kinda a trip down memory lane, as I took the path running along the former railway line (now tunneled from end to end (***) were as a bay I both admired and was frightened by the big, Baldwin-built steam locomotives roaring by, belching clouds of black smoke.

Bypassing our former villa, totally decrepit but – amazingly - still standing, I made it till the ‘Cap des douaniers’, a rocky promontory along the same-named path (of olden age customs officers, looking out for sea-borne contraband, or even enforcing Napoleon’s blocus in its time …) and came back following it, along a stormy sea – an appropriate figuration for the current times.

Coming back by way of the ‘Plage Marquet’, much reduced and also far more build-up since my youth – I remember the small, somewhat seedy chophouse run by Mr X, ‘Le plus bel athlete de France’ (body-builder) – I ended up in Fontvieille, Monaco’s former industrial area, now a mix of hi-end residencies and, yes, social housing, since you need to house the not-that-rich ‘son of the soil’ (and them only) somewhere.

Large parts of Fontvieille have been – at humongous cost - ‘conquered’ on the sea over the last decades of the previous century, and one can enjoy both glammy seaward flats and a not even a that bad looking remake of a Mediterranean plaza bordered by a church and with estate housing around it (but no sea-view, ha!).

I went for the Heliport, Monaco’s miniature version of an International airport (**), for specific reasons. Ignoring the ‘only passengers with boarding pass’ signage, and strangely unchallenged, I availed of the cheapest hot chocolate in the principality (50c, vending machine, but beautiful paper cups!) and picked up free - for passengers, marked price E 7/10 – glossy mags (‘Hello Monaco’ , ‘L’Observateur de Monaco’, and a Russian one for good measure) for home consumption. I then walked back across the ‘Garden aux Canards’ (sic) to the commercial centre, where long queues of filtered customers discouraged me from shopping.

I took bus #4 instead.

(to be continued)



(**) MONACAIR will wisk you to Nice Cote d’Azur airport in 7 minutes for a competitive E 140/pax, inclusive pick-up & drop-of transfer (a taxi would be much dearer).

Well, OK, the dedicated, direct Airport bus (E22) and ordinary, local bus services (E 1,50) would be even more ‘competitive’, but hey, we’re in Monaco ...

(***) Apart from the first-class sleepers only ‘Train Bleu’ - discontinued for good in the early '00s, and much ‘de-classed before - trains were not especially appreciated by the Monegasque authorities. So they ‘nudged’ the SNCF to tunnel the line inside Monte-Carlo, freeing large swath of real estate in the process, before having it tunneled from end-to-end on Monaco territory. Even more land for precious real estate! Monaco now basically has a set of metro platforms for railway station , and F%^&$#@! the proles wanting to steal a glimpse of the principality from their windows in second class ...

Part IV: The Week When It All Was Coming Down

Mar 21st 2020, Saturday

(Laziness be damned, and I am now going to 'consolidate' the past days in one installment!)

So since Monday was to be the last day the situation looked, if not normal, then at least manageable, I decided to stay home on Tuesday. I heard only later that the strict French 'confinement' policies were to be enforced from that day at noon only, so I forfeited the chance to take a last walk on my favourite woutside, being the seashore.

But then, the directives were somewhat fuzzy, since outdoor ‘exercise’ was still permitted – later that would be restricted to no more than max. 2 Km from home, that too vaguely defined. Surprisingly Cap d’Ail municipality kept the ‘custom agents’ path’ open, with walkers enjoined to do it in isolation. Beaches however were out of bounds, making the exact extend of the rule somewhat unclear.

Interpretation and enforcement of the new rules edicted by the Parisian central state were bound to be diverse on te ground, and indeed they were. Beausoleil remained remarkably relaxed (very friendly and helpful MuniPolice too), while the local daily Nice Matin headlined ‘a rain of citations in the Maritime Alps’ (@ E 135 each)

Monaco following suit to France – it can’t do otherwise given its size and enclave status – it enacted the same restrictions. Also the head of state himself having tested positive (*), some nervousness probably hit the authorities. Still, one can move around easily with reasonable cause, and I haven’t been stopped till … (well wait for the next installment!). Monaco also does not do printed ‘derogations’ as in France.

But then how is life going on? Well it does, but it’s getting slower and more limited by the day. The city buses still ran this week, now on a permanent ‘Sundays and Holidays’ schedule, and are mostly empty. The now oversized interlocal 'bendy' buses also keep to schedule, and are even more empty. A maximum of 4 passengers has been decreed for the small buses running services to Menton and to the housing estates on the heights above Monaco, a rule that can not be enforced and is not, as they are the only conveyance for the non-national paupers to reach the food shops.

Train services have also been much reduced, Monaco-Monte Carlo station is deserted , and even its police outpost vacated, as is the ticket office, cafes, and even the newspaper kiosk, even though that service is officially deemed ‘essential’. Closer to ‘home’ is another news outlet were I go every day for either Le Monde and Liberation.

That last paper is systematically called ‘l’Aberration’ by the mischievous shop owner, who jokes with regulars, does not seem to hold the authorities in high regard, and whispered to me (from a safe distance) that ‘what happens in Monaco stays in Monaco’ . Yes I do know (**). All the same Le Monde and Liberation, in their (quite) different style, provide me with a lot of information on the background of the crisis (mostly from a ‘French’ angle) and nicely supplement my multiple daily intake of The Guardian online.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were in fact relatively uneventful on the ground, as the most shocking news was happening in the papers and online, where the situation looked – and still looks – direr and direr. Going back to Italy seems entirely out of question at the moment. My earliest estimate has now been shifted to next Saturday, and that will prove will without doubt prove wildly optimistic. The number of infected, and alas, of deaths in my usual country of residence does still not level out – on the contrary. And PM Conte has announced even harsher measures, which might well amount to a curfew pure and simple.

Here in Monte-Carlo life is still bearable, shopping for food is not (yet?) problematic, with supermarket stocked satisfactorily – sometimes with sizeable Qs outside as people are filtered in. That was necessary as panic buying led to very unruly scenes (‘this morning was a complete riot’, a shop manager told me – on a quiet evening before closing time). But fact is that the larger the shop, the longest the wait to get in. So good times for the ‘ethnic’ little places in Beausoleil where I do most of my purchases, and they’ve got the stuff I really want (‘Masala tea’ anyone? Or ‘brinjal pickle’? - Sri Lankan, & not that good ... ;-) Problem: they don’t sell bread.

Meanwhile, clouds were gathering regarding developments in the week-end, but that is for our next installment …

(to be continued)


(*) Princely interview given to Nice-Matin on Thursday, for those interested in royalty:

(**) Some items that never made the news in the relatively recent past: the emptying out of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelers (200 meters from the Casino of Monte-Carlo) and the brief ‘disappearance’ of Stefano Casiraghi’s coffin (Princess Caroline’s first husband, who killed himself in a hi-power speedboat accident, promptin a ‘Stern’ frontpage pic titles ‘Potenzspiele der Maenner’ …) Casket duly recovered after some … errr … ‘negotiations’. But my favourite hush-hush is the removal of all the grand pianos (7) of Radio Monte-Carlo by a gang pretending they’d come (with a semi-trailer truck) to take them to the tuner.

Part V: The Week-end after the Previous One

Mar 23rd 2020, Monday

So if the last week was relatively uneventful, a slow descent into emptiness and rarefaction of activities, the week-end provided for a surge of, well, in these circumstances one could call that ‘adventure(s)’.

It began on Friday already, when I decided to go take a breath of fresh air on the jetty. Monaco harbour now boasts two new big jetties, one very long on the west side to accommodate cruise liners – which are not allowed to come anymore – and the other shorter, wider, and cluttered with evidently expensive artwork (*). But I never made it that far, because I couldn’t find the elevator going down – oh yes Monaco is full of very convenient public elevators taking you everywhere in just enough time for the police algos to scrutinize your face mediated by the CCTVs inside - also very convenient, but for different reasons to different people.

Instead I ambled into the gardens below the Casino, which are extremely beautiful, like everything in the – very extensive - public domain of the principality, while their terrace offer an even more stunning view on the Mediterranean than the jetties. I spend quite some time wandering around, even watching the sun set behind the ‘Tete de Chien’, the emblematic rock formation of La Turbie, where one can admire (Emperor) Augustus’ trophy erected to commemorate the slaying of innumerable unruly Alpine barbarians in 6 BC (you could check out the Wkikipedia entry for that list, it’s endless). I also admired the imposing structure of the building itself, built by Garnier, which turned out (in my eyes) to be far more intricate than expected. I'm a kind of Prince Charles guy - I think they made for nicer architecture in olden days (in Dutch: 'vroegah' ;-)

Now that 'derive' turned out to have been good idea in hindsight, because the next day, such discovery would have become impossible: meekly heading the cue from the powerful neighbour, Monaco closed all its public parks and gardens to the public. I think such measure is totally stupid, since people are still walking in the street, keeping the mandatory safe distance (or not), so why shouldn't they be allowed to do the same in gardens? Now people are being deprived of a healthy recreation for no reason whatsoever. Likely to stir up the already brewing discontent about confinement measures even further – even here, in this 'well-ordered' place ...

But all this was not on my mind on Saturday morning when I set out for a trip that in normal time would have been banal and even boring. The aim – and necessity – was to go to Menton to get my sheets and clothes done in the only launderette in the surroundings (a launderette in Monaco? You must be joking!). The flat where I am staying may have both Net and Netflix, but no washing machine ...

I had dully informed with the Beausoleil MuniPolice about the authorization needed for such by now outlandish excursion, and the answer was no problem, as long I specifically mentioned it on the ‘attestation de deplacement derogatoire’ form, had my story ready, and carried da bag with dirty/cleaned garments for credibility. I had also enquired whether the little blue ‘Zest’ bus #18 was running to schedule: it did.

And so there I exited the house in good time and schlepping a full bag of wash to make it to the #18 terminus two blocks away. But promptly it looked like as if the trip was heading in the wrong direction. First there was no bus in sight (it ended up starting 10 minutes late), and secondly my sunning on a ledge attracted the unwelcome attention of a posse of Monaco Police, known to be not always very friendly to pedestrians not clad in Ermenegildo Zegna attire - or equivalent upmarket brand.

Followed a lengthy discussion about my (evidently suspect) whereabouts. My authorization to move around (none required yet, unlike France), and my bona fides generally (doubtful), which finally came to a close when to the asking why I did not do the wash at home, using a washing machine, I retorted that I would surely not sit there in order to undertake the somewhat tricky trip to Menton if the flat I was staying in was provided with one. Also the mention on my ID card that I was born in Monaco itself most probably helped to ensure my ‘release’ (**).

When I walked to the bus stop, #18 had finally showed up, a fellow passenger told me he too had been ‘approached’ by the cops, this time leaping out from an unmarked car, and been told he had to wait inside the shelter, and not sit on the bench next to it.

In a welcome contrast the atmosphere in the (French) minibus was totally relaxed. The driver greeted us from behind his tapped up enclosure and cheerfully announced that since ticket sale by hand had been prohibited, the trip was free (as in ‘beer’, but to my present mind, also as in ‘freedom’ ;-)

And the trip was also a spectacular one, from a touristic point of view. When it’s all over, do take the #18 service from Monaco to Menton! By then it might cost you E 1,50 again, but it is worth every cent and nearly every minute – 60 in all – of it. It first proceeds to cross Beausoleil in its entirety, then follows a very windy ascending road to the ‘moyenne corniche’, only to plunge back again into Roquebrune village and Cap Martin, before finally alighting on Menton’s long stretch of beach and follow the seashore all the way to the Casino (and continuing till the Italian border at Pont Saint Louis, but I had to get of).

I admit that I could also have taken the more regular #100 service along the main road, which takes 'only' half an hour for the (less than 10 Km) trip, but I didn’t want to miss such a scenic journey, which did a lot to boost my morale in these times of confinement. I did come back with bus #100 by the way, a presently totally over-sized ‘bendy bus’ carrying till Monte- Carlo a grand total of one passenger, being me. For free of course, also.

And Menton? Well Menton was nice, I went to the first launderette mentioned on G-maps, which was closed, and that was a blessing in disguise since the second one, 1,2 Km away (according to G-Maps) was much cheaper and also more congenial, besides being only 300m distant from the interlocal bus terminus. And it turned out to have shelves full of ‘it’s all yours’ books, so my stack now stands at something like several weeks of reading (especially if I spend hours writing this chronicle instead of reading ‘m ;-)

The wash was done swiftly as usual in these kind of facilities, and the drying machine did a very good job in getting my clothes ‘cupboard dry’ in 10 minutes flat and for one Euro extra (wash itself was E6).

And so it was loaded with fresh linnen that I boarded the #100 to Nice for an uneventful, but still at times very scenic trip back home. It was on alighting from the bus that I saw to my dismay that the whole public garden area going down to the Casino had been fenced of. No more walk along the ducks in the water parties and the splendid ‘arbres patrimoniaux’ imported from faraway places like New Zealand or Patagonia. (Mmm ... Patagonia? There must be some ‘poetic license’ here, but hey, I was in Patagonia, once upon a time ...)

