The second part of a posting of a complete book How to be Happy on the Riviera by Robert Elson W. (Arrowsmith Ltd., 11 Quay Street, Bristol, 1927). There is plenty on food and restaurants (including menus and tips on coffee, ice cream and liqueurs) and some good descriptions of gamblers in Monte Carlo -
"Little old women in Victorian black silk dresses and bonnets; others attired in the fashions of twenty or thirty years ago; exotic-looking young women, wearing extravagant parodies of the fashions of to-day – some exactly like cinema vamps; women like men, and girls like boys. A duke who is a frequent visitor summed it up neatly: 'There are always a lot of queer wild-fowl about'...you may see incredibly ancient men; wild-looking men with immense manes of hair; gaunt men with sunken cheeks and bony hands who might have come out of a novel by Mrs. Radclyffe, unnatural-looking young men who might have been created by Mr. Michael Arlen; people who impress you as half crazy, others who look as if they had been dead a long time, only they don't know it.'
A Day in Monte Carlo
Nevertheless, the place still retains its peculiar charm. The part that matters is coquet. (I am sorry there is no English equivalent: coquet implies a combination of smallness, smart-sness and nattiness.)The Casino with the terrace and gardens,three out of the four luxe hotels and most of the other first-class ones, the best restaurants and cabarets, the Sporting Club and the Palais des Beaux Arts–secondary places of entertainment belonging to the Casino – and the chic shops, are all packed into an area of less than a thousand yards square; and within this area everything that money can do to keep up appearances is done. There are no beggars, no hawkers, no advertisement hoardings.
Perhaps Monte Carlo is like the girl who came to the breakfast-table when she had been in bed but ten minutes before, and retorted to an accusation of being unwashed with: "I have washed–all you can see." But the visitor need not bother about that.
The fascination of the place lies in the contrasts between this area, what it contains, and its surroundings; or, rather, in the special sharpness of the contrasts, as compared with those elsewhere on the Riviera. Leave your hotel in the morning and stroll through the upper and lower gardens, round the end of the Casino overlooking the station, on to the Terrace, and back to the Casino Square. Saunter round the Cheese (a bowl-like lawn in the middle) and watch people feeding the pigeons. You will feel steeped in ease, in brightness and contentment.
Now go into the Casino. The change in the atmosphere is considerable even in the Atrium; but when you enter the gaming-rooms you will feel much as if you had been dropped from the higher flying-levels into a tank. All your system has been oxygenated; your blood is tingling with ozone; in this air there is none–it tastes of exhalations from the human body, stale perfumes, and a disinfectant. The taut-strung physical well-being of which you were hardly conscious slips away as quickly as the restful feeling. When you emerge again into the sunlight, it will be like returning to heaven after a visit to hell.
The contrasts might be multiplied almost indefinitely.
After lunch (you cannot do better than the Restaurant St. James, where from under the awning you look across the sunlit waters of the harbour to the Rock) take a carriage and tell the man to drive you to the foot of the Chemin de la Noix (above the Boulevard Guynemer). In ten minutes you will emerge on to the old Roman road from Italy to Gaul, and in another five, if you turn to the left, be out of sight of houses in surroundings scarcely changed since Dante characterised it as "a terrible road, to which the worst in Italy is as an easy stair." Indeed, except perhaps for the olive-trees, what you see the centurion saw when he was looking forward to a rest in billets the same night at Alpis Summa, after marching with his men from Imperial Rome; the lower part of the great columnar monument that marked it, and commemorated the establishment of Roman rule over that wild country, still remains.
By taking the steep, narrow short cut just past the inhabited house a mile and a half up, following the carriage road down to the Riviera Palace, and then taking the steps, you can be at the Café de Paris in time for tea. The lofty hall of the restaurant, with its gaudy frescoes and soft brilliance of lighting; the scantily-clad show dancers, posturing and spinning on the floor; the lounging, well-dressed people at the tables; make up a typical picture of ultra-modern civilisation. Where else in the world can one bridge in a three-quarter-hour walk the opposite ends of the gamut?
When the entertainment concludes, cross over to the Casino. The Atrium, which looked dingy in the morning, is now glittering with lights, and the seats are occupied by a mixed crowd, some members of which are sure to stare at you, speculating as to whether you are good for anything. The gaming-rooms, too, present a brighter appearance; there are as many onlookers as gamblers, and the flavour of a prolongations of an overnight debauch is absent.
