The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                     PAGE TWO

As Luck Would Have It:  Tales of Monaco's Casino continued . . .

And the big-betting, mainly aristocratic, clientele flooded in. Among early patrons were author Alexandre Dumas, financier Baron Rothschild, Paris urbanist Baron Haussmann and that great canal promoter (Suez and Panama) de Lesseps. Later to come were, among a veritable multitude of other high society grandees, stars and money magnates ~ Sarah Bernhardt, Winston Churchill, André Citroën, Maria Callas, Egyptian King Farouk (who became a subject of Monaco) and, an inveterate regular, novelist Françoise (Bonjour, Tristesse) Sagan. Today, there are ever more North and South Americans, not to forget Middle Easterners, Russians, Japanese and even some Chinese.

Although an almost immediate financial bonanza, the Casino had a few early hiccups, such as when a client named Jagger won $70,000 on his first day at the roulette wheel, walking off with a further $400,000 after a few more days.  It turned out that M. Jagger, a civil engineer, had noticed that, on a wheel that turned out to be defective, certain numbers tended to come up more regularly than chance would have it. Not his fault!  But, the roulette mechanisms were quickly overhauled.

Casino Quirks and . . . Philanthropy

An emporium as glamorous and unique as Monaco's Casino had to be rich in idiosyncrasies worthy of a world-class trivial pursuit competition. A few examples:

  • Room numbers 13, 113 and 213 in the hotels owned by the Casino's Société des Bains de Mer holding company were shunned by superstitious clients, and changed to 13A, 113A and 213A.
  • The local Anglican Pastor wondered why Sunday service attendance was suddenly burgeoning. Then he realized that the extra worshipers were betting on the numbers of the Psalms he selected each week and thereafter avoided those  appearing on roulette wheels.
  • Another Casino superstition -  if you're under 36 years of age and entering the Casino for the first time, you should play the exact number of your age at the table nearest the door. 
  • Access to gaming grooms is denied to anyone wearing a uniform (be it military or other, even including religious), and to native Monagasque.
  • Before the days of video surveillance, door staff were trained to identify possible repeat cheaters and troublemakers (Somerset Maugham is said to have remarked that "Monaco is a sunny place for shady people.") by recognizing them on sight. Legend has it that a certain Monsieur Le Broq memorized no less than 60,000 faces.
  • The croupiers -  the title stems from a dialect name for a tool for raking seaweed. In the early days, and just in case, croupiers had their pockets sewn shut; today they have no pockets. The first woman croupier was recruited in 2007.
  • The white tuxedo was invented in Monaco with the unfortunate effect that a wealthy client wearing one could be summoned by other patrons who took him for a waiter.
  • The original J.P. Morgan refused to gamble at the Casino because he wanted the minimum wager raised from twelve thousand to twenty thousand francs.
  • In 1956, after craps games were introduced, three crooks arrived with 'special' dice they'd had made in the USA.
  • The Casino exploits of an American robber were immortalized by Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief.
  • Around the 1880s an English nobleman nicknamed Bertie was a frequent visitor. One evening he was dining at the fashionable Café de Paris in, shall we say, gallant company. For dessert, they ordered liqueur-coated crêpes. These accidentally caught fire but the chef, not wanting to lose face, claimed he had just invented this new specialty. "Ah," exclaimed Bertie, "well, why not be a gentleman and name them after the young woman accompanying me?" The chef agreed, and that's where crêpes Suzette come from.  (The Bertie in question later became King Edward the Seventh!)

Predictably, with so much money changing hands there every day (and night), the Casino became the target of moralizing jibes. One printed by a Riviera newspaper as early as 1869, "It is in this corner of Paradise . . . that Satan, the Evil Genius, has established a gaming house."

Perhaps not in direct rebuttal, the Casino and its holding company have over the years (documented since 1868 – this was 'corporate responsibility' before the letter) contributed generously to a variety of often innovative causes, such as: 

  • Recovery from local natural catastrophes such as an 1887 earthquake.
  • 4,800,000 Francs, the total sum required to finish Garnier's Paris Opera.
  • The first public garbage incinerator in Europe.
  • A number of sports innovations : Maurice Léger's earliest helicopter experiments; a first-ever hydroplane competition; and, of course, Monaco's annual Automobile Grand Prix (the first took place in 1929).

