Travel Tale: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in Monte Carlo

Travel History, September 2006:

I'm in Monte Carlo, Monaco, and I roll out of my hotel. It's a two bit hotel off of a back alley, winding into a crevice - the cheapest hotel I could find in a very expensive land. I'm an ordinary man attempting to walk amongst the high rollers of legendary Monte Carlo, home of 007 intrigue and million dollar cars.

I spill out onto the street, having just arrived in Monte Carlo from the train. I'm freshly showered and wearing a white suit and my fanciest shoes. I'm ready to check this place out.

I'm high on the fairy tale story that fills this place, the intrigue behind its history, when in the 14th century a soldier disguised as a monk went to the city gate and asked to be let it, claiming he was hurt. When the soldiers let him in, he promptly killed them and then claimed the principality for himself. This was the Grimaldi family, who are the current princes and rulers of Monte Carlo, Monaco. They rule the country with a golden fist.

Then there is Grace Kelly, the queen of film who became the princess of Monaco, after the reigning prince fell in love with her. She moved to Monaco and became royalty; it's almost like something from a Rob Reiner movie.

Walking down the street, I see a pier with the largest yachts in the world. In fact, they're mega-yachts - yachts that start at $100M, owned by kings, princes, and tycoons. My goal is to somehow get on one of these mega-yachts, as a pure life experience to stand on one of these things. I'm not someone who feeds off of money or power -- I feed off of life experience, intellectually, emotionally, across all dimensions. And I really want the life experience of getting on one of these strange floating vessels, at least touching the ceiling of some kind of unusual upper echelon of society.

My plan, my scheme, is to get on one of these mega-yachts. I head down to the biggest yacht in the harbor. It's gargantuan, maybe 150 feet or more long. I have no idea. It's multi-story, maybe ten stories tall. On the front of it, in giant letters, is the name of the ship, "Lady Moura":

I walk right up to it, where I see a crew person standing on the gang plank, and I immediately connect to him. My scheme is to connect with the crew and maybe somehow get on this mega-yacht. I introduce myself and I tell him how unbelievably beautiful the ship is. We start talking about Tagalog, the language of the Philippines where he is from, and connecting. As we talk more, I ask him, who owns this yacht.

"I can't tell you," he says, "The owner of this yacht prefers to remain anonymous and remain secret, for his security. "

"If you search on the internet for the owner of this yacht, you will find many web pages that tell you different owners -- on purpose. This was created to keep his identity secret," says the crewmember.

That's interesting. Another guy comes out onto the gang plank. He's from Ireland. One of them let slip, sort of behind his breath, "you know, I can be fired for this, but this yacht is actually owned by ******************, and he is onboard now."

Wow. No wonder all the security. Thats one of the most powerful people in the world.

After talking to the guys on the yacht, I asked them where they would go if they only had one night in Monte Carlo?

"I would go to the Monte Carlo Yacht Club, but I doubt you'll get it. It's packed full of people from around the world right now due to the mega-yacht show going on," says the gentleman from the Phillipines.

He doubts I'll get in... thats a challenge if I've ever heard one. I've gotta try to get in. Maybe I can make a contact in there to get on one of these giant yachts.

I decide to head to the yacht club and go in. The yacht club is like something from a Manet painting, full of high society people, older people that look like they're related to Forbes (not a complement), younger people that look like they're related to Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street.

I'm scared. My heart is pumping because this is a members only place; I'm not supposed to be here. This is one of the biggest, most prestigious yacht clubs in the world, where rollers like P Diddy and Bill Clinton stop through on their way to the Monte Carlo Casino or St. Tropez next door. I'm a fool, a charlatan in a fancy suit trying to inch my way into catching a glimpse of a society very different from mine.

There's a gentleman hanging out at the end of the bar. I go near him to order a drink at the bar.

"What are you doing here, are you a member," he says, challenging me. Crap; it turns out that the first person I decide to walk up to is one of the co-owners of the yacht club.

