Unpredictable Monte Carlo
As local inhabitants say: “Monaco has changed more in fifty years than it did over the past centuries. Its history advances, but its past remains”.As local inhabitants say: “Monaco has changed more in fifty years than it did over the past centuries. Its history advances, but its past remains”.
Located on the azure shores of the French Riviera, bounded by the mountains and the sea, the Principality of Monaco has become over the years a focus of attraction and a popular resort for tourists, well known over the world.
Monaco’s name seems to be derived from that of Ligurian tribes which settled in the region.
The old port of Hercules, mentioned in a great number of myths and legends, was in old times known as the Portulis Herculis Monaeci, which means “unique”. The port was visited by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthagians, Romans. Later the place was called Monaco.
In the 12th century the Genoese were granted sovereignty over the port and the rock of Monaco by Henry VI, Emperor of Germany. In 1215 a fortress was built on the cape. After many struggles and intrigues the ruler of the Principality became Charles I from the Genoese Grimaldi family. Since that time his progeny continue to rule Monaco.
My first journey to Monaco was a forty-minute drive from Nice.
As our car approached the frontier (a tall pole with a sign “Principality of Monaco”), I did not see any guards or customs officers. We drove about three hundred meters farther and saw on the right side of the road, an empty glass booth with an inscription “Police”.
I asked my French companion to bring me directly to the Monte Carlo Casino.
“Is it far away from here?”
“In this small state the distance to any place is about a stone’s throw. The whole length from Monaco’s east to west is about seven kilometers,” explained the driver.
I was eager to see the famous gambling palace about which I heard and read many stories. Why is it called a casino and how did the name appear? The famous Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, who was known to be a serious gambler, called such places in Wisbaden and Baden-Baden “voks halls”.
Monaco had hard times during the reign of Prince Charles III. Agriculture fell into decay, industry was in embryo. The Prince decided to change the situation and develop tourism and turn the Principality into a resort with gambling houses. To implement his plan, he invited Francis Blank, a brilliant businessman and organizer.
A French architect Charles Garnier (the Paris Opera was built after his project) was commissioned to erect a gambling palace. The work started in 1863. The whole complex was finished in 1878, but the first gaming rooms began to function in 1865.
Later, an opera house was built and attached to the south wing of the palace. Also there were constructed a magnificent hotel de Paris and café de Paris near the gambling palace. Two parks were laid out in front of the palace.
The royal decree of June 1866 by Prince Charles III gave the official name of Monte Carlo to that area.
The square in front of the palace was called Place du Casino. Casino in Italian means “small house”.
In fact the prince named the whole complex after himself, changing Charles into the Italian Carlo.
Today Monaco, with its 3000 residents (of which 4500 are natives of the Principality) consists of a number of small attached districts. It is also a city of contrasts – the beautiful villas and palaces of the past sit side by side with multistoried modern and faceless dwellings and hotels. There is not much land mass and the city is expanding towards the mountains.
But here we are!
We arrived at Casino Square. In front of the impressive Casino Palace there was a small parking lot filled with expensive motorcars and a big crowd of inquisitive tourists taking photos of luxurious vehicles.
The weather was hot, more than 30 degrees centigrade. Both men and women wore shorts, blouses and shirts with short sleeves. I also wore the same type of clothes.
My first attempt to win money failed. The hall porters did not allow people wearing such attire inside. They said that a visitor to gaming rooms should observe a dress code – to wear a dark suit and a shirt with a tie.
The next day, I did as I had been told and put on my black suit and white shirt with a tie. It was terribly hot, the temperature was 32 degrees. I was unlucky again.
I knew that visitors had to pay ten euro for an entrance ticket, and I handed the money to a cashier, a middle-aged woman, but she refused to sell me a ticket. I was aghast. Why?
In broken English she explained that all visitors to the gaming rooms were obliged to submit their passports, which were then registered and put into the computer.
The next day was Saturday and, again, I headed for the casino. As usual, a lot of gapers gathered near the parking lot and were taking pictures of expensive limousines, two-seaters, modern and antique cars.
This time I did not forget to bring my passport and also I brought my photo camera.
I handed my passport and a ten euro banknote to a cashier, this time a young, nice-looking girl; but she refused to take my document and money saying in half French and English: “Nous commes Saturday jour maintenant and prix de billet est 22 euro on weekends.”
I paid the necessary sum, had my passport registered, and hurried to the European gaming rooms which were just a few steps from the booking office.
