Monte Carlo or Bust

As anyone who read my last blog post, ‘Monaco: License to Shoot’, will know, obtaining the correct permits can be an onerous task for a photographer in Monaco. I wrote that post with feeling, having been right in the midst of planning a two day travel and food photography extravaganza there. Happily, my permit irritation has now faded, and I can share the results of the shoot itself. Photographing for ‘36 Hours in…‘, a regular New York Times travel feature (you can read about another one in my blog post ‘Marseille? Done’), requires almost total immersion in a place to illustrate the article, which is a whistle-stop guide for discerning weekend visitors.

Cacti, stalactites and a wedding

I photographed 3 museums, 3 restaurants, the royal palace and a cactus wonderland. I traipsed down countless steps into the bowels of the earth to admire stalactites. I hiked in South of France summer heat along a coastal footpath that winds its way around rocks and beaches on the shoreline of neighbouring Cap d’Ail. Back in town, I got tangled in a throng of cameras at Monaco Cathedral while taking a picture of tourists who were photographing wedding guests who were photographing the just-married couple who were being photographed by their photographer on the cathedral steps.

You are being watched

The permits I had sweated blood to obtain were not gained in vain. On the first morning, I photographed the Royal Palace. It was still early; road sweepers were lingering over double expressos and the café‘s barman was welcoming customers with a broad smiling “bonjour“. I guessed that the onslaught of the day’s crowds of tourists later on would quickly flatten the tone of the greeting.

A carabinier standing guard in front of the Prince's Palace, Monaco
A carabinier standing watch by the palace ignores me and my camera – for a while
Given the emptiness and peace, I was surprised that the carabiniers (the Prince of Monaco’s very own special armed policemen) didn’t turn a hair as I brazenly photographed both them and the palais. But just as I was packing up to leave, they pounced. Three unsmiling officers surrounded me and asked who I was working for. My jovial “About time: I thought you’d never ask” was met with an indignant “But Madame, our colleagues have, bien sûr, been monitoring you from the police HQ since you arrived [thanks to a number of the state’s many surveillance cameras]. We were just waiting for you to finish your reportage.” Nice of them, I thought.

Secondhand clothes

The article’s premise is that you can have a good time in Monaco without having to re-mortgage your house to finance the stay. Despite discovering one or two promising restaurants that I didn’t know about before and would consider returning to without getting a bank loan in advance, I remain mostly skeptical about Monaco’s affordability. Initially excited to read of the existence of a vintage clothes shop, I soon realised that even a bashed-around secondhand Chanel handbag (“édition spéciale, very rare, very precious!“) could cost €4000. I doubt that even the well-stocked champagne fridge by the till would be enough to soothe my nerves after an impulse buy.

Grace Kelly’s socks

Name tags that had been sewn into Princess Grace's childhood school uniformhool
Up until now, I wouldn’t have guessed that finding a school uniform name label could be so exciting
One of the highlights was undoubtedly finding the Princess Grace Irish Library, and something I stumbled upon inside. Tucked away on a narrow street in the old town of Monaco, the library is a labyrinth of slightly musty rooms containing an extensive collection of Princess Grace’s own Irish books, sheet music and other memorabilia. After photographing some of the items on display, I used my photographer’s license for curiosity to dig around in ‘Ma’s sewing basket’. Rummaging around for a while, I pulled out a small plastic bag and held it up to see the contents more clearly. To my surprise, I found I was looking at Princess Grace’s once-worn school uniform name tags. ‘Grace Kelly’ was marked disarmingly simply in red letters, and the holes around the edges made the labels startlingly real. “Good grief”, said trustee Francis, “I had no idea they were there”.

You never know quite what to expect in Monaco.

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