The fluctuations of fortune at the tables may engage your attention more or less, but after a while you will notice odd-looking people. Little old women in Victorian black silk dresses and bonnets; others attired in the fashions of twenty or thirty years ago; exotic-looking young women, wearing extravagant parodies of the fashions of to-day – some exactly like cinema vamps; women like men, and girls like boys. A duke who is a frequent visitor summed it up neatly: "There are always a lot of queer wild-fowl about." Not all the wild-fowl are of the hen persuasion. You may see incredibly ancient men; wild-looking men with immense manes of hair; gaunt men with sunken cheeks and bony hands who might have come out of a novel by Mrs. Radclyffe, unnatural-looking young men who might have been created by Mr. Michael Arlen; people who impress you as half crazy, others who look as if they had been dead a long time, only they don't know it. The lure of unlimited gambling possibilities attracts freaks even more powerfully than it does comparatively normal people who have the gaming instinct. One might suppose that such possibilities exist everywhere, but the special fascination of Monte Carlo is that the opportunities are only limited by one's own resources and nerve. The adversary, with unlimited funds, is always ready, and pays cash. Madame La Roulette, like Madame La Guillotine in the days of the Terror, "va tous les jours," and breaking the bank is merely a phrase.
There are several restaurants where you can eat well at no great expense. The Restaurant des Boulengrins, an adjunct of the Monte Carlo Palace, is one of them. It is not large, but very bright, agreeably decorated in white and gold.
If nothing in the evening entertainments attracts you–the choice is not large–and it happens to be a moonless night, take a carriage and tell the cocher to drive you half-way up the Mont des Mules–two lacets past the Riviera Palace, and don't look down till you get there. Walk along the road until the darkness and the stillness swallow you up. To your right the vast bulk of the Tête de Chien looms up under the stars; to your left the panorama of mountains and capes stretches away into the dimness that is Italy; before you the Mediterranean seems to rise like a grey-blue wall to meet the sky; and at your feet, like a glittering jewel set in the sea, is Monte Carlo, outlined in lights, incredibly beautiful, a dream-town in fairyland.
Fill in your evening until towards midnight at the Sporting Club, if you can afford it. The people who are The People by the favour of Providence and the illustrated papers prefer it, and amid the crush you may be able to identify the latest talked-of bankrupt or divorcée, well-known figures in the social world, on the turf, in politics or the law courts, even royalty. The rooms are small, the crush so great that the baccarat tables have to be railed off – as they sometimes are elsewhere – and the atmosphere is indescribable. The play is higher on the average than at the casino, although some big gamblers stick to the parent hell. When you want relief from the crush, and the close proximity of gorgeously-dressed, scented women has palled, go into the bar, not necessarily for a drink but to see something which as far as I know has no parallel anywhere. It is never long before someone, man or woman, comes up to the bar and speaks confidentially to the barman, whereupon he produces a note-pad and a pencil. They sign, and he hands over money–a thousand francs or more. One knows that gaming-house keepers everywhere lend money to their patrons, because if the borrower wins it comes off his winnings, and if he loses they have it back and may get it twice over. But Arnold, the barman, lends his own money; the Casino authorities have nothing to do with it. How does he make it pay? The charge is two per cent., so that one defaulter in fifty borrowers would wipe out his profit. Yet it does pay; I know that. (In case this should be read by anyone who thinks that he can get away with it, he may think again to advantage.)
The Carlton begins to wake up soon after eleven, and takes on a fresh lease of life at two, when the Casino closes. It is the largest cabaret on the Riviera, and in some respects the liveliest. On the left of the vestibule is a roomy lounge, very dimly lit, with capacious divans on which by midnight there are sure to be couples in the "I am yours and you are mine and we are each's" stage–at any rate for the evening; this gives the unsophisticated an appropriate thrill. From the lounge you pass into a side-bay, where the bar is, and alcoves for those who prefer each other's company to seeing the entertainment. This is in the middle part, on the dance-floor surrounded by tables and a fairly smart crowd. There is usually enough of a squash to leave very little room for the waiters and others. I took my aunt there once, and the dear old lady was startled when her elbow touched bare flesh and she looked up to find it was the leg of a well-developed young woman attired in three rose-buds held in place by two strips of silk, shoes, and a plumed head-dress. I had observed this phenomenon some time before, but, like the Dutchman when the Frenchman's pocket was on fire, said nothing about it; there were two of them, in fact, waiting to go on. Aunt said afterwards that she did not know whether she ought to have apologised to the young woman for poking her in the thigh; I didn't, either.
The Carlton specialises in varied entertainments; on the same evening there was an Egyptian dancer whose reproduction of the attitudes of her ancient predecessors was marvellous in its accuracy. She did not wear much more than the rose-bud pair, but her artistry was such that even aunt hardly noticed that. There were also a couple of gymnastic dancers, some of whose feats were out of the ordinary; no doubt they were stage performers. Later the rosebuds reappeared in charming seventeenth-century gowns, with big picture hats, like Gainsborough's ladies, and danced a minuet more gracefully than I have seen it done for many years. They were a clever couple of girls. For an encore they gave us a funny little quick dance, attired in very short skirts and tiny bodices of a flowered chintz, with quaint boat-shaped hats of the same material. Aunt thought this was decidedly improper: she said they blobbed.