Today's High Points

And today?  Join me for a brief visit to the high points of the Casino.  Actually, there are now five of them, but let's content ourselves with the oldest and most ornate.

The Casino at Night - courtesy of and copyrighted Société des Bains de Mer, Monaco

The Casino at Night

'Casino' originally meant 'little hut'. . . NOT an apt description even from the start.  Built in Belle Epoque style it was then re-constructed and again overhauled towards the end of the 19th century by several architects, including, as mentioned above, Charles Garnier who had recently completed the Paris Opera in a similar 'wedding cake' vein. 

Watched over by a veritable museum of allegorical paintings (e.g., The Four Seasons, Music, Painting, A Flower Battle, Croquet, A Pigeon Shoot, Fortune, Love and Folly, The Smoking Beauties – yup, ladies puffing stogies), gamblers have a choice of several elegant rooms in which to wander and win (or otherwise): The Atrium, The Renaissance Salon, The Europe Room, The Pink Salon, The Americas Room (with such Yankee innovations as blackjack and craps) and The Empire Gallery, not to forget several strictly private rooms for élite players. Food is available at three kinds of buffet - The Thai Space, Pasta Station and Salad Bar.

Somebody once claimed that "the Monte Carlo Casino is to gaming what haute couture is to fashion."  Sound like an exaggeration?  Well, ponder this: on March 16, 1968, the Europe Room was formally re-opened by Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace, its columns, moldings and other decorative elements having just been refurbished with 22 carat gold leaf!

No, I'm not a gambler and probably never shall be. Still, a few years ago (the franc was still legal tender) a young Eastern European colleague and I were on business in Monaco. On our last evening he agitated to go to the Casino. Worn out, and not at all tempted, I demurred and returned to the hotel and slept while he tried his luck.

Next morning, over breakfast, his face was enough to tell me he hadn't won. He didn't give up easily, however, and convinced me that it was my turn to do battle with the Casino slots before heading for the airport.  The cheapest were one-franc-a-go beasts, and I lost the equivalent of about $10 before deciding to call it quits. 

On the way to the door, my colleague noticed that there were also machines accepting five-franc coins. Reluctantly, I sighed "Okay, okay," and again tried my luck. Hadn't the institution itself started under an inauspicious star?  And, guess what? No, I did not break the bank, but we walked out of Monaco's Casino some $50 up! 

To end, a word of practical advice to Americans. If you're planning to gamble in Monaco and don't want the IRS to know, stay at the Hôtel de Paris, just next to the Casino - an underground tunnel links the two!

  Arthur heartily thanks two Monacophile friends for information provided in preparation for this article -
Anne Willings-Grinda, a native of the Principality, and Cary Clark whose audio-guides to several European cities
– including Monaco – can be viewed on

For information on the personal strolls Arthur guides to help independent visitors discover
Paris Through the Ages click on this web site's MARKETPLACE page and scroll down to the bottom.
For information or to schedule your stroll, contact Arthur at
and please don't forget to mention FRANCE On Your Own

(Salle Europe and Casino at Night photos courtesy of the Société des Bains de Mer, Monaco
Casino photo in daytime courtesy of Cary Clark.  All Rights Reserved.) 

Ici et Là

This column is intended to advise you about cultural events, news and happenings
in France or France-related events taking place in the United States
between now and the publication of our next issue.