I showed my ticket to two important looking security guards at the entrance to the European hall. They cast a glance at my camera and negatively shook their heads.
“It is not allowed to come in with photo cameras. Please leave it in the cloak room. It’s near the main entrance.”
It is the unexpected that always happens.
I entered the cloak-room together with a short, slant-eyed old Japanese woman who was also intending to keep her camera there. We simultaneously put our things in black leather cases on the counter, and a cloak-room attendant took our cameras and gave a check for both of them to the Japanese lady who at once went out.
I was still waiting for my check.
“Aren’t you together? I thought she was your wife. Sorry.”
With these words she put one of the cameras into a separate cell and gave me a check.
This time the security men let me enter the Holy of Holies. At last! The European gaming room is a spacious hall with more than a dozen tables where American and European games are played: baccarat, roulette, blackjack, craps and many more.
The premises include also two rooms for real gamblers, which at that time (it was 4 p.m.) were locked. The rooms were waiting for rich evening customers who gamble recklessly.
In the European hall there was also an exhibition of old slot machines. I counted ten old models of “one arm bandits”.
Slot machines are still popular in Monaco and they have been modernized. Players need not pull the arms of the “bandit”, but simply insert a two euro coin onto a slot, press the button and anticipate a big gain. The final result is well known – a customer never can beat the machine even though it has no arms at all.
I decided to try my luck, hoping that my pains for entering the casino should be rewarded. I did not want to play cards, especially so-called “blackjack”, which in our country is called “twenty one” or, in slang, ochko. The latter is popular among prison-inmates.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I decided to play roulette. I was cocksure that I would win. But man proposes and God disposes.
European Roulette consists of a revolving wheel called “roulette” with 37 compartments from 0 to 36, these same numbers are found on the green table layout where players place their bets. From 1 to 36 half of the numbers are red, half are black.
If a player places a bet on a single number his chance of winning is a minimum 1 to 35. A bet placed on two numbers can bring a chance 1 to 17, if placed on three numbers you may expect the luck growing 1 to 11, and a bet placed on four numbers can bring your luck nearer – 1 to 8.
Players buy chips from a croupier and place them on numbers as they wish. Spoken bets are forbidden.
I sat at the table and bought several chips having paid three hundred euro. I placed a bet on the red number 18 (the date of my birthday in August) and lost in a few seconds.
To improve the results, I placed three times on two numbers, then on four numbers and again lost.
As a matter of fact, two other gentlemen did not win either. Appetite comes with eating and hope springs eternal in the human breast. I spent the rest of my money, the sum of two hundred euro, and bought some more chips. To cut the story short, I failed again. A thought suddenly flashed in my mind and I recollected that our great writer and gambler Fyodor Dostoevsky as if I were in his shoes. He lost his fortune gambling in Baden-Baden and Wisbaden’s voks halls, as casinos were called at his time.
I lost only five hundred euro, which to local standards was as little as bee’s knee.
As the saying goes “a light purse makes a heavy heart”. I was in low spirits and went down to the cloak-room.
However, my troubles did not come to an end. Having given the check to the cloak-room attendant, I received in return the photo-camera belonging to the Japanese woman.
“It’s not mine!”
“Sorry. Very likely that Japanese lady with whom you were together had taken yours by mistake,” said the attendant.
At that moment the Japanese lady holding my camera in her hands rushed into the room. There was a gleam of hope in her squint eyes that had been growing moist.
“I mechanically took the camera, thinking it was mine, but then found out my mistake,” she explained emotionally.
We exchanged our belongings and smiled happily. The Japanese woman was so glad to get her camera back that she gave ten euros to the cloak attendant. I also wanted to follow her example and put my hand into the pocket, but alas – all my money was gone.
Later I read in a tourist guide which mentioned some famous people who had visited Monte Carlo Casino. Among them were King Leopold II, Enrico Caruso, Winston Churchill, Aristotle Onassis, and many more.
It is also said that the casino was opened at the right time, since by 1872 all gambling games were forbidden in Europe, including the famous and popular places like Baden-Baden and Wisbaden.
The guide says also that the main source of economic well-being of the Principality was tourism and the gambling business. There are four more casinos in Monaco nowadays, and all of them bring an avalanche of money to the treasury of Monaco. I also did my bit adding 522 euro to its economic prosperity.
Nothing is so bad as to be good for nothing. A negative experience makes people take resolutions and refrain from committing foolish things next time.