And that was for Saturday, and this installment! Thinking of it, nothing happened on Sunday (yesterday) that I can remember, so ...

(to be continued)



(**) But for maybe one or two ‘token’ ones, no policeperson in Monaco is ‘Monegasque’. All are French police personnel (very) competitively recruited from the ranks of the Police Nationale or Gendarmerie, all allured by the glamour, status - and the (significantly) higher pay. They take their security duties very seriously.

Part VI: Digging in in the Crisis

Mar 26th 2020, Thursday

A few days ago – a week? - I wrote that the harbour is still brilliantly illuminated. Well: it was, since for some time now it is merely well-lighted, and of course totally deserted - of people, not of ships. But right at this very moment - kinda 'Breaking News' - all ships have started sounding their horns in a quite a roaring impromptu concert. Followed a few hand-clapping from (invisible) balconies, which made me realise it is the principality’s very own version of the Southern Europe-wide daily 8 pm salute to all health personnels on the front line to combat the Corona virus pandemic. So finally some recognition from the moneyed classes to the public sector? (Admittedly extensive, efficient, and very well-funded over here).

For the remainder my daily life in Monaco is slowly morphing into a relatively dull routine, as outside activities continue to slow down, and I have reduced my own forays outdoor to alternate days (except for getting the paper in the morning, but then the newsstand is barely 400 m away from my temporary residence. My daily of choice is Liberation mostly, whose coverage is livelier than Le Monde’s, and which is now just as thin, as papers had to reduce their volume due to various production and transport difficulties. Cover price is also bizarrely lower – by almost a half.

One thing that stroke me a few days ago, as traffic was progressively dwindling – and ‘big ticket’ cars were no longer in evidence - was the noria of delivery scooters zipping in all directions to bring meals to homes now that all restaurants are closed. I had also noticed when out, that the few people one encountered tended to greet, especially when walking dogs, and I then realised, from their speech (to the dogs, or to me) that they were menials (from eastern Europe, or other parts of the world) – this and the absence of Jags or Rollas on the road: the owners were staying put, ensconced in their luxurious abodes.

Since I don’t go out in the evening any longer I don’t know how the flow of food delivery Vespas has evolved, but it surely has been curtailed somewhat since Monaco, following again on France’s cue, that is of the Alpes Maritimes prefecture, has enacted a 22-05 curfew from yesterday on. Also the seashore all along the Med coast has definitely been declared out of bounds, and hence the Cap d’Ail ‘customs agent’s path is fenced off too now. No more walks, whether or not within the 1-2 km limit. I fail to get the rationale of this kind of measures – is the Corona virus a sea-borne disease? But there surely must be one ... (you tell ;-)

So the action has slowly moved inwards/inside the flat. And, naturally, into the net – or the pages of the paper. This not only devours a considerable amount of time but also is cause to a lot of reflections, and that is probably the case with you, dear reader, too. A nice aspect is that it is something that we, unlike the case with the geographic location, can share. For some part at least.

You are surely all aware of a widely circulating debate, not to say controversy, around the merits/demerits of chloroquine, or hydroxychloroquine, as treatment of Covid19-afflicted patients. The jury is still out, but signs are that it constitutes, if by way not a panacea, and surely not a cure, yet at least a definitely helpful addition to the available pharmacopea (*). But in France, the debate has taken an acrimonious and highly personal turn around the flamboyant boss of the Marseille infectious diseases hospital, Professor Didier Raoult, an enthusiastic, if somewhat intemperate, and also loud-mouthed, proponent of that medication (**). Idolized by some, Raoult, despite his proven - & rather outstanding - scientific record, is treated by some, including colleagues, as little beter than a quack.

So much for what the Coronavirus does to the French ‘intellectual’ debate, more often than not defined by deep status and appearances antagonisms and anxieties, transcending in sometimes a hallucinatory fashion the left-right divide ( &to make things more 'complicated', Raoult is also, allegedly, a 'climate denier' ...)

Actually the health situation in France is dire, and the forecasts about the system's ability to overcome the crisis – still building up, fast – are everything but buoyant. Which engenders fresh, and even more violent controversies – about the responsibility of current decision makers, from the president to health services bosses who headed by his neo-liberal doctrines and implemented rigorous ‘restructuration’ policies which left French hospitals thousands of beds poorer, and their staff angry, demoralised, and worn-out, all that long before the eruption of the Covid crisis they are now required to address with all their might. Financial neo-orthodoxy having declared war on slack and branded all public services as obnoxious money-guzzlers and their staff inefficient, nay lazy no-gooders in dire need of a severe dose of ‘market discipline’, France, and not France only, by the way, is now facing the prospect of a complete collapse of its once brilliant health infrastructure, which no amount of money thrown at it will help restore in the short run.

This brings us to the ultimate controversy raging around the crisis, boiling down to the famous jingle ‘it’s the economy stupid!’. But in fact, it looks like as if it's no longer an issue of whether to prioritize the economy of the health of the citizen - the ‘herd immunity’ theory being a prime example - but something that has been resumed by a commentator to describe the hidden – or not so hidden – state of mind of many a today’s political of corporate decision maker: “why keep the people alive (sc. at great costs to ourselves) if the economy’s going to tank anyway”.

I sometimes wonder if these thoughts, or even an awareness of these discussions, is torturing the brains of my neighbours, and of the denizens of the even grander condominiums further down the street. I kinda assume not much. They probably feel they are shielded anyway. They might be wrong, very wrong. At the newsstand this morning: ‘how many infected people in Monaco?’ ‘what do you want to hear, the official number or the off-the-record one?’

And what about the reigning, and infected Prince? Nothing to worry about, he is not in hospital, he sees his GP everyday, his health is being monitored by the main hospital. Or so was 'communicated' 8 hrs ago. And we should all heed the precautionary measures. You too.

Cheers to you all!

Stay Home Stay Safe! Kia Haka!

(to be continued)


(*) a quick, useful round-up:

(**) site of Hospital Mediterranee: Portrait of Dr Didier Raoult (in French) (No French? -->> prof Raoult explains it all (all?) himself:

Part VII: The onset of Lethargy

Mar 31st 2020, Tuesday

“In a few minutes the ships in the harbour will sound their horn again for the traditional hail to the health workers and other providers of essential services” - That is what I planned to write as a start 45 minutes ago (it is now 20:31).

It did not happen:

(i) I only start now (20:31 ;-) – I was held up by the ‘help yourself’ bookcases in the railway station on my return from the port supermarket – where I also spend far too much time (but I learned I could purchase Amrut 46, India’s world famous, ueber hyped Himalayan waters-based malt whisky for a really reasonable E 46,90 – that’s what you call market intelligence, and hey, we’re in Monaco!) (o*)

(ii) The ships’ horns, for some reason unbeknownst to me, did not sound! Ships in the local harbour, means private yachts by the way: small, medium, big, and even bigger yachts – 2 of them as large as a standard Istanbul ferry even (*). At 8pm sharp I looked from the vista on the Sainte Devote bridge, but nothing happened, even though a few people were on their balconies clapping and banging pots & pans (they must have been Brazilians ;-) There was even someone playing ‘Bella Ciao’ full blast – not a tune you’d intuitively associate with this ... principality.

For the rest, well, truth is is that not much is happening, and that is also the reason why I am not writing every day, as I thought I would - the principal reason is that workalcoholism has never been very much a feature of my life, ‘oeuf corse’ ... Monaco (& Monte-Carlo, where, technically, I live now) appears to be quieter and quieter, but I cannot really judge since I have considerably reduced going out. Especially later in the day - and there is a curfew from 10pm onwards. Only thing I notice: the city buses are still running - empty.

As a good denizen I shop only every 2nd or 3rd day, it is only the newsstand to which I venture every morning for my daily ration of French news in Le Monde (Tue,Fri,Sun) or Liberation (the other 4 days of the week). World news I get from The Guardian online (I am member!), and the Italian one from RaiNews and Il Manifesto, which has lowered its paywall for the duration. Now that all public gardens have been fenced of, this daily outing to the newsstand has the added advantage to provide for a little tour along the luxuriant vegetation that surrounds all the luxurious flats around the rather bare one I am staying in.

The result of all this is that my life has moved away from the life outside to the life ... inside, which means to keeping myself and the place clean, cooking - you won’t believe what kind of gourmet dishes you can make on just one electric plate! And reading, reading, reading, off-line and online. The ‘help yourself’ shelves in the station and some other places are a treasure trove, especially since Monaco’s abundant expat demographic means that there is a lot of English language books to be get - and not of the cheapest variety. I just ‘scored’ Shantaram (**) - for my sister, since I’ve read it already - and a few other classics - Levi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques anyone? - but also one issue of my favorite Venezia-situated Commsissario Giuseppe Brunelli whodunits by Dona Leon (though in this particular find, ‘A Question of Belief ‘, I couldn’t make out the ‘who’ ...)

But most of the time, I am, like likely everyone else, largely, and maybe too much, absorbed by the pandemic crisis, its development, background, and maybe foremost, consequences. What will be the aftermath of what is undoubtedly the most ‘disrupting’ event since World War II? No one knows, and the predictions/hypotheses/speculations range from the (very) optimistic to the darkest possible. There are not a few who envisage a full-fledged collapse, and if it comes to that I am not overly optimistic. My reference point in any discourse about the ‘rebound’ after the catastrophe has always been the 1984 BBC documentary ‘Threads’ (***), where after a 12 years long and painful attempt at, at least, partial recovery, society finally falls apart for good for lack of resources, mental, physical, and material.

But for the time being, we are in this for the long run. A few weeks more of ‘confinement’ where it applies, months, and maybe years of after-shocks if thinks go sourer than we can manage - or want to ‘pay’ for.

But to make this dire forecast go with a little bit of comic relief, have a look at this cartoon in the Belgian ‘De Standaard’ : (****)

Kia Kaha!

(to be continued)


(o*) Googling for sales outlet, turns out that Monaco's Casino pricing is highly competitive! (in Europe, but it still represents a rather hefty Rs/₹ 3894,60 (> or 2 weeks wages of a Kolkata riksha puller ...) Wanna see them _all_?

(*) Sorry, couldn’t resist: Nice article on Istanbul (night) ferries, btw:

(**) by Gregory David Roberts, one of the best books ever on Bombay/Mumbai, besides Sukutu Mehta’s ‘Maximum City’

(***)The Guardian article (2018), with trailer:

Entire documentary on Dailymotion:

(****) “The End of the World is nigh” “The End is way not within sight”

Part VIII: ‘Adventure still exists!’

Apr 2nd 2020, Thursday

This used to be the favorite saying of an old friend of mine - meant to describe odd turns in unremarkable events in just as unremarkable settings.

OK, my ‘settings’ are not entirely unremarkable, and lo and behold, the ships, sorry yachts, have just sounded their horns in the harbour - as they did yesterday. Why they didn’t the day before will remain a mystery, which I have no intention whatsoever to solve.

I was in the harbour not long ago, and that was in a certain sense, the adventure. The harbour is Fontvieille’s, the former football stadium and industrial area, now entirely ‘re-modelled’ and vastly extended into the sea, housing the rich (with sea view) and the less rich, but sons of the soil (without sea view), as I told before. It is also Monaco’s second yacht harbour, shared with the adjoining French municipality of Cap d’Ail, which must have made a (very) good real estate deal with the Principality since their part of the marina merges seamlessly with the Monaco one (and caters for the same clientele). It also where the 'heliport' is, but that was eerily silent, and I didn't go, not even for a cheap hot cocoa drink.

But I was in Fontvieille for the ‘Centre Commercial’ which houses also a large Carrefour supermarket, size just short of a ‘hypermarket’. But it was closed already! I had set off home on foot just after 18:00 and was there 20-25 minutes later, only to find a sign telling ‘new opening times, Sundays closed (Duh!), weekdays till ... 7pm'. Yeah, but it’s only 6.30! ‘Yes, but we close at 18:15 to ensure an proper completion of the trades inside and orderly leaving of the customers’. Quite a few disappointed people were milling around in the obstacle course formed by a maze of red & white police lines-style ribbons, some with caddies (where will these go?).

I made my way back to the Place d’Armes, politely greeted the policeman on duty for the ‘hey, I’m normal, I live here’ impression - and he greeted politely, even friendly, back. Then I found the former SPAR under the arcades transformed into a ‘U’ outlet - even more outrageously priced than the bigger version. Still I got hold of a bottle of Italian bio red (E 7,23) and surprise, a half liter can of IPA for just E2 - Monaco is not always Oslo! Cheers to that!

And having nothing beter to do, I walked back home along the harbour promenade and through the Sainte Devote crevice - or what is left of it after a concrete orgy of bridges, overpasses, elevator shafts and what have you (Monaco doesn’t only fill up the sea, it digs and tunnels itself to no end also, probably so as to be able to do the first thing). The Sainte Devote Church, Monaco’s modest but most emblematic place of worship was closed too - sign of the times, and of the principality’s adherence to the rules eddicted in Paris.

