The Quest by Roopal Badheka

 

Pure decadence, that’s what I remember most about the last time in Monte Carlo.  But I had been 17, and my idea of decadence was stifled by the necessities of life as a teenager.

I no longer wear the constraints of youth.  Maybe it is the panache of Paris that set the stage. Maybe it is the hubris of age. Either way, being impeded is not part of the travel itinerary.   Traveling to Monte Carlo by TGV, my husband and I, with our two teenage sons, are ready for poolside champagne & gourmet hors d’oeuvres while contemplating the latest designs from Van Cleef & Arpels.

As the train moves closer to our destination, I ask my husband, “Where should we go first?”

“You pick,” he murmurs.

Everyone is still worn from our early morning jaunt for professional photos taken alongside the centerpiece of Paris ~ La Tour Eiffel.  After the standard round of complaints, we all postured in our Sunday best, having devoured adequate croissants & coffee to elicit scripted smiles.  Paris is now forever etched in our family archives.

“The Grand Casino or the Prince’s Palace?  Boys, what do you think?”

Naturally, they hear nothing as headphones dampen all of life.  I am an expert in talking to myself, sometimes for several minutes before I realize that they’re not listening.

I wave them down.

Now with two sets of attentive ears at my disposal, I ask again, “Where should we go first when we get there?”

“How about dinner mom?” my older son replies.

“Nowhere; the hotel room.  I’m tired,” my younger one slurs.

I slide into my seat a bit deeper. Was no one ready to luxuriate in one of the most glamorous cities on Earth? Where yachts are the preferred mode of transportation? Where Michelin star cuisine is served while overlooking the ocean? Where having a pied-à-terre with a view can run about $10 million?

As the lone bon vivant, I slip on my eye mask, and wait to arrive at our coveted destination.

The train comes to a halt, and as we disembark with our luggage, my husband asks, “Did you book a car service?”

 “No, the hotel said that it’s only a mile away and there are always taxis available so no need to book a car,” I answer firmly. As the family vacation planner, I take my job seriously.

“Got it.  Boys let’s get the stuff and make our way outside,” my husband offers.

As we arrive at the first level of the station, there is a posted phone number for taxis.  My husband is dialing before I can even propose to do so.

“No answer,” he says.

“Let me try,” I say while trying with another phone.  International phone networks are moody.  One and all need to try their luck.

“No answer,” I echo his words.

“I think we can go up one more level,” my son suggests while pointing to an escalator.

The escalator leads us to a smaller lobby with access to doors that open to the outside.   I inhale one whiff of the rich, heavy air and already I am indulged.  Paris had been freezing in July, and being from Houston, we favor balmy over mild temperatures. The warm air revives us and provides an instant antidote to our jet lag.

Alas, we spot taxis just ahead.  As we approach one, he waves his hands no.  Perhaps, we have too many people and too much luggage for his car.

“We’ll just try to flag down another one… a bigger van or something,” my husband says.

Five minutes go by.  Another five minutes pass.

“Call the hotel Mom,” my younger son says.

“Sure.  I’ve got the itinerary right here – it should have the number,” I reply.

I start dialing with the speed of a telemarketer.  I worry that my mecca of luxury is not living up to the standards I boasted to my family.  Suddenly, indulgence, leisure, & prestige all vacillate in this unanticipated world. This turn of events does not fit my vision.

Perhaps it’s all just a misunderstanding. Is the Monaco Yacht Show or the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters this week?  As my mind starts to foresee complex dilemmas to come, I am grateful to hear a voice answer at the other end of the line.

 “Yes, bonjour.   We are at the train station.  Uh-huh. What does that mean exactly?  So, how do we get to you?” I ask.

My enthusiasm fades.  While still on the phone, I look at my husband in bewilderment as he mouths, “what?”

“We have 4 large suitcases.  I see… Well, that’s good.  Merci.”

“What’s the story Mom?” my younger son asks.

“What is the most pampered city in the world going to do…are they sending a helicopter?” my older son jokes.

“Not exactly.  We just have to walk,” I casually reply.

“I thought you said it was ‘good’ ~ on the phone,” my husband wonders.

Before a mutiny intensifies, I add, “There is a taxi strike.  The hotel is very apologetic but there is nothing they can do.  It’s only about a mile from here and it’s good because it’s all downhill.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

My last few words are whispered meekly.

Amidst the mild grumbling, we soldier on like four chic, homeless people.  We stroll our well-constructed luggage down the tiny, winding streets of Monaco, passing posh cafés and haute joaillerie shops.  Chanel & Christian Louboutin boutiques hold court the way Starbucks does in most cities, and apparently as much of a necessity here, while a few dozen Bentleys & various, unidentifiable supercars grace the city’s urban landscape.

We pass the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo with its ornate facade, and the Hotel de Paris where Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, reportedly stayed, my kids advise. As we roam around in a place, where one in three of its residents are millionaires, and is the highest per capita GDP in the world, feeling safe is a given.  We may be underdressed, but we are hardly in danger.

Unscathed, except for our egos, we arrive at the pinnacle of the famed Formula 1 hair pin turn.  Just beyond, the Fairmont Hotel stands as an oasis in the now blistering heat.  In the circular driveway, stepping in and out from rare Lamborghinis, classic Ferraris, and brand new Bugattis, while bedecked in Gucci & Graff, socialites parade their insouciance as a way of life. Fluttering from car to exotic car, these butterflies are unencumbered in every way.

Conversely, acting as nonchalant as we can with our 50-pound valises and other accoutrements in trek, we relinquish our bags to the apologetic valets who have been waiting on our arrival.  Clearly, they have seen this weary look before, and immediately deliver bottles of Perrier to the rescue as if to lift the burden to a semi-acceptable standard.  Air-conditioned opulence greets us, and we are whisked away into a world where luxury prevails.

The Clefs d’Or lobby personnel soothe us into relaxation as we check in. The crossed golden keys on their lapels indicate that we are dealing with the crème de la crème de concierges. European heirs & Kardashian-like girls pepper the lobby in their “casual” wear of jeweled René Caovilla footwear, John Galliano silk dresses, and matching 5 carat earrings.  I admire a beautiful handbag from afar, until I realize a man is carrying it, and then I want it even more.  These gorgeous locals, known as the Monegasques, use the Fairmont as their quaint, little playground.

Hours later, we find ourselves at the rooftop terrace restaurant of the hotel, mesmerized by the view of the Cote D’Azur.  The night is cool, and once a few sips of champagne caress our lips, we chuckle.  As they start to serve the food, a burst of fireworks colors the horizon like splattered paint to welcome us with gusto.

“Voila!” the servers cheer.

We have arrived in Monte Carlo, and finally the decadence begins.

BIO: Roopal Badheka says; “I am an emerging writer with a few published pieces to my name. My fiction has been featured in such publications as Six Sentences, A Long Story Short, theSame, and Static Movement as well as a self-published novel, The Beach Getaway, available on Amazon.
I currently live in Sugar Land, Texas. My full writing portfolio, if you are interested, can be found at www.roopsworld.com.”