In France. . .

o  Henri Cartan. . . considered one of the world's foremost mathematician's in the last half of the twentieth century, died in Paris on August 13 at the age of 104.  He is known as the last survivor of the 'Bourbaki group', young French mathematicians of the 1930s, who rewrote the book on math in thirty-six volumes.  Born in Nancy, France, in July 1904, he was the son of a mathematician and the teacher of two Nobel Prize winners.

o  During this global economic crisis . . . we couldn't help but note that France was absent from a chart provided by Bloomberg News/LATimes regarding the global bear market, a chart that showed market declines from their 2007-2008 peaks through mid-October from -40% to -70% or more.   Nineteen countries were represented from Britain to Vietnam, but France was in the company of many countries whose stock exchanges were not as adversely affected by the sell-offs that we have recently experienced.

o  Going up . . . may be a little 'safer' if you are in an Otis elevator in France.  It was discovered that radioactive materials from India were used in the manufacture of the elevator buttons, so the buttons were being replaced throughout the country.  Although Otis' representative said there was no health risk, the French Nuclear Safety Authority said some 20 workers at the Indian factory had been exposed to radioactivity above legal limits.  [Times wire report]

o  Exhibition dedicated to Serge Gainsbourg . . . until March 1, 2009 in Paris. The Music Museum in Paris is dedicating an exhibition to Serge Gainsbourg whose popularity is currently taking on international proportions.  A combination of an exhibition and an installation, the project is the tribute to one of France's greatest musical personalities of the 20th century.  A  painter, writer, poet, author, singer, composer, actor and director, Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991) was an artist who, throughout his career, used images - in particular, his own - in all of their forms, creating an aesthetic universe that abolished the boundaries between the "major" and "minor" arts.  For exhibition details please visit the web site .

o  4 Screens European Festival. . .  November 14 to 16, Paris.  This second edition of the festival follows the digital revolution that will change the world as we know it.  It will be held at the MK2 Bibliothèque Cinema in the 13th arrondissement and surrounding area for 3 days.  A total of 50 films will be shown in three competitions.  The festival's different juries will be chaired by Jean Nouvel.  Meanwhile, the 4 Screens European Festival will serve as the backdrop to the Université de l'Image (University of the Motion Picture) at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France [French National Library], with conferences and encounters completely free of charge. Luc Besson will be among the speakers on Friday, 14 November.  Full price of the festival is €5.  For more information, please visit

o  At the Louvre. . French Bronzes: From the Renaissance to the Century of Enlightenment, from now until January 2009, in the Richelieu wing.  More than 150 sculptures in bronze will be exhibited, depicting themes such as portraits, tomb decoration, statuettes, etc.  The major artists at this exhibit will be Primatice, Pilon, Prieur and Le Lorrain among others, who will portray the reigns of Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI in particular.  A symposium takes place on December 13 from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM.

o  Lyon's Festival of Lights . . .  December 5 to 8, 2008.  On 8 December every year, the inhabitants of Lyon light Chinese lanterns in their windows in honor of the Virgin Mary, then walk through the town ablaze with thousands of lights and buzzing with original performances in every district.  Based on a traditional religious festival - the unveiling of a statue of the Virgin Mary on December 8, 1852 - for the past four years the city has been lit up in spectacular fashion as part of this Festival of Lights, which takes place over four days. Meanwhile, the Plan Lumière lights up the city's main sites and monuments. It is today a benchmark of its kind in France and overseas.  For further information, please visit:

o  The Sarmentelles of Beaujeu (Rhône Alpes). . .  The International Festival of Beaujolais Nouveau, November 19th.  Don't miss the 20th edition of the Sarmentelles celebrating the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau. On the third Wednesday in November, Beaujeu remains the focal point of this event that is celebrated throughout the world.  On the stroke of midnight, the impressive staging of the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau lifts the hearts and palates of thousands of visitors.  Each year, the whole world eagerly awaits the third Thursday of November to taste the wine. Enjoy its sparkling color, from pale red to cerise. Savor its characteristic aromas of flowers and fruits, which enchant both nose and palate. Serve chilled, at 10°C, for any occasion.  For information telephone 33 4 74 69 55 44 from outside France.