There is one, crucial difference, though. You (still) do not need a fastidious form, signed, dated, and timed, to move around. Carrying a shopping bag is enough proof of your bona fides apparently, as is walking the dog (or several, if you are in service of the rich) . And yes the people, slaloming on the walkways so as to perform the mandatory ‘barrier gestures’, do greet each other - or at least greet back when you do (but overdressed, beautiful women won’t - unless walking the dog).

In the end I ... ended walking quite a lot today, and that was in fact the adventure. In times of confinement you can’t ask for much, and I did in fact, sure that I threaded where I never had been before, which made me pass along, again, a surprising amount of well manicured, yet quite spectacular, and mind-soothing greenery. Maybe that is the upside of the obscenely rich place that is Monaco: at least it has also an obscenely rich public (or semi-public) domain. And oh yes, the public buses are still running ... empty.

My next headache: how & where will I be able to wash my unique (in all sense of the term) set of sheets? (No, you can’t do that by hand, & even so, you can’t get ‘m dry). This will clearly be our next adventure ...

(to be continued)


Haha, 'fopped'! - no notes this time - this is a very bland installment

Part IX: More adventures!

Apr 6th 2020, Monday

So in a few minutes the yachts’ sirens in the harbour will sound for the customary salute to the health carers and other workers ensuring the society’s survival in these confined times ... (will they?) - Yes, they do!

Monaco has now registered 64 cases of Covid, and one person died, while 3 recovered - which is not very much, & makes for still 60 ‘active’ cases ... Well the good news is that the Sovereign Prince has recovered (so they say), as has the secretary of state and a few more members of the government. But meanwhile 3 of the Prince’s praetor ... sorry, ‘carabiniers’ guard have fallen sick.

But his recovery was apparently the occasion for the Albert II to chide his parliament for being ‘negative’ and not appreciating all the efforts the princely government was exerting in safeguarding the Monegasque population in these challenging times. A more responsible, understanding, and respectful attitude was expected henceforth from the people’s representatives. Where have we heard this already?

All the same, Monaco remains relatively relaxed, as compared to neigbouring (and encircling) France. There appears to be more police in the street, and the force boasts in Monaco-matin to have performed 11.000 checks, resulting in ... one person being fined (the range is E70 to E200) for ‘not giving a satisfactory reason for his presence in the public domain’. By Paris standards these would be a poor law enforcement show (*) But, ha! the force did stop a party going on aboard one of those many the yachts anchored in the harbour - though nobody was fined.

But my adventure that day was to try to do some serious shopping in Fontvieille’s Centre Commercial, after my botched attempt last Saturday. So ... well, it did not start ... well. I set off the house at 12.15, thinking that lunch time would be slack time in these parts, everybody at home to prepare and enjoy lunch. ‘Que nenni!’ would be the appropriate French expression. Yet, after an pleasant walk along yet another route on foot down from ‘my’ place - when this is all over (when?) I will really have seen more from Monaco than in the whole of my ‘previous life’, youth included ;-) the arrival looked promising: viewed from the top of the escalator the Q was very manageable - save that its real extent was hidden from sight as it weaved itself around the innards of the Centre. ‘2 hours wait’ was the laconic answer of the guard - a member of the Municipal Police, I didn’t even know that 'we' had one ...

So back I went, and again on foot, this time trying to take the ‘elevator’ route (remember: Monaco’s relief consists of tunnels, elevators, and escalators). The one (till now unbeknownst to me) I took promised to lift you up to the ‘Jardin Exotique’, at the very top of the principality - yeeeh! - though it turned out to drop you not even one third of the way on the very road which I had walked down. A case of misrepresentation if there is one.

Lunch (can’t remember what), siesta, some reading and mailing, and by five o’clock, there we walk down again - on yet a (slightly) different route, of course. Down the escalator, and lo and behold: no one in sight! To good to be true as four people appear out of nowhere just in front of me - and yet, al the five of us made our entry in one fell swoop, unhindered, into Ali Baba’s, sorry, Carefour’s cavern (it is, most of it is hewn in the rock).

Carrefour Fontvieille is just short of a ‘Hypermarket’ which is a good thing since all such humongous contraptions have been closed by the authorities in the Maritime Alps, and Monaco would surely have followed suit. Nonetheless it is huge, and I could stock both on ‘necessities’, and items which are a little less so - like Port wine. Also remarkable is the price differential: cheaper than Casino Beausoleil, and even more so than the harbour branch, which as far as it range is concerned, is more like a Deli (it does have quite a large ‘anti-gaspi’ (‘zero waste’) cabinet, where everything is down-priced by 30% or 50% - ideal for stuff like yoghurt or cheese, which keep OK far longer than their sell-by date).

But the choice is huge, and so are also the number of items on promotional sale, though often in bulk far larger than I possibly could consume, even in the most pessimistic ‘confinement’ scenario. No wonder people come out with one (or more) shopping cart filed to the brim - and are prepared to Q for hours to be able to do so. All the same I seriously consider purchasing a bottle of Shakelton Malt Whisky (**) on my next visit, planed for coming Wednesday. These outings also to be considered 'exercises' ...

Having spent almost one hour hunting for items - and sometimes bargains - and having spent also just over E 50 at the till (but that included a towel and a few household items), which, btw, happened in a jiffy, making you wonder if, in times on filtering at the door, you really waste more time in a Q than in ‘normal’ times - this time outside (but not even this time ;-) at other times waiting for three full caddies before you being emptied on the band.

After this bout of ‘I shop therefore I am’ to make Barbara Kruger proud, I went outside and boarded a #6 bus taking a circuitous, and hence spectacular (hey, again, we are in Monaco!), passing by the ‘traditional’ church square (it’s a circle, actually) of Fontvieille’s ‘new old’ social housing precinct (remember: no sea view!), and then ‘shooting’ thru one of Monaco’s trademark tunnels into the harbour. Since I still have a multi ride, I paid the by now entirely voluntary fare (***) and got out on the west side of the Casino (the real thing I mean - presently out of business). Not as near the house as the alternative, bus #4, but I’d have had to wait 18 more minutes - Sunday & Holidays schedules. Needless to add - so I will ;-) that I was the sole and only passenger/customer.

(to be continued ...)


(*) But then Paris has a terrible prefect (boss) of police, one Didier Lallement, a proponent of ‘robust’ law & order enforcement, who is happy to tell that everybody who’s caught the virus over the past 15 days has only her/himself to blame since sHe obviously did not abide to the confinement orders. That seemed to include health workers, trash bins handlers, cashiers in supermarkets, and, who knows, maybe even members of his own force. The interior ministry judged his words ‘inaccurate’ (sic), upon which the minister himself demanded ‘regrets’ to be uttered ... (Liberation, today

And oh yeah, since we are talking police, an op-ed in Le Monde, the other day, asked a distressing, but germane question: “why are the arsenals of the police filled to the brim with tear gas, peper sprays, and ‘dispersion’ grenades - but are health workers still compelled to labor unprotected in hospitals for lack of masks and appropriate protective equipment?”

(**) - priced, even with one Pound Sterling dangerously coming close to one Euro, still a quart cheaper than in the dis-United Kingdom ...


Monaco buses: the multi-fare is E11 for 12 rides, & if you are a ‘recognised non-resident pensionner, you even get 24 rides for 8 Euros. Older Monegasques and registered resident even ride for free, when 65 & older

Part X: Here comes the Drone

Apr 10th 2020, Good Friday

There we go again with the ships’, sorry, yachts’ horns souding, and by now it feels for me as if I was the not yet Saint Peter hearing the cockerel for the third time - though it is only my over-optimistic schedule that I betray every time ...

In the last instalment (IX) I bored you with my shopping life, so I shall not do that again but to mention that in confinement times which more and more look like house arrest, there is not very much more to do in terms of going out of the house, something that is still relaxedly regulated in Monaco, though even there the slots are narrowing.

I’ll say more about that shortly, but first, a last shopping foray needs to be told. Three evenings ago I tried out another route to reach Beausoleil, one that by avoiding the main thoroughfare that is Boulevard Princesse Charlotte also diminishes the chances of encountering the ever more vigilant ‘surete publique’ patrols. So much for being a cuttie, as president Trump would say, since there was a police car right behind me, passing by ever so slowly. But I greeted them with a jovial ‘Bonsoir’, which was gruffly returned - but at least they moved on.

And then I discovered that I stood in front, well across the street, of a ‘Carrefour City’, and not even such a small one. It turned out to be a tad vaster than the Beausoleil one, much more luxurious than its easy going, but definitely more cramped brethren, but also apparently patronized by the ‘road warrior’ diaspora that has settled in Monaco over the last decades. Quite a few shelves were stocked with Russian, Israeli, Japanese and other origins delicacies, which were not at all massively overpriced, as one would expect. Even the wine racks were full of non-French bottles, a rarity in these parts, including the Harbour Casino.

I never made it to the Beausoleil branch, thereby wasting one already filled ‘derogation’ form. But I went there this morning since that outlet is beter stocked and lower-priced in ‘basic’ items. It was also my first, finally! experience with French law enforcement of the lock-down, as a posse of municipal police had cordoned off the market and were controlling the famous forms. They threw a totally distracted look at mine, and gave me a fresh blank one instead - so it looked more like a service than anything else. We are far from Paris, or even from Nice, where mayor Christian Estrosi has unleashed a wave of drones supported repression.

Not to be outdone, the Monaco police promptly got into the show themselves, though they had to borrow the fire brigade’s gadget to make a splash on the front page of Monaco-matin (*) (they also had to give it back pronto please, as a fire broke out in one of the not yet totally gentrified, and thus not easily accessible precincts. No doubt this embarrassing gap in equipment will be speedily addressed)

Another thing I noticed, and that may frighten the more ‘aengstlich’ inclined, is that there are still quite a few , i.e. by way, but not ‘by a long way’, a lot (are u still there? ;-) of people moving around. I always make sure that I have a bag when I go out, lest I might be viewed as a loiterer, potentially ‘unable to explain his presence in the public domain’ to the securite publique.

Which was out yesterday morning at the entrance of yet another supermarket, the ‘U Marche’ on Boulevard Princesse Charlotte. As I joined the Q outside, neatly defined by real police barriers and tapes, I concluded that the Police had also tasked itself with regulating the entrance, but not so, that was done by the shop’s own staff. Police was checking out, not ‘derogation’ forms - still not extant in MC - but customers' residence status. A bit tricky for me, since I have none such, but the hefty, self-assured policeman was most friendly and polite, accepted that I was ‘confined’ in Monaco by circumstances, and told me how to legitimize the situation. When I told the bloc’s concierge about the encounter, he explained me that all fresh hires (who had already gone through a very selective application process among candidates within French police forces, and had been thoroughly vetted afterwards), had to undergo a six months long special training course to ‘adjust’ them to the peculiarities of law enforcement in the principality. Or as he jokingly put it ‘here you don’t issue a ticket to someone who owns a Jaguar the way you do in France to the driver of a clunker’).

And that was it for to-day, I am going to enjoy smoked trout with a glass of Alsace Riesling - it’s Friday and my religion enjoins eating fish, or at least, not meat. Despite what the content of these chronicles may suggests, my main preoccupations lie somewhere else, and with far more serious matters than going out to shop till I drop - I actually also buy a ‘serious’ paper (almost) every day, and there is no prize for guessing what more than half of its content is about.

The ensuing preoccupations we all have in common I suspect, and may be I will share mine with you in a follow-up installment.

For now, be well, and take good care of you and yours!

(to be continued)



Btw, looking for an alternative for ‘drone’ in the invaluable on-line thesaurus I discovered that the prime meaning of the word is ‘a lazy person’. In fact the Thesaurus doesn’t even mention ‘drone’ in its more current manifestation ...

Part XI: Oooo-oh Myy Go-o-oo-oD!

Apr 14th 2020, Tuesday

Now, that is some title, huh? But you’ll have to keep going till the end of this installment to find out - in case you haven’t guessed already, you sneaky minds ;-)

One question you may be allowed to ask is, how do I spend my days, not outside, as I have told now over many installments, but inside the house, or rather, the flat - or to be more precise, the studio (45 sqm in all)? After all, following to the latest rulings from far away Paris, promptly duplicated by ‘the Palace’, I am supposed to be confined for 23 hrs a day, leaving, like in a security prison regime, just one hour a day to do the few things which are still allowed (7 items, according to the French ‘derogation’ form, which includes, yes, going to jail.). The one hour can be chosen between 5am - not adviseable - and till 10pm - even less so - since we have also been gratified with a curfew some 10 days ago.