In one matter the director of the Carlton, or his acolyte charged with the duty, is a past-master: that is the management of the lights. The blood-red spot-light that swings round the floor during a tango, when the other lights are cut off, blends perfectly with the wickedness suggested by the dance. No less effective, though of a very different appeal, are the innumerable tiny spots of light, so soft that you can only just see them, which glide through the dusk and round the galleries above while you are waltzing, round and round, round . . . and round. . . .
If you haven't waltzed at the Carlton life has something in store for you.
The Knickerbocker is a lively little den when the company furnishes the entertainment. It is a facourite supper-resort of artists who are appearing at the theatre. I happened to be there one evening with a tenor from the Italian opera. He had one of those pure clear voices that seem to go through you, and yet have all the roundness and sweetness of the organ. I have never seen him since, and I am afraid he won't keep that voice–not if he goes knickerbockering. There was some mad dancing, in which he took part, the piano being played by a scion of one of the oldest families in Holland, who ought to have known better–though I admit he could hardly have played better; he gave us several solos. As for me, about four o' clocl my neighbor, an ornament of Tattersall's ring, began to be concerned about his wife. "My wife," he said "she won't know where I am. She'll be wondering what's become of me." The tears rolled down his cheeks. "Is she here?" I inquired. He shook his head mournfully. "No. She's in England."
I thought it was time to go.
Eating and Drinking
To come to earth. The majority of visitors are en pension, and eat what the hotel chef gives them, unless they leave it. I have often been asked whether the feeding is good on the Riviera, and am still at a loss for a reply. The commonest criticism is that it is too rich–that too much butter is used, too many dishes which would otherwise be palatable spoiled by highly-flavoured sauces. One reason for this is that the average Englishman or American eats very little bread with his two principal meals, whereas the cuisine is French or Italian, and the Frenchman eats a lot, while the Italian corrects the balance by forking into himself large quantities of paste. After a while one gets into the habit of eating more bread and less of the buttery and highly-flavoured food.
Breakfast is the usual French petit déjeuner of coffee or tea and rolls, generally taken in the bedroom. If you don't like the fancy roll (croissant) ask for two petit pains.
In first-class hotels the tea is generally quite good, or good enough; elsewhere, it frequently looks and tastes like water in which a scrap of toast has been boiled. Faddy people bring or buy a spirit kettle, and reinforce it.
Lunch (déjeuner), the usual time for which is between twelve and one, consist of:
Eggs or Fish or Pâte.
Meat and Potatoes or other Vegetables.
The Toulon mussels are tasty when lightly steamed and served hot with a sauce made of the liquor and melted butter flavoured with herbs (moules marinières). A coast speciality for this course at luncheon is bouillabaisse, a stew of different kinds of fish flavoured with herbs and garlic and coloured with saffron, slices of bread soaked in the liquor being served with it. It should contain a proportion of langouste, and is often listed with and without.
As to the meat, veal is superlative lamb tender, beef generally on the tough side (except the fillet steaks, which are excellent) and mutton awful. Pork varies: it may beat the band, or it may be tasteless, and the same is true of the chickens. Nothing is more toothsome than a Poulet de Bresse roti, or more insipid than a bird which has travelled from afar chilled; the latter is sometimes substituted for the former when one orders a poulet en casserole (lighly stewed with butter and vegetables), a dish to which various fancy names are give, such as poulet à la maison, poulet chasseur, or poulet Beaulieu.
New potatoes grow all the year round. Green peas (petits pois frais) are available in January, and new French beans (haricots verts frais) in February (the first should be ordered à l'anglaise and the second à la francaise); also asparagus, which is all right when the tops are green–the white sticks are rather bitter (ask to see it). Other green vegetables and cauliflower are usually spoilt by being overboiled without salt and then partly fried in butter–a ghastly job. The best mild cheesess are Gruyère and Beaumont.
Soup are generally excellent in first and second class restaurants, though often dishwashy elsewhere. Sweets are seldom anything to write about, though a crême caramel, where it is a specialty, may be an experience. There are various ways of giving a flavour to forced strawberries with wine and liqueurs which many people profess to like.
When ordering from a carte du jour, ask the price of anything you want if it is not given, and if you think it excessive say so. Remember that you are in France, where every knowledgable person bargains in this way on occasion, particularly when size is in question. It is a common practice with restaurant keepers to mark fish selon grosseur, which when it comes to making out the bill means according to what the maître d'hôtel thinks you will pay. Another trick is to serve a far larger portion than any reasonable person eats, pricing accordingly; the remedy is to insist that one portion shall be served for two, an old custom in France which lapsed during the war but is now coming back. (This is specially the case with langouste.) Another annoying form of imposition is the pestering or bullying of strangers to order expensive delicacies instead of what they want; my toung has tingled sometimes when an unscrupulous head-waiter has rammed sole dieppoise and poulet à la maison down the throats of compatriots at an adjoining table who wanted simpler dishes but were too weak to stand out, or worried them into having caviare and asparagus in addition to what they had ordered. Insist on having what you want. (Soles, by the way, are best avoided as a rule; when of any size, they have generally come from the Atlantic or the Channel.)
