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2004-07-13 Nelson and Pavarotti share the same opinion of tax haven of Monte Carlo

A pitch-black quilted dome embroidered with an infinity of sparkling celestial sequins, and a warm lavender-scented breeze rustled the conifers, as we made our way up the long uneven avenue to the Youth Hostel in Fréjus. Out of the black, I felt a jab in my left arm, just making out an oval black shadow glued to my pale pink skin.

 

I pulled at the alien being frantically, picking it off my arm bit by bit. Arriving at the hostel, I felt faint and drained, especially when it was explained to me that I had been attacked and siphoned by (according to my 2nd year French) a sort of giant flying leech.

 

It was late summer in my 2nd year at UCD, and I had saved up to go Inter-railing in France in order to improve my spoken French before my final degree year. My travelling companion for the month was Michael McGlynn, fellow music student and friend from the year below me, later founder and conductor of Anúna, as well as an extremely talented and innovative composer.


 

We journeyed from Rouen to Paris, through the Loire Valley with its splendid châteaux at Blois and Chenonçeau, Bourges, Tours, across to Lyon, Grenoble and up into the Alps, stopping off at the quaint Alpine village of Savignes-le-Lac, then down through the Rhône valley, Provençe to Nice, Cannes and the exclusive Côte DAzur. Regrettably we ran out of time, failing to make it to the principality of Monaco, that is until recently.


 

And though I am now very happy to have been there, done that, I wont be rushing back. I would love to be able to say I was simply jealous of the astronomical wealth, but the truth is that I found it all rather sickening. The patron saint of Monaco, Saint Devota, clearly felt the same, as she arrived in 304 in a boat from Corsica guided by a dove  Saint Devota was dead on arrival.

Portus Herculis Monoeci was visited by ancient Greeks and Romans, and ruled by Genoans from the 12th century. In the 13th century, the Genoese Grimaldi family were exiled to Provençe, but in the year 1297 Francesco Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk, entered the fortress, and when the gates opened his soldiers invaded. Despite a few unstable periods, Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldis ever since. In the 19th century Monaco progressed from being one of the poorest states in Europe to becoming Europes most glamorous playground for the rich and famous. Less than one sixth of the population are natives of the principality.

Perched on a rock high above the port is the Royal Palace, surrounded by 18 cannons and a load of balls left over from its Genoan Republic days.

Prince Rainier III took over this modern state in 1949 and is father to Prince Albert (his successor), and Princesses Caroline and Stephanie who seem to spend a lot of their lives adorning the glossy pages of Hello magazine. The economy, culture and tourism have developed steadily under Prince Rainier. Land has been reclaimed from the sea, and new districts have sprung up as a result, home to many amenities such as an impressive stadium for the national soccer team.

The Old City, behind Palace Square, is home to the late 19th century Cathedral - the final resting place of Hollywood icon Princess Grace and all the previous princes of Monaco. There is also an oceanography museum and some rather precariously positioned exotic gardens.


 

I passed through this tiny tax-free sovereign state as the famous urban racetrack was being prepared for the Formula One Grand Prix in May (first held in 1929). But it is Monte Carlos mid-19th century splendidly lavish and over-the-top Casinos which have become world-renowned. If its roulette, blackjack and crap youre into, this is the place for you. It was this side of Monte Carlo, along with exhorbitant property prices, too many yachts with helipads, coiffured ladies with coiffured poodles, shops and cars with attitude, and a general sky-scraping claustrophobia which made me most uncomfortable.


 

When Pavarotti was up for non-payment of tax, his lawyers argued that he was resident in the tax-haven of Monte Carlo. The prosecution showed him four photos of apartments, including his own. Sadly, the big guy failed to recognise his own home. I dont blame you Luciano, I wouldnt live there either!