But to start with all the time I have to spend in my ever extended temporary abode: it consists on one large room - large enough to be ‘conceptually’ split in two functions, if not two parts. There is a small entrance hall, with a convenient cupboard, and also a separate kitchen and bathroom, both adequately spaced. So the one and main room is my principal place to stay, to eat lunch and dinner, work on the computer - this at the same, large table; and otherwise to rest, and at night to sleep on/in the convertible sofa in the other 'conceptual' half of the place. In all a very cosy, and given the dimension, roomy space to be, even if the unintended stay is getting a tad longish, especially if the allowance to be out is limited.

President Macron announced the next date of - Insha'Allah - release yesterday evening: May 11. I doubt Italy will keep to May 4 then ...

But the prison regime is fortunately much mitigated by the presence of a window, albeit on the side of the room, and not extremely wide - a normal window say - but gifted with quite a view, given it’s before the angle of the facade. Yet I still enjoy a side panorama including of a fair portion of the harbour plus that of the Rock above, the outer half of it - that is with the massive Oceanographic Museum, but not the equally massive sovereign palace.

This is indeed special here since the building boom that happened when France closed in on Monaco back in the early 60s (but allowed it to remain, and to become an insanely larger international tax heaven afterwards)(*) and never abated since has made quite a many of earlier built properties, even multi-storied ones, look into a wall of concrete instead of the sea - and for the particularly unlucky ones - not a few - leave them even bereft of sunshine altogether.

I do enjoy sunshine, it is glaring right now on my mini-balcony (not even really, just a forged iron enclosed tiny balustrade on the window suggesting one) . And it does so the whole of the morning, that is, as soon has the celestial body has overcome the top floor of the wing of our building on the other side. Fortunately, the next really hi-rise building, the strangely named - and here hardly pronounceable - ‘Schuykill’, which has been with us for the past 40 years or maybe even more, is fronting just a bit behind - the sun skirts it.

Since the crisis has - surprisingly - not affected the supply of provisions in shops and supermarkets, aside from a few bouts of panic buying, I also still eat remarkably well. And you would really wonder what dishes can be created out of single electric plate. My last foray was a vegan (so says the Guardian recipe) platter of asparagus wok-style, washed down with a cheap, yet excellent Portuguese rose from the Luso-shoppe in Beausoleil. In fact, thanks to the ‘ethnic’ grocers there, my fare is more ‘exotic’ than what I am able to concoct at home, in Fiesole!

Bathroom being well-equipped, and with no dearth of soap (Indian!) and toiletries, I do keep clean all right, no worries; the only worry is the absence of a washing machine, for which there would hardly be any room in the flat anyway, the really worrying part in the present circumstances being the likewise absence of a launderette in Monaco or Beausoleil, the nearest one being in Menton, as I told before.

And having forgotten my shaving kit in Bruksel (I always forget something when I travel, usually the thermos can, but not this time TxGd) I have decided to protest (or is it protect?) against the Corona virus and forgo shaving. As long as I keep my hair wet and my beard combed, i might pass for an American professor ...

... But apparently not to the increasingly repressive Monaco police which in the form of two motorcycle officers cornered me - there is no other word - on the street yesterday afternoon. Unlike the polite and friendly encounter with one of their colleagues at the supermarket’s entrance the other day this turned into a rather nasty interrogatoire, complete with a radio back and forth with HQs, made more disagreeable by the totally baseless assertion by one of the two sleuths that he had seen me loitering on the Larvotto beach that very morning ... They let me go without further ado in the end, since they could arraign me on nothing (walking around as PE is allowed - 1 hr a day). Very unpleasant and mildly traumatising nonetheless.

Now that you have also gone through this disquieting detail, you have earned being told what that baffling subtitle was about. Yeeeh!

Well, I also have neighbours. Never met them in the flesh, but I’ve seen them - and heard them too. Like me and everyone else, they are confined. I don’t know for sure how many they are, I suspect at least a couple, but actually I believe more. Three, four? Another couple? Anyway, a few days after lock-down set in, they had a party - that’s when I heard them first time. Weather was not that warm yet, but they’d opened their windows. They have got two, their side of the facade makes a right angle to mine. Now that the weather has turned balmy they have installed cushions on their mini-balconies (I could, but never bothered to do the same). That’s how I cam to know what they were looking like.

They are English I learned from starting a conversation with a belle sunbathing in the window. Thirty-ish orso, the sort you associate with the younger, and lower rungs of Monaco expats, typically employed by offshore companies, or slogging on the yachts in the harbour (‘boaties’ as they are called)(**). The woman looked typically the kind you could imagine ten years earlier in miniskirt, stamping her feet in the snow, while waiting to gain entrance to the night club on a blizzardy winter night.

Besides talking loud - their flat must be much bigger than mine - they were also going for ‘clubby’ music, competing with my Radio France Musique to not always bothersome effect I admit; kinda camping atmosphere. Yesterday, Easter Monday however, they went for the full mounty. Windows deserted yet open, and from the inside increasingly vehement breathing could be heard, punctuated by faster and faster, & ever more clamorous squawking (see subtitles) concluded, after a remarkably long time I must say, with the mandatory screaming of more of the same.

In times of Corona you get your love, or in any case your (indoor) sport wherever you can manage. Yet by now my f&$%#*! neighbours must be exhausted, I haven’t heard or seen anything/anyone of them since ...

(to be continued)


(*) During the long aftermath of the end of WWII, which was notvery favourable to the super rich, and till the very early 60s, Monaco was what I dubbed ‘a provincial tax paradise’, a nice illustration of which was that half of the buses of the regional transport company were registered there, avoiding the (French) vehicle tax. Now when by 1961/2, major French Pharmaceutical companies threatened to set their headquarters there, French president general De Gaulle called it a day, and after a week or so of goofy theatrics (barbed wire rolled out at the ‘borders’, Sovereign Prince Rainier III holding a patriotic speech atop a white Peugeot on the Place d’Armes, and funkiest of all: French and Monegasque post offices - one and the same corporation - starting to charge the foreign postage rate to each other’s clients) an agreement was reached - at the expense of French private and corporate citizens, and them only. The rest is history, courtesy American-born Princess Gracia who whispered the smart thing to do in the ear of her, by then, not terribly business-savvy husband ... also that would change with the passage of years ...

(**) (well, claro, not? you don't need even to open the link ...)

(***) Ironically 'boaties' are allowed to leave their quarters and go down the harbour into the luxurious yachts as their maintenance work is deemed 'essential'. But their owners are not!

Part XII: The Dogs are Loose!

Apr 19th 2020, Sunday

Originally, this installment should have been titled “Onset of Lethargy, Phase Two”. Because, well, actually there is NOTHING happening, nothing newsworthy at last, only what starts to look like as an increasingly dull, everyday confinement routine. But nothing, truly? So, since I am not going out very much any more (repression does have a dampening effect on observation), I opened our local daily “Monaco-matin’ (*) for possible interesting developments. Bingo! - and a change of title!

Well yesterday’s, sorry the day before yesterday’s, meanwhile, main news was brutal: two German shepherd dogs (in still ‘Prussian war’-traumatised France called ‘Alsatians’ of, in this case, ‘Malinois’ - from Mechlin, Flemish Mechelen) had broken away from their owner’s control in Roquebrune, and proceeded to Beausoleil, where they bit an older lady, who had to be taken to hospital. Panicked locals had called the police, immediately met with fierce canine aggressivity upon arrival: one more officer to the emergencies. Not to be so easily overdone, police promptly resort to that knowledgeable device, successfully administered to the Gilets Jaunes till recently: the Flashball (**). Unlike some unlucky GJs, the doggies didn’t lose a paw or an eye, but bolted ... into Monaco. Where they again went on the rampage, and renewed their ferocious attacks on the forces of law and order, plus bit yet another pedestrian for good measure. In the end our heroic fire brigade’s Dog Unit - yes! (they got the drone, so apparently the dogs too ...) managed to capture one of the hounds, the other one being still on the run ...

The owner has been subjected to a ‘robust’ interrogatory (waterboarded? ...).

Well, and then? Told you so, not much to report about. OK, I went, again in afternoon, & not too long before closure, to the Commercial Centre in Fontvieille, which I entered, the French would say, like ‘a letter in a mailbox’ (meaning no filtering Qs). There I bought, among many other things, more or less needed, a bottle of Scotch, though not the Amundsen Malt, but my standard J&B, the money thus saved going into largely adding up to a bottle of Zubrowka vodka, so I could indulge in late sundowners reminiscent of the ‘Silo cafe’ (squat), one of the very few watering holes I patronized when living in Amsterdam. (They served Zubrowka in wine tumblers - filled to the brim - for 1,50 guilders ... Those were the days)

Reporting, these days, has to come from newspapers, whether wired of ‘hardwired’ - meaning paper. To me, the latter come in the form of Le Monde and Liberation, as already told, and the former by following the online edition of The Guardian, something that swallows inordinate amounts of my time, much more than it ever did in Italy. The French papers particularly, are good at background pieces and elaborate interviews with various actors in the crisis. I tend to skip the medicos - you just can take so much sufferings, risks, ill preparation and feeling to be sent out of the trenches into dubious offensives - in favor of the writers, philosophers and assorted thinkers. Plus the political and economic news, looking ever cloudier by the day. And, if that was not enough, I must confess a morbid incapacity to resist looking at the last fracas acted by that hallucinating entity occupying the ‘Total Power’ (but not really) position of President of the U.S.A. Fortunately for my self esteem, I am not alone:

Twenty-seven minutes before the yachts’ horns blaring again: I beat the count this time, even if, in fact I am a day late on schedule, just as the ‘Dogu Ekspresi’ (‘Orient express, no less!) I once took from Kars to Istanbul long, long years ago (***). Tomorrow a fresh week of confinement starts, and then another, but if Italy still holds on the decision to open up ever so cautiously on May 4, it will be my last one. Insh'Allah! I have already planned May 1st, Labour day, as the one for the ‘Grand Menage’ of the studio!

Kia Kaha! All, and ...

(to be continued)


(*) Monaco-matin is the principality’s masthead of the regional daily Nice-Matin, once strictly limited to the department, but now, like all regional press increasingly ‘consolidated’, and publishing editions with various names, e.g. ‘Var-matin’ thru the region. The Monaco edition, however is a bit different. It started with an inside 4 pages addition to Nice-Matin, entirely edited by some PR agency, and paid to the main paper at the add rate by the MC government. Reason was that Nice Matin was not devoting enough space to the principality, or was not writing the right kind of stuff about it. Was a bit too transparant, so why not buy up the paper as a whole and create a new title. Poach a few hacks at main office, pay them a bit more, of course (everybody gets paid a bit more in MC, even if they have to pay French income taxes - if French nationals) and hey presto, Monaco boasts not only an (helicopter) airline, but also a daily!

(**) For an example of perfectly controlled, ‘proportional use of force’ application of a flash-ball launcher, check out:

No clip from the time I travelled - in steam hauled-trains - but here my fav contemporary version, by my fav travelling couple of ‘we are not at home’ :

(what they eat in the dining car is exactly my menu for this evening. I have to forgo the raki, but I can replace it with fresh herbs Ricard. Today’s Turkish train travellers are not that lucky - Sultan Erdogan has forbidden the state railways to serve spirits in trains any longer ...

Part XIII: ‘It’s the Economy, stupid!’

Apr 22nd 2020, Wednesday

(number 13 invites doom, so this ‘Part XIII’ is largely devoted to the Monegasque manifestations of the ‘dismal science’ - economics!)

And yes, the yachts have sounded their horns again, and some people have been clapping or banged pots as have become the ritual these days. Monaco-matin even launched a contest on which part of the principality was going to make the most noise tonight (actually 2 nights ago, I am ever running late).

Walking thru the streets of the old harbour quarters, La Condamine, a few evenings back, I even recognized the national anthem being played out from one of the windows (I had learned it at primary school), and it gave me an eerily feeling: had Monaco turned nationalistic? Is there something as Monaco nationalism?

There is of course, because there are nationals, and they have been nationals for a long time (the Grimaldis do not pretend to be the oldest still reigning house in Europe - 1292 orso - for nothing, even if this claim needs some dynastic legerdemain - but hey, the Dutch Oranges are no better).

Monegasques are a strange breed, ethnically, linguistically, socially, economically, and politically. This catalogue of disciplines suggests the possibility of ethnographic PhD studies - and they probably exist - but I won’t engage in those here. Suffice to say that, immo, the best analogy for Monaco’s societal system are the Gulf monarchies with their three-tier structure of Ruling House and grand families, a minority of entitled but otherwise passive nationals, and a majority of expatriates at different levels of position, running the place and its economy, but expandable and without very much by way of residence rights.

For a few days now, my young, expatriate neighbours have been remarkably silent. After their physical exertions they didn’t open their shutters for at least a full 24hrs. Then they engaged in a ferociously violent videogame to judge by the battle clamor, and then it was silence again - OK the weather is also not sun-bathing grade at the moment. But it made me think about Monaco’s expats economy - and its economy in general.