The drinking of apéritifs is a French custom of which the cocktail habit is a degenerate offshoot, and its purpose is to a certain extent medicinal (apéritif means aperient). Apéritifs should be taken at least half an hour before a meal, and sipped slowly. They are almost innumerable. There are tonic wines–Dubonnet, Byrrh, St. Raphaël, etc.–specially valuable after bathing, as they prevent a chill. English people usually drink them sec–that is, without the addition of water or soda-water. Various kinds of bitters–Amer Picon, Fernet-Branca, Campari, etc.–which are generally diluted. Sometimes a teaspoonful of a liqueur is added, usually Curaçao with Picon. Most popular and cheapest are the Vermouths, French and Italian. If you want them mixed, ask for Vermouth arf-an-arf. Those who dislike the flavour of bitters might try Rossi, a new combination; or Vermouth and Cassis–black-currant syrup–with a little soda-water. (Note.–Cassis is pronouced "casseess.")
The best soft drinks for the thirsty are fruit syrups with soda–Grenadine, Frambiose, Fraise, Groseille, Citron, or Orange. The last two must not be confused with Citronade and Orangeade, which are served ready diluted, and usually over-sweetened. If you are thirsty and order "lemon squatch," you will probably get Citronade; the term for lemon squash is citron pressé, and the lemons should be brought to the table with a squeezer and sugar so that you can compound for yourself.
The price of apéritifs ranges from fr. I.50 c. in the smaller cafés patronised largely by the inhabitants, to frs. 6 in those which cater more for the visitors; frs. 3-4 is usual.
If you order cocktails, it is a wise precaution to add–"trés peu de glace," otherwise you will probably get a very washy mixture. The price varies from frs. 5 to frs. 10.
A good many people drink mineral waters instead of an apéritif before déjeuner, generally either Vittel or Vichy. In all good-class cafés these can be had in quarter bottles.
In the ordinary cafés, such as are patronised by local people, the proper tip for the waiter is 50c. for one or two; in cafés chiefly patronised by the visitors, not less than fr. I, or frs. I.50 for two.
The best corrective to the fats liberally used in the cooking is red wine, and the cheapest varieties are those of the country (Vins du Pays). There are two kinds, Rouge and Rosé, the latter being lighter both in colour and as a drink; it is also scarcely classifiable as an intoxicating beverage. But this last qualification is not to be relied on; alcohol is frequently added, and some of these innocent-looking pink wines affect even a strong head. As to the acidity, an excellent corrective is to add a little hot water, a tablespoonful to a glass being sufficient. This also makes the wine more palatable.
The best of the local varieties are:–
Bellet, from the valley of the Var. This may be listed at anything up to frs. 10 a bottle.
Golfe de St. Tropez.
These are labelled accordingly. The ordinary Vin du Pays is usually priced about frs. 4 or frs. 5 a bottle.
Two kinds of wine which though not native to the coast are to be found on most wine-lists are Chateauneuf de Pape (Côtes de Rhone), and Beaujolais, a light Burgandy. Neither is as well known in England as it deserves to be.
Those persons who have a rheumatic tendency generally avoid the red wines, and drink white wine, or beer. The best kinds of white wine are the same as the red, with the addition of the Vins de l' Annonciate at Menton. They are less acid when diluted with a mineral water, such as Perrier.
The beer is quite good as a light drink, the best kinds being the Monaco beer and the Strasburg beers, the consumption of which became a patriotic duty for Frenchmen after the war.
Black coffee is seldom good except in a high-class café or restaurant, and then it is necessary to order café filtre; the black coffee of the ordinary French café is wretched stuff. Café au lait is usually a little better, especially if you like it very milky (café crême); but in this the tea-shops beat the old-style cafés.
A number of liqueurs are commonly found on the Riviera which one rarely sees in England; the adventurous might try Vieille Cure, which resembles Benedictine, or Izarra, a Basque concoction not unlike Chartreuse; or in sweet liqueurs, Mandarinette (orange), Prunelle (plums) or Anisette (aniseed); the last is supposed to be a particularly good digestive.
As everywhere, ices are frequently served at dinner, and many people eat them at tea-time or in the evening at cafés. They are nothing wonderful except at cafés run by Italians who make their native specialities–cassata, pezziduri, etc. An agreeable variant is café Liègeois or Viennois.