I don't know where it came from, but before I know it I say "My client has a mega-yacht moored in the harbor. We are both here for the yacht convention." The proverbial foot in the mouth...

"Oh, who is your client?" the yacht club owner says, his eyebrows arching up in interest.

My mind is turning through a list of names to say, all of which could get me in trouble if I speak them. "My client prefers to remain anonymous," I say, "privacy and security are very important to him." Dodged that bullet.

He's not done. "What do you do for your client?"

"I'm a personal assistant," I say. Suitably generic.

"So you set up events for your client, act as his butler...." the club owner starts saying.

I know nothing about those kinds of things, so I want to avoid that being my profession. "Actually, my client has a retinue of personal assistants. He has a personal assistant who just chooses wines, for example, and one who selects his fashion for the year. My role is actually as a ghost writer to write articles and speeches for my client."

I don't know where the heck I came up with that stuff. Of course, my heart is even pumping faster now because I'm digging a big, fat, deep hole. I don't want to get arrested in some strange country, especially in one where the first king pretended to be a monk in order to kill people and take over. I don't know where this stuff came from. It just sort of fell out of my mouth, verbal diarreah as they say.

"Wow," he says, and I see his eyes light up with who he imagines my client to be. Because I didn't drop a name, he's imagining the biggest, fattest client he can, and he is literally licking his chops. He starts trying to sell to me, to convince ME of something. How strange.

He's telling me about huge event services he does for the ultra rich, involving hundreds of service people, fine gourmet products from around the world, private islands and all that. "Would your client be interested in such things?" he says to me. "He might," I say.

He then takes me back to a private room at the yacht club. The room is laid out in a nautical theme, reeking of privilege and old school business deals. You know, your classic sort of dark stained wood from endangered trees that should not have been cut down but have been turned into wood paneling for some kind of 100 year Scotch sitting behind it.

He points me to a massage chair that's a crazy looking contraption and says this massage chair is one of the best in the world. "Many of my clients here in the yacht club have it on their yachts, why don't you give it a try."

He almost forces me to plop down into this overwrought contraption. My legs are up in the air and before I can argue he sort of has me in this whole setup and says "why don't you relax and enjoy yourself. It takes about 15 minutes, I'll be back in a bit. I think your client would really enjoy this on his yacht," he adds.

"Oh, my client will love this," comes out my mouth. I'm so dead.

When the massage chair comes on it feels like 100 hands are rubbing my back, sort of going all around. If Hieronymus Bosch had designed a massage chair this is what he would have put together.

So I'm sitting there in this crazy chair and sweating because I've really dug a hole for myself. I have to admit, though, I'm having fun; I haven't pulled a stunt like this since college. I had forgotten how fun it is to do something like this. Naughty, yes, but no ones gets hurt in the process. It reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

But I suddenly realize that I'm not dirty, I'm not rotten, and I'm not a scoundrel -- I'm a bit out of my element here. The warm glow of fun disappears and is replaced by the cold steel of panic.

I start trying to fight my way out of this chair, with the little robot hands pulling back on me. What if he went off to confirm my story, because he knows I'm a fake? I feel like Woody Allen, neurotic worse case scenarios playing in my mind. Am I simply in a physical commedy where I will get caught, like the Three Stooges?

I gotta get out of here. After battling the chair and winning I get up. I leave the private room and find the owner of the yacht club. Before he can speak I say "Thanks so much for your hospitality! I have more work to do tonight for my client; I have to write a speech for him."

With that, I head back out into the Monte Carlo night, dark and sparkling with lights. I had survived. I wasn't able to finagle my way on to a mega-yacht, but I sure had fun trying.

Now I've just got to get as far away from this club as I can.... in the days to come I self-consciously avoid going anywhere near that area, just in case I bump into one of them.


nano said…


nice work, MI6 would be proud