Which is generally reckoned as being very prosperous, fuelled by the presence and spending of the very rich (the infamous HNWIs and VHNWIs), and boosted by the activities of taxation-shunning, profitable corporate entities. This is true to some extent, but to some extent only. In fact the economic base of the principality is very precarious, and its resilience, if any, is going to be severely tested in the aftermath of the Covid-engendered upheaval.

To start with, the kind of inter/trans-national corporate entities that have set shop in Monaco is not of the big league variety, far from it. If General De Gaulle was afraid in his times that French pharmaceutical majors would ‘escape’ to Monaco, it was because it made sense for them. It does not make any for the big players in the globalized economy, who find far more convenient venues to stash their wealth and locate their official head office. Think Caribbean Islands, or even more practical, Ireland or Delaware.

Most of the foreign ventures established in Monaco are off-shores, a remarkable number of them actually connected to the real off-shore business which is oil exploration and exploitation at sea, and maritime affairs generally - hence all these yachts one would presume ;-) This is a glamorous business - feeding a lot of suppliers, sub-contractors, and proletarian workforce - when the going is good, as it was in the post-2008 ‘learned-nothing-from-the-financial-crisis years. I do not think this will be repeated when the current mega-crisis will be over (if ever) all talks of a booming recovery economy notwithstanding.

Post-Covid, ‘assets deflation’, and most likely a severe one, will be the name of the game. This will cut a lot of meat from the bone, the very meat of which a large part of the Monaco economy is made of. And it does not bode well for my neighbours (who knows, it might already have hit them - they are very silent), together with their pals, constituting, I’d reckon, something like a good half - and may be more - of the local expat community.

And assets deflation is going to hit the rich fringe as well, especially those of the ‘new money’ variety, whose (virtual) fortune is based on speculative ventures leveraging for their oftentimes obscenely luxurious consumptive habits, which is so much part of the Monaco image. Glammy bling-bling doesn’t pair up well with economic disaster management. “Never let a good crisis go to waste” is a game for serious players, not for red Lamborghinis coasting playboys - and girls.

The next months and years are surely to be ‘interesting times’ for the principality. Rumors have reached me that the palace wouldn’t mind a consequential paradigm switch and is brooding on it. It is surely warranted, but I doubt it will be possible. But anyway, that is another story.

For my part, and to end on a lighter note, I hardly went out today, but yesterday I enjoyed the definitely more relaxed atmosphere of Beausoleil, where both went for ‘ethnic’ shopping (‘mumkin’ anyone? -best whisky snack ever), and availed of the permission to practice exercise in the form of a little hike (hike indeed, the relief is steep in these parts). I came across the municipal police, clearly ‘on duty’, so I said Bonsoir and asked if the wanted to see my ‘derogation’ - “ah no, Monsieur, no need, have a nice walk and enjoy your evening!" (But in order to maintain the proud reputation of the force, they entered a little shop next and promptly manhandled a bearded, definitely non-caucasian youth ...)

Two more snippets: - the princely governement has deposited one mask in my mailbox, washable (30x, 90 degrees, thank you, pls iron afterwards, thank you even more ...). Fortunately they are still considering whether to make them mandatory or not. I hope not, it’s really bad dystopian SciFi. Or if, the ‘Luxemburg option’ - where a scarf, which I always wear, is OK too. - The second 'Mechlin’ biter stray has still not been traced. Crossed the other (Italian) border I guess (and shot by the Carabinieri? They don't like dogs biting them)

Part XIII b ('extra bulletin')

Apr 23rd 2020, Thursday

I had just finished editing and mailed the last installment of my Chronicles that a friend send me this, picked up from the Italian national radio & television network RAI. A Q&D translation (courtesy follows:

Corona Virus - Albert of Monaco cuts 40% of the expenses of the Prince's Palace.

The prince, who announced last month that he had contracted the virus, has extended the confinement measures in the Principality until 3 May.

Prince Albert II of Monaco decided to reduce Palace expenses by 40% following the coronavirus crisis. The budget will thus fall from 13.2 to 8 million euros. The Cabinet reported that Monaco's budget will be "heavily influenced" by the consequences of the pandemic, leading this year to an estimated deficit of 500 million euros due to emergency measures to support the economy and an expected reduction in government revenue.

"The seriousness of the situation requires strict financial management with a view to an overall reduction in public expenditure", the Principality stated in a note. "In this context, the Prince has decided to reduce the operational expenditure of the Palace with a decrease of almost 40% in its endowment, ranging from 13.2 million euros to 8 million euros", it still reads.

Extraordinary expenditure due to the health crisis includes partial unemployment measures, assistance for low incomes or the allocation of an extraordinary minimum income of 1,800 euros to all self-employed workers who request it. There is neither direct taxation nor the possibility of recourse to debt in the Principality, but the Monegasque State has set up a reserve fund of five billion euros, half of which is made up of cash. The prince assures in his press release that he "has every confidence in the solidity of the economic and social model of the Principality of Monaco to overcome this health crisis with unprecedented economic consequences".

Part XIV: Masks Attack! ... & More

Apr 26th 2020, Sunday

The big issue at the moment appears to revolve around masks.

But first the nonsense news, appropriately reffered to in French parlance as ‘chiens ecrases’, run-over dogs. None of the such in Monaco, where strays are unknown, people drive carefully, and dogs usually come in a very expensive variety. But the vicious ‘Mechlin’ has still not been traced, afaik. There were however two interviews in Monaco-matin about people who had been biten, in a grand ‘huilie-huilie’ (weepy-weepy?) style, extreme right Dutch politician Geert Wilders surely would have called it. They know how to run a local rag over here.

So no wonder that the big issue of the day is also being sensationally splashed: masks! It has been an ongoing story since the begin of the Covid crisis, but Monaco manages to give a unique twist to it. Like in France, where the masks shortfall has still not been resolved (never wind PIMO Johnson’s Britain), Monaco suffered a brutal supply/demand imbalance in the beginning. For weeks on end Pharmacies had stikkers on their door telling NO masks available - nor hydro-alcoholic gel. Then both started making a timid reappearance - at mind boggling prices, even by local standards; there was a moment that a box of 50 surgical masks (the simple ones thus, like what your dentist puts on) were on sale in pharmacies for E 138 - cost price they said, because of the world-wide rush to obtain them at any price (*).

But this is all behind us in the (mini) state where “the authority of one protects the liberty of all” (-Marcel Pagnol): Monaco is manufacturing (yes!) its own masks! The Banana Moon Company, which is usually into bathing suits, and the enterprise Bettina, specializing in high-grade apparel for famous French fashion houses have recycled their productive apparatus, the latter firm even boasts ‘print’ them in 3D and run a zero-waste production process. So now the principality sits on a stock of 3,6 milion masks for general purposes, plus 276.000 ‘advanced’ (FFP2) ones, for the health services. And more have been ordered at a cost of 9 million Euros. A clear case of ‘where a small country can be big’ (Dutch loc.)

But this ‘happy news’ also sheds light on a largely unknown sector of the Monegasque economy: industry. By last reckoning it still counts for just over 5% of the not inconsiderable GNP of the principality, and is concentrated in ... high rises in the Fontvieille district. They have now been eclipsed, in all sense of the word, by the new developments, but when I was young industry was the mainstay of Fontvieille - and hence not the glitzy neighborhood it has become.

The two most conspicuous establishments were the brewery, ‘Brasseries de Monaco (**), regularly spewing characteristic fragrances, and the coal gas plant unloading its nourishment from the railway goods yards just above it. The Coal gas factory had already been closed by the early 50s, but the two (in my remembrance) huge ‘gasometres’ (gasholders) remained for a long time, and my governess and I passed them by on the way to school on days we were not taking the bus.

Prince Rainier III, the father of the current one, had developed a keen interest in industry and sponsored it - as long as it was out of sight - possibly because ‘economic diversification’ was a cover for his notoriously complicated relations with the ‘Societe des Bains de Mer’ ('La SBM, a.k.a. the Casino), which held a strong hold on Monaco’s economy, and a virtual monopoly on its reputation, besides being substantially owned by the flamboyant Greek ship magnate Aristoteles Onassis (***).

But leaving previous ‘heavy’ industrial activities behind - the port of Fontvieille also housed a small shipyard, Monaco took a leaf from Hong Kong’s book, a place where space is possibly even more at a premium than in the principality, and went for small-scale manufacture of all kinds of products in multi-storied flats, varying from cosmetics to plastic tubes (my mother’s companion owned one of such one-floor-in-the -building factories) and even several fish canning plants (****).

All of them of course polluting, malodorous, relatively low value added (& usually all three) activities were bound to clash with the glitzy ‘new Fontvieille’ conquered over the sea, and are now vanishing one after the other, the princely government wishing for quite some time - and succeeding in - to replace industry by high-end services, which have the added advatange of employing a less uncouth-looking workforce than the Italian ‘frontaliers’ (trans-border workers) I remember being disgorged in large numbers by the early morning steam-hauled ‘omnibus’ from Ventimiglia in the old Monaco station (5*).

18’minutes to yachts’ horns sounding ... so:

(to be continued)


(*) One remembers the unseemly scenes on airport approns where consignments of masks for country ‘A’ were literally hi-jacked by country ‘B’, a practice Liberation humorously dubbed ‘arnaques et mic-mac sur le tarmac’ ... (rip-offs and hanky-panky on the airstrip). No fun however for the patients and health workers in France’s ‘Grand Est’ ...

(**) Its factory having been removed somewhere in the mid 60s due to its totally non market conform value/soil occupation ratio, the company disappeared for a time but has reinvented itself - I guess with new owners - as a boutique venture established on the harbour. Its product line has naturally also been ‘up-marked’: from sturdy one-liter bottles favored by the ‘travailleurs de force’ of my youth, to obviously smaller, but much pricier containers for discerning connoisseurs (wanabees actually, the stuff horse piss)

(***) To add insult to injury, Onassis’ yacht, the Istanbul ferry-size ‘Christina’ was considerably larger, and hence a much more striking presence in the harbour than the princely family’s modest ‘AlberCaro’, while the sovereign’s wife Princess Gracia couldn’t stand Onassis’ paramour, the famously tempestuous opera diva Maria Callas. Things went to a head when the Prince, at one stroke of his sovereign pen, ‘diluted’ the share holding of the SBM by 100%, keeping the new half for himself, that is for the Monegasque government, which basically is - or at least, was then - the same thing. An understandably furious Onassis bolted out of Monaco’s waters, Christina and all.

(****) The world-renowned ‘La Monegasque’ sardines, along with their unforgettable tin design, are now canned in Morocco.

(5*, like the party!) Needless to add that these proletarian hordes have been elegantly disposed of - pension rights, but no residence - in the course of years. In the days when there was a relatively large number of them, an unwritten, but robustly enforced ordinance made them extremely unwelcome to ‘hang around’ in any area of the principality other than their place of employment, and especially so in cases of what French so nicely call a ‘delit de facies’ (the of having a non-white face) ...

Part XV: “Que d’eau! Que d’eau!”

Apr 30th 2020, Thursday

("Waaaow, what a lot of water!”) These were the (in)famous words uttered by my namesake Marshall and president of the French Republic Patrice Mac-Mahon, when taken on atour of some Paris suburbs victims of severe floods in 1877. Mac-Mahon was a die-hard rightist, who had several thousand ‘Communards’ shot and many thousand more exiled to far away New Caledonia (*), and was apparently just as unable as president Trump to feel any kind of empathy.

This as a totally frivolous intro to a local miniature mishap that happened yesterday in the street next to mine, and was quite spectacular all the same: a water main sprung, no, literally exploded, causing a mini volcano on a main thouroughfare. Fortunately there is hardy any traffic these days (though more than I expected), so no collateral damage. But the road - a steep incline - leading to it was promptly transformed in a furious mountain stream, leaving vast number of boulders (OK, pebbles) on the asphalt.

Trust Monaco-matin to have a much more spectacular account than mine. But to me there was a extra bonus in the form of two police cars coming to asses the situation and divert traffic, one with a relatively high-up in it. Having politely greeted him I could discuss my ‘little administrative situation', which had been complicated yet again the other day by a further (polite) request from a policeman for some ‘attestation’ which I told him I was unable to produce due to various complications, Dutch & Italian consulate closed & the such. “OK, I know” he said, “you risk a fine otherwise, so just write one yourself, we simply need some sort of document”. Monaco eternally wavers between operetta and police state, often both at the same time.

Meanwhile, some of you may ask why I do not write (much) about how I feel, ‘up close and personal’ about this whole confinement situation. Well, there is not much to tell about it. Yes, it is an annoyance, and I miss my garden (and accessorily, my washing machine ;-), but I am so insanely privileged compared to so many other people - even here where some ridiculously expensive flats are diminutive and bereft of view and sunlight - that it stifles any need to comment, in a good way or in a bad way. I could bore you with my deeper anguish about what’s going to happen when ‘this’ is over (hint: ‘not in our lifetime’), but I reserve that for other fora. ‘Tutto Andra Bene’ (everything will be OK) be our motto! Again - it’s likely to be far better indeed for ‘us’ than for many of our fellow human beings.

So, yes, I do have my thoughts, and like everyone else, I try to cope as best as I can, what can I say more? Well, that I was amazed, again, yesterday afternoon, by the incredibly beautiful, and in these times, comforting, walks one can do in Beausoleil, a place that under what looks like an attraction-repulsion mechanism, has gone a completely different way than the Monte-Carlo lying under it. And it’s not only the people, distinctly less wealthy and much more cheerful, but the whole architecture and arrangement of the township. I won’t dwell on the buildings, all much more at a human scale (**) , but on the proliferation of little alleyways, and nook and crannies full of vegetation and ... cats! (I suddenly realise that I still have to see my first cat in the principality itself ...)

So I clambered the extended staircase (Exercise! Exercise!, or as per the French Government sanity slogan “Eat - Move!”) called ‘Escalier Riviera’ named after its terminus: the massive ‘Riviera’ building, now a posh apartments complex, and not very well maintained at that, but once a prestigious palace (as in ‘Grand Hotel’) with a commanding, and indeed stunning, view over Monte Carlo (now a bit blighted by several concrete megaliths) and the Mediterranean Sea. It was owned and managed in its heydays by the venerable CIWL (***). But it fell victim of the Great Recession, or maybe just of the demise - after a terrible accident - of the rack railway to La Turbie on which it ran a dedicated tramway service. Whatever, it closed in 1932 and has since been converted in today’s apartments complex - with a (modest) accommodation for the local tourism office.

Having dully appreciated the view from its grand terrace, I moved down again on the Escalier Riviera, never losing sight of the Med, and surrounded by the fragrances of the blossoming vegetation. The next, not entirely unexpected stop was at a newly ‘discovered’ Philippino mini-grocery, where I scored a chilled bottle of original San Miguel (mandatory price of 32 P$ on the cap, but here E 2,40 ;-) and made my way home, just within the 1 hr limit, as highlighted, or rather ‘high-sounded, by the eruption of the yachts’ horns in the Monaco harbour.

Time to view the buffered ‘deconfinement’ allocution of the Sovereign Prince, promising us more of the same, but then different, from 6am on May 4.

(to be continued)


(*) Their descendants, many generations later (well not even that many), have, as history often will, turned if not complete fascists, at least deeply racist rightwingers trampling on the liberties and desires of the original inhabitants, the Kanak, trying by hook or by crook to prevent the island(s) to become independent from France. They averted such an outcome by the last referendum, but might not be able to repeat the trick by the next one ...

(**) Immediately as you exit one of the corners of Beausoleil to the West, the first Monegasque building that ‘welcomes’ you is a 35 storeys ocre concrete tower - in the basement of which the ‘for expats’ Carrefour is located.

(***) Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Europeens, of ‘Orient Express’ fame, the conveyance of choice for the rich and renowned until the advent of ordinary, regular commercial airlines in the late 50s. Their luxurious, or merely comfortable, blue, distinctive carriages (either sleepers or restaurant cars, with a few pinacles of travelling luxury, ‘Pullman cars’, thrown in on crack trains like the Paris-Nice ‘Mistral’ or the Milano-Napoli ‘Treno Azzurro’) have always been the matter of my dreams ...

The Riviere Building now, on the site of the Beausoleil tourism office:

(****) Allocution of the Sovereign Prince (a really serious guy!), last Tuesday:

(you’ll enjoy the first measures of our melodious national anthems and learn the two most important words in the national lingo - yes, we got one, and it’s a Piemontese, not a Ligurian dialectal variant of Italian)

Part XVI: Config.deconf-1D

May the 3rd 2020, Sunday

Monaco will end strict confinement to-morrow, Monday, at 6AM (meaning there still will be a ‘strict’ confinement between 5AM and 6AM, since there still is a curfew 10PM-5AM? Man-made rules are strange animals ...). Italy also will open shop, albeit very limitedly, the same day, and France is supposed to follow suit next day. I say supposed because a definitive decision by the government will wait till the 7 th of May, and will follow ‘scientific advice’ ...

France, that is the French government, has increasingly become a puzzler in this whole pandemic bandobast, and for Monaco, a progressively more unreliable partner and overlord (*). At ground level it does not make a lot of difference, even emphasizing Monaco’s effective autonomy, to the point of forcing the neighbouring French local authorities to do its bidding in terms of police operations for instance (that’s called ‘co-ordination’). But at a higher level of decision making Monaco seeing itself in the position of either being prodded or forced to go by its own devices and decisions is, given its diminutive territorial size, not the very best of propositions.

Whatever it be, I am very curious what the scene will be looking like to-morrow. Many restrictions will remain in place, like ‘social distancing’, and a few more rules have been thrown in, e.g. the obligation to wear a mask in public transports and when entering a shop (thanks heavens, a shawl, like my pink one - now freshly laundered! - have been deemed acceptable) . And the ‘securite publique’ has promised to remain ever vigilant - but at least there will be no longer a need “for Monegasques or residents to justify their comings and goings in the public domain”... So I’ll be able to take an unfrightened look at the somewhat bogus ‘traditional’ church square in new Fontvieille - maybe a good escape plan for to-morrow, combined with a shopping raid in the centre commercial ...

But in the meanwhile I took a little advance on freedom of movement (here the Dutch saying ‘a child’s hand is quickly filled’ surely applies) yesterday by taking a ‘necessary’ trip to the launderette in Menton - & given the funk my bed-sheets were beginning to emit, replace ‘necessary’ by ‘imperative’ ... Just like last time it was a great and very fulfilling outing. Starting with the laundry itself, which was done in sixty minutes flat (drying & folding included) thanks to the facility being entirely empty and I could pres both its dryers into my service.

I took the big (‘bendy’) Lignes d’Azur bus to go to Menton, the one that takes the main road, and does the journey in a little less than half an hour. The number of passengers gone so depressing (on my trip: 4) that it now runs on a pared down Sunday schedule, but OK, it’s still there (**) . When exiting Monaco, a solid posse of our American-style caped cops could be seen strictly controlling entry into the principality, and I did not wish to encounter them on the return journey, reason why I timed the laundry so as to be able to take the ‘Zest’ minibus #24 back. It looked at bit tight at first, but I made it in good time in the end, not only thanks to the empty launderette all to myself, but also because the time table had been ‘distended’ on Zest too, and the Sunday service ran 15’ later.

And ran it did, with a somewhat ill-tempered Italian driver (to judge by his accent) who first went thru a fastidious cleaning routine of both himself and his protecting equipment (dousing large quantities of hydro-alcoholic gel on his rubber gloves, which does not seem very smart) and then driving thru the hills Fangio-style, which made for a somewhat needlessly choppy ride.

But a great ride it was, as #24 takes the real hill route, climbing all the way to Roquebrune’s old village - with ruined but impressive castle, a many centuries old olive tree (position as oldest tree in France contested by not far away Vence with an ash tree dated 1450), and, oeuf corse, a commanding view of the Mediterranean sea (***). And then our Fangio careened his Zest minibus down the (steep) incline, braking at the last second for road bumps, and taking opportunity for some cracking speed performances every time he hit a section of the main road. Ah well, we’ve seen that in India or Turkey before, so no angst here. And perfect views from the minibus, whose ultra- hip design makes it akin to an aquarium on wheels ... (****) .

So happy back home again with fresh linnen and a head full of nice impressions. Needless to add: no police checks at all, anywhere. But then those are for the usual, car driving suspects, not for harmless, local bus lusers.

Now just (very) curious what the next day(s) will bring, and whether France will indeed open up on May 11 - and not shut close again a week later. And how my return to my beloved housie & garden in Fiesole will take shape. As the Dutch would say ‘there are (still, many) bears on the road’ ...

(to be continued)


(*) It should never be forgotten that France is the ultimate adjudicator of Monaco’s existence as an independent entity. France’s absolute writ in Monaco affairs has been much diluted in the course of years, and subsequent treaties have granted Monaco more an more the trappings of a sovereign state, full membership of the United Nations included. But France is, and will always (I think) remain its ultimate sovereign.

(**) In yet another proof of the French authorities’ twisted Covid logic, the government has decided to further _reduce_ public transport services, so as to discourage people from travelling, yet at the same time (probably another instance of president Macron's infamous 'en meme temps') allowing more and more businesses and enterprises to re-open, and all this while re-enforcing mandatory self-distancing measures driving the managers of transit agencies nuts.

(***) the ‘corse’ in ‘oeuf corse’, a Franglish prank, is appropriate here, since the island of Corsica’s extreme outlier, Cap Corse (yes, I can’t help) , is rumoured to be visible when the weather is completely clear.


For a nice picture on the strangely Japanese-language framed FaceBook page of the company ...

Part XVII: Deconf Deco, Worries and ... a Whale!

May 8th 2020, Friday

“What a deco!” was a phrase my now deceased friend and university companion Just and I used to utter when baffled by yet another instance of academic ineptitude. It stood for ‘deconfiture’ , one of the many French words favored by the Dutch regent class to shut out the great unwashed from the discourse.

But let’ s start with the whale since it is the swell part of this installment. Not the lone one maybe, but surely the most graceful.

Yes there was a whale in Monaco! Not in the harbour of course (though dolphins have been seen in the Cagliari one), but still in the principality’s territorial waters (yes, we got that too, 3 miles of it, must be 100 times our ‘land mass’ ;-). It was sighted the other day by a fisherman and his son, and filmed - so good for an extended, enthusiastic report in Monaco-matin (where else? (*).

All that happened on the fatidic Monday of deconfinement, May 4.

Well, that day was ... hell. OK, not completely, but as I woke up around 7am, there was that sudden, forgotten racket: traffic! Followed less than an hour later by the gyration of the big crane outside my window: work on the flat being inserted between the two wings of our own - but at a lower level fortunately - was resuming, and so the drilling and other assorted building site noises.

I went out a little later in the morning and realised the full horror of the resumption of ‘normal’ activities, and so it went for all day. Thanks heavens, the next day (Tuesday) seemed to indicate that Day 1 was mostly a manifestation of pent-up demand for an outing. At last: it was much calmer, yet still at levels far above the very quite previous weeks when traffic and the numbers of people in the streets had appeared to diminish by the day. Now that you didn’t need a valid reason to be out of your house, people were letting go.

[Strange ... It’s 8pm, the yachts in the harbour are supposed to sound their horns, there were a few timid attempts - and now silence. Are we done with the heroic health workers? Indeed: the number of cases is stable at 95, with 4 deaths]

Yeah, letting go ... I took the opportunity of the regained freedom of movement (while observing 'distenciation' rules and applying common sense) to go for longer walks which took me to the harbour - the sea side is no longer off limits, though the beaches still are. The long jetties are open again, and there one could observe that the further one went, the more all Covid caution was thrown into the wind as (mostly young) people gathered together to drink and socialize, showing of with their motorcycles or their (flashy) cars in the process.

Taking a walk on the woutside towards the harbour also led me to the avenue where the offices of Radio Monte-Carlo are located - an intended (before the plague) visit to my favourite station in Fiesole, Radio Monte-Carlo Italiana, will have to wait for the next post-Covid occasion, but the freaky part was their address: the road is called the ‘avenue de la quarantaine’, which reminds you that the port of Monaco was already a thriving trade hub in the days of, well, the previous plagues ...

The greatest benefit - and may be its sole one - of ‘deconfinement’, is that (almost) all public gardens and green spaces are open again, making for a real breach of fresh air. Even in the weeks before, quite some green was, if not accessible, at least well-observable, but now one can really avoid being on the streets and bypass trafic by cutting through the ample provision of greenery, one of the hallmarks- a positive one this time - of the principality’s governance model.

In other aspects that governance has come down rather heavily in the post-confinement Covid framework. The most conspicuous feature concerns - surprise - the use, or rather the obligation to wear, masks. Voices had ominously warned that the times after confinement would be harsher than those in it, the price that had to be paid to compensate for the fact that if the lockdown had to be really effective, it should have started earlier, lasted (even) longer, and be (even) more rigorously enforced than is now the case, because of the unstated, but all the same acute political desire to get economic activities resumed as soon as possible. This very ill-advised policy will carry tremendous costs everywhere where it has been applied, and in the meanwhile, the actual benefits of putting on a mask (outside health facilities and other very close contact venues) are still the object of raging, contentious debate (**).

But in the meanwhile I have worries of my own. I long to return to Fiesole (FI) where I both officially and actually habit, but the Italian government does not make life simple for ‘re-intrants’ - whether nationals or foreign residents. Since Monday travel is allowed within Italy as a whole, if only for ‘necessary reasons’ (it is ‘free’ within one’s own province), but entering the country from a ‘contaminated’ neighbouring one is another matter. You need a specific ‘self-declaration’ , you will have to go in quarantine, or ‘self-isolation’ in your own home for the next 14 days - all not really problematic. The contentious issue is travel. Rule is that you are not allowed to use ‘mezzi publici’ , meaning literaly ‘public means/conveyances’. It is clear that this applies to urban transit, probably because these are more crowded, and need to be reserved for the workers’ commutes. But does this apply for long distance trains also? (***) I am corresponding with the local Italian consulate, which has hitherto failed to give me a precise, explicit (& hence documented) answer. Yet I need it if I want to travel back on Thurday the 14th as is my current plan. If not I might wait till (after) May 18 when it seems a new phase (less lockdown - and more rules) will kick in.

