BIMBOS AND BANKERS
We Croats like to go to the Principality of Monaco. For starters, it’s a country much smaller than ours and there are not many of those around. When in Monaco, we immediately feel a bit bigger—there are four million of us and only four thousand of the real Monegasques. We beat them in every respect—well, not every. We go bigger than them in one more aspect. The dogs those people walk are much smaller than ours. While an average Croat lives with a German shepherd, a Labrador or a rottweiler (and if he or she were free to choose, they would prefer to have a wolf guarding the yard), the average inhabitant of the Côte d’Azur goes out for a stroll with a poodle in a winter coat or a pinscher in a miniature raincoat. I find this affinity for small dogs difficult to explain because to me a dog is something big that barks at me from the dark, a little bit like a subconscience.
What can also catch a Croat off-guard in Monaco, perhaps even more than small dogs, are sexy grandmothers. The abundance of sun-bed-tanned taut-skinned septuagenarians in miniskirts (pink and purple) with high heels and fur coats is simply not to be seen in Croatia. It’s not that we in Croatia prefer to grow old the natural way, it’s that the other way is a bit too expensive for us. At the antiques fair in Monaco, sexy grandmothers look for antique-style chairs (antique fairs are to Monegasques what football games are to us) and sit in each and every one they like while crossing their well-groomed legs. Many of them smile even when there’s nothing funny going on because of the slight tightness between the lips and the ears on which, like tiny chandeliers, earrings are suspended. A girl-friend who spends more time here than I do tells me that local men also have plastic operations performed on them, have false biceps and the like put in, and that no chest or behind on the Côte d’Azur is really authentic.
Sound familiar? I get the urge to immediately pinch my own, natural and self-supported, if somewhat lax butt, and to grin into the faces of those who can’t. That sense of slight superiority does not leave me when dealing with another type of woman in the nightly Monte Carlo—the Bimbette. That’s one of those very tall Dior-clad girls paired up with bankers who are at least twenty years their senior. What am I talking about? Thirty, forty, fifty years between them. Hand in hand, they walk into the renowned casino in which Churchill and Isidora Duncan used to gamble (although not together) and the banker proceeds to invest few thou-sand euros on the first roll of the dice.
I will put my ten euros into the poker machine. I don’t need a banker for that.
It would never cross my mind to gamble at home in Zagreb; we Zagrebians think that’s for losers, mafiosos, and football players, and we leave those few hotel casinos to them. But in Monaco every village has a casino and if you don’t have at least a little go at gambling you don’t tend to feel authentic.
Cocktails are good, but not too good. When it comes to that it’s like back home. The naïve approach to cocktail mixing could be described as Dalmatian. On the Dalmatian coast, a good barman will put in the ice, the soda, the alcohol, and everything else, but the resulting drink will still taste like sipping shampoo, which, at the last sip, will bite the top of your mouth.
They eat oysters here like we do fried eggs, and so the crustacea lose all their aphrodisiacal appeal. It’s one thing to bite into a living oyster on a boat not far from the Green Cave, caught for you by a very handsome fisherman and prized open with his knife, and a completely different matter eating icily white oysters in a bar with dozens of mustached and rotund men who mercilessly suck them out of their shells in a saturated salty air that makes you feel queasy. What’s an oyster to me, and what am I to the oyster, to feel their destiny in such an intimate way, especially here where they are eaten en masse? Je ne sais pas.
Apart from Monegasques, there are a lot of French and Italian men and French and Italian ladies here, and they are not difficult to keep apart. The Italian ladies never wear leopard fur and matching high heels, all of it topped with a tiara and golden soles. We could debate the taste of this part of the Côte; shocking pink seems to have become a very important color, particularly once you are over a certain age. We came down here with a friend and her husband who is a sculptor, who they wouldn’t let in to the chic Hotel de Paris because of his lax approach to ties. Never mind that his art was exhibited here, in the heart of Monte Carlo, but his destiny would have been shared with Chagall, Dufy, and Matisse if they had refused to dress adequately for the bar in which they dance, so they tell me, to Beyoncé Knowles. We love Beyoncé; she almost supplanted our affection for Jennifer, Mariah, and the others, which made it even harder when they decided not to let us in. Truth be told, it’s possible to rent a tie at the casino’s wardrobe, but do we really need a rented tie to enjoy ourselves?
Far better entertainment for two not entirely sober couples in the wee hours of the morning was to sit in a park and remember some Croatian swear words that those types around us would never have understood, as they still consider merde the most horrible word in the universe. Our dogs are so much more sharp, though they have very little to guard; our swear words are like their nightmares, our cocktails as shabby as theirs, so why, oh why does Monte Carlo still give me shivers of awe? It must be those villas high above the sea, as if carved into the rock—that beauty makes me go weak at the knees. Back home, houses can be incredibly ugly, plonked into the middle of a lonely plot of land. In Croatia, a neighbor of mine built a four-story brick tower, and an involuntarily slanted one at that, and nobody will make him leave it or tear it down. Back home, beauty is punctured by ugliness, in increments of thirty feet.
Here in Monaco, everything is designed as if in a snowflake.
“This perfection is bothering me,” said my friend. What can I say? It doesn’t bother me. There’s almost no balcony that didn’t catch my attention.
Perhaps I’m not the Phantom of the Opera, but I definitely am the Voyeur of Monte Carlo.