Noyers - copyright Cold Spring Press 2006-2008o  Burgundy Truffle Markets. . .  November 2, December 7 and 21 in Noyers-sur-Serein [Yonne].  Burgundy is certainly not the first French region that comes to mind when talking about truffles.  However, Burgundy truffles are highly appreciated by connoisseurs and chefs, especially in the Yonne département. The charming town of Noyers-sur-Serein, listed among the 'most beautiful villages in France' organizes three Burgundy truffle markets on Sunday, November 2 [from 10 AM to 1 PM], December 7 [from 10 AM to 5 PM] and December 21 [from 10 AM to 1 PM].  Contact the Noyers-sur-Serein Tourist Office at  33.3.86 82 66 06 or visit their web site at for more information.

o  The Reims Jazz Festival. . . celebrates its 15th anniversary from  November 12 to 22. This festival, which takes place every year in the sumptuous setting of the wine cellars of the Maison Pommery, offers a program of improvised European music mixing together young talents and headlining acts.  As the high point of its 15th year, the Reims Jazz Festival will take place in one of the most beautiful houses in Champagne - the Domaine Vranken Pommery [Vranken Pommery Estate].  Faithful to its tradition as a sponsor, the Maison Pommery has been hosting the Festival for more than ten years in the heart of its magnificent estate, built in the British neogothic style.  The greatest American and European jazzmen will take their places close to where the bubbles are put into champagne. In this magical setting the public will discover some of the most prestigious jazzmen, such as French drummer, Manu Katché, one of the most talented trumpet players of his generation, Roy Hargrove and saxophonist Andy Sheppard with his project based on the repertoire of Serge Gainsbourg. Alongside the major international acts, the Reims Jazz Festival also champions the cause of young talents and less generally well-known artists, who will perform during the first part of each evening. REIMS JAZZ FESTIVAL, 7, rue Pierre Brossolette, 51100 REIMS. Phone from outside France or visit their web site at

In the US. . . 

o  Stanford University's. . .Cantor Arts Center presents Dürer to Picasso:  Passion for Collecting from November 12, 2008 until February 15, 2009.  This exhibition of European and American art features collection highlights, a selection of the most noteworthy works acquired over the ten years since the museum reopened in early 1999.  Each work has been selected for its aesthetic strength, historic significance, rarity or other exceptional qualities.  Additional and detailed Information at

o  Ongoing Exhibition of the Auguste Rodin Collection  . . . at Stanford University - the largest Rodin collection outside of Paris with 60 works in galleries and 20 sculptures in the Rodin Sculpture Garden.  Further information is available on the web site at

o  At the Art Institute of Chicago . . . enjoy the exhibit entitled Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Art and Photography of Paris, commemorating the centenary of his birth by exhibiting his photographs along with paintings, drawings and etchings of Matisse and others.  Through January 4, 2009.  For details:

o  Babar . . . the fascinating tale of the evolution of Babar, every French child's favorite elephant, and the story of Jean de Brunhoff who created six books featuring this bedtime story for his child.  His son, Laurent, carries on the tradition of elephant tales.  The exhibit, Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors, will be at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, through January 4th.  Information at

o  Yves Saint Laurent. . . a pioneer of modern women's wear, created such things as culottes and the safari jacket.  A retrospective covering 40 years explores his career with 160 accessorized outfits, as well as videos and drawings.  November 1 through March 1, 2009 at the de Young Museum, San Francisco.  More information at

o  Denver . . . and its Art Museum hosts Houdon from the Louvre through January 4, 2009.  The exhibit, a western offshoot of 'Louvre Atlanta', presents twenty-one bronze, marble, terra cotta and plaster works by the neoclassical sculptor of some famous figures of his day:  Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington among others.  Information available at

o  Sur le Motif. . . Painting in Nature Around 1800 is the exhibit of landscape painting that took hold in Europe as they moved outdoors to transition this form of art into an important genre.  It begins with work by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes who wrote a treatise promoting nature study - something that would evolve later into the Impressionist movement.  At the Getty Center, Los Angeles, through March 8, 2009.

o  New York . . . also hosts Royal Porcelain from the Twinight Collection, 1800-1850, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through April 19, 2009.  The exhibit focuses on Sèvres, Berlin and Vienna manufactories and explores their rivalries. Details at

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