But in the meanwhile I have started the clean-up of the house (rather needed after 2 months 23:24/7 inside ...)

(to be continued - but hopefully, not for long ... ;-)


(*) Father and son did not ‘let grass grow’ over the start of deconfinement day: at 6.30AM they were off on their small fishing boat, sailed a bit around, caught nothing, but ...they saw the whale! Check out the video, with a classic ‘whalish’ ... tail!

(**) In France the controversy has taken the shape of a wholesale farce. First masks were ‘useless’ said the government, to hide the fact that they were actually not available, France having goten rid of a large stock a few years ago, to cut costs, as usual. Now it found itself at the wrong end of the mad world market masks charade (see a previous installment) and masks are still in short supply, even for medical personnel. But they have become compulsory in public transport, and official institutions - go figure. Here in Monaco you can buy them in pharmacies & supermarkets for E 53 for 50 (& in Morocco @ 8c each) .

(***) In which case it would parallel what I heard the situation is in NL: ‘interlocal travel is allowed - you’re supposed to have a reason, though no forms are needed to state that - but inner-city transit is not (to go shopping, f.i.). The ‘confinement’/ lock-down rules are perplexingly different from one European country to the next, which does not at all bode well for the containment of the Covid pandemic ...

Part XVIII: The advent of the New Normal and the End of the End of History

May 16th 2020, Saturday

This may sound as a rather pompous title - and it is - for a somewhat overdue installment, but it has its purpose, and I will offer no apology.

Yet fact is that I have fallen victim to a despondent form of lethargy. What made me despondent (*) is that, factually nothing much is happening. I am sliding from one week to the next, settled in , I must admit, a pretty comfortable routine bankrolled both by my old age pension and the Net - allowing for endless virtual wanderings on the information ocean. Monaco has fallen back into a semblance of its pre-Covid self, save that the masked faces in the streets reminds one that we are, to quote the just sacked US government official Rick Bright, ‘in deep shit’ (**).

Going out these days is indeed no fun, and confirms many commentators predicting the post-confinement times might turn even more oppressive than the confinement itself. The rules have stiffened, and worse still, the atmosphere has hardened - no more greeting people you encounter (I often do, many do not respond, even though some are pleasantly surprised and return the greeting), people look harried. Health experts are worried about the psychological consequences of a crisis that lasts longer and goes deeper than expected, even when the numbers of people physically affected - a fresh contagion was front page news the other day - is steadily going down.

And there is reason to worry. The WHO predicts a second wave in the Fall or next Winter, and even if ‘we’ are warned, and may even be beter prepared, hospital bosses and other front-line specialists are everything but confident that ‘the system’ will be able to take even a partial rerun of the horrible months we have behind us (and which are still in full swing in the US, Brazil, Mexico & a few other unlucky places.

Politically speaking, it’s no better at all. We are seeing the contours of a new order taking shape, which might be here to stay, part unavoidable, part unfortunately deliberate, by people not speaking in our name. A rather sad 'New Normal' hence, that one commentator has linked to 'the End of the End of History', spoofing Fukuyama's (in)famous post 1989 book (***). Meanwhile buffoons, and then criminal ones, like Trump and Bolsonaro, rule the roost and disunite the world’s fight against Covid, the Chinese have faktap big time, response from other leaders have been haphazard and nowhere consistent - and everyone, also within the European ‘Union’, is going her or his way - just look at the widely different control measures taken and the completely diverging time tables regarding ‘re-opening’, both internal and at their respective borders.

Borders indeed are what has kept me in Monaco till now - and it’s not yet over. Though both Monaco and Italy ‘deconfined’ on May 4 - and France one week later, that is last Monday, these were purely national measures. The borders, a farce of course in the case of the principality Monaco, but a serious matter in, and between France and Italy, remained closed. For months I could not travel back home, and still the process is arbitrary in its application, fraught with onerous conditions and hampered by limited train services, never mind the obligation to ‘self-isolate’ for 14 days on arrival.

I actually do not have problems with the latter - almost the contrary, but the former is a real bother - or was, as it has been announced that Italy will lift all restrictions for EU nationals (& residents), from June 3rd. Which makes it very tempting to go for yet another extension under the twin reasoning that two weeks no longer amount to much given the time already spent here, and that here, my routines are pretty well settled and not that unlikable. Funnily enough I had not thought about that myself, as I was bound to depart next Tuesday or Wednesday and bite the bullet, but the suggestion came from my (former) dentist, herself marooned in her Belgian home, unable to travel to her new abode in Malaysia - and I am afraid she’s going to be stuck far longer than me ...

The regret is only that I’ll have to embark in a renewed cleaning up of this place, which I just -almost- finished (****), never mind yet another - very pleasant by the way - minibus return trip to Menton for sheets cleaning in that unique launderette cum library ...

“You know well that you fail to express the most important things, which are for ever elusive” wrote Ella Maillart (5*) - and yes, I would have forgotten to mention a deeply routine disruptive development: the printed press distribution system is ... disrupted by a strike at the near bankrupt dispatching company - so no Monde or ‘Libe’ since Monday (I’d bore you to death if I were to explain you the incredibly convoluted, taxpayers’ cash haemoraging system that is supposed to ensure the fair distribution of newsprint in France. So I won’t ;-)

Somehow, this was supposed to have been the last installment of these ‘chronicles’ , hence keep posted for Part XIX ...

(to be, or not to be ... continued)


(*) Now the word ‘despondent’ may sound a bit ‘Hinglish’ for good reasons. To me, it always summons the memory of a cartoon styled add for some shaving razor brand in the Indian newspapers of the 70s. Featured was a hero having a bad (facial) hair day, and the story ran as such “Hawaldar Bahadur is feeling despondent. Smelling an opportunity Bhala Dakoo is going on the rampage” (pic shows him snipping the telegraph lines before robing da local bank). Hawaldar Bahadur is called to the rescue, but ... see above. Yet he relents in the end - but not before having ‘a confidence restoring shave’ (with & thanks to Brand X of course). Whereupon Bhala Dakoo is expeditly send packing (and the Rupees restituted).

(**) Rick Bright was actually quoting what a manufacturer of respiratory masks was telling him about ‘the situation’:

(***) And this has led Jerome Baschet to assert that the 21st Century begins now (on, say, 1st of January 2020):

... something that opens a weird gap in the more 'impressionistic' sequence of centuries, since commentators have called the 1914-1989 period 'the short Twentieth Century'. Therefore in my turn I suggest we take a leaf from Harry Potter and dubb, Howard Express' departure platform style, the period 1989-2020 as the 20 3/4th Century ...

(****) For the finer nuances of the word ‘almost’ please refer to:

(5*) It is now too late to tell you that you should in fact have skipped this whole stodgy narrative of mine and headed straight to something, that is, someone, who is truly fascinating: (fascinating 84 minutes 1973 Swiss RTS television documentary - but in French, oeuf corse ;-)

Part ... 0X0: In Memoriam Roberto ‘Obet’ Verzola

May 23rd 2020, Saturday

No Monaco-focused chronicle to-day, but an homage to a very special person and friend of mine, who passed away in Manila where he lived, 2 weeks ago.

Roberto Verzola, ‘Obet’ for his innumerable friends, was a much respected political activist since his student days and he spend years in prison during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. When electronic communication became accessible outside government and corporate circles - and that was far before what we know today as the Internet, Obet became a pioneer and opened up computer communication networks to the Philippine civil society. This is how I came to know about him, thru his links with the Antenna Foundation in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

On becoming a full-time ‘network activist’ Obet never abandoned political engagement and solidarity work, but in the course of years, as electronic communication became a fact of everyday life, he slowly switched towards a more down to earth, ‘analog’ approach so to say and choose the side of peasants and farmers in their struggle for a beter life, and a more appropriate and sustainable agriculture.

And this is how, on coming to visit him in Manila at the occasion of me participating in a ‘source camp’, a free & opens source software regional training and get-together week-long happening, a concept that was initiated by the Tactical Technology Collective a few years earlier, I came to know about his ‘other’ passion: SRI, for System of Rice Intensification. For me, as ‘development geographer’ (my academic specialisation) this was a breakthrough in many more ways than merely seen from its scientific aspect.

In introducing me to this subject, Obet proved a remarkable instructor, on par with the best professor I ever had at the universities of Amsterdam and Delhi. And, by a stroke of luck, it is also thru him that I was able to meet in person the ‘chief academic evangelist’ of SRI, Cornell University’s professor Norman T Uphoff.

Since this is about Roberto ‘Obet’ Verzola, I won’t dwell on what SRI exactly is save to say that, to me at last, it represented a totally revolutionary approach to the cultivation of rice, with in many aspects, strong parallels with the story of Free and/or Open Source Software (F/OSS) with its ‘long march into the mainstream’. No wonder it also appealed to Obet, who became one of its major pioneers and advocate in the Philippines. (Told very briefly, and crudely perhaps: SRI demonstrates that rice needs not, unlike ‘everybody’ believes, to be grown submersed in water - rice is merely the only crop that _can_ be grown that way, but it grows even beter in dryer circumstances).

As Obet was going to visit a farmer community that had adopted SRI methods on the island of Mindanao, I asked and was allowed to go on ‘fieldwork’ with him. That was quite an experience. A renewed, and welcome, exposure to the ‘local NGO’ ways of doing things (as opposed to the big transnational ‘development’ ones) - to which, fortunately, my Calcutta ‘guru’ , professor Anand Bhattacharya had accustomed me to in the mid-90s. Save for the plane journey - which in the Phillpines, is a strictly no-frills airborne bus - everything, lodgings, local transport, food, and even the booze (for me, Obet didn’t drink) was totally local level.

And with me as a fascinated onlooker, Obet gave SRI gave his ‘lectures’ and imparted his advice in a totally relaxed, non authoritarian manner, fully communing with his audience in long drawn, animated Q&A sessions, where he was as much eager to learn from the farmers’ experiences as to share his knowledge with them. This combined with the incredibly interesting nature of the subject and its wide social, economic, political and last but not least, environmental ramifications made a lasting impression on me - to this very day.

And after the serious work, all repaired in the local community house - more a shack - for a simple dinner, some enjoyment, with or without ‘drinks’, before going to sleep, dormitory style, upstairs. And in the meanwhile, in the next valley parallel to ours, what became known as the Maguindanao massacre was taking place, by good luck unbeknownst to us.

Obet flew back and I spend a few more days in Davao, before rejoining him in his tiny but very convivial home in Manila (or Quezon City to be precise) where he lived with his wife Flor, sometimes their children, and two big but very friendly dogs. There in the cramped 'office' space, he told me much more about SRI and presented me with a copy of his SRI ‘bible’ , a hand-bound collection of relevant articles, which I avidly read and is now in my housie in Fiesole. It was also then that I met professor Norman Uphoff, who took opportunity of a lay-of in Manila on his flight towards the US to meet Obet, and got me at the same occasion.

Though, to my regret, we never met again, Obet and I maintained an irregular but always hearty mail contact afterwards, and we were discussing at how to involve him in the 30th birthday of the Foundation. It was not to be, but Obet will nonetheless always be present in our hearts. He was surely one of the most exemplary persons I have known.


On Roberto ‘Obet’ Verzola: (news of his passing away in Filipino ‘digerati’ news-site) in memoriam of the Filipino NGO on climate and sustainable cities. the one by the Dutch Antenna Foundation (in Dutch, but English version coming up soon ...) Obet’s bio & publications list

And last but not least, a text by Obet himself on his years of emprisonment during the Marcos dictatorship:

On SRI - System of Rice Intensification: (Cornell’s SRI International Network and Resources Center)

Professor Norman Uphoff’s Cornell page:

Maguindanao massacre:

Part XIX: ‘Le pire est devant’ and ‘Liquidation Post-Covid!’

May 31st 2020, Sunday

The title of this installment was ‘booked’ beforehand, but I am not sure it will adequately deal with its (f)actual content. Just hope it will not resonate with the infamous Dutch concept known as ‘the flamboyant flag flying over the garbage barge ...

The issue is, as usual, with my endemic laid-back attitude, which now has made for a even larger than usual time-gap between this and the last actual MonaCovid installment (XVIII) with the Roberto Verzola in Memoriam one between in (*). The situation in Monaco, in this southern part of Europe, and in the world in general, has evolved substantially in the past two weeks, and, at least as far as most of Europe is concerned, the main theme has been ‘re-opening’, of commerce, transport, borders, you name it.

Not that Covid19 is behind us - by far. The funky second part of this chapter’s title (‘Liquidation Post-Covid’) refers to a full size add covering the whole back-side of a local bus. It was coming from some large furniture store, but did not make clear whether it expressed the joyful return of consumerist happiness (“I buy therefore I am” -Jenny Holzer’s light column) or a firebrand sale induced by an impending bankruptcy caused by the sanitary crisis. The discount percentages, 70%, 80% suggested the latter ...

If that is the case it won’t be the only business going belly-up after two months+ of enforced ‘buy nothing today’ stance. Hence the first part of the Chapter’s title “Le pire est devant” , literally ‘the worst is ahead’, but maybe best translated by ‘You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!’. That was the subhead of a Le Monde (**) in a background (and forecast) on the economic situation. Well, call it the situation in general, I’d think. Whether you want to fear it - or not.

But by way of seeing there was a lot of it (to see) over here over the past dozen of days. Reason why I’ll postpone my thoughts about the ‘radiant future’ after Covid to the next, and presumably last installment of these ‘chronicles’ (& better call it - the future, I mean - radiant, lest you'd think there is an ‘after’ ...)

Best sum-up/catch-phrase: ‘They are back! Who - the rich of course, or rather: their toys - since being enclosed in these, the rich are hardly visible to the distant, naked eye. Against chronology, I’ll start with this morning sight of the majestic gliding past of an impressive (but not obscenely over-sized) black and white motor jacht as it exited Monaco’s harbour between the new mole and jetty (I had repaired there to start reading the umpteenth ‘confinement novel’ (***). As I was trying to guesstimate (!?) the value of the aforesaid vessel (2 millions? 3 millions? - & at this point, it doesn’t matter Euros, US Dollars or GB Pounds, and it was also a rather vast under-estimate - I am clearly no yacht broker), when I noticed the sleek helicopter well fastened on the aft deck - registered in Germany it was (‘D’& some letters), while the yacht itself had Montego Bay (Jamaica) as its home port. Go figure! (piece of cake!).

More Monaco sphere factoids: In front of the grandest of palaces, the "Hotel de Paris', you can hire a black cab, brand ‘Bentley’. At least it had a ‘T’ number plates - though I didn’t detect a taxameter , the conveyance sporting darkened window panes, oeuf corse. In the ‘Golden Square’ near the Casino, one can - or rather will again, next week - go for ‘Snackonomy’, the local, exalted version of a fast food joint (simply mimicking the Far East and dubb it ‘Street Food’ might be OK for Amsterdam’s newly gentrified districts, but won’t do here). Hamburgers start at E30 & there was an array of Champagne bottles on the counter. Definitely my idea of going out!

On the other side of the socio-economic spectrum, the small ‘Zest’ buses are plying around in ever larger numbers (France has also largely ‘deconfined’ by now), they are fuller now, even crowded at times - not a good feel using them with people donning masks (compulsory by law), but coughing into them, & not distancing, etc. So I avoid travelling when they are even moderately packed. Yet they are still free, & I already made a few nice excursions, to the old village of Roquebrune for instance, and its famous ‘bi-millenarian’ (contested) olive tree. And to Menton, where I discovered an even more practical launderette (more convenient machines, and - cheaper!), right on the harbour. And also Menton(e)’s old town, a clone of old Ventimiglia on its hill - no surprise both towns were part of the same political territories till the late/mid 19th century (****).

The day before I was in Nice - for the first time since ‘confinement’ (lockdown) began in March. I took interlocal bus service #112, the one that runs (infrequently) over the ‘Moyenne Corniche’, something like 2-300 meters above sea level, offering spectacular views of the Med, beside passing picturesque Eze village (as opposed to its twin Eze-sur-Mer on the shore with a wonderful beach). Arrival in Nice is also dramatic as the bus descend to the city, and hence sea level, and one has a panoramic view of the sprawling metropolis. Which immediately made me realise that I don’t like cities anymore - too densely built, making you immediately feel a mere number, an insignificant visitor if not intruder. Yet #112 bus has one advantage: its terminus at the inner east end of town is set in the old industrial and proletarian neigbourhood of Riquier/St Roch. Jean Noel Montagne of 'NiceLab' (hacklab) had agreed to meet me at the terminal and we walked together to a market square for a little talk (he had not much time to spare with family at home and a lot of work in the garden on top of his eco-activism, both off- and online (5*).

Aside from my 2 neighbours and a few more local acquaintaces, jean Noel was the first friend I met in person since the onset of the crisis - and he also had been the last: we had a nice lunch together in one of Beausoleil’s Portuguese restaurant just 3 days before the curtain went down (we knew it was in the air, and yet ...). We had a quiclk look at an already several years old community garden, more or less permanently threatened with eviction by the (far right) town hall majority, and saved as many times by citizen initiatives and local primary schools. Their students are taught natural sciences there, and the garden harbours a huge avocado tree, JN tells produces seceral hundred kilos of fruits in season.

And then we sat down in front of the ‘club house’ of the local branch of what’s left of the French Communist Party, which doubles as hang-out of the old guard, gathered in a not totally ‘distanced’ nor ‘masked’ conviviality, while the little restaurant next door had tentatively reopened, selling take away coffes and ‘pan bagnats’ (the traditional Nizza sandwich, a big bum drenched in olive oil, with tomatoes, egg, anchovy, & all kind of things you can check out on Wikipedia ;-) . And then we walked back again to the bus terminal where Jean Noel had left his motorcycle, and I ambled further south towards the harbour to take the #100 bus to Monaco taking the ‘Basse Corniche’ along the coast.

Turned out there was a Lidl on the way, and G.. forbids, I entered, hoping to find the wine only a one-assortment-fits-all-nations foodstores chain can provide: Retsina! But that’s a marketing seasonal produce, so I failed, but - I was apparently in the long tail of a ‘Greek week’, so there was still Ouzo on offer. Bingo! (E12, but a good brand, I know the stuff)

Yeah, and for the remainder, we’re definitely in the ‘New Abnormal’ - and will stay there for a long time if you ask me. All passengers on the bus masked, half the seats labelled with a crossed red circle sticker, everybody avoiding everybody else, the driver accepting only exact change, as none is given back, etc. is just one manifestation repeated in countless instance in daily life, including at home.

And the previsions, as far as I can follow and understand them, are not good. The SARS-Cov-2 virus, to give it its full scientific name, is an uggly beast, which has been too long seen as a cousin of influenza, and hence mis-comprehended. And the last scare, after quite a few before, is that it can stay alive for a couple of months in people remaining a-symptomatic and yet contagious. This will keep us in semi-lockdown for a long time, I am afraid. But looking at the consequences, for Monaco and for the rest of (western) Europe - I dare not look beyond that - might be something for the next and last installment.

Meanwhile, May the Spirit descend on you during these days of Pentecost!

(to be continued)


(*) which I am happy to say in sad circumstances, renewed my contact with Professor Uphoff, and the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) issue in general, both still alive and kicking. I will need yet more time to delve into its latest developoments. But I guess Obet will have died knowing that SRI had progressed on a sure footing, and become, if not mainstream, at least an accepted alterantive to ‘wet’ cultivation.

(**) Yes, the papers are back! But maybe in a mirror effect of the whole ‘Covidonomy’, I don’t buy them any more. I subscribed to Liberation for 1 Euro - two months, no strings attached - a few hours before the offer expired, and I might buy Le Monde on Friday again - though this Friday will then be the last - for the weekly book reviews.

(***) Jean-Christophe Rufin’s ‘Check-point’ , a novel (2015) set in Bosnia during the ‘war in Yugoslavia’ , featuring a five-some ‘humanitarians’ , 4 very diverse males and a young woman called Maud, on the road to Kranj with emergency supplies, not all of of them of strictly ‘food, clothes & medicine’ nature ... I found the book in the deluxe take-away shelves of Boulevard des Moulins shopping centre (where else?) . Added bonus: Jean-Christophe Rufin in his pre-novelist life was one of the inspiration of my surrealistically failed PhD application of 1999:

(****) Menton(e) was ‘claimed’ back by Mussolini in the aftermath of his rather deceitful invasion of France in June 1940 - it turned out into yet another Italian military flop their ‘Germanofakistes’ allies had to sort out - at gerat expenses. When France had capitulated Menton was simply annexed , officially renamed Mentone (its name in the local parlance anyway), its inhabitants subjected to ‘Italianization’, and for good measure, the somewhat curious (and antiquated) italian ‘three-phase’ railway electrification system extended upto Menton(e) from Ventimiglia.

(5*)  : (Assises de la Transition Ecologique et Citoyenne dans les Alpes du Sud)

Part XX: Last trip before Home!

June 6th 2020, Saturday

Again (quite) some ‘latency’ since the last installment, due to ‘slack’. Mine entirely, because outside, well, it’s back to what passes for normal all the way - almost (see a previous chapter, note 4 I believe, for ‘almost’;-). Masks all over the place, also where they aren't needed, meaning outdoors in non-crowded situations, as people, a majority it woule seem, mistakenly believe masks protect them - they don’t, they protect _other_ people, _against them_. Now that’s tough sell to the many who grudgingly abide by rules they don’t understand and actually resent. Which is immediately demonstrated by the gleeful abandonment of distancing and other ‘barrier gestures’ as soon as an opportunity arises - usually at the moment those would be the most appropriate.

Public places are open again since, let me think, yes Wednesday. That is when an old acquaintance of mine - back from my youth - showed up as she came to inspect a flat she owns in Beausoleil and the previous tenant had just left (a splendid 3 room + big kitchen flat, by the way, with a rent a fraction of a much smaller dwelling in the principality - but hey, you’d have to pay income tax!) (*) she intended to spend the night at her place, but as the wonderful ‘Linky’ meter enables the electricity company to switch you off remote and at once, it is exactly what they did. Paulette stayed at my digs and we had a wonderful lunch - octopus!- in one of Beausoleil’ just re-opened Portuguese restaurants.

The days before re-opening were actually quite frantic with all the staff & owners of restaurants, cafes and bars busy positioning tables and chairs - as per the distancing rules, of course. Which means a substantial reduction of capacity, creating quite a challenge to eateries whose business model is based on full houses with a high turnover at lunch times and low prices (our ‘plat du jour’ - that’s English mind you, just as ‘Bon voyage!’ - was E12, coffee included). No such problems with the more high-end, Oslo+ priced joints in Monte Carlo and Monaco below Beausoleil, where the lavish arrangement is distancing-conform by default (and design). They were filling up to, but not as fast as ‘upstairs’.

The rich are shy to return apparently, and the tourists are not back at all (France will open its borders to foreign leisure travel only in nine days time). The day before yesterday I went for a walk on the Rock itself, where the old town, the Oceanographic museum, and of course the Princely palace are located: I had the small streets, the alleyways, and the ancient passages all to myself, the tables laid out in front of small restaurants remaining empty with the owners looking either hopeful or forlorn. That will probably change - for the better for them, for worse generally, coming Summer someone in Menton told me this morning, promises to be ‘canicular’.

Hence I am glad I am leaving. After many a spell of ‘prorogue', I finally cut the umbilical chord of sorts and simply bought a non-refundable ticket on the TrenItalia website for next Tuesday very early morning. Needing to clean the bed-sheets for a last time, I went to Menton this morning, again with a wonderful ‘Zest’ mini-bus, by now a bit more crowded (and still for free) along the even more wonderful (but slow) route high above the coast. The mini-bus left me just above the quays of the pleasure sailors’ harbour where a launderette facility is located (I learned there are actually two of them, one at either end) and had my wash done, not without witnessing and then being involved in quite a ‘casino’ with a quarrelling couple, details of which I will withhold, as I am too tired for going into details (it was hilarious all the same, though the two protagonists turned out to be fine Marine Le Pen material ...)

So, these were my last days in a long, involuntary sojourn in my hallowed birthplace - the longest continuous one in my life actually (**). Three more to go, the last one intended to pass in ‘Monk mode’ - that is doing nothing ‘material’ at all. Still on the burner is a more general installment about my general take on this whole, again, involuntary adventure in the context of the crisis, sanitary, but in its outcomes also social, political, economic, environmental, that has been caused by that brutal micro-organism, the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Stay tuned for the last installment, hence, ‘insha-allah’:

(to be continued)


(*) 'Tax, Tax, Tax!' was Rutger Bregman’s key utterance when he came to Davos to shock the summiters last year - & they dully were. One wonders how Monaco would be transformed if a regular taxation system would be introduced. Rumors has it that the palace would be happy for the place to sport a more ‘serious’ profile, in the realm, say, of the environment for instance - it does (since it is so rich), but all the outsiders' eyes are rather more focused on the ‘Carre d’Or’:

Then, maybe, Mr Bregman holds the simple answer ...

(**) Born in Monaco, I was schooled at St Charles state primary by the Marists brothers (Roman Catholicism being -still- the principality’s state religion), but I lived in a villa in the adjacent village of Cap d’Ail. And when I was ten, I was shipped to a boarding school in Nice - but that's another (sad) story ...

Personal tools

dal 17 settembre
al 22 settembre
San Dona' di Piave