My wife and I recently returned from a Mediterranean cruise. It was a lot of fun. One of our scheduled stops was Monaco.
I must admit that I was not looking forward to it. The idea of rubbing shoulders with the pampered rich did not bring tears of joy.
Furthermore I hate gambling. The mere thought of entering the casino at Monte Carlo left me cold. I like to control my destiny. Leaving it to chance strikes me as dangerous. Even being around people who get their thrills from gambling sends chills down my spine.
So what would be the delight in visiting a place that specializes in wealth and gaming? True, it is on the Riviera. Actually, I have a confession to make. Ever since I saw the movie "To Catch a Thief," I have regarded this stretch of the Mediterranean coast as one of the most beautiful places on earth.
So, okay, Monaco might be picturesque, but would this be enough to justify a stopover. After all, there are other places on the Riviera that are equally attractive. Why not go to one of them rather than the playground of the jet set?
Call it envy if you will, but I have never dreamed about being rich. My goal was always to be comfortable. Excess wealth, for the sake of showing it off has struck me as a waste of time. I would rather be the professor I am than a billionaire.
Anyway, we went to Monaco and it was beautiful. But it was also crowded. The whole place is about the size of New York’s Central Park. This means that nearly every building is multi-multi-story. The rich who can afford these places are therefore squeezed together like so many sardines.
Let me be specific. The tallest building in town is a condo. We were told that its upper three floors are now being sold as a single unit. The asking price is — please hold your breath — 300 million euros. That is a lot of change in any language.
To put this into perspective, let us assume that my Canton house of roughly 3,000 square feet has a market value of $300,000. If the Monacan condo is 10 times the square footage, then its asking price is more than 100 times the value of my place.
Now I ask you, what would justify that disparity? I have no doubt that the interior appointments are more lavish than mine. The view is also unquestionably better. Furthermore, the neighbors are apt to be more interesting. But 100 times the value?
I suppose if I were a billionaire, money would not matter. It would not do me much good sitting in my pocket or a bank. Then again, I might be exercising what Thorsten Veblen called conspicuous consumption. My goal could be to signal that I was so wealthy everyone should admire me.
Me, however, I don’t care. Sure, I like to be admired — but for who I am, not what I own. If the truth be told, I care more about my opinion of myself than that of anyone else. Don’t I know more about me than they do?
But back to Monaco. How could I leave out the tragic ending of the American Princess Grace Kelly? She was so gorgeous. Although she appeared to be made of ice, and was not a very accomplished actress, her face was so attractive that it took one’s breath away.
As if this were not enough, she married a prince. He was not nearly as good-looking — but he was a prince. And if he did not live in a fairytale castle, he lived in a fairytale principality. This should all have led to a happy-ever-after finale, but then the princess had a fatal automobile accident at the age of 52.
So here was one of the high points of our stay in Monaco. As we were standing on a balcony looking west, our guide pointed to a highway clinging to the mountainside. There, he told us, was where princess Grace died. This was, he said, from an aneurism, not reckless driving, but she was equally dead.
The kicker was that this was the same highway she drove down in the movie To Catch a Thief. Alongside her then was Cary Grant, not her daughter. Moreover, with Grant there was a happy ending.
Yet life is not like that. Monaco is a dream factory. The rich go there so that they can pretend to be happy even if they are not. The less rich go there so that they can associate with the truly wealthy. Although this may bring moments of pleasure, fantasies of this sort usually evaporate.
Life has its pleasures — which include our dreams. Nonetheless, reality is more substantial than Monaco. Fond memories may last, yet my real